Humans of the Hilltop: Renee Charles

Charles has been the university spokesperson and the executive director of public relations at Bradley since 2013. Photo via Bradley University
Charles has been the university spokesperson and the executive director of public relations at Bradley since 2013.
Photo via Bradley University

The woman responsible for Bradleys image didnt start out her career believing she would end up in public relations.

According to Renee Charles, the university spokesperson and executive director of public relations, she knew she wanted to be a news anchor and to compete in beauty pageants at just five years old.

After graduating from Western Illinois University in 1996, she started her career in Peoria. In 1998, one of her childhood dreams came true when she became a news anchor for WMBD-TV, Peorias CBS affiliate. Charles continued to work at WMBD-TV until 2002, and she said it was her first experience learning how to share the stories of other people.

I learned how to work with people from all different walks of life [and I learned] compassion, patience and time management skills among other things, Charles said. I learned how to tell stories which helps me in my current role.I know what the media needs to tell a story, and [the media knows] I have been in their shoes. So, there’s a level of trust there.

In 2000, Charles was crowned Miss Illinois USA, which she said was an experience she is incredibly grateful for.

Winning Miss Illinois USA was amazing, Charles said. Being in Miss USA was something I always wanted to do, and it felt like a great accomplishment to achieve that. I was already into my TV anchor career, so I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities I received, but it was still a great experience.I still keep in touch with a few of the women I met at Miss USA.

According to Charles, there was a chance her goal of winning the Miss Illinois pageant could have been missed.

I almost didn’t compete the year I won, Charles said. The year prior, I was first runner-up, and I decided that was good enough, but my parents encouraged me to do it one more time, and I’m so glad I did.

Charles said her experiences as Miss Illinois and as a news anchor allowed her to acquire skills that helped her transition into the field of public relations.

Both the pageant and being a news anchor taught me poise and professionalism, Charles said.I learned that no matter how you feel that day, you are the face of an organization, and you have to always remember that you represent something bigger than yourself.

According to Charles, she saw an opportunity to transfer into a career in public relations in 2008 with The Heartland Partnership, which is now the Greater Peoria Business Alliance.

I was recognized by the community, thanks to [being on] TV, so [public relations] seemed like a logical move for me, Charles said. I was very lucky that people knew me and trusted me, so it wasn’t like starting all over from the ground up.

In 2013, Charles joined the Bradley community as the university spokesperson and executive director of public relations. At Bradley, Charles is responsible for sending out university press releases, managing the Office of Public Relations and coordinating media requests, among many other responsibilities.

[My goal at Bradley is] to leave things better than I found them, not that I plan on leaving anytime soon, Charles said. I want to shed more light on how amazing Bradley is.

Charles said her favorite part about working for the university is finding unique stories from individuals or groups within the Bradley community and being able to share them.

When [I] find those really interesting stories about someone and get to take it and mold it into this really cool story, thats whats so neat, Charles said. Then, the rest of the public gets to see what theyre doing. I was able to tell a story that you didnt know about.

Throughout her career, Charles has won many awards including the 25 Women in Business Award and the YWCA Leader in Arts, Communication and Media Award.