Honoree Headshot

Richelle Payne

Partner
Ascendant Group

Location: Newark, DE
Founded: 2014
Industry: Public Relations | CEO Branding

Richelle D. Payne’s public relations journey began more than 25 years ago when a group of 12 religious leaders invited her to plan and promote their weeklong, nondenominational gathering in the Bahamas. She recognized that the religious leaders had few goals in common, creating an opportunity for her to learn how to manage competing priorities, respond to various leadership styles, motivate a cohort of highly territorial volunteers and negotiate services and rates with vendors and venues. It was baptism by fire, she said, but the lessons learned set the stage for what would come next.

In 2010, Payne started working full-time on projects that included movie premieres, black-tie awards programs, health and wellness festivals, multicity book tours and arena-sized evangelistic crusades. At the core of Payne’s success in the public relations industry is her passion for helping clients create goodwill as they do good business.

In 2013, she established a collaboration with Ascendant Group CEO Raoul Davis. The alliance was designed to help drive business growth by offering new services to acquire clients who would otherwise be out of reach for either of them. The alliance led to an expansion of U.S. operations across offices in four states; global teams in the Netherlands, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt; and consistent rankings at the top of coveted industry lists.

Ascendant Group is a public relations company specializing in CEO branding. “We became the first global business to develop a fully integrated execution model for CEO branding,” the company said. “We develop brand strategy and execute through public relations, social media, book deals, design and strategic positioning. We’ve always been willing to push the envelope and go further.”

Payne has been instrumental in expanding the agency’s practice areas and accelerating its growth, helping Ascendant to become the No. 1-ranked, minority-owned public relations firm in the country, according to Clutch and The Manifest, as well as the No. 3 agency worldwide by Adworld Master’s AI-based ranking for agencies.

“There is no shortage of good ideas; many of them just need good strategy, sound advice and strategic solutions,” Payne said. “I learned how to harness crises and turn that chaos into opportunity. I learned how to help entrepreneurs and executives answer the kinds of questions that lead to clearly defined action plans that push their brand and their businesses to new heights.”

Payne is an award-winning writer with 30-plus years of experience working as a journalist, spokesperson and brand steward for a historically Black college, college English instructor and president of a national association for Black public relations professionals.

She has provided commentary on diversity in media, business ethics and social justice issues in PR Week and the Philadelphia Inquirer and appeared on WHYY (NPR), WCAU (NBC10) and WAVY (NBC10). She is a recurring on-air contributor on the Envy McKee Show, airing weekly on WURD Radio, the only Black-owned talk radio station in Pennsylvania.

Payne earned the Certified Communications Professional (CCP) designation from the AWC Matrix Foundation.

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Honoree fun fact

Richelle loves country music, especially old-school artists like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Barbara Mandrell. In fact, the first 45 record she bought with allowance was Dolly's “Two Doors Down.”

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