As long-time Director of Communications for Southwestern Advantage, Trey Campbell is familiar with the daily surprises that come with the world of strategic communications and public affairs.
“I like the challenge of PR,” Campbell says. “There’s always something to share or communicate, something to problem-solve.”
When there’s a crisis on the front-lines or milestone to celebrate, Campbell, who was recently promoted to SWA VP of Communications and Government Relations can be relied upon to lend his steady experience to the situation. In more than two decades with Southwestern, Campbell has written three books, received an accreditation in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and accolades such as Nashville Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” in 2011.
Campbell graduated from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Public Relations and served as Director of Public Relations for a national car rental franchise before originally joining the Southwestern team in 1999 as Promotions Coordinator for SWA.
“Shortly after starting, I really realized, ‘I need to try this out. I need to go out in the book field.’ I’m getting questions from the audiences I was talking to,” Campbell recalls, “so I approached [former president] Dan Moore about selling books.”
“Dan said, ‘No one’s ever asked that before who hasn’t been a student,’” Campbell jokes. Moore agreed to let him go through sales school for a week, then go out into the field and sell for two weeks.
“I learned more in the time on the book field about myself than I did during five years in college,” Campbell says. “It started molding me into who I am today. I really fell in love with the work ethic and principles I had been taught in sales, but more importantly, the things I learned through talking with people each day, the soft skills that you don’t really learn in a classroom like problem solving, communications, confidence, attitude – all the things we teach.”
“I’d had a hard work ethic before, but it allowed me to expand on who I was,” he says. “We always talk about ‘the person I’m becoming.’ Southwestern has a very big role in who I am today because of that experience.”
“The biggest thing we can do is impact young people and encourage them in a way that helps them grow and become the people they want to be.” — Trey Campbell
Public Relations: Then and Now
“When I started, I was one of the first to have a Deskjet printer at my desk that would print color,” Campbell says. “As promotions coordinator, my job was to promote contest that were company-wide and statistically analyze those results. And then recommend future contests, and also the prizes and winnings associated with those contests.”
In a rapidly changing industry, Campbell has overseen the adaptation of SWA communications and media relations, including the PR transition to the digital age.
“One thing that’s changed [over 20 years] is the technology,” Campbell says. “Back when I started, it was the emergence of the internet. Southwestern Advantage was one of the front-runners for actually having a website. Over time we had other technology, including social platforms, that would come into play like Facebook.”
Over the years people have asked, “How does your company still stay in business going door-to-door when you have companies like World Book, Britannica or Varsity who are no longer around?” Campbell says.
“What we do has not changed, well over the course of a century. How we do it has changed,” he says.
Milestones for Campbell center around victories that are borne out of adversity and the personal impact he is able to have on the lives of students.
“If I’m doing a press release on someone, I get to talk them, meet them and care about their life. I love being able to impact young people that develops our culture in a way that makes them want to stay with Southwestern,” he says.
“There’s an atmosphere here that’s all about integrity, team work, work ethic, results, goals, attitude, all the things we teach the young people to carry forward to all our companies. And to me it’s a very positive place to work.”
But the world of public relations has its unique challenges.
“I love the art of arbitration and mediation,” adds Campbell, who currently serves on the Better Business Bureau board for middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky.
“In 2013, I did more than 80 media interviews in a six-week span to clear up incorrect information about the program circulating on Facebook, speaking with government, local city and state officials,” Campbell says.
“As a result, along with Ryan Davis, SWA implemented all kinds of new things such as a Facebook Business page. We implemented business cards that the students hand out…We put a dealer verification page on our website. We implemented dual-sided ID badges. The little things like that…those are the victories and those are the things that are most meaningful to me. These little things add up to help the students in the sales and leadership program find greater success.”
A Heart for Missions
Campbell also attends the annual SWA Sizzler incentive trips and, since 2011, has coordinated the corresponding service projects. He is actively involved in faith-based mission projects in his spare time, leading short-term mission teams of SWA student leaders to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mexico, and Jamaica since 2017.
“One of my favorite things is the culture we’ve created at Southwestern because of the value and principle we have of being servant-minded,” Campbell says. “Students will optionally donate a portion of their profits to go toward this service project.”
Campbell’s mission is to find people or organizations who are flying under the radar in the incentive trip area, “doing something that will help their community but who aren’t getting a lot of help.”
“We’ve built community centers, we’ve added onto schools where they can get more kids off the streets, we’ve added on to a safe shelter for young girls that was run by nuns in Cancun.” he says. “We built a house for a young girl and her family whose parents had passed away in a car accident and were living under a tarp. These things are life-changing to the people we’re helping.”
“When students go on those trips and they go to those locations and meet these people and see where their money is being spent, it changes their lives. At Southwestern Advantage we want to help young people develop the character and skills they need to achieve their goals in life and give them the tools to do that. And this is just one more way of doing that.”
“We’re leaving more than our footprint in the sand on the beach, we want to leave an imprint in the community.” — Trey Campbell
“I have the opportunity here at Southwestern Advantage to be able to mentor students not just professionally, but also personally and spiritually.”
“I have officiated weddings for student dealers and alumni,” says Campbell, who is also an ordained minister. “I consider SWA to be part of my calling and my mission field. I am blessed to be able to carry out my purpose while impacting people on an eternal basis as well as through their business.”
12 Jars, 72 Days, and Finding a Way
Campbell is the author of three books, 12 Jars: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, 72 Days: Devotions for the Spirit-filled Leader and Finding a Way, Even Through a Pandemic.
The theme of “12 Jars” is, “Our time on our earth is limited, what impact are we making?” he says. “72 Days” was a devotional inspired by the three-month schedule for the book field.
“It give the students some positive reading they can do each morning while they’re at their breakfast spot,” he says.
Campbell’s most recent book, “Finding a Way” tells the story of how SWA managed the pandemic as a door-to-door company and came through on top.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we had a great team of leaders – Dan Moore, Dave Causer, Henry Bedford, Mark Rau – they and our amazingly talented sales leaders led our company through an unprecedented time,” Campbell says.
When asked what he’s most excited about for the future, Campbell says, “I’m very excited about the talent we currently have within our sales force, as well as the non-sales roles. With the staff we have at Landers Plaza, we have top-notch talent and top-notch people. Not only do we have institutional experience, we have new experience as well with people who are coming in with new ideas.”
“We have a wonderful product called LEAD…[that will be crucial] to the future of our company. Some of the things we excel at as a company are some of the soft skills that are not taught in a classroom that we’re teaching these young people to operate by,” he says.
“We have the educational-based curriculum and materials that are used to teach children at home, but we also have things that are not taught in the classroom that are very important. It’s a wonderful time to be here at Southwestern because of the products we’re putting out and the help we’re going to continue to be able to offer families.”
“During the pandemic, one of the things that turned out to be in our favor was the pain point of families at home all of a sudden who had to become the teacher, and we had products to help with that,” Campbell says.
“What we do, truly does change the world. And if it’s not changing the world, it’s changing someone’s world. To be a part of that is very rewarding and a very good feeling. I can rest my head at night knowing I’ve done all I can to pour into a group of people or into an individual.”
“That fuels my passion for what it is I do.”
Trey and his wife Kim live in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., with their two daughters, Madison 21, and Megan, 17.
For more information on the Southwestern Advantage college program: https://southwesternadvantage.com/