Gabriele Harris (’07) went from being a college freshman who had no clue what she wanted to do with her life to becoming a driven, goal-oriented successful marketing and sales professional.
“You have to be willing to work hard—everyone says work smart, not hard. I say, no, you have to work hard, too. Otherwise you’re wasting a lot of time,” she said.
Harris earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications from the College of Communications and Information, and her go-getter attitude is just one of many reasons she made it onto the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Volunteer 40 Under 40 Class of 2022.
She is chief development officer for Grapevine Communications, an Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations firm in Sarasota, Florida, where she manages the sales team and oversees new business acquisitions. Her first experience there was as an intern, and she was subsequently hired on after she graduated in 2007. Her timing could have been terrible since she started right before the economy took a nosedive, but instead she thrived. This is, in part, due to taking a professor’s advice to make herself indispensable.
When Harris was an intern at Grapevine Communications, she learned as much as she could about sales and marketing, and public relations. Then, when she became a full-time employee, she started learning other jobs, such as media buying. When the media buyer and planner left the company, it was easy for her to step into that role—a move proving that she was both indispensable and industrious.
“Don’t just go to a company and be good at your one thing, learn what other people do, learn other jobs,” she said. “I didn’t just come in and try to be a really good sales person. I felt like if I was going to be good at my job, I needed to do what I was selling so I had that knowledge to explain it to people and the understanding of why it will help grow their business. And if ever something needed to be done, or a coworker needed help, then I could wear multiple hats.”
That said, she’s a natural salesperson—talent revealed when she was an undergraduate student at UT. One of her favorite stories to tell about her undergrad experience is taking her first sales class, and right away both instructors picked her as the person who would win the in-class sales competition. At the time, she had no idea why they picked her, though they ended up being 100-percent correct. The students were selling real advertising for a local radio station, and the competition was a semester-long assignment. While other classmates posted their progress throughout the semester, Harris waited until the very last minute to log the meetings she landed and the advertising she sold.
“I go and I fill out everything I’d been doing all semester long and everyone’s jaw dropped. I’d booked more meetings, turned more meetings into proposals and sold more than everyone else,” she said. “I felt for so long that I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I realized in that moment that sales is for me and I can take my competitiveness and use that for my advantage.”
She credits the diverse course requirements for her communications degree with helping her be well-rounded. She enjoyed the variety of classes she took in journalism, public relations, and advertising, but also benefited greatly from taking courses such as psychology, which has helped her to better understand both her clients and their needs.
Many, if not all, of those who land on the Volunteer 40 Under 40 share one defining attribute: the Volunteer spirit. Harris is no different, and a significant aspect of her job and her life is volunteer work. Grapevine has donated more than $2 million in services to nonprofits during her time there, and she serves on several boards of nonprofit organizations.
“The Volunteer spirit definitely plays a huge role in that. I’ve done hundreds of hours of volunteer work,” she said. “It’s also something I get our team here at Grapevine involved with, helping newer staff members come on board and figure out how to acclimate to the culture and also to the community around us. I show them how they can volunteer and give back,” she said.