The Greater Good

For good: Brandon Wilson ’02, Missy Burchart ’92 awarded Silver Anvil for making change at Wilbron

For good title typography
Brandon Wilson ’02, Missy Burchart ’92 awarded Silver Anvil for making change at Wilbron
Charlotte Tuggle
Wilbron Inc.’s Brandon Wilson, founder and CEO, and Missy Burchart, chief operating officer, just took home the top prize in public relations: the coveted Silver Anvil Award. What set them apart from their competition is Wilbron’s “for good” approach. If a project doesn’t improve the world in some way or change life for the ordinary person, they won’t take it.

hen Wilson and Burchart started at Auburn University, they didn’t know what they wanted to do. As alumni, they’re changing the world.

“The best $20 I never won.”

While in high school, Wilson’s teacher and Auburn alumna Debra Inghram noticed that he had not applied for college. So, she challenged him to complete an application for Auburn University.

Inghram told Wilson that if he filled out a college application before the end of the school period, she would give him $20. Wilson accepted the challenge, filled out an application to Auburn and collected his $20 from Ingram, but he didn’t keep it for long.

“She snatched it from my hands and said, ‘Well, if you’re going to be successful at Auburn, the first thing you need to do is learn how to read,’” Wilson said. “She said, ‘See that fine print at the bottom of that application? It’s an application fee for $20.’ And she took that application fee, mailed it in, and that was the best $20 I never won.”

In high school, Wilson took an ornamental horticulture class and was a member of the FFA and began to consider agricultural journalism as a possible career path. But before Auburn’s decision arrived, Wilson’s family fell on hard times, and he almost missed the letter that would change his life.

“When I was accepted, our family had just lost our home,” Wilson said. “We were homeless at the time. We were staying at a truck stop motel. And my brother went to the old house, and he picked up the mail and he tossed over the envelope to me. I didn’t even have to open it up. It had the gold foil ink writing on the outside that said ‘congratulations.’ And it was from Auburn. I remember saying, ‘This is my shot. This is my golden ticket to start over anew.’ So, I took it and ran with it.”

Wilson went to Auburn expecting to study agriculture journalism but encountered another obstacle: there was no financial support for that major at the time. That’s when an academic advisor in the School of Communication and Journalism called to tell him they received funding from The New York Times to support students in corporate journalism. So, he made the switch and pursued his love of communications and writing in the journalism department.

At Auburn, Wilson made lifelong friends, joined the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and rose through the student life office to become a prominent student leader. He traveled for official university business with the president, formed responses during public relations challenges, introduced diversity and inclusion professionals to campus, set up new curriculum to enhance the freshman year experience and helped establish a multicultural relations center, all before graduating.

“Auburn provided me with an opportunity to lead even as a student,” Wilson said. “I’m forever grateful for it. They allowed me to lead with so much reign and confidence and influence that I started to believe that I could emerge as a leader. From a homeless kid to being able to run and operate businesses was the transition that Auburn helped me to navigate.”

Auburn honored Wilson for his work with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, Auburn’s highest recognition for humanitarian leadership. By the time he graduated, other college presidents were clamoring to have him on their team, and he launched a communications consultant career.

“You just can’t deny Auburn.”

A decade before Brandon Wilson landed on the Plains, Missy Burchart attended her first chemistry class at Auburn, walked out, found a payphone and called her parents to tell them that pharmacy wasn’t the right fit.

Burchart wanted a major that would set her up for independence. She tried pharmacy, architecture, interior design and fashion merchandising, but nothing felt quite right. Finally, she appealed to the highest power she knew of for guidance.

“I just remember walking back to my apartment one afternoon and stopping somewhere around Foy Union and saying, ‘All right, God. Help me. Show me where I’m supposed to be because obviously my decisions are not too good,’” Burchart said. “I had a friend who was in mass comm, and she said the reason that she picked mass comm is because you can do anything with that degree.”

Burchart signed up for mass communication, and one of her first classes was taught by Professor William Villaume. She said while the class was difficult, she felt something click into place after that day.

“He was hard. He taught really hard theory classes, but I just felt a sense of peace,” Burchart said. “I wanted to study more, and I wanted to succeed. I wanted to really dig in and learn. So, I knew that was it. I’m home. Getting into public relations was by luck, but choosing my major at Auburn, we’re just going to say God chose for me.”

Burchart had finally found a place to call her own in the School of Communication and Journalism. She said she couldn’t have gotten the classes she took, the people she met and the memories she made anywhere else but Auburn.

“The creed always sticks with me. Gosh, I even get choked up saying it, ‘because Auburn men and women believe these things,’ and that’s it. It’s the people,” Burchart said. “You just meet so many people rich in spirit, that it is just a special place. I know that every tagline says Auburn’s a special place, but to me it really is. It was a part of what shaped my tapestry. It was part of me learning who I was and who I could be. And the people at Auburn genuinely cared.”

After graduation, Burchart traveled from Birmingham to Detroit to Atlanta and back to Birmingham for an opportunity in the nonprofit sector. And just as it did at Auburn, Burchart said God pushed her in the right direction when she met Brandon Wilson in an accreditation class years later.

“When everybody succeeds, everybody wins.”

Wilbron logo
After years serving colleges and universities, Wilson was inspired to start his own company to make actionable change in the world. He named it Wilbron, Inc., after the family names Wilson and Brown. But what would Wilbron do? Wilson settled on a simple, two-word mission: for good.

Wilson said Wilbron was designed to promote ethical business practices, advance communities and positively impact the life of the ordinary person.

“’For good’ is a double entendre,” Wilson said. “It means that the work that we do is for the good of community and for the good of others. But ‘for good’ also means that it is here for good, that it is not going to leave, it’s not going to be moved. The difference that we make is irreversible, it’s permanent. We challenge all of our customers. We serve with ideas and action that results in irreversible impact. Truly, if we do things that exist for good, then we truly stand an incredible chance of lasting long enough to make an indelible impact on our world.”

Wilson grew the company and sought Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), where he met Missy Burchart in a class of ten people who would eventually all earn their APR.

Burchart said she admired Wilson and what he did at Wilbron. After class, they remained friends and often met for lunch or coffee. Each time, Burchart would jokingly ask, “When are you going to hire me?”

One day, before she brought it up, Wilson asked, “Are you ready to start?” and Burchart joined Wilbron as its vice president of public relations and was promoted to chief operating officer less than a year later.

“It was divine intervention, and it was a perfect time for me. It’s really been an amazing adventure. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve pushed, I’ve stretched, I’ve done things that scare me, which is what I love,” Burchart said. “When I think about my time at Auburn, one of the things that I always admired is that it seemed like I always had professors who pushed me and gave me a chance to tap into what I’m good at. And that’s what Brandon’s doing. He’s tapping into my talents and pushing me to do what I need to do for Wilbron.”

Apple Campus campaign mockup
Wilbron has worked with Apple to help build a global center for innovation and opportunity, helped launch the Apollo Opportunity Foundation for economic prosperity, and supported ChargerHelp!’s efforts to advance EV infrastructure with electric vehicle charging stations.

Each project they take must serve the greater good, and earlier this year, Wilbron was recognized with the highest achievement in public relations for their game-changing work with Karat, a technology interviewing company.

Karat’s Brilliant Black Minds program aims to increase the number of Black software engineers in the tech industry. Only 5% of software engineers are Black, and Burchart said it was just the project for Wilbron because of their focus on equitable opportunities, community improvement and support for diverse voices.

Karat campaign mockup
Wilbron’s work on the program included positioning Karat to establish a hiring pipeline, provide free interview preparation and coaching to aspiring software engineers, and announce a partnership with tennis superstar Serena Williams in Times Square.

The Brilliant Black Minds program’s goal is to double the number of Black software engineers in the tech industry. With Wilbron’s help, that means introducing 100,000 new Black software engineers to the field.

“The idea of how achievable that objective is really lit us a fire. I said, man, with Karat I think we can do this,” Wilson said. “We’re pleased to be able to provide Karat strategic public relations services that helped them put systems in place and promote the program in a way that attracted the kind of leaders, emerging Black software engineers and coaches necessary for building a program that generates repeatable success.”

Wilbron received a 2023 Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil Award for their campaign. The Silver Anvil is the gold standard of public relations awards, and entries are judged on measurable change. Wilbron won in the Most Effective Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Campaign category. It’s the second time an Alabama agency has taken home a Silver Anvil.

Burchart hopes the win urges other agencies to take a “for good” approach in their work as well.

“I look at the leaders we serve and the work that our customers are doing, and it’s world-changing. It’s life-changing on the cellular level and it’s world changing in the big picture,” Burchart said. “The work has a ripple effect of, if we plant this seed, if we help this customer, if we help this person, it’s going to change the world. So that’s what ‘for good’ is for me.”

Since Wilbron started working with Karat, the number of Brilliant Black Minds participants has quadrupled.

“A leadership team that’s all Auburn, all day makes it that much sweeter.”

Wilson and Burchart’s Silver Anvil win came after a long journey of doing good, making change and leading by example.

Both Wilbron executives credit Auburn for their leadership development, and sharing that foundation set them up for public relations success.

Wilbron staff in the office
“I’m sure everyone has their Auburn stories. My favorite part about being an Auburn alum is being in the airport and seeing that AU or walking down a street in New York and seeing people wearing Auburn gear. You give them a ‘War Eagle’ and they give it right back,” Burchart said. “We’re everywhere. It’s a spirit and it’s a family because Auburn men and women believe in these things.”

At the top of his game, Wilson remembers the first time he was on a plane, traveling in the university jet with then-President William Walker and Vice President of Student Affairs Wes Williams. Williams told him to look out the window and remember the view, because it held all the opportunities he would have after Auburn.

Wilson never forgot.

“You can do anything you want to do and saying that is different, but being able to look down at the world while you’re saying it left an indelible impression upon me,” Wilson said. “It truly helped me emerge from Auburn with a spirit that’s not afraid and gave me that confidence that with a degree from Auburn, you can do and achieve and be anything.”