Kelly Swanson is founder and president of Swanson Communications, a public relations firm that counts boxers Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins among its clients. In 2013, Swanson was the only woman to be named one of Yahoo! Sports’ “25 Most Powerful People in Boxing.” In 2015, she led the public relations effort for the marquee fight between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which drew a record pay-per-view audience of more than four million, placing boxing in the cultural spotlight to an extent the sport has not seen in decades.
Swanson calls boxing the “six degrees of separation sport.” Rarely does she meet someone who doesn’t have some personal connection—an uncle who boxed Golden Gloves, a grandfather who loved to watch fights on his black-and-white TV. She’s also drawn to and inspired by the personal stories of hardship that typify a boxer’s life. “By helping tell their stories to the press, I can help them become as famous as possible, and then they become as successful as possible” she says. “For many, it’s their only way out.”
“Face it, boxing’s a man’s world, on all sides,” middleweight Bernard Hopkins told Washington City Paper. “Her job is to get the reporters and fighters together, and in this sport, that’s all men. But you got to go through her, and Kelly doesn’t take nothing from anybody. She puts reporters in their place when they need it, and she keeps fighters in line. Is everybody in a man-dominated business gonna love a woman as tough as Kelly Swanson? No. But everybody respects her.”
For her part, Swanson laughs and sighs a bit when asked if she ever tires of the “tough woman in a man’s world” characterization. “I like to call it ‘firm.’ But other people like to say, ‘Oh, she’s really tough.’”
LOVE OF THE GAME
Growing up with three brothers in Buffalo, New York, nurtured Swanson’s affinity for sports—“ football, baseball, kickball, you name it, we were our own little team”— and hone a competitive edge. A political science major at UVM, she tried out for varsity field hockey but didn’t make the cut. Her Catamount sports glory would be as an avid hockey fan in the Gutterson bleachers.
Swanson started running during her UVM years, and it has remained a constant in her life, often joining fighters when they headed out for roadwork at camp. Over the past three years, she’s put the gloves on herself, working out at the legendary Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. She raves about the full-body workout. “You walk out of there and you are drenched. It’s not just going to the gym and getting a good sweat up. No, you’re sopping wet.”
With offices in both New York City and Washington, D.C., Swanson Communications is a full-service public relations and marketing firm, one of the few woman-owned businesses in the top tier of the profession. Though her roots are in boxing, Swanson and colleagues represent professional athletes in other sports, players in the NFL and NBA. Non-profits, Gallaudet University, and a recent music festival on the Mall in D.C., are also among their clients.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour,” she says. “The story you are selling has to be more compelling and newsworthy than the other one hundred stories that might also be relevant that day.”