By Becca Bona, Daily Record
For Alison Melson, VP of Communications and Marketing for Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), the beginning of her career started after high school. Like any young adult, she had to narrow her interests.
“I knew I either wanted to go into journalism, or be a cruise director,” she said.
Even though she had a huge affection for “Love Boat,” the Watson Chapel native found herself attending UALR on the path of journalism.
Beyond the fact that her sister attended the university before her, Melson was impressed with the journalism program, which she called, “wonderful.”
During her time as a student, she was part of the Chancellor’s Leadership Scholarship, and was also able to participate in internship opportunities that helped her gain working experience.
“I got paid, got good experience, wrote press releases, [and] had something to put in my portfolio,” she remembered. She was also part of an ad campaign competition in which she was able to experience the marketing side of communications.
She had a strong bond with her professors, notably Jay Friedlander, who was integral in helping Melson create a budding professional network. Having the chance to do an internship in public relations, while studying journalism, she was able to narrow her interests even further.
“My professors gave me so much working experience […] and I decided right then that if I went into journalism it was going to be on the feature side,” she said.
Beyond the byline
After completing her internship in the PR department at UALR, Melson landed her first job at the then Arkansas Democrat. As a feature writer for the High Profile section of the paper, she created a great network of friends and mentors.
“It was the perfect journalism job for someone like me because I love talking to people, and getting to know people. I learned a lot about the city of Little Rock,” she said.
Melson also learned about producing excellence pieces from her boss at the time, Phyllis Brandon, then-editor of the High Profile section. She wanted to make sure that “our writing was always a good journalistic piece,” remembers Melson.
She learned so many things from Brandon, from working at the paper and interviewing big names in Central Arkansas, that after two years she found herself switching jobs.
Melson found herself in a new position working in PR for Children’s Hospital. When she first heard of the job, she was initially considering moving from Little Rock.
“At the time my husband and I were newlyweds and we were thinking about moving away,” she said.
She accepted the job at Children’s and worked there for another two years before switching jobs again. She is glad she stayed in Little Rock: “[W]e wanted to move to Florida. I would’ve moved back,” she said with a laugh. It’s a good thing, too, because Little Rock, for Melson and her family, has turned out to be the perfect fit.
“I love it because it’s the perfect size town. There are great professionals, the news media is first rate, the business community is really good, and we have unbelievable healthcare,” she said.
As a woman of an extensive network, Melson made her next career move with her boss from Children’s, Jessica Szenher. The two transitioned together to Stone and Ward, an ad agency now known as Stone Ward in the heart of downtown.
“I worked there for seven years, and it was the best career move I could have ever made. Working at an agency is fast paced,” she said.
Melson proved up to the task, however, and when the time came for her to change positions again, she was able to rely on her extensive client network to land a position with at PR team at Acxiom.
“The nice thing was it gave me exposure to a national audience; […] it was a great time to be at Acxiom,” she said.
Her previous work endeavors helped create her niche for her current position with CARTI: “I did PR for some of the largest health systems in the state, and cut my healthcare teeth […] that was when I discovered that I really like working with healthcare clients.”
Landing the dream job
That love of working with healthcare clients, along with life’s opportunities led her to her dream position. During her time at Acxiom, one of her former clients from Stone and Ward, called her about a position opening at CARTI.
Melson applied, and at first was skeptical, but after interviewing for the position she realized she really wanted the job.
Working for CARTI for the last eleven years has done everything to highlight the fact that she has truly found her calling.
She said, “I think there comes a time in your life where [you] want to make a difference. […] Knowing that everyday that I give support to an organization which helps people in what is one of the most difficult times of their lives, that for me is very rewarding.”
Founded 37 years ago by medical leaders in the state, CARTI was a result of the need for expensive radiation equipment for cancer treatment. Housed in one location, the aim was for all of the medical entities within Central Arkansas to share the facilities.
As the business of healthcare changed, so did CARTI.
“We went from being a very well-run small nonprofit that delivered radiation to being a real multidisciplinary cancer treatment provider,” Melson explained.
Two years ago, CARTI went from 170 employees to nearly 400. Now, the organization is expanding its mission to serve the state and Melson is a large part of the process.
Along this vein, CARTI has broken ground for a new cancer facility. Melson’s involvement joins her passion for life and her passion for her job into one entity.
“As we build the new center we are talking about what we want the center to feel like for our patients, what we want it to be, […] and we’re looking at how our brand is going to evolve and how we’re going to let it grow,” she said.
The facility, which is over 170,000 square feet, encompasses everything a cancer patient would need.
“I get excited hearing our doctors talk about what we’re building and I don’t mean the physical building, but what we’re building for the patients and how what we’re building is going to make treatment easier on them,” said Melson.
Looking back from this milestone, she has plenty of advice to offer those starting out in the realm of communications, journalism and marketing.
“I would say get as much experience as you can,” she said, “and you just have to stick with it. You have to love it, stick with it and have a strong work ethic.”
Melson’s zeal for her job is contagious, and is probably only matched in her love of her friends and family. When not acting as superwoman at work, she loves to spend time with her husband and two sons.
“Being a mom is one of the best jobs I have,” she said with a smile. She organizes fun Arkansas day-trips for her and her sons to experience together, and she also attends everything from cross-country meets to baseball games.
The UALR alum has found success, and a simple chat with her may lead to inspiration: her enthusiasm is catching.
Perhaps her best advice for those looking to be successful is to love what you do. Melson said it best: “I love my job. It’s different everyday […] To be part of something so much bigger than marketing, is incredible.”