LGBTQ&A: Kory Aversa
We chat with the public relations maven on his activist beginnings, unexpected career switch, and being a gay bachelor in the city of brotherly love.
Kory Aversa is the CEO and president of Aversa PR & Events, a public relations firm that represents local restaurants, arts groups, nonprofits, and small businesses. We chat with the industry maven on his activist beginnings, unexpected career switch into public relations, and being a gay bachelor in the city of brotherly love.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Utica, New York, and went to Utica College of Syracuse University for PR and political science. In my last year in school, at 20 years old, me and my best friend raised over $100,000, started our own nonprofit and brought the AIDS Project Memorial Quilt to upstate New York. In conservative upstate New York, we had 6,000 people come out, managed over 1,000 volunteers, dealt with bomb threats and slashing of our lawn signs, and dealt with emotional moms trying to pry gay wedding rings off the quilt panels. As a grand finale to the project, and a goodbye to Utica, my conservative, very Catholic grandmother (Babci) was proud of our work – and decided to inadvertently out us in the newspaper by running a letter to the editor in the newspaper thanking us amazing “young gay people” for what we did. Nothing like coming out to tens of thousands of people at the same time!
After Utica, I moved to Albany, where I worked for the first LGBT elected official, Deborah Glick of New York City. It seemed like an exciting job until people would call from downstate to complain about a lot of minutiae – including noise from the neighbors every time that “Madonna lady” would play at Roseland Ballroom. From there I went on to intern for the governor, worked for an environmental group, did PR for a children’s museum, and found love. That boyfriend is what led me to Philadelphia. He went to Penn and he was obsessed with Philadelphia.
We moved to Philadelphia about 20-plus years ago and lived in the ’burbs, in Media. As a small-town guy moving to the big city, it was exciting and really scary. It was also scarier when we broke up and I moved from Media to the Gayborhood all by myself. In case you aren’t aware, they are two very different scenes! When I moved into the city, I wondered, “Would I ever meet any friends? How would I make a difference being one person in this huge city?” Many years later I look back and laugh at that as now I can’t get enough of this amazing city and all the people I have met.
For work, when I moved here I didn’t have any contacts, so I went into fundraising. I worked on behalf of many great organizations — the Epilepsy Foundation, Children’s Health Care Foundation, Philadelphia Senior Center and others. From there I transitioned into freelance PR and Aversa PR was born — and hasn’t slowed down since. I now live in a house I just bought in Northern Liberties. I have graduated from doing PR in my living room to an office in South Philly. I have 40-plus clients and rep five neighborhoods, seven theaters and theater artists, three circus schools, over 25 restaurants, Christmas Village, Parx Casino and much more. I am proud since day one to be out and proud as a business owner, and have always appreciated living in a place I could do what I love and be myself 100 percent of the time, 24/7!
Before your public relations days, you came from a political activist background. How has that experience shaped your current work?
In central New York I was heavily involved in politics and was an out gay committee person for one of the oldest committee districts in the country. In fact, I was bumped off the ballot, ran a write-in campaign, and every now and then I stumble upon “Kory Aversa for Office” pencils I used to campaign with. I learned a lot in those days — that with the excitement and glory and hand-shaking/baby-kissing comes lots of minutiae and hard work. They come together and you have to learn to manage them both — at the same time — to be a success. You also have to learn to become a fixer and handler — and adapt to changes, problems, obstacles. It makes you valuable. But it gives you the leg up. Plus, you get to make a difference on your terms. I also learned you can’t let life get you down — and you need to always keep moving forward.
Unknown to many, Aversa PR is a business that was created under spontaneous circumstances. What was the first year like launching what would become a popular brand in Philly?
The energy and excitement of Aversa PR was really born out of a very difficult period in my life. Before PR, my last job in an office setting working for someone else was in fundraising at Philadelphia Senior Center – where I was out, proud and had 5,000-plus grandparents of all races, sexes, incomes and backgrounds. It was such a supportive and wonderful group of clients that I had the pleasure to work with. Then it was over when the center was taken over by a corporate entity. I then wanted to get out of fundraising and find something new. But I was devastated. No more smiles, no more “extended family” of these amazing older adults, no more stories to cherish. Additionally, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was sick of fundraising events, especially the “trio” of -athons, silent auctions and golf tournaments. I also had some health issues at the time.
Then, I then ran off to join the circus. Literally. I took a part-time job with Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown, learned social media (Myspace was becoming Facebook) and started to do PR. I remember I would enter the room for a meeting and people would stare at me and ask me if I would show them how to juggle. I had this exciting new work to talk about and used my work with PSCA to rebrand myself. I didn’t want to be one of those unemployed people moping about and looking sad in interviews. This part-time job energized me, gave me a fun purpose, and got my spirits up.
Next thing you know, I traded some PR for cupcakes on East Passyunk to who would be my first official PR client, Ms Goody Cupcake. Gigi there thought I was trying to steal her recipes, and in fact I was obsessing about her five kinds of frostings! From there, East Passyunk knocked on my door and asked me to do social media. Then the ball started rolling – and I didn’t even know where this was all heading. I thought maybe I would have a few clients. I worked out of my living room and house with my dog at the time, Buster Brown, as my staffer. Then next thing you know it’s 6 or 7 years later and Aversa PR has 40-plus clients and an office, and there’s no slowing down. It has been a crazy and wild ride. I am so thankful for it all – and love to share my story to encourage others to turn their worst time in their life into the best opportunity for future success.
You’re a successful gay bachelor in Philly. What is that like as your career continues to expand?
I founded my business around my passion for my city — and my love of food, drink, entertainment, arts and culture. Now, after all these years, I get to experience the best of those things each and every day. In fact, sometimes I need to force myself to sit at home and be on the couch.
I think a lot about the work/life balance — and dating. It’s pretty exciting what I do — but it would be great to meet someone to share my adventures and success with. At the end of the very long and bustling days, I want to come home, hang with my pup Milo and escape the world – and all humans. But it would be pretty great to meet someone who loves to be wacky, distract me, and shares my love of fun adventures. I am always out now at great parties, eating amazing food and seeing the biggest names in entertainment. A date to join me would be great. They also would need to be independent, have their own passions and be flexible, as I do work a lot.
As I look ahead, I have new staff coming on board and need to find more time for myself and dating life – and I am staffing up to give me that. Now to just meet some people I connect with. If the right person came along, I could trim those 20-hour days to at least 16.5! Ha.But seriously, I have a lot of things to share and it would be great to have a partner in crime who gets me and is fun. In the interim, I am so lucky to have an amazing BFF, Hughe Dillon aka Philly Chit Chat. He is so supportive and his husband, Mike, lets me borrow him to go eat, gossip and have fun on the town. He is the gay BFF I always wanted growing up and moving here – and it’s amazing to have found someone I sync with. Now to find a husband down the road, so we can all double-date together!
What is your advice to the local LGBTQ community as it becomes more integrated beyond the Gayborhood?
I would never give up the days when I lived in the Gayborhood. I think any member of our community should do it at some point in their lifetime. In fact, it should be a requirement for carrying the gay card. But then, at some point, I recommend looking beyond the Gayborhood to all the city and region have to offer. I used to love going to Glowbar, Woody’s, Tavern on Camac. But then as my business expanded and I started eating at restaurants around the region, as I started to discover our amazing neighborhoods, as I met DJs who didn’t play in the city, and as I met people from outside those 10 to 12 blocks, I realized I was short-changing myself.
I recommend getting out and exploring the ever-changing neighborhoods. Philly has these amazing communities that are now full of gay and gay-friendly businesses. Now, to me, it is exciting to help support those businesses in the new gayborhoods as they evolve and pop up. It is exciting to me to help push the boundaries and get my own client restaurants and bars to be as welcoming to the gay community as if I owned them myself. Now, I love checking out the best food, drink and entertainment not only in the city but with other LGBTQ community members from the streets of Ardmore to the town of Collingswood, from Bucks County to Northern Delaware. There is so much out there I started to experience when I looked beyond the hood. While I love it and we need to support our Gayborhood, I think we all have a duty to bring that sense of Philly gay pride with us and beyond the center of the city. East Passyunk and Northern Liberties have both been called the new Gayborhood. Why can’t every neighborhood around the city be the next new Gayborhood?