This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.
International consultant, speaker and author. Served as PRSA national chair; CEO and president of American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development and Women in Health Administration; Kellogg Foundation Fellow. Received PRSA Health Academy Lifetime Achievement and Educators Academy Ferguson awards; AHA Society Individual Award of Excellence; PRSA-LA Outstanding Professional and WHA Woman of the Year.
On day one of my first communications position, the health system CEO asked me to describe my work. “I’m a public relations professional,” was my reply. “No,” he said, “you’re a health executive specializing in public relations.”
Public relations is about leadership- moving, motivating and ensuring organizations exceed objectives through proven, progressive and planned communications. We are challenged to seek meaningful dialogue among audiences with less time to focus on messages. As speed to market increases, need to build brand reputation quickens, reach of communications accelerates, information outlets proliferate and public craving of authenticity prevails, public relations leaders are maximizing messages on numerous platforms to impact attitudes, behaviors and decision-making.
We have a fundamental sense of responsibility for bettering our communities and the world because of our ability to communicate strategically. We have the opportunity to engage, interact and help lead every aspect of an organization. We use our skills as communicators and strategic thinkers and our role as the corporate conscience to take companies places they have never been. Knowing how critical we are to business success, here’s advice for the journey.
- Invest in Career Insurance and Lifelong Learning. Instead of buying designer coffee and drinks, invest a percentage of your income into a “career” account. Use those funds to attend PRSA conferences, industry and executive sessions.
- Stay ahead of the Curve. Be an avid reader, observer and adopter of trends and techniques in public relations, marketing and business. Understand and embrace diversity and multicultural communications.
- Secure Mentors and Become One. Access mentors through PRSA, business groups and by volunteering in the community and organization. Mentors also need “mentoring” in social media.
- Beware of Side Effects. With potential employers googling applicants, unflattering tweets, cutesy email addresses and TMI lingering in cyberspace can damage reputations and careers.
- Welcome Everyone and Engage. As PRSA chair, I called hundreds of members, listening, learning and encouraging volunteerism, with most participating nationally for the first time. As SHSMD president, I distributed handwritten personal postcards to more than 1,000 participants at a conference. People remember those gestures.
- Sweat the Small Stuff. Without tactics and action, strategies stagnate. While leaders tout benefits of failure, my father- the king of common sense- worries about repercussions if doctors, for example, were taught it’s okay to make mistakes. Your parents, like mine, are typically much smarter than leadership gurus.
- Never Sit Near Anyone You Know. My life has been enriched and knowledge expanded from talking to strangers, boldly approaching newcomers and leaving the comfort of my friends.
- Follow Your Dreams. Turn the vision of the visionaries into the realities of the realists. While giving up your dreams may make you wake up cranky, balance them with what is possible and sustainable.
- Never Fear Change. Courageous leaders are excited, engaged and rally followers toward a brighter future; don’t allow squeaky wheels to squelch good decisions; and encourage experimentation and innovation.
At my Ph.D. graduation, we were reminded of Antioch’s 1836 commencement when college president Horace Mann said: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Together, let’s use our communications leadership to further humanity and make a difference.