Career

  • What? No clients!

    In Career on

    One of the most frequent comments that I get when my agency cohorts find out I am a corporate PR practitioner is, “Wow, it must be great to have no clients and no restrictions!”

    My first response is, “But I DO have clients, and they shape my day-to-day world as much as yours do!”

    Corporate public relations practice has more similarities to the agency model than may be realized, starting with the client structure.

    Many corporate practices have a specialization or client model, where one practitioner works exclusively (for the most part) with specific product lines or corporate functions, similar to account teams at PR firms. Despite the term “specialization,” I am far from a laser-focused specialist. Rather, I have multiple clients from each function. For example, being the in-house multicultural PR expert means I will get work requests from multicultural marketing, Diversity & Inclusion, employee resource groups such as our Association of Latinos at MassMutual and Allies (ALMMA), recruiting, sales, and other corporate units. To work with each of these clients, a general knowledge set beyond public relations is needed in the areas of demographics and psychographics, event planning, human resources, community, and government relations and recruiting, to name a few.

    Client relationships are equally similar. Most often I play a more consultative role, rather than completing a work request. As is expected, I have direct work requests but also ones for consultation and advice from my multiple clients. Based on their objectives, I may refer them to other areas of the company. Corporate PR provided me with key career skills like understanding strategic objectives and cascading them to meaningful PR approaches and business results, as well as setting appropriate expectations with clients, particularly when ever-so-gracefully leading them in a more suitable direction.

    Even though my clients work for the same financial services company, they range from conservative to adventurous, and gauging their appetite for cutting-edge solutions can be tricky. Keeping abreast of the latest innovations is a must so that we provide up-to-date service and consultation to clients. Always leading with proposals that incorporate the latest trend may, however, potentially alienate some, so the approach must be measured and oftentimes nurtured over time.

    At the end of the day, the corporate and agency PR worlds are really similar in the most important way: We both use our expertise, whether in multicultural and research-driven PR as I do, or in technology, government, packaged goods, or service industries, or whatever our particular expertise is, to enhance our clients’ brand recognition and reputation. We’re not so different, at all.

    Post Author

    Kkavariere-sanchez2011Karen Lavariere-Sanchez is director of Public Relations at the life insurance and financial services company Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), specializing in multicultural, diversity and research-driven media relations. She can be reached at klavarieresanchez@massmutual.com.  

  • Lessons from PR Veterans: Barbara Wellnitz, APR, Fellow PRSA

    In Career on

    When she made the switch from the corporate world to the agency side, Barbara Wellnitz, APR, Fellow PRSA, thought that it would be a short-lived experience. Thirty years later Wellnitz still enjoys agency life and helping clients meet their business objectives. Today, Wellnitz is co-founder and senior counsel at Ryan Wellnitz & Associates (RW&A), a marketing public relations, business-to-business communications, and investor relations firm.

    Wellnitz shared the ins and outs to her career path with PRSA Boston as well as some helpful lessons for young PR pros that she wished she knew when embarking on her professional trek.

    PRSA Boston: What was your first job in the industry? How did you end up in your current position?

    Barbara Wellnitz: I’ve been in the public relations business – the business of public relations – for more than 30 years and counting. After a couple of years as a newspaper reporter, a half dozen as a technical editor, and then communications department manager at a Fortune 500 company, I sought a position at a large, national public relations agency (what was then Creamer Dickson Basford). I approached this with a “now or never” outlook, figuring I’d get a solid grounding in the profession and would return to the corporate world in a year or two. That was 1984. Here I am, still in agency life, and enjoying the counselor role that goes with addressing communications challenges. I’ve spent my career in B2B public relations, with some forays into public affairs.

    After a decade, ending as president of the public relations division of a New England ad agency, I struck out on my own in 1994 (thanks to a call from a client I first started working with in 1984). From the start, I collaborated with a former Creamer Dickson Basford colleague, who also had opened an independent practice about the same time I did. Not long afterward, we merged our businesses into Ryan Wellnitz & Associates (RW&A). A couple of years ago, I assumed the role of (part-time) senior counselor at RW&A. I now spend the bulk of my time working with a number of non-profits – and serving on a couple of those boards – leading search committees, doing strategic planning, and moderating forums.

    PRSA Boston: What do you love most about being in PR?

    Barbara Wellnitz: This business has given me the opportunity to learn about new products, services, technologies, issues, manufacturing, and business processes in a number of sectors from medical devices to manufacturing processes, from application software to financial services, and issues in education from adult literacy to college ratings. It is extremely rewarding to help clients meet their business objectives. I’ve also met and worked with some very smart people, on both the agency and client side.

    PRSA Boston: What has been a memorable experience?

    Barbara Wellnitz: I managed the Rhode Island adult literacy campaign sponsored by a financial services client to help its business clients address the issue of illiteracy among the workforce through worksite literacy programs, as well as raise awareness among legislators of the high incidence of adult illiteracy and its impact on business productivity. Over the course of the first year, 25 worksite literacy programs were established among small businesses throughout the state, the number of volunteer tutors increased by 50%, and state funding for various literacy programs increased by 100%. Attending the GED-graduation ceremony for the first group of worksite literacy students made me appreciate the impact public relations can have on people’s lives, and resulted in my ongoing interest in public policy issues.

    If I may cite a second, very different experience: Years ago, the agency I worked for had what appeared to be a terrific opportunity to help a new client launch a new business. I was going to work on the account. A couple of us expressed concerns about the business ethics of this prospect to the agency head and my then-manager (who later became my business partner). They agreed we could dig into the prospect’s background. The result: We didn’t pursue the account. The agency clearly demonstrated the value of ethics over income, and I learned to pay attention to my gut instincts.

    PRSA Boston: What are some of the biggest changes within the industry that have occurred?

    Barbara Wellnitz: “Googling” a person, issue, or company replaced long hours at newspaper “morgues,” the repository at newspaper offices where hardcopy clips and film were stored. (That’s how we researched the prospect noted above.) And, of course, email enabled us to transmit documents to clients quickly, replacing first-class mail and fax transmittals, and making deadlines tighter and turnaround times shorter. A lot of changes occurred in a short period – all of which made our tasks easier and our jobs more intense. They also enabled us to focus more on strategic planning and the objectives we are trying to achieve. And, perhaps not to push “send” too quickly!

    PRSA Boston: What do you think the future holds for the PR industry and its professionals?

    Barbara Wellnitz: I think there is increasing respect for those of us in the public relations profession, because we have demonstrated the business value of what we do. More and more of our colleagues are now in the so-called “C-suite,” or – on the agency side – sought for their expertise. Much of this business partnership, I think, is due to the initiatives by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) to include public relations training in university MBA programs, and to the number of our colleagues who earn master’s or MBA degrees. I also hope the future brings fewer times when I hear “PR” being used as a pejorative term. I think we ourselves might consider saying “public relations,” rather than “PR” more often!

    PRSA Boston: What is the number one recommendation you would give to new public relations professionals?

    Barbara Wellnitz: Read – a lot – on a multitude of topics, issues, people. It goes without saying that we read the journals important to our clients, but extracurricular reading enables us to connect the dots that often lead to new ideas that we can apply to our clients’ businesses. I think intellectual curiosity remains the mark of the most successful practitioners.

    PRSA Boston: Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Barbara Wellnitz: In what other business can we learn so much about so many things and meet – and work with – so many interesting people? I don’t ever plan to “retire.”

    Post Author

    Know a PRSA Boston veteran who can provide some useful insights and tips to younger PR professionals in our PR industry veterans Q&A? Email Franceen Shaughnessy at fshaughnessy@gmail.com

  • PRSA Boston Presents 2013’s Emerging Leader Scholarship Recipient, Krystle Lischwe

    In Career on

    She has already completed six internships, is bilingual and studied abroad, has held ambassador and leadership roles for her alma mater and its PRSSA chapter, and somehow managed to accelerate completion of her degree… these are just some of the qualifications of the PRSA Boston Chapter’s latest Emerging Scholarship Award recipient.

    At the chapter’s January 27 Client Perspective Roundtable event, and accompanied by her proud BU faculty advisor and past PRSA Boston President, Prof. Stephen Quigley, APR of the Boston University College of Communications (pictured, right, with PRSA Boston Board members Loring Barnes, APR, and Diane Pardes),  Krystle Lischwe crisply outlined her pledge to enhance our Chapter’s diversity after being saluted as the 2013 Emerging Leader Scholarship recipient. In addition to the $2,000 monetary award she received earlier, Scholarship Chair Loring Barnes, APR presented Krystle with a formal wall certificate for her future office, an embossed leather folio for her first job interviews, and a check to fund her first year of PRSA membership. Loring thanked last year’s Scholarship Committee for their painstaking review and deliberation over last year’s applications, which spiked by 300%.  The application form was made more rigorous, including an essay from which to demonstrate critical thinking and strategic action for case scenarios borrowed from news headlines: specifically, the Boston Marathon bombings.

  • Lessons from PR Veterans: Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

    In Career on

    For Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, working in the PR industry became a fortuitous accident when as a young airman in the U.S. Air Force he was asked to boost business for the audiovisual library.

    This request ended up launching Hazlett on a PR career path spanning 35-plus years working with the federal government and non-profit organizations followed by 10 years of experience as a college professor for undergraduate and graduate students. Today, Hazlett is an associate professor of communication at Curry College in Milton and a lecturer in communications at Regis College in Weston.

    Hazlett shared the ins and outs of his career path with PRSA Boston as well as some helpful lessons for young PR pros that he wished he knew when embarking on his professional trek.

    PRSA Boston:What was your first job in the industry? How did you end up in your current position?

    Kirk Hazlett: My first “official” job in PR was as a public affairs intern working with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia. But I actually “accidentally” fell into PR with my first stateside assignment in the U.S. Air Force seven years earlier.

    I was asked to “do whatever you can” to increase business for the audiovisual library to which I was assigned. Didn’t really realize what I was doing, but I wrote an article for our base newspaper promoting our services, the variety of training and entertainment films we had available for loan, and our knowledgeable staff of audiovisual experts. The day after the article appeared in the newspaper, we came to work to find people waiting at the door for us to open… had never happened before according to my supervisor! Business skyrocketed!

    Today, I am a full-time associate professor of undergraduate communication/public relations at Curry College and part-time lecturer in Regis College’s graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area.

    How did I wind up teaching? Simple! I got fired from my job as marketing and communications director for a Boston-based trade association!

    After that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I was in my mid-50s and wanted to plan the move carefully.

    Then, my phone rang, and a friend at Emerson College in Boston persuaded me to interview for a part-time graduate teaching gig. Shortly after, my phone rang again and it was the chair of the communication department at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater asking if I would be interested in a part-time undergrad position. Next, it was onto Stonehill College in Easton, then Curry College, and then Regis College.

    Curry subsequently offered me a full-time opportunity to teach and to revitalize their public relations concentration. Ten-plus years later and having the time of my life!

    PRSA Boston: What do you love most about being in PR?

    Kirk Hazlett: The opportunity to take a challenge faced by a client or employer and help identify ways in which to overcome that challenge, regain the public’s trust (or build initial awareness), and contribute to the success of that particular organization. I love “fixing stuff.”

    PRSA Boston: What has been a memorable PR experience (good or bad/embarrassing) that turned into the most valuable learning experience? Please explain. What did you learn from this experience?

    Kirk Hazlett: In the mid-1980s, I took a PR specialist position with the former Honeywell Electro-Optics division in Lexington after having spent 15 years with the federal government (U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army). Two months into this new position, the company underwent an employee layoff and a drug bust, simultaneously.

    This experience taught me the value and importance of honest, forthright communication with both internal and external audiences. In retrospect, regarding the layoffs, we really didn’t do a very good job of helping employees understand what was going on and there were some very hurt feelings as a result.

    The concurrent drug bust taught me the reality of crisis communications and the amazing speed with which information spreads to the media and elsewhere.

    PRSA Boston: What are some of the biggest changes within the industry that occurred throughout your career?

    Kirk Hazlett: When I was in my PR intern position with the Army, a marvelous new device was introduced that enabled us to transmit printed documents anywhere in the world with a telephone – the FAX machine.

    Flash-forward a quarter of a century with the introduction of the Internet and subsequent evolution of social media with both virtually erasing the event occurrence-public awareness timelag and exponentially increasing the demand that we, as PR professionals charged with protecting our clients’ or employer’s reputation, be “on” 24/7.

    PRSA Boston: What do you think the future holds for the PR industry and its professionals?

    Kirk Hazlett: The PR profession, and we as PR professionals, will continue to face skepticism regarding our ethical practices and professionalism. We will be challenged to defend our actions in the court of public opinion on a global level and to counter arguments that we are not truly working on the public’s behalf.

    At the same time, though, I believe that we, as the organization’s or client’s communication counsel, will find greater acceptance of our rightful and logical seat at the “management table.”

    PRSA Boston: What is the number-one recommendation you would give to new PR professionals?

    Kirk Hazlett: Embrace your chosen profession and believe with all your heart that you can do great things. There are others, myself included, who are committed to helping you succeed.

    PRSA Boston: Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Kirk Hazlett: If I could go back in time to my high school graduation and change anything about the way in which my life story has played out, I wouldn’t change a thing!

    Know a PRSA Boston veteran who can provide some useful insights and tips to younger PR professionals in our PR industry veterans Q&A? Email Franceen Shaughnessy at fshaughnessy@gmail.com.