Public relations has been an important part of Patrick Pollino’s life for a very long time – more than 40 years as a matter of fact. In 1970, he worked briefly with Pennsylvania Electric Company, where he experienced his first real crisis as a PR professional. Following his retirement in 2005 as corporate communications officer for global consulting firm Mercer, Pollino worked as an independent practitioner for two years.
Itching to get back into an office, Pollino joined the Greater Boston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (GBCVB) as the visitor’s services representative where today he continues his work at the GBCVB’s Boston Common Visitors Information Center in the same role.
Pollino shared with PRSA Boston the ins and outs of his journey in public relations and offered some helpful tips to young PR pros
PRSA Boston: What was your first job in the industry?
Patrick Pollino: I started out in January 1965 as a staff trainee in public relations at the now defunct electric and manufacturing company Western Electric.
PRSA Boston: What do you love most about being in PR?
Patrick Pollino: What I have loved most about being in the field of public relations is the variety of the communications challenges I have faced over the years. I have gotten to know many great professionals through my work as a colleague and as a client. There’s satisfaction that’s derived from knowing that your actions can make a difference in how the organization you work for is perceived by stakeholders both internally and externally.
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?
Patrick Pollino: I’ve had so many memorable experiences in public relations over the years – most of them, thankfully, positive – making it difficult to single out one in particular.
That said, I would have to acknowledge the communications scenario stemming from an incident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) Nuclear Plant in the late 1970s as especially noteworthy, given that it along with communications accompanying a Tylenol tampering scare that came earlier both helped shape the conduct of crisis communications as we know it today. In the case of TMI, I was still what one might call a relatively young public relations practitioner facing his first real communications crisis. The firm I worked for at the time, Pennsylvania Electric Company, was a sister company of Metropolitan Edison, the operator for Three Mile Island.
As reports began to surface that TMI encountered what some observers were describing as a possible nuclear meltdown, the public relations departments of the affected firms went into scramble mode. The challenge became one of trying to reassure a panicked public that the situation was under control and that the operator of the plant was forthright and honest in its communications with all who were concerned. With so much pressure being brought to bear to get information out quickly and accurately, resources were pressed to their limits.
What the entire experience taught me was to make sure that information being disseminated under crisis conditions is accurate – get it out in a timely manner and be prepared to answer any questions that may come your way.
PRSA Boston: What are some of the biggest changes within the industry that occurred throughout your career?
Patrick Pollino: Some of the biggest changes that have occurred during my tenure in public relations have to do with the way practitioners go about solving problems strategically and the tools that are employed in doing so. As to the latter, there are many social media tools now available that were not part of the PR landscape when my career was drawing to a close. Meanwhile, the ability to measure the overall effectiveness of our work continues to be somewhat of a conundrum for our profession.
PRSA Boston: What do you think the future holds for the PR industry and its professionals?
Patrick Pollino: I believe that the future can be bright for the PR industry and its professionals, but only if they can keep up with the times in which we live. The profession continues to evolve, and there are others who feel that they can bring some of the same skills to bear on a communications problem as PR people traditionally have done – management consultants, for example, who would argue that they have a better understanding of what drives organizations.
PRSA Boston: What is the number-one recommendation you would give to new PR professionals?
Patrick Pollino: The number-one recommendation that I would give to new PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about the world in which we live, master the tools that are available to you that can help you do your jobs better, and remain intellectually curious.