Congratulations to PR NEWS’ 2002 15-to-Watch Winners!

The staff of PR NEWS met nearly a month ago to complain to the editor about the various injuries incurred while judging this year's 15-to-Watch list: back spasms from toting the monstrous pile of nominations, eye strain from reading into the wee hours of the morning ... not to mention a few near-fatal paper cuts. Their discomfort aside, however, the team was successful in its mission: to whittle a group of nominees that numbered in the hundreds to a mere 15 PR pros, ages 35 and under, who deserve to be recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in the field of public relations. Almost every nomination warranted our admiration, and we extend our gratitude to all the co-workers, supervisors, employees, clients and mentors who took the time to nominate these young stars. The sheer number and outstanding talent among this year's nominees makes the 2002 15-to-Watch list unprecedented in the caliber and range of expertise represented. We selected young PR pros from agencies, corporations, associations and nonprofits; from high-tech to healthcare and cosmetics to causes. The 15 PR practitioners profiled in the pages that follow are bright, creative, highly-motivated and highly-respected. They've made strides and taken on responsibilities usually reserved for veteran practitioners. Most importantly, they possess an appreciation for the art of communication that surpasses their years. In the words of one winner, they are "young ... but very, very good." Ben Conrad Account Executive Schwartz Communications San Francisco Age: 25 At 25, Ben Conrad has already fled the world of IT, done a stint for the White House, helped build a new practice for his firm and gained the respect of senior execs who use words like "honesty" and "trust" to describe him. He did time as an IT intern in college - and decided he would prefer to be on the other side of the helpdesk. But he did want to put his knowledge of technology to use. "I told myself I should eventually find a job that would let me be a bridge between the tech-savvy and folks who were not as well-versed with the 'latest and greatest.'" After serving with the White House Advance Community, working on trips for heavy-hitters in the Clinton administration, Conrad found a job with Schwartz Communications that allows him to do just that. He recently moved from the Boston office to the San Francisco location, where he's working with clients like Red Hat and Borland. "Today, I get to talk to producers, editors, writers, even government officials and their staffs, about some of the hottest companies and technologies around - which strangely enough is exactly what I set out to do." Personal Mission Statement: "Learn how to do something better every day." Best Advice Received: Spend as much energy keeping yourself healthy and your life balanced as you do making clients happy. Worst Advice Received: Only the results count. "Certainly results count, but the process is just as important. Do it right the first, second, third and fourth time." PR Accomplishments: "There's nothing like working as part of a team that knows what it's doing - where each member knows how to jump into action and does so without waiting for prodding from above." Conrad has been a key part of Schwartz's growing special events and government relations practice and has had a chance to travel with industry leaders and share their visions with influential decision-makers. "I feel comfortable jumping into a new project at any given point. If that means hopping onto a plane with the CEO of a company I've never met before, I'll be the first one on board." Most Embarrassing PR Moment: Conrad has boogied with the best: "I once got pulled up on stage by dance diva Evelyn 'Champagne' King at a company anniversary party. That was pretty embarrassing." Leah Gabriel Director of Marketing iConverse Waltham, Mass. Age: 27 She wanted to be a journalist, but in the interest of making enough money for food, she turned to PR - and found her true calling. Leah Gabriel worked for CBS News during the 1996 presidential campaign, but moved to a better-paying post in the communications department of an advertising firm afterwards. Next, she moved to Schwartz Communications, and then back to politics - this time on the communications side. After managing communications for various state and regional initiatives, Gabriel moved to Xchange Inc. and then mobile platform vendor iConverse. At 27, she's now responsible for all marketing and PR for the company. "I've learned a lot and been really challenged (my two key ingredients to career satisfaction!)." PR Accomplishments: "Winning as many product awards as we have at iConverse has been great, but I guess the best feeling is when reporters and analysts call you because now they know who the company is when two years ago no one had ever heard of us. I love that." Personal Mission Statement: "Do my best at all times and be passionate. The more I believe in what I do, the more I find that excitement rubs off, on team members, reporters, analysts and others." Best Advice Received: Don't underestimate the value of media coaching. "A lot of executives hesitate when it comes to media coaching. Many of them have done interviews a thousand times and don't feel they need it. When a new spokesperson comes into your midst, it is essential to familiarize them with the company's messaging." Worst Advice Received: PR is all about how much press coverage you can secure. "I wholeheartedly disagree with that way of thinking." Instead, Gabriel considers her role that of "public opinion mover." Biggest PR Gaffe (and Lesson Learned): At her first PR job, Gabriel let slip to a reporter an important - and confidential - piece of information. "I didn't sleep for three days for fear it would end up in print." Thankfully, the information never made it to press, but Gabriel learned how to keep a secret! Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: Find someone to teach you the tricks. Michele Faulkner was a VP at Gabriel's first high-tech agency, and she says Faulkner taught her everything she needed to know. "I still call her when I need another pair of eyes and ears." Phil Gomes Account Manager Phase Two Strategies San Francisco Age: 27 Phil Gomes' colleagues say his name is synonymous with "technophile," and for good reason. This 27-year-old PR pro is so exuberant about the technology he promotes that he has even launched a series of discussions (now a formal part of his agency's professional development program) named in honor of the inventor of the mouse. (For those not in the know, that would be Douglas Engelbart.) When he's not leading "Engelbart Society" meetings or launching tech start-ups, Gomes is lecturing about PR at San Francisco State University's College of Extended Learning in preparation for a future role as a communications researcher and teacher. "There's plenty to be studied, particularly in terms of the past decade. We live in a curious time when PR materials often masquerade as news. As someone who serves as my clients' lawyer in the court of public opinion, this provides for very interesting PR opportunities. As a voracious consumer of media, however, such a state of affairs is quite terrifying." Personal Mission Statement: Never stop pitching the client - even after the ink dries on the contract. "I find that rings especially true these days." Important PR Accomplishments: "My passion for science and technological innovation has allowed me to work with some of the most incredible minds in technology within a very short period of time. Now, is this an accomplishment or blind luck? I tend to think that we make our own luck. Had I not demonstrated technical knowledge and an enthusiasm for technology, I would not have been able to work with these wonderful people." Biggest PR Gaffe (and Lesson Learned): Gomes pulled driving directions off a search engine for a restaurant where he was to meet an EDN editor. After passing the directions along to the editor, Gomes set out. He spent a while searching the suburbs before he got the phone message from the editor: "I don't think there's a Hobee's [restaurant] around here. There are families, and dogs, and white picket fences. It's certainly a very nice neighborhood, but I'm sure these people won't want us stopping in for lunch." The incident (without naming names) landed in the pages of U.S. News & World Report. "I guess I learned," Gomes says, "that when planning anything, one should not leave too much to chance." Lise Harwin Public Relations Specialist Legacy Health System Portland, Ore. Age: 24 Lise Harwin's supervisors remember a time when Harwin "struggled with the perception that young equaled inexperienced and ineffective. She has since set new precedents and high expectations, and now has responsibilities not usually entrusted to someone her age." The 24-year-old turned to PR at the age of 21 to "become a better news reporter." She had already won accolades from Rolling Stone for her work as an entertainment and news writer for her college paper, but when she approached the features department of the San Antonio Express-News for a job, the editor recommended she get more news experience. Harwin snatched up a job as Public Information Officer for the City of San Antonio, where she got experience writing newsworthy material and handling the crisis management issues that go hand-in-hand with any city. She left that role knowing the paper would have hired her, "but by that time, I was hooked on PR." She now handles media relations for Legacy Emanuel Hospital, a Level One trauma center and children's hospital, which includes taking up to 70 media calls a day and launching a PR campaign supporting the drive for a new burn unit. The campaign garnered ongoing public interest, coverage in USA Today and more monetary support than the fundraisers had hoped for. Best Advice Received: Get involved with local chapters of PR organizations. "Connections are invaluable. Also, you are your own best PR person." Don't be afraid to toot your own horn: "If you do it with tact and humility, you will be both memorable and impressive." Dream Job Outside of PR: "I'd go back to doing music reviews and band interviews." Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: "Don't be hurt by comments that imply that you're too young. But, make them a reason to double your efforts. Once you prove you're competent, the only thing people will say is, 'Young ... but very, very good.'" What She Does for Fun (Besides PR): "I try to get in some arts and entertainment reporting whenever possible ... from time to time, I'll do restaurant and shopping reviews. On the Horizon: "I really enjoy working for an organization that cares about saving lives. I also thrive on the adrenaline I get from our high volume of media calls." Marc Hausman President & CEO Strategic Communications Group Silver Spring, Md. Age: 30 He overcame the horrors of lunchmeat PR to found his own firm which, despite the dotcom debacle, has grown from a one-man consultancy to a 30-person agency. At 30, Marc Hausman represents global technology leaders like Unisys, American Management Systems, Veridian and Deltek Systems. Plus, his expert insights have recently begun gracing the pages of national PR pubs - including PR NEWS, in which he most recently offered exclusive advice on managing communications around M&As (PRN, March 18). Hausman graduated with a degree in PR from the University of Maryland and then joined the communications team of Giant Food writing radio spots. After discovering "there are only so many ways you can describe lunchmeat," he jumped ship to join Boscobel Marketing Communications, where he not only learned more about tech PR, but was exposed to the "guts of running a business." It was only natural that his next move was to apply that knowledge by launching Strategic Communications Group at the age of 24. Since then, he has built his client roster and developed a "Network of Relationships," a unique method of serving clients' and potential clients' capital, customer and partnership needs by facilitating access to high-level contacts with other companies and organizations. Today, "It's seven years later. So far, so good." Personal Mission Statement: Make a positive impact on people's lives. Dream Job Outside PR: Point guard for the Washington Wizards. Most Important Accomplishment: "Convincing Hilary Hahn to marry me." (Editor's Note: Awww.) Biggest PR Gaffe (and Lesson Learned): After leaving a message for an editor, Hausman thought he had hung up. Not so. After he complained to a colleague that the editor "wouldn't recognize a good story if it fell from the sky and hit him on the head," he realized his mistake. "Surprisingly, I never received a call back." Lesson: It never hurts to be extra-sure you've hung up before engaging in a little therapeutic editor-bashing. Most Embarrassing PR Moment: "Broke out in a full sweat in a new business meeting with the CEO of a publicly-traded company. Won the contract after I explained that I had a gland disorder and was seeking medical treatment, so the condition was only temporary." Susanna Homan Group Supervisor PR21 Chicago Age: 28 There's having an impact on reporters, and then there's having an impact on reporters. Susanna Homan, for example, so impressed a group of journalists during an annual client media trip that they asked her to join their staff - while remaining a full-time PR pro. Homan now covers Chicago nightlife for the Chicago Sun-Times in a full-page weekly column titled "Susanna's Night Out." She's covered events ranging from the Grammies to local fundraisers, and makes frequent appearances on Chicago TV and radio programs as an insider to the most exclusive events. Meanwhile, her contacts from her "Nights Out" have become lucrative contacts for PR21. Homan has implemented national campaigns for major clients including Jose Cuervo Tequila, Whirlpool and the City of Louisville since joining PR21 after a stint with PrimeCo, a wireless phone company. In her free time, she volunteers for the Lookingglass Theater Junior Board. Personal Mission Statement: To be good at your job, you have to have a life outside your job that inspires you to be creative. Best PR Advice Received: After working for a few years in the technology sector, a mentor told Homan not to pigeonhole herself. "I'm glad I followed her advice, because in the last two and a half years at PR21, I've had the opportunity to do everything imaginable in the realm of PR. My personal favorite? Hosting media tequila tasting trips in Mexico." Worst PR Advice Received: Junior account team members should be seen but not heard. "I tell my team the exact opposite - chemistry with your clients is essential, and every member of the team should feel comfortable contributing in a meeting." Biggest PR Gaffe: Homan sent an email to a high-level executive that came off more "terse" than intended. "He was completely offended, and it actually took a long time for him to get over the perceived insult. I learned that email is both a blessing and a curse because it's so easy for something to be misunderstood. To this day I re-read everything before I hit the send button." Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: There's nothing more important than a mentor. "I tell anyone starting out to find someone they admire and learn as much as they can from that person." Heather Lylis Marketing Manager Bishoff Solomon Communications New York Age: 24 How many 24-year-olds are entrusted with the responsibility of launching a PR agency's New York office? Heather Lylis, of Boston-based Bishoff Solomon Communications, is the only one we know. Lylis worked as an account executive in the public affairs group in Boston, spearheading the Boston Heart Party, a cardiovascular screening program, for the agency's Pfizer Account. The Heart Party generated 132 media placements (compared with the previous year's 30) and got more than 4,500 women screened for heart disease with Lylis at the helm. When she decided she needed a change of scenery and announced that she'd be leaving Boston, the agency asked Lylis to open its New York office. From her new post, she generates new business, represents the agency's clients with the media and continues to head up the Pfizer account. "I think my family knew I was destined for PR - or at least a career where being outspoken was an asset - when I was two years old. That's when my grandfather nicknamed me 'Sergeant,' clearly recognizing my ability to lead, delegate, speak confidently and assert myself." The "sergeant" went through basic training as a PR intern for an interior design and architecture firm during college. She interned for Edelman Chicago the next summer then moved to Boston to join Bishoff Solomon and opened the New York office in 2001. Dream Job Outside of PR: "I'd go around the country on the karaoke circuit. My rendition of 'Livin' La Vida Loca' would bring the house down." Strangest Thing Done in the Line of Duty: "Near the end of my tenure at Edelman, I faced a particular challenge: pitching an educational software product. I told a senior VP I'd get a hit in a major daily before I left, and when I did, it would be plastered all over his office." Sure enough, Lylis came through on her promise. She wisely waited until the day she left to plaster his office door, floor to ceiling, with copies of her hit. "He thought it was hilarious. I showed that I set goals and meet them - and also that I'm true to my word!" Best Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: "Be warm and good to your clients, the media, co-workers and potential new business contacts. Never burn a bridge, and always send a thank you note." Pierce Mattie Founder Pierce Mattie Public Relations New York Age: 26 The associate beauty editor for Redbook calls him "the ultimate professional" (and lives for his homemade cookies). Another editor says, "No matter what, he was someone I could count on when I was in a pinch." Clients gush about his dedication. Pierce Mattie at 26 is a self-made success story in the beauty industry. He took an unconventional road to the head of his own agency. "I am not a genius, I never went to an Ivy League school or interned at a hot corporation. I had a passion, a vision, and I worked 24/7 to make it materialize." Mattie began quite literally with hands-on experience: He was doing facials at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. His publicist booked him a few beauty editors, and he sent them thank you notes with copy on skincare. Soon he was being interviewed as an expert for beauty magazines. "I was getting claustrophobic in the facial room, and I felt that my voice and energy were being wasted," Mattie says. So he went to work for Repechage, where he got his feet wet in public relations. Mattie opened his own firm last year and is now serving 14 clients with five employees. Important PR Accomplishments: "This past December, we published the PMPR Cosmetic Forecast, which was sent to the press as a gift for the New Year." The forecast, a compilation of essays written by beauty and healthcare experts about trends for the upcoming year, has resulted in quotes in consumer mags and several reprinted articles in trade journals. Mattie's firm also has a 24-hour hotline for editors who call in late at night or over the weekend. Finally, he gets to see life on the other side of the fence as the grooming editor for men's magazine Genre. "I get to see the good and bad sides of PR." Most Embarrassing PR Moment: Mattie had scheduled a photo shoot at a spa, but no model showed. "I found myself naked, covered in a seaweed treatment, with a power water shower blasting on my body as I wore a disposable thong." On the Horizon: This June, Mattie's book, Groomed for Success, a how-to on marketing to, treating and selling to the male spa customer, comes out at the International Esthetic and Spa Conference in Las Vegas. Jill Notini Director, Communications & Marketing Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers Washington, DC Age: 24 The communications department at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers can be summed up in two words: Just Jill. Jill Notini came to the association fresh out of college and took on all the communications functions for the nonprofit, which represents the $17 billion home appliance industry. Notini has done everything from explaining to CNN why microwaving your mail will not kill anthrax to developing and implementing an industry-wide voluntary recall for a hazardous consumer product to partnering with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation on a promotional program for portable air cleaners. Despite all that, she credits others with her success: "I've initiated some good things and garnered a lot of credit for what I've accomplished. But I'm convinced that what makes me good at what I do is the mentoring and insights I receive from the seasoned group of industry professionals with whom I work. I strategize and work with top-level executives at some of the world's largest companies, and they have continually shared their vision, mission and strategies with me." What's on the horizon for this young PR pro? "Probably another cup of coffee." Important PR Accomplishments: Directing the air cleaner promotional program. "I have constructed surveys, focus group questions, media and manufacturer kits while using a highly aggressive timeline to unveil the final program at a national trade show. Initiating, developing and implementing a program like this is the easy part. It's revising, repackaging and reselling the programs year after year that is the most challenging part. To have a meaningful campaign, you need an ongoing and consistent approach." Notini also cites her work on the product recall campaign as some of the most exciting of her career. "I only use the word 'exciting' in retrospect. At the time that I was knee-deep in work and tearing my hair out, it was challenging and tense because even with adequate preparation, we weren't sure of the outcome." Personal Mission Statement: Work hard, stay eager and passionate. "Also, one margarita can't hurt!" Best PR Advice Received: "Take a deep breath ... and let it out." Worst PR Advice Received: "Be satisfied with what you've done." Laurie Quinn VP, Corporate Communications Cendant Corp. New York Age: 29 While most kids were dreaming of being a doctor or a firefighter, Laurie Quinn was dreaming of PR. "I always wanted to be in PR; we had a family friend who did PR for Mercedes, and I thought it was so glamorous." Quinn pursued PR in college and then found a job with a nonprofit center for children and families suffering with autism. Next, she moved to New Jersey Transit, the state's public bus, rail and light rail system as communications coordinator. There, she took on the infamous Hoboken Festival, a day-long celebration of public transit that attracted about 25,000 people. "My supervisor put me in charge of the event coming in, and I realized, either I'm gonna get fired or do really well here." Next, she realized her childhood dream, during a brief stint as a consultant for Mercedes Benz. She was then recruited by Cendant Corp.,to serve as PR manager for its subsidiary, Century 21. In 1998, she became director of corporate communications for the parent company, and today she is the second-highest-ranking communications professional for the company, which has 60,000 employees and market capitalization of $15 billion. Greatest Accomplishment: "My brother was one of the police officers killed on 9-11, and my most important accomplishment has been being there for my family and creating a foundation in his honor that helps needy kids. This year, we bought 28 bicycles for kids over the holidays. It's something that I'm really proud of, and it has been a good way to turn something very hurtful into a positive." Most Embarrassing PR Moment: When Quinn was with New Jersey Transit, many times musicians and other artists asked to shoot videos or take photographs at train stations. Quinn had scheduled a photo shoot and was watching the photographer set up when a naked model walked out on the platform. "I had to try to explain to this photographer, who did not understand, why this woman could not walk around naked - this was a public train station!" Dream Job Outside of PR: Rehabilitating wild animals in captivity. She's already part of the way there after training her 140-pound mastiff to serve as a therapy dog for patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: Learn how to write well. "It's so important in this industry to be able to express yourself in writing." Alyssa Royse Co-Founder and National Spokesperson Twin Towers Orphans Fund Seattle Age: 32 She left an agency role to spend time with her daughter, but this PR addict couldn't stand to be away from the world of communications for long. Alyssa Royse set up practice as an independent consultant and began writing for The Puget Sound Business Journal and Seattle P-I, as well as a few national magazines. But like all Americans, Royse's world changed dramatically on Sept. 11. Along with other PR volunteers, she set to work using her PR talent to make a difference for children whose parents were lost in the terrorist attacks - and in the process helped to create an organization that is a tribute to the talent and caring of the PR community. The Twin Towers Orphans Fund has raised millions and set up individual trust funds for more than 800 of the youngest victims of terrorism. "All this is thanks to the patience of my clients here in Seattle," Royse says. She puts in about 40 hours a week on the TTOF alone and has appeared on the CBS "Early Show," CNN and every major network in Seattle. The Wall Street Journal and People have produced articles on individual families and the unique business model of the TTOF. Plus, the TTOF made Fast Company's Fast 50. "I am definitely ready to take on the world!" Personal Mission Statement: "I will only do work that I am proud of for clients I am proud of." Best Advice Given: "I will admit that I have counseled more than one person who was miserable in their job to just make a change. The day is too short to spend even an hour of it being unhappy." Important PR Accomplishment: "Of all the things that I have done in my professional life, I am most proud of the Twin Towers Orphans Fund. "The thing that makes me the most proud isn't our success, it's our collective attitude. On Sept. 11, I don't think there was a single American citizen who didn't say, 'I have to do something!' This is a group of people who dove in and did something." Royse is also proud that the TTOF's reputation is rubbing off on the industry as a whole. "The fact that we are all PR people is just delicious. I don't know how PR got such a bad reputation, but I am delighted if we can mitigate that." Candace Steele VP/Account Supervisor, Healthcare Practice Ketchum Washington, DC Age: 34 There aren't many PR pros who can say they help to save lives on a near-daily basis. Candace Steele is one of them. Before Steele arrived at the National Marrow Donor Program, African Americans had about a 12 percent chance of finding a bone marrow match. The NMDP challenged Steele to add 20,000 new African-American donors to the program. Eighteen months after her arrival, an African-American patient had a 55 percent chance of finding a match with the addition of some 40,000 potential donors to the program. Steele is renowned for her networking skills, her passion for social causes and her ability to pull together a variety of partners - and high-strung celebrity spokespeople - to create a campaign that gets results. "I have poured myself into my career, and I have been very fortunate to have opportunities to help people live better, healthier lives." Steele will never forget persuading an attorney she met at a convention in Chicago to join the marrow donor program - and then hearing from the attorney about how she had met the child her bone marrow saved. Best PR Advice Received: Be flexible and maintain your sense of humor. Worst PR Advice Received: It's never been done before. Therefore, it can't be done. Biggest PR Gaffe (and Lesson Learned): "In an effort to save resources and not seem overbearing, I once sent a very important spokesperson to an event unescorted." Unfortunately, in her absence, the sponsor of the event mentioned to the spokesperson "in what I can only assume was a temporary absence of brain power" that they would have preferred a different spokesperson. Needless to say, the celeb in question was mightily offended. "I learned to never send spokespeople unescorted." Most Embarrassing PR Moment: Steele was in an unfamiliar city with high-profile celebrity spokespeople late one night when one of them suggested grabbing a bite at a particular "restaurant." She agreed and spent the rest of the evening "trying to act totally nonplussed in a strip club." Advice to Future 15-to-Watchers: "It's a high compliment to be able to be successful in what you do and still be a good person." On the Horizon: "I would love to work on global projects. Today: North America. Tomorrow: the world!" Fernando Vivanco Director, Communications Space & Communications Services, The Boeing Co. Seal Beach, Calif. Age: 30 Fernando Vivanco is one of Boeing's prized assets. The largest aerospace company in the world hired him as manager of internal communication in 1997 and reluctantly handed him over to inflightonline, a supplier of Web server software and Internet content to the airline community, in 2000. When the comany saw a chance to pull Vivanco back into its midst a year later, it hired him as director of international communications for Connexion, its initiative to bring broadband data services to commercial and executive aircraft. He has since been promoted to director of communications for the company's Space & Communications Services division. During his time at Boeing, and previously at Hill and Knowlton, Vivanco has implemented media relations programs for the launch of Nintendo's Powerfest '94; developed and implemented PR and advertising programs for Boeing in Europe, Russia, the United States and Latin America; conducted crisis communications around the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 and the crash of Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas flight 3142 in Buenos Aires; and worked on the launch of the Boeing 717 in Europe. Strangest Thing Done in the Line of Duty: A client was sponsoring a 5K race that Vivanco and a friend had run the previous year. Neither intended to run the race that year, but they were brainstorming potential methods of maximizing the sponsorship and laughed about the idea of running the race in his friend's full-body chicken costume (Editor's Note: We won't ask.) and a t-shirt sporting his client's logo. What started as a joke hatched into a full-scale plan when they considered the media coverage a chicken "winning" the race could generate. The day of the race, the chicken jumped in at the last minute, just behind the police escort and ahead of the lead runner. Unfortunately, even with the poultry's head start, the lead runner beat him out. Worst PR Advice Received: The customer is always right, and it's PR's job to give 'em what they want. Greatest Accomplishment: Balancing family and the demands of professional life. Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: Vivanco also recommends starting at an agency to "develop a well-rounded foundation to build a career." On the Horizon: Fatherhood! Lafeea Watson PR Director Salvation Army of Greater Baltimore Baltimore Age: 27 Starting a new job the week after Sept. 11 might have been a traumatic experience for anyone. But when that new job is PR director (and sole member of the PR team) for a nonprofit involved in crisis response, it's a sure thing. Lafeea Watson was up for the challenge when she started as PR director for the Salvation Army of Greater Baltimore last September. She began with a strategy session five minutes after reporting to the office and from there went to work developing a list of media contacts; sending out a constant stream of releases detailing how the Salvation Army was contributing to disaster relief efforts; and achieving coverage on all four major local stations, news/talk radio and in several local newspapers. When the Red Cross scandal broke, Watson was quick to reassure the media about the Salvation Army's use of donor funds, resulting in a glowing front-page story in The Baltimore Sun. And while Americans were focused on recovering from Sept. 11, she took the nonprofit's Christmas Fund, which was suffering a 64 percent deficit in mid- November, to a year-end 20 percent increase over 2000 totals. When Watson sets goals, she generally achieves them. The 27-year-old interned in the public affairs department of a local Fox affiliate during college and knew immediately that she wanted to pursue PR. She began a masters in PR immediately after graduation from college and worked full-time and part-time jobs to put herself through school. Best PR Advice Received: Don't be so sensitive, it's not personal. Worst PR Advice Received: All publicity is good publicity. Biggest PR Gaffe (and Lesson Learned): Watson got a little too comfortable talking with a reporter. When what sounded like a "snide" comment ended up in a front page article the next day, she learned to think before she speaks. Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: "Write, write, write. Perfect your writing." Watson also advises young PR pros to find a niche, "something that helps you stand out from the rest." Her own experience working broadcast jobs for radio stations has exposed her to so many different types of people that she now feels comfortable with pretty much everyone, whether it's "CEOs or our homeless clients." Roslyn Whitehurst Account Executive Benjamin Group, a Weber Shandwick Co. Irvine, Calif. Age: 32 Need a model for time management and dedication? Roslyn Whitehurst is your woman. In two years, she's managed to learn the ropes of PR, get up to speed on the high-tech products she pitches and handle several media campaigns at once. Add to the juggling act a second "career" as a full-time student, and you have one productive lady. Whitehurst was working full-time at a local hotel and part-time as a student in sociology when she decided she needed a "jump start to finish my degree." She took a job with Benjamin Group and began working on the degree full-time. After only a few weeks with the company, she decided to change majors, and she recently earned her bachelor's in PR from California State University, Fullerton. "I have gone from being a production coordinator assisting with administrative tasks to an account executive in charge of day-to-day client and media relations activities." She's also gone from a level of technology expertise that "ranged from power button to mouse to keyboard - and that's about it," to being able to explain "a highly integrated, multi-rate SERDES chipset." And despite taking a full load of college courses while she was doing it, Whitehurst made her college life "virtually transparent to her clients. Not once has she missed a deadline or fallen short of client expectations," reports her SVP. Worst PR Advice Received: Verify receipt of an email to editors with a phone call. "I learned very quickly that editors don't take kindly to that practice," Whitehurst says. Dream Job Outside of PR: Dolphin trainer, SCUBA instructor or activities planner at a five-star resort in the Caribbean. Most Important Accomplishment: Graduating cum laude from CSUF. "It took me a little longer than most to get my degree, but I did it - and I did it with honors!" Advice for Future 15-to-Watchers: Pick an area of PR you can be passionate about. "Believe me, if you love what you are doing , it really shows." On the Horizon: "It has been an amazing ride, and it's not over yet. I'm extremely happy at Benjamin," Whitehurst says. And, she reports, she already has her eyes set on the "BIG" offices.

Subscribe Now  |  Login

Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $200 Off PR News' Digital PR Conference

Join us June 1-3 where you'll hear from top brands such as Walmart, Miami Heat, Verizon and Ritz-Carlton on PR and communication best practices for the next wave of digital trends.

Use code “200off” at checkout to save $200 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Book of Employee Communications


In this 5th volume of PR News’ Book of Employee Communications, our authors cover more than 45 articles on crisis communications, social media policies, human resources collaboration, brand evangelism and more.

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription


Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.