Tip Sheet: PR Principles as a Basis for Success as a CEO

It’s no secret that public relations professionals are challenged with gaining respect among the C-suite. For many years, PR practitioners have fought for their right to be seen as strategists whose work has a meaningful impact on an organization’s bottom line.

In my case, the skills and attributes I developed in my career in PR are exactly those that paved the path to my current position as CEO of Pluta Cancer Center and those upon which I rely every day to effectively fulfill my role.

While serving as Carestream Health’s director of global internal communications, I streamlined communication for more than 8,000 employees in 45 countries. I came to Carestream after serving as director of organizational communications at Rochester Gas & Electric.

Carestream’s employee base spread around the world was a great way for me to learn how to deal with an array of communication styles —it wasn’t just that this person preferred e-mail and another would like to talk on the phone, it was taking cultural factors into consideration—from language to non-verbal communication to different time zones.

Even with this large, diverse employee base, I quickly learned the best approach was the simplest: It was all about the people. As a communicator, the focus was on listening to them and taking their input to effectively communicate our strategic vision.

My mother and father worked in healthcare, so I grew up with the industry. That, along with my experience at Carestream, showed me I wanted to continue in the field and do so as a senior leader. While I felt my experience in communications would be a huge advantage, I knew I needed more formal healthcare training. So, I decided to pursue a Master of Science degree in health systems administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology. That degree, along with a Master of Arts in public communication from American University and my experience at Carestream and RG&E, helped me to get to the point where I was ready to apply to be a CEO.

A little more than a year ago, I was fortunate to become CEO of Pluta Cancer Center. As the center’s leader, I use every day what I have learned in PR: communicating our strategic vision, listening, interacting with a number of different personalities.

Our strategic vision is guided by our main values of people, teamwork and excellence. We came up with these main values together—it wasn’t something I wrote on a white board at a staff meeting without input and said we needed to follow. We reinforce our vision in some of the following ways:

â–¶ Big Cheese: The weekly award is given to an employee who demonstrates and lives the Pluta values of people, teamwork and excellence.

â–¶ Team Building: Monthly employee team-building “fun” events. For example, we recently held a Super Bowl Chili Cook-Off where employees could wear their favorite team’s jersey to work.

â–¶ It’s Friday: Weekly e-mails that update employees on the week’s events. These e-mails are visual, concise and, most importantly, highlight the great things our team members are doing.

â–¶ 80/20: At Google, employees are allowed to dedicate 20% of their time toward any project of their choosing. While we don’t have that exact time split at Pluta, we allow employees to spend time pursuing projects they are passionate about, projects that help Pluta Cancer Center provide even better care to its patients.

We have a diverse team at Pluta, which means in order for me to effectively communicate I must understand and appreciate different communication styles, often adjusting on the fly to find the best ways to interact with different personalities.

One of my favorite parts of my day is when I make my rounds at the center. I don’t hide behind my desk with the office door closed. I want to check in with everyone to see what’s going on. I get to listen, see their daily challenges and lead based on their needs. Daily interaction makes it easier for our team members to come to me when they have questions and concerns.

At Pluta Cancer Center, we provide great care to our patients and witness every day the courage and determination our patients exhibit. It’s a wonderful and inspiring place to work.

We are always striving to get better, and my job is to help us get better, in part through the important principles public relations has taught me: effectively communicating strategic vision, listening and understanding and appreciating a number of different communication styles. PRN


Kelly McCormick-Sullivan is president and CEO of Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester, N.Y. She can be reached at kmccormick-sullivan@plutacancercenter.org.