A Day in the Life of a PR Pro — R U ready?

Below is Corinthea Harris’ report after she interviewed a public relations practitioner for Corinthea’s Introduction to Public Relations class. It is a major requirement. it’s worth a read as it illustrates the profession, its rapid changes and its transition into strategic communication. Its contents reinforce what students learn in the classroom.

[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com]

Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Jennifer Tornetta, public relations director at Atlantic Care in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., and her career choices almost replicate Einstein’s motivational saying — and should be an inspiration to college students across the board.

With more than 14-years experience in the industry, Tornetta didn’t always envision herself in public relations.

The 5-foot-2-inch, slender blonde has quite an extensive resume, which she jokes is embarrassing because in the public relations world, one’s resume shouldn’t exceed more than one page, unless there’s a special request or circumstance regarding an interview and/or certain position.

Tornetta received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University in radio/television/film and her master’s in business from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

From working morning shows in Philadelphia, the assignment desk at Fox29 Philadelphia, freelance reporting for KYW breaking news and New Jersey 101.5, an internship at Channel 6, a column in The Press of Atlantic City called “it’s your party,” to covering planning board meetings for the Times-Herald in Norristown — Tornetta dipped her hand in many opportunities in both radio and print.

While working at Light Rock 96.9 in Northfield and volunteering one day a week at the hospital, Tornetta asked the then-public relations director at Atlantic Care if he had any recommendations for her.

“He said, ‘you know, we actually have something here you might be interested in,’” said Tornetta “[Immediately] I started working here, and I’ve been working here for over 14-years now.”

According to Tornetta, when she made the switch from radio into public relations she looked for another radio position, not specifically public relations.

“I was always interested in public relations for the right company,” said Tornetta.

Turns out, Atlantic Care was the right fit for her.

“Having volunteered at the hospital, I saw a glimpse of what they [Atlantic Care] did,” said Tornetta. “I was interested in helping people be well — not just while the patient is being treated in the hospital.”

When Tornetta made the decision to leave radio behind for a career in public relations, it was a strategic decision.

“[The] radio business back then was not stable and the pay was not conducive to my years of experience in the business — which can be the case with many media related jobs, even today,” said Tornetta. “I wanted something new.”

Tornetta’s wish was granted.

At first, her primary responsibility lay in writing press releases and handling media. Over the course of 14-years at Atlantic Care, Tornetta’s duties have increased.

Now Tornetta is a part of the Emergency Preparedness Team (EPT), which is more than just crisis communication. It also deals with the planning so that during a crisis or natural disaster her team is prepared on how to handle it properly.

For example, the EPT handles natural disasters like hurricane sandy and communicates internally, as well as externally, about how Atlantic Care dealt with the storm.

Tornetta also contributes to the writing and production of paid marketing including commercials and radio spots. And due to her radio background, she does voiceovers and records some of the corporate messages.

Atlantic Care’s public relations team is also responsible for about 60 percent of all the written materials that go out from the department including stories about a patient, an ad, a calendar mailer, etc.

But Tornetta and her team’s tasks don’t stop there. In addition to everything else, they also coordinate video and photo shoots, leading key messages and ensuring the public relations plan aligns with the strategic goals of the organization.

One of the most successful projects Tornetta implemented was the social media program.

“I went straight to administration and said, ‘listen, we need to be doing this [using social media],’” said Tornetta.

The social media plan included creating a new policy with the co-chair of Tornetta’s team, putting together a team of representatives from areas within Atlantic Care including Human Resources, Nursing, Information Technology, Physicians, among many others and educating them on the appropriate use of social media — not only at the hospital, but also in their personal lives — to change the way social media was done at Atlantic Care.

But, it’s not always a breeze.

One of the more challenging aspects Tornetta’s worked on involved getting a handle on media monitoring.

“We’ve put a lot of work into things that sometimes haven’t gotten media coverage, but that’s just the luck of the draw,” said Tornetta. “We spent a tremendous amount of time trying to work with auditing services and it didn’t give us the return on investment we expected

“And the challenging thing is that there’s really no (most public relations professionals would agree) accurate way to say here is the value of your media coverage.”

Now Atlantic Care’s Public Relations Department does its own media monitoring, which Tornetta is responsible for.

“We have an access center that we punch numbers of press materials into, and it’s how we determine our profit on investment,” said Tornetta. “For example, the access center shows that typically for every $1 we generate, we receive $9 in return.”

According to Tornetta, for the first three quarters of 2012, Atlantic Care had approximately 600 separate media mentions—which she assures is a conservative measurement on the company’s mentions because she only counts the first one.

Although her specialty is public and media relations including writing press materials, Tornetta considers it a must for any public relations professional to have a seat at the table with the leaders of the organization for which they work.

“And we do have a seat at the table,” ensures Tornetta. “We have a seat at the table whether it’s for a crisis or a new program. We share the pros and cons of how to develop something. Because PR isn’t just there to write the press release, or pitch the story to the media or get something up on social media.”

During any planning process, Tornetta’s team looks at what’s trying to be accomplished, the budget, as well as looking at the strategic goals of the organization, and putting together strategic plan and methods to use such as direct mail, paid marketing or a press release depending on what’s appropriate.

One thing that’s helped Tornetta grow as a strategic communicator was keeping her hand in freelance writing while working in radio.

According to Tornetta, radio is a tough career and professionals should have something to fall back on — and that something should include being a proficient writer.

“Now [to be successful in public relations] you have to be able to learn different things and assume different duties because that’s what we have to do in our business,” said Tornetta.

However, to be successful that’s not all an aspiring public relations counselor must be able to do.

In 2012, society is truly seeing the convergence of “new media” at work.

“A person must truly believe in the mission of the organization for which they’re working, said Tornetta. “You must be committed to transparency and accuracy, know your industry inside and out, be able to adapt to new technologies since everything now is electronic, be able to tell a story — communicate it clearly and succinctly — and you need to continually grow as a professional.”

When Tornetta first started, she primarily used fax machines to get out press releases, and would be “on-call” on occasion in case a reporter needed to reach her.

Now there’s the 24-7 news cycle.

“If something happens [in today’s society] it can be on video and/or on the Internet instantaneously,” said Tornetta. “And it’s not just traditional news media posting it, it’s now anyone with a smart phone—which makes it even more challenging to ensure your company’s message is getting our there accurately.”

Public relations professionals, now more than ever, need to be available 24-7 to control the message.

“PR is really morphing from traditional media relations to encompassing many forms of communication, including paid, said Tornetta. “I think as organizations look at different ways to promote their message, and every organization at some point, if not all the time, relies on public relations.

“So you should know how to write a factual press release, but also understand how to write copy for an ad and understand the difference of what’s effective.”

The future is now and so is the future of public relations. And although Tornetta’s not psychic, she is sharp.

“With the changing media landscape from every business wanting print ads in the newspaper, to everyone wanting to dabble in mobile apps and mobile marketing, public relations professionals need will need to be even more well rounded than in the past,” said Tornetta.

When, and if Tornetta retires, she will keep her word about always falling back on writing because she advocates that she’ll continue freelance writing, as well as trying to speak at colleges to pass on her knowledge.

Tornetta has experienced her fair share of overcoming obstacles, but within everyone, she’s learned something new and seized the opportunity.

Overall, Jennifer is nothing short of a sharp professional who students should emulate.

[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com