Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck is an Associate Professor & Associate Dean for Administration at Champlain College, and is one of four distinguished panelists to be featured at PRSA Capital Region Chapter’s upcoming Women in PR event. We asked her five questions to give you a taste of what’s to come on July 18!
What path led you to working in PR—did you come directly or from another field?
I graduated from Howard University with a BA degree in Communications and a specialization in Television Broadcast Production. So my area of expertise at the time was video production. I fell into public relations as a result of a former colleague telling me she was leaving her position as the media relations coordinator for a public school system. She thought I should apply for the job. At the time I was working for the same school system, but in its Telecommunications Center which was more video production oriented. I never applied for the job, but when the Superintendent walked into my studio/office unannounced and asked me why I hadn’t applied, I explained my background was in video production and that I really didn’t have experience in public relations. He said video production and public relations were close enough for him and the job was mine!
What other jobs and personal experiences have affected how you practice today?
Although I have been a communications professor and Higher Education administrator for several years, I still maintain connections in the field through my business contacts as a communications consultant on various freelance projects. In addition to teaching, I am currently working as a contracted Director of Communications for the Clemmons Family Farm, one of the largest African-American owned farms in Vermont; as a consultant for the Signet Event Center, a brand new 58,000 square foot event center currently under construction in Virginia; and as a High Profile Producer for the National Association of Black Journalists’ national conference in Miami. Other jobs and personal experiences that have affected how I practice today include special event management, writing, video production, and social media. The beauty of public relations is that it transcends multiple fields and disciplines, so I’m constantly using public relations practices in most every project I manage.
What is something you’ve learned by working in PR that civilians wouldn’t know?
Most of the clients that I work with don’t know how to work with journalists or don’t want to. Civilians are typically wary of journalists, so part of my job entails not only nurturing relationships with the media, but also educating my clients.
What single key piece of advice would you offer a new practitioner?
The single key piece of advice I would offer a new practitioner is to dive into data analytics and build upon strategic communications skills. Don’t limit your expertise to just tactical public relations activities. Public relations has evolved from a “feel good” profession to one of accountability. You will be more valued when you understand the mission, goals and objectives of the company and how to help the C-suite achieve those desired outcomes.
What is your pet peeve when dealing with the media?
My pet peeve when dealing with the media is trying to keep up with who is still there and who has left because of the volatile nature of the media industry. As soon as I cultivate any meaningful relationship with members of the media, they move on and I have to start all over again with someone new. But sometimes, that’s a good thing!