PR Doesn’t Really Save Lives – Or Does It?

saving lives

Next month it will be 10 years since I graduated from Penn State University and next July, the public relations business I started at just 23 years old will turn 9 years old. These facts alone astound me. I recently told my husband, “Time is all fun and games until after 30…then ‘it’ gets real.”

Of all of the decisions that have led me to this point in my career – from pursuing a public relations degree, graduating a semester early to work on a statewide gubernatorial campaign, quickly leaving what many said should be my “dream job,” and choosing to venture out as an entrepreneur at such a young age, never once did I make these decisions with the desire to change the world or save lives.

Let me explain.

Of course, given the chance, I imagine most people would jump at the opportunity to be a part of something that changes the world and saves lives. But when I very decidedly chose a career path that focused on communication strategies as opposed to medicine, law, teaching, or research I figured all those other amazing bright minds I got to know in college would be the ones changing the world and savings lives. Me? Well, I’d just create funny, pretty, thoughtful content that made the world a little brighter but not necessarily better. If I was luckily, I would merely be a witness, and possibly a beneficiary of this worldly change – but certainly not a catalyst.

Then I had my eyes opened to the power of language. 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now in my third decade of life, I still want this to be true. What I want to be equally as true is “…but words will stand to help me.”

Recently I have experienced three very distinct ways in which my work, and the power of public relations, has been a critical part of changing policies, advancing research, and ultimately saving lives. Let me share them with you.

“How did youth baseball survive for 100 years without AED’s?”

In February 2019, a family law client I’ve been working with for several years now brought a very interesting, and out of the box idea to me. The question was, “I’m really passionate about this one issue, do you think we could inspire other to be passionate about it too?” I imagine he could feel my enthusiasm through my response with a “Yes! This will make an incredible op-ed.”

The issue had nothing to do with his business, and it was by no means an attempt to earn media coverage in a covert way. In fact, only his name was tied to this op-ed placement, no business name, phone, email or URL. It was genuine; it was real; it was important…and the media saw that.

So this simple op-ed was picked up…a couple of times and we were thrilled. In a small-ish town, these types of op-eds have a big impact. But we could only imagine what this would ultimately result in…and so quickly.

AED 3

Upon being published, the op-ed attracted attention. One snarky comment from a reader on PennLive.com was “How did youth baseball survive for 100 years without AED’s?” The answer? When fans and players needed such a device and it was not available, they most likely did not survive. They died.

And with the following news article and video we can see exactly how quickly this can happen…to anyone. So with this one op-ed to spur things into motion, to inspire a community to band together in support, and to ultimately achieve the Dillsburg Little League’s goal of acquiring AEDs for their league, the following life events transpired.AED 2.png

Excerpt – click here to read full story.

AED

Seven AED’s were placed at every Dillsburg Little League field just weeks before volunteers used them to save the life of Eric Lynes.

“We could cure cancer, but if no one knows about it, it’s like it never happened.”

I began working with the Kidney Cancer Association in February of 2013. Over the last 6+ years I’ve been witness to the incredible work of doctors and researchers who have committed their life’s work to finding more and better treatment options to fight this disease. I’ve also heard the heart-wrenching stories of families who ultimately lost a loved one to kidney cancer; sadly this includes my husband’s father.

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Panel discussion from the 2019 International Kidney Cancer Symposium in Miami, FL. I’m grateful to be a witness to this inspiring event!

I have found immense fulfillment working for this organization in increasing roles over the years, and I now serve as its Director of Advancement and Patient Services. I use my communication and organizational skills daily to further the organization’s mission, but I never really gained a full perspective of my role until an oncology nurse made this comment to me when she found out my background is in PR.

“The medical field needs as much PR as it can get. We could cure cancer, but if no one knows about it, it’s like it never happened.”

Wow. This was a humbling point. The work I do with the Kidney Cancer Association feels like only a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop nonetheless. It’s a team effort for sure, where everyone plays an important role. The medical professionals are at the front line and leading the charge. Yet once they have wonderful and life-changing news to share, they turn to communication experts to make as much ‘noise’ as possible with it – and to make sure it reaches patients. And that I am glad and grateful to do!

“The success or failure of this emergency plan comes down to public information.”

A unique opportunity came my way in 2019 to team up with Contingency Management Consulting Group and Perry Media Group to help create the public information and outreach strategy for a state emergency management agency who was updating its emergency plans.

In one of the first meetings we had, sitting across a large conference room table in the agency offices, I pitched some of my initial ideas for how we could approach the communication and outreach piece of the new emergency plan. It was well received. Heads were nodding and it felt like we had reinforced the trust of the agency’s management team.

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Sitting in a room with some of the smartest and most experienced emergency planning and IT professionals I felt like my communications role was merely a secondary layer to the data, maps, and timelines they were responsible for developing.

Then one of  the agency’s team members turned to me and said, “You do know…the success or failure of this emergency plan comes down to public information.”

Gulp.

Based upon his tone and soft smile, I took this statement to mean that even if the state hits every mark to develop a solid emergency plan, if the public is unaware or uninformed, all that work won’t pan out as intended. It was a compliment of the power of communications.

He was saying that public information isn’t a secondary layer to this plan, it’s the foundation. A great plan with no ability to communicate it is as useless as great communications without something important to say. It all must work together.

The Bigger Picture

My point of sharing these three stories isn’t to say public relations is the most important component to everything.  Not at all. It’s the underlying theme of these experiences that spoke loudly to me. For most of my career I felt my work was the cherry on top, the “nice to have” part of any business plan. But through these examples, I’ve come to learn how other people view public relations – and it’s humbling.

My clients value the power of language even when I sometimes see it as fairly common place. Being too close to a subject matter can do that. Which is why it’s so important to have new experiences and embrace new perspectives that challenge you to see something common as something extraordinary – even life changing.

5 thoughts on “PR Doesn’t Really Save Lives – Or Does It?

  1. Bravo Stephanie. Indeed words have not only meanings but power as well, as indicated in your post.

    I remember back in school there was a poster with the words “What can a Communication Degree do?” in the middle and a whole bunch job titles surrounding it. Obviously a PR effort. But your article says it better, and more importantly, inspiring.

    It lends a more concrete feel to merely “communication is important or needed” and can help young students to find their bearing. The same can be applied to Journalism, English major, and a host of others.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    1. I really appreciate this comment – thank you! I think especially with the rise of social media influencers, the field of “communications” as a profession has greatly expanded and even got a little gray. I think it’s important to be reminded that communications, though absolutely fun and feel-good at times, also serves a very serious and history-shaping purpose. My hope is for everyone to find purpose and passion in the career – communications or otherwise! Thanks again.

      1. You’re right Stephanie, the communication field has seemed exploded with the social media. Although the means has changed, I believe the end, however, stays the same. Which is making connections. Keep up the good work.

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