Public Affairs Specialist
What are some of the ways you’ve evolved from PR student to PR professional over the past few years?
“I realized that we [PR people] aren’t just behind the scenes. It’s not just about making other people look good. We have a big responsibility to get the most accurate information out to the public. I never realized how important our role is until now. As PR people, we tend to sell ourselves short, as if we can’t have a major impact. My biggest ‘aha’ moment is realizing that we serve a critical role. And without us, I don’t think any of our organizations would be able to function. We are the middle man, but we’re really important. We are the boots on the ground; we know what’s going on.”
Tell me about your role in social media and to what do you owe the success of your social media outreach?
“I currently manage all of our social media, which includes Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. I create content for all of our platforms and also answer questions, comments or inquiries that we get through these pages. I try to engage the public as much as I can. Through social media, we communicate with the public the research is that going on at NIH. Our main job here in the communications office is to inform taxpayers about the research taking place here at NIH and the research that we fund. We have such a big following, because I try to convey content – which can be very technical and scientific – in plain language so that my grandma could understand. I always say, ‘if I don’t understand it, then the public won’t’. So as a communications person I have the advantage of being able to look at something and determine whether it’s something people will care about. I think we do a really good job at engaging. We’re not just in an ivory tower like some other government agencies are. We comment on other people’s conversations, we try to correct any misinformation out there and we refer people to suicide prevention hotlines or other organizations that may help them if needed. We’re good at reaching people who wouldn’t otherwise know about NIMH and I think social media has helped brand the agency overall.”
What would you say is the most gratifying part of your public relations position?
“I really believe in NIMH’s mission. I feel like what I’m doing every day is helping people. From time to time, people will contact us – via email, phone or social media – who are in distress. Sometimes they are people who want to end their lives. We are very limited in the kind of help we can provide as a federal agency, but we offer words of encouragement and refer people to other resources and services. I’m always so moved by the appreciation that people show when you help them. I never thought that I’d be able to directly impact people in this way. Back when I was in school, I thought PR people only helped people behind the scenes. Working here, I have that direct contact with the public. I really believe that the work that I’m doing, even if it’s just referring them to other sources of help, is making a difference.”
What was your favorite PR campaign?
“We don’t do traditional campaigns, due to budget constraints, but social media has definitely changed how we operate and get our messages out. For example, we do monthly Twitter chats that tie into health observances and awareness events and we try to tune into national conversations on mental health. We’re also venturing into live Google+ Hangouts as another form of outreach, which gives the public an opportunity to interact with experts. I think social media gives the public access to federal agencies and organizations that they normally would not have through traditional campaigns, which are usually a one-way form of communicating.
If you were a college student again, what would you do differently to prepare for your job?
“I wouldn’t do anything differently, because I think everything happens for a reason. Although my path to get here wasn’t very smooth, it happened the way it did to prepare me for my current job. You never know where you’re going to end up. The key is to stay positive and remain open to different opportunities. You have to be patient and trust the timing of your career and life. I think it’s important to go to school, but there’s nothing like on the job training. The best advice that I could give a college student is to never say no. And don’t think any job is beneath you. You have to pay your dues. You will appreciate your success much more later on.”