Member Chat with Sara Spaulding, APR: Building Relationships Key to PR Success

    Sara Spaulding, APR, member PRSA Colorado


    Member Chat with Sara Spaulding, APR: Building Relationships Key to PR Success
    By Liz Gibbons, chapter editor, PRSA Colorado Communications Committee


    If you ask PR practitioners what’s the most challenging part of their job, you may get a variety of answers: ability to write well, skilled in crisis response, aptitude in media relations, proficiency in digital outreach and so on. For member Sara Spaulding, APR, each of those faculties may be important to the success of today’s PR pro, but no matter what industry you represent, “relationships within your organization, with the media and with key stakeholders” are critical.

    While Sara has been in PR for more than 30 years, she only recently joined the City of Wheat Ridge as its Public Information Officer (PIO) in 2016. With stints leading health-related communications teams in for-profit and nonprofit organizations around the state and across the country, Sara has also been a teacher, mentor and trainer and was recognized for her professional talent and inducted to PRSA’s College of Fellows.

    Sara is one of several chapter leaders who are helping us commemorate our 60th Anniversary. Learn more about how you can contribute to our Diamond Anniversary Digital Time Capsule and our $60 for 60 Fund by following the links.

    Member Liz Gibbons, marketing associates at Small Giants, reached out to Sara to talk to her about her career, her work as a public information officer, her involvement in the community and the role PRSA has played toward her growth as a practitioner.

    Liz Gibbons: How did you start your career in Public Relations?

    Sara Spaulding: I attained my degree in early childhood education and although I thought I was going to be a teacher, I realized I also needed a teaching degree, which I didn’t have. After several jobs unrelated to education, I joined the communications department of a local children’s hospital. I thought working with kids in a health-care environment sounded fascinating. When the department director quit, my responsibilities grew, and that’s when I discovered my love for PR, writing, communications and media outreach.

    LG: What milestones stand out to you in your career?

    SS: Moving to Colorado, I struggled to find a PR position in a hospital. I ended up taking a variety of jobs to make ends meet and finally, I landed my dream job as Director of Communications at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, where I worked from 1997 to 2000.  There, I found my niche; I enjoyed thinking on my feet and promoting specialized care for kids.  

    Swedish was a level-2 trauma center at the time, so I witnessed a number of high-profile cases, which required both proactive and reactive communication skills. The experience moved me from behind the scenes to in front of the camera; responding to media updates from all over the world.

    Beyond working for organizations such as the Red Cross, the American Humane Association, the Alzheimer’s Association and serving as an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sara credits her APR as milestones in her career development.

    LG: Explain your current position as a Public Information Officer.

    SS: Currently I manage external communications, social media and media relations, including emergency response with the police department. Emergency response is a 24/7 job and you need to respond immediately. It also requires a lot of education.

    I also work with a part-time digital relations specialist, who reports to me. From day-to-day, we manage our social media, web, newsletter and press release writing, special event logistics, and I provide counsel to the PD command staff. Recently, we also shot a recruitment video tape for the police department.

    LG: How would you say your role as a Public Information Officer is different from other public relations practitioner roles?

    SS: The most obvious difference is the immediacy of your response. In other roles, you might have a couple of days to gather information. Rarely did I have to respond to a reporter quickly and on the same day. As a PIO, it’s much more in the moment, thinking on your feet. You never know what question a reporter will throw at you. With police work, you don’t know when circumstances may have changed and how rapidly they do. In addition, PIOs must focus on the bigger picture — thinking about how the community is impacted, what the public needs to know and what information we need to get out quickly in order to keep the public safe.

    What PIOs and other PR practitioners share is a responsibility to represent their organizations in the best way and with integrity.

    LG: What specific PR/communications skills or qualifications have you found critical to your success as a practitioner?

    SS: Writing. First and foremost, you need to be a good writer. In particular, with students, writing must be honed. Writing crosses every medium; even email pitches need to be well-crafted.

    Additionally, relationship-building is key. It does not matter what field you are in, you still need [strong] relationships within your organization, with the media and with key stakeholders.

    LG: How has being a PRSA Colorado member benefited you and/or your career? 

    SS: For someone who did not go to school for PR or journalism, I believe PRSA has been critical to my success. The training online and monthly meetings are always well thought-out and presented with real-life tools. Additionally, the national conferences are amazing. However, I think what has benefitted me the most has been my APR [credential].

    LG: You are heading up PRSA Colorado’s Master Practitioners Group; What is the group’s aim?

    SS: The Master Practitioners Group provides senior level counsel to the board by lending support and years of knowledge and experience in a way that is valuable. The group looks at what is being done nationally and brings local context to those issues. We have the ability to come together quickly to offer help and ideas, and decide how best to share our experience, opinions and support so the board can take further action.

    LG: What advice would you give those new to the PR profession?

    SS: Jump in with both feet! Get involved with PRSA, attend as many programs as you can and network like crazy, so you can figure out where in PR you fit best. There are so many opportunities to do so many things. Those of us who have been out here for a long time are here to help and one of the best places to network is through PRSA Colorado.



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