Editor’s note: In recognition of PRSA Volunteers, we invited members of various Committees and Sections to offer their views on the importance of volunteering and reflect on what prompted them to become a PRSA volunteer. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please submit your application by visiting this link.
I first joined PRSA for selfish reasons. My interest in the organization began as I transitioned from a career as a TV medical reporter and producer into broadcast public relations for the healthcare industry. When making my career change, I realized my training in journalism had only addressed part of what I need to know as a public relations professional. While I had a great working understanding of media relations, I was sorely lacking in some of the basic areas of public relations with skills and strategic focus. My active membership in PRSA helped me bridge that gap quickly.
After a few years, I was moving up through the ranks of PRSA not by any design but because I was motivated by the friends and connections I made and because I got so much out of the annual meetings and teleseminars. Soon the student became a master of sorts, and I was often asked to share my expertise, which I did gladly in exchange for all I had learned as a PRSA member and in the volunteering process. Over the years, after serving on boards of several local, state and national charities, joining the Health Academy Executive Committee and later becoming Chair was a natural progression of my public relations career.
Particularly in Health Academy, we often support pro bono and volunteer non-profit public information initiatives but this is also true of many of our professional sections. Not only do we thrive by sharing knowledge to sharpen our skills, we often support pro bono and volunteer non-profit public information initiatives that both better ourselves and our society. This is true of the more than a dozen professional Sections, whether it is corporate communications or travel and tourism. We learn that it is just as important to give back to our communities as it is to give back to our profession. That also includes mentoring young PR pros as we were mentored years ago.
We all have our own reasons for participating in PRSA. For many of our Section members, a particular interest helps public relations professionals transitioning into a different branch of public relations practice from other disciplines to get up to speed quickly, learning the tactics, strategies and jargon unique to what are often highly complex sectors with their own rules, regulations and business practices.
There are actually a number of former journalists on the executive committee of Health Academy. We are just a small part of a diverse group that tries to be representative of the breadth of healthcare public relations, whether it is PR agencies large or small, the practitioner is hospital-based, at a pharmaceutical company, involved in medical information technology, working for insurers/payers, a medical school or institution, a non-profit voluntary health group, or in patient or disease advocacy or an allied field.
The PRSA Health Academy provides valuable real-time training, networking and insight in our ever-changing world of communications through our newsletter, e-groups, and teleseminars. As a long time Health Academy member, I know our programming and our group is only as good as the effort our members put into it. I welcome members to feel free to reach out to me at any time if they have ideas of how we can provide better content and member services.
Regardless of your specialty of public relations, or even if you’re a generalist, it’s possible to grow with PRSA throughout your life and career by volunteering for a leadership role in the organization. I was very moved recently to meet Harold Burson, founder of Burston-Marsteller, who has been active member of PRSA for more than a half a century. The experienced confirmed to me that the giants never stop learning or never get too big to give back.
Ben Garrett is a PRSA Sections Co-Chair, Immediate Past Chair, PRSA Health Academy and Chief Get It Done Officer at the Ben Garrett Group. Ben is an award-winning TV producer with more than 33 years of experience in broadcast public relations, and an innovator in healthcare communications on the web. At the Ben Garrett Group he serves a diverse group of clients including Health Media Network, the fastest growing point of care media company in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, among others.