Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

If my readers are anything like me, and I am guessing most are, they do a lot of sitting in classes learning theory and best practices for future careers they can hardly imagine. Professors put their hard work and effort into preparing their students for all of these lofty goals, but for students, even the simplest of duties beyond the classroom are difficult to imagine. This semester I have been spending a lot of my time struggling to envision what it might be like to have a career in public relations. Then last Thursday, I finally said to heck with all the visualizing, and marched down to Chester County Hospital where I met with Marketing and Public Relations professional, Lauren Speakman.
The first, even if cliché, thing to strike me about Speakman was that she clearly loves what she does. In a small, non-profit environment, the department bunches marketing, advertising, and public relations all into one, or as Speakman puts it, “you have a small budget, you do a lot on a little.” In other words, on any average day, Speakman never has an average day.
 “Today, we’re filming; tomorrow, we’re writing; the next day, I’m doing design, and I’m doing social media the next,” Speakman said.
The list of duties Speakman may fulfill on any given day seemed to grow ever longer as the interview went on: calling the media, putting up press releases, keeping up internal and external websites, creating medical brochures, planning events, doing ad campaigns, working with physicians, researching consumer information, collecting data, developing digital signage…with so much creative variety and opportunity, I was starting to understand why Speakman so clearly loves her job.
Yet underlying each and every duty throughout her day, is a deeper love: not for a job, but for the community.
“PR for us becomes a community message. It’s not just, ‘hey, look at how great we are,’ it’s, ‘look at how great we are for the community,'” Speakman said. To Speakman, this community integration is what makes non-profit messaging so much more meaningful than working for Coke or Pepsi. In fact, it is framing a community perspective on technical healthcare jargon that Speakman most enjoys doing day to day.
“I have one foot in the healthcare field because I work at a hospital, but I also have one foot in the community…I have a unique ability to take someone’s technical explanation of something, digest it as a consumer, and say okay what does this mean for consumers,” said Speakman.
An example Speakman used was her recent messaging about the hospital’s new, state of the art, linear accelerator. To me, like most consumers, this meant very little, until she went on to explain that a linear accelerator is a machine that provides radiation to a cancerous tumor from all directions. The radiation accumulates at the tumor in the correct amount necessary, while spreading the entrance point of radiation spares the tissues around the tumor. Put like that, this new gadget sounds like a pretty nifty thing to have lying around a hospital, but the question Speakman aims to answer is what this means for cancer patients in the community: that Chester County hospital not only offers the local community care they always have, but they also offer the same state of the art resources available at nationally known Philadelphia competitors like CHOP or Jefferson. In fact, that is the message Speakman focuses on now more than ever as the Chester County Hospital joins Penn Medicine, utilizing Penn’s extensive recourses while never losing sight of community ties.
Yet, as quickly as Speakman drew me into the charm of Chester County Hospital, I also remembered my focus on the PR profession, and I wanted to know more. So, I dove back in, questioning which training and skills were important in the PR field and how a student might prepare. After all, I had to make sure our beloved West Chester University Professors are teaching us all the things we really need to know. Speakman suggested having a basic knowledge of graphic design, with a proficiency in Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and InDesign, as these proficiencies are a value added on any PR resume.
To no surprise, Speakman stressed the development of writing skills, explaining the importance of getting a message across in a short amount of time. Whether on social media or a headline in the local paper, those first few words are vital to draw audiences into the messages they should want to know.
“Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that anyone is aware of certain things,” warns Speakerman. The messages Chester County Hospital communicates to the public are vital to an educated healthcare consumer. When someone is looking for the best care for themselves, their mother, or their father, they deserve to know what Chester County Hospital can do for them. The hospital can never assume that consumers already know the information necessary to make momentous health decisions.
The last two skills Speakman discussed apply universally to any career path. Firstly, developing interpersonal communication and relationships: in PR this means developing strong relationships with reporters, management, and communities. Speakman sites two big PR mistakes: not maintaining relationships, and saying something you think is in confidence but is not, a mistake that may certainly threaten those relationships. Secondly, being able to adapt:
“You never know what you are going to find yourself having to do, so be able to acclimate,” Speakman explained. Speakman’s own experience serves as proof of the need to adapt. In the short 10 years Speakman has represented Chester County Hospital, she has seen a huge shift in the way companies operate.
“What I used to do, used to require a lot of paper,” Speakman said, noting the difference in efficiency with modern technology, “We probably are able to do twice as much as we used to do.”
Of course, what better way to prepare for the challenges is there than getting out there? Speakman regrets that she did not take advantage of internships when she was in school.
“Get as much experience as you can before you walk in the door for an interview so you can say, ‘I’ve done that,'” Speakman said. Those words will be music to your future employer’s ears. Lastly, Speakman encourages:
“Read about the news: no matter what company you’re representing, it fits into the world,” Speakman said. Needless to say, the more you know about the world, the better you can fit your company’s message into your community’s needs.
Somehow I am not surprised that at the end I have come back to the theme of community. Speakman validates what every WCU PR professor claims, that PR is “the management of relationships between an organization and it’s publics.” Chester County Hospital strives to serve the community, and it is Speakman’s job to ensure that message is never lost in translation. For students unsure of what to do with their lives, and unsure of how their futures might serve their community, Speakman serves as an excellent example of waking up every day to a job she loves and a job worth doing. Perhaps a step into the real life of your future career is what you need to get past your imagination and see yourself really doing something worthwhile.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in studio art. She can be reached at 

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