July 1, 2014
“We visited Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on one of our family day trips,” says Andrea Farmer, APR, of growing up on Florida’s Space Coast. “I’ll never forget how massive the Saturn V moon rocket was.”
As the PR manager for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville, Fla., Farmer is responsible for public relations, media relations and community relations.
Last year, she developed and implemented a national campaign to launch the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, supporting a double-digit increase in attendance since the grand opening.
Previously, Farmer worked for the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens for nearly 25 years, beginning in high school part-time, and most recently served as the director of public relations and marketing. She also was the director of communications for the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Farmer graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and received an associate degree from Seminole State College.
What was your dream job growing up? Were you always interested in space?
It evolved through childhood, from writer to astronaut to artist. So a career in public relations promoting space exploration is quite fitting. I’ve always been interested in space. I was born on the Space Coast, my father worked on the Apollo program and I’ve almost always lived within 35 miles of Kennedy Space Center, close enough to witness more than 100 powerful rocket and space shuttle launches.
Why did you go into public relations?
It began six years prior to becoming the marketing and PR manager at the Central Florida Zoo. Had I not spent six years in the trenches, working in the Zoo’s snack bar through high school and college, I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time to accept the promotion of a lifetime, just out of college, to marketing and PR manager.
How did you land your current job at the Kennedy Space Center?
There was an opening for a PR manager at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex that I couldn’t resist. Having the right blend of PR experience and space knowledge, enthusiasm for the position and experience managing a tight budget at a nonprofit, stretching every precious dollar, helped me land the job.
What key skills do you think employers are looking for in new hires?
Employers are looking for team players who can think and work independently. Being organized, adaptable, able to shift gears quickly and being a self-starter are essential skills in this fast-paced environment.
How would you describe your personal leadership style and what makes a good leader?
I love being organized and having a clear vision of where we’re going. Working with the team, listening to everyone’s ideas to develop strategic plans and solve day-to-day challenges invites their buy-in as stakeholders and engages them as participants.
What challenges do you face with your job?
The biggest day-to-day challenges are the constant flow of unpredictable needs and issues. Plus a heavy meeting schedule, which is not new to anyone in this business.
The best challenge I have is developing a “news department” to create and distribute authentic space content. Since 2012, when we began promoting the construction and opening of the $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, we have been producing our own stories accompanied by video and photography and pushing them out to traditional and social media. Our goal is providing the assets they need to create a story without visiting.
How is the Kennedy Space Center using social media to reach fans and visitors?
NASA and the space exploration program generate a plethora of content reaching huge audiences around the world through brilliant images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, tweets from astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the latest rocket launch and the transformation of Kennedy Space Center into a 21st-century spaceport.
Tell Me a Story tells unique stories of veteran NASA astronauts, in their own words. Our social media expert is constantly evaluating posts for reach and engagement, and we’ve identified content buckets that resonate most with fans and followers.
What role does public relations play in building and protecting this brand?
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is seen as NASA and a visitor center. We are a hybrid: part attraction, part science center, part theme park, part national landmark. Our brand is influenced by the perception of NASA and Kennedy Space Center’s brand.
In 2011, when the space shuttle program came to a close, there wasn’t a well-developed successor program for human space exploration. It created a bit of an identity crisis. How do we keep the Visitor Complex relevant in the minds of consumers? We hired an agency to support additional proactive initiatives to keep our brand in the consumer eye, and complement NASA and Kennedy Space Center outreach. As new attractions, programs and up-close tours come online, we tie current and future NASA space program messaging in communications materials.
Why did you decide to take the APR exam and what are the benefits of Accreditation?
As a business administration major with a marketing focus, I had a lot to learn and a lot to prove in the role of public relations. While on-the-job-training was important, I wanted to go further, to show my employers and myself that I had the knowledge, skills and abilities to develop and deliver strategic communications programs. Being Accredited demonstrates a level of commitment to our profession, which has given so much to me in return.
The APR credential is turning 50 this year. Would you recommend it to other PR pros?
I strongly recommend earning your APR, if for no other reason than personal satisfaction. Additional benefits I didn’t see at the onset of the Accreditation process are the lifelong relationships with the professionals helping us prepare for the exam and the bonds we made as a group of practitioners from different walks of public relations as we studied for the exam. We learned so much from each other.
What’s top of mind when you speak with peers about public relations?
Content is king. Analytics is queen. Is timely, engaging content reaching core audiences? How do we demonstrate in a meaningful way how communications through social media and traditional media impact the bottom line?
What advice do you have for new professionals looking to enter public relations?
Be flexible, diversify your skills and understand how you can contribute to the goals of the business. Never stop learning. Focus on an industry, whether it’s travel, hospitality, financial, services, technology, education or something else that you are interested in, and learn all about it. Finding a job that you’re passionate about in an industry you love reaps great rewards personally.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about PR in 28 years?
While the business climate is ever changing and communications platforms are evolving at a rapid pace, the core values, ethics and principles of our profession don’t change. And to be successful, it’s all about relationships.
What’s the best part of your job?
Working with an incredible team, who I consider exceptional professionals and great friends. It’s cool working with astronauts, too, from Mercury to Space Shuttle to the new class of astronauts.
“The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe
“Pride And Prejudice,” “Casablanca” and any “X-Men” movie
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“Be long on praise and short on criticism.”
Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Andrea Farmer, APR, for this month’s member profile.