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Meet me in San Francisco: Local pros discuss the Bay Area PR market


August 8, 2012

While the San Francisco Bay Area is an international and influential technology epicenter, the region’s unique business ecosystem also includes leading financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, health care firms and insurance giants. Innumerable PR professionals work to advance awareness of these organizations within their local communities and across the globe.

San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are also home to active and thriving PRSA Chapters, creating the opportunity to tap into the aggregated expertise of hundreds of members across all areas of public relations.

In anticipation of the PRSA 2012 International Conference in San Francisco on Oct. 13-16, Tactics spoke with PR leaders throughout the region to gain more insight into the local PR market.

Hatti L. Hamlin, APR, Fellow PRSA, independent practitioner

Hatti Hamlin,  APR, Fellow PRSA, has built a thriving solo PR practice in San Francisco during the past 12 years. Her clients include financial institutions, hospitals and nonprofits. Despite competing against a number of local leading agencies, she’s found her path to success.

“There is enough business to go around,” Hamlin said. “[An] experienced, competent consultant can find as much business as they want or need.  The caveat, however, is that they need to be open to the idea of doing things that go beyond promotion and media coverage.”

Hamlin, a former San Francisco Chapter president and longtime board member, recognizes the extended benefits of being active in the San Francisco PR community.

“The most important lesson I have to impart is ‘burn no bridges,’” Hamlin said. “The absolute best referral sources for me are former employers and clients — even those that did not work out.”

Hamlin also takes advantage of the city’s critical mass of experts to support her role and build her network. She regularly works with a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter to develop content for projects.

“I could do it myself, but it helps to cultivate my network by giving business away and working with experts,” she said.  “It’s important to find those people that you can rely on. It comes back to the community — you may be solo, but you are not alone.”

Clark Hsu, account executive, Edelman

As an account executive in Edelman’s San Francisco office, Clark Hsu has the opportunity to work with some of the most recognized names in the restaurant business based in the Napa Valley area, such as Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello.

 “As someone who is food-obsessed, I admit I was a bit star struck when I first started,” Hsu said. “But as [these] working relationships continued, I realized that the internationally known chefs and other personalities I work with are real people, just like everyone else.”

Hsu, who is a member of both the San Francisco and Silicon Valley PRSA Chapters, also serves as the co-chair of the International Conference, and is striving to include a strong sense of the region in this year’s Conference.

“Our access to all these startups and internationally-known tech companies is unparalleled,” Hsu said.  “In our backyard, we have everyone from Facebook and Google to Microsoft and Twitter, and many of them welcome PRSA with open arms, whether it is getting a tour of their offices or hosting an event.  The Silicon Valley Chapter’s biggest asset — aside from its membership, of course — is definitely its proximity to all these fantastic companies.”

Sande Smith, director of communications, Women’s Foundation of California

Like many nonprofit organizations, the Women’s Foundation of California needed to find creative ways to connect with the public during difficult economic times. Sande Smith, director of communications for the foundation, recognizes this has made her role even more important.

"The challenge with raising unrestricted money means that money for communications and marketing is hard to come by — it’s a vicious cycle,” said Smith, a former San Francisco Chapter president and current board member.

Organizations struggle to survive without a well-funded communications department because they aren’t known within the community, Smith said.

While continuing to pursue traditional communications strategies, Smith and her team have also tapped into the social media ethos of the region to support efforts that benefit women and families statewide.

Recently, Smith’s team worked with online partners such as the fundraising strategist  Watershed, Change.org and Care2.com to fuel an advocacy campaign that nearly doubled the foundation’s email outreach.

Netta Haynes, internal communications manager, Blue Shield of California

This year’s Conference is particularly special for San Francisco Chapter President-Elect Netta Haynes.

“I’ve been part of  PRSA since I was a student at San Jose State and a PRSSA member in the 1990s,” she said. “I remember going to a Conference and meeting board members and being in awe. I’ve valued being part of PRSA for more than 20 years, and now [that I am] a board member and soon to be Chapter president, it’s really special to be a part of this year’s conference.”

Haynes said that the adrenaline is already flowing for this year’s event. “We are looking forward to welcoming everyone — this is a great opportunity to showcase the Bay Area, from our expert keynote speakers to all the talent that resides in the area.”

That talent, especially in the technology sector, is also a major element of Haynes career.

“I’m in health care and insurance, and I support technology migration, so there are resources I can tap into from Silicon Valley that directly support my work,” she said. “The insurance industry is known to be laggards in technology, but we are making great strides and I think that’s because of [our location]. The convenience in being so close to a technology hotbed means there are many resources we can tap into.”
 

Lesly C. Simmons, APR Lesly Simmons, APR, is a social media and communications strategist and founder of Digital District.
Email: lesly.simmons at gmail.com



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