PRSA-SF Woman of the Year 2021: Catherine Hernandez, Kaiser Permanente, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer
March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate, the PRSA-SF chapter recognizes a local woman whose efforts have made a positive impact in the community. We are proud to announce Catherine Hernandez, senior vice president and chief communications officer for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, as the 2021 PRSA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter PR Woman of the Year award recipient. We asked Catherine a few questions to learn more about her career and her advice for PR professionals looking to grow their careers.
Tell us the story about how you got into public relations?
While I studied journalism and public relations, it was a college internship my senior year that really ignited my passion for public relations. As an intern with the Macy’s Public Relations and Special Events department, I was able to experience multiple facets of PR and communications and got to work with a very creative and talented team. Through that internship, I learned the importance of a consumer focus and the value of community engagement. I thrived on constantly changing work and the fast pace in pursuit of the most compelling story. I realized in that internship, that I found my true career calling and stretched the internship into a full-time job when I graduated from college.
What has been the most memorable experience of your career?
In my career I have been honored to lead communications in both joyous and challenging times. Ultimately, I find the most memorable moments are those when I am in the trenches or behind the scenes with colleagues where programs and initiatives are launched. Experiences like late nights stuffing press packets because something changed last minute, working side-by-side with a colleague to meet a crazy deadline, the unexpected humor in even the most challenging of situations, and of course the exhilaration of delivering a great result. For me, it is the comradery – the bond and the teamwork – that I find most memorable.
What experience did you learn the most from? Would you have done anything differently?
When I worked at Vanstar Corporation, the organization made the decision to move their corporate headquarters from Pleasanton, CA to Alpharetta, GA. I was the only person on the existing team in Pleasanton who was willing to make the move. I was still somewhat early in my career and it gave me the opportunity to build a new team in Georgia while also supporting the company through a significant transition. Moving away from all I had known forced me to stretch my leadership capabilities in ways I likely would not have done had I stayed in my comfort zone in California. At the time, my professional network was pretty small. If I had it to do over, I would have strengthened my professional network and used it as a resource for advice and support as I navigated new challenges.
What has been the biggest challenge or change you’ve navigated as a PR professional as a result of COVID-19?
The last year has been extraordinary, with many challenges, especially for healthcare organizations. Likely the biggest challenge has been the high-degree of unknowns and/or changing information – sorting out the fact from fiction to clearly communicate how people can stay safe, get care, and now get vaccinated. Our team has worked around the clock throughout the pandemic to meet the challenge, and I couldn’t be prouder of how we have supported Kaiser Permanente members, employees, and our communities. It has been challenging, exhausting, and also incredibly rewarding.
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
Build your professional network early and nurture those connections throughout your career. Join professional associations like PRSA and other communities of practice. The people you work with, work for, and can learn from are an invaluable resource throughout your career.