Member Profile: Payal Patel
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Public Relations Specialist
Navy Pier Inc
Why did you join PRSA and what is one of your favorite benefits that the organization provides?
I joined PRSA because I wanted to belong to a network that is committed to supporting and accelerating my career as a public relations professional. As a member, I enjoy having access to many invaluable resources and contacts within the PRSA network (both, locally and nationally). I also enjoy participating in events that are in line with my career goals and objectives, gathering insights and best practices from experienced professionals, and engaging in thought-provoking discussions with my peers and colleagues.
You have been in PR for over 8 years. Share a few ways it has changed over the years and where you see it going.
Social media had just taken off when I first came on the PR scene. As time progressed, social media evolved to more than just a platform to share personal photos and anecdotes – It became a genuine news source that revolutionized the way people learned about current events. Reporters started using it to break stories and communicate directly with the public, which prompted PR professionals to also leverage social media to connect with reporters, track trends in news stories and pitch accordingly. It made an already fast-paced industry and profession even faster! At the same time, it made PR even more valuable than before as companies found a need to respond to crisis more quickly, become more strategic in sharing their news, and control messaging as the public gained access to information more quickly and easily. As technology continues to evolve, I imagine PR will only become more and more valuable to businesses and brands.
Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences during your career.
While working as the Director of Public Relations for a professional sports team, I encountered my first experience in crisis management. One of the players on the team got into an intense physical altercation with a fan during one of the games, leaving the entire arena in complete shock and outrage. Fans reached out to us in the following days, expressing their disappointment in the team management for allowing such an incident to occur at one of our games. Many supporters feared returning to future games – especially those with children – after witnessing one of our players lash out at a fan. But what many people didn’t realize was that the player was reacting to one particular fan who was provoking him with racial slurs throughout the game. While that doesn’t condone his actions, we did partially empathize with the player as we also expect our fans and everyone in attendance to abide by a certain code of conduct – one that underscores intolerance for discrimination. Realizing that there was a story to tell here, I drafted a statement, apologizing on behalf of the organization and ensuring our fans that we had taken disciplinary action against the player. The statement also provided further context and included the fan’s role and involvement in the altercation. I then pushed the statement out to the media, offering the player involved for an interview. The goal was to be transparent, get in front of the issue and take control of the message.We ended up spinning it into a profound story on discrimination and its existence in sports today. The next game, we received an outpour of support from the community as people rallied behind our player and stood with him in our call to end discrimination. It was a beautiful moment, and certainly one of the most memorable experiences of my career!
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
Relationships are key in the PR industry. Try to establish and nurture as many relationships as possible – whether it’s with media members or other industry professionals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to leverage the relationships I’ve developed to land quality coverage for the clients and/or organizations I represent. One time, I reached out to a producer at a morning show the night before to book a client on the show. She was getting ready for bed at the time, but answered my call anyway, and later told me that she wouldn’t have picked up the phone for anyone else. She ended up bumping a segment on her show to squeeze in my client last minute. As a thank you, I treated her to lunch the following week and spent time catching up and chatting about her son. People respect you and are more inclined to help you when you make an effort to have an authentic relationship with them.