Member Profile: Teena Massingill
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Director of Corporate Public Affairs, Safeway Inc.
How did you get started in PR/communications and what has your journey looked like?
Like many people in the field today, I started as a journalist. I went to journalism school at Ohio University and did the whole tiny-town radio news/weekend cops beat/election night coverage thing for a few years until I moved to California and became a business reporter. The work was stimulating, especially with the abundance of evolving online businesses in the Bay Area in the late 1990s. I recall doing a story about a few new quirky web sites that promised to match people with their perfect mate. (A novel idea, but will people actually put their pictures and personal information online for the world to see)? Today we’d say that the story went viral because USA Today, “The Today Show” and several dailies called me to get my sources so they could duplicate the online dating story. How times have changed. Today, if you’re not online, you simply don’t exist, especially in PR.
In 2000, as the economy and newspaper industry began their downward spiral, I decided to take a buyout from my job at the Contra Costa Times and try something new. During my years as a reporter, I’d talked with countless corporate spokespeople and PR reps and thought that their jobs seemed alluring and downright easy. (They were gone for the day by 5:30 p.m. when I was still writing or waiting for my editor to send back a shredded copy of my latest draft). I had also played “publicist” for an actor friend who had landed a great film role and needed to get her name out to the entertainment industry media. It was easy, fun work. So being a corporate PR rep couldn’t be hard, could it?
Today, after many years on the other side, I am positive that I made the right career choice, even though I sometimes long for the days when I was asking the questions, rather than fielding them. The job is far from cushy and I’ve worked countless nights, weekends and even holidays. (This 4th of July was a wash because an important press release had to go out that day). However, I still love the work. Each day is a challenge and I’ve been blessed to work with talented people on amazingly creative projects.
What do you like the most about your career in PR/communications?
I am a born storyteller. I loved journalism because it gave me an outlet to share information and tell stories about interesting and important topics. The same is true about PR. The challenge, which is where your expertise shines, is to take a topic or product that may seem mundane and make it interesting and compelling. PR is a fast-paced career for people who can both be the face and voice of a company/product/industry and also coach experts to tell a clear, layman-friendly story while providing the in-depth knowledge that only an expert can. I also enjoy engaging our customers online via social media. I love that PR is evolving in lockstep with social media. You don’t have to rely on a press release or emails to get a message out. You can tailor an announcement to highlight what that particular audience wants to see. You can Tweet your announcement in an exciting way and post related images on Instagram and Pintrest. You can even make a teaser for Vine. I love that there are so many ways and venues for a born storyteller to tell a story.
Tell us about a memorable moment in your career.
The most memorable moment ofmy career is also one of the most memorable days in my life and in many people’s lives — September 11, 2001. I had just left a 10-year career as a journalist and it was my third day of work at Safeway. As I watched the coverage that morning I felt incapacitated and helpless. I remember thinking that, had I still been a reporter, I would at least know what I was going to do to help – I would report the story and keep people informed and connected. But now, I was a “flak,” no longer the voice of the people. What could I do? I went into my office and choked back tears as I watched the news coverage and the death toll rise. Then I asked my boss if our stores could raise money for the Red Cross. He got on the phone. I watched and learned as he and other nimble, concerned PR pros came together, and within 24 hours, had more than 1,800 Safeway stores raising money for the Red Cross. What an impact.
That day I learned the true power of PR. Our job is not only to pitch products, protect reputations and manage crises. We also effect change. When you see one of those “grip and grin” photos with corporate executives and charity heads holding a big presentation check for millions of dollars, a PR pro not only set up the photo op, but they probably also launched and managed the fundraiser that resulted in such a large donation. Since that first Red Cross fundraiser for September 11th disaster relief, I have been involved in about 50 philanthropic campaigns that have raised more than $100 million in total. Helping to raise the money and watching it impact lives of countless people has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and my life.