PR Rock Stars: Valerie Simon
There are a handful of people I’ve either worked with or met in my 16-year career that I really look up to and admire. Some as mentors. Others are simply folks who I think handle adversity or tough jobs awfully well. And yet others, like Valerie Simon, I admire because, well, they’re simply wonderful people. I met Valerie a few years ago via Twitter and my blog. We became fast online friends, which led to us co-founding the Help a PR Pro Out “movement along with 35-plus PR bloggers from across the U.S. Through that work, I’ve gotten to know Valerie fairly well. Many phone calls, DMs and emails later, and I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of respect for Valerie. Not just Valerie the PR counselor (because she’s downright fantastic–did you know she also co-founded the wildly popular #prstudchat?), but Valerie the human being. During the time I’ve known Valerie, here’s what I’ve observed: A woman who gives freely of her time (#HAPPO, #prstudchat; keep in mind, she has two young kids), someone who’s always supportive and complimentary of others, and someone who’s been a champion for the PR industry and so many people (both in real-life and online) along the way. I mean, I could write a full post on why Valerie is so special to our profession–but, I’d like her to tell you her story.
You just started a new gig with Summit Medical Group in New Jersey, after a long run at BurrellesLuce. Can you talk a bit about the challenges of making that kind of transition at the senior level and what you did to manage that process?
Making a career change is seldom easy and the decision to leave a company I had been with nearly my entire career was incredibly difficult. Over the course of my tenure, I had grown from a client service representative to a Senior Vice President and member of the Executive Committee, working with some terrific people and wonderful clients. It was extremely daunting to step outside of my comfort zone and consider other possibilities, but also quite exciting. The greatest challenge in managing the process was not to move too quickly; making sure that I took the time to explore a wide variety of options and seek out advice. I am grateful to have had the counsel of some incredibly intelligent professionals (former clients and colleagues, including many of our #HAPPO champs) during this journey. Their support was priceless, giving me confidence and encouraging me to give serious consideration to many different opportunities, before ultimately making a decision.
You’ve never worked in the health care space, so this is new territory for you. Why did you take a job in health care and what are you looking forward to most about the new job?
Though I have had the opportunity to consult with many terrific health care organizations in the past, I am thrilled to focus on the rapidly growing area of health care social media. My decision to move into the health care space was no accident. I think my journey to this point really began back in May, when I found out that my former college roommate and dear friend Megan Alden, was diagnosed with Cancer. The prognosis was not good and over the summer I watched Meg participate in two clinical trials, courageously fighting for every possible moment with her husband and two young daughters, ages 6 and 9. At the end of the summer, as I found myself contemplating my own future, the sound of Meg’s laughter was always in my mind. I realized with a new sense of clarity what was most important to me. Family, health, relationships, helping others…
My role at Summit Medical Group has provided me the chance to experiment with emerging social technologies in new ways that could truly have an impact on the health and wellness of others. I have joined an award winning marketing team; an intelligent, talented and savvy group. I have joined an extraordinary organization; Summit Medical Group, serves more than 50,000 patients each month, offering access to an exceptionally wide range of specialties, state-of-the-art diagnostics and technology, and leading-edge treatments. From partnering on clinical research, to wellness programs, the practice is doing important work in the health care industry. I am honored to have the opportunity to shape how social media is used for communications and education, and to represent a brand I have trusted my whole life (quite literally- my mom’s obstetrician was from the Summit Medical Group, and today my kids go to a pediatrician at The Group). It is also located close to our home and my children’s schools so I can spend my time on work and family, rather than commuting.
You’re a young mother—you have two small children at home. Yet, you continue to maintain the hours and work that comes along with a senior-level job in the PR industry. What tips do you have to other young mothers out there about how to maintain a semblance of balance and manage the rigors that come along with being a Mom and a professional life in the PR world?
The PR industry is filled with working moms… I have a wealth of role models to look to, including Christine Perkett, Deirdre Breakenridge & Stephanie Smirnov. Personally, I have never attempted to “balance”, but simply to do my best to be present and focus 100% on what is in front of me. These days that includes my family, friends, position at Summit Medical Group as well as some consulting work. I do not fight to draw firm lines between work and personal life; the relationships and lessons I learn often spill out of their original category. And I kind of like that.
I don’t know that you can “have it all”. I am usually working after the kids have gone to sleep and I certainly miss the days of going out in the evening to hear live music or watch a movie. I grow nostalgic over memories of weekends wandering through SoHo with friends. But I love what AM doing. Life has so much to offer. I suppose the best tip I can offer is not to focus on what you are giving up, but what you have an opportunity to give.
You represent what I like to call the hybrid future of PR. You’re obviously well versed in traditional PR (media relations, writing, etc.). But you also have a strong analytical mind, given your work on recent measurement tools at Burrelles. Can you talk a bit about how you believe that mix of skills can help PR pros in the years ahead?
I think that while communications and art of storytelling is often what attracts people to the field of public relations, the business case for PR lies in the ability to help build the business and to allow the organization sustain the inevitable challenges of doing business. Done right, these efforts have a real, measurable impact on the greater business objectives.
While I very much enjoy the creative opportunities the field of public relations offer, it is the ability to clearly asses & quantify the anticipated and actual outcome of these efforts that will speak to company leadership and drive future opportunities. I think it is also critical for PR professionals to distinguish between perceived PR, or social media, success and business success. A viral video, stack of news clips, or increase in “likes” is meaningless to your organization if you are unable to explain how the campaign relates back to your organizations’ KPI’s.
During the entire time I’ve known you (3 years now), you’ve been a tremendous supporter and mentor to younger PR professionals. Look no further than your involvement and starting up of the #prstudchat and #happo “movements.” You put a lot of time into these efforts—why do you take that time from your family to give back? What’s the “ROI” for you there?
Imagine trying to calculate the ROI of going out to dinner or the movies before determining whether you spend time with friends. While I may be extremely strategic when it comes to business, the fact is I genuinely enjoy and appreciate the relationships I have built using social media. Relationships are an investment and a privilege. And I am sincerely privileged to have gotten to know so many “PR rock stars”… up and coming, as well as legends!
But there is no doubt in my mind that there is a tremendous “ROI” in building real relationships online or off. Let me share the story of my friendship with Heather Whaling. I met Heather through Twitter, most likely in #Journchat. Our relationship grew through as I participated in PR20Chat (she is a co moderator) and she participated in PRStudChat. By the time we first met in person we were old friends. Yes, friends (I don’t take that word lightly). She became a client of mine at BurrellesLuce and a #HAPPO champion. My kids have participated in her #WhyWeCelebrate campaign for the past two years. And when Heather found out about my friend Meg, she wrote the following post. I think it pretty much says it all.