APR Q&A: Getting to Know Joe Rothrock, APR, Senior Communications Manager, Virginia Mason

Tell us about your role and responsibilities.

My main role is overseeing internal communications at Virginia Mason, along with crisis communications when needed. We have a large health system with a hospital campus in Seattle and several medical centers throughout the region, plus the recent addition of Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima, so there’s always more work to be done when it comes to keeping our team members informed and inspired. I have lots of daily responsibilities, from strategic planning, to providing PR counsel to executives, to tactical writing and editing, but my focus is on engaging staff to provide the best care possible for our patients.

How did you get started in PR?

I have always loved to write, so public relations was a natural fit. I started out with a journalism degree from the University of Washington and worked as a reporter for a while. But I soon realized that I could make more of a contribution through persuasive writing and public relations, helping companies engage with their internal and external audiences in positive ways.

What are you working on right now?

Our team’s current focus is the rapidly changing environment of health care reform. From public policy work to patient relations to educating our team members, there are many layers of communication needed with multiple audiences to keep everyone informed as the country moves forward.

Why did you pursue your APR?

I had been working in PR specialist roles for a few years out of college doing writing projects, and one day my boss approached me with a suggestion for career growth. She said the APR course would expand my knowledge and skills within public relations, and help me see the bigger picture of using strategic communication planning to achieve business goals. Looking back, I’m grateful for her suggestion and for taking an interest in my professional development — and she was absolutely right.

What value has it brought you?

Certainly it helps when it comes to job hunts because it shows that you have the extra level of training and knowledge that employers are looking for from public relations professionals. But the primary value to me has been what I learned going through all those classes and then taking the tests to achieve the APR designation. It was challenging but worth it because it helped me think strategically and understand how to use the many tools at our disposal to achieve company objectives.

What PR strategy is really working for you?

I’m a big fan of storytelling. There’s a reason all the great speakers use anecdotes to make their key messages resonate with the audience. Whether you’re creating a speech, preparing a presentation or writing an article, adding a relevant story — ideally with some emotion behind it — can make a huge difference in audience comprehension and buy-in. Health care is full of life-changing moments, and I try to regularly share touching, first-person narratives of those dramatic stories as told by our patients and employees.

What is the best tool, app, website, book, or other resource that other PR pros MUST check out?

There are many great resources out there, such as the PRSA website and other industry sites that can help when researching topics. I utilize those, but after 25 years in the PR world I’ve found the most productive resource is learning from others. Do you have an issue that you need to address? Chances are, some of your peers at other companies have dealt with the same topic, or are working on it right now. It’s not always possible to have full disclosure due to the competitive nature of the marketplace, but in my experience our PRSA colleagues are usually happy to sit down over coffee and share what they have learned. I also co-lead the Seattle Internal Communications Leaders Forum, which offers a great chance to hear what local companies are doing to improve their employee communications.

Where do you find inspiration?

I usually get my best leads from attending various project update meetings and listening for those golden nuggets of inspiration. I’ve learned that if you go to other department meetings and listen closely as people report on their projects and challenges, it’s easy to identify new topics to promote. Whether it’s a cool new initiative, an inspirational story or a compelling data point that sets your organization apart from the competition, you’ll find these types of news nuggets if you regularly pan for gold in meetings outside your department and sift through the information.

What excites you about PR these days?

The field of public relations has grown so much in the past 20 years, not only in terms of job opportunities like social media and video communications, but also with a much more strategic approach. PR people used to be known as the folks who would write press releases, talk with customers and produce the employee newsletter. Yes, we still do all those things, but it’s so much more now. We have a seat at the table with the executives, and they know we can directly impact the bottom line through strategic planning. My particular focus is on internal communications, and I love knowing that through strategic communications I can engage employees to give their best efforts for our patients and organization.

When you’re not working, where can we find you?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my wife Leanne and daughters Sophia and Madeline, or you might find me at the indoor soccer fields (it’s a fun way to get regular cardio!).

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