APR Q&A: Getting to Know Sonja Hanson, APR, Public Affairs Officer, National Park Service Pacific West Region

Tell us about your role and responsibilities.

I am responsible for strategic communications for the National Park Service Pacific West Region, which spans 106 degrees around the globe and includes 63 national park sites, three national trails and many other associated areas within the states of California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, portions of Arizona and Montana, and the territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. With office locations in San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu, the regional office works to safeguard our national park treasures for the enjoyment of future generations and share their stories with more than 60 million visitors each year.

How did you get started in PR?

I began my PR career in the U.S. Navy as a Public Affairs Officer. Early in my career I learned about public relation methods via on the job training, great mentors and by asking a lot of questions. Later the Navy sent me to Defense Information School (DINFOS), which validated many of the decisions I had been making based on intuition and honed my skills.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am working on a 2017 strategic communication plan and developing a training program for the 63 Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) and Public Information Officers (PIOs) in the region, which will include various, tools, templates and other resources.

Why did you pursue your APR?

I pursued my APR primarily for my own professional development. Another driver for the decision was that I worked in medical PR for nearly a decade of my career. In the medical field credentials, publication and other such professional accomplishments are highly regarded, so obtaining my APR was the natural next step after completing my MA in communications.

What value has it brought you?

The APR changed the way I think about strategic communication planning. Through the curriculum, I learned to consider additional elements early in the planning phase, which ultimately equipped me to track and report results of my communication activities more precisely. No longer are metrics an afterthought, plus now I am able to measure data that actually depicts the desired outcomes.

What PR strategy is really working for you?

A great strategy is to combine tactics. Couple an event with a competition or combine a social media campaign with a video series and so forth.

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

Our fellow PR professionals are a great resource! You can often learn about innovative ideas most quickly by word of mouth. I encourage all PR pros to collaborate with colleagues in your professional circle. Share your ideas and tools and ask about what is working for others. For example, a colleague recently shared a hashtag directory with me, which I adopted for use in my organization.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration through the nature in our beautiful national parks as well as from the people I work with – who are so passionate and dedicated to preserving the parks and wildlife within them.

What excites you about PR these days?

I’m excited the field of PR continues to grow and gain momentum as a respected profession; the APR program certainly contributes to positive reputation of PR.

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

Hiking in one of our national parks of course! Usually with my husband and yellow lab Lilly! I encourage everyone to get out and FindYourPark too!

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