WMPRSA Member Profile: Tara Hernandez

Name: Tara Hernandez

Organization: Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Title: Marketing and Communications Director

Reason you got into PR:
I got into PR for a new challenge. After spendinga decade as a sports anchor working long nights, weekends, and holidays I decided it was time to settle into something different. The airport has been a perfect fit for me. I have a chance to be creative and have some fun, plus I still get to share people’s stories, have an impact on our community, and have a little bit more of a ‘normal’ schedule!  

Biggest Career Break:
My first television job in Augusta, Georgia. I was the first female sports anchor hired in that market.

At work, I’m proudest when I can:
Partner with one of our tenants - whether it be an air carrier, parking, or even our skycap services - to provide a positive customer service experience. We’ve been able to tell some great human interest stories through these tenants, thanks to the wonderful community we have at GRR.

Dream Job:
I’m living it!

WMPRSA Member Profile: Sarah Pazdziora

Name: Sarah Pazdziora          

Organization:  SeyferthPR

Title: Account Executive

Reason you got into PR:

I was waiting tables one night after class when I heard one of my fellow servers talking about how she hated her PR program.  I will be the first to say I didn’t quite know what public relations was, but I was struggling to find passion in my own chosen career path as a teacher.  I was listening in on the conversation and quickly found out that I might just like this “PR” profession that she hated so much. After I clocked out, I went home and started researching the ins and outs of public relations and the program my university offered.  In a matter of hours I was convinced that this was what I was meant to do.  I felt energized by the case studies I read on various crisis situations and the intricate way PR professionals aid businesses from brand development to large-scale campaigns and beyond.  That night I called my parents to tell them that I wasn’t a teacher, I was a Public Relations Practitioner.  I think they still struggle to understand what exactly it is I do, but they immediately saw how passionate I was about school the following semester when I enrolled in my first PR class.  At Central Michigan University the Public Relations program is extensive and one of the most intricate degree programs on campus because it integrates PR, broadcast, journalism, advertising, communications and design. My guidance counselor told me that it would take me longer to graduate if I switched, which can be daunting as a student, but I didn’t care— I was hooked after my first day in PR 101, when I read about the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol crisis.  So, in a roundabout way, eavesdropping while rolling silverware at Bob Evans got me into PR.

Biggest career break:

I’d say it was when I became an Account Executive.  I went from executing logistics to creating and driving my own projects.  One project I’m particularly proud of is the Pure Michigan Micro Lending Initiative launch in West Michigan. I planned and managed seven events in seven different West Michigan counties in two days.  This was an effort to introduce the statewide initiative, a five-year, $5 million small business lending commitment, to the region.  I supported my client by creating a grassroots approach that connected them and their partners with the small business owners that would benefit from the initiative.  My plan increased awareness and understanding of micro-lending and positioned the initiative as an opportunity for small business owners in West Michigan.  I got to work with so many wonderful people in the community and I feel that it really broke the ice as a newcomer in Grand Rapids.  

At work, I'm proudest when I can:

Stop for a moment and check-in with my coworkers.  I make it a point to ask how they are doing to find out what’s new in their lives.  Sometimes just stopping to ask how their kids are or how that chili cook-off went over the past weekend is just enough to let them know you care. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be proud of during the work day when you’re working with tight deadlines and you accomplish the task with plenty time to spare, but I think nowadays people don’t take the time to stop and get to know their coworkers.  I’m proud of myself for knowing who I work with and creating strong relationships with them.   

Dream job:

I'm a creative person; I enjoy drawing and painting— so all reality aside, I would love to open my own studio someday.  That being said, right now I am happy where I am at, growing in the profession I am passionate about. However, you may see my work in ArtPrize one day…


Meet Carl Apple, WMPRSA's 2014 Newcomer of the Year


At the 2014 PRoof Awards, the Newcomer of the Year title was awarded to Carl Apple, Director of the office of communication for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Before transitioning into this current public relations career nearly two years ago, Carl was a reporter at FOX 17 for a decade. He also worked as an adjunct instructor at GVSU and has held numerous media titles over the years including print reporter, radio DJ, production assistant, photojournalist, editor—you name it. He's also a four-year Army veteran. Carl graduated with a master of science in communication and a bachelor of science in broadcasting from Grand Valley State University. We asked Carl a few questions about his career transition, what it's like being the new guy in PR and his goals for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Tell us about your transition from being a news reporter in the spotlight to a behind-the-scenes public relations role?  

It’s something I’ve taken to more than I expected. I try to boil every job down to the core elements that make me feel happy and fulfilled. I enjoy telling stories, being creative, using video and pictures and influencing opinions. I got to do all that in television, but I felt I had spent enough time in the cold, knocking on doors and lugging cables. I wasn’t sure if I could find the same outlet, but my job at the diocese has been a nice fit. I’m able to help produce fund raising and marketing videos, edit a high quality magazine, manage a website and control organizational messaging for about 80 parishes and 30 schools. All of this I get to do while working in a family, faith-filled environment. I’m very lucky.

What are some of the unique challenges your organization faces? 

While West Michigan is largely a Christian community and Catholicism is the predominant organized religion, national research shows that the fastest growing religious group in the country is ex-Christians—people who were raised in the faith, but don’t really associate with any organized religion. Combine that with the horrific abuse scandal in the Catholic Church a decade ago and I often feel we’re swimming upstream. Considering this, I understand how important good public relations is and enjoy the challenge of turning that around.

What has been your proudest PR moment so far? 

I often see a challenge as an opportunity. One month after I was hired in 2012, one of our largest churches burned down in the early morning hours on a holiday weekend. There was understandably a lot of media coverage and with very little experience I was taking media calls, writing press releases, organizing press conferences and briefing the pastor on talking points. At first he was terrified, but after a few days he was solid in front of the camera. The coverage of the parish was extremely positive and much of it featured the beauty of our faith. I even worked with the police to communicate an important message about fireworks safety, organizing a presser in front of the church days after the fire.  

Do you have any big plans that you can share? 

We’re planning to continue our “Always Welcome” campaign that we started over the holidays. With video and print in English and Spanish, we’ve been working to share with the community that we are always here and you are always welcome—Catholic or not. It sounds simple, but for many it’s a branding issue. People don’t dare walk into a Catholic church unless they are “part of the club.” That misconception really needs to change.

As Newcomer of the Year, what advice do you have for other new public relations practitioners? 

Listen to people around you and get help. You can’t do it all on your own—especially at first. You also need to have good relationships with the people whose message you are communicating so that they feel free to share ideas and information constantly.  

Member Spotlight: Robin Barnett

Robin BarnettBy Amanda Krebs, Ferris State University Robin Barnett has spent her entire career in the world of publishing, working tirelessly to help authors’ work get noticed.  She started as a PR Manager at Zondervan, which is one of the top three Christian publishers in the United States.

Barnett has been working at Revell Books, which is part of Baker Publishing Group, where she is a Senior Publicist for almost two years.  She spends her days at Revell calling authors, pitching media outlets, and meeting with the company’s PR and marketing teams to coordinate campaigns.

We were able to talk with Barnett about how she reached such a great point in her career, what she loves about her job, and her advice for future PR professionals:

Q: What did you study in college?

RB: I went to Baylor—Sic ‘Em Bears!—and double majored in history and journalism with an emphasis in public relations.

Q: What has been your career path up to this point?

RB: I’ve been in publishing for all of my PR career. I briefly ran my own firm while I lived in Chicago, but quickly returned to the corporate environment. 

Q: What are your main duties as a Senior Publicist at Revell?

RB: My main goal is to develop strategic book release campaigns and secure media attention for authors. It’s a lot of media relations. I work with everyone from national morning shows to local radio in authors’ hometowns. I also run my division’s social media strategy for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Q: What made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in PR?

RB: I realized I wanted to go into PR shortly after taking the LSAT. I’m so glad I didn’t go to law school! I’d never considered publishing as a career option, and it just came to me one day. I love to read books, so why not help create them!

Q: What is your favorite part about your job? Why?

RB: I love working with authors and building their platforms. One interview or blog post can launch an author’s career. The first time I booked the Today Show for two debut authors, their memoir hit the New York Times Bestseller list. It was an amazing feeling to realize I helped share their story with millions of viewers.

Q: What is one of the most important things you’ve learned about public relations during your career? How?

RB: It’s all about relationships. I work hard to build solid relationships with my authors and with media contacts. I saw a huge jump in how much national media I was booking when I started routinely meeting with media in New York. Once you’re more than an email address to them, they’re more likely to open your emails, return your calls and book media.

Q: Do you have any advice for PR students entering the work force?

RB: Network! Who you know really matters. Introduce yourself to guest speakers, go to conferences. If you’re job hunting, make yourself business cards. You come off looking professional, and they’ll most likely give you their card so you end up with their contact info.