We at Rasky Partners are proud of our talented public relations and public affairs experts across the firm’s practice areas. In our ongoing Meet the Expert series, we sit down with a different agency leader on Mondays to get their thoughts on several important and timely questions and gain a greater sense of their industry expertise and experiences. This week we sit down with Rasky associate vice president in our nonprofit, education and consumer practice, Lauren Judge.
What interests you most about public relations?
I find it very fulfilling to help a client craft a message about their brand or various initiatives that then shapes the public’s perception of that business. I think it’s especially rewarding to help a client navigate communication around a challenging issue. Whether in business or social situations, I believe that there’s always a way to communicate a message, regardless of how sensitive or uncomfortable the topic may be. It can be very satisfying when you find an approach and language that reflects your values and true stance on the matter at hand. I’m proud that our firm excels in assisting clients publicly define who they are, what they stand for, and why they matter.
With PR being such a constantly evolving field, where do you see it headed and what can professionals do to keep up?
The obvious answer is to stay current on the evolution of the social sphere and all things digital, but as the industry evolves with new waves of communication platforms and strategies, I think that many in our line of work have become hyper-focused on digital and often abandon all-encompassing communication tactics. Given that anything can be so easily publicized these days, it’s more important now than ever before to keep a pulse on communication with every audience of a given business – internal staff, consumers, board members, alumni audiences if applicable, social followers, etc. – and make sure that all messages are unified. With social media omnipresent, everyone has become a reporter in a sense. People feel more empowered to share their personal stories from the workplace or elsewhere. This could have wonderful implications for a brand that is doing all the right things, or it could present challenging situations and reveal some skeletons. Companies need to assume that anything can become public knowledge, and PR professionals need to approach client work with a focus on every audience—not just the external audiences. Even if a company has the best values and intentions, if those intentions aren’t clearly expressed in their communications or are conveyed to a limited audience, other PR efforts could be fruitless.
Prior to Rasky Partners, you served as the Program Manager of Media Relations and Social Media for Boston’s Museum of Science as well as the Director of Public Affairs for Semester at Sea. How have these in-house roles proved helpful as an associate vice president here at the firm?
My two in-house roles provided me with a much more holistic view of the “client” as well as the opportunity to observe all of their various avenues of communication. I found it especially rewarding to be able to influence brand messaging in every aspect of the business, and integrate all communications efforts to ensure that everyone is speaking with one “voice.”
Nonprofit communications teams (or a single person in many cases) often face the same PR expectations as major corporations, but without the luxury of a significant budget or a robust team. That is often due to the fact that their board members represent major corporations with large budgets and teams. I found that obstacle to be an exciting challenge – an underdog opportunity of sorts – in my in-house roles, and good insight for me to have now that I’m back on the agency side of the business.
Working for Semester at Sea was one of my most rewarding and challenging roles. We were a very small yet nimble team with a lot on the line. When I joined the team, the organization was going through a time of major transition. Senior leadership roles and faces were changing, the organization needed a new shipboard campus due to the financial challenges of ship ownership, and it was in the process of parting ways with now former academic partner, the University of Virginia. The program was also celebrating its 50th anniversary and there was a great deal to honor during a tricky time. In addition to those more “corporate” challenges, the program was sailing around the world with roughly 600 college students visiting 10 – 15 countries over the course of a semester. This presented us with constant PR risk – whether related to student behavior, world health and/or political events that impacted the voyage, or other concerns. At times it was easy to be a positive part of the news cycle given our progressive and global comparative focus, but it also presented some PR challenges depending on current world events. While juggling various PR matters and media worldwide, I was also responsible for drafting internal, prospective student, and alumni communications, the magazine and marketing collateral, advancement and presidential communications, leadership remarks, and more. Like most nonprofit communication positions, it was a job that took a lot of patience, balance, and teamwork, and during a time of high uncertainty and stress relative to major company changes. I think my SAS teammates would agree that our belief in the program and reliance on one another made us succeed, which is true for many nonprofit communication teams. And it didn’t hurt to be in close proximity of Virginia wine country…
Returning to the agency side of the business, I try to recollect the unique challenges and opportunities of in-house communicators. More often than not these professionals wear many hats, so I aim to be mindful of that with client work. My in-house experiences have also tested my ability to remain even-keeled in times of crisis or high stress. I think that’s an important quality for agency folks to maintain in any context as the client looks to the agency for guidance and reassurance.
You were actually an account executive at Rasky earlier in your career. What has it been like to return to the Rasky family and in what ways has your previous experience here been valuable to you?
Rasky was my first job out of college and I was determined to work here. It was the best decision I made for my career. It’s a very unique place. It’s a company where former employees are highly valued and often remain part of the family. To this day, I consider former Rasky employees and working moms Melissa Monahan and Kelly Lynch two of the best mentors I could have ever imagined. Through their graceful lead, constructive feedback, and model work ethic, I was able to develop my skills and confidence in this industry and build a strong foundation for my career. With workplace gender equality and the unique challenges of working moms rightfully garnering much attention these days, I feel fortunate for the example these two women set for me as a young professional.
I returned to Rasky knowing that my work would be meaningful and I’d be alongside some of the best and brightest PR and PA executives. My Rasky colleagues are tenacious and creative. And fun. Our clients are inspiring and are often leaders in their industries. It’s an honor to be a part of this firm and work alongside such impressive professionals.
Your in-house experience along with your time here at the firm give you a unique perspective on the industry. In your mind, what sets the firm apart from the rest when it comes to its approach to PR?
Of course I’m biased, but I think our firm does a great job in getting to know our clients, their work, their challenges, and their goals on a deeper level. We aren’t afraid to have tough and honest conversations when necessary. When I was at the Museum of Science, I worked closely with Rasky. The client-to-firm relationship always felt very fluid, like Rasky was an extension of our internal team. It allowed for a very trusting and open relationship which is so critical to perfecting strategic communications.
You’re a former member of the U.S. National Synchronized Skating team, competing in four world championships and even performing on NBC’s TODAY show. What have you learned from your years on the ice that has been of benefit as a PR professional?
The art of spinning – whether it’s a pair of skates or a story. JK, bad humor. In all seriousness, teamwork is everything. Absolutely everything. Your results are going to be stronger if you have multiple brains and perspectives working on a given project, plain and simple. But teamwork should be more than simply project collaboration; it’s an opportunity for development and encouragement, both personally and among the other members of the team. It helps the team and the business if you applaud a teammate when they do a good job. It helps the team and the business when you respectfully coach a teammate in need of guidance. It helps the team and the business when you too are willing to accept advice from a teammate and recognize when you need some guidance – and you accept it with grace. The best results are realized when you collaborate openly, honestly, and respectfully. A true team player doesn’t keep all the work to herself because it’s the “only way she knows it will get done.” You trust that your teammate can assist. If you’re unsure if they have the necessary skills for a particular project, you still give them a shot and offer constructive feedback if the work needs finessing. Teamwork in business is not only about sharing work; it’s about believing in one another and demonstrating that belief through everyday conversation and actions.
My skating team was national champions and among the top five teams worldwide each of the four years I was on the team not only because we relied on each other and believed in one another, but because we had a coach who accepted nothing less than our best efforts. She also expected excellence off the ice. Each of us was fully committed to achieving excellence – putting our best self forward not only athletically, but ethically. I once had a manager tell me that “nice girls don’t go anywhere.” I respectfully disagree. You can be nice and bold at the same time. A nice girl doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a backbone. She can be nice and take a strong stand when necessary. I think my years of skating taught me that and it’s something I carry closely with me every day.
If you could offer clients one piece of advice, what would it be?
Identify your company’s finest values and make sure they guide every decision you make and are reflected in every message you convey.
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