Years as a Member of PRSA-NCC: 15
Twitter ID: @mezzcom
LinkedIn ID: /kristinamessner
Why did you join PRSA-NCC? I had been in the field of PR for about a decade before joining PRSA and looking back that seems like a missed opportunity. I first joined when I had taken a BD role with a local media production company in order to network. My firm had become a sponsor of the Thoth Awards and then I also got involved with producing that event for a few years. It was an incredibly fun experience. I made some great friendships, learned a lot, and also got more involved at the board level, which was also very rewarding.
How long have you been in the PR field? This will be my 25th year working in the field of communications, and what’s shocking to me is that I really don’t feel as old as that makes me sound!
What was your first job in the profession? I started my career in political communications working with leading national political strategist Alex Castellanos in 1990. However, I fully stepped into my first official PR job following that campaign cycle, when I started working in government contracting for EG&G (now URS) helping to promote the sale of property seized from drug dealers and money launderers for the U.S. Customs Service. I had an amazing boss and mentor, Wendy Wilson, who was at that time about the only woman within senior management on the contract on which I worked. She really was a key part of my success there, and we did media campaigns in all the major markets across the country that generated top results. I also learned a lot working closely with a talented group of PR people within the Customs public affairs office led by Bill Anthony. At that time, because communications and marketing roles were scarce within government contracting companies, I was also pulled off the contract frequently to support PR or video production projects for major contract bids or technology marketing projects. I was extremely lucky to have had all those wonderful opportunities just starting out.
Tell us about your range of experience and/or your greatest skills. My greatest skills are in media relations, integrated communications, multi-media production and event planning. I always was interested in and inspired by journalism, and my original career intent was to be a reporter covering Washington and government. I have immense respect for the fourth estate and the people that are in it, and I learned reporting old school style from former editors of The Washington Star -- the great Charles “Puff” Puffenbarger and Phil Robbins -- about what makes a good news story. Trust, respect and understanding media also proves to be pretty essential in a crisis. My career has taken me around the country and into many kinds of businesses, including technology, government, consumer products and even hospitality. Building expertise in marketing and branding also have helped me learn to shape strategic messaging and create programs that are heavily integrated across tactics and channels. My experience early on in political broadcast production gave me a great foundation for boiling down information in a powerful way and bringing that to life on the screen. With event planning, that was sort of hard wired in me from early on. I grew up in a family of theater people and I was active in the performing arts most of my early life, so I always loved creating events that were fantastic experiences. I was able to hone those skills professionally from planning internal corporate parties, news conferences, large galas, fundraisers, meetings, conferences and of course the Thoth Awards gala!
What’s your greatest career achievement? So, like everyone in the biz I’ve had a few big PR “brag” moments. Did the Oprah show, introduced my Mom to Tony Bennett, met a few presidents. Those were high points. And we’ve won some awards, saved some reputations, changed some public dialogue. But my “greatest career achievement” I think only came recently. I convinced an amazing communicator and outstanding colleague to come back to my agency after she left to spread her wings for a few years at another firm. Our success is only as great as the people around us. And she’s one of the greats. So I think so far that’s been my greatest achievement.
What are your current career/professional goals? Grow Focused Image into a 100-person agency with offices in NY, the west coast and some warm, TBD ocean front location (from which of course I will work part of year).
How would you describe your professional philosophy? Do good work. Be honest. Keep confidences. Make friends. Have fun. And not necessarily in that order. If you don’t have fun and love what you’re doing you’ll never be great at it.
What’s your dream job? Talk show host. From some warm, TBD ocean front location.
Who would you consider to be your mentor, and why? I’ve been lucky to have many mentors throughout my career, from bosses to colleagues and friends in media. Many of the clients with whom I work have become mentors to me in various ways, as they always have so much insight to share. I am lucky to have mentors in Toby Eckhardt and Dave Scanlon at Focused Image, who are two of the most brilliant marketing and advertising professionals I’ve ever met. They’re also truly decent human beings and funny as heck. However, my greatest PR mentor was John M. Reed, who was one of the original PRSA Hall of Fame inductees. I met John when he taught an international PR class at GW. He helped me secure a summer internship after my junior year, and then we stayed in touch and he became one of my greatest friends. I learned so much from him about the profession, about people, about true success as a human being, and friendship. John passed away a while back. I still miss him every day.
Offer any advice you have for maintaining work/life balance. Family first. Find a great boss and a great company that respects that mantra and shares your values. Surround yourself with amazingly smart people who take their work seriously but not themselves.
Offer any advice you have for today’s PR practitioner. We’re all in this together. Be kind. Make friends. Teach others what you know. Listen to the 20-somethings; they have some powerful insights about the next generation and how they want to and need to be engaged.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time? Dance around the living room with my daughter. Date nights with my husband at cool restaurants. Sleep. Those are definitely my top three.
Share anything else you would like fellow chapter members to know. I miss them! I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones this year. Also, my team is always looking for new talent to add to our growing agency, and we have a great intern program through which we’ve helped a lot of college students kick start their career. Check out opportunities at www.focusedimage.com.