Laureen Martinez, APR got her start in PR as the chief public relations officer at the American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region.
Laureen Martinez is an accredited public relations professional and the senior director of marketing and communications at the Orlando Economic Development Commission. She has been practicing PR for eight years following a career as a television news anchor and reporter.
Describe your role as senior director of marketing and communications for the Orlando Economic Development Commission?
The mission of the organization is to create jobs for the Orlando region. Their team’s primary focus is the “Orlando: You Don’t Know the Half of It” campaign. It highlights everything The City Beautiful has to offer beyond its unmatched hospitality and tourism industry including: modeling and simulation; ride technology; film and digital media; corporate and divisional headquarters; and business services.
Laureen handles pitching media and driving marketing efforts.
She was a journalist to start her career, and said she feels you are a reporter in the PR industry, albeit a reporter for your organization.
There’s never a dull moment, a comment made by many PR professionals.
Before you held this position, you were the assistant manager of media relations for Orange County Government for a few years and the chief public information officer for the American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region for 3 and a half years. How have those jobs led you to your current one?
“Each job, I think, has prepared me for the next job.”
Laureen started her PR career at the American Red Cross and while it was a trial by fire, she gained tremendous experience and established relationships with businesses and government alike. Those connections enabled her to excel at her next job handling media relations for Orange County Government.
It’s interesting to point out considering in her former role as a reporter, it was important to be critical of government. But now Laureen can say she’s worked both sides.
You studied journalism at the University of Florida. What inspired you to report the news? How did you come to this major?
Laureen cited a longtime fascination with television journalism since junior high school. She worked in the television production program and anchored the morning news. That interest carried her through high school where she oversaw the program during her senior year.
Just as influential was the time she attended a summer journalism institute at the University of Florida and loved the experience.
So you obtained your bachelor’s and started work as a journalist in Columbus, Ga. Tell us about that experience.
It was a stark contrast between her hometown of Miami and college home of Gainesville, but she knew in her gut it was where she was supposed to be. Laureen kept it mind it was going to be temporary and a great place to start her career.
After Columbus it was off to Huntsville, Ala. where she filed her most “unusual” stories, and then to Richmond, Va. During her first week she was covering the Beltway sniper attacks. Not long after, Laureen visited the shelters that housed the pit bulls involved in the dog fights associated with NFL quarterback Michael Vick. She also covered the Virginia Tech shootings.
Before becoming a PR professional, Laureen was an accomplished television news anchor and reporter for more than 10 years, including a stint working for WTVR in Washington D.C.
Can you pinpoint the moment(s) you considered transitioning to PR?
By 2007, Laureen had been a reporter for 10 years. While being a part of history and documenting it was enjoyable, it became very tedious. In her case, seeing the sadness that happens in humanity wore on her, and cited how talking to people in their worst moments can take a toll. Laureen stated she has great admiration for journalists and reporters, and continues to believe their job is incredibly important.
“But for me, I just reached a moment where I thought, ‘You know, I want to do something different with my life.’ I want to surround myself in kind of a different atmosphere, something that I felt was more positive and kind of helped me grow professionally.'”
Laureen figured the skills and experience she had translated perfectly to public relations: talking to people, writing, presentations, etc.
She recalls looking for jobs specifically with the American Red Cross because she had worked with them extensively during her time as a reporter. At the time there was a job opening in Orlando and she got it.
Talk to us about how you marketed yourself to the American Red Cross. How did you leverage and sell your journalism skill set and experience to say, “Hey, I can handle this job in public relations”?
In her time as a reporter, she worked with many great PR professionals, but also believed there were better approaches. In interviews, it was clear the American Red Cross was interested in that. While the main goal was to heighten the organization’s profile in the community, the Red Cross saw the importance in innovative methods to gain positive coverage. They also valued candidates with a background in media, which helped Laureen.
It was also helpful that Laureen is fluent in Spanish. In fact, it’s been a desired skill for many of the jobs she’s interviewed for. It’s especially important in the Orlando community which has a large Hispanic presence as well as nationally as it is now recognized as the largest minority in the country.
“The outreach that you can do with just being able to speak the language is something that is very valuable.”
How did you handle the transition? Was it difficult? Easier than you thought?
“It was way harder than I thought it would be. It was incredibly difficult.”
Not only was she learning about the organization but also about the thought process and strategy that goes into a PR plan. A lot of planning and research has to happen before the actual communications take place. It’s not like being a TV news reporter where you take your microphone and camera to the scene and package the story after.
Laureen gleaned advice and support from fellow PR pros.
Was there a feeling of pressure from the organization to perform considering this was your first job in public relations?
The higher-ups were “incredibly supportive,” Laureen said, and the CEO, specifically, was of great help. She would ask him countless questions and he served as a great mentor.
“Find the right people who can support you and who are supportive, and that will really help you in the transition.”
Laureen Martinez, APR (center) was the assistant manager, media relations for Orange County Government from Oct. 2011 to Nov. 2014. Here she is overseeing a media interview for Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
So this was just before the economy tanked, am I right?
“For a split-second I thought, ‘Gosh, this probably isn’t the best move right now,’ but [my husband and I] just had to do it. [We] just wanted a change in our lives and I’ve always been someone who seizes an opportunity when it comes; I’m not one to walk away from things.”
When she looks back, she recognizes that it was the right decision. Their quality of life is better.
“For both of us, it really has been a positive thing and a life-changer.”
For a while now, the journalism industry has been on shaky ground. Newsrooms are shrinking, reporters are asked to do more, morale is down, etc. Do you personally hear about reporters wanting to make the switch from journalism to PR?
She knows it happens, but points out it’s common for workers in all industries to entertain thoughts of pursuing a new career.
I would think your former journalism co-workers have expressed a desire to transition, is that true? When those in the news industry tell you this, what do you say? What advice do you give?
Need to be prepared that it’s very different.
As a reporter, there’s the feeling that your job is done when the story is put to bed. But in PR, the job is never done, she explained. You’re constantly monitoring the issues, and keeping up with the community and industry.
“To me, in public relations, the job never ends.”
It can absolutely be a good thing but some may say they want a break.
“If you think it’s an eight-to-five job, and you go home and you’re done, that is definitely not the reality. You are always in it.”
Additionally, the writing style is different and requires an adjustment from writing for newspaper, TV and radio. You really have to think about your audience for everything you write, Laureen said.
Let’s talk about the notion and predisposition from a journalist’s point of view that PR is “the dark side.” What are your thoughts on this dynamic?
Laureen jokes it might be something reporters say to make themselves feel better, but having worked in both professions, she doesn’t view PR as “the dark side.” Simply put, it’s different.
Perhaps those who say it perceive PR professionals as “spin doctors” and that their role is purely to divert negative press. But Laureen sees it as the opposite: her role is to constantly find the positive stories and get them out in the world.
The important thing to remember is “you want to build community, not tear it down.” She sees this concept as an upcoming trend in journalism and that the new generation of journalists, those which are millennials, will have a large hand in that.
She advises communications professionals to take the time to understand reporters, get to know them and discover what stories they like to tell. It can go a long way in fostering a strong relationship.
Do reporters have an advantage of successfully transitioning into PR? Why or why not? And do former reporters make the best PR pros?
Laureen believes it’s not a given that a reporter will make a great PR practitioner, but certainly they have the skills to be great at the job. It’s all about adaptability.
Laureen Martinez, APR (far right) poses from the set of FOX Business in New York City. The visit was part of a media blitz touting Orlando’s economic growth and future.
What does it take to do this job. What hard and soft skills does it take — former reporter or not — to be successful in public relations?
Number one: you must have strong writing skills, Laureen said. And being able to adapt your messaging to different audiences.
Something not often mentioned is having the awareness of the skills you lack so you may surround yourself with those who do, or seek guidance from them.
How does this industry challenge you?
The fact that the industry is constantly changing is a challenge in and of itself, Laureen said. For one, social media has completely changed the public relations landscape.
What do you love most about public relations?
“I feel like I learn something new every day in public relations.”
From the industries you do communications for to meeting new people. It makes the job more exciting, Laureen said.
What book(s) do you recommend to the budding PR professional?
- The Associated Press Stylebook
- Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations (11th Edition) by Glen M. Broom
- How to Win Friends & Influence People Paperback by Dale Carnegie
- Books by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Laureen also strongly encourages you to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
“If you want to expand your horizons, learn something new every day, really meet some incredibly interesting people and really get engaged and involved in your community and getting to know where you live, public relations is a job for you. Because there is just so many interesting things that you will come across that it is just truly something that helps you use your skills that you spent so many years on from writing to talking to people and just kind of getting the jewel piece of information out of them that it’s certainly a lot of fun. And the best part is you will make more money. You will.”