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PR PROFILES: Chris Turnbull, Carilion Clinic

Chris Turnbull Chris Turnbull

Public Relations Manager, Carilion Clinic

Length of PR career (so far): 17 years—half with agencies, half with not-for-profits

Most poignant professional moment:  Within minutes of the WDBJ7 on-air shooting in August 2015, I was communicating with our command center to find out if Life-Guard 10, one of our advanced life support helicopters, was being dispatched to help the reporter and cameraman, along with their interviewee. One of the most difficult and poignant conversations I’ve ever had was calling the assignment editor at WDBJ in those first few minutes, and relaying that Life-Guard 10 was briefly placed on stand-by, but that it had been taken off stand-by by the local first responders. We both knew what that likely meant. And so began some of the most difficult days of my career.

Number of 2 a.m. calls from a client this month: None, but the summer is coming and 2 a.m. seems to be the magical hour when all hell breaks loose in our region.

Best thing about working at your agency: Though I work for an integrated health care system, our Marketing & Communications team of 55 acts as its own agency. I’m proud to say that I work with some of the smartest, most creative people in the business—they keep me on my toes!

Chris Turnbull Last time you didn’t do any work all weekend: I had a week away in Acadia National Park in Maine without coverage last summer…it was glorious and liberating.

Most misunderstood thing about PR: When folks use the term “spin” to define what we as PR professionals do it raises my hackles. I help people communicate more effectively with their audiences. The only thing I spin is my new fidget spinner.

Most outrageous client request: Not a client request, but a media one. One of our local television stations wanted to do a live-shot from Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital’s helipad on the 15th floor at 11 p.m. just following a snow storm—not an impossible feat, but a difficult one, nonetheless. He and his cameraman arrived at the same time I received word of an inbound flight with a critically ill patient on board. Ultimately, he had 45 seconds to set the camera up and go live from our roof. And it worked…of course.

What got you interested in a PR career? For a college project, I convinced the Dean of Students at Roanoke College to give me a $5,000 loan to create, from scratch, a CD of my friend’s music. At the time, I really wanted to work in the music industry. I wound up doing several internships—at a radio station and at Sony Music – and found out that the music industry was not going to be the right fit for me. But, I enjoyed promoting my college friend’s CD so much that I pursued public relations as a career. Who knows what the future holds for me, but I’ve always felt that strategic communications work is a valuable proving ground for leadership.

Chris Turnbull Most interesting thing about your job: I work in an organization, Carilion Clinic, with people who are extraordinarily compassionate. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve shed a few tears on this job—mostly because I’ve seen the lengths to which my colleagues will go to serve our patients. Not long ago, a team of nurses figured out how to give a patient his dying wish of seeing his horse. More than 60 staff members figured out how to get him (in his hospital bed) down to a loading dock so he could say good bye.

Number of meetings you were in last week: Slow week—only 22

Your nightmare client in 3 words: Are you up?

Rate your math skills from 1-10: 8

Best advice to a PR student: Write…and keep on writing to do it well. It’s the hardest skill for me to find in job applicants.

What do you read daily? Advisory Board, Washington Post, npr.org, Facebook feed, AHA newsletters, and a host of local media outlets.

Favorite way to de-stress: Running, while listening to music

Best advice ever given to you about PR: If you are always fighting fires, you might be an arsonist.

Favorite non-work hobby: Running

Last book you read: How Paris Became Paris

Cocktail of choice: Gin and tonic

Favorite movie this year: I have two little girls and I’ve only seen one movie: Beauty and the Beast

Your first “real” job: When I was 14, I was a farm hand and farm produce stand worker. I learned a lot about hard work and respect.

Your ideal Saturday: Hiking, biking, canoeing, running (or all of the above) with my wife and kids in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

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