CEO, Perry Communications Group (Sacramento, CA)
Length of PR career (so far): 21 years ago, I opened Perry Communications Group, a California-based strategic communications firm specializing in integrated public affairs campaigns and media relations. Prior to that I served in a PR/comms capacity for two California Governors and a legislator.
Your most memorable campaign: The colon cancer awareness campaign we created for former Today Show host Katie Couric after her husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer at age 42 is still my most memorable campaign. Talking Couric into televising her own colonoscopy on the morning show to educate people and destigmatize the procedure made it uber memorable for hundreds of millions of people. Years later I still talk to physicians who tell me that campaign saved the lives of patients in their practice. We also challenged the cancer establishment with our messaging. The approved “colon cancer is the most treatable cancer if caught early” was not driving patients to the doctor to be screened. So, we used Couric’s status as America’s favorite morning anchor to switch up the messaging and the public responded with an emphatic, “If Katie can do it, I can do it.” Colonoscopy rates jumped more than 20 percent in the days and months that followed. In a USA Today article, the University of Michigan Medical School dubbed the phenomenon, “The Couric Effect.”
Most poignant professional moment: Nothing is more rewarding than helping people. Our work has led to the creation of dozens of programs to increase the health and welfare of women and the elderly, close insurance coverage gaps, increase access to care for low-income families as well as designing campaigns to educate patients about their rights within the healthcare system. My most poignant professional moment was changing the tide for the mental health community through PR and messaging. I helped a young woman with schizophrenia testify before the California Legislature on the need for more funding for mental health services and she brought lawmakers to tears. She was one of the first advocates to generate unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats which ushered in a new focus on mental health and ultimately the passage of a ballot initiative that has raised more than $1.6 billion in new funding for mental health programs. Giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s crucial to a vibrant democracy.
Favorite journalist to work with: Marna Davis. I liked her so much I hired her. She fills an important role in the firm by increasing PCG clients’ earned media through her impressive network of media contacts across the nation.
Number of 2 a.m. calls from a client this month: One, but then that call turned into about ten more.
Biggest complaint about social media: Social media is one of the most powerful tools of our time, but people can be outrageous, dishonest, or downright cruel on social media. From a business perspective, handling complaints correctly and effectively on social media shows your values and that you care.
Best thing about working at your agency: We are an exceptional team of smart, fun, dedicated women. Former reporters, government advisors, campaign staff, lobbyists, event planners and advocates, and our expertise guides our success on behalf of our clients. We love what we do and we care about our clients and partners and treat them as members of the family. That’s why the majority of our current clients have been clients since the beginning – 20 years!
Last time you didn’t do any work all weekend: Weekends without work? Don’t we all live blended lives at this point?
Most misunderstood thing about PR: Good public relations requires research, planning, integrity and persistence. And it’s not free just because you don’t have to pay for advertising.
Most outrageous client request: We consistently deliver on those outrageous demands from our existing clients, but since we delivered I guess they weren’t that outrageous. Years ago, my litmus test for a potential nightmare client was whether or not they demanded we get them on the Oprah Show.
What got you interested in a PR career? It’s a long and winding road. I studied biochemistry and English Literature in college and couldn’t decide whether to pursue medical school or law school. So, I took an internship at the last minute at the NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento. I loved it! I was then hired as a morning writer at KFBK radio and as a producer at KCRA TV. I spent three years in Seattle-Tacoma at KCPQ-TV, an independent station that was innovating with a 10pm newscast and then returned to Sacramento as the producer for the Call 3 investigative unit. During the AIDS crisis, I was recruited to work for Governor Deukmejian as his spokesperson on health and welfare issues. When Pete Wilson was elected Governor, I moved into the Governor’s office as Deputy Communications Director. After the birth of our second daughter it seemed a good time to switch to the private sector and start a public affairs business. And I’m still doing it!
Number of meetings you were in last week: 627. That’s counting short meetings, like with the cashier at the grocery store.
Your nightmare client in 3 words: Sexist, racist, deadbeat
Rate your math skills from 1-10: 10—thanks to my trusty iPhone calculator and a new understanding of ledgers and P&L statements.
Best advice to a PR student: Read, read, read and be a sponge to educate yourself about the issues you care about. Learn how to write. Write term papers, news stories, blogs, newsletters, books, social media posts. Learn AP style and how to spell.
What do you read daily? I read constantly. The first two early hours of the morning are news feeds, client clips, trade publications, blog posts, political posts, Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the day, I manage about 500 emails from clients, staff, potential clients, partners, vendors, family and friends.
Favorite way to de-stress: Schooling my horse over fences and getting dirty at the stable. Playing with my three Jack Russell Terriers.
The moment you realized PR is more important than you thought it would be: The night I got a late call from Dr. Jonas Salk about a potential AIDS vaccine was one of those moments you know that PR is much more important than many people might think.
Worst PR crisis in the news this year so far: POTUS and his Twitter habit
Brand that does the best PR: Apple is the gold standard, but I believe that PhRMA does an incredible job communicating the value and importance of the biopharmaceutical industry.
Brand most in need of better PR: Is POTUS a brand?
Favorite non-work hobby: Equestrian showjumping and spending time with my daughters who are now 23 and 27.
Last book you read: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I highly recommend it.
Cocktail of choice: Vodka on the rocks with a lime
Your first “real” job: My father was a founder of Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. All my summer jobs were in laboratories. One year I removed the spleens of 300 mice and worked on the original recombinant DNA studies. But that was better than my brother’s job of picking up buckets of placentas from hospitals.
Childhood “dream job”: A member of the U.S. Equestrian Olympic Team
Three people you’d love to invite to dinner: Albert Einstein, the artist Marc Chagall and horse trainer Jimmy Williams.
Your next big adventure: My last big adventure was foxhunting in Ireland on Boxing Day. Next is the Great Migration in Kenya on horseback.
Your ideal Saturday: Competing on the horses in a beautiful setting like Del Mar or Sonoma, and then going out to dinner with my incredible friends and family.