Get to Know Your Board Members - Meet Sonja Barisic

    Sonja Barisic, APR, is director of marketing communications at St. Mary’s Home, a nonprofit that cares for children and adults who have severe disabilities. In her spare time, she serves as your chapter president. Read on to discover how she got her start in PR, her advice to new members – and how she helped THE Mr. Whipple get back his lifetime supply of Charmin toilet paper!

    Meet: Sonja Barisic

    After almost two decades of reporting for “The Associated Press,” Sonja Barisic was ready to get out of daily journalism. “As corny as it sounds,” she said, “I wanted to work somewhere to help make the world a better place. And I wanted to be able to continue to do what I love: tell stories.” A friend told her about a communications opening at St. Mary’s Home. She applied, was offered the position, fell in love with the place and has now been there nine years. “Of course, PR involves more than storytelling, but I’m happy that storytelling is a big part of my job.”

    Sonja joined PRSA Hampton Roads in 2009 because she wanted to excel in her then-new position. “I didn’t study PR in college, and I didn’t go into PR until I was almost 40, so I wanted to surround myself with PR pros to absorb knowledge and share ideas,” she said. “Along the way, to my delight, I’ve made some excellent friends and mentors.” 

    As a new member Sonja received a “Rising Star” award and was quickly tapped to serve on and to chair chapter committees including programming and professional development. She was also recruited to serve as a director on the board before being nominated to officer positions. She has served in succession as secretary, treasurer, president-elect and now president. 

    What is Sonja’s advice for those who are new to public relations profession and/or to PRSA?
    “If you want to hone your skills and develop confidence in your abilities, work toward obtaining the Accreditation in Public Relations. And don’t let being new(ish) to the profession frighten you or serve as an excuse not to do it. I started working on my APR a couple years into my PR career, but then I scared myself into thinking I didn’t know enough to pass then exam, so I dropped the pursuit. I resumed working on it a few years later.  The day I learned that I was qualified to put “APR” after my name was one of the best days of my working life. With hindsight, I realized that I could have earned the designation sooner if I had just stuck with it.”

    Now for the important questions:  

    1. If you didn't work in public relations, what would you be doing instead?
      I would love to be a travel writer/photographer. I’ve gotten pretty good with a camera as part of my PR duties, and I think it would be exciting to explore and photograph the world.
    1. What’s your favorite book, movie or song of all time? Why?
      I moved around a bit before settling down in Norfolk, and the song “Useless Desires” by Patty Griffin embodies for me the bittersweet feelings related to leaving your hometown. “Say goodbye to the old street that never cared much for you anyway/ the different-colored doorways you thought would let you in one day," Griffin sings in a folksy, ache-tinged voice that also is somehow reassuring. The image-filled lyrics, nostalgic and yet biting, are set against some lovely violin playing by Lisa Germano. The melody is eminently hummable/sing-along-able, especially when you’re driving around by yourself.
    1. What’s one thing about you that others are surprised to discover?
      I helped Mr. Whipple get back his lifetime supply of toilet paper. Dick Wilson, the bow tie-wearing actor who spent years telling people “please don’t squeeze the Charmin” in TV commercials, found himself with nothing to squeeze when the free lifetime supply he had been promised inexplicably dried up. As a reporter, I called Charmin maker Procter & Gamble Co. to investigate. The company promised to resume his shipments immediately to “make sure that nothing but Charmin goes in his bathroom.” For those of you too young to remember the iconic Mr. Whipple, check out a vintage commercial here.
    1. What's the last picture you took with your phone
      At the PRSAHR Media Panel, I was excited to reconnect with Katie McCarthy, who formerly interned for me at St. Mary’s Home and now is with KBD Group. So of course I made us pose together for a photo.
    1. Name 5 people you'd invite to your dream dinner party.
      Mary Wollstonecraft, Oscar Wilde, Lucinda Williams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marian Wright Edelman

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