Russell Herder’s Patrick Thornton on how to relate to the public in an evolving world.
Despite coming up from the crucible of print journalism and government relations, Russell Herder’s Patrick Thornton still faces new challenges every day in his role as Public Relations Director. His job involves representing Russell Herder and its many clients with professionalism.
Patrick lives just about a mile and a half from the house he grew up in, in Saint Paul. His father, Patrick himself, and Patrick’s children all went to the same grade school. However, he began his career down south in Iowa after graduating from Drake University.
His path toward PR work started in a similar spot as many of his peers: as a reporter (in this case, for the Des Moines Register). He did a stint working in Hibbing, and then found himself in central Wisconsin. He met his now wife, who at the time was living in St. Louis Park. Then, two things happened. The long distance thing got old, and journalism jobs in general became extremely prone to potential layoffs, so Patrick knew it was time to shift careers.
He went to work at the Minnesota House of Representatives as a writer, creating press releases and other public communications for members there.
Luckily for Russell Herder, control of the Legislature shifted after a midterm election and Patrick ended up working in the private sector. His time at the Capitol gave him significant insights into how to communicate with the masses in the era of ideological tribalism. The Venn diagram denoting who one’s audience is has become increasingly important as society has evolved.
“It is so important to take the time to do your homework first and understand who your audience is – what they value, what motivates them, and where they find and consume their information,” Patrick says.
Patrick’s experience as a reporter also informs his approach to PR. He has two main considerations, he says: making story pitches as interesting as possible and as easy as possible in a practical sense for media to pick up.
“There’s value in brevity… whenever I talk to a reporter, I am ready to answer some basic questions. Here’s why this is interesting, here are the people you can talk to, here’s the important times [for events] and numbers you can use to tell the story,’’ he says.
His personal demeanor is perfect for PR: blunt and succinct yet respectful and considerate. This man perceives details about the people he meets and helps them know they matter.
That’s an edge in an environment that has a great deal more PR people than reporters. It’s important to keep abreast of new hires and transfers at outlets important to your client, Patrick says. He must be doing something right, as Patrick has landed pivotal earned media for such Russell Herder clients as the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) and Timberland Partners.
Perhaps because of his past experience as a reporter, adapting to new information and situations as often as eating breakfast in the morning, Patrick has versatility now. The PR team at Russell Herder can also deftly handle crisis communications, brand building and educating audiences on new statewide issues like noxious weeds or dangerous drugs. In short, if you need a lot of people to get the message fast, Patrick Thornton is your man and Russell Herder is your team.