Ten Rising Stars: Sarah Finnane

Media practice senior associate, Burson-Marsteller

Media practice senior associate, Burson-Marsteller

While Sarah Finnane, 27, doesn't necessarily thrive on crisis, her job definitely requires an adept handling of it.

As the day-to-day manager of Burson-Marsteller's National Cattlemen's Beef Association [NCBA] account, news of the US' first two cases of BSE (mad cow disease) was no less than a trial by fire.

She was responsible for planning and executing issues management programs before and after the discovery of those cases. While she received plaudits for her work ? and continues to do so ? it's the industry, not the crisis, which fuels her excitement.

"Every company and client has their own issues that are exciting. Crisis or not, any issue a customer or client deals with is interesting," Finnane says. "Although I enjoy working with the beef industry, I don't think I necessarily thrive on the crisis."

In addition to helping the NCBA through the BSE issue, she also builds messaging and communications materials for the state beef councils and affiliate groups to ensure everyone is on the same page.

"I still continue to enjoy PR work every day; never having the same day interests me," Finnane says. "I never like to be bored."

Finnane started working on the NCBA business four years ago, and became the day-to-day manager a year ago.

She praises her colleagues at the client for valuing training the Burson team.

"They say, 'Go and experience life in agriculture.' I've been out to a lot of feed lots during my career," Finane says. "They believe in giving us the necessary education."

"One of her defining traits is she's not afraid to roll up her sleeves," says Michele Peterson, director of safety PR for NCBA. "Six months after I started working, we took Sarah on a feed lot tour in Nebraska, and you could tell immediately she interacts well with beef producers."

She's also adept at getting the media to cover the less crisis-related issues.

"There are definitely a lot of great stories coming out of the industry," Finnane says. "We obviously get a fair amount of reactive media relations. But we try to promote the positive stories, as well as react to the stories that are [negative]."

She has highlighted NCBA programs with the CDC and what the beef industry has done to reduce E. coli bacteria.

"She's been able to take the progress we've made like different inventions and reducing pathogens and craft those into industry pitches," Peterson says.

Peterson praised Finnane's ability to think proactively about NCBA's business, citing, as an example, her help in the NCBA's establishing a food safety media tour.

The NCBA brought in a chef who talked to journalists about the safety mistakes that consumers make in the kitchen and how they could fix them.

Finnane says that she deals with a wide swath of journalists, from those who cover the government, those who cover industry regulations, nutrition and healthcare journalists, and the animal agricultural beat. That diversity, combined with the complexity of the issues, requires patience and a lot of education.

"It's important when you're dealing with a complicated issue and talk about it simply, so journalists can put into the publications for their readers to understand," Finnane says. "We've done a lot to educate reporters."

  • In this web-exclusive feature, PRWeek.com presents ten profiles of young communications professionals under thirty in a variety of industries, focuses, and roles.
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