PR has always excited Sandra Bernardo. As head of the Hispanic Public Relations Association, she is using that enthusiasm to broaden that sector and mentor a new generation of PR pros.
"Sometimes I wonder, 'Why do I keep saying yes?' laughs Sandra Bernardo, remarking on her busy schedule as a PR executive, president of the Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA), community volunteer, and mentor. "But I always give 110%, so I don't mind giving up evening and weekend hours, especially for the HPRA," she says.
As this year's leader, Bernardo "has brought a real sense of enthusiasm and energy," says John Echeveste, an HPRA advisory board member and principal of Valencia, Perez & Echeveste. "She has taken us into new areas."
Founded in 1984, the association fosters professional development for Hispanic PR, marketing, and ad pros and students, as well as representing this growing niche of communications as the preeminent national organization.
During her tenure, Bernardo has focused on continuing the association's growth by helping to create a lasting infrastructure and a more national presence, recognizing that as Hispanic PR has grown of late, the HPRA has gained a national profile as an expert resource.
"That was a key goal of mine going into my presidency: creating a solid foundation for the future," she says, adding that the effort has encompassed everything from trademarking the logo to recruiting national board members. Other key initiatives for the year have included adding employment postings to the website, creating new partnerships with other groups, and doing outreach to recruit more student members.
Echeveste says Bernardo has also been instrumental in strengthening the organization's scholarship program.
Bernardo became involved with the HPRA during her first agency job at GolinHarris in Los Angeles. "I thought it would be a great opportunity to network and learn," she says, but she quickly realized the organization itself was in its infancy. "I saw an opportunity there, because the group was expanding, to really help and make an imprint."
She says that being president has "been one of the best professional experiences of my life."
Bernardo's interest in PR began as a way to combine her love of sports with her passion for communications. (She played basketball while at community college before going to UCLA.) Focusing on sports marketing while in school, she landed internships with high-profile teams like the LA Lakers.
As luck would have it, the American Basketball League - a predecessor of the WNBA - started a team in Long Beach, CA, just as Bernardo was graduating. With a tenacity that others say is her trademark, she began calling the organization before it even had offices.
"They didn't hire me initially because they only hired one PR person who was more experienced," she says. "But I kept calling." A few months later, the team - the Stingrays - called back to offer her a part-time post working at the games.
Within a few months, Bernardo's boss left on maternity leave, making her the top PR person. "It was an amazing run," she notes. "They pretty much handed everything over to me."
Unfortunately, the team soon went out of business, as did the entire league.
Not wanting to leave her southern California home, Bernardo left sports PR and took a job as public affairs assistant at the LA Municipal Court, where she stayed for about a year.
"I've always been interested in public affairs," she says. "I like politics and working with the community, so the position appealed to me." What it didn't have, however, was a fast pace.
Bernardo sought more challenges, so she entered the agency world by joining Golin. "That opportunity really honed my skills," she says of her two years there. In that time, she made a strong impression on her coworkers.
Lydia Galvan Williams, one of those coworkers, who now runs her own shop in LA, Reel Culture PR, remembers Bernardo as "somebody who takes accountability for everything. She hits the ground running," she says.
It was also at Golin that Bernardo began focusing on Hispanic PR. Though the firm didn't have a formal division for it, she quickly "saw the movement towards more companies wanting Hispanic marketing," she says, "so I discussed it with my superiors and let them know I was bilingual. That's how it started."
It wasn't long before Bernardo found herself in demand. "I got so many requests from different teams wanting me to work on their accounts," she recalls. "I enjoyed integrating my language and culture into my everyday work."
With that growing passion for Hispanic marketing taking root, Bernardo was greatly intrigued when a recruiter called her about going to Euro RSCG Magnet. "They had a growing [Hispanic] department already," she says, explaining what drew her. "And it was a mid-size agency, so I thought I'd have the opportunity to be really hands-on."
In addition to the HPRA and Magnet, Bernardo commits time to mentoring young professionals. The daughter of Argentinean immigrants, she spends a great deal of time making sure that other young Latinas - and Hispanic PR pros in general - have the skills and knowledge they need to get ahead in the business. That, says Galvan Williams, may be because she never "forgets that people helped her along the way."
Those she has worked with say the experience was invaluable.
"What stood out was how helpful she was," says Maria Gallegos, who was mentored by Bernardo when she interned at the HPRA. "We didn't really know each other, but she kind of took me under her wing."
Taking time to help is a key part of Bernardo's character, in part because mentors have played such a large role in her own success. Having benefitted from others' generosity, she now thinks that giving back is essential for all Latina women to do.
"I am passionate about helping younger Latinas," she stresses. "I'd advise any young professional to seek out mentors, and for Latina women who are now at the executive level, to consider taking time to mentor young women. We need to support each other."
Hispanic Public Relations Association, president; Euro RSCG Magnet, Associate vice president
April 2000-July 2002
GolinHarris International, Los Angeles, account executive
May 1999-April 2000
Los Angeles Municipal Court, Los Angeles, public affairs assistant
July 1997-December 1998
Long Beach StingRays (American Basketball League), Long Beach, CA, media relations assistant