Kristy Bassuener’s experience as a public relations professional

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Kristy Bassuener, Director of Communication and Public Affairs at the Denver Art Museum, poses inside Mad Greens, directly across from the Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum [Photo by Palmer McGraw]

Denver, CO– Kristy Bassuener, born and raised in Naples Florida, moved to Colorado after graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in Comparative Literature and Environmental Policies. She then explored a multitude of various media fields such as newswriting for the Colorado Springs Gazette and PR for a Uranium Company. Currently, she serves as the Director of Communication and Public Affairs for the Denver Art Museum, where she has been working for the past nine years.

As Director of Communication Bassuener’s responsibilities include managing not only the public relations team but also the social media team. The director is responsible for maintaining and developing the organization’s reputation and ensuring that the organization is viewed as esteemed, satisfactory, and dependable. The director is also responsible for handling press releases, contacting media personal for interviews, developing brand initiatives, pitching announcements and strategies, featuring the organization on multiple media platforms, and launching marketing campaigns to the public. Bassuener represents the public image of the Denver Art Museum, and she explained how her role as PR and Communication Director is vital to business and growth.

PR agencies vary substantially in terms of company size, salaries offered, turnover rate, and experience requirements. The Denver Art Museum is a nonprofit organization, meaning that their payroll is substantially smaller than a for-profit PR agency or firm. Additionally, their team is much smaller, having only four employees. She explained that an entry-level PR job for a nonprofit typically pays low to mid $30,000 while an entry-level corporate job pays slightly higher in the low to mid $40,000. However she also touched on the importance of perspective, saying that employers understand that salary is negotiable to a certain extent.

“You have to demonstrate your value. No one owes you a job, and if you can demonstrate how you are the right person to get them where they need to be, you have the ability to try and negotiate, respectfully, a higher salary,” stated Bassuener.

When asked about her typical hours, Bassuener explained, “It’s whenever you have to work. My job is to get the job done, and if I need to go to the doctor’s, I can do that, but I still have to finish the job. If I’m up at 4 a.m. doing work, that happens; if I’m here on-site for an event or work, that happens; or evening events, that happens. I mean, it all evens out, but it depends on who you work for. If working for a very super corporate 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. type of place or a government agency, you might have more normal hours; but when you’re doing a public facing institution, like the Art Museum, your hours are not concrete. Once you get to a point when you’re a leader, you have to lead no matter what time it is—you still have to get the job done.”

Unsure of what to do post-college, Bassuener moved to Aspen right after graduation and lived there for three years, skiing and hoping to become inspired by the mystique and appeal of Colorado. She also wanted to find a future career she was interested in. Eventually, she decided she wanted to become a reporter for the Aspen Times; however, since she did not have a degree in Journalism or Communication, she decided it would be in her best interest to pursue a Communication degree from CU Boulder. After passing her GRE, she went to work as a legislative news reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette. During that time, working as a reporter, she found that, although news was interesting, she was far more intrigued by the PR realm of media communications, specifically a PR professional’s capability to influence how people think and make decisions about the world around them.

Following her time writing for the Gazette, she wrote for a local magazine but was laid off in 2008 due to the hard-hitting recession. However, Bassuener used this unfortunate occurrence to her advantage by grabbing the bull by the horns and delving into a new profession, PR. Such a career transition would allow her to implement and synthesize her Communication degree. She eventually found work at an agency that hired former news reporters, a strategic move for this agency. They knew news reporters understand not only the media but also the appropriate and effective ways to convince reporters and producers that their messages are attention-worthy. Such crucial and appealing skills landed Bassuener a job working five years for the small, local PR agency, but then a new opportunity was presented to her, an opening at the Denver Art Museum.

Bassuener studied art history for a semester in Florence and enjoyed art immensely; therefore, the opportunity to work at an art museum as a Communication and PR Director was appealing. Bassuener found that although her past PR experiences were monumental in shaping her as a PR professional, and despite loving the diverse work she was doing, it was at times challenging for her to separate her personal feelings from her work. For example, it was difficult when certain clients and their messages did not align with her beliefs. The opportunity to work at the Denver Art Museum was exciting as it offered her a place where she would never have a conflict of interest.

Having worked in PR/Communication for such a substantial amount of time, Bassuener had some interesting and valuable insight into important skills required of a prospective worker.

“Naturally, I am a big talker, but the longer I’ve been in PR and the more experience I have gotten have taught me that listening is the most valuable skill. For me it’s more of a learned skill, especially when you’re talking to a client, there is no way you can say the right things to them if you can’t really understand what they want, what they do, what their hopes and fears are, what their worst-case scenario is, and what we can do to ultimately succeed together,” said Bassuener.

Bassuener is optimistic about the future employment outlook for the field. She believes the general PR field will undoubtedly change and evolve to our technologically evolving world, and she has already noticed a substantial difference in the way people obtain information from when she initially started out in PR. She doesn’t believe the change is a bad thing. As long as prospective workers are aware and accustomed to developing trends and technology, there will always be a need for PR and Communication professionals.

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