By: Joseph Havey
Director of University Public Relations, press secretary, a reporter for the New & Observer, Director of Internal Marketing. Though this looks like the beginning of a “what you can do with a communication degree” advertisement, it’s actually Fred Hartman’s résumé. Hartman is the hyperbole of a diverse career, boasting a background in media relations, internal communication, journalism, public affairs and PR management.
He currently is the head of PR for N.C. State, and graciously took the time to talk to PRSSA about his experience as a PR professional.
PRSSA thanks Mr. Hartman for his time and advice. We encourage you to network with the PR community here at N.C. State, as it is one of the best ways to gain valuable advice.
Hartman always knew he would go to N.C. State. After graduating from his Greenville, N.C., high school, he joined the Wolfpack as a political science major.
While at N.C. State, a sophomore roommate exposed Hartman to the world of the student newspaper, Technician. His interest piqued, Hartman became a sports writer for the paper, unaware that Technician would become the cliff from which he dove into the world of communication.
Hartman stayed at Technician throughout his time at N.C. State, reporting mainly on sports, with some news stories sprinkled in.
“It was attractive on so many levels,” Hartman said. “The notion of storytelling and reporting.”
As it was a time when the Wolfpack athletics programs were the “back in their heyday” sensation, Hartman said that sports were easy to cover. Household names such as Jimmy Valvano and Kay Yow were in the process of making their reputations, and the NCAA investigation into Valvano’s program provided a steady stream of content. Hartman reported extensively on this investigation and did it so well that he was hired part-time at The News & Observer.
Upon completing his degree, Hartman graduated into full-time reporting for the N&O, where he covered events on former Governor Jim Hunt, all the while dazzled by the press staff. The magnetism of politics quickly amplified, and Hartman soon wanted in.
Hartman netted a job as Governor Hunt’s press aid, after “hounding” the press secretary. A subsequent PR position at the insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield gave pause to Hartman’s time in state government, but three years later he returned, this time as the press secretary for former Governor Mike Easley.
“Political press is a twenty-four-seven gig,” Hartman said, describing his time working for Easley. “It was exhilarating but also exhausting.”
Too exhausting to stay in the Capitol building for as long as Easley. After two and a half years, Hartman left to run the marketing agency for the state of North Carolina, which is responsible for a variety of social campaigns such as health and wellness, safe driving, environmental protection and more.
He would then run the PR business of a Midwest ad agency and later join CISCO’s learning and development group as head of internal marketing. But when the opportunity to work at N.C. State presented itself, Hartman couldn’t ignore it. He has since been with the Wolfpack for five months.
“It’s cliché to say,” Hartman said, “but this is my dream job.”
On working for N.C. State:
Citing the large influence that the university has had on his life, Hartman said that he is “over-the-moon excited” to be here. The greatest reward is the opportunity he has to promote the place that gave him the foundation to succeed.
“I’ve bled red my entire life,” Hartman said. “Here I get to do something that I love at a place that I love.”
The challenges? There is just too much to promote.
“We have a lot of great things going on here,” Hartman said. “How do you promote everything this university is about? We’ve got a great story to tell. Our challenge is that there are only 24 hours in a day.”
Tasked with this unending positivity, it may sound as if Hartman’s adrenal glands are indefinitely on break, but any dull moments have remained in hiding.
Even if the negative media spotlight were to bend towards N.C. State, Hartman is prepared. He talked at length about his fascination with crisis communication, and is not without experience—he was press secretary on Sept. 11, 2001. He describes crisis management as the ultimate test, both personally and professionally.
“You learn about yourself personally and professionally in times of crisis,” Hartman said, “It’s during a crisis that you draw upon all of your experiences, skills and instincts at once.”
His advice to PR students:
Hartman petitions PR students to cultivate these traits: networking, an inquisitive nature and an open mind. And, like every other professional PRSSA has talked to, endless writing. In the PR world, he said, strong writing ability is essential.
“Writing is the core foundation will carry you throughout your entire career,” Hartman said.
Undoubtedly. Writing for Technician is just the first line on Hartman’s giant professional laundry list.