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Close Up: Public Relations

Building A Career The Old-Fashioned Way -- Through

It isn't surprising that the work qualities Sara Muller Fraunces most admires in others -- intelligence, loyalty and a strong work ethic -- are abundant in her own public relations career. "I think Sara is one of the smartest people I've ever met," said Angelyn Lechman, public relations manager for Inland Entertainment Corp., a former Fraunces protege. Lechman was working the receptionist's desk at Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger in 1995 when Fraunces, an executive at the PR agency, pulled her away to work for her. "In public relations, you can't just know how to write or to publicize an event -- you need talents in every area of communications," said Lechman. "What always struck me about Sara was that she had the talent in every area. "And one of her greatest strengths was strategic planning. She's brilliant in that respect. She's able to zero in on a problem, cut through the clutter and devise a solution. She was always coming up with fantastic and creative solutions to problems." But Fraunces, who left Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger earlier this year after 12 years with the company to become associate vice president of marketing and communications at San Diego State University, said it's not always possible to wipe away problems. "I define strategic planning as outsmarting the problem," said Fraunces. "There will always be problems and challenges, and you can't necessarily eliminate the problems; you just have to outsmart them." Fraunces developed her strategic planning skills at Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger -- the largest PR agency in San Diego and one of the most influential in California -- and fashioned a storied career there. She was only 21 and fresh out of Principia College in Illinois in 1987 -- an English major -- when she was hired as a graduate intern at Stoorza. "I love to write, and this sounded like the right job for me as a starting point," said Fraunces, 33. "My first assignment was to organize my boss's file, but I quickly learned how to make myself more valuable, and within a month I was doing low-level client work." Fraunces developed an enduring professional relationship with Gail Stoorza Gill, one of the agency principals, who allowed her to develop as rapidly as she wanted to. "She didn't hold me back. She offers the same kind of opportunity to anybody who works for her." That freedom, combined with Fraunces' ambition, enabled her to climb the executive ladder swiftly at the agency. She went from graduate intern to account coordinator, assistant account executive, account executive and senior account executive. From there she became account supervisor, director of public relations for the agency, vice president of public relations and then senior vice president of the company -- all in 12 years. "In the last few years, I really had been running my own business at Stoorza," said Fraunces, "from hiring to managing overhead to evaluating profitability. I was doing all of those things, even though it was one job. I've had so many different jobs within the agency and that's what kept me there so long." "Hiring is the biggest underrated skill in business," said Fraunces, reflecting on her work at Stoorza. By her own count, she hired at least 25 people at the agency -- from secretaries to senior executives -- always looking for those same qualities: intelligence, loyalty and a strong work ethic. "If you know that a person is loyal, then you know you can go through the ups and downs together," said Fraunces. "You can enjoy the successes and ride out the failures." Former protege Lechman said Fraunces could handle any number of different tasks at a time. "In the agency business, you never really know what you're going to be doing during the day," said Lechman. "Sometimes you'll do 20 things you weren't expected to do. But I never saw anybody handle it as well as Sara did. She was able to switch gears 20 to 30 times during the day without ever losing her focus." At her new position at SDSU, Fraunces supervises a staff of 10. She accepted the new job after deciding that she wanted to pursue a narrower line of responsibility than what she had taken on at Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger. "My focus had shifted. I realized I wanted to focus on a more singular client. I wanted to lower the intensity of the job," she said. "It was like a perfect parting point. I've filled their glass; they've filled mine. It was time to move on." Just The Facts: The Organization: Office of Marketing & Communications, San Diego State University The Boss: Sara Muller Fraunces, associate vice president Annual Revenues: Nonprofit Number Of Employees: 9 Address: 5500 Campanile Drive, LL4415, San Diego, Calif. 92182 Phone: (619) 594-5204 Fax: (619) 594-5956

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