Inside Track: Sharing West Michigan’s stories


Rick Jensen said landing a job at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park right out of college set him on his path toward career success. Photo by Michael Buck

Rick Jensen has the opportunity to share some of the most amazing stories in pediatric medicine with the West Michigan community and beyond.

For the past two years, Jensen has worked as a senior communications specialist with Spectrum Health, where he was hired to manage media relations and public relations for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve met so many amazing families with so many heartwarming stories,” Jensen said.

He said a lot of times, the families he works with want to share their stories but need a little coaching on how to handle the media process.

“They are in a raw and emotional moment; their child is going through something very serious, but they are willing to share their experience with the world,” Jensen said.

He said he remembers his first story pitch, two weeks into the job.

“Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, one of our cardiologists, emailed me and said he believed he’d performed a rare heart procedure on one of the smallest babies in his career, and he wanted to talk with the media about it.”

Jensen said the baby was so small, she could fit in the palm of a hand.

Jensen still was learning the ropes of his new position, but knew Vettukattil’s story was a home run and wanted to ensure it reached a broad audience.

He chose local outlet MLive for the pitch, expecting that would give it the best chance of getting picked up by The Associated Press and gaining wider attention.


Spectrum Health
Position: Senior Communications Specialist
Age: 35
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Eric Zuniga, partner
Business/Community Involvement: President of the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and past public relations co-chair for Festival of the Arts

Biggest Career Break: Landing a job at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park right out of college.


“Health stories often made MLive’s front page and then ended up on The Associated Press,” he explained.

Jensen was right. Once The Associated Press picked up the article, he began getting calls from several regional and national media outlets wanting the story.

“It had been picked up by ABC World News, Yahoo News, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, everybody started picking it up,” he said.

He said he couldn’t have had a better introduction to his new job or to his new colleagues.

“My team was congratulating me and offering to help me. Everyone wanted to help. I felt so at home at that moment,” he said. “I got to know everyone in the office quickly because of that. I built a lot of relationships with physicians and clinicians.”

He said those relationships are paramount to his job at the hospital.

Jensen said another aspect of his job is sharing stories from Health Beat, Spectrum’s branded news site.

“It’s the hospital’s own news source, where we tell our own stories and share them with the media,” he explained. “We have a professional photographer, a journalist and an editor who create these stories. A lot of times, I’ll pitch from those stories. It’s a pitch with photos and quotes, everything all built in.

“We are seeing amazing engagement on that right now, and it’s really impacting the way we do PR at Spectrum Health.”

He said public relations and communications work is changing rapidly as the media landscape changes and Health Beat is one result of that.

Jensen always is trying to stay on top of those changes, and one way he’s done that is by becoming a member of the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America, or WMPRSA.

The local chapter allows Jensen to interact with a plethora of PR professionals in the region. He said it’s a great way to seek out advice from others in the field and also has been integral to connecting him to the different jobs he’s held during his career.

“WMPRSA has helped me land every single career I’ve had to date in one way or another,” he said. “And I’ve met amazing people and made lifelong friendships.”

Jensen first joined WMPRSA 11 years ago, just after graduating from college, and has been on the organization’s board for the past seven years.

This year, he was appointed WMPRSA president, a role at which he’s excelled.

He said he’s very proud of the work WMPRSA has done this year.

“We’ve had an amazing year. The West Michigan PRoof Awards were held at Amway’s corporate hangar. It was a one-of-a-kind event that I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate.

“We had record-breaking attendance and a record number of award entries submitted. The PR community rallied around the event itself and seemed to have an amazing time.”

WMPRSA also launched a new website this year and is in the process of re-launching its quarterly newsletter.

Jensen said when his term as president is up, he will move into the role of past president, providing guidance for the organization. He also will begin looking for additional ways to get involved in the local community.

“I like to be involved,” he said.

He noted he’d really like to become an adjunct professor at one of the local universities.

“I’m a lifelong learner, and I like working with students,” he said.

Prior to his job with Spectrum Health, Jensen worked at Davenport University for six years.

“I had always wanted to work in higher education, and I was hired as a communications manager. I was hired to engage with students and share student stories. I ran the student newsletter, which went out weekly to all students, and the employee newsletter.”

He said at the time, Davenport had 13 campuses across the state and 13,000 students.

“I loved working with the students,” he said. “I always took on a few interns, two to three, who reported to me. I took on the mentor role. The students became my friends, and I tried to help them through their college experience so they could get a good job when they graduated.”

Jensen said he was lucky to have great mentors early on in his career and understands how important those relationships were to his success.

“I took an intro to PR class at Grand Valley State University, and I met one of the most influential mentors in my life, my professor, Cindy Droog. She worked at a small PR agency in town.”

He landed an internship with Droog, along with two other students, and began doing client work while still in college.

“It was my junior year in college and this internship and class made me change my major to public relations,” he said. “Cindy took me under her wing, and I started working on client work with her and actually pitching stories to the media.”

He said as his final year at GVSU was drawing to a close, he decided to apply for a job at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, thinking it was a long shot.

“When I got the job, I still had two classes I had to finish,” he said. “I had to tell them I technically don’t have my degree yet.”

But he said Frederik Meijer Gardens was eager to have him on board and agreed to work around his school schedule.

Jensen originally was hired to do PR work for the horticulture department.

“It was fun, and there was a lot of variety,” he said. “I loved it there. To this day, I think about what a great job it was.”

He said he also thinks that job really set him on his path to success.

“I think landing your first job right out of college is huge,” Jensen said. “It sets you up for future career development. Working at (Frederik Meijer Gardens) opened many doors for me. I was able to meet so many influential community members and also network with key media in the region … Landing that job provided the building blocks, which my career today is built on.”

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