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Reflections from National PRSA

Chapter Blog - November 19, 2019 - 11:07am

By Sam Villegas, APR, MidAtlantic District Director, PRSA National Board

Though there’s roughly another month and change on the calendar year, it always feels like a downshift after ICON, as if we’re slowing around a curve before we accelerate into the straight away of the New Year. It’s a perfect time to reflect on accomplishments of the year and inventory what’s still on the to do list. Here’s a snapshot of those items from the National PRSA perspective:

2017-2019 Strategic Plan

2019 marks the third year and final year of the last Strategic Plan and work has been underway to develop the next iteration that will guide our activities for the next three years. Some measurable results of its three focus areas include:

  • Expanding our membership community: We experienced a steady increase over the last three years in member retention rate, currently at 78%; a steady increase in members over the last three years, now at 21,880, and an increase in conversion of PRSSA members to PRSA members, currently at 575.
  • Enhancing professional growth: Our workshops, webinars and certificate programs all continue to receive satisfaction ratings in the 90th percentile and higher, and participation (and therefore income) in all of them have steadily increased over the last three years.
  • Elevating knowledge through thought leadership: The last three years brought a more concerted effort to advocate for our profession, beginning with several key public statements made in 2017 by then Chair Jane Dvorak. This effort shifted into high gear with dozens of high-profile advocacy pieces in the trade and national press from Tony D’Angelo at the helm, and this work continues under Debra Peterson this year.

2020 – 2022 Strategic Plan

There is much work still to be done in membership and other areas. Work on the next three-year strategic plan began in January. A team of diverse volunteers and staff developed the new plan’s 8 areas of focus:

  1. Innovation and change
  2. Governance and Culture
  3. Discipline convergence
  4. Membership
  5. Diversity and Inclusion
  6. International Potential
  7. Advocacy
  8. Civility

Just to highlight a few places where we’ve already begun to accelerate activity:

Diversity and Inclusion – PRSA continues its efforts to increase diversity within the organization at all levels. This year we completed some very valuable research through a series of focus groups and a digital survey that garnered more than 4,000 complete responses. This information will be used to power strategies and tactics that help us build a more diverse organization for the future.

Innovation and Change – Three areas where we have innovated and begun the process of change to meet the changing expectations of our workforce include our APR, our professional development programming and the back-end technology that powers how members engage with each other and use the resources PRSA provides.

  • The significant technology investment we made over the last three years goes much deeper than the newly refreshed website launched last month. It provides for more seamless and sophisticated integration of services, greater automation, and a design that scales us for future growth.
  • Another area of steady transformation is the APR, our Society’s mark of distinction. We have been looking at everything, from how it is earned, how one renews it to what it’s called. Changes are coming to bring you a credential that better matches the member’s expectations and needs.
  • And, finally, professional development has been a major area of change and improvement in the last few years, with a new, very popular certificate program and a new speaker’s bureau, which invites training expertise from throughout our membership and beyond.

More to come these next few years with focus on civility, more advocacy, tapping into our international potential and capitalizing on industry convergence.

I look forward to my next and final year as the MidAtlantic director on PRSA’s national Board. It’s been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my career – the chance to serve an organization that has meant so much to me, throughout my career. I applaud everyone who has stepped up in any way at the chapter or district level to help move our mission forward and to anyone who hasn’t yet, I ask you, as you downshift into the holidays and plan your 2020, to consider how you might contribute to our collective success in the future.

I would be happy to discuss my experience with anyone in more detail, as well as some of PRSA’s past and planned successes, and I look forward to our continued work together. Peace!

About the Author

Sam Villegas, APR is a senior consultant with Raftelis (www.raftelis.com) and the MidAtlantic District Director on PRSA’s National Board.

She was the 2009 Chair of the Mid Atlantic District and the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

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Leadership Is About Giving Back

Chapter Blog - November 15, 2019 - 7:04am

By Danny Selnick

The National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of American recently inducted me into its Hall of Fame (for 2019). It’s a lifetime achievement award for the work, volunteering and mentoring I did on behalf of the communication profession for more than 30 years.

I was deeply honored, and for the first time in my life, almost speechless. The truth is, however, there’s no award, prize or anything of the sort more meaningful than volunteering in support of an organization’s mission to help its members or giving time to people who can benefit by our experience or connections.

We all know that time is a very precious commodity, especially when work can be so consuming and home life equally demanding. But when we volunteer, we develop a greater connection to our industry and professional community — and it doesn’t have to be by taking on an officer position or committee assignment for an organization. It can be done, one person at a time.

But one thing to keep in mind — if you’re going to “give,” do it — and be committed to whatever you set your sights on. I can’t tell you how many people I seen over the years run for organizational positions, volunteer to be on committees, or offer help to people with whatever AND then they fall short. Of course, important things come up in life that get in the way, but communicate out as much as you can what’s going on. We understand. But don’t just disappear. It weakens everyone’s efforts.

Finding your place can be as easy as joining a professional organization like PRSA-NCC and looking for ways to get involved – even by just attending events and creating connections helps. Look at committees, where you can help out by suggesting panelists for a special event, or even just come up with ideas that help others with professional and/or personal development. NCC has 18 committees that need your help and each one should be active in putting on great programming.

Another way to give back is to mentor comms students who are not exactly sure which direction of study to take, or to help recent grads find job. For young academic professionals (as I call students), thinking about what to study and/or how to find a job are incredibly stressful considerations. Maybe some of us still remember how difficult it was to embark upon our careers. Don’t you wish there had been someone that could have guided you somehow along the way?

There are a handful of area colleges and universities with communication programs. You can reach out to the program directors and ask about mentoring opportunities. Reach out to local PRSSA chapters and offer to speak at one of their meetings.

To this day, I remember when I spoke to a group of students at George Mason University about finding their passion in PR and how to go about making contact with practitioners. It was a lively discussion, but afterwards, one student came up to me and asked if professionals would really talk to students like her. My answer was, “What, do you think I was born this way?”  Point is, young people are hungry for advice and a bit of leadership from practitioners. You can help one student at a time.  That’s not really a heavy lift, but it sure is life changing for that one person you help.

Oh, and for you young professionals reading this blog, don’t think that you can’t give back right now because you think you might be perceived as having limited experience in the field and that you’re not “seasoned” enough. Au contrare. Young professionals bring to the table new ideas and lots of energy that can re-invigorate organizations (and committees), and you can help mentor students with job searches and career advice. It can also be a great bonding experience since both can relate to each other’s recent experiences – having had to make career choices and the process of getting a job.

As an aside, I always tell students that they will get a job, but that it takes time and effort by also seeking out help of professionals. But that you have to make yourself known. Attend PRSA-NCC and other professional events and use online tools like LinkedIn to connect with others who have the jobs you think you might want to have.

How many of you attend events where other professionals introduce themselves and say they’re looking for job opportunities? We’ve all been there. So, take an interest in your professional brethren and offer whatever help you can, by introducing them to appropriate connections that will help them find job openings or create other connections that will lead them to a position.

So, what’s in it for me you might ask? The answer should be everything. Find what you can do and do what you can. Lead by example and along the way have fun, make contacts and life-long friends AND leave a legacy by helping others.

About the Author

Danny Selnick is a nationally recognized senior communications counselor, who built a successful career at two international commercial news wire services, and is best known for his gift as an industry connector and for his willingness to help colleagues and new practitioners.  Throughout his career, he has been dedicated to strategic marketing and communications efforts on behalf of his clients, including associations and nonprofits, advocacy groups, foundations, corporations, and government and political agencies, who focused on public policy and social change issues. He spearheaded marketing and oversaw successful programs, campaigns and projects that reached key audiences and targeted specific media, decision-makers, influencers and the public based on his in-depth knowledge of news gathering and reporting.  He’s a member of PRSA, PRSA-NCC and The National Press Club, where he is the chair of the Communicator Team and a member of the Club’s Board of Governors.  Connect with Danny on LinkedIn and on Twitter @dannyselnick and at daniel.selnick@yahoo.com

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Crisis Communications: Are you Prepared to Help Your Organization Identify, Manage and Measure Risks?

Chapter Blog - November 8, 2019 - 11:02am

By Lauren Lawson-Zilai, Senior Director of Public Relations, Goodwill Industries International

At the recent PRSA international conference, I spoke about managing a crisis in a highly networked and volatile world along with my PRSA-NCC colleague, Jennifer Schleman, APR. The session was part of the executive communication symposium, which focused on transitioning traditional communications pros into expert strategic communicators. A summary of the session can be found here.

We have a joke in our office that inevitably, around 5 p.m. on a Friday, we typically get a call or see something online that could impact our organization’s image. Why does this matter? Because social media is a crisis game-changer – depending on your reputation and how you manage the situation – in today’s environment of crisis management.

The Art of Forecasting

Historically, professionals had 24 hours to respond to crises, depending on the news cycle. Now, tweets go live seconds after incidents occur, spreading like wildfire.

Much like you can’t control a fire, but you can manage it, so too can you manage a crisis when it’s perpetuated online.

Issue vs. Crisis

Melissa Agnes is an international crisis and reputation management expert, a keynote speaker and author of “Crisis Ready.

She says an issue and a crisis both have very different meanings but also very different management responses.

An issue is an identified event or trend where you are afforded the time to research the facts and ensure nothing has been overlooked.

A crisis, by definition, is outside normal experience; it causes top executives to drop all other priorities, and it may severely disrupt continuity of the organization’s core business. It is a threat to an organization’s operations or reputation. A crisis involves the need for leadership to be out front with the public, and a crisis can last longer than a day’s bad news.

First, you must first determine the potential types that may affect your organization.

  • Immediate crises are often natural disasters or other major emergencies. There is little opportunity for specific research and planning, but a general plan can be in place to reduce damage and potentially enhance the situation.
  • Emerging crises are those that allow more time for analysis and specific planning. These may include employee dissatisfaction, opposition by various groups, or budget reductions. They can often be anticipated and minimized at early stages.
  • Sustained crises involve situations that won’t go away and may linger for years. Internet rumors are a prime example.
The Golden Hour

Traditional crisis communications references the first hour of any crisis as the “Golden Hour” as that is when organizations have time to establish the facts and most importantly, its response. The growth of digital and social media has dramatically reduced the golden hour to little more than a few seconds. It’s when you determine whether the situation will be a manageable problem or out-of-control disaster.

Organizations should complete broad risk assessments to identify their weaknesses and the possible crises they could face, and document the types of response to be made in such events. It is helpful to go off-site for a period of a few years to envision every possible crisis scenario and develop response statements and sample Q and As to correspond with each.

Additionally, an issues management/crisis communications plan should be in place so the team can follow it in real time as a crisis unfolds. The crisis template plan helps manage all communication before, throughout and after a crisis, and guide the development of a management decision-making framework necessary to manage a crisis.

Assign Each Team Member a Role

As a crisis unfolds, strive for a timely, consistent and candid flow of accurate information to both internal and external publics to allay fears and stifle rumors. The organization should continue to function as normally as possible, leaving it to the crisis management team to contend with the crisis.

Assign specific roles to team members and identify them ahead of time, such as designating:

  • One person to speak to external publics.
  • One person to keep internal stakeholders fully informed.
  • One person to craft a statement and share accurate information with the media.
  • One person to man the social media channels.
  • One person to disseminate information to employees.

Rehearse the team regularly — at least every six months. Train and retrain the spokespeople, emphasizing the need for them to work with others involved so the organization will be seen as speaking with one voice.

Build Your Base of Advocates

People are more likely to believe a third party, so build your brand advocate base over time and ensure that they are equipped with resources such as talking points, statistics and graphics. Advocates can include anyone who interacts with your brand, as well as social media influencers or spokespeople who have significant followings and believe in your brand.

Ensure that your internal communication is just as strong as your external communication. Employees will advocate for the brand if they are equipped with the right information; and make sure they comply with your social media guidelines.

First Response

At the onset of a crisis, conduct a situation report to gather the facts, then immediately issue a holding statement, such as: “We are trying our best to determine what exactly occurred and greatly appreciate your patience. You can find more updates here: [Insert link].”

Compassion is an important ingredient for success in handling a crisis. Follow-up statements should be short, factual and express concern.

It may be necessary to have a dark page where you have testimonials from supporters, a video from a subject matter expert, a response letter and images if necessary. This is a great place to direct people to an answer quickly — whether it’s through social media or broadcast news. It’s also an effective way to explain a complex situation.

Social Media and Crises

It’s imperative to determine when a crisis is brewing, so activate social listening. Search engines (aka Google) have taken over traditional media and provide the quickest and easiest way to find information online. You can also use paid tools, such as Cision or Talkwalker, and a social media management system like Hootsuite to stay on top of the conversation.

Ensure you have established social media community guidelines, which set the tone for engagement and reflect your brand’s personality. If there is a certain hashtag being used to describe your crisis, go where the conversation is and use it. Ditch corporate speak and don’t use acronyms or jargon. Avoid being defensive. Don’t say “no comment” or ignore any general comments or queries, as that can only further the intensity of your crisis.

Use visuals to get your story across. Keep written materials short and concise, and don’t put your holding or response statements in PDFs. People won’t be able to find them through search and you won’t be able to track the number of impressions.

We are living in an era of public mistrust, so we must break through the noise by demonstrating an unwavering commitment to integrity, transparency and authenticity for the brands and organizations we represent.

A livestream can be used for a press conference, ongoing incident updates, emergency response tutorials, instructional discussions, and public Q&A, among others. A message announcing the livestream should be published on all appropriate platforms prior to the broadcast. The engagement format should be detailed, including information about the two-way dialogue.

Community managers should answer questions on the livestream in real-time, regardless if there is a two-way dialogue with the spokesperson in the video, and respond with only publicly available information and links.

Amplify content that announces the livestream as well as the broadcast. Depending on the content, the full video could be edited to soundbites and you can link back to the full video.

Once the Dust Settles

After the crisis is over, reconvene the crisis management team to debrief. Review the crises’ causes, the organization’s responses to it and the outcomes. Update the crisis management/communications plan in light of the most recent experience.

Crisis communications is just a small part of emergency preparedness planning or what some refer to as a Continuity of Operations Plan. Your crisis communications plan is part of a whole, not just a stand-alone guide. Ready.gov is one resource for planning ahead for disasters to business, your people and your community.

About the Author

Lauren Lawson-Zilai is the incoming president for PRSA-NCC. She currently serves as vice president, Hall of Fame chair and liaison to the pro bono and community support, mentoring, new professionals and university relations committees, and is part of the strategic planning committee. She previously served as chair of the pro bono committee; PRSA International Conference Gala chair; Thoth Awards Gala chair; board director; and board secretary; and she served on the association/nonprofit, membership and professional development committees. Lawson-Zilai is the recipient of both the Platinum and Diamond Awards for outstanding contributions to the chapter.

Lawson-Zilai is the senior director of public relations and national spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International, and has been quoted frequently in the media including, ABC Radio, the Associated Press, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Elle Magazine, FOX, The New York Times, The NonProfit Times, PEOPLE Magazine, and USA TODAY.


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Top 3 Ways to Fix Your Online Reputation

Chapter Blog - October 29, 2019 - 10:21am

By Josh Greene, CEO, The Mather Group

If you’ve been having a bad day when it comes to your online reputation, this is the article for you. You don’t have to tear your hair out, or moan and groan at your desk that the Internet is out to get you. With some focused effort, it’s possible to not only appear online the way you want to, but also to boost your sales and leads. Here’s what you need to know.

First, you need a strategy. This isn’t the time for half-hearted schemes. This is your reputation. To fix it, you need to focus on:

  • Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) and SEO for your CEO and your company
  • Wikipedia pages
  • Retargeting

Taken together, these items by-and-large define what people know about your company.  Knowing that and being aware of how each piece works is the starting point for building your strategy.  Ready to get into the details?  Here we go.


When someone Googles your company, what pops up? Your website? News articles? A Knowledge Panel? Ideally, it would be a mix of all of that – and all showing information that you believe is valuable for consumers. Here’s how to get there.

First, if you haven’t claimed your Knowledge Panel or created a Google My Business page, do so right now. These panels can dominate right-side search results, and you have some measure of control over what they share, which is a huge bonus.

Once you’ve claimed your Knowledge Panel, you can give Google authoritative feedback on what appears in the panel, keeping it accurate. As for Google My Business, you have complete control over what information is shared. It’s the perfect opportunity to not only take up more space on Google, but to make sure customers have the right website and address for your business.

Next, optimize your site links with the proper meta titles and descriptions and structured data. Structured data ensures your images and reviews appear, while meta descriptions/titles ensure entries appear as you want them. Once again, this is about controlling the narrative and making sure people see what you want them to.

Third, think about running advertising. This does two things for your reputation: it lets you take up more shelf space on search results and makes sure the first messaging people see is what you want them to see. By taking up more space, you can push down unwanted results.

Got all that? Okay, now we’re ready for the next two steps in your strategy.


Wikipedia will take up a good portion of your Knowledge Panel, has 340 million unique views per day, and almost always shows up as a top 3 search result on Google. You should take it for granted that potential customers are going to check out Wikipedia.

Now, whether we’re talking about your CEO’s page or your company’s page, there are a few things you want to keep in mind.

  • Your primary goal should be to increase content regarding positive information and company initiatives
  • Ensure the page is well-organized with different sections
  • Think of all the categories that apply to your CEO and your company, and then tag them on the page. The more categories a page has, the more places it’ll appear throughout Wikipedia, increasing your visibility
  • Expand your footprint and “legitimacy” on Wikipedia by connecting your pages to related pages such as technology pages, associations, events, etc.
  • For company pages, you want a built-out infobox that includes your current logo, company stats, and stock information

If you have controversial information on your page, don’t just delete it. This needs a strategy. I recommend: checking the sources listed to see if they actually corroborate what is on the page. If they don’t, dispute the sources; reorganize how the information appears, perhaps burying it in the middle of a paragraph; and/or providing sources with a clarifying narrative.  Above all, be patient. It can take time to get a page close to your ideal, but the time and effort are worth it.


And for the last piece, let’s talk about retargeting. This a great way to make sure you’re in front of the people who’ve already shown interest by coming to your website, even after they’ve left your site. With the right retargeting strategy, you can show them your message 10-40x more than what they would get from a simple website visit.

Additionally, as they travel to websites they love and see your ad, they’ll start to associate your brand with brands they already trust, making them more likely to remember you and come back.

So, there you have it.  A snapshot look at three key areas that affect your online reputation.  Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and you can make a difference.

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Predictable Surprises: Why reputation management is core to business leadership

Chapter Blog - October 24, 2019 - 8:27am

By Tracy Schario, APR, chair of the PRSA MBA/Business School Program committee

Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Sage advice from a business luminary. However, many MBA programs don’t offer a strategic communications or reputation management course. PRSA and 15 universities are actively working to change that scenario.

Many communicators approach reputation management from a crisis communications point of view. Business operations teams often approach reputation from risk mitigation or risk avoidance. The synergy among these departments exists to develop an understanding of how communication strategy aligns with the larger strategy, vision, and values of an organization.

Reputation management is creating a “culture that promotes conflict avoidance versus fire-fighting,” explains Paul Argenti, author, professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth University, and founding faculty of the PRSA MBA/Business School Program. Argenti joined faculty teaching the program during a recent webinar (watch here).

Reputation management and crisis communications is as much about “intelligence operations” and scenario planning as it is about measurement, said Argenti. Companies serious about reputation management understand they need “data-driven insights rather than gut instincts.”

Argenti was joined by professor Tricia Horn, from University of Central Missouri, the newest member of the PRSA MBA/Business School program, who shared their approach to teaching reputation management, and Kathleen Donohue Rennie, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA, an associate professor at New Jersey City University, who discussed PRSA’s research and evaluation of the program.

To request a copy of the webinar slides, please contact tracyschario@gmail.com.

About the Author

Tracy Schario, APR, is chair of the PRSA MBA/Business School Program committee. She leads media and content strategy at MITRE.

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Can Bach Save the World if Yo Yo Ma Brings It to Us?

Chapter Blog - October 15, 2019 - 10:44am

By Aimee Lauren Stern, Chief Bravery Officer, Brave Now PR

He is certainly giving it his best shot. The Bach Project, which Yo Yo Ma rolled out in August 2018, is a two year project in which the cellist commits to playing all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Cello in 36 cities around the world. Yo Yo Ma discussed The Bach Project at the Atlantic Festival last week.

Alongside each concert is a Day of Action, which can be a series of conversations and collaborations that explore how culture can help us imagine and build a better future. Days of Action range from building 36 wooden tables in Pittsfied, Massachusetts, to discuss the concept of a resilient community to planting a community garden.

The Bach Project tour has reached, Chicago, New York City, Flint, Michigan, and Washington DC, among other cities, and is headed to Australia and Indonesia this fall. It will conclude in summer 2020.

When Yo Yo Ma first began playing the cello at the age of four the first song he played was Bach’s prelude to the first Cello Suite. He is still playing it. “Music can feel, inspire, create wonder,” Ma said.

Bach’s six Cello Suites are for unaccompanied cello and are either performed by Yo Yo Ma solo or with other musicians. y Johann Sebastian Bach. They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello.

Culture needs a seat at the table, says Ma. His point is that sharing what we love about art, music,  and telling each other our stories brings us together. The overriding message of the tour is that culture brings us together, and telling each other our stories turns other into us. bring all of us together as a species, through whatever art form we choose to inspire us. His is obviously music.

About the Author

Aimee Stern is the president of Brave Now PR and Content based in Washington DC. She specializes in helping senior executives find their industry voices, develop a platform and share it broadly.

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Time for an employee communications fall tune-up

Chapter Blog - October 14, 2019 - 10:04am

By Susan C. Rink, President and Owner, Rink Strategic Communications, LLC

It’s fall ─the season for tailgate parties, apple festivals, plaid flannel shirts and pumpkin spice everything. For most private sector companies and non-profits, it’s also time to start working on the 2020 operating budget. If you are an employee communications professional reading this blog, chances are you will be asked to do more in 2020 than you did in 2019, and most likely with less money.

It’s a fact of life. I’ve often joked that while my friends in marketing can get a million dollars to do a customer event, we employee communicators have to hold a bake sale to get the money for a simple email template. Sad, but true.

But instead of lamenting our lack of funds, employee communicators should look at fall budgeting season as an opportunity to tune up our communication campaigns and vehicles. It is just like taking your car into the mechanic, and watching them hook it up to one of those computers to assess the battery, spark plugs and all the other mysterious things living “under the hood.” This is the perfect opportunity to take an unbiased look at what you and your team have worked on over the past three quarters and whether or not you have met your performance goals.

How do your programs measure up?

For starters, are you measuring your communications vehicles? Are your measurements limited to open rates, or do you include polls and feedback loops to see if people are actually reading the articles and receiving information that they find useful?

What about your all hands or town hall meetings? Do you track attendance? Do you do any type of post-event survey and track those results to monitor trends and identify areas for improvement?

What about messaging? Are your employees able to describe the company’s strategic platforms, do they know how the company is performing against key business metrics, and can they explain the company’s culture?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, kudos to you! The bulk of your work is done and now you can get down to the nitty gritty details of determining which programs to sunset (or cut off cold turkey at the end of the calendar year), which to maintain, and where there are gaps to fill.

But what if you answered no to most of the questions? In that case, you have a bit of work to do. The good news is that it won’t take you a lot of time and won’t cost a lot of money to do so. (Although I probably shouldn’t tell you that, since companies hire me to do communication audits for them. But hey, we’re all friends here, right?)

The “Do it Yourself” Mini Audit

To conduct your mini-audit, you’ll need to get a feel for what is working and what isn’t. There are a couple of ways to do that.

One is to take advantage of existing data, such as a recent employee opinion/engagement/culture survey. These surveys are a wealth of information about employee attitudes on such topics as leadership candor/approachability, connection to the company’s mission, and health of the culture – all topics which are influenced and reinforced though effective communications.

Another idea is to institute a “flash poll” of a random group of employees, about 15% of the workforce. Keep the number of questions limited to five or so, and focus on messaging and information flow. You can issue the poll after an all hands meeting or a couple of days after an employee email newsletter is distributed (if you have one of those, if not, there’s another tool for consideration). There are lots of great online polling tools you can use, like Survey Monkey and Poll Everywhere, which offer free 30-day trials.

The third option is to host some informal focus groups to gather anecdotal feedback. To drive participation, schedule them during lunch and market them as “brown bag” sessions. One word of caution, you’ll need to be very clear that the topic is communications; otherwise it may devolve into 60 minutes of complaints about anything but communications.

Armed with the data you have gathered, you can now gather your team to discuss the findings and make informed decisions about what you can do differently and/or better in 2020…including measuring all your communications programs on a monthly basis.

Happy fall!

About the Author

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps their clients talk to and listen to their employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing and hospitality companies to professional associations and non-profit “think tanks.”

Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.

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How to Get a Patient to Talk: Lessons in Health Care PR

Chapter Blog - October 8, 2019 - 8:42am

By Aaron Cohen, President, Aaron Cohen PR LLC

“Norma Smith was diagnosed with stage-three cancer in December.” – Fresno Bee

Photo credit: John Walker and The Fresno Bee

An anecdotal lede like that is rhetorical device meant to grab a reader by the lapels and demand they keep reading. According to Carmen George of the Fresno Bee, Norma is important because she can “connect people’s compelling personal stories to larger issues.”

To me, as a media relations consultant, people like Norma are the difference between press release pickups and agenda-setting coverage. Earning coverage like this requires sensitivity, patience, and skill.

Getting Norma’s story published is how a journalist explains the life-changing decisions of policymakers and businesses.

It’s the same drill when a Des Moines Register looks at how an Iowa corn farmer’s market is affected by trade policy decisions or how a head shop owner in Massachusetts is impacted by a new e-cigarette crackdown.

“The real challenge in writing a policy story is getting people to read it. If I can focus a story on a real human being who’s been impacted by the policy in question, it automatically becomes more engaging and meaningful — and dramatically more impactful, too,” says Lev Facher, reporter for Stat News, which covers the life sciences industry.

To reporters like Facher, real people resources are the Holy Grail of journalism for three reasons:

  • Real people humanize dry government or academic data, and are great at, “engaging readers on an emotional, intimate level to help them care more about what they are reading,” said George.
  • They provide an important layer of credibility to a story that might have just an antagonist and a protagonist.
  • They demonstrate a cause and effect relationship.

A dramatic example is Sheri Fink’s moving New York Times Magazine, post-Hurricane Harvey cover story about Casey Dills-Dailey. Casey was sent home from the hospital without medicine crucial to her health. When Harvey struck, her health deteriorated. She later died.

Casey’s widower Wayne, and his two sons, allowed Fink “to accompany them through the difficult days after Casey’s death in the hopes that telling her story might help others,” according to a Times Insider account of how the magazine story was reported.

Altruism like Wayne’s, is often what leads medical patients sign health privacy forms and allow journalists into their homes at the most vulnerable and sensitive times of their lives.

Fink told me she discovered Wayne and Casey without the help of a publicist, but stories like that and Norma’s are there, if you know how and where to look. To Terry DeMio, a Pulitzer Prize winning Cincinnati Enquirer reporter, it’s essential to good storytelling. “People are indispensable in a good narrative,” she said.

Here are a few steps to creating a narrative towards getting that groundbreaking placement:

  • Understand how a policy, a report, a piece of state or federal legislation will impact individuals in a negative way, and focus on the negative – happy news doesn’t usually sell papers!
  • Identify an individual, or individuals effected by a bill or a natural disaster, etc.
  • If a medical patient is involved, get the provider to have privacy waiver forms signed to stay legal.
  • Interview the person and make them comfortable with the alien process of an encounter with a journalist.
  • Don’t overly message-train a real person. They’re supposed to sound real, remember?
  • Act as the person’s agent and appointment secretary, like they were your client and protect the patient’s time and health.
  • Do follow-up work with a reporter and treat them like they were your client or boss.

There was no way the Fresno Bee or any daily newspaper in the United States was going to report on the arcane practices of the health care system’s middlemen, known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) without a Norma Smith. It’s too dry and, to many readers, just plain boring.

For the Community Oncology Alliance, we tapped into a Fresno oncology practice and found Norma, a plain-speaking, stage three blood cancer patient who felt shafted by a PBM.

Carmen George liked the story, interviewed Norma about how a PBM delayed the cancer medicine her oncologist had prescribed, and published a blockbuster that was a sensation on the internet, stirred a reaction from the Fresno congressman and an explanation from the PBM in question.

Norma wasn’t quoted for her knowledge of Prior Authorizations or Direct and Indirect Remuneration Fees. Washington Post health care reporter Lenny Bernstein says, “stories profit from quotes from the people who are going through these situations, whether they are mental illness, a hurricane, war, or an election.”

Here’s why Carmen George’s story in the Fresno Bee profited from Norma’s central role. Norma said, “I’m a human being. I’m not a used car. I have feelings. I’m a person. I want to live. I want to spend time with my grandchildren. I want to quilt. I want to do things. I want to live.”

About the Author

Aaron Cohen has owned and operated Aaron Cohen PR since 2014, and has been a health care PR specialist for a decade. In addition to media relations, messaging and media training services for clients, Aaron offers a training course to teach organizations how to start new, or improve existing, earned media programs. Aaron has been in communications for more than three decades, having worked in a succession of PR firms and as a Washington- based radio journalist. For more, visit www.aaroncohenpr.com

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Experts Needed – That’s You!

Chapter Blog - October 2, 2019 - 9:04am

This blog is a forum for members of the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and other public relations professionals. Your expertise is a welcome addition to this community.

Please consider writing a post. This is a great way to give to the profession and the professional society that has helped us all as PR professionals.

We welcome blog submissions from members and other contributors who are interested in providing content that can be useful for public relations practitioners. Below are blog submission guidelines.

Helpful Blogging Tips and Best Practices
  • Length should be between 500-800 words
  • Submission should include subheads and paragraph breaks (if appropriate) to avoid the appearance of a “wall” of text
  • Author should use a conversational tone and show personality in writing
  • Post should include links to the chapter website and other websites if appropriate
  • Author should submit images when possible along with caption and permission information
  • Mentions of a company/website within a post and/or in the author byline are allowed, but posts cannot overtly promote a product or business (only sponsor organizations are promoted to members)
  • While the posts are the opinion of the author, submissions that demean individuals, companies, professions or businesses will not be accepted. The purpose of the blog is both to advance the profession and provoke intelligent discussion among peers.
NCC Blog Submission Process
  • Send a Word document and images to jill [at] kurtzdigitalstrategy.com
  • Word document should include:
    • Byline with author name and title
    • Post title and content
    • Links, if applicable
  • Image should be accompanied by caption and permission information
  • The post will be scheduled and the author notified upon publication

This is a great way to get more exposure for your ideas and expertise. All blog posts are included on the PRSA-NCC home page and also shared on PRSA-NCC chapter social media channels.

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4 Tips for Planning Your Next Networking Happy Hour

Chapter Blog - September 24, 2019 - 7:03am

By Allie Erenbaum, Board Member and Co-chair of the University Relations Committee for PRSA-NCC

Who do I talk to first? What questions should I ask? How can I hold a drink and a plate of food, and successfully shake someone’s hand?

If you’ve ever asked yourself one of the above questions, you are not alone. Although networking happy hours can be intimidating, they also present informal ways to grow your professional network. From learning about new areas of your profession to practicing your elevator pitch, attending a networking happy hour offers several benefits.

On August 14, PRSA-NCC hosted an August Summer Happy Hour. In addition to bringing together current chapter members, the event attracted recent graduates, young professionals, new members, and new arrivals to the Washington, D.C. area. The event ended up being one of the most successful networking happy hours in PRSA-NCC’s recent history, with 83 people attending.

Consider these tips when planning your organization’s next networking happy hour:

  • Bring stakeholders together early. For the August Summer Happy Hour, PRSA-NCC collaborated across committees (e.g., Membership, Marketing and Communications, University Relations, and New Professionals) to ensure far-reaching attendance. Each committee helped facilitate individual outreach to people in their network, which resulted in close to 100 registrations. Getting leadership buy-in and amplification of your networking happy hour will also help generate interest.
  • Consider the event’s timing. If one of your organization’s competitors or stakeholders is willing to share their events calendar, it may be useful to sync on efforts to ensure you can attract the widest group of people. If your organization produces events on a regular basis, make sure you are not competing with other initiatives on your own calendar.
  • Pricing and location can make or break interest. Professionals already go to several happy hours on their own time with their colleagues or clients. To make your organization’s networking happy hour accessible, keep your price point low and consider engaging, centrally-located venues in your area.
  • Remember your audience. Since the August Summer Happy Hour wanted to encourage individuals that may not be familiar with PRSA-NCC’s structure, PRSA-NCC made sure brochures and fact sheets were available for attendees. PRSA-NCC also encouraged chapter leadership and committee co-chairs to attend, ensuring that questions could be answered in real-time.

 About the Author

Allie Erenbaum is a one-year Board of Director and Co-chair of the University Relations Committee for PRSA-NCC. Through the University Relations Committee, Allie collaborates with leaders from universities across the Washington, D.C. area to connect students with industry professionals to create job, internship, mentoring, and networking opportunities. She is currently a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in strategic communications and public affairs. While working towards her degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communication at American University, Allie completed internships at Porter Novelli, APCO Worldwide, and Participant Media.

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How to Plan Your Next Video

Chapter Blog - September 17, 2019 - 9:43am

By Pete Cousté, PC MediaWorks and Chair, PRSA-NCC Independent PR Alliance Committee

I covered more than my share of National Press Club events as a broadcast journalist and TV producer early in my career at CNN, WUSA-TV9, and others.  However, I had never appeared on a panel to present to a few hundred PR colleagues until recently at the 2019 PR Summit DC.

For the first time, I was invited to speak on a panel underneath that NPC sign. It was called Ready, Fire, Aim: How (Not) To Plan Your Next Video. Not surprisingly, the topic of video in PR was either the main focus or a big part of the discussion in at least three sessions in the daylong conference.  

It was a new perspective for me. After my 25-plus years of work in broadcast TV news, PR, marketing, and digital video in DC, there was a lot to talk about.

I was fortunate to be teamed with other accomplished creatives to offer others insight across the agency, client and production perspectives.  They included moderator Glenn Greenstein, the creative director and founder of Mean Green Media; Mimi Carter, the US General Manager & SVP of Proof Strategies and a longtime local PR and marketing agency veteran; and Thorsten Ruehlemann, Chief Marketing Officer of Service Year Alliance and former Worldwide Managing Partner at Ogilvy & Mather.

Our goal was to help other PR pros like yourself get better results from the process of planning, managing and implementing video projects.  We met, collaborated and trade ideas for a couple of weeks to come up with our top ten list of best practices and tips to share.

Be Transparent

A good partner shares information openly with the team. We as clients must define the boundaries of a project. Provide your team with the freedom of a tight creative brief. Put it in writing. Articulate client goals clearly.

Be transparent about your expectations. Explain the business objective of your video. Share reference material/benchmarks (creative examples you like or do not like). Make budgets and internal deadlines transparent (e.g. board needs to approve concept in their meeting on this date).

Achieve Stakeholder Alignment Early

Ensure that purpose, scope and objectives are clear to all stakeholders before production begins. Video is a team collaboration requiring time and resources. Verify that SMEs, approvers, and key decision makers are committed and know when they’re needed and carve out time to participate.

Assign a single point-person to collect and control feedback-approval loop. Educate reviewers on what feedback you need from them. Keep them in their lanes. Avoid committee groupthink. Get individual feedback submitted in writing.

Make Video Part of Your Integrated PR or Marketing Plan

Think integrated video strategy upfront. Use your same APR PR process stages with video (Research, Plan, Implement, Evaluate). Think in categories of earned, owned, and paid media. Include the creative lead of the video team at strategy table early to help consider how to integrate video across your campaign’s tactics, platforms, and audiences.

Save money through economies of scale by planning and producing videos with overlapping content, shared assets, resources, and for multiple uses at the same time. Save time and money by re-purposing and re-versioning content across channels. Grow a video asset library.

Learn More

For the entire list, feel free to email me and I’ll send it to you, pete [at] petecouste.com

It was both a humbling and inspiring experience to try to give back a little of what I’ve learned that works best. I recommend it to all of you. Once you have logged enough time and feel you have something valuable that others want to hear, it helps to share it.

As an active member of PRSA, I felt as I spoke that I was in part representing fellow NCC members. It helped to see many familiar faces from our chapter in the audience as I spoke.  Thank you. You know who you are.

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Easy as Pi: How Comms Pros Can use Numbers to Shape Social Strategy

Chapter Blog - September 9, 2019 - 8:10am

By Kevin Coroneos, Digital Director, Aerospace Industries Association

When it comes to communication professionals, there’s one thing that usually unites us: a hatred of math.

But for a digital strategist, numbers – specifically social media metrics – should be your best friend, especially if you have a wide-ranging audience.

With the growing divide between generations on social media platforms, relying on audience and post analytics can help shape a cross-generational digital strategy that can grow your engagement and your community.

In running communications for the world’s largest student rocket contest, I get to speak directly to some of the brightest young minds in the country. But these students aren’t launching rockets on their own. They have teachers and a network of mentors and aerospace professionals guiding them along the way!

With this full network of participants and supervisors comes a generation gap. We have adults who want the facts, and students who worship Fortnite and think storming Area 51 is hilarious.

Luckily, that’s where the numbers come in.

Audience analytics on each platform are wonderful for figuring out who you’re actually talking to. There are, of course, several fancier tools to analyze your audience, but if you’re a smaller organization with limited budget, you can get pretty scrappy with the back-end analytics.

At our organization, by looking at the ages, genders and locations of our audiences, and matching them up with the locations of our participating teams, we were able to gain a very strong idea of the individuals on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

To confirm our beliefs, we also analyzed key metrics, including total engagement and engagement rates (the number of engagements divided by the number of impressions). With that information, we were able to build audience profiles to match to each platform.

On Instagram, we found that our audience was current participants – both their personal and team accounts – and young alumni.

On Twitter, we found our most diverse audience: a mix of media, politicians, teams, sponsoring companies, teachers and more.

And on Facebook, we lacked our current participants, but we had the adults and family members involved in the program – an important outlet for communicating with the students.

So basically, we’re talking to a lot of different people in a lot of different places – and our digital strategy must reflect that.

For example, our data showed that content around participants in action had a much higher engagement rate on Instagram than other platforms. We knew that in order to engage students, we needed to give them the content that they cared about. But with a nationwide contest, we can’t get in every classroom.

But we can put the content in the hands of the students so they’re communicating to one another. Using these analytics and information, we did two things.

First, we ran weekly photo contests as a way to get our audience to post on their own accounts more often, as well as provide us with more content.

Second, we began executing Instagram takeovers – letting our audience decide their own content. Not only did we see increased engagement across Instagram, but also we grew our audience because the students wanted to show off to their friends.

By looking at the top-performing content on the platform, we were able to build a strategy to give our audience the content they wanted, increasing our engagement and our audience over time.

But that’s not all we were able to gain from our analytics.

By exploring the metrics and audience breakdowns, we also determined HOW to talk to each unique group. You wouldn’t necessarily talk to a 15-year-old the same way you’d talk to a 50-year-old, so why would you do the same on social media?

On Facebook, we saw our posts were highly engaged with when our tone was more informative, resourceful or supportive. When it featured a more playful voice, we saw much less engagement. This helped us develop the appropriate voice to effectively communicate with our audience and provide them with information, as well as develop a legitimate, supportive community in which there was information sharing and well wishes.

Since our audience features older mentors and teachers, we also learned that posts that featured a call-to-action directed at “your students” or “your rocketeers” outperformed general calls to action.

But on Instagram, if we were a bit sarcastic or humorous – we saw more likes, more comments and more direct messages. This, of course, makes the role more fun, but requires me to try to be hip and stay up-to-date on the meme culture…

By developing an audience-centric strategy and building our voice and tone based on data analytics, we saw our engagement on each platform grow organically. We also built an overall stronger community because of it. All it took was for communicators to finally accept math as a part of life.

Kevin Coroneos is the Digital Director for the Aerospace Industries Association and Communications Director for The American Rocketry Challenge.

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A Revamped Website; PRSSA in Puerto Rico

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
A Revamped Website; PRSSA in Puerto Rico
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In Brief: Marketing the Impossible Burger; Changing the Traditional Résumé

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
In Brief: Marketing the Impossible Burger; Changing the Traditional Résumé
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Emoji Use Takes Off in the Workplace

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
Emoji Use Takes Off in the Workplace
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Bob Woodward on the Importance of Investigative Journalism

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
Bob Woodward on the Importance of Investigative Journalism
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7 Tips for Working With a 'Tornado Boss'

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
7 Tips for Working With a 'Tornado Boss'
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Nick Goebel on Leading PRSSA and Launching a PR Career

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
Nick Goebel on Leading PRSSA and Launching a PR Career
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Counting Down to San Diego

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
Counting Down to San Diego
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Journalist Laura Ling on the Power of Storytelling

Strategies & Tactics - September 3, 2019 - 1:00am
Journalist Laura Ling on the Power of Storytelling
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