Words of Hope and Caution from New Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Mathias, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations in North America, and President of Ogilvy Public Relations, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others on Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from his acceptance speech.

With the hope that there are some people in the audience with us tonight who are closer to the front end of their careers than me, I thought I would offer both a word of hope and a bit of caution.2015 - Mathias

First, the caution. As public relations professionals, we have all fought long and hard to earn a seat at the proverbial table. And I think we do have that seat now. As was not necessarily the case when Harold Burson founded Burson Marstellar in 1953, we are thought of today as an established business discipline that has a legitimate role in helping to propel an enterprise forward. But this is not guaranteed. We have to work harder than our friends, the lawyers or the bankers or the dreaded management consultants. We have to demonstrate value and ROI. Everyday and in everything that we do. And, above all else, we need to remember why we are here.

Our job, first and foremost, is to be the tellers of the truth. We do our profession and ourselves a tremendous disservice when we play fast and lose with the facts or try to create something that is, in fact, not there.

We need to avoid the sin of spin and work to excise it from our vocabulary, as it connotes an attempt to obfuscate or deceive, a slight of hand designed to hide the truth. We are not spin-doctors and must not aspire to be so. Good or bad, our job must be to take the facts as they are and help our clients – be they internal or external – craft the most compelling argument possible; an argument that will convince and persuade, motivate and inspire. This is what we do. It is the value we add. And it is how we will maintain our seat at that table.

Now, the hope.

The practice of public relations has never been more exciting or more needed than it is today. The way in which consumers, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders receive and process information has never been more varied. And our options for reaching and engaging them have never been greater. From long-form writing to traditional media relations, to the creation of compelling, shareable content that is instantly distributed across multiple social platforms, we now have virtually limitless possibilities in our took kit.

Adding uncertainty to the mix, the choices and decisions that now sit in front our clients are significant, complex and are changing every day. And while it used to be as simple as placing a story in the Washington Post or on any one of three network news programs, today’s engagement strategies need to be smarter, faster, and more robust than they ever have been before.

And somebody needs to make sense of it all.

This is where we come in. Our role is that of interpreter and translator; architect and builder. We are the ones who can see the big picture; who have the greatest potential to understand it all. And we are the ones who have the most legitimate role in advising our clients as to the best path to take; the course of action that makes the most sense.

As a result, this truly is our moment to shine; our moment to demonstrate that magical combination of creativity and effectiveness and, perhaps most importantly, our opportunity to deliver the greatest impact that we have ever had in the history of our profession. This is our time.

If I were to start my career all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go into public relations. In fact, I would be more excited than ever.

Thank you all very much.

Good night.

Hall of Fame Inductee Calls PR Leaders to Seek Diversity; Offers Advice to Career Minded Professionals

Debra Silimeo, executive vice president of Hager Sharp, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others during the Thoth Awards Gala, Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from her acceptance speech.

It’s humbling to be part of this prestigious group of PR professionals. Thank you PRSA, Hall Of Fame committee, and all of the people who have been part of my village throughout my journey.Silimeo Photo

You can’t put a news story on the air, pass legislation, or build a successful PR firm without a strong team. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people…talented journalists, passionate public policy advocates, really cool clients, and of course – the mission driven rock stars at Hager Sharp!

I learned a lot about defying stereotypes and giving back from one of my real life role models and mentors – the late Susan Hager. She founded Hager Sharp in 1973 – when very few women ran businesses- with the specific mission of working with clients who want to make the world a better place. She lived the mission, and she always found time to help other women succeed.

As communicators we’re always trying to engage an increasingly diverse population. So we need that same diversity of thought and creativity at the table. By diversity, I mean gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

That’s not just the right thing to do – it’s good business. In order to reach people where they live, you need to GET where they live.

So tonight I’d like to call on our PR leaders…please take a look at your teams – especially your leadership teams. If you don’t have a diverse team – find the right people. I mean, look around, there’s a lot of talent right here in this room.

If you don’t have woman or person of color on your board of directors…that’s a problem and you should fix it – and you will benefit from it.

It’s great to work in a field where you can be constantly challenged by change, and get JOY and meaning from your work.

If you’re going to spend the better part of your life working, it should be something that gives you  JOY …and that makes a positive difference.

They asked me to share some advice for young professionals – so here are some other things that I believe matter:

  • Stay curious. Stay on top of the constant changes in our industry // and on the issues that affect your client’s world. Keep your clients larger goals in mind.
  • If you do that, you can be a strategist, not just an order taker.
  • Learn the business of PR – this will make you a better manager and help you get that seat at the leadership table.
  • Be ethical. Your reputation is far more important that your job title.
  • Don’t chase all the shiny new objects. Understand them, but at the end of the day, our business is really about people and relationships.
  • Respect your power. I’ve had chance to work with a lot of powerful people. I don’t mean just presidents & members of congress – I mean all of the staff people behind the scenes – the great people at HS – and ALL of YOU in this room, YOU have power.
  • You have: Power to inform people, persuade them, motivate them to eat healthy, get educated, give back, make the world better. Use your power wisely.

And always say thank you. Thank you. Very much.

Kick-Start Your Career Advancement in 30 Days

Career management and selling your own brand are some of the hardest things we do as PR professionals. But at the seminar, “Kick Start Your Career Advancement in 30 Days,” attendees developed a set of action items to take their professional development into their own hands. Sponsored by Microsoft and presented by the PRSA-NCC New Professionals Committee, the event took place during PRSA’s Young Professionals Week.

Kick-Start Your Career Advancement in 30 Days

Kick-Start Your Career Advancement in 30 Days

According to guest speaker, Pascale Haspil, VP, Director of Professional Services at Lee, Hecht, Harrison, career success is defined like a mathematical equation. All the components–your reputation, your performance, your network–all contribute to you career advancement. If one is lacking, it will impact the end result. Knowing this, it becomes much easier to focus on the aspects of your professional development that need attention.

While many in the public relations industry will know immediately how to earn recognition for a client or a product, many struggle to represent themselves.  Ms. Haspil outlines a strategy for success in the 5 Ps.

The 5 P’s of of Career Management & Advancement

  • Person: Know Your Strengths; Ask How Am I Unique?
  • Performance: Broaden Performance Perspective; Ask What Are My Capabilities?
  • Place: Know Your Environment; Ask How Is The World of Work Changing?
  • Possibilities: Set SMART Goals; AskWhat Are My Aspirations?
  • Plan: Develop an Action/Learning Plan; Ask How Can I Accelerate My Progress?

Your Personal Brand: A Paper and Digital Footprint

Building on that concept, Ms. Haspil encouraged attendees to use their networks as a CEO would use their Board of Directors, as trusted advisors with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. A solid network can support you AND it can also give you the honest feedback that is necessary for advancement; a CEO doesn’t make decisions without guidance and feedback (nor should they!) and neither should you as an individual.

When connecting with prospective employers, the importance of an effective resume and a strong social media presence resumes to prove their worth by answering “So What?”. Every point on the resume should offer a prospective employer a chance to see a connection between an applicant’s experiences and the need they have to be filled. Use your resume to engage the prospective employer, and make sure your social accounts can back up your points on the resume. LinkedIn is a fabulous tool to amplify your network through recommendations and connections and can demonstrate your accomplishments in further detail.

Utilizing these tactics is pertinent for anyone in the PR industry whether a job seeker, or just to give yourself a refresh. Take five minutes a day to review these strategies and then another five to develop, analyze, and reset goals for your most important client, yourself.

Amaia Stecker is a PR professional in Washington DC focusing on social and digital media. 


Building Your Digital Content to Work for You

By Carolyn Sobczyk

As PR professionals, we frequently toss around the terms Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). But what does it actually mean to implement SEO and SEM into an integrated digital campaign? At a recent PRSA-NCC workshop, Aaron Guiterman, Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at Edelman PR, applied his more than 20 years’ experience in digital campaign design to outline strategies for using search to your advantage.

Online content consumption is at an all-time high. You may have a fantastic educational video or snazzy new website, but your viewers are spread a mile wide and an inch deep. When it comes to promoting your content, you don’t want to fill your store (read: website) with a lot of people who buy nothing. Targeted, quality viewers who care about your content provide the highest value. One of the best ways to attract a quality audience is through search.

PRSA-NCC Workshop, Aug 19

Edelman PR senior vice president of digital strategy, Aaron Guiterman, addresses an audience of PRSA-NCC members and guests during a workshop on August 19.

Aaron described SEO as the way communicators send signals to their audience by optimizing content to maximize the number of visitors reaching your content through organic search. “Relevance is the fastest growing metric with search engines,” said Aaron. “Google favors unique, quality content.”

SEM, on the other hand, are the signals your target audiences send back to you through search, which helps you effectively place cost-per-click ads on search engine results pages with the goal of driving traffic to your content and gaining visibility.

The key to SEO is creating a symphony of unique content that reads from the same sheet music. Search optimization is suppressed by duplicate content and the website is only one component of your full content strategy. Integrate your campaign to incorporate desktop/mobile content and an ad campaign that complement one other, and layer SEO into all aspects of your campaign.

Implementing SEO into Your Digital Strategy

  • Create relevant content that resonates with your audience. People don’t care about the company they’re advocating for, they care about how that issue relates to them. Frame your content according to values, beliefs and behaviors that motivate your audience.
  • Abandonment rates are key to SEO, as sites that lose audiences quickly result in declining organic search rates. Regularly review your site’s performance to optimize your campaign. What draws people to your content? What content is not succeeding?
  • Use Google AdWords to calculate the value of words and quantify the value of words according to those that are most receptive by your audience.
  • Conduct a website audit with an online tool such as Raven to find duplicate content and broken links. This is low-hanging fruit that will help increase organic search. You don’t want to build a great website that no one visits. Build it for search and social.
  • When working with your web team, develop copy in Word and include a brief description of each page (under 177 characters) for your coders to tag in the site. Provide captions (alt text) for images, so they’re easy to find via search. Google content analysis won’t read your entire page, it focuses on the tags.

Driving Traffic to Your Kickass Content with SEM

  • Find all possible keywords by identifying existing conversations and select the best performing keywords to implement in your online ads.
  • Invest time to secure your Google Analytics Certification. This can take anywhere from 1 month to 6 months. Google offers free resources to show you how to use their tools.

Developing a digital campaign is not like Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will not come [on their own accord].” Instead, SEO and SEM offer proven ways to increase visibility, measure results and drive traffic to the content you worked hard (and spent a lot of money) to create.

For more information about SEO and SEM, check out Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and AdWords Step by Step Starter Guide.

Carolyn Sobczyk works at JPA Health Communications in Washington, D.C., where she specializes in patient advocacy relations and media outreach campaigns. Connect with her on Twitter at @carolynsobczyk.

PRSA-NCC New Member Welcome Lunch

by Jirasith Sindhusake

As a new face in Public Relations, I came across PRSA as a full-time PR intern and dual-enrolled graduate student. With my intentions focused on professional development and networking opportunities, PRSA became the clear answer to attaining my goals. Despite being apprehensive about joining because of my busy schedule, I joined the National Capital Chapter (NCC) in April and became as involved in the organization as my schedule would allow. I am now part of a network of professionals who have been nothing but helpful in helping me achieve my goals.

 [Photo credit: Got Credit - www.gotcredit.com]

[Photo credit: Got Credit]

At this year’s PRSA New Member Welcome Lunch, new members of the National Capital Chapter were invited to the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Northwest, D.C. to discover ways to get involved and maximize their PRSA membership. As new members trickled in, the beginning of the lunch was a friendly gathering of individuals getting food and networking with other professionals. It might have been the excitement of seeing new faces, or the enthusiasm of discovering ways to get involved; despite the reason, everyone in attendance was ecstatic to meet other individuals who are new to the National Capital Chapter of PRSA.

After a good amount of networking and stuffing ourselves full of sandwiches, we took our seats to hear from sponsors and chapter leaders. The lunch started with a few words from Chapter President, Mitch Marovitz, who began the program by introducing chapter leaders for the new members to meet. Among those chapter leaders were Lauren Lawson, Vice President; Danny Selnick, Board Member; Katelynn Wiggins, New Professionals Co-chair; Farah Latif, Special Events Committee Chair; and Adara Ney, University Relations Chair.

After brief introductions, the chapter leaders and committee chairs sat with the new members and provided overviews of what the chapter and respective committees offer and ways to get involved. This continued until every committee chair and chapter leader met with each new member tables to share insights. To conclude the lunch, members had the opportunity to participate in a final Q&A session and thank everyone who contributed their time to the New Members Lunch, an overall successful event.


Learn more about the PRSA-NCC New Professonals Committee

Brevity, Clarity and Thoughtfulness: Position Your Media Training for Success

By Lauren Wiggins, News Generation, Inc.

Moderator and Panel

Moderator Susan Matthews Apgood and Panelists Ed Barks and Carol Buckland

What is the biggest problem Ed Barks of Barks Communications and Carol Buckland of The Communication Center have with media training? It’s not always long-term.

On Wednesday, July 22nd, PR professionals from around the D.C. area came together, with a range of questions, to learn how to make their media training better. The biggest piece of advice given to listeners: keep it ongoing.

Media training begins internally. There are key parts of your message and it is important that they are communicated effectively. Both Barks and Buckland agree, relationships with journalists are important. However, it’s also important to remember that they are business relationships. Journalists can, and will, ask the tough questions. It’s all about how you are prepared.

President and CEO of News Generation, Susan Matthews Apgood, moderated the discussion. Though the questions were diverse, the takeaway can be summarized into a few key ideas -much like the panelists’ advice that your message should be.

Buckland provides us with three types of news stories: those that confirm conventional wisdom, those that contradict conventional wisdom, and those that create conventional wisdom. If public perception of your organization is negative, stories that contradict convention wisdom are crucial. However, if your organization is new in the public eye, stories that create conventional wisdom are a PR professional’s greatest opportunity.

Barks told us there are also three categories of questions: the questions you expect to get every time, the questions you want to get, and the questions you never want to hear from a reporter.

Moderator Susan Apgood and Panelists Ed Barks and Carol Buckland

Moderator Susan Matthews Apgood and Panelists Ed Barks and Carol Buckland

So how can you prepare your spokesperson for the tough questions when time isn’t of the essence? Buckland says that in order to get prepared you can create answers for questions with similar themes. She brought up the example of the FAA after 9/11. Officials were asked numerous questions such as, “Would you get on an airplane?” or “Would you allow your mother to?” But, the underlying theme was simple: is it safe the fly?

Low stakes situations create the most confidence for when the stakes get high. Sometimes your spokesperson will need to defend your message and they need to be prepared. By being able to respond and handle tough questions in a low stakes situation, your spokesperson will be more confident handling the more challenging questions. Carol Buckland suggests simple changes such as having a new person chair weekly meetings or recording your spokesperson speaking and providing constructive feedback.

One audience member brought up how soundbites and answers to questions have gotten shorter over time and Buckland and Barks agreed. With increases in technology and access to information, attention spans have gotten shorter. Therefore, a shorter, concise message is easiest to remember. However, Barks tell us that the parts of a message that are typically ignored are imperative. Your message needs context and it needs call to action.

In terms of ground rules of media training, no matter what you say, everything is on the record. The minute your spokesperson walks out the door they are representing your organization, and everything they say or do can be captured. Awareness is not only key, it’s critical. Much of the emphasis of the panel relied on the fact that preparation, message development, and media training are all the responsibility of the communications expert.

This panel emphasized the importance of an ongoing media training plan. It’s not just a one day workshop, it’s a continuous learning experience. It is the responsibility of the communications expert to ensure that not only the spokesperson, but the organization, is comfortable with the message and prepared to handle media. Preparation, familiarity with the message, and comfort with answering questions and dealing with media are all of utmost importance to ensuring that a media training plan is not only effective but sustainable.

Why Trade Media Coverage is Top Tier Coverage

By Bridgette Borst

Moderator Aaron Cohen and Panelists Panelists Virgil Dickson, Aaron Mehta, Kevin Bogardus, and John Gilroy (Photo Credit: David Ward)

Moderator Aaron Cohen and Panelists Panelists Virgil Dickson, Aaron Mehta, Kevin Bogardus, and John Gilroy (Photo Credit: David Ward)

Why is trade media coverage top tier? PR Pros from around the nation’s capital packed their list of questions and piled into PRSA-NCC’s most recent workshop to hear it straight from top trade media journalists: Virgil Dickson, of Modern Healthcare, Aaron Mehta from Defense News, Energy and Environment Publishing’s Kevin Bogardus, and John Gilroy, from Federal News Radio.

Aaron Cohen of Aaron Cohen PR moderated the panel discussion. Here’s the scoop on how YOU can convince your boss or client that trade media coverage is top tier coverage –

  • The niche audience of trade media publications cares more passionately about the story than the average reader at a major national outlet.
  • Trade media keeps professionals informed about their particular field and they are passionate about these issues, ideas and/or products.
  • Trade media are more likely to seek out public relations practitioners as sources for stories, unlike mainstream journalists.
  • Trade media have time (and space) to “go deep” on a story.
  • Most often, mainstream media stories start with or are inspired by, stories first published in trade publications.
  • Trade media stories are more effective in getting your message in front of the right people because the stories are likely read by everyone that matters in your field.

One panelist summed it up by asking the attendees, “Do you want a more right, informed piece– or a watered down piece designed for a wider audience?”

The journalists continued to dish out “tricks of the trade” to help public relations practitioners get in the door and strengthen their pitches.

Federal News Radio’s John Gilroy offered this tip, “Find out what reporters are going to conferences that you’re already attending and then try to set up twenty minute face-to-face meetings with them.”

“Trade journalists are more subject matter experts so be prepared for tougher, more technical questions,” said Virgil Dickson, Modern Healthcare. Dickson added, “I like to go on Twitter to find out what’s trending.”

The attendees brought lots of questions with them that ranged from current best practices to how trade journalists use Twitter, how to write a great subject line, daily deadlines, and more. Not only did the panelists talk about what works in trade media and why it is top tier media coverage, but they also shared feedback that’s applicable to mainstream media pitching.

“I don’t like press releases – they’re overused, just send us a quick email,” said Aaron Mehta, Defense News.

“If you’re going to call or email me, don’t make it look like a blanket outreach. Pretend that you’ve read something that I’ve written. Please tailor it to me, don’t waste pixels and one last thing – I am a hundred times more likely to read your email if I recognize your name,” said Kevin Bogardus, Energy and Environment Publishing, the publisher of Greenwire.

All of the panelists stressed the importance of having personal relationships with media, and no matter how pitch perfect your story idea is, having a personal relationship with a reporter still matters most in this business.

“Generally, if you put something like, ‘Think you might be interested in this’ or ‘I saw your story about…’ in the subject line, then I will at least open your email,” said Virgil Dickson, Modern Healthcare.

The Q & A style workshop proved to be a popular event because it spanned all of the major industry trades and provided public relations practitioners of different industries with valuable insights. Bottom line, attendees learned that yes, 10,000 readers are better than three million when all 10,000 readers care about your ideas or products.