A New Year, and a New Approach

By Sultana F. Ali, APR, PRSA-NCC President

s-aliAs 2015 wound to a close, I found myself logging the year’s pitfalls as well as accomplishments in my mind. We closed the year at PRSA-NCC successfully under the leadership of Mitch Marovitz, having the highest membership survey response in many years, laying the groundwork for a robust pro-bono PR effort in our community, growing our membership, and reaching our financial goals. And, we celebrated with a fabulous holiday party where I enjoyed meeting many of you in person.

Now, it’s time to look ahead to this year and the excitement and opportunity it brings. For PRSA-NCC, that will mean expanded programming, opportunities for mentorship, a recharged thought leadership platform, outreach to our community, and renewed vigor for strong board governance. As members, you have an opportunity to engage with your chapter as your leaders strive to serve you with the best professional development programs and events PRSA has to offer.

The New Year is also a time to consider what this year will mean for us as individuals in our careers. As PR professionals, we strive to remain aware of the ever-changing industries we work in and stay at the top of our game. In searching for these kinds of guidelines, I came upon an Inc. magazine article, “8 Career Moves to Master in 2016,” and one of these pointers was to update your reading ritual because “diversity of thought is the key to creativity.” By reading a wide range of material through your social media feeds and other subscriptions, you are consistently armed with strategies and tactics at your fingertips.

Another item to add to your list of goals is to register for and attend PRSA professional development workshops. We have events nearly every week in our chapter and many of them provide specific training techniques – from enhancing digital strategies to crisis communications to smart media pitching. At our workshops, you’ll learn from the best and brightest in the metropolitan DC area and walk away having met someone new and more empowered in your skills as a PR professional.

To these tips, I’ll add a simple word: connection. Have you ever encountered a PR conundrum, not known where to turn, and reached out to a colleague in PRSA? Having friends in PR to reach out to when faced with quandaries is a tremendous benefit of PRSA. Make this your year to engage and connect with a PR colleague, to volunteer for one of our many committees, or make a commitment to follow-up with someone you met at a PRSA-NCC event.

If you are a new member or looking for ways to leverage your membership, you’ll see our chapter leaders with a marked badge at our events; introduce yourself and they will help you to connect. Make sure to attend our Membership Rally on March 8 (new date) and you will have opportunities to meet committee leaders and engage more fully with your chapter.

Make 2016 your best year yet, and let us know how we can help you reach your PR goals for 2016!

From the Outgoing President: A Letter to Membership

Dear PRSA-NCC Member,

It’s hard to believe a whole year has passed since I became your president. It’s just gone by so fast. It has been a good year, though.

I’m happy to report we met the objectives I set forth at the beginning of the year:

  • Thanks to the great work of our committee chairs and members, and great member engagement, we hosted 52 events, affording members great and fun-filled networking opportunities and informative professional development sessions from industry leaders covering such topics as measurement, big data, writing, international communications, accreditation and making the change from tactician to strategist, among many others
  • We advanced our thought leadership effort by completing an operational plan which will go into effect next year
  • We remain the Society’s largest chapter and improved our already sound financial position, reaching our reserve requirement

mmorovitzAnd, because we achieved our reserve requirement, we are free now to reinvigorate our pro bono committee, which has developed a process to identify worthy organizations that we can help with public relations assistance.

Our vice presidents, Jenn Schleman, Lauren Lawson Zilai and Susan Apgood were extremely busy this year. They, and the rest of the executive committee, Sultana Ali, Robert Udowitz, Lisa Kiefer, and Rebecca Andersen, spent untold hours on projects that will affect chapter operations for years to come. They were always available and their counsel was invaluable to me.

  • Jenn and her team negotiated a new contract with our chapter manager, now our Chapter Executive Director, Sherri Core, and her company, Core Association Services
  • Lauren and her team planned, coordinated, conducted and analyzed the results of this year’s biannual chapter survey. The fact that we had the highest response rate in decades is testament to the quality of their work
  • And, Susan and her team researched, drafted, coordinated and secured approval for the 2016-2018 Chapter Strategic Plan. This document is a foundational statement of purpose that will guide chapter efforts for the next three years

I also want to thank the 2015 Board of Directors. It was only through their leadership, time and talent that we were able to identify, create, plan, coordinate, promote and execute world-class programs for you, our members. This group of senior professionals worked well together and gave freely of their time to insure meaningful programs were in place for us all to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by. Thank you all!

Our committee chairs and their committee members give new meaning to the words “leadership,” “dedication” and “volunteerism.” Our 18 committees were extremely creative in implementing those programs by providing high quality services and activities for you, our members. I could write forever about the work of each committee but that would just take up way too much space; I’m happy to meet with you at any time, however, to discuss their work. In many ways, our financial position is testament to the quality of their work and the value you, our members, place on their activities.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

And, of course, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t thank our great and dedicated sponsors. Without their help, we would not be able to provide the number and quality of events for you. Their support, monetary and in-kind, allows us to bring events to you at a reasonable price. So, speaking on behalf of the entire chapter, thank you!

And last, but certainly not least, to our members: You are the lifeblood of our organization. Without you, we have no purpose. Thanks for letting us know how we can best serve your professional needs…and for letting us do that. I know the 2016 board is anxious to dig into the results of our membership survey to devise new programs and fine tune existing ones to meet your needs as the nature of our profession continually changes.

As you can see, I have been fortunate to work with a superb group of leaders in our industry. Their ability to work together to create and deliver meaningful programs for you is awe inspiring. I look forward to working with our 2016 President, Sultana Ali, and the 2016 Board and know you will enjoy getting to know them and work with them as well.

Thank you for the privilege of being your 2015 president.


Mitchell Marovitz, PhD, APR
PRSA-NCC President 2015

Media Relations in the Age of the Mobile Device

By Ailis Wolf, Van Eperen

media-mobileOn Thursday, Nov. 19, the Professional Development Committee hosted an exciting media panel at the Navy Memorial to discuss what the rise of the mobile device means for the future of media relations campaigns and for the outreach being conducted now by media relations professionals.

The panel consisted of Lisa Stark, national news correspondent for Al Jazeera (@LisaStark); Lenny Bernstein, fitness and health correspondent for The Washington Post (@LennyMBernstein); Eric Lichtblau, justice department correspondent for The New York Times (@EricLichtblau); and Andrea Shalal, defense industry correspondent for Reuters (@andrea_shalal). The panel was moderated by Aaron Cohen, president of Aaron Cohen PR, LLC (@aaroncohenpr).

The panelists shared insights into what the changing digital landscape has meant both for how they work and for the level of their workload, which informs how best to reach them when pitching. They also offered a variety of useful information about the changes going on within their organizations in order provide content optimized for mobile platforms, both phones and tablets.

On Al Jazeera America and what she does, Lisa Stark shared that she loves PR people as they give her a window into items about which she would not know otherwise. But for her, the worst thing is individuals who try to “pull the wool over my eyes.” She said the most important thing to her is that PR professionals are honest. She says, “You want me to be straight with you, and I want you to be straight with me.” Lisa said, and other panelists agreed, that it is important to know the audience of the media outlet you are pitching and know the types of things they cover, particularly when pitching a journalist who has a specific beat. She noted that Al Jazeera America, for example, is focused on covering stories about inequality, social justice, immigration, gender issues, and pioneers. They think of themselves as the “anti-Kardashian” network. They tend to do larger pieces and their pieces run longer than most found on other networks. Their network is also on social media across all platforms and she has been told the big issues for them on social media are gender and race. And unlike some of the other speakers, Lisa said 60 percent of Al Jazeera’s online traffic is from desktop, with 40 percent coming from mobile.

Last month (October), 80 percent of the online traffic for The Washington Post – 51 million out of 66 million – came from mobile, either through phone or tablet. That statistic, reported by Lenny Bernstein, is indicative of a major trend affecting changes at all media outlets with the goal of optimizing online traffic. What changes are being made at the Post that have allowed them to recently beat The New York Times in unique page views? Bernstein reported that the big difference between what is seen on mobile versus on a desktop has to do with design. The Washington Post has a team of people focused on redesigning content to make it shorter, punchier and grabbier to appeal on mobile. Other Washington Post statistics the audience was interested to learn include:

  • Forty percent of mobile users are millennials.
  • The top levels of traffic come from (1) Facebook, (2) Google search, (3) other sites. Direct site visitors fall fourth or fifth when it comes to overall online traffic.
  • Many readers only read through the fourth paragraph of a story.

Bernstein also said he gets 200 emails a day and he does try to read them all. Therefore, it is key that you have a compelling subject line and a short, interesting pitch. You don’t need to put all of the information in your pitch email, just the key points – you can always send additional details later if he contacts you with interest. If you have a health pitch for him, he said not to call unless you know him – just send an email. He is interested in health and medical trends, particularly topics he would have a hard time finding himself.

Eric Lichtblau said about mobile: “It’s all about the delivery.” As with the Post, The New York Times is also seeing a lot of traffic “coming in sideways” – from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile platforms. Only about 20-30 percent of their online traffic comes directly to the website – the rest is all from mobile. He said as the focus shifted to delivery, there was initially pushback from reporters who wondered about why content wasn’t the focus. But the change had to be made to stay competitive as the digital landscape continues to shift. Regarding how to pitch him, he agrees with Bernstein – if you don’t know him, email him. The only exception, of course, is if you have something that would be a page 1 exclusive. Eric also added that while he is not as involved in Twitter, as is the case for many reporters over 40 years old, the younger reporters often do everything on Twitter so PR professionals should do their research. And younger reporters don’t only use Twitter to share their own stories, they use it to track news, competitors and even to find sources for stories.

At Reuters, the world’s largest wire service, reporters are always racing against other newswires, newspapers and all other media to be first to a story so PR professionals need to keep in mind that the pace is incredibly fast. Andrea Shalal told the audience that she gets a daily report showing scores for how fast they were on the daily headlines as compared with other media outlets – down to the millisecond. She said the average length of a Reuters story is 400 words – for PR pros, that means pitches need to be quick, pithy, honest and to the point. The short length also changes what she is able to do with a story, even a really good one.

Across the board, the panelists agreed that a pitch with visuals was better than one without. Even better – if the reporter can bring a photographer or videographer with them to film it themselves. The speakers also agreed that they are all open to an introduction to a good source, given that source is easy to connect with when needed. Also, the speakers said it is fine for a PR pro to sit in on a call with a source that they have coordinated, but they should make the call happen as fast as possible and stay out of the way so as not to clutter up the process.

Top 5 Tips for Pitching Multimedia Newsrooms

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Why didn’t they respond to my pitch? Why doesn’t this reporter care about my client? Sending out generic pitches to reporters is not only a waste of your time, it also won’t get coverage for your clients. Jennifer Nycz-Conner, an editor at Washington Business Journal and a business reporter at WTOP, knows first hand what goes into pitching the right story to the right reporter. During this month’s IPRA Luncheon, Jennifer provided her top five tips for successful pitching in today’s multimedia newsrooms:

  1. Get to know your prey. Reporters receive countless numbers of pitches every day, so you need to make your pitch worthwhile. Reporters often get emails that read “I see you have written about X, so I assume you will like this story.” Jennifer recommends researching the reporters you’re pitching to determine how often they’ve covered a particular issue. Was the topic covered in one story or several?
  1. Pitch stories that are interesting. Nine times out of ten, sending pitches with photos of your client holding a giant check or giant pair of scissors at an event is not going to generate coverage. There is no true meat behind those stories and nothing that really interests readers.
  1. Choose the best subject line. When you’re emailing reporters, it’s all about the subject line and it will make or break your pitch. Try equating your subject line to a good headline – it should grab the reporter’s attention. “If you can’t put your pitch in a headline, then it’s not a good pitch,” says Jennifer.
  1. Know if and when it’s appropriate to attach files. Reporters don’t want multiple files attached to an email. Opening multiple attachments creates more work for them, so skip the file attachments. Instead, send a brief, two-paragraph pitch with a link to the full press release. If you have photos or videos to include with the pitch, add a link to a Dropbox folder with the files. These steps will save reporters time and help you get straight to the point with your pitch.
  1. Be prepared for a response. PR professionals are used to pitching so many reporters in a given day that they can forget to be prepared when the reporter responds sooner than expected. If you’re pitching a great story, then you and your team needs to be ready for the story to be picked up.

The next time you start to pitch a reporter, keep these tips in mind and make sure your pitch is tailored to the person you are pitching. It should be easy for the reporter to understand the point of your pitch – and if they don’t, chances are your pitch won’t turn into coverage.

Erin White is the vice president of the George Mason University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She is also an intern with the Independent Public Relations Alliance and PRSA-NCC.

Three Musts of a Presentation’s Content

From the PRSA-NCC Workshop “How to Make Great Presentations” Held Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015
By Robert Krueger

If you believe in what you are presenting, the audience will naturally find you credible. This has become the central takeaway for public speaking instructors in recent years. But what if you are presenting something to an audience that does not care to hear your topic? This was the takeaway discussion from a recent PRSA-NCC workshop on presenting to internal and external audiences.

HEKWorkshop leader and award-winning communications coach, Heathere Evans-Keenan, APR, of KPR presented attendees with the three characteristics of content in an effective presentation. She stressed not only asking yourself what is the intended “big idea” of your presentation, but also what’s in it for the audience. According to her, your content must have a benefit for the audience. Building the body for your presentation around this allows you to not only be clear and compelling, but also capture your audience.

Second, your presentation must use the correct content. Audience members are always looking for the logical benefits in a presentation, which is needed to justify why to make a decision or accept a call to action. Evans-Keenan said that some presenters make the mistake of stopping with logic instead of also addressing the emotional benefits. The best presenters always speak to the heart because they are able to talk from the heart. Tapping into people’s emotions can easily be achieved through the art of storytelling. Presentations are brought to life with our personal stories.

Finally, the third content characteristic is commitment. Staying on message with the presentation and questions will transform a presentation. Communicators always want their message to have a lasting impact on its target public. Immersing oneself in with the people involved and focusing on the experience of the audience always makes for a more memorable presentation.

But content is not always king with presentations. Sometimes you have to win over a hostile or distracted audience. Evans-Keenan emphasized the winning strategy of first admitting your differences and then presenting the opponents’ favorable arguments. Finally, humor them by appealing to their objectivity.

Since there are times with executives and audiences where there is a limited amount of time to make a case, she recommended the Boylan Method as a successful model for framing your talk, even if you only have 30 seconds. According to her, the first 90 to 120 seconds are the most critical part of any presentation. Your opening is where audiences actually decide whether your content is worth their time and attention.

Heathere Evans-Keenan can be reached through her website at keenanpr.com and info@keenanpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @coachingevolved.


Strategic PR Magic: Find Your Story and Build Around It

By David Ward

Pop quiz. I’m a blueberry business owner and I want you to help me double the consumption of blueberries in the U.S. I need you to develop a strategic, multi-pronged and results-oriented communications campaign. Feeling lost?

102815For those who attended PRSA-NCC’s Building a Successful Integrated Communications Strategy last Thursday at the Navy Memorial, they know exactly what to do.

The abundance of information sharing rivaled any good book on communications strategy. This included tips and tricks from PR pros Dan Drummond, Director of External Communications Certified Financial Planners; Lindsey Goebel, Director of Social Media and Content for Crosby Marketing; Jeff Wilson, Senior Director of Business Development and Agency Marketing, PadillaCRT; and Brooks Aukamp, Political and Advocacy Sales for Twitter.

Collectively the group had one core message: Success comes from customization.

“We’re communications agnostic,” said Jeff Wilson of PadillaCRT in explaining how his firm developed their plan to sell more blueberries to more Americans. For Wilson, developing a plan and the tactics you employ depends entirely on how you can best target your primary and secondary audiences.

By using primary and secondary research as a guide, Wilson’s group found whereas the baby boomer generation were already evangelical supporters, women 25-45, specifically moms, was an audience that they could target to increase market share.

That meant content being designed and placed for outlets that included Women’s Day magazine and the Huffington Post and spokespersons like Allison Sweeney, host of the biggest loser. That also meant being active on Twitter, by throwing a “twitter party,” and being active on Pinterest.

102815aFor Dan Drummond, a targeted plan means finding your story and building around that. His “circle of communication” preached “objective, research, metrics, core messages, strategy, resources, and tactics.” All of these items are found in a successful integrated communications plan. “It’s a 360 approach to planning,” said Drummond.

You can’t work in silos. Your marketing team, advertising, public relations, and social teams need to have a plan on how they are going to work together. “You can’t work in silos, you can’t have swim lanes.”

Crosby Marketing’s Lindsey Goebel agreed with Drummond. “You have to have weekly meetings. Clearly lined up roles.”

Goebel’s campaign example focused on what she called increasing awareness around “the nation’s collective responsibility” to support veterans. That meant developing content with a clear purpose, voice and optimizing it. That also meant cutting through the “noise” of today’s media landscape.

“YouTube creators have produced more content in the last 60 days than U.S. TV networks in the last 60 years,” explained Goebel.

To cut through that noise, Goebel’s team created powerful, emotional content that was featured across the paid, earned and social landscape. Success across each derived from developing a content calendar that most effectively put to use content both created by the client and by users themselves, veterans, who produced compelling real-world images from their time at war.

Goebel’s team worked closely with Twitter’s Brooks Aukamp to use the nimble social media platform to amplify content. For Aukamp, using Twitter answers three questions: “Who are you most wanting to convince? What do you want them to think, feel and do?” If you can answer all three in 110 characters then you’re doing it right.

Whatever you do the next time someone asks you to double the sales of blueberries, you have to have an integrated communications plan.

Top 5 Takeaways from Digital Summit DC

by Peter Morscheck

Several hundred digital marketing experts descended on the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va., last week to share best practices and cutting-edge digital marketing strategies at Digital Summit DC. What follows are my top 5 takeaways from the conference, and a quick snapshot of the state of digital marketing in October 2015.


1) Content Marketing Needs Strategy

Content Marketing has been the hot “new” buzzword combo in PR for the last three years, along with the concept that brands should act as their own media companies – gaining awareness, credibility and (eventually) sales through the consistent production of content.

More than half a dozen sessions at this year’s Digital Summit dealt with content marketing and how it’s evolving.

The greatest theme is the need for a more systemized and integrated approach to content marketing across an organization. Specifically:

  • Use a content calendar – While brands are now producing content across a range of media and distribution channels, very few companies are using a systematic approach, including a content calendar. Content calendars ensure a consistent publishing cadence and that the individual pieces reinforce and amplify each other to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Metrics Tracking – Even with ubiquitous access to Google Analytics, few companies are taking the time to review and analyze the effectiveness of their content, including which topics and distribution channels are most effective, and where their best (not necessarily most) traffic comes from. If you don’t know how your blog posts, videos or podcasts perform, you can’t focus on creating the most valuable pieces that best drive customer awareness and sales.
  • Internal Communications – It’s not enough for the PR or marketing department to be on point with their content marketing game. Without consistent internal communications, the sales department and other key employees may not know, let alone use, these great resources.

Companies can fix this by centralizing their content in one place, granting universal access to employees and informing them of the best new pieces, and periodically training employees on how best to optimize the content for use across different social media channels.

A key takeaway here was the reminder that a company’s employees remain among its best brand ambassadors, and are an untapped resource for spreading great content across personal and professional social media channels.

2) Measure the Cost of Content Strategy

Now that many companies have adopted some form of content marketing, a key but oft-forgotten next step is measuring its cost. As with all aspects of marketing, measurement is key to proving ROI.

If you don’t know how much that individual video, blog post or infographic cost to create, there’s no way to prove whether the effectiveness of your overall content strategy is driving sales.

3) Influencer Marketing is Changing

DMCcloudSeveral speakers at Digital Summit DC touched on the resurgence of influencer marketing and use of paid celebrity spokespeople, particularly in launching new products or companies.

But more telling was a shift in the definition of “influencer” away from traditional media celebrities to social media stars.

A chart of the top 12 current media influencers among millennials counted only three traditional stars (such as Kim Kardashian), compared to 9 stars (including PewDiePie and Jenna Marbles) whose fame comes entirely from platforms such as YouTube or Vine. (See Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube stars of 2015.)

4) Blogs Still Matter

Consistent blogging is key to organic SEO rankings in Google, as it indicates fresh content and a larger web footprint.

When Google released its Panda update in February 2011, it began punishing websites that had employed early SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and backlinks to low-quality sites that artificially boosted Google search rankings.

Since then, Google has rewarded websites that seem to grow naturally, through things like quality backlinks from respected sites, as well as a cadence of fresh content.

For most companies, the easiest way to show Google that you are continually updating your site is through a steady cadence of fresh content via blog posts.

Further, companies that regularly blog receive 126% as much lead generations as those that don’t. (source)

5) The Rise of Video

By 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. (source)

While we’ve long observed a shift of communications towards visual media, video marketing remains a largely untapped resource and will soon become as essential to marketing as building a website was 10 years ago.


Peter Morscheck is a communications consultant for Dale Curtis Communications, a Foggy Bottom-based PR firm with specialties in the telecommunications, federal technology, non-profit, and education sectors. You can follow him on Twitter via @PeterMorscheck.