PR top trends discussed at the 4th Annual “Public Relations Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations”

by Liliana Pettenkofer

PR Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and AssociationsNothing beats a power morning with thought-leaders in the PR Industry. You immerse yourself in the latest issues, share best practices and leave with so much information, you could create content for an entire year.

On Wednesday, November 5, The PRSA National Capital Chapter hosted the 4th Annual “Public Relations Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery in Washington, D.C. The event brought together DC-area communicators for interactive roundtable discussions about the latest trends, challenges and opportunities for nonprofits and associations.

The program presented eight topics and allowed for three half-hour sessions in which attendees engaged in active conversations on subjects ranging from branding, social media measurement and storytelling to video, the value of PR, and producing big ideas with a small team.

Larry Parnell, Associate Professor & Program Director at the George Washington University, opened the event with remarks about the impact of this month’s elections to the nonprofit world:

“The principal lesson from the 2014 Mid Term elections is the importance of making sure you have right message – one that the voters will respond to vs one that you think is on target. For example, Senator Warner’s (D – VA) “much closer than expected” victory carries the same lesson. His lead was viewed as “comfortable” by most pundits and the outcome was thought to be little in doubt. Instead he learned – almost too late – that his message was off strategy and his opponent was on target with his “too close to Obama” message. This miscalculation by a veteran campaigner and his staff almost prove to be the difference maker in a very tight race. Bottom line: research and test your message – even if you are sure it is on target, even if it has worked in the past. Public opinion is not static- it’s dynamic and unpredictable.”

In addition to Mr. Parnell, the event highlighted nine industry experts, including Katie McBreen, VP, Communications & Public Affairs, National Retail Federation; Ray Van Hilst, Director, Client Strategy & Marketing, Vanguard Technology Group; Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, President & COO, Building Owners and Managers Association; Charlene Sarmiento, Public Relations Manager & Spokesperson, Goodwill Industries International; Leigh George, PhD, VP, social@Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather; Charlie Raphael, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, ITPG; Vicki Robb, APR, Principal, Vicki Robb Communications; Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR, MA, Principal, Steppingstone, LLC.; and Myra Oppel, APR, Regional Communications Vice President, Pepco Holdings Inc.

Here are the key takeaways of the event:

Integrating Storytelling into Your Communications
Roundtable with Katie McBreen, VP, Communications & Public Affairs, National Retail Federation

  • Do your research.
  • Have a content distribution strategy.
  • Leverage your resources and your network.

Five Steps to Improve Your Website
Roundtable with Ray Van Hilst, Director, Client Strategy & Marketing, Vanguard Technology Group

  • You have a very short amount of time – 2 minutes – to make an impression. Write good, brief content that is focused on the user and is SEO friendly as people will only read 28% of the words on a page.
  • Create a visual hierarchy. Create engagement and drive users toward action. If you don’t have clear defined actions you want your audience to take, write them down now.
  • Use good visuals and images of real members and people – no stock photo.

What Do CEO’s Think about the Value of PR
Roundtable with Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, President & COO, Building Owners and Managers Association

  • Communications is a core function valued by CEOs building their association’s brand and awareness.
  • Be concise. Keep in mind that your audiences are not only bombarded by information but they don’t have a lot of time. Think about what is important and communicate that.
  • Build relationships with CEOs and senior managers by sharing information, insights and experiences.

PR Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and AssociationsHow to Use Video Effectively
Roundtable with Charlene Sarmiento, Public Relations Manager & Spokesperson, Goodwill Industries International

  • Video is excellent at putting a human face on an issue and helps people emotionally connect with your brand.
  • Identify goals, objectives and audiences before diving into production.
  • Get the most bang for your buck, find ways to repurpose your videos, such as creating long and short versions.

Social Media Measurement
Roundtable with Leigh George, PhD, VP, social@Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather

  • Start with a clear sense of your goal/s and audience and use that to build a measurement plan and strategy before you do anything tactical.
  • Organic reach on social media platforms is rapidly evaporating and those platforms are becoming pay to play. Given this, as an organization with limited resources you need to think about who you’re trying to reach and the best way to reach them within your budget. Social media may not be the right answer if you don’t have a healthy media budget. Read more here.
  • Social media metrics are self-referential. They only reflect back on the platform. To measure the success of your efforts against business goals, you need to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that are business-focused, ie. # of people exposed to my message, # of actions taken, etc. Social metrics (# of likes, retweets, etc.) can be used as diagnostic indicators that impact your KPIs.

Producing Big Ideas with a Small Team
Roundtable with Charlie Raphael, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, ITPG

  • Strategic partnerships can help increase marketing reach, offset venue costs and leverage (reciprocal) “human capital” to achieve greater successes with events and marketing campaigns.
  • Educational programsare key to increase member knowledge and provide member benefits that attract potential members, grow your organization’s visibility and increase revenue. All educational content can be developed within the association membership body for little to no cost.
  • Focus on keeping your current members. Member retention is simple and cost effective. Start by asking them what they want and expect out of the membership.

How to Get on the Today Show
Roundtable with Vicki Robb, APR, Principal, Vicki Robb Communications & Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR, MA, Principal, Steppingstone, LLC.

  • Have a well-developed story. Have all your sources, characters, talking points, and statistics before you pitch.
  • Include great visuals. There must be something visual about your story. Be prepared to provide photos and b-roll.
  • Timeliness is a huge advantage in pitching, so watch calendars and be early!
  • Have a solid spokesperson – this is the major leagues – it’s expected for live national television.

Roundtable with Myra Oppel, APR, Regional Communications Vice President, Pepco Holdings Inc.

  • Be consistent. Integrate communications and align key initiatives to reach customers on multiple channels.
  • Give stakeholders an inside view. Increased transparency is a key strategy and helps build credibility.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of strategic, integrated communications. A focused, aggressive approach – aimed at the most severely damaged parts of a brand but also mindful of the positive influences on the brand – can turn around even the worst reputation.


Enjoy the handouts from the event:

5 Steps to Improve your Website

7 Big Ideas For a Small Team

How to Use Video Effectively

Integrating Storytelling into your Communications

Measuring Social Media ROI


What do CEOs think about the Value of PR


Liliana Pettenkofer is Senior Manager of Marketing & Events at Lutheran Services in America and serves in the PRSA-NCC Associations & Nonprofit Committee. She can be reached at You can also follow her on Twitter at or connect with her on LinkedIn at

Media Relations and the New(ish) Guard in the Press Corps // Take-aways from the Oct. 22 PRSA-NCC Professional Development Workshop

Are reporters reading your pitches? Are you tweeting journalists to no avail? At PRSA-NCC’s professional development workshop “Media Relations and the New(ish) Guard in the Press Corps,” a top-notch panel of journalists provided valuable tips and insights for PR professionals to be more successful when it comes to working with the media.

Panelists included:

Gordon Witkin, Libby Nelson, Olivier Knox,  Jim Swift, Kate Sheppard

Gordon Witkin, Libby Nelson, Olivier Knox,
Jim Swift, Kate Sheppard

Gordon Witkin, Center for Public Integrity, Executive Editor
Olivier Knox,, Chief Washington Correspondent
Kate Sheppard, Huffington Post, Senior Reporter/Energy and Environment Editor
Libby Nelson,, Education Reporter
Jim Swift, The Weekly Standard, Assistant Editor

The speakers offered insight into pitching, confirming that they do not want to be pitched via Facebook and Twitter. When researching content and collecting information, panelist Gordon Witkin said that he would rather have a conversation than spend time going back and forth through email. The Weekly Standard’s Jim Swift said that getting to know him is the best way to pitch him. “Know your journalist. Talk with them. Learn what they like to cover,” he added.

Chief Washington Correspondent of Yahoo News Olivier Knox begged: “Please, in the name of all that is holy, do your research.”

The panel agreed that good PR professionals should always do their research and recommended following these best practices: do not pitch the same story to multiple reporters, know what the reporter covers, know their audience, get their name right, and be respectful of their time. Some journalists get more than 150 pitches per day, so the panel members sternly suggested that PR professionals avoid calling to follow up on a press release. According to Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard, PR professionals have no idea how busy the average journalist is. “Don’t be a bad ex-boyfriend.”

The panel went on to discuss visual elements. In email pitches, PR professionals should not attach infographics and videos—media outlets want to create their own. But if you include data or statistics in your pitch, the journalist can easily add those numbers to their story.

With all these rules and regulations of journalism and public relations, what if the reporter does not respond to your pitch? There’s good news, says Libby Nelson: journalists will file away a pitch to use that information in a larger trend piece.

- Rachel Ghadiali

Rachel Ghadiali is a public affairs specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps.

PR Diversity Education Summit in D.C. Oct. 10

Dating back more than a decade, the Public Relations Society of America has not shied away from the issue of diversity in the public relations field; committees and initiatives date back to the 1990s.

But in a recent issue of PR Journal, which focused on a wide range of diversity issues from race to age to sexual orientation, one point was clear: “Despite these important efforts to address diversity in public relations, more work remains to be done,” wrote guest editor Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, APR.

Public relations agencies have responded to criticism for their lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at senior management levels by putting a greater focus on recruitment a more diverse pool of talent. But what role does and should higher education play in developing the talent that feeds into that pipeline?

This topic will be the focus of the Diversity Education Summit in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10, 1-5 p.m., at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, co-hosted by San Diego State University and the PRSA Foundation.

The event kicks-off with a keynote address by Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, professor and chair of the Public Relations Department at Syracuse University. Then, the summit offers two panels featuring speakers who are experts in their respective fields.

The first panel, called Diversity in Education, addresses the standards of ACEJMC accreditation, strategies for preparing practitioners for a changing media market, and the value of dual-language competence in the recruitment of Hispanic professionals. Speakers are Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA; Dr. Maria Elena Villar, and Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, APR.

The second panel, Diversity in the Workplace, looks at the impact of diversity on employee well-being and organizational performance, starting one’s own business and how internships play a role in diversifying the public relations field. Speakers include Dr. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association and Ms. Yolanda Caraway of The Caraway Group.

The summit cost is $12 (which includes coffee, tea and cookies), and summit attendees do not need to be registered for the PRSA/PRSSA conferences to attend. Practitioners in the DC area are particularly welcome to attend and share their insights on diversity in public relations.

Register today at


Nicole Vargas, San Diego State University

PRSA-NCC Sponsor Spotlight: News Generation by Kelsey Pospisil

Tell us more about your company and your role there?

News Generation is an issue-driven media relations agency specializing in using broadcast media to earn coverage for associations, non-profits, government agencies, and clients of PR firms. My role on the team is client & media relations associate. I love getting to experience many different aspects of the business and work closely with all of my fellow team members.

How long has News Generation been involved with PRSA-NCC?

We have been involved with PRSA-NCC in one way or another for 12 years – and counting! Susan Matthews Apgood started News Generation in 1997, and has been very involved with the PRSA-NCC by sponsoring the chapter as well as chairing committees such as Thoth, Professional Development and Sponsorship.

News Generation Sponsor Spotlight

News Generation Team

Is there anything you want to tell our members about News Generation that we may not know?

We LOVE Georgetown Cupcakes….literally…love them. Any excuse to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or Tuesday…you can expect to see us carrying a pink box into the office. Don’t believe me? Just look how happy Susan is in the picture!

What do you like best about working with PRSA-NCC so far?

PRSA-NCC offers a wonderful opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. As a sponsor, we are able to help support the great programming of PRSA-NCC. As members, myself and my co-workers are able learn and gain professional development from that programming. It’s the best of both worlds.

How can our members learn more, get more information about what News Generation has to offer?

The best place to go for more about how you can earn broadcast coverage by partnering with us is We also have a news site that reporters go to for great stories where we host all of our clients’ content. Check it out at

Finding a PR Firm Isn’t the Piece of Cake it Used to Be . . . and It Shouldn’t Be

Time was, searching for a PR firm meant jotting down a few requirements and shooting it to a few former colleagues or friends of friends at two or three familiar agencies.

Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn’t be. In today’s bottom line-focused ROI environment can you really invest six digits into an agency that may or may not be able to move the needle for your organization? You need to be assured you’re getting smart thinking and measureable results — and agencies should be accountable for their commitments to their clients.

The agency landscape is wide, and wide open. Sometimes it feels like there are too many qualified agencies out there. But that shouldn’t guide you toward short cuts, or rushing the process. As we’ve pointed out many times to clients and prospects, if the money you have allocated to a PR agency budget were instead going toward the hiring of two or three full-time, professional staff, how much time and effort would you and your HR department spend investigating their backgrounds, capabilities, and knowledge?

The recently released USC Annenberg biennial GAP Study assessing PR industry trends and practices expects more money to be spent in 2014 and beyond for communications. The study of 347 senior communicators says that PR-related recommendations are being taken more into consideration by senior management, who expect the function to be a contributor to organizations’ financial success. Your organization should be selecting firms with proven experience in supporting your internal managerial needs as well as your overall communications goals.

Today’s agency field includes seasoned veteran agencies, mid-sized niche players, and a crop of very competent rookies that have left some venerable firms to blaze their own paths. Whether they are local, large, full service, or specialty, there are probably dozens of agencies out there most suitable for you. But the right agency can only be discerned through the lens of a detailed and thorough search that is tailored to your organization’s needs.

When interviewing prospective agencies it is critical to include process and procedure as key topics. Too often, we find confusion when the client-agency relationship begins if staffing, structure, reporting, billing, and event contracts are not discussed in the early phases. And, we’ve even advised clients that repairing agency relationships that have gone sour may be a better use of time and resources than parting ways with that agency and starting over with a new search.

Even agreeing on your mutual definition of success is no small feat, and so often is overlooked or not addressed during the selection process. With projects the issue might be easier (one would hope) but with longer-term, multi-year contracts it is very important to establish measureable benchmarks even before searching for your agency, and then making it clear that is what the selected agency will be judged on. Believe it or not, it will more appreciated than you’d expect. Because any good PR firm will tell you that a good client knows what it wants and has, or develops with the agency, the metrics of success.
- Robert Udowitz

Robert Udowitz is a principal of RFP Associates, a PR agency search firm serving trade associations and corporations. This was originally published on the RFP Associates “Cart Before the Horse” blog, which can be found at

Seeing Is Believing: How to Create Multimedia Content That Gets Seen // Take-aways from the Sept. 17 PRSA-NCC Professional Development Workshop

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, John Walls, Drew Blais

(Panelists pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, John Walls, Drew Blais

Does your multimedia content have that “gotta see this!” factor? If not, then that’s just one thing you’re doing wrong when trying to get your multimedia content seen.   PRSA-NCC’s “Seeing Is Believing: How to Create Multimedia Content That Gets Seen” event gave valuable insight to attendees that was worth more than admission.

Panelists were:

  • Justin Bank, Director of Digital Audience, Washington Post
  • Stephen Menick, a producer and editor who also teaches Digital Storytelling at WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications program
  • Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, Office of Marine Corps Communications Digital Engagement Branch Chief at Headquarters Marine Corps
  • John Walls, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at CTIA, the Wireless Association
  • Drew Blais, Digital Communication Specialist, Van Eperen & Company
  • Moderator:  Meredith Williams, MPH, Principal Associate at Abt Associates

While he spoke last, Van Eperen & Company’s Digital Communications Specialist Drew Blais and his “six steps towards video success” finely encompasses much of what all the panelists advised.  You have to have a strategy in place. That includes knowing your objective, knowing your audience, defining your concept, making sure you have your “gotta see this!” factor, know how you’re going to deliver your content and, last but not least, you have to track your metrics.

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Drew Blais, Meredith Williams, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Drew Blais, Meredith Williams, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

When it comes to knowing your concept, both filmmaker and Professor Stephen Menek and Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, gave real-life examples of the type of content people pay attention to and share. Menek shared with the audience that video is less it’s own multimedia content than it is really emotional content. And for Menek, having that “you gotta see this!” factor is big, real big. Take for example Staff Sgt. Fayloga’s short 30-second videos of Marines blowing up targets and military jets taking off from cruise ship carriers. Queuing up videos that get to the point and capture the attention are much more likely to get seen and shared than longer videos without attention-grabbing content.

But not all multimedia content has explosions. Menek’s example of Dove’s real beauty sketches videos (64 million views as of this writing) of a sketch artist capturing how women described themselves and then how others would describe them had nothing to do with selling soap, but had everything to do with connecting with the audience. Dove’s videos was a gift to audiences, sharing a story that captured their attention and earned their loyalty because it connected with viewers at an emotional level.

It’s something that the Washington Post’s Justin Bank, another expert panelist, would likely argue helps your content fight through the noise in a 21st century media environment.  These days there are multiple channels through which you can share your content. Organizations are being equipped with the tools they need to become their own publishers. And multimedia content “breaks the line of sight” according to the Post’s Bank, in a way that most other content won’t.

In general — besides having good content and good concept, whether your multimedia content gets seen or it doesn’t, learning by analyzing your results is key to helping to have your next multimedia content get seen. Don’t ignore Google Analytics or Facebook’s metrics reporting. Use these platforms to identify what works. Use both quantitative data and qualitative reporting to improve your future content and improve your results.

For this event, unveiling some of the secrets on how to get your multimedia content seen may have been the easy part.  The hard part? Putting this panel’s great advice to work and challenging yourself to get your multimedia content seen.


-Written by David Ward, American Wind Energy Association

Study: The Press Release Is Not Dead

Despite the glut of information available to almost anyone, many journalists still rely on the press release and PR professionals for story leads. One communications pro shares some tips on crafting an effective release and the art of media pitching.

No news is not always good news, especially when you’re trying to generate some much-needed publicity for your association. But getting reporters to cover your event, study, or new CEO may not be easy, especially as newsroom staff and other resources dwindle.

A new survey of journalists by Business Wire sheds some light on how reporters, editors, columnists, and bloggers prefer to be pitched or informed of news in order to effectively cover a story.

For example, the wire service’s “2014 Media Survey” found a heavy reliance on press releases. Almost 90 percent of respondents had referenced a release in the previous week, and 62 percent had used one in the last 24 hours.

When evaluating a press release, the most important information journalists look for is:

  • breaking news (77 percent)
  • supporting facts (70 percent)
  • interesting story angles (66 percent)
  • quotable sources (52 percent)
  • company background (50 percent)
  • trending industry topics (49 percent)
  • supporting multimedia (29 percent).

“The first question you need to ask is why would reporters care about this,” Sheri Singer, president and CEO of Singer Communications, said of writing press releases. “Is it newsworthy?”

While journalists at major consumer publications may not always care about your news, smaller trade publications may pick it up. This is an important consideration when directly pitching media regarding news about your organization, Singer added.

“Should it go to all reporters? Or is it inside news that you’ve got a new CEO, which, unless you’re a big trade association, that’s probably most important to trade press and press in the CEO’s hometown,” she said.

When contacting journalists directly, you may want to forgo a standard press release in favor of an email alert, which is preferred by 69 percent of survey respondents, as opposed to 22 percent who prefer a standard press release.

Given the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails in any given day, one way to cut through that clutter is to personalize your outreach and include contact information, Singer said.

“Don’t make the reporter work. Don’t make them go back to your website to find out how to get in touch with you,” she said. “You need someone’s name and phone number in the email, and that phone number needs to be a cell number because reporters work 24/7 now. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to be in the office when they call.”

- Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now