Reporters: Hashtags Are Overrated, Not Used In Newsroom

By Robert Krueger, Director of Public Relations and Social Media, Urban Land Institute

media_relationsHashtags, a tool frequently used by public relations and marketing professionals to boost online visibility, are deemed useless in the news gathering process. That was the consensus of a panel made up of mainstream media professionals at an event hosted by the Loudoun/Fairfax committee of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC).

Chuck Carroll, reporter for CBS Radio, emphasized that hashtags “do nothing” for him when searching for potential stories in social media. While he and the other panelists agreed that Twitter is the most used social media platform for working journalists, to his knowledge, hashtag research it is not a standard practice in his company’s newsroom. Panelists Janet Terry, producer for WUSA-TV, and Vandana Sinha, assistant managing editor/print at the Washington Business Journal, agreed that they do not consciously look at hashtags. Sinha added she does not see any of her professional colleagues using hashtags in their own social media posts, so it should not be surprising that they are not used in professional newsrooms.

In addition to setting the record straight on the misconception of hashtag value, the panelists also offered insights on how to cut through the clutter and get them to see your pitch. In the digital era, email pitching is still the go-to method, but panelists said that their favorite method for pitching is social media.

However, just as public relations professionals can make the mistake of blast emailing an entire database list of reporters, the same can be done in the social media world. Panelists noted that they can see when someone @ pitches multiple reporters with the same message. What “blast tweeting” like this does is make it more likely one of their competitors can pick up on a story before them.

Panelists also addressed the question of whether the news release is dead in the new digital era. All three media professionals stated that the news release is still alive and the most preferred and detailed way of communicating news to working reporters.

Terry said that news releases are extremely important for her company’s assignment desk. Her assignment editors prefer to receive news releases since they provide an adequate level of detail, are easy to categorize and usually list a media contact. Sinha told the audience that she will keep news releases and other pitches in an email folder, which she will often reference up to a year from receiving it. Carroll even said that PR Newswire is his go-to source for slow news days. He stated that he will scour PR Newswire news releases when he does not find a compelling story idea via email or social media.

How To Develop Your Own Social Media Engagement Index

By Katie Delahaye Paine

Forget engagement, affection, influence, and whatever other social media or mainstream media scores you’re debating. What we really need for a public relations measurement metric is a Kick Butt Index (KBI). My KBI idea grew out of a recent conversation I had. A former client of mine described his measurement needs as follows:

“I want something so that when the business development guy or the product manager storms into my office and says ‘Lockheed just kicked our butt on this one!’  I’ll have an answer.”

What does “Kicked Our Butt” really mean?

The crux of his problem—and similar problems for most of the rest of the PR world—is that no one agrees up front what “kicked our butt” means. How do you really define success? Does it mean more front page headlines or better message communication? More fans on Facebook or more retweets?

Just about every organization I deal with has different PR / social media programs, with different goals and audiences, which means that every organization I deal with has a slightly different definition of what Kicking Butt really means. And then within every organization there are probably seven different definitions, depending on whether you are in sales, marketing, finance, competitive intelligence, or PR.

If your definition of Kicking Butt means more coverage than the other guy, then you need to define what that coverage should look like. Are key messages most important? Getting your CEO or thought leader quoted? Getting your brand in a headline? Are there myths that you need to dispel?

I’ve been helping organizations develop customized KBI’s for nearly a decade, and here’s the process.

Call a meeting with your boss. In that meeting, agree on what success means for the program. If someone says “lots of coverage” remind them that not all coverage is desirable. Get everyone to describe what a perfect 10 story looks like for your program. Then determine what your worst nightmare mention looks like. And maybe clips don’t matter at all. Maybe “kicking butt” really means “more unique visits,” or some other metric. That’s up to you.

In the process of figuring this out, most organizations do one or more of the following:

  1. List desired outcomes of a program, department, launch or whatever it is that you are promoting.
  2. List key messages and rank them by importance.
  3. List strategic initiatives and rank them by importance.
  4. List most influential media sources
  5. List key target stakeholders.
  6. List key competitors.

Not only does this process get you a clear, agreed upon definition of “kicking butt,” but it also sets you well on the way toward a perfect measurement system. By getting everyone to agree on a standard definition of success, you can far more easily judge your performance in the marketplace, relative to your competition.

If you want to develop your own custom “social media engagement index” start by referring to your goals. What are the priorities and objectives of your specific program? What sort of engagement do you want to encourage? If you are a new organization and trying to build a following, a like might be an acceptable level of engagement. If you are an established brand with a message to get across, then a like or even a short comment may not be sufficient.

The most important thing is to start with a discussion of your goals and objectives, the perceived path to purchase, and the role that senior leadership believes that your social media engagement program plays in that path to purchase. That will determine the weightings and the specific elements of your index.

Be clear about whether you are measuring “owned” social media or “earned” social media. For “owned” a KBI might look something like the suggested scoring below, and would be applied to all your content.

Earned Media - Kick Butt Index

Social Media Engagement Index for “Owned” Media – how are people interacting with your content








Earned Media - Kick Butt Index

Social Media Engagement Index for “Earned” Media – what people are saying about you












Each item of content receives a score, then both the total score and the average score per month or week is calculated. Ideally you would collect three to six months of data and correlate it with sales leads, conversions, or some other business metric to most accurately determine which actions correlate most closely with the business outcomes.

There are any number of tools, like Simply Measured or Sprout Social, that will provide most of this information. You will need a web analytics tool like Google Analytics or Simply Measured to find the number of clicks to specific URLs and to determine correlation rates with web traffic.

Register to attend a workshop on traditional and social media measurement with expert Katie Delahaye Paine on Thursday, March 19, from 8-11:30 a.m. at the U.S. Navy Memorial located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Register and learn more at

5 Tips That Will Take Your PR Career to the Next Level

By Jeff Ghannam

This March 25 will be the fifth year I will have the pleasure of leading PRSA-NCC’s “From PR Manager to PR Leader” workshop.

Attendees are primarily people who are early in their career arcs and want to learn the management and leadership skills they need to take their careers to the next level. These are people who perhaps for the first time are being asked to think strategically or maybe to lead people. They come to the workshop to share their challenges (it’s a very interactive format) and how they might be able to address them.

One thing participants learn early on the workshop is that we all have extremely similar challenges, and often with similar solutions. I’d like to share just a few of the things participants have learned over the years.

"From PR Manager to PR Leader" workshop

More than 200 people have attended the workshop “From PR Manager to PR Leader” over the last four years.

To be taken seriously, we need to think of ourselves as more than “just a PR person.” Before we can become leaders, we must become valued business partners. And before we can become valued business partners, we must behave like valued business partners. So we must stop limiting ourselves to just our PR functions and we should learn our industry and what makes our company or organization really tick. We must let our boss know we care about what keeps them up at night and that we too have an interest in the company, its future, and its bottom line. Hint: We should never say, “I’m not good with finances, that’s why I went into PR.”

Listen before we speak. I don’t want to be blunt but we PR people often talk too much and listen too little. We are so focused on delivering our elevator pitch and messages that we sometimes forget to really listen to what our teams, clients, or target audiences really want or need. Always do your research, I say, and let it start by simply listening. Once our targets know we’ve truly heard and understand them, they will see us as an ally that cares about their needs. Which leads me to the next point…

Care about people. We human beings like people who like us first. OK, that sounds a bit like third grade but if you let people know you care about them they will support you. That means going beyond asking how their weekend was on Monday morning. For example, one of the easiest ways to motivate people is to let them know you have their professional growth and career development in mind. Ask them where they want to go with their careers and how you can help them get there. If you care about them, they will care about you.

Be genuine and straight forward. The one thing I’ve developed over the years in the PR business is a finely tuned BS radar. If I so much as suspect someone is not being straight with me, I will do everything I can to distance myself from that person and whatever that person is trying to get me to support. Life is too short to be dealing with phony people. If we want people to follow us, we need to be straight with them, even when we have something difficult to say. They’ll respect us for it.

There is no such thing as “born leaders.” Throw this tired cliché out the window. Leadership skills can be learned. Yes, some people seem to have a knack for big picture thinking and motivating people but most people need to learn the tricks of the job. There are proven methods you can learn for strategizing, motivating people, resolving conflict, solving problems and so on. If you work hard at it, it won’t be so hard.

The half-day workshop offers just a glimpse into what participants need to know to become valued managers and leaders. No keys to the C-suite will be given out that day but the workshop does give participants insights into how they can develop their leadership skills so they can realize their career aspirations.

Jeff Ghannam is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, and past president of the PRSA-National Capital Chapter.



Top 4 Legal Tips for the Independent PR Practitioner

Business name? Check. Website? Check. LLC set up? Trademark? Hmmm. Understanding the legal responsibilities and ramifications of having your own PR business should be a priority for every independent PR professional. Making the move from working in an office to being your own boss can be an exciting and overwhelming time.

IPRA LogoIt’s easy to use the skills and experience you learned in-house to create a business plan and market yourself. However, learning about LLCs, S-Corps, trademarks, and business insurance – well, that can be unchartered territory for a lot of us “indies.” It’s great to have someone like Rebecca Geller of The Geller Law Group as a navigator. She offered great advice and her top four legal tips for attendees at a recent Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA) luncheon program:

  1. When you launch your business, consider forming as a LLC. If you’re set up as a sole proprietor, there’s no difference between who you are as an individual and who you are as a business. Rebecca says that can be a huge problem if you get sued – basically, everything you own as an individual (house, cars, savings, retirement) can be obtained through the lawsuit. Ouch.
  1. Keep your business insurance separate from your homeowners insurance. Since many of us indies work from home, you might think your business is covered under your homeowners policy, but it’s not. Rebecca advises that indies get professional liability insurance.
  1. Trademark your business name and logo. Did you know that a company in another state could use your business name if it’s not trademarked? Rebecca has a local client who had been in business for more than 25 years and he had to change his company’s name — after receiving a cease and desist order from another company with a similar name. The entire trademark process takes about nine months, but will help ensure you never have to change your brand and business name and not get sued.
  1. Put everything in writing – and make sure an attorney has reviewed your standard contracts. It’s tempting to customize sample contracts we find online or through other indies. But, legal documents will vary from state to state and online legal tools are generally not recognized by courts as valid legal documents. It’s best to have a business attorney in your state review (and strengthen) your legal documents to ensure your protection. Rebecca advises that standard client contracts should always include a scope of work, limits of liability, and restrictions if you bring in a subcontractor. Other documents you should have on hand include subcontractor and employee agreements, letter to fire a client (heaven forbid), and an operating agreement that covers what happens if you can’t operate your business.

Everything from naming your new business to drawing up contracts can have a big impact on the future of your business. Make sure you understand the legal aspects of starting and running a business – and have an attorney on your team.

Sabrina McGowan is a director on the IPRA Board and owner of SQM Public Relations. You can follow her on Twitter at


5 Steps for Anticipating Tomorrow’s News Today and Reaching Public Relations Goals

PRSA-NCC Jan. 21 event: How to Leverage Tomorrow’s News Today and Reach Communications Goals

PRSA-NCC Jan. 21 event: How to Leverage Tomorrow’s News Today and Reach Communications Goals

By Robert Krueger, Director of Public Relations and Social Media at the Urban Land Institute (ULI)

The morning after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, the political press churned out countless stories framed around the President’s remarks on the middle class and terrorism, the Republican reaction, as well as Michelle Obama’s dress. During this time over 70 public relations professionals attended an early morning Public Relations Society of America-National Capital Chapter panel discussion on how communications professionals can use earned media opportunities with annual milestones, such as the State of the Union, to their advantage.

The panel of distinguished public relations experts included Nancy White, Director of AAA Public Affairs; Liz Garman, Vice President of Communications at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC); and Linda Rozett, Vice President for Communications at the American Petroleum Institute (API).

White, Garman and Rozett offered a lot of great advice for attendees:

  1. Win C-Suite Buy-In For Jumping on Big Stories

Panelists agreed that buy-in from internal executives begins with convincing the c-suite of earned media’s value. While some CEOs are supportive of a proactive media relations approach, others can be hesitant. Both Rozett and White recommended your team have a conversation with the CEO and convince him/her about what works and doesn’t work with media outreach. During this meeting, it is important to communicate not only your visibility goals, but also a strategy that is both supported by metrics and connected to the organization’s business objectives.

In addition, panelists urged regular media training workshops to lower the intimidation factor for leaders who, Rozett said, are wary of the media in the first place.

  1. Jan. 21 PRSA-NCC event included panelists Nancy White, Director, AAA Public Relations Liz Garman, VP of Communications, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Linda Rozett, VP for Communications, American Petroleum Institute

    Jan. 21 PRSA-NCC event included panelists Nancy White, Director, AAA Public Relations; Liz Garman, VP of Communications, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology; Linda Rozett, VP for Communications, American Petroleum Institute

    Anticipate Big News Before It Happens

White said the best way to anticipate big news is to follow developments closely and understand the day’s major news stories before you commute to work.

Garman recommended having designated spokespeople briefed on talking points and ready at a moment’s notice. During the Ebola scare, she said that while her peer organizations were scrambling to prep their message points and spokespeople, APIC was ahead of the story, which helped her organization steer the national discourse.

  1. Know How To Insert Yourself Into the News Cycle and Break Through the Clutter

Give reporters a reason to quote you and always remember that “news needs news hooks,” said White. Also, she said it is critical to constantly nurture relationships with members of the media and have your own original data ready – which can include member survey results – to give reporters a reason to cover you. Rozett recommends working months in advance on events like the State of the Union. API, for example, produces what’s called the “State of Energy” report and releases it during the same news cycle as the President’s address.

Bridging to what reporters want to cover is important, too. White said that public relations professionals need to shift the conversation to your messages.

  1. Use Social Media Before, During and After Big News

The consensus of all panelists was that social media is an important tool that complements your traditional media efforts. However, it is important to maintain an active social media presence throughout the year. Rozett noted that traditional news stories drive social media conversation; therefore, it is important to constantly engage with reporters and be prepared to comment when news stories spike on social media. She also noted the importance of preparing social media posts and shareables in advance and using a variety of mediums to extend the coverage of a story.

An underrated use of social media for public relations teams is its ability to set the record straight, said Garman. By staying on top of the news and trending social media topics, her organization is able to present statistics and visuals to help keep the conversation from going too far off course.

  1. Report Results to Internal and External Stakeholders

Analysis and reporting is not reserved for after the media hype dies off. All panelists argue that regular reporting to stakeholders is imperative for getting support for future media efforts as well as securing additional funds in future years. During the Ebola scare, Garman said that her organization sent its members daily CEO emails with updates on what was happening in the news and how they were responding. In addition, it is important to keep your organization’s legal team briefed on your activity and easily on-hand for advice on how to comment before a reporter’s deadline passes.

Getting earned media placements can be extremely difficult during a major news event; however, panelists agree that these steps will put you in a better position for being a go-to media source when the next big story breaks.

December Sponsor Spotlight: Integrated Marketing Communications Graduate Program, WVU Reed College of Media

WVU IMC logo

WVU Integrated Marketing and Communications Graduate Program

Tell us more about your company.

The West Virginia University IMC graduate program is offered entirely online with no on-campus classroom attendance required.  Students earn a practical, customizable graduate education that is designed with a ‘learn-it-today, apply-it-tomorrow’ focus built into its curriculum.  Students are able to directly apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom immediately to their professional lives.  Because of the program’s flexibility, most IMC students continue to work full time while earning their degree.  With students and professors spread out across the country and world, there are many different perspectives and the opportunity to learn from one another as much as students learn from the program curriculum itself.

How long has the West Virginia University IMC graduate program been involved with PRSA-NCC?

The WVU IMC program joined as an educational partner with PRSA-NCC in 2012.  We have been a University Partner with PRSA since 2011. Find our University Partner page here.

Is there anything you want to tell our members about the West Virginia University IMC graduate program that we may not know?

The WVU IMC program was the first online graduate program in integrated marketing communications in the world.  We have been doing this for more than 11 years now and we are continuing to mature our program and stay on top of an ever-changing industry by continuously expanding and evolving our electives to make sure our students have access to the most innovative methods in the field. Our students and graduates work for major corporations, including The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, The Walt Disney Company, E-Trade and the Boston Celtics.

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

Working with PRSA-NCC has offered us great opportunities for professional networking, continuing education and connecting with students and graduates in the area.

How can our members learn more, get more information about what the West Virginia University IMC graduate program has to offer?

Members of PRSA-NCC can learn more about the WVU IMC program in a couple of ways.  The first is by visiting  Members can fill out the form at the bottom of the page to request more information about the program and receive a viewbook that is filled with great testimonials from our students and graduates.  PRSA-NCC members can also attend a free online information session.  Dates for upcoming sessions can be found at  Our Enrollment Specialist hosts these sessions and is available to answer any questions both during the session and by contacting him directly at (304) 293-5685 or  Lastly, one of the best ways to learn about the WVU IMC program and advance your IMC skills is to attend INTEGRATE, our annual professional conference focused on integrated marketing communications.  Members can learn more about what the conference has to offer and register for the May 29-30, 2015 conference at PRSA members can receive a full-conference pass at the discounted rate of $175 by registering before December 31, 2014 using the code “PRSA” at checkout.


Happy 65th Anniversary PRSA-NCC!

By Jennifer Schleman, MPS, APR

This month, the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) is celebrating its 65th anniversary. In these years, we’ve seen the public relations field grow from its infancy through the digital revolution. To mark the anniversary, I asked several past (and the current) presidents of the National Capital Chapter to share their fondest memories and/or what changes they’ve seen in the chapter over the years.

Current PRSA-NCC president Rebecca Andersen recalled why she joined the chapter. “I joined PRSA to get involved with my alma mater, American University, through the University Relations committee in 2007. I became instantly hooked to the energy of our Chapter. In that time, I changed jobs twice, started volunteering more and widened my professional network in the D.C. area. Being involved in NCC has helped with all these changes. The experience has been invaluable and the people in our Chapter are constantly helping me reach my goals, both professionally and personally. Thank you NCC and happy anniversary!”

Sandra Wills Hannon, Ph.D., APR, PRSA-NCC president in 2007, reflected, “I can’t believe that I’ve been a member of the chapter for 20 years. The thing that strikes me as almost a juxtaposition is how on the one hand, PRSA-NCC has consistently been the largest chapter in the country with hundreds of members and on the other hand, it can really feel like a family. It never ceases to amaze me as to what a caring community we are. I personally have seen members rally around other members in sickness and in tragedy. We have also cheered each other during the joyous times – promotions, new jobs, weddings and new life. Still, through it all, our chapter remains remarkably productive – professional development, lunches, networking, pro bono work – making it such an important entity in our industry. PRSA-NCC has enriched my life with support, great projects and wonderful friendships which leaves me grateful and an avid supporter and member, hopefully for another 20 years.”

Heathere Evans-Keenan, APR, president in 2008, finds inspiration from PRSA-NCC members as well. “One thing I’ve found remarkable over the years is, based on the energy and enthusiasm of different members, new committees and expanded activities can quickly come forward. I’ve seen members drive global pro bono activities in some years, witnessed the formation of new committees targeting specific membership needs that come and go as members’ needs change, and strategic chapter initiatives be born, shaped and honed by fresh perspectives from our leaders,” she said. “That diversity of inspiration provides a professional experience unmatched in most other chapters—and it means if you have an idea, by all means, bring it forward! It could be your year to make something amazing happen. Happy Anniversary NCC!”

Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, president in 2001 also has “many great memories of NCC-PRSA and could not be more proud of the leaders, growth and impact of the chapter.”

He added, “Back then, we were approaching 600 members and had just begun allowing sponsors for our programs. NCC-PRSA is a much stronger, more influential group today and it is very impressive. Among my highlights were earning my APR in 1987, co-chairing the Thoth Awards for several years including an event at the Kennedy Center and of course having the honor of leading the group during a challenging 2001. I have been a proud dues-paying member throughout and wish everyone a happy 65th!”

Samantha Villegas, APR, president in 2013, recalled her most memorable event. “It was a Lunch with Legends event and we had a sit down lunch with a panel of some of the most accomplished PR people in the DC area,” she said. “Ofield Dukes was on the panel, Sunshine Overkamp and I think Bill Novelli, too. It was awesome. I had just started my job with a water utility and asked a question about how to handle a new employer, who doesn’t understand the value of PR. The panel’s response was unexpected. It blew me away and inspired me. They all said, what an incredible opportunity I had in front of me – to turn them around and make things exponentially better for them. I came away looking at the opportunity in a completely different light and I thought of that moment whenever things got hard. It made a real impression!”

Katherine R. Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, president in 1992 witnessed the genesis of the NCC PR Hall of Fame.

“I was co-chair of the 50th Anniversary with David Kinsman, APR. We worked closely with chapter president Mary Yerrick, APR, Amy Hurd, APR, who organized the anniversary gala, and a terrific committee of about 10 chapter leaders. One thing that we realized as we were planning the year-long celebration is that we were beginning to lose our history. Nothing had really been written down in a meaningful way. Most of the chapter’s founders had passed and many of the ‘old-timers’ were retiring or moving away. We brainstormed ways to recognize those early leaders and it didn’t take us long to come up with the idea for the National Capital PR Hall of Fame,” she said. “We decided that an awesome way to celebrate our 50th anniversary would be to induct the first 50 members, with the idea to later induct a new member each year. We had a beautiful and elegant gala at the Willard Hotel, and almost all of the living inductees were present, as well as family members of many who were inducted posthumously. We worked with The Washington Post on a special commemorative insert in the newspaper that day, with mini-bios of all 50 inductees (these now live on the chapter website). It was a truly special night and the beginning of a valuable and meaningful way to recognize the best of our colleagues and also preserve our history.”

Jeff Ghannam, president in 2010 recalled, “My favorite memory was the 2010 International Conference, the first in Washington, D.C. in more than 20 years. Specifically, the NCC reception that we hosted that year for about 200 PRSA leaders from around the country was in a private, rooftop dining on the GW campus that had stunning views of the Washington Monument at night. I’ll never forget the buzz in the room that evening as people realized that our chapter was in a league of its own when it comes to serving as the host chapter.”

Ghannam believes, “The biggest change the chapter has undergone is related to the number and diversity of its events. About 10 years ago, the chapter used to have maybe one or two events per month. As the chapter grew in membership from about 700 in 2004 to more than 1,500 in 2014, we know average about one event per week, each targeting a specific segment of the membership.”

Tracy Schario, APR and president in 2006 summed it up, “The chapter is much more than memories. It is relationships built on trust and friendship. Committee work last year, results in a coffee today and future phone calls or emails for advice, congratulations or information exchange.”

So what’s your favorite PRSA-NCC memory? I cherish the professional connections made though the chapter that have evolved into lifelong friendships. Happy 65th Anniversary PRSA-NCC!

Jennifer C. Schleman, MPS, APR, is a director on the PRSA-NCC Board.