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.

“Taking it to the Tweets: How Digital Advocacy Will Shape Public Affairs in 2015” Covers Best Practices and Looking Ahead

By Robert Krueger, director of public relations and social media at the Urban Land Institute


From left to right: Anthony Shop, Adora Jenkins, Allie Walker, Phillip Lovell

Are Washington policymakers and staff actually paying attention to your social media posts? It may be surprisingly good news to public affairs offices that policymakers spend a considerable amount of time listening to rather than broadcasting their own messages. That was the panel consensus at a recent PRSA-NCC event entitled “Taking it to the Tweets: How Digital Advocacy Will Shape Public Affairs in 2015.”

The morning panel focused on what digital tools could reach decision makers on Capitol Hill and produce real results. Panel moderator and Co-Founder of Social Driver, Anthony Shop, shared the results of a recent Congressional study on what had more influence: email campaigns, a single Facebook comment, or a Twitter “thunderclap.” To attendees’ amazement, Congressional staff rated the individual Facebook comment as the most influential since they appear the most authentic and least manufactured.

Adora Jenkins, Vice President of External Affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council and Former Press Secretary to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, helped put this into context explaining that government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is limited in what it can broadcast since its social media posts automatically become official responses and part of government record. Because of this, government agencies will use social media platforms primarily as listening tools in order to analyze the sentiment of their constituents.

However, the ability of public affairs offices and lobbyists to take advantage of a social media-attentive Washington culture can be tricky. Panelist Allie Walker, communications specialist at Honda North America and former press secretary to Congressman Dave Camp and the Ways and Means Committee, stressed that the key is giving your public affairs audience the representation you intended. Speaking on reputation management through new digital tools, Walker said that her company focuses on creatively sharing what they have, what they do, and who they are through storytelling. She noted that this starts with listening at both the local and national level, building your image, and then acquiring a base of digital allies that will help communicate your message to policymakers.


From left to right: Susan Matthews Apgood, Allie Walker, Adora Jenkins, Phillip Lovell, Anthony Shop

Phillip Lovell, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy of the Comprehensive School Reform at Alliance for Excellent Education, provided the most detailed example of how a targeted digital campaign can get noticed by policymakers. Targeting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with his 99in5 campaign, his advocacy organization used visual technology to increase awareness to people outside the Washington Beltway. With the goal of getting over 99 percent of U.S. schools to adopt high speed broadband internet within a 5-year period of time, his organization asked students, teachers, and administrators to create and post online videos on why reliable and fast Wi-Fi is important to their school.

What made social media campaigns, like 99in5, such a success was its authentic nature. When digital advocacy campaigns ask constituents to be involved and help create content, a message becomes more genuine due to the fact that you have actual people advocating on behalf of your campaign. Panelists emphasized that whether it is an organically created video or a retweet, it is seen as mobilization by policymakers, and they will surely take notice.


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 midterm elections is the importance of making sure you have the right message – one that the voters will respond to vs one that you think is on target.” Mr. Parnell also referenced Senator Warner’s close victory as an example of this very lesson, “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 CEOs 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 programs are 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.