Mastering Connectivity: Chief of Army Public Affairs Explains Strategy

Suzanne Ross, Chair, Accreditation Committee


Major General Malcolm Frost, Chief of Army Public Affairs

The dazzling military dress blues stacked with bars of operational distinction established Major General Malcolm Frost’s authority on military affairs at an event hosted by the Accreditation Committee at Barbaricom, a military contractor, last week. The event aimed to bring new insights into evolving military public relations outreach efforts and the professionalization of Army public affairs.


The Chief of Army Public Affairs, Frost explained his main public relations challenge: The era of media embedded in military zones is over. As a result, there is a gap in knowledge about modern warfare, defense and security in a changing world.

Frost leads the Army’s advocacy strategy to strengthen awareness and sustain support. He said, “We recognize that our power is in the soldier, and in the confidence of the people and Congress.”

Although the Army benefited from 15 years of investment, respect and appreciation of soldiers in combat, looking to the future, it struggles to compete in attracting top talent.  Frost said, “Of the potential recruits, only 29 percent, or about 380,000 young people have the propensity to serve. “ He added, “Better understanding of the Army’s diverse operations, including combat operations, will help us recruit young people.”  To bolster effectiveness of outreach, the “Meet your Army” campaign highlights the multi-domain Army with operations in 140 countries, as well as attractive incentives such as educational scholarships.

To improve the civilian public’s connection with Army affairs, the Army identifies influencer audiences and affiliations, and develops messages that resonate with the right people, at the right time. Stepping forward into the audience, Frost explained, that not only has the Army expanded it’s outreach through diverse digital platforms, but also provides a toolkit to Public Affairs Officers. This kit targets diverse audiences associated with geographic areas, enabling officers to build local institutional relationships that can deepen the Army’s connection with their publics.

As Congressional support for military investments in people and services wanes, the Army is persistent in its efforts to build a better “human” connection with policy decision makers. Frost’s strategy accomplishes this by engaging Army leaders of diverse rank, including young recruits, to provide regular briefings to Hill staffers on military operations.

Frost concluded, “We’re learning a lot about what works and we’re telling our story differently to quickly and effectively adapt to changing conditions.”

Accreditation in Military Public Relations (APR+M) is a designation that can help bridge competencies of public relations practitioners in both military and civilian sectors.  Currently, the National Capital Chapter represents more APR+Ms than any other, and provides training, mentoring and other accreditation services to recognize and advance public relations professionalism among military personnel.

The event brought together accredited and non-accredited members of diverse organizations, including the National Association of Government Communicators as well as the PRSA National Capital Chapter members of the government and accreditation committees.

Know Your Audience, Understand Your Brand’s Voice, and When to Report ROI

By Simran Kumar, News Generation, Inc.


From L–R: Emily Zeigenfuse, Josh Habursky and Mike Fulton

On Thursday, September 15, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development committee hosted “Social Media: Staying on Message and on Brand.” Moderated by the Asher Agency’s Mike Fulton, with panelists Josh Habursky, Director of Advocacy, Independent Community Bankers of America, and Emily Zeigenfuse, Senior Digital Strategist, Hager Sharp, the discussion focused around the changing social media landscape. Habursky and Zeigenfuse offered tips on how to stay on brand and maximize budgets while researching audiences on the appropriate social media platform.

Habursky started the discussion by emphasizing the importance of understanding the brand’s voice and message. Zeigenfuse continued by encouraging PR pros to be sure to craft messaging that resonates with the desired target audience. She also talked about creating content that is unique to each channel and understanding who is using which channel.

brand2When it comes to staying “on brand,” Habursky said it’s necessary to know what a brand’s “untouchables” are. For example, the McDonald’s arches are signature to the McDonald’s brand. As communications professionals, it would be unreasonable to try to change something so iconic. According to Zeigenfuse, it’s important to go back to basics, and understand what a brand or client’s end goals are in terms of social media campaigns and then work backward to meet them.

For all social media campaigns, the ability to show ROI to management is key. Habursky talked about being sure to show tangible results. Zeigenfuse echoed Habursky, and said the ideal measure of success depends on a client and their end goals. As for how often to report results, both Habursky and Zeigenfuse said it depends on whether a campaign is paid or unpaid, and that when it’s a paid campaign, it’s often necessary to report more often to determine if messaging should be changed.

brand3If you’re struggling to convince senior management to pursue a social media strategy, Habursky stressed the importance of having an advocate within your organization that’s going to be first follower. Zeigenfuse also talked about being able to show senior leadership why it’s important to have a presence on social media. When collaborating with digital influencers, Zeigenfuse talked about the importance of trying to work with someone who is passionate about the specific organization’s cause. Haburksy stressed the importance of building a relationship and showing an influencer the value of getting involved with the organization.

As for future social media changes, Haburksy said he’s recently looked at what presidential candidates are doing as they usually use innovative techniques. For Zeigenfuse, one of the next big changes will be related to content publishing.

The lively discussion with Habursky and Zeingenfuse offered the audience takeaways for staying on message and on brand on social media and tips for keeping up with changing trends in the industry.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit

PRSA-NCC Board Members Meet with Communications Leaders from North Africa and Middle East about Social Media Uses

By Stacy Hope

Image courtesy Luke Price/Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy Luke Price/Flickr Creative Commons

Three PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) Board members recently met with social media and digital communications leaders from business and media sectors in North Africa and the Middle East to introduce them to the PRSA National Capital Chapter and discuss how nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and government agency public relations professionals in the United States use social media to connect with key constituencies.

PRSA-NCC President Sultana Ali, President-Elect Laura Bynum, and Board Member and International Committee Chair Stacy Hope joined participants in the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for a 90-minute discussion that ranged from the early days of Facebook to PRSA’s accreditation programs to client-agency relations.

IVLP, the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, organizes short-term visits to the United States for current and emerging foreign leaders in a broad range of fields. IVLP alumni include more than 335 current or former Chiefs of State or Heads of Government.

Hailing from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, the IVLP participants were particularly interested in learning more about networking and public relations professional development opportunities provided by PRSA, as well as the ethical obligations of public relations professionals in the United States.

One of the visitors communicated with the group that a U.S. communications firm had agreed to represent the government of Egypt – a country currently ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House. (Note: The firm in question had been hired by the Egyptian government following the 2013 coup to provide public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel, and government relations services.)

The PRSA leaders explained that based on the American rights of free speech and expression, foreign governments are welcome to seek representation by U.S. public relations professionals, regardless of the political disposition of the government (barring sanctions). They also discussed the difference between lobbying and PR, which are two distinct professions, each with its own code of ethics. For instance: The PRSA code of ethics states states that we as PR professionals “serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.”

The IVLP participants were also very interested in how social media is used and the PRSA panelists provided case studies of how social media can make a difference in augmenting or promoting a brand in the U.S., citing examples such as Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet when the lights went out during the Superbowl in 2013. It was a robust discussion that reminded all in the room that we have more similarities than differences, and communication continues to be an important skill regardless of the country where you reside. PR professionals play a critical role in conversations and through media that shape the world in which we live.

The Meaning Behind Words: Bates Delivers an Acclaimed Workshop for More Powerful Writing

by Alex Hopkins, Communications Associate, Union Plus

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

As communicators, we may take for granted that digital communications has quickly become an integral part of the global infrastructure. When our blogs, press releases, and other writing materials appear on the internet, our words contribute to a make-or-break digital paper trail that not only raises awareness of our employer’s image, but also of our own personal brand. Words thus have more power than ever to become motivators for a vast audience to think and act according to our employer’s communications agenda. For many years, this is what veteran public relations expert Don Bates has taught to communicators both in D.C. and New York City.

On August 18, Bates delivered his popular workshop “Write More Powerfully & Strategically for Public Relations & Public Affairs Purposes in Social and Traditional Media” at Hager Sharp. With over 30 participants, the all-day event gave practitioners the opportunity to form meaningful relationships and work together to turn average written pieces into perfectly-polished prose. Throughout the workshop, participants learned that their teamwork reflected Bates’ observation that communicators should be marshaling their audience to work together to discern and accomplish common goals.

Bates was also joined by Anthony Shop, the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Social Driver, a digital marketing agency based in D.C. In a departure from the traditional top-down marketing approach of the past, Shop observed in his well-regarded presentation that “social media democratizes information — even if there is a lot of ‘noise.’” Using the analogy of a lightning strike, Shop said that, although marketers may only see lightning coming top-down, the energy sparks actually come from the ground — much like how audiences are increasingly calling the shots in a bottom-up marketing approach. With the ability of just about anyone to become a digital communicator, Shop taught participants that, because there is more feedback than ever from targeted audiences, communicators must use increasingly-original techniques to raise brand awareness amidst the marketing storm of “noise” around them.

By the end of the day, participants received a treasure-trove of Bates’ knowledge in the form of 100+ page binder that they could took back to work with them. What the participants learned from the event reflected the universal acclaim of the exercises and presentations. Remarking on Bates’ insistence on concise writing, one participant said, “I’m going to challenge myself to write tweets that are less than 140 characters.” Another participant agreed, adding, “I’m going to think more of how I can work together with my audience before I write.”

Interested in the workshop? Bates and the PRSA-NCC will again host the workshop in December. To register, visit:

Michael Smart delivered a solid repeat performance on June 29 of his two half-day workshops: Pitching Bootcamp and Building Media Relationships

Session One – Pitching Bootcamp: by Ana Pinilla, BusinessWire

Michael SmartThe Morning Session “Pitching Bootcamp” started with Michael talking about the problems PR practitioners can encounter when pitching journalists and went on to offer his “pitching playbook” where he discussed several examples of how to do it right – starting off with turning a press release from boring to glowing – making it into something newsworthy that journalists will want to use as part of their reporting.  It’s also about finding the angle for the story – one that could be holiday or seasonally related, a story with human impact, or even proximity to where we live and work, as well as other ideas. Michael went on to discuss the anatomy of a perfect pitch that included appropriate phone and/or email introductions and how to deliver the story with speed and interest. But with all this being said, success also depends on knowing the journalists – what they write about and knowing their style. What was particularly helpful was that Michael provided audio and video examples of pitches – with lots of do’s and don’ts – that made it all so much easier and real to attendees.


Session Two – Going Beyond the Pitch: Why Relationship Building Matters: by , News Generation

Michael SmartAs PR pros, we know the importance of building and strengthening our relationships with reporters. This was the focus of PRSA-NCC’s recent series of workshops with media relations expert Michael Smart. During the workshops, Smart offered participants hands-on, practical tips and social media suggestions on how to engage and build relationships with members of the media.

The most important theme he stressed is that you must invest in your relationships with the media. Invest the time and brain space. It is a critical component of your job and helps us be more effective at what we do.

Also, pay attention to what journalists are covering. Engage with their material. Show them that you are following them, that you genuinely care about what they’re reporting. Doing so will help separate you from other PR pros. Learn their style and pitch them in a personal, customized way, and become a credible resource to journalists. When pitching, it’s equally important to show that that we’re respectful of a journalist’s time and deadlines.

(*re-published from News Generation:

Finding the Best Research Method: PRSA-NCC Event


Pictured: Molly O’Rourke, Sultana Ali, Danny Selnick, Peter Kelley

Pictured: Molly O’Rourke, Sultana Ali, Danny Selnick, Peter Kelley

Research plays an imperative role in the way we communicate messages and attract consumers. Research can be performed internally, using an outside company’s help, or through an external source. The steps to conduct effective research were discussed during the June 16th PRSA event, “Numbers Don’t Lie: The Role of Research in Successful Communications.” Moderator Danny Selnick, Senior Vice President of Strategic Markets at Business Wire, panelists Molly O’Rourke, Partner at Hart Research and Peter Kelley, Vice President of Public Affairs at American Wind Energy Association, evaluated the importance of research in the communications industry.

Molly O’Rourke offered key takeaways on the role of strategic communication and public opinion research in a corporate environment. She emphasized that having strong research can attract media attention, enhance communication abilities, assist with gaining political allies, identify a target market, and increase internal company effectiveness. Important choices to make when conducting research include whether to use a focus group or survey, choosing the most effective sample size, and what audience should be included in the research.

Peter Kelley discussed the importance of accessing free research and how to limit research costs for companies with smaller budgets. Kelley outlined options for “polling without your own pollster” in order to reduce operating costs for your company. In the age of the internet, research can easily be accessed for free. Benefits of opinion research include having the ability to refine messages from gathered information. Oftentimes, using big name pollsters or bipartisan research groups is recommended because they resonate more support with the public.

Moderator Danny Selnick addressed the question of the role of cell phones in making polling more difficult. O’Rourke responded by emphasizing methodological issues in this technological age and how one should go about using different platforms for polling. Hybrid research methods of using online and phone surveys are often used to address a larger market and to receive wider audience participation. Platforms for polling are constantly changing and it is difficult to say one clear cut method is the best. Kelley made clear that transparency is key if you want to eliminate skepticism in the audience to attract a larger support base for your poll. Both emphasized the importance of wording and using unbiased phrases when polling.

Research plays an important role in our lives, and is necessary in continuing company growth and development. Businesses are able to better understand their target audience with imperial data, and the company is able to adjust their messages to be more successful. Research is both an art and a science —you have to try different methods to find what works best.

Stay tuned…


(*re-published from News Generation:

Sponsor Spotlight: Van Eperen

Every month or so, we are going to highlight a chapter sponsor so you can learn more about them, and possibly connect with them as they have done so much to support our chapter. We want to thank Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen, for participating in the spotlight. Here are the details:

Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen

Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen

Q: Tell us more about Van Eperen and your role there:
Answer: Van Eperen is an award-winning, integrated communications agency that serves regional, national and international clients in the public and private sectors. We blend PR, digital, social and creative strategies to drive meaningful results. I founded Van Eperen in 2004 to deliver on promises made to clients during the search process. I worked as a broadcast journalist for five years and then transitioned to communications. In total, I’ve been telling stories for 23 years. Ethics, integrity, responsiveness and results are what drive me and my team of technology-savvy communicators who integrate innovative methods with proven principles.

Q: How long has Van Eperen been involved with PRSA-NCC?
Answer: Our Senior Vice President, Karen Addis, APR, has been an active member of the chapter for 30 years. In fact, the chapter recently profiled her in a Member Spotlight.

Q: Is there anything you want to tell our members about Van Eperen that we may not know?
Answer: When we say integrated, customized communications, we mean it. Van Eperen is up-to-date on the latest and greatest digital communications tools and technologies. We incorporate new platforms, processes and channels with traditional tried-and-true public relations practices to drive results for clients. From live-streaming videos, designing and developing websites, we can conceptualize and execute full digital campaigns as well as pick up the phone and land traditional media.

Q: What do you like best about working with Van Eperen so far?
Answer: The best thing about working at Van Eperen is the level of collaboration. We are a team of high-achieving seasoned strategists and practitioners and there are times when we are all in the conference room just brainstorming or collaborating on a single project. It’s always interesting to hear the new ideas and approaches from our millennial staff and it’s great to work directly with them on a regular basis because we learn so much from each other. We produce excellent client results because we are always on our toes.

Q: How can our members learn VanEperen_logo_tagline_RGBmore, get more information about what Van Eperen has to offer?
Answer: Members can visit our website at, follow us on Twitter (@VanEperenAgency) and like us on Facebook. Feel free take a look at some of our blogs and join our mailing list to receive helpful content.