Five Reasons Why You Should Join a PRSA Committee

By Patty Nicastri, Co-chair of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee

I joined PRSA-NCC around five years ago. For my first two years, I was a very passive member. I would occasionally attend events and keep “PRSA member” as a phrase on my resume, but I found myself wanting more—to be more involved, to get more out of my membership, to learn more about the ever-changing field of PR. I decided the best way to do this was to join the professional development committee. It has significantly helped me with my professional development journey. As a committee co-chair, I want to share with you five reasons why you should join a committee and take your career to the next level.

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There’s No ‘I’ in Team!

By Jade Dixon, PRSA-NCC Marcom Committee

I’m taking in information! I’m processing! I’m doing the math, I’m fixing the boyfriend, and keeping the baby from turning into a flaming monster! How do I do it? By rolling with the punches, baby! I eat thunder and crap lightning, OK? Because I’m Mr. Incredible! Not ‘Mr. So-So’ or ‘Mr. Mediocre Guy’! Mr. Incredible!”

If you have ever seen the “Incredibles 2” you definitely can relate to how Bob Parr, the main character who is both a father and super-hero, was feeling. As communications professionals, we also know the stress of juggling multiple tasks, alone, every day. We experience this at home, too. Each family member has a different personality, different powers, and different approaches to conflict—which sounds just like a public relations team. It’s all about how you work together and get the job done, despite the chaos.

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Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism

By Aaron Ellis, Professional Development Committee co-chair

If you attended the National Capital Chapter’s “Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism” professional development event Nov. 7 at Hager Sharp in downtown Washington, you probably walked away feeling you invested your time wisely.

Brian Ellis - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017For most, it was their first interaction with crisis management expert Brian Ellis. A former broadcast journalist who is now executive vice president for Minneapolis-headquartered Padilla public relations and who also teaches crisis management at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellis’ riveting, rapid-fire lessons about responding to various crises reminded participants that advance preparation is the key to success.

In today’s age of citizen journalists, where anybody with a smart phone can record an event and post it online within minutes, the timeline as to who controls the narrative of a story has collapsed to mere minutes. That means professional communicators and the organizations they represent must anticipate questions in advance to tell their side any story, or risk losing the advantage.

According to Ellis, there are three steps for effectively communicating during a crisis:

Brian Ellis5 - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017

  1. Identify what audiences want and need to know by writing out in advance the questions they are most likely to ask.
  2. Based on the anticipated questions, develop three key messages and short, memorable quotes to go with them.
  3. Practice your messages and quote(s) out loud, honing your transitions until they’re seamless.

Ellis said the key messages should focus on: a) showing compassion for those impacted; b) providing information about your organization’s crisis response plan, and c) explaining your organization’s crisis investigation and how to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

For his advance crisis preparation exercise, Ellis provided each table with one of three scenarios: a data breach, a criminal activity and an active shooter incident. Each table’s participants were then given a few minutes to develop a list of questions they thought they might be asked, write out three key messages and quotes to use in response, and write out four social media posts and five action steps to take from a communications perspective.

The more questions each group anticipated, the more articulate were their key messages, social posts and action steps.

“In the blame game of a crisis, the CEO will usually get fired if he or she isn’t prepared and then tries to wing it,” said Ellis. “Being unprepared is inexcusable.”

Ellis cited an example of the apology made by BP CEO Tony Hayward during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Hayward concluded his apology by saying, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

“Few will remember (Hayward’s) apology, but everyone remembers those infamous last five words,” said Ellis. “They negated everything else he said.”

In a more recent example, United Airlines made the mistake of using the term “re-accommodate” when referring to the action the airline took in dragging a recalcitrant passenger off one its planes. “United lost $1.4 billion over that incident. They transport millions of people a year. They should have foreseen the risk and been prepared to respond appropriately,” said Ellis.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Ellis noted that the “media beast” must constantly be fed. To that end, he highly recommends creating a dark website that can be quickly engaged in a crisis, then reviewing and updating its content regularly. He also reminded workshop participants that an organization’s internal audiences can be either their greatest allies or worst enemies in a crisis, depending on how they are treated and kept informed.

“In a crisis, the best strategy is to always play offense and be out there telling a positive story,” he said. “By pointing your audience to what they perceive to be inside information, they’ll pay more attention to your side of the story.”

Celebration, Recognition…and a Little Dancing – PRSA-NCC’s Thoth Awards

By: Kelsey O’Planick, News Generation

The 49th Annual Thoth Awards Gala, PRSA-NCC’s premiere annual event, was a wonderful evening of networking, recognizing the strongest PR campaigns, and celebrating the Egyptian culture.

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The News Generation and American Psychological Association teams winning the Thoth Award in the Media Relations: Radio Campaign category.

Thoth, which is pronounced “tot,” is the ancient Egyptian god of communication. The Gala was held on Thursday, October 12, at the National Press Club. Some of the big winners include Hager Sharp, which won Best of Show, as well as Padilla, Coster Communications, Environics Communications, McCabe Message Partners, The Reis Group and Crosby Marketing Communications, just to name a few. A list of all of the winning entries can be found here.

The Gala kicked off with a traditional Egyptian dance from Mr. Mohamed Ali from Seven Egyptian Dance Troupe, included multiple videos of King Thoth (aka Danny Selnick) learning about PR in D.C., honored impressive campaigns, provided a wonderful meal, and inducted two Hall of Fame inductees, Carman Marsans and John Seng.

Guests also enjoyed a raffle, where they could enter to win items such as Apple Watches, Washington Redskins tickets, and an overnight stay in Alexandria, VA. Proceeds from the raffle benefitted the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, PRSA-NCC’s pro bono client.

Do you still have photos or stories to share about your experience at the Gala? Use the hashtag #Thoth2017.

Communications Can’t Cure the Current Chaos

Reflections on a thought leadership event.

by Samantha Villegas
Samantha Villegas, APR, is President of SaVi PR, and currently serves on the PRSA National Board of Directors. She was the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

I don’t know about you but as a communicator, my optimism is at an all-time low, and my cynicism is at an all-time high. Though fake news (or lies or propaganda or whatever phrase you prefer) is nothing new, it’s now being created and disseminated at rates and volumes beyond what we’ve ever experienced before. And thanks to today’s sharing technology, it proliferates at warp speed. Couple this with the apparent loss of respect for facts and science – scientific method and critical thinking – and what is a professional communicator to do? It seems we can’t win for trying.

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Courtesy: Pexels/Stokpic

The science, data, and peer-reviewed study behind such important issues as climate change, vaccinations, and gun violence, for example, is indisputable, and yet, here we are, every day, forced to engage in insidious conversations about whether sea levels have risen or fallen (they’ve risen); whether vaccinations cause autism (they don’t) and whether having more guns and easier access to them makes us safer (they don’t). Each one of those facts, whether someone likes them or not, can be definitively defended, because there is ample data, peer-reviewed studies and science to back them. I know them like I know hot food will burn my tongue and the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Despite that, people are disputing them, with points that are irrelevant, not fact-based or just wrong. And they dig in and stay put.

The scariest part is this behavior is not confined to a small group of naysayers or even only the uneducated. This behavior can be seen in Ivy League graduates, serving in some of our country’s highest leadership positions, who are using it as a tool to push political agendas. It’s used by leaders in business and government to relax regulations that were grounded in science and put in place to protect public health, just so they can pad profit. This adherence to misinformation and disinformation, whether involuntary due to ignorance or purposeful for politics, comes with tremendous consequences. It has me feeling a bit paralyzed, frankly, as if the only firm ground I’ve ever known has suddenly crumbled away.

So I was glad to have the chance, recently, to attend a panel discussion about fake news and its impact on journalism and the public relations profession. A lot of agreement on the state of things, and very sound advice for dealing with our new normal was offered, such as:

  • Use non-confrontational language, even when challenging those who present ideas based on false premises
  • Be advocates for teaching the next generation critical thinking skills, how to interpret, analyze and evaluate information
  • Invest in market research to understand your audience’s wants
  • Speak plainly and in an authentic voice
  • Don’t jump in without first understanding context and having a strategy
  • Keep messages short
  • Build partnerships and alliances rather than challenge misinformation, disinformation, lies and false “facts” alone
  • Be vigilant in advocating for truth in communications

This is all, undeniably great advice. But here’s the thing: all those bullets apply to any communications professional at any time in history. All of this represents some of the very basics of savvy communications. Granted, not all of us can practice all of this all of the time. Budgets get in the way of conducting meaningful research. Deadlines prevent us from building the critical partnerships. And sometimes, the arrogance of a decision-maker stops us from being able to say the exact right thing in the exact right way we should. I get it, we can’t always be on our game. But, if most of us are doing most of this, most of the time, how is this chaos still happening?

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Courtesy: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Someone on the panel said truth is now a differentiator. Truth, as a differentiator. Let that sink in for a second. On the one hand, I can’t contain my sheer despondence if that’s the case. And two, at a time when facts don’t matter and he who lies best wins, how does truth set you apart, let alone set you free? Whose truth? Which truth?

Fellow communicators, we’re facing the challenge of our careers right now. I don’t have any easy answers for you. Of course we must follow the panelists’ advice, as I hope you always have been. We shall endeavor to seek first to understand before being understood. We shall strategize first and write truthful pithy copy in snack sized bites, and we shall seek common ground and partnership with different minded but similarly missioned (or is it similarly minded but different missioned?) groups. We shall continue to do as I think we have all been endeavoring to do, with added vigor and purpose.

But please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t believe these approaches will cure what ails us.  So while I am grateful for the sage reminders, I don’t think these issues – this lack of critical thinking, self-control, or basic understanding of science, can be fixed by upping our communications game. We need to stay focused and bring our best every day, but I think we just need to let this stink bomb dissipate.

As one colleague put it so well, “The flames of emotion are being fanned at such an alarming rate that I have no sense of how to encourage critical thinking in so many people who form opinions about policy and events from tweets.”

Another I spoke to about this said she “fear[s] for what happens when too many among our citizens fail to reason rationally and logically, and fail to think independently,” and I couldn’t agree more.

So, we must do all these things the panel said. Do your best work. And bide your time, because we can’t change crazy but we can outlast it. I predict that in a few years, after another election cycle or two, we will look back at this and shake our heads. We may even get a chuckle. We will have volumes of remember whens and memes and footnotes and stories. And we will snap back to reality, where facts are facts, truth is truth, lies are lies, and love is love. At least I hope that’s what will happen. See you on the other side.

Enter Your Firm’s Best Work to Win a 2017 Thoth Award from PRSA-NCC

By: Jillian Cameron, News Generation, Inc.

The 48th Annual Thoth Awards, hosted by the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter, recognizes and celebrates outstanding strategic public relations programs and components created in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

Named for the Egyptian god of communication, the Thoth Awards (pronounced “tot”), is the National Capital Chapter of PRSA’s local version of the Silver Anvils. Previous winners include the National Education Association and Ogilvy Washington’s Bring Your Brave Campaign, among many others. The awards recognize work in public relations across 34 categories, ranging from public relations campaigns to tactics.

Entry to the 2017 Thoth Awards is open to both PRSA-NCC members and non-members, and will be open until Monday, June 24, 2017. But why should you apply to the 2017 Thoth Awards? As Raymond Crosby, President & CEO of Crosby Marketing Communications, puts it:

“The Thoth Awards are really worthwhile because the entries are judged by industry peers who know how to recognize great work that gets real results.  The greater Washington, DC region has a lot of high profile agencies and organizations that participate in this competition, so winning a Thoth says you’re the best of the best.”

This year’s Thoth Awards Gala will be held at the National Press Club on Thursday, October 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. Still not convinced the Thoth Awards are for you? Here are some more testimonials from leaders in the Greater Washington, D.C. area public relations community:

“The PRSA-NCC Chapter is the largest PRSA in the country. The communications work produced in the metropolitan D.C. area is national-caliber work. Therefore, to win a Thoth Award is truly a great honor.”

– Jeff Wilson, Vice President, Padilla

“At News Generation, personal interaction with our clients is a huge priority. Being a finalist for a Thoth Award is a great opportunity to invite your clients with whom you entered to spend the evening with you at the Gala. The recognition of being a finalist or a winner positions your client as a thought-leader in the industry in front of peers. It has been a great way for us to continue to grow our relationships with clients, and shows them that the value we are providing them is strong enough to be recognized on such a large scale.”

– Kelsey Pospisil O’Planick, News Generation, Inc.

“For me, as a federal government communicator, the Thoth Award was certainly about recognition, . but so much more, too. It was exhilarating and incredibly satisfying for the entire team at the US Department of Labor to not only “go up against” work done by major corporations, international PR firms and influential trade associations, but to actually win? That was amazing! I knew that our work was as good, or even better, than work done by more experienced and bigger (including budget) Washington area PR professionals. Winning a Thoth proved it. And it was an incomparable morale booster–team members walked a little straighter and held their head up a little higher for weeks after the award ceremony.

This part isn’t as glamourous or exciting, but I think it’s still very important: The application process is a very worthwhile endeavor. It is rigorous and time-consuming, there is no doubt about that. But it makes you think (and think hard); it makes you ask yourself tough questions about your program and its results; it makes you write, and rewrite and edit; and it forces you to defend your project. You can’t just say it was great, you have to prove it. Too often, we don’t have the time to “post mortem” a project (we’re on to the next crisis). Working on the Thoth application gives you an opportunity for serious reflection and professional introspection. Everybody needs to do more of that. Especially PR people!

There was an unexpected benefit of winning several Thoth Awards, as well as winning a PRSA Silver Anvil and Bronze Anvil: our shop became known as a real talent destination—and not just in the federal space, but throughout the Washington, DC public relations community. Recruiting talent became easier (and we attracted the truly best and brightest) because we were an award-winning shop, just as cool and creative and exciting as the boutique PR agency of the moment. The team was certainly proud of that, and applicants very much wanted to be a part of it.”

– Carl Fillichio, Weedmaps, formerly of U.S. Department of Labor

Back to Basics: Sticking to Change Management Fundamentals in Navigating Trump Administration

By Robert Krueger

Political polls and pundits led the public to believe that President Donald Trump had an unlikely chance of winning the General Election.  Not only were American citizens surprised by the news on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, but so were many leaders in the association, corporate, and nonprofit sectors. After spending months preparing and building relationships with potential appointees in a Hillary Clinton cabinet, these leaders were caught off guard and without plans for how to navigate an unpredicted set of policy and budget priorities in the Trump Administration.

170323-bIn a recent event hosted by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) entitled The Trump Era: How DC Communicators are Capitalizing on Change, panelists addressed how their communications teams are responding to unforeseen changes and how the current Administration’s new focus impacts their organization’s reputation, advocacy efforts, and communication goal strategies.

Greg Staley, senior vice president of communications for the U.S. Travel Association, noted that despite the quick shift in planned messaging, his organization approaches the Trump Administration the same as they would approach any change in Administration. His association is focusing on educating the new Adminstration on the importance of travel industry to the overall U.S. economy.

This same point was echoed by panelist Jamie Hennigan. As Vice President of Strategic Communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, Hennigan said that a big focus of their messaging strategy is to educate Trump officials about the makeup of today’s manufacturing workforce. Contrary to the type of manufacturing job that the Administration has been speaking about in the first 100 days, the traditional manual factory floor laborer, characteristic of Rust Belt cities in the mid-1900s, has not been growing over the past three decades. Instead, the manufacturing sector is now extremely diverse and its workforce skews young.

“It is also important to remember that we also elected new members of Congress, so it involves educating them as well and getting them up to speed. As with every new President, we look to build new bridges and we expect everything to be just fine,” Staley added.

When asked about what have been the biggest changes to their communications role since Trump’s inauguration, panelists reported expanded roles and involvement with overall strategy.  According to Hennigan, his communications team is focused more on recruiting digital-first talent due to their increased importance within the organization.  Members of his team are now regularly at the table for any policy decision since any external communication, including a simple email to members, can potentially turn into a bad situation if not careful with messaging.

“I am now part of meetings that I have never been part of before,” said Michael McManus, vice president of corporate communications and government affairs for Asia Pulp and Paper. “I am now part of expansion and investment meetings, among others. If you are in the market, organizations are looking for people with expertise in government relations and communications to provide them with information and sound advice.”