PRSA-NCC Members Experience VIP Tour of Pentagon’s Press Operations

By Bonnie Piper, co-chair of the Public Affairs Committee

img_1787Twenty chapter members had the privilege of an all-access behind the scenes tour of the press operations at Pentagon, the headquarters of the Department of Defense. PRSA-NCC member Patrick L. Evans, Defense Department Spokesperson for the office of the Secretary of Defense led the VIP tour.

Reporters know the Pentagon as a “shoe-leather beat” because you walk everywhere in the Pentagon.That walking exercise translates to covering corridors that total 17.5 miles and a building footprint as large as 34 acres.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, Director of the DOD Press Office introduced the PRSA-NCC members to the DOD Press Briefing Room. So much is going on in the Pentagon that there is a resident press crew of 40 different bureaus plus an additional 250 credentialed reporters who cover the Pentagon and military issues. He estimates the DOD press office is the most accessible office than any other Executive Branch agency.

img_1797Social media has stepped up the pace of reporting – a tweet drives news, and it’s hard to prove the negative. His deputy director, Tara Rigler, described a typical day for a DOD press officer that begins at 5:00 am by reviewing email news service (from bases around the world), then contacting various DOD offices at the Pentagon or abroad to clarify information and then develop talking points. There are 25 press officers who cover a broad spectrum of knowledge and each has continuity with one account. In addition, there is an Office of Digital News headed by a political appointee.
The DOD Press office is a very different place since 9/11. Before 9/11, the Pentagon was downsizing, there was no digital media, no social media, no Facebook, and cell phones were new. The press office had more control – reporters had to come into the Pentagon to get news. Since 9/11, everyone now has cell phones and Facebook pages and people share news; social media has changed everything.

Is everything on the record? There are ground rules that must be followed, to include giving background for context or to help a reporter understand a technical point. After the tour, the group moved on to Sine Irish Pub and Restaurant for happy hour.

The event was organized by Bonnie Piper and John Scally of the Public Affairs and Government committee.

Reporters to PR Pros: ‘Give me Real People, Not Guys in Ties’

by Robert V. Krueger, senior director, public relations & social media at ULI – Urban Land Institute


Left to Right: Bob Cusack, Aaron Cohen, Sultana Ali, Paul Page, Kellie Mejdrich, Alison Kodjak, Derek McGinty.

Public relations professionals deal with journalists on a daily basis, but no matter the years of practice, you can still have a hard time getting your organization’s spokespeople placed in a news story. To compound the complexity of the public relations profession, the past election has challenged notions of how the media works with sources.

A recent media workshop panel, hosted by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC), addressed questions of relationship building with reporters and how to take advantage of news cycles. The consensus of the panel for securing placement: Bring your story into the real world by showing “real people.”

Derek McGinty, host of The Diane Rehm Show and former anchor for WUSA9-TV, said that the past election showed us that people vote with their hearts, not their heads. McGinty and other panelists emphasized that audiences respond to individual stories from real people, versus an official statement from an organization.

Public relations professionals naturally include a statement from a CEO or leader in their issued press release and pitch to reporters. But reporters want their stories. In order to justify researching a story, they first need to talk to someone who is impacted by the claims that your organization is saying. They need to have a position brought to life through a personal story.

“It can be difficult for public relations professionals to understand that we don’t want to do a story about you,” said Alison Kodjak, health policy correspondent at NPR. “But if you can bring us an angle and make our story richer, we will likely mention you. So with your pitch, always say we can get you real people who can speak to this topic.”

Paul Page, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Logistics Report, The Wall Street Journal, said that he gets many pitches reiterating an organization’s already well-established position on an issue. However, his readers prefer specifics over a cliché commentary.

“If you are pitching a new stance on a policy, for example, get the real people who are involved,” he said. “Find the Iowa farmer who is impacted by certain farm policies or the Kentucky barge operator. Audiences need to see the policy in play.”

prsaphoto2But public relations professionals also must be careful when assembling their media kits for a pitch. Kellie Mejdrich, appropriations and budget reporter at CQ Roll Call, warned that when quotes from real people are included in a pitch, they are hard to verify and could prove useless to a story.

“I don’t want to be sent a quote from a real person since there is now way to determine whether it is truly from that person,” said Mejdrich. “We prefer to get an actual person on the phone or in front of a camera.”

McGinty added, “Before you pitch a story, make sure you have somebody ready who is willing to talk. In television, we use to have a saying that we don’t want ‘guys in ties’ as part of our coverage. A story is not a story unless you connect it to the real world.”

Volunteering to Build your Network and your Resume

Katelynn Wiggins is the assistant director of Staff Initiatives at the American Psychological Association and the co-chair of the PRSA-NCC New Professionals committee. She was the recipient of the PRSA-NCC 2015 Young Professional Award.

Volunteering for your local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America is one of – if not the – best ways to build your professional network and your resume. Not only is it a means to support the profession, but there is immense value in the relationships as well.

Being a volunteer provides the opportunity to build strong, lasting connections with chapter members and leadership. In a world where relationships are king, these connections can lead to a fortified and long-lasting network. Volunteering is just the beginning of getting involved in the chapter. For example, I started out as a committee volunteer in 2014, was recruited to be a committee co-chair and was elected as a chapter delegate in 2015 and will be on the board in 2017.

There are a number of committees looking for volunteers to work events, draft ad copy and secure space, among other things. Helping out at the committee-level can open you up to learn or refine skills to build your resume. Don’t be afraid to get involved. There are opportunities available that fit any schedule or skill level. Trust me, the rewards are worth it!



How You Can Achieve With Your Communications Campaign by Adopting the PESO Model

By Ailis Wolf


From left to right: Tyler Suiters, Tara Dunion, Robert Krueger, Dan Higgins, and Sultana Ali.

PR professionals have long seen the need to develop skills traditionally part of the marketing and advertising space. And all communications professionals have been aware of the power of integrating social media as part of a good communications plan.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee hosted, “The PESO Model: Success Requires Communicators Now Adopt a Paid, Earned, Shared & Owned Strategy.” Moderated by the Urban Land Institute’s Robert Krueger, panelists Dan Higgins, director of social and content marketing for the PlowShare Group, Tara Dunion, director of media relations for AARP and the AARP Foundation, and Tyler Suiters, vice president of communications for the Consumer Technology Association discussed how using the PESO model has allowed them to achieve high-impact results for their organizations and clients.

Dunion started by sharing a recent challenge the AARP Foundation faced – recruiting enough volunteers to pack 1.5 million meals for needy seniors across the Washington, D.C. region in one day and obtaining media and social media coverage of the event. They focused paid efforts on volunteer recruitment and included a bus wrap, ads on Pandora and some other social media, and a paid media partnership with NBC4. The media partnership with NBC4 included a social media takeover and, although paid partnerships don’t promise media coverage, this one generated earned coverage on NBC4. A story also ran on the front page of the Metro section of The Washington Post and Lindsey Mastis from ABC7 also did a Facebook Live at the event. The social media promotion ended up helping them reach 3.17 million people and meet their goal of 1.5 million meals for needy seniors.

Higgins presented next and first introduced the five principles everyone needs to keep in mind when employing a PESO strategy –

  • Attention economy – Audience attention is scarce, since people have so many choices about what and how they consume information. Individuals determine what they want to see based on ease of use and we need to keep that in mind.
  • Data – PR professionals may not need to do a deep dive but do need to know the basics about how to attribute campaign success with data.
  • Audience at scale – Know how to reach your audience with paid media – targeting is key.
  • Fragmentation versus convergence – Although there is a fragmentation of media sources, there has also been a convergence. You can put information out on various social media platforms and pitch to traditional media and it can be complementary.
  • Evolved content system – Keep in mind you want your content to last longer to be seen by more people. Users come to content from various sources so look at how to optimize everything, from content on your own website to ads you place elsewhere to social media, to keep users in contact with your content longer.

Suiters said there are three questions you should always ask before engagement to guide your strategy:

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What’s your narrative?
  • Which is your platform?

At CTA, Suiters said they start by doing a deep dive into the data to understand their audience. They look at demographic data to determine what platform is best to reach the audience they are targeting and consider who is most likely to take action, if that is part of their campaign. For a ports campaign encouraging supporters to write their elected officials, CTA pulled news stories about a slowdown at West Coast ports and assembled them into a video, which they pushed out on social media. They ended up with 3,000 messages being sent to 100 senators, 424 representatives and 900+ emails going to the White House.

A key takeaway from the Q&A that followed backed up what Suiters said about understanding your audience being the first thing to do when planning a communications strategy. Higgins stated it’s about getting to the right people at the right time but it’s also about considering all of the platforms and whether your audience uses them and how they interact with each. Suiters told the audience to make it as easy as possible for the audience to get to your content, stay with it, and share it.

Krueger asked the panelists how to convince nonprofits to put money towards campaigns when there are limited resources, even if you are operating within one. Dunion responded by suggesting minimum funding towards the right paid tactics with proper targeting can go a long way, particularly in the crowded marketplace of social media. Suiters suggested using data to show how a particular strategy or tactic can deliver results for the audience you want to reach.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit

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.