Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks


So here’s the challenge: could someone who has provided media training for 30 years learn more about it? Yes, they can.

At the IPRA October lunch program, Chryssa Zizos, Live Wire Media Relations, LLC, provided 45 lunch attendees with a “train the trainers” media training workshop. Chyrssa has trained member of Congress, CEOs and a president (yes, of the U.S.).With a direct and humorous style punctuated by anecdotes, Chyrssa shared the following information.

The five sections of media training are messaging, preparing the client, training the client to look the part, prepping the client to use body language to their advantage, and creating a strong concluding statement.

According to Chryssa, people try and make messaging complicated but it’s really about these three questions: “Who are you?” “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing it?” The answers to these questions form the basis for your key messages.

To determine whether your story is newsworthy, think about FUBO–is your story First, Unique, Best and/or Only. If the story contains these elements, it’s newsworthy. Once you finish messaging and determining whether your story is news, you are ready to media train your client.

Chryssa starts her training by putting her clients into a “tailspin”–hitting them with hard questions and poking holes in their answers. The remainder of her media training prepares the client to handle a tough interview. She uses two journalists in her training–they help grill the client and one journalist writes an article off the trainee interview, while the other reporter critiques the client. The journalist’s critique includes whether the client spoke clearly, provided anecdotes that rang true, and how the client’s words would look in quotes.

During the training Chyrssa stressed that the most important thing to impart to your trainees is that nothing is off the record. If it’s off the record, just don’t say it.

Another helpful hint–the fastest way to kill a story is to have your client say to the reporter, “You know three reporters have asked me that, but no one has asked about this yet.”

Here are a few more pointers:

  • Encourage the trainee to be 100 percent his/herself
  • Leverage the passion your client has for their subject and use it to their advantage
  • Have your client use notes for radio and print interviews.

Good interviews are where the interviewee has confidence, knows the content, is organized and has the skills to respond to the journalist clearly and directly. And as PR professionals, we can help our media trainees be their best and represent their organization to the media in a positive way resulting in great press.


Sheri Singer, Singer Communications, PRSA-NCC Board of Directors member, IPRA Board of Directors member.


Thoughts On Our Profession, Past and Future

Judy Phair, president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC and a former president of PRSA National, was inducted into the National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame on September 18 during the annual Thoth Awards Gala. Below is an excerpt from her acceptance speech. She can be reached via Twitter and LinkedInAJ4A1052-2775787939-O

The National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame is one of the most esteemed in our profession, and I want to express my deep and heartfelt thanks for this honor.  With your permission, I’d like to take just a few minutes this evening to share some thoughts on our profession, past and future.

The members of the Hall of Fame have inspired me with their accomplishments, their integrity, and their advocacy for our profession.  Looking at their names leads me to reflect on what a difference their accomplishments and those of many others in our profession have made – and how much more there is to do.  Here are a few examples:

Equality and diversity – As a woman who was a teenager in the Mad Men era, I benefitted from wonderful parents who instilled in me the belief that it was possible to pursue and succeed in the career of my choice.  That was very different from the experience of many of my friends.

Bill Novelli Judy Phair Samantha VillegasWomen have come a long way since then, but, while there are more women than ever in our profession, they are still scarce at the very highest levels – and continue to make less money than their male peers.  Ironically, while men may predominate at the highest levels, fewer and fewer men are entering our profession – and that’s not good, either.

In addition, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans are underrepresented – and we suffer from it.  So, we also have some work to do in this area.

  • We must all be ambassadors for our profession – I think the reputation of public relations – our brand, if you will – has improved. However, I still hear the term spin-doctor more than any of us would like.  All of you in this room have helped build a better reputation—and will do so in the future.

PRSA offers us one important way to work together for our profession.  Like so many in my generation, I came to public relations from journalism. I’m not sure that I really knew much about the profession then, but I quickly fell in love with public relations and its potential to make a positive difference.

I connected with PRSA, and found a special community of others who shared my passion for our profession.  I believe even more today than I did then that this is indeed a higher calling.

PRSA has helped me advance my career, work with an incredibly talented group of colleagues, and learn the joy of mentoring others.  I’ve also come to understand that recognizing what you don’t know is always more important than what you do know.  Education is a lifelong process.

  • Every one of us must speak up when the practice of public relations is misused and work tirelessly for the highest standards of ethics and excellence in our profession.   In today’s fast-paced world, where information – accurate and inaccurate, beneficial and harmful – can circle the globe in seconds, we must conduct our work in an environment defined by ethics and excellence.  It is crucial to economic progress and human rights.
  • I hear a lot about how much public relations is changing, but I wonder – it seems to me the technology and the tools may be different, but some things remain the same. Developing an effective strategy, based on research and understanding, remains at the core of our craft.  And no matter what technology we use, relationships – built on trust — are the currency of public relations.

We must effect and enhance all communication – whether it’s a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, an op ed, a You Tube video — in an atmosphere of respect and trust for our audiences.

  • We are an increasingly global profession.  Some of my most exciting work in the past 15 years has involved learning about new cultures such as India and China – and also learning that the same basic tenets apply to effective communication in these regions.

You can’t communicate if you don’t take the time to know and understand your audiences. For example, in helping some colleges in the Midwest attract more students from India, we did some research that reinforced some pretty basic principles:

  • Personal contact is more valuable than electronic outreach
  • Generic doesn’t work
  • Messages need to be targeted for specific audiences and cultures
  • And, authenticity and transparency are non-negotiable.

Whether in Mumbai or Baltimore, the audiences we are trying to reach want to be served, not sold – involved, not told.

  • A few other observations:
    • If I were entering the profession today, I’d grab every international opportunity I could – we really are in a global marketplace.
    • I’d be sure I knew sound business principles and practices – we need to speak the language of our employers in order to effectively communicate with them.
    • And if I were just starting out I’d probably be a whole lot better at touchscreens than I am today.  When you begin your career with a typewriter, it’s hard to get over the need to pound those keys!
    • Finally, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that no one succeeds on his or her own.  Each of us owes so many others for what we are able to accomplish, and I strongly believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to our profession – through volunteer work in PRSA and other organizations, through mentoring, through sharing our passion, our knowledge, and our connections.

In fact, becoming a member of the Hall of Fame makes me feel that I have an added responsibility to work harder for our profession, and to help future leaders achieve their dreams.  Our daily work offers us all an opportunity to make a difference.  I hope that we all grab that opportunity.

Whether Student or PR Pro, Fall = Change

By: Jennifer Schleman, APR

Crispness has filled the air and soon leaves will begin to fall. Whether you are a student or not, fall signals change – shorter days, cooler evenings and a quicker pace than those dog days of August.

PRSA-NCC has a variety of ways for both students and professionals to get involved. For students, the best way to connect with other public relations students and professionals is by joining your local Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. In the Washington, DC region, five universities have PRSSA chapters.

  1. American University, Facebook page and website, describes its AU PRSSA chapter as “dedicated to bringing advertising, public relations, marketing and communication students together professionally and socially.” Members help plan chapter events, hold conference fundraisers and “start building their career while still in school.”
  2. George Mason University, Facebook page and website, has a mission to “serve our members by enhancing their knowledge of public relations and providing access to professional development opportunities.” Students not only participate in professional development programs but also can volunteer for chapter committees and other events.
  3. Hood College, Facebook page, located in Frederick, Md., is the “youngest” of the PRSSA chapters in the Washington area and is housed in the College’s Integrated Marketing and Communications Programs. The chapter offers students “practical and professional contacts and experiences … (and) opportunities for leadership within this organization.”
  4. Howard University, Facebook page, is home to the D. Parke Gibson Chapter of PRSSA. Founded in 1985, the chapter describes itself as a “pre-professional student run organization with more than 200 members across the nation.” Named after D. Parke Gibson, a pioneer in multicultural public relations as well as the founder of the first black-owned PR firm, D. Parke Gibson International, in New York, the chapter is located within the John H. Johnson School of Communications (JHJSOC) at Howard and was the first Historically Black College or University chapter within PRSSA.
  5. University of Maryland, College Park, Facebook page and website, gives students the opportunity to network with each other and with professionals in the DC region. According to their website, the chapter “develops several events throughout the year to connect students with exciting opportunities in the field of public relations.” This includes annual tours of some of the largest public relations firms in Washington.

And if you are a professional looking for a way to give back to future public relations professionals, join us on the PRSA-NCC University Relations Committee! The Committee is looking for volunteers to act as liaisons to the local university PRSSA chapters listed above to help mentor students and provide counsel on their chapters’ programming and other activities. If you are interested in joining the committee, please contact me. And don’t forget to like the University Relations Committee Facebook page!

Jennifer Schleman, APR, is co-chair of the PRSA-NCC University Relations Committee and a PRSA-NCC Board Member. She is the senior associate director of media relations for the American Hospital Association.

Unexpected Combinations Can Yield an Increase in Favorable Results

By Tiffany K. Bain

Watching Food Network Channel’s reality competition show “Chopped” often makes me recall how diversity in a team setting can increase productivity and creativity.

Before you give me the “what is she talking about?” look, just give it a second thought.

On “Chopped,” the show’s host presents chefs with four seemingly unfitting ingredients, and the judges expect the contestants to prepare a tasty, palatable, and an enjoyable dish. These ingredients could be fish, cereal, zucchini, and bread-in-a-can – all in one ingredient basket.

Sounds unappetizing, right? However, the best chef knows how to incorporate the best aspects of each ingredient to prepare a cohesive and appetizing dish, which alters the mindset of the world’s most accomplished chefs and makes them want more.

The same concept could be applied your team, and your team could also yield the same favorable results.

In fact, L’Oreal, one of the world’s most successful and profitable cosmetic companies, uses this concept in its global business practices, and it works well. L’Oreal understands and values that not only does diversity lie in how different people look, but it also lies in people’s varying life experiences. L’Oreal and its managers also know how to highlight the best aspects of their diverse teams to promote its brand, product, and message, so that it resonates with its targeted audiences.

According to an August 2013 Forbes article, the author commented on how multicultural managers at L’Oreal outpace its “monocultural” competitors in many ways. For example, L’Oreal encourages, enhances, and embraces its company’s diversity, which allows its multicultural team members’ to play these five important roles:

  1. Making creative associations and drawing analogies between geographical markets, allowing L’Oreal to develop global products and build global brands while remaining sensitive to local market differences.
  2. Interpreting complex knowledge – i.e. tacit, collective and culture-dependent, hence impossible to simply “explain”_ across cultures and contexts, an essential skill when marketing products like cosmetics, where much of understanding is tacit and culture-dependent.
  3. Anticipating cross-cultural conflicts, and addressing them, something critical to the effectiveness of global teams.
  4. Integrating new team members from different cultures into teams that quickly develop their own norms of interaction and a strong “in or out” identity, making joining the team once it has been in existence for a while particularly difficult.
  5. Mediating the relationship between global teams, with a high level of cultural diversity among their members, and the senior executives they report to, or their interaction with local subsidiary staff they collaborate with, who are usually monocultural.

Making the best of unlikely combinations might seem like a daunting task at first. However, similar to “Chopped” and L’Oreal, once you know how to appreciate and accentuate the uniqueness of what each ingredient or team member brings to the table, it is possible to yield favorable and long-lasting results.


Tiffany K. Bain is a member of the Diversity/Multicultural Committee for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter. Outside of PRSA-NCC, she holds several roles. Tiffany is a political communication graduate student at American University, a government affairs intern for Net Communications, and a research associate for the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. Tiffany earned a Bachelor of Science in public relations, summa cum laude, from Florida A&M University, where she also served as the university’s PRSSA chapter president and public relations director. Follow her on Twitter at @tbain2.  


Finding Balance: Stress Management Techniques for the PR Professional

MeditationWe are often known as “Type A” personalities and even workaholics to our families and friends; and when our smart phone is more than an arm length away, we feel we are somehow disconnected. We have mastered the art of walking and emailing an executive or reporter at the same time, while planning PR strategy in our heads. Consequently, the list of tasks being added to our plates has only increased with the growth of social media, along with the widespread changes in the media landscape.

In the Forbes report earlier this year of “Most Stressful Jobs,” the public relations executive was listed as number five in their top ten.  Forbes noted the high demands of the position and the constant rejection and lack of appreciation as attributed factors to the placement of PR in this not-to-be-touted list. Is it any wonder that PR professionals are not usually known for their best practices in relaxation? And yet, with the ethical commitment of our profession to our client(s) and the public good combined with the important responsibilities in our day-to-day work, there is a great case to be made for the need to de-stress. With that, here are some proven strategies to bring some much-needed balance into your life.

1) Health & Fitness First

We can only do our best, when we are at our best; and that means taking better care of your health. There are many easy ways to start to increase self-care. For instance, simple things like taking vitamins are often the last thing on your mind. Keeping your daily regimen of vitamins – that keep your immune system strong – in a handy travel pill case and taking them when you eat lunch is a simple thing once you are in a routine. Likewise, we often are too tired or time-crunched to work out, but I’ve found no energizing equivalent – that can also reset my mind with fresh ideas or perspective – to a good swim, run, or yoga session. Find the time of day and exercise that works for you and start exercising regularly. You won’t regret it, and your body will thank you.

2) You Are What You Eat

Smart meal choices – buying healthy meals instead of junk food (yes, we have all raided the snack machines at lunchtime because we were pressed for time) and bringing them to work – will help us to fuel our day properly and keep us going strong through the onslaught of meetings. We PR pros are notorious for skipping lunch, but your empty stomach will cost you in productivity. My most successful weeks are energized by leftovers I eat throughout the week from a large, healthy meal I’ve prepared at home; or simply choosing to go buy a salad instead of making a beeline for the vending machine.

3) Stilling the Mind

Meditation has received a large following, thanks in part to the wave of support by none other than Oprah herself. And there is plenty of research to back up her claims on the benefits she and her staff have received through regular practice. Meditation is now considered a “complementary and alternative” medical treatment by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Even more important, in a survey by Massachusetts General, researchers discovered that regular meditators had greater sensory perception and ability to process information over their non-meditating counterparts; that’s right, bigger brains! While I have meditated off and on over many years, I decided to implement a regimen in my life almost two years ago, and it has made a difference in how I show up in the rest of my life. Every morning and night, my meditation time is my own time to grow quiet and still, allowing the thoughts and worries of the day to dissolve into nothing. Relaxation ensues and a calm focus comes to my day, and I sleep better at night. There are many forms of meditation, and guided meditation is best for the beginner. Find the one that works for you and embrace this gift that keeps on giving.

4) Schedule Fun Time

Author Running

Author enjoying one of her favorite de-stress activities, running

As hokey as it may sound, we all live by our Outlook calendars, and if something is not in a time slot, it does not exist. I typically take a look ahead at my week on Sunday and schedule time for activities I enjoy; coffee or brunch with a friend, a movie night at the local theater, or even a day hike on the weekend. Our list of things-to-do is long and we are not given much room for error in our demanding PR jobs, but the ordinary act of having fun increases our overall joy and enthusiasm for our lives. It’s a proven fact that the simple act of smiling can make you feel happier, and creating more opportunities for you to smile, will only increase your ability to perform positively in your workplace.

You might be shaking your head because you have heard all four stress management techniques above before and immediately think “I don’t have time for all that.” Consider this before you decide. If you do not have time to take care of yourself and enjoy your life with your workload and other life responsibilities, you certainly do not have time to be sick, and stress is often connected with sickness, headaches, and increased irritability (Mayo Clinic). If you still don’t think you have time to implement one or more of these tips, I would simply ask, what might you lose by trying? Just give it two weeks and try one, or even all of the above, and see how it affects your stress levels and your workload. My bet is that a “less-stressed you” will make an even more successful PR professional.

Sultana F. Ali, APR is a corporate communicator for a leading technology/e-commerce company with more than 8 years of agency experience prior to serving as an in-house PR counsel. She serves on the PRSA-NCC board of directors as the liaison to the diversity committee. Sultana holds a master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations from The George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in International Business Marketing from the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration. She has served as a mentor in the public schools as well as to other young women in the PR field and volunteers for a number of DC-based non-profit organizations.

A Neat App to Help Us Act Ethically and Carry On!

PRSA Mobile App

September is ethics month at PRSA. Every September we are asked to think about what ethics means and to participate in activities designed to inform and educate us about PR issues in the field.

This is a good thing. We work in a field that is entrusted with developing and maintaining relationships between our organizations and their stakeholders. It is a sensitive position, bound by concepts of trust and responsibility to do the right thing. Relationships, after all, are based on trust, and trust, which is hard to earn in the first place, is too easily lost by unethical behavior.

Many of you know that I do not think once-a-year training in ethics is enough. In my experience, ethical issues don’t usually smack us in the face and announce their presence with a note to check out the ethics pages at PRSA. Rather, they build slowly over time. Little things that we let slide, or just don’t think about, eventually grow to become big things. And then they smack us!

To really deliver for our clients, leaders and managers, we need to be thinking about ethics all the time and weighing the impact of organizational decisions against our professional standards.  But who’s got the time? PRSA offers a variety of tools to help you. If you follow my quarterly musing on the PRSA-NCC blog, I’ve been taking you on a tour of the PRSA Code of Ethics.

This quarter, I’m going to take a little detour from my tour and introduce a neat little app that can help you keep ethics on your mind all the time.

The app, developed by PRSA, in partnership with MSLGROUP, has a distinctive “PRSA Ethics” icon that looks good on your mobile device and can serve as a daily reminder to “think ethics” every time you use your smartphone.

The home page (displayed above) welcomes you to a well designed and easy to navigate app that allows you to quickly (and painlessly) check up what our Code of Ethics has to say about a variety of situations.

A quick touch of the “Professional Values” button will provide you with insight into our values of advocacy, honesty, independence, loyalty and fairness, and “provisions of conduct,” such as being honest and accurate in all communications, revealing the sponsors of interests represented, safeguarding client confidences and avoiding conflicts of interest. Topics I discussed in my June blog.

The “Code Provisions” button provides insight into what I think is the real meat of our Code of Ethics. Here you find the core principles upon which our Code of Ethics is based: free flow of information, competition, disclosure of information, safeguarding confidences, conflicts of interest, and enhancing the profession.

You can also check into the PRSAY ethics blog, take an ethics quiz, look into the latest professional standards advisories, and send an email PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), the committee responsible for developing recommending refinements to PRSA’s ethical standards.

PRSA Chair and CEO Mickey G. Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, says,  “The app will give professionals at all levels, who are committed to upholding the principles of ethical communications, easy access to real-time guidance to know that what they’re doing is right and, if they face questions, the support they need to justify their counsel…”

This little app goes a long way to making ethics awareness an everyday activity. Please download it and take it for a spin. I hope you find it as easy to use and as valuable as I do.


Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchmarovitz.

It’s About the Clients, Stupid

MonsterBy Peter V. Stanton

With the announcement of the Publicis-Omnicom merger, the first thought that comes to mind is “What about the clients?”

That does not seem to be the first thought in the minds of either CEO.  Maurice Levy of Publicis stated blandly that “…size will matter.” Omnicom chief executive John Wren said the merger would enable the new behemoth to “…leverage [my emphasis] a tremendous roster of global and local clients.”

What neither said was that the two-headed monster would be better able to “serve” its clients, or that the resulting conflicts were in any way beneficial to those clients.  Fundamentally, this is a bad deal for clients of both firms and a breach of the faith they entrusted in the individual firms at the time each was retained.

Whether it is advertising, marketing, public relations or anything else that falls within the broad definition of communications these days, what really occurs when a client engages a firm is that a relationship of trust is established.  The client trusts that the agency will share its business objectives and apply its best talent, creativity and energy to the realization of those goals.  After more than 30 years in the agency business, I have never known a client relationship to be about anything else.

Sure, clients want the work done economically and they want to know their firm has the resources to do the job in an efficient and creative fashion.  And surely on the ad side, there is the imperative to secure the best rates.  But in the end, it inevitably comes down to whether the client and the agency share the same priorities.

With Coke and Pepsi now under the same roof, how can that be so?  Of course: the new firm will claim that separate account teams and firewalls will ensure the integrity of the work.  Were this the merger of two law firms, one representing a plaintiff and the other a defendant, would that claim hold water?  It will not in this case either. That has been the fundamental flaw in the holding company model since its inception.  Not everyone has turned a blind eye.

At a recent meeting in Cracow of public relations agency heads from more than a dozen different nations, the common emphasis was on the importance of independence.   At a time in our industry when it seems every firm is somehow owned or allied with one of the global holding companies, there remains a strong commitment to independence and a view of its inherent value for clients.

The independents care about one thing – clients.  They mount fierce battles to win business against the global monoliths that increasingly are chasing smaller budgets in their desperate pursuit of growth.  Once independents win those clients, the quality of the work and the integrity of the service take over.  Within the independents, you still hear professionals discuss the “craft” of public relations or communications.  The independents dedicate senior professionals to every client engagement and not just to the sales presentation.  A firm president I admire stated recently that he has no interest in growing his business above a certain level because he believes only at a fairly modest scale can he assure clients the attention and care that is his hallmark.  Imagine the wrath that would befall a mega-agency head who set the firm’s business model at “small and client-centric” versus “growth-oriented.”

The requirement to meet shareholder forecasts leads to another major problem the global one-stops prefer you ignore.  Clients that have used the multi-nationals report an innate tension between their priorities and those of holding company shareholders.   The latter seek strong quarterly returns, while the former require a longer-term horizon.  Independents understand the periodic need to accept budget limitations or reductions from clients even as programs for those clients continue apace.  The emphasis in the independent firms is on long-term partnerships rather than short-term budget achievements.

In a field whose very name references relations, it is the relationships of trust between clients and agencies that matter most and produce the best results.  When those relationships are fostered, great things happen.  When they are subsumed to the interests of “size” and “leverage,” clients lose.

A presidential campaign was won in recent history on the basic statement, “It’s about the economy stupid.”  The campaign for the future of the communication profession might easily paraphrase that slogan in light of the Publicis-Omnicom merger.

Peter V. Stanton is the President and CEO of Washington, DC-based Stanton Communications. This blog entry originally appeared in his firm’s The Strategy Room Blog . Peter is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and its distinguished Counselors Academy. He has served on PRSA’s continuing education faculty. He is published on the practice and principles of effective communications. He is a member of The National Press Club and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Loyola University in Baltimore. You can reach him though the Stanton Communications website and through Twitter.