Hall of Fame Inductee Calls PR Leaders to Seek Diversity; Offers Advice to Career Minded Professionals

Debra Silimeo, executive vice president of Hager Sharp, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others during the Thoth Awards Gala, Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from her acceptance speech.

It’s humbling to be part of this prestigious group of PR professionals. Thank you PRSA, Hall Of Fame committee, and all of the people who have been part of my village throughout my journey.Silimeo Photo

You can’t put a news story on the air, pass legislation, or build a successful PR firm without a strong team. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people…talented journalists, passionate public policy advocates, really cool clients, and of course – the mission driven rock stars at Hager Sharp!

I learned a lot about defying stereotypes and giving back from one of my real life role models and mentors – the late Susan Hager. She founded Hager Sharp in 1973 – when very few women ran businesses- with the specific mission of working with clients who want to make the world a better place. She lived the mission, and she always found time to help other women succeed.

As communicators we’re always trying to engage an increasingly diverse population. So we need that same diversity of thought and creativity at the table. By diversity, I mean gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

That’s not just the right thing to do – it’s good business. In order to reach people where they live, you need to GET where they live.

So tonight I’d like to call on our PR leaders…please take a look at your teams – especially your leadership teams. If you don’t have a diverse team – find the right people. I mean, look around, there’s a lot of talent right here in this room.

If you don’t have woman or person of color on your board of directors…that’s a problem and you should fix it – and you will benefit from it.

It’s great to work in a field where you can be constantly challenged by change, and get JOY and meaning from your work.

If you’re going to spend the better part of your life working, it should be something that gives you  JOY …and that makes a positive difference.

They asked me to share some advice for young professionals – so here are some other things that I believe matter:

  • Stay curious. Stay on top of the constant changes in our industry // and on the issues that affect your client’s world. Keep your clients larger goals in mind.
  • If you do that, you can be a strategist, not just an order taker.
  • Learn the business of PR – this will make you a better manager and help you get that seat at the leadership table.
  • Be ethical. Your reputation is far more important that your job title.
  • Don’t chase all the shiny new objects. Understand them, but at the end of the day, our business is really about people and relationships.
  • Respect your power. I’ve had chance to work with a lot of powerful people. I don’t mean just presidents & members of congress – I mean all of the staff people behind the scenes – the great people at HS – and ALL of YOU in this room, YOU have power.
  • You have: Power to inform people, persuade them, motivate them to eat healthy, get educated, give back, make the world better. Use your power wisely.

And always say thank you. Thank you. Very much.

Networking Elevated My Career

By: Kate Jones

Katharine JonesNetworking, in our industry and especially in this city is standard. It is just as important as knowing how to write a great press release or pitch the media.

How did I grow my network? At first I didn’t really have one. I wasn’t working in D.C., making it that much more difficult to really commit to building my network. However, I knew that to grow professionally and personally I needed to put myself out there. I attended PRSA events monthly and joined the membership committee to elevate my involvement.

While attending a PRSA Young Professional and New Membership networking social, I met and became great friends with a fellow PRSA member. This connection not only developed into a great friendship but also led me to my current employment position.

By networking with industry professionals you inevitably meet peers or mentors that influence your career journey. PRSA networking events are more than chatting and a good cocktail. They are the spark to creating long-term friendships and professional relationships that elevate your experiences and career.

So when you’re super busy or tired or just not in the mood to socialize, just remember that all PR professionals need a strong network to grow.


Learn more about PRSA Membership

PR Diversity Education Summit in D.C. Oct. 10

Dating back more than a decade, the Public Relations Society of America has not shied away from the issue of diversity in the public relations field; committees and initiatives date back to the 1990s.

But in a recent issue of PR Journal, which focused on a wide range of diversity issues from race to age to sexual orientation, one point was clear: “Despite these important efforts to address diversity in public relations, more work remains to be done,” wrote guest editor Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, APR.

Public relations agencies have responded to criticism for their lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at senior management levels by putting a greater focus on recruitment a more diverse pool of talent. But what role does and should higher education play in developing the talent that feeds into that pipeline?

This topic will be the focus of the Diversity Education Summit in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10, 1-5 p.m., at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, co-hosted by San Diego State University and the PRSA Foundation.

The event kicks-off with a keynote address by Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, professor and chair of the Public Relations Department at Syracuse University. Then, the summit offers two panels featuring speakers who are experts in their respective fields.

The first panel, called Diversity in Education, addresses the standards of ACEJMC accreditation, strategies for preparing practitioners for a changing media market, and the value of dual-language competence in the recruitment of Hispanic professionals. Speakers are Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA; Dr. Maria Elena Villar, and Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, APR.

The second panel, Diversity in the Workplace, looks at the impact of diversity on employee well-being and organizational performance, starting one’s own business and how internships play a role in diversifying the public relations field. Speakers include Dr. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association and Ms. Yolanda Caraway of The Caraway Group.

The summit cost is $12 (which includes coffee, tea and cookies), and summit attendees do not need to be registered for the PRSA/PRSSA conferences to attend. Practitioners in the DC area are particularly welcome to attend and share their insights on diversity in public relations.

Register today at http://pr-diversity-ed-summit.eventbrite.com.


Nicole Vargas, San Diego State University

PRSA-NCC Sponsor Spotlight: News Generation by Kelsey Pospisil

Tell us more about your company and your role there?

News Generation is an issue-driven media relations agency specializing in using broadcast media to earn coverage for associations, non-profits, government agencies, and clients of PR firms. My role on the team is client & media relations associate. I love getting to experience many different aspects of the business and work closely with all of my fellow team members.

How long has News Generation been involved with PRSA-NCC?

We have been involved with PRSA-NCC in one way or another for 12 years – and counting! Susan Matthews Apgood started News Generation in 1997, and has been very involved with the PRSA-NCC by sponsoring the chapter as well as chairing committees such as Thoth, Professional Development and Sponsorship.

News Generation Sponsor Spotlight

News Generation Team

Is there anything you want to tell our members about News Generation that we may not know?

We LOVE Georgetown Cupcakes….literally…love them. Any excuse to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or Tuesday…you can expect to see us carrying a pink box into the office. Don’t believe me? Just look how happy Susan is in the picture!

What do you like best about working with PRSA-NCC so far?

PRSA-NCC offers a wonderful opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. As a sponsor, we are able to help support the great programming of PRSA-NCC. As members, myself and my co-workers are able learn and gain professional development from that programming. It’s the best of both worlds.

How can our members learn more, get more information about what News Generation has to offer?

The best place to go for more about how you can earn broadcast coverage by partnering with us is www.newsgeneration.com. We also have a news site that reporters go to for great stories where we host all of our clients’ content. Check it out at www.broadcastnewsresource.com.

Seeing Is Believing: How to Create Multimedia Content That Gets Seen // Take-aways from the Sept. 17 PRSA-NCC Professional Development Workshop

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, John Walls, Drew Blais

(Panelists pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, John Walls, Drew Blais

Does your multimedia content have that “gotta see this!” factor? If not, then that’s just one thing you’re doing wrong when trying to get your multimedia content seen.   PRSA-NCC’s “Seeing Is Believing: How to Create Multimedia Content That Gets Seen” event gave valuable insight to attendees that was worth more than admission.

Panelists were:

  • Justin Bank, Director of Digital Audience, Washington Post
  • Stephen Menick, a producer and editor who also teaches Digital Storytelling at WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications program
  • Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, Office of Marine Corps Communications Digital Engagement Branch Chief at Headquarters Marine Corps
  • John Walls, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at CTIA, the Wireless Association
  • Drew Blais, Digital Communication Specialist, Van Eperen & Company
  • Moderator:  Meredith Williams, MPH, Principal Associate at Abt Associates

While he spoke last, Van Eperen & Company’s Digital Communications Specialist Drew Blais and his “six steps towards video success” finely encompasses much of what all the panelists advised.  You have to have a strategy in place. That includes knowing your objective, knowing your audience, defining your concept, making sure you have your “gotta see this!” factor, know how you’re going to deliver your content and, last but not least, you have to track your metrics.

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Drew Blais, Meredith Williams, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

(Pictured from Left to Right) Justin Bank, Drew Blais, Meredith Williams, Stephen Menick, Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

When it comes to knowing your concept, both filmmaker and Professor Stephen Menek and Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga, gave real-life examples of the type of content people pay attention to and share. Menek shared with the audience that video is less it’s own multimedia content than it is really emotional content. And for Menek, having that “you gotta see this!” factor is big, real big. Take for example Staff Sgt. Fayloga’s short 30-second videos of Marines blowing up targets and military jets taking off from cruise ship carriers. Queuing up videos that get to the point and capture the attention are much more likely to get seen and shared than longer videos without attention-grabbing content.

But not all multimedia content has explosions. Menek’s example of Dove’s real beauty sketches videos (64 million views as of this writing) of a sketch artist capturing how women described themselves and then how others would describe them had nothing to do with selling soap, but had everything to do with connecting with the audience. Dove’s videos was a gift to audiences, sharing a story that captured their attention and earned their loyalty because it connected with viewers at an emotional level.

It’s something that the Washington Post’s Justin Bank, another expert panelist, would likely argue helps your content fight through the noise in a 21st century media environment.  These days there are multiple channels through which you can share your content. Organizations are being equipped with the tools they need to become their own publishers. And multimedia content “breaks the line of sight” according to the Post’s Bank, in a way that most other content won’t.

In general — besides having good content and good concept, whether your multimedia content gets seen or it doesn’t, learning by analyzing your results is key to helping to have your next multimedia content get seen. Don’t ignore Google Analytics or Facebook’s metrics reporting. Use these platforms to identify what works. Use both quantitative data and qualitative reporting to improve your future content and improve your results.

For this event, unveiling some of the secrets on how to get your multimedia content seen may have been the easy part.  The hard part? Putting this panel’s great advice to work and challenging yourself to get your multimedia content seen.


-Written by David Ward, American Wind Energy Association

Event Recap: “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget”

by Danielle Moore, News Generation, Inc.

It is all too common that public relations professionals are expected to create magic publicity on next-to-nothing budgets. With the extensive amount of non-profit organizations and small businesses in the Washington D.C. area, lots of PR pros are affected by small budgets.

On Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 8:00 a.m., the PRSA-NCC Professional Development committee hosted “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” at the U.S. Navy Memorial. Panelists included: Jeff Ghannam, communications director at the Wildlife Habitat Council; Dionne Clemons, division director of communications and community engagement at the United Planning Organization; Alicia Mitchell, senior vice president for communications at the American Hospital Association (AHA); and Lindsay Nichols, senior director of marketing and communications at GuideStar USA, Inc. Karen Addis, senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company introduced the panelists and moderated the conversation.

After some brief housekeeping announcements, all four panelists gave presentations on their best practices for public relations on a “shoestring” budget. Their combined experience working with small organizations and limited resources allowed them to share great insight to an audience full of non-profit, small business and private sector PR folks.

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Jeff Ghannam offered his advice with “10 Things in 10 Minutes.” He emphasized the importance of having a “roadmap” or focused communications and marketing plan as a reference point for company operations. Ghannam also encouraged building mutually beneficial partnerships with:

  • Staff who need to understand your brand and who value internal communications;
  • Stakeholders and coalitions who are always looking for companies to engage with;
  • Boards, committees, local units, and members who often need media training and can serve as a resource;
  • Customers who have the ability to spread the word about your work; and
  • Meeting attendees, sponsors and exhibitors who you should provide the tools (like social media) to talk positively about your brand.

Ghannam closed by stressing the importance of negotiation, developing meaningful networks, and the vitality of SEO.

The second panelist Dionne Clemons works to maximize her limited resources at her small grassroots organization every day. She presented on “How to De-Structure Your Department” and highlighted seven ways to save money:

  • Assess your budget – see what you have to work with
  • Conduct an audit – see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past
  • Use your organization’s strategic plan and fiscal year calendar to help you financially plan – create your own communications plan based on your organization’s strategic plan
  • Be selective in the big projects you want to work on – decide on 5-7 solid projects for the fiscal year that align with your strategic plan and will help you work toward organizational goals
  • Create a master organizational cycle calendar – align your organization’s normal events with “pseudo-events” on the national calendar
  • Put systems in place – set up policies that guide you on how to deal with different situations
  • Spread the love – organize more ways for team members to get involved in projects they’re interested in

Clemons continually emphasized the importance of being critical when deciding how your budget is distributed among different categories. She encouraged audience members to cut out any excess expenses and consider reallocating the distribution of their budgets.

“Creating PR Magic...on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Panelist Alicia Mitchell works for a much larger organization, but she shared examples of her successful PR initiatives that can easily translate to small organizations with less resources and a tighter budget. Mitchell focused on three platforms of promotion including:

  • Instagram campaigns – During National Hospital Week, the American Hospital Association encouraged Instagrammers to use the hashtag #myhospital to shoot short videos on how their local hospital helps the community. Mitchell’s team got more than 50 videos from across 34 different states and promoted them through social media.
  • Infographics – She encouraged the audience to invest in outsourcing a graphic designer or learning how to perfect their own graphic design skills because images help to tell a visual story.
  • Radio for audience targeting – Mitchell referenced the effectiveness of earning broadcast coverage. She talked about how using radio was especially useful in publicizing the accolades of the AHA’s medical centers’ palliative care. She urged PR professionals to consider radio outreach.

Mitchell closed with an easy acronym to remember:

M – makeover an existing PR project to make it better;
A – adopt social media because it gets others involved;
G – grassroots approaches allow you to tailor your reports or projects locally;
I – infographics help you tell a story and get people interested; and
C – the company you surround yourself with matters

Measuring ROI can be a challenge. Self-proclaimed “data geek” Lindsay Nichols broke down ways PR professionals can make it much easier. Nichols spoke about how she bases her measurement practices off of the Barcelona Principles and recommended that the audience check out ROI measurement blogger Katie Paine. Before diving in to measurement, dive in to your goals, said Nichols. She emphasized developing hypotheses about what you think will result from your projects and conducting a SWOT analysis before you begin. Once you’re ready to measure, she suggested eight cost-effective “DIY ROI Measurement Methods” for PR pros on a tight budget:

  • Pattern analysis
  • Surveys
  • Online pulse polls (ex: LinkedIn)
  • Content audits
  • Interviews
  • Roundtables, lunch, focus groups
  • In-depth interviews
  • Secondary research

Nichols said qualitative, quantitative and competitive intelligence measurements should be taken consistently every month for specifics and every year for a bigger picture. She uses platforms Vocus, Simply Measured, Social Mention, Twitter Counter, Google Analytics, Excel, Igloo, LinkedIn and more to track her data on a monthly and annual basis. Nichols was sure to emphasize the two things she always measures: the share of conversation index and the brand equity index. “Metrics prove you’re making a difference,” said Nichols. “It’s what you do with it that matters.”

As Karen Addis opened up the question and answer period, audience members presented thoughtful questions asking for advice on how to stay focused, how to show the c-suite your department’s worth, how to monetize and how to adapt to diversity in the media through introducing foreign languages.

Veterans Matter: PRSA-NCC Provides Valuable Resource in Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop

It could have been any one of dozens of professional networking events happening on a weekday around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. But this particular group of 50 seasoned public affairs professionals gathered at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia for an event the first of its kind — specifically empowering military communicators in their transition into civilian public relations careers.

The PRSA National Capital Chapter kicked off its comprehensive Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop with a networking session in the Memorial’s panoramic atrium where military communicators both active duty and veteran service members in military and business attire mingled with panelists and other attendees prior to the panel discussion.

Navy public affairs officers Elizabeth Zimmerman, a 20-year veteran and her colleague, Michael Sheehan, a 16-year veteran who flew in from Minneapolis for the program, were eager for it to begin.

“I am here to glean insight into the transition process, all the do’s and don’ts, and make new contacts,” said Zimmerman, whose transition begins in two months.

“I did really well in the military side of public affairs, so now I am exploring how to translate my skills effectively in the civilian world,” added Sheehan.

Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop, Presented by PRSA-NCC and Exelis Action Corps, July 23, 2014

Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop, Presented by PRSA-NCC and Exelis Action Corps, July 23, 2014

Against a backdrop of assorted flags representing various states, territories, and all the branches of the military, six panelists – all military veterans themselves – provided an overview of their professional backgrounds and experiences, sharing insights on successfully making the switch.

David Albritton, a Navy public affairs veteran, currently chief communications officer at Exelis, kicked off the panel discussion by championing the power of networking, having good mentors, and thinking strategically about one’s key strengths and how they fit into the big picture of target organizations.

“Every opportunity I ever had came because of someone in my network,” said Albritton.

Vox Optima owner and executive director, Merritt Hamilton Allen, humorously shared that she was initially “the public affairs officer that no one wanted” but sheer resilience and willingness to be flexible and continuously step up to new challenges despite health setbacks has been instrumental to her success. As an entrepreneur, she has also proven to be a person of her word, hiring vets who make up two-thirds of her staff, and speaking up about the challenges and opportunities disabled veterans face.

Twenty-year Air Force vet, Jon Anderson, who is now deputy director of public affairs for the National Guard Bureau, emphasized honest self and skills assessment.

“When I applied for jobs, everyone knew what I was capable of,” he said. Anderson also quelled any apprehension about the transition process, “Things weren’t so different when I left the Air Force. I still had to work long hours and continually challenge myself to learn new skills,” he said. This commitment to improvement led him to join PRSA where he also received his Accreditation in Public Relations.

A love of everything about media led Vic Beck, a retired Navy Reserve flag officer, and now managing director at Burson-Marsteller, to a long, impressive career in public affairs. He encouraged veterans to be tenacious during this phase of their careers.

“Do informational interviews, find people who are leaving military service now and talk to them,” he said. “Keep your contacts warm, take a no ‘shrinking violet’ approach – ask for advice, tips, help.”

Hiram Bell, strategic planning and communication chief at U.S. Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate and a 31-year Army veteran said he actively sought out mentors “who gave me advice about jobs I was suitable and unsuitable for – armed with such invaluable feedback one can dig a little deeper, better,” said Bell.

Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop, Presented by PRSA-NCC and Exelis Action Corps, July 23, 2014

Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop, Presented by PRSA-NCC and Exelis Action Corps, July 23, 2014

As chief executive officer and founder of ScoutComms, Fred Wellman was not shy about working online connections via LinkedIn and setting up coffee meetings to grow his professional contacts.

“Experiences unique to their service is what vets bring wherever they go – they know firsthand how to solve problems. This is a skill needed everywhere.” Wellman said. “Go beyond the job sites, invite people to coffee, and ask them to introduce you to more people.”

The panel discussion closed with Q & A followed by one-on-one mentoring, career counseling and resume review sessions for which participants signed up at arrival.

A culmination of weeks of planning, the event was part of a broader PRSA Moving Veterans Forward initiative launched in the fall of 2013. By spring of 2014, the PRSA-NCC, the organization’s largest chapter, started enrolling participants in the D.C. area. Benefits of the program include a one-year free PRSA and PRSA-NCC membership, resume writing, networking, and job interview advice from PRSA-NCC mentors.

“The main thing is we wanted vets and service men and women within the communications niche to know they matter,” said Richard Spector who came in from New York to represent PRSA and participate as one of 16 mentors.

“It’s not always a matter of life and death in the corporate world but vets have lived in that space – they helped protect our future, now PRSA wants to help protect theirs.”

The following individuals were panelists and mentors for the workshop participants:

Panel members and mentors:

  1. David Albritton, Chief Communications Officer, Exelis;
  2. Merritt Allen, Owner and Executive Director, Vox Optima;
  3. Jon Anderson, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, National Guard Bureau;
  4. Vic Beck, Managing Director, Burson-Marsteller;
  5. Hiram Bell, Chief, Strategic Planning and Communication for the U.S. Coast Guard, Acquisition Directorate
  6. Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder, ScoutComms


  1. Mitch Marovitz, USA retired, PR consultant and instructor
  2. Cyndi Scott-Johnson, CEO & Executive Producer, 3Roads Communications
  3. Russ Hodges, President & Executive Producer, 3Roads Communications
  4. Karen Jeffries, President, CEO, Veterans Moving Forward, Inc.
  5. Ginny Bueno, Communications Director, US Department of Agriculture
  6. Jill Wolf, Senior Communications Manager, Exelis Inc.
  7. Leah Lackey, Director of Commuications, Exelis Information Systems
  8. Janie Lee Mabe, Career coach, TechStarz, LLC
  9. Richard Spector, PRSA Moving Veterans Forward Initiative

A former co-chair of the PRSA-NCC membership committee, the author, Ufuoma Otu, is the founder of TakeCulture LLC which provides marketing communications solutions for international organizations. Visit: www.take-culture.com, for more information.