Q&A with Katherine Hutt: Words of Wisdom to Help You Prepare A Session Proposal – Part II

Katherine Hutt

It’s that time! The call for sessions for the 2014 PRSA International Conference is now open. We spoke with Katherine Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, who provides valuable advice and suggestions from her perspective and experience. Read this before you submit that session entry!

Q: What are your top three suggestions for submitting a strong session proposal?

  1.  Pay attention to the guidelines set out by the Conference Committee. Tailor your proposal to fit within the structure suggested.
  2. Play off the conference theme if you can. The Conference Committee is looking for a program that flows, so topics that fit within the theme are going to get more attention, especially if there are similar proposals.
  3. Spend some time thinking about a clever or action-oriented name for your presentation.

Q: Do you have advice to share on how to pick a topic or issue that will be most relevant and compelling for this audience?

The most compelling topic is one that you know a lot about. Let’s face it, none of us has cornered the market on public relations, so be sure to highlight what you bring to the table on a particular topic. Take a look at your practice over the past 18-36 months. What is the most significant thing you’ve done? What presents a new or different approach to a widespread matter? What new tactics or techniques have you tried successfully?

Q: How do you identify the right panelists to participate in the session?

Sometimes this occurs naturally, especially if you’ve worked on a team, hired a great agency, or been in coalition with other groups. Look for a balance of roles, levels of leadership, speaking styles, PRSA involvement, etc. Frankly, if I had a choice between an APR and non-APR to be on my panel, I would ask the APR. Have the most senior person serve as the moderator; this can be the most senior person on the project or the most senior person within PRSA.

One thing I would avoid is a panel made up of a client and a vendor only. They tend to end up sounding like commercials for the vendor’s services, even if that was not the intent. A vendor can be a valuable contributor to a panel, but make sure there is balance.

Q: What do you believe is the true value of organizing and participating in a session at the International Conference?

I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of public speaking and mentoring, so that is my primary motivation. If I was considering running for national office or was looking for a major career move, I would certainly see the value in high-visibility opportunities such as this.

I would say the one reason not to do it is to hone your presentation skills. We’re all professional communicators, so if you are not at the top of your game, practice elsewhere before attempting to speak at PRSA. People will get up and walk out of a session if the speaker is poor, the topic is disorganized, or the presentation does not meet the description in the program. Don’t throw something together at the last minute, even if you are a good extemporaneous speaker. You are being judged by a jury of your peers! Give them something to rave about.


Katherine R. Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Director of Communications at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, where she serves as national spokesperson for the 100-year-old BBB brand. She had her own PR agency for 15 years, and previously worked for two non-profits. A PRSA member since 1985, she has been accredited since 1989 and a Fellow since 2004. She has held several national positions, including the PRSA Board of Ethics, and is a past NCC president, board member and committee chair. She has also served as president of Washington Women in Public Relations, and WWPR honored her as “PR Woman of the Year.” She has spoken at three previous PRSA National Conferences and recently has a proposal accepted to speak at this year’s ASAE conference.

Plan B for 2014: Your Antidote to Reality’s Punch

Reality Punch

You say you don’t have time to plan ahead. You’re overloaded. Have too much to do to launch 2014. Let’s take a look at the results that can happen when an organization doesn’t consider all the options and plunges forward without a Plan B in case of disruption. Key excuses for neglecting to plan ahead1:

1. No time.

You remember the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Containment took twice as long as expected–4 million barrels of oil were released. The cost to BP by the end of 2010? $17.7 billion, a 29 percent drop in its stock price2 and a tremendous hit to the company’s reputation. Certainly the company had a basic operating plan—a working theory—about what needed to be done to achieve the desired results. But when the initial plan went dramatically off course, what then?

 2. Why plan when things change so fast?

If you don’t know where you are now–don’t have a baseline– how can you be fully aware of best strategy to pursue when tossed by threatening circumstances? In turbulent times it’s even more important to know True North, so you can rise with the tide, not drowned.

Certainly elements of the automotive industry have repositioned to blaze ahead until they hit a speed bump. Between Oct. 2009 and March 2010, Toyota recalled 8.5 million vehicles.  A dealer improperly installed all-weather floor mats from an SUV into a loaned Lexus sedan. As a result the vehicle’s accelerator stuck on the mat, causing a tragic, fatal accident. In addition to the loss of life, this incident cost Toyota well over $2 billion in repairs, recalls and lost sales.3

While nonprofits and agencies might not place themselves in the same situation as the auto industry, they can relate to the lingering impact of the 2013 Sequester on businesses in Washington area–pointing to the need for a Plan B to cushion against future challenges.

 3. We get paid for results, not planning.

This focus on doing—tactics— can provide the satisfaction that activity can bring without providing true results. When spending money to research long-term goals is seen as nonessential, how does an organization know whether it’s selecting the right path? What is the baseline—the starting point—from which progress is assessed? How do you know when a project is in need of a course correction?

4. We’re doing OK without a plan.

Without a contingency plan, how can you set a course if the company suffers a dramatic setback? What if you lose major funding? What if despite your financial checks and balances you find serious discrepancies? What if a leader dies or leaves unexpectedly?

In the Enron fiasco, top executives were selling their own stock while assuring employees that the company was not losing value. Employees lost their retirement nest eggs in addition to the severe financial setbacks for the company, their industry and the public they served.  Bankruptcy proceedings revealed losses of $13.1 billion for the parent company and $18.1 billion for the affiliates. Thousands of people in Houston, the energy hub, and elsewhere lost their jobs.4

If you think about the “horrible what ifs” that could make life miserable in the year ahead, taking time now makes more sense and it will prepare you and your team to roll over the unexpected reality punches ahead. You’ll have a path to center your communications program as you set a course for 2014.

1 Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, pp. 266

2 Ibid. p. 344

3 Ibid.p. 344

4 “The Fall of Enron,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec. 16, 2001.

To read more:  Jeffrey Liker, “The Toyota Recall: What Have We Learned” The HBR Blog Network

(Feb 11, 2011), http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/toyotas-recall-crisis-full-of.html (accessed Aug 2, 2011)

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.

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.

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.

Okay, We’re All Busy. Is That Really a Good Excuse?


In my April 9, 2013 blog, I spoke of how Mickey Kennedy, founder of eReleases, commended the field for its embrace of codes of ethics. What I hope didn’t get lost in his message is that he also suggests we actually use those codes in our work. Our own organization’s Code of Ethics is one of the most widely recognized in the industry. Our website’s ethics area is expansive and includes case studies, professional standards advisories and a rich resource area.

Kennedy suggests the vast majority of us are good, ethical professionals trying to help our bosses and clients tell their story. I agree. I think the vast majority of us are good people. However, as Alison Kenney recently blogged, there are shades of gray in the ethical lifestyle we lead as PR professionals.

The problem I’ve always had figuring out “ethics issues” is that I don’t always see the ethical dilemma until its almost too late. At that point, all I can say is, “I’m sorry,” which of course is never good enough. At what point am I supposed to say, “That’s it! That crosses the line!” How am I supposed to know I’m there? And, once I’m there how do I know what I am supposed to do about it?

What conditions existed that allowed Penn State to cover-up the Jerry Sandusky scandal for so long? How could leaders at the IRS not see the impact their operational decisions would have on public opinion about their organization?

Can the resources we have available to us at http://www.prsa.org/ethics (and other places) help us? Let’s start with our Code of Ethics. Have you looked at it lately? It’s not really all that long and boils nicely down to six concepts called our “Statement of Professional Values:”

  • Advocacy
  • Honesty
  • Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness

Six concepts that are easy enough to remember.

I’ve had many discussions over the years about the concepts of advocacy and loyalty. Don’t they contravene the other four points? In my mind, there is not an inherent conflict among these six values. We are charged not just with advocating on behalf of our organizations or just being loyal to them. Rather, our Code charges us to advocate in a responsible manner and to be “…faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.” The information we provide into the marketplace of ideas is supposed to be accurate and truthful and further public debate on the issues. And, sometimes, loyalty to our organization means admitting we can do a better job of serving the public interest. Look to the Coca-Cola Company’s recent campaign about their—and their competitor’s—efforts to introduce reduced calorie soft drinks in schools. The campaign has taken some hits for being disingenuous, but if you take a look at the likes and dislikes and the comments at the YouTube page where the commercial resides, I think you will conclude that the campaign is furthering honest debate on the issue.

While the “Statement of Professional Values” is important, it doesn’t really provide the kind of guidance that can help you recognize when an ethical issue is about to hit you. I think the real meat of the Code lies in the next section, the “Code Provisions of Conduct.” It is here that you find the core principles upon which the Code of Ethics is based. These principles are:

  • Free flow of information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of information
  • Safeguarding confidences
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Enhancing the profession

I will be discussing these code provisions in upcoming blogs. Hopefully, we can discuss them in a way that helps us find a way to internalize them and use them as triggers that will better arm us to recognize ethical dilemmas before they become ethical issues.



Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter.