Home » Chapter Chat » January 2019

President’s Report

Happy 2019!

Martha GastonLast year was a great one for our chapter:

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Pepperpot Awards, welcomed 65 new members and held a variety of programs for new and experienced professionals alike. I want to thank John Kouten for his service as chapter President and Kim Nissen for serving as Past President – their leadership was critical in propelling the chapter forward in 2018 and making these achievements possible.

New years are for looking forward, though, and I am excited for all that is to come. We will spend more time investing in our area professionals entering mid- or senior-level careers by emphasizing the APR program and offering high-caliber programming that brings new learnings to these members. PRSA Philadelphia also will continue to build solid relationships with local PRSSA chapters and students who are looking to transition into communications with outreach to these chapters and advisors. We also will be enhancing some of our member tools and resources, including upgrading our chapter website.

None of this will be possible without the participation and feedback of our members and the leadership of our 2019 Board of Directors. I want to hear how PRSA Philadelphia can be a better resource for you. In fact, I hope each of you will join us on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Global Furniture Group in Center City for our Kick-Off Happy Hour and Vision 2020 program to network, give us your insights and learn more about how you can become involved with the chapter. If you can’t make it, feel free to email me at president@philly.org with your thoughts.

I look forward to a fantastic 2019 with PRSA Philadelphia!

Martha A. Gaston, APR

Welcome New Board Members

Blake Clancy
Corporate Communications Specialist
Health Partners Plans
Associate Member 2

Markishia Evans
Wistar Institute

Taylor Feldschneider
Events Coordinator
Gift of Life Donor Program

Janice Hatfield
Public Relations Specialist
Health Partners Plans

Kimberly Kerr
Communications Coordinator
Gift of Life Donor Program

Jennifer Ruiz
Communications Specialist
Health Partners Plans

Michael Vinci
Associate Member 1

Events in Review

PRSA Philly Learns about Integrity in the News at WHYY

By Michele Besso Cohen
PRSA Philly Secretary and Communications Committee member
Public Relations Director at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

On December 18, 2018, more than 25 public relations professionals from the Philadelphia chapter of PRSA gathered for breakfast at the WHYY headquarters on N. 6th Street to get a behind-the-scenes look at public broadcasting.

Longtime PRSA member Art Ellis, vice president, communications and member relations for WHYY, kicked off the morning by mingling with PRSA members and then introducing some experts from the newsroom.

In an era of “fake news,” where the integrity of the news media is constantly being called into question, WHYY continues to strive to be a trusted news source, balancing how to maintain its reputation while providing in-depth coverage on issues, Art said.

Eugene Sonn, audio news director at WHYY, and Shai Ben-Yaacov, reporter/producer for Newsworks Tonight and executive producer and co-host of a new program, The Why, spoke to the audience about how and from where they source their news and about the new programming that WHYY has launched.

Eugene spoke briefly about the three types of stories WHYY typically covers:

*Daily stories that they are expected to cover (e.g., the Eagles win the Superbowl).

*Stories that others are doing, but WHYY does with a different angle to differentiate themselves.

*Stories that play to WHYY’s strengths, and might be more fitting for either radio, online or television.

“Our stories may not be in the 24-hour news cycle,” Eugene said. “We might take an extra day to provide some content. We won’t do a story if we can’t do it differently and we’re just ‘me too-ing’ a story. Of course, sometimes there are still slow news days where you run whatever you have.”

The WHYY news operation includes 50 people, from web producers to hosts and staff from the Wilmington, DE office. There are 18 total reporters who are constantly fact checking information in their stories over the course of the editing process, Eugene said.

“When a reporter pitches us a story, we have a conversation about verifying information,” he said. “And of course, nothing works as well or as quickly as a phone call.”

When asked what he looks for in terms of story pitches by PR professionals, Eugene said the most successful pitches have a sense of “where the news cycle is and how far out to pitch.” A story in the suburbs, for example, may require more lead time because most WHYY reporters live in Philadelphia. Public relations professionals should also be familiar with the types of stories WHYY tends to prefer. “I get a lot of pitches for galas and balls, but I need a story to tell and someone to tell it,” Eugene said.

Shai spoke for a few minutes about The Why, a new 12-minute broadcast/podcast that launched in October. He co-hosts the podcast with Annette John-Hall and it airs Monday – Thursday at 5:45 pm on WHYY-FM. The Why blends great news gathering with great storytelling in a narrative-style news show about issues affecting the Philadelphia region. Through conversations with beat reporters and people in the know, The Why takes you on an audio journey that blends voices, sounds and music.

“We interview the reporter (for the story) because the reporter can give us a good overview,” Shai said. “We take the interview and pump in sound and music. It has lots of production value.”

The show is modeled after similar podcasts like The Daily (New York Times or The Bay in San Francisco, CA (NPR).

“The best stories we do speak to broader issues,” Shai said. “We’re not just breaking news. We have a larger story to tell.”

The WHYY session was followed by a studio tour where members got a behind-the-scenes look at production.

Meet the Board:  Martha Gaston, PRSA Philadelphia President

By Mellany Armstrong
PRSA Philly Communications member
Associate Director of Communications at Moore College of Art & Design

Martha GastonMartha Gaston, APR, doesn’t take off her copy editing hat, ever.

The freelance writer and editor touts that obsession on her LinkedIn page: “I’m also a habitual copy editor who finds it fun to fix dash placement and I can’t help but edit everything I read – from menus to novels.”

Gaston, who begins her post as PRSA Philly’s new president this month, also uses those skills in her position as vice president, corporate communications manager at TD Bank, where she oversees the external and internal communications strategies for commercial and small business banking departments, including executing executive communications for a C-suite level leader.

“This means I’m not a specialist in any one area,” she said. “I could be editing an employee newsletter one day while also managing a media campaign for a survey of small business owners.”


Gaston, a graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA, started her career in health care PR, working for a hospital system. She transitioned to a small agency, where she worked on a variety of industries and conducted regional PR for national brands like H&R Block, Waste Management and Administaff. After several years at an agency, she wanted to go back into corporate PR, and she’s been at TD Bank ever since.

‘President’ is just the latest title Gaston has held with PRSA Philly. She’s previously served as chapter social media manager, and spent two years on the board of directors as programming chair. Before moving to Philadelphia, she was on the board of directors for PRSA Orlando, where she held positions as membership co-chair and APR co-chair.

Gaston believes PR professionals are facing the same challenges they always have, but that they are intensifying.

“Lines between PR and marketing are becoming more and more blurred, and being a ‘specialist’ is no longer a viable career strategy,” she said. “Budgets are always an issue with PR, and with so many ‘free’ tools available like social media platforms, websites, etc., we are expected to do more and more with less and less.”

She also feels the “fake news” environment facing media professionals, which has the public calling everything into question, is making the job harder for media relations folks.


“My primary goal as president is to re-engage some of the mid-level and senior professionals in our area in the chapter,” she said. “I also want to better leverage the diversity of industries and experiences in the area to help others learn. Lastly, as an APR, I really want to see more accredited chapter members! It feels really good to have those initials after your name.”

Gaston loves reading, baking, going to concerts and traveling. She’s deciding on her next destination after visiting Belize last year. Read more about her thoughts on why our lunch hour should be more like Europe’s here.

Meet the Media: Alex Silverman

By Mellany Armstrong
PRSA Philly Communications member
Associate Director of Communications at Moore College of Art & Design

Alex SilvermanOur Communications Committee sat down with Alex Silverman, the new program director for KYW Newsradio.

Tell me a bit about your background.
I grew up in central New Jersey, fascinated by the mysterious and intimate medium called radio. I went to Syracuse University, where I became the general manager of the student-owned and -operated radio station, WJPZ. While I was still in school, I got a job at the news station in town, WSYR, where I spent my senior year waking up at 2:30 am to anchor the morning news. From there, I moved to Seattle, where I reported for KIRO-FM, then landed a job at the station I grew up listening to, WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York City. I spent seven years as an anchor and reporter before taking on additional duties as assistant director of news and programming. That led me to Philadelphia and an amazing opportunity at an Entercom sister station, KYW Newsradio.

What are your responsibilities in your new role?
I have the privilege of overseeing the most experienced, talented, dedicated staff in news radio anywhere in the nation. As program director, I’m responsible for shaping the overall sound of the radio station, evolving the news products we offer on all platforms to best compete in the 21st century media environment, interfacing with our sales and marketing teams, coaching and developing talent, as well as helping to guide our day-to-day news coverage in partnership with our news director, Kristina Hammerschmidt.

You’ve been an anchor and a reporter, and now you’ve transitioned to management. Why would you want to step away from being on the air?
I’ve always seen management as a logical next step in my career trajectory. After ten years on the air, I wanted to take on a role where I could have a larger impact on the future of this business, as well as help coach and develop the next generation of audio journalists.
Is there something surprising about you that most people don’t know?
I’m a huge geek when it comes to urban history and transportation. I’m fascinated by cities because wherever you set foot in one, something interesting probably happened at some point in the past — and if you try hard enough, a record of it can be found. I’ve been known to spend hours down those rabbit holes.

Who or what inspires you?
I have to recognize my predecessor in this role, Steve Butler, for building KYW Newsradio into the force it is in the Philadelphia news marketplace today. He had the vision and foresight to assemble a team that reflects and understands the many communities we serve and the issues they face. I’m also inspired by the many tremendous journalists I’ve worked with over the years who have taught me that the best broadcasters are not the most polished, but the most authentic and connected to their audience.
Best advice you’ve ever received?

“Inspect what you expect.”
What advice do you have for PR professionals working with the media?
Tell me a compelling story, and do it in the first sentence. Don’t waste words in the subject line. We’re going to need to grab the listener’s attention in the first five seconds – so that should be your goal, too.


Congratulations to Darrah Pilieri, who recently earned her Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America. Darrah joins an elite group of nearly 1,500 APRs nationwide who have solidified their prowess, education and status as leaders in the public relations industry. In May, Darrah will celebrate five years with AKCG – Public Relations Counselors.



PRSA National Webinars in January
PRSA has two free (for members) webinars teed up for the last two weeks of January.
January 24, 3-4 p.m., Writing for Readability. Ann Wylie starts 2019 with this webinar that will show you how to hone your writing based on the results of the latest Dept. of Education adult literary test. Wylie says she will teach you how to “write for real readers, overcome special audience challenges, sell readability’s bottom-line business value, increase reading by up to 75%, and measure, monitor and manage readability.” Free for PRSA members, $200 for all others. Available on-demand Jan. 31 to Feb. 14.

January 29, 3-4 p.m., How to Tell Your Organization’s Story to Get Media Coverage. Matt Charles, President of Matt Charles PR, will teach you some of the “lost art” of media pitching. In the webinar, he will show you how to “identify compelling organizational stories to communicate to the media, boil these stories down to succinct media pitches, identify the proper media representative to pitch, and form relationships and trust with reporters.” Free for PRSA members, $200 for all others. Available on-demand starting Feb. 5.