Home » Chapter Chat » February 2019

President’s Report

February is competition season, the month where the best of the best face off in the Super Bowl (“the best” being sometimes debatable), the Grammys, and the Academy Awards. Many of these professional actors, singers and athletes will say things like, “It’s an honor just to be here,” or “I feel lucky to have been nominated.” What these phrases mean to me is that these women and men understand that they have worked their hardest and given their all. They can be proud of their accomplishments, with or without the trophy, because they know they did the best work they could at the time.

Even if your public relations work never wins a Pepperpot or Silver Anvil award, delivering top-notch work should always be a goal of any communications professional. The January doldrums are behind us, so what better time is there than now to refocus and recalibrate? There are always obstacles — limited time, limited budget, limited understanding by the client of what public relations actually is — but like the scrappy underdog or best new artist, we have to rise above those challenges to “make it.”

One of the functions of PRSA Philadelphia is to help our members do their best work by bringing them programs that offer insights that elevate our work. Our February program, a workshop for higher education professionals to help them develop strategic communications plans, is one such example. Lori Doyle, PRSA Philly Membership Committee Chair and Senior Vice President of Communications at Drexel University, will provide tools for all university and college PR professionals to excel at work and do work that benefits their institution. This is the first of many high-caliber programs that PRSA Philly will hold throughout 2019, and I hope you will join us for a few (if not all!).

I look forward to working together to make PRSA Philadelphia — and all of our members — the best they can be. Happy excelling!

Martha A. Gaston, APR


Welcome New Board Members

Christopher James DeMille

Taylor Feldschneider
Events Coordinator
Gift of Life Donor Program

Jessica Fitzgerald
Macquarie Investment Management

Megan George

Kimberly Kerr
Communications Coordinator
Gift of Life Donor Program

Elizabeth Romaine

Alan Wallace

Linda Suzan Wallace
Director of Communications
Community College of Philadelphia

Events in Review

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

On January 16, public relations leaders gathered for PRSA Philly’s kickoff meeting in a fantastic space: Global Furniture Group’s Philadelphia showroom on the 38th floor at 1735 Market Street.

The gathering of about 40 PR professionals provided a chance for business development and networking opportunities among organizations from multiple industries, with representation from senior leadership in corporate communications, marketing, branding, internal communications and employee relations.

Ryan Sheehy-Cox, CEO of Sheehy Strategies in Phoenixville and PRSA Philly Program Chair, said professionals can help each other by getting together to discuss best practices because the industry has evolved so much and issues are getting so complex.

“Now more than ever, our role is challenged from bottom to top, from customer service to employee engagement to ad hoc pressure groups that challenge your message,” she said. “How can we change the future of our industry, of our region, and provide real solutions?”

A hot topic among PR professionals is corporate social responsibility, and how PR professionals can bring together nonprofits and corporations.

“It presents an opportunity for professionals, how can we be of service, how can we collaborate, how can we solve these problems?” Sheehy-Cox said.

After enjoying hors d’oeuvres and libations provided by 12th Street Catering, the public relations professionals broke out into classroom-style focus groups, divided by the industries they represent, such as health care, higher education, retail, financial services, and tourism.

Photo credit: Todd Zimmerman, Pictures by Todd Photography

Topics that came up among the various groups included training for crisis communications, project management tools, digital asset management, social media platforms, the pros and cons of media monitoring and strategies on breaking into new media markets.

“We talked a lot about how we do all this great work as professionals, but we don’t always understand who it’s reaching, how it’s reaching them, what impact it’s making,” said Martha Gaston, Vice President and Corporate Communications Manager at TD Bank, and PRSA Philly President. “My discussion group really thought having more information, or getting to better know the tools that are available for measurement, could help us grow as professionals and allow us to better articulate the value that our jobs bring.”

This was the first PRSA Philly meeting for Maureen Leader, Public Relations and Communications Manager for Willow Valley Communities Welcome Center, a 55-plus community. Leader traveled from Lancaster for the meeting to learn how to market Willow Valley in the Philadelphia region.

“I met a lot of great people,” she said. “It was great getting ideas on how they see Lancaster and what would help.”

Also in attendance was Rico Le, a junior at Temple University who is studying PR, specializing in crisis communications.

“Everyone was really good about talking about their expertise, but also what they learned about other people’s expertise [in their small groups],” he said. “It’s a very good environment to share your own experience.”

The members were also challenged to learn more about Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), which Gaston described as the “CPA of the public relations world.”

Photo credit: Todd Zimmerman, Pictures by Todd Photography

In the upcoming months, members and guests alike can look forward to a diverse lineup of offerings including the February 19 workshop led by Lori Doyle of Drexel University, “Align & Define: Developing a Strategic Communications Plan for Higher Ed.” To learn more and register, visit Philly.org.

In March, the chapter will present “Mission-Centric Service: The New Normal of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),” designed as a panel presentation and roundtable discussions. To serve as a potential presenter or sponsor, or explore future ideas, email programming@philly.org.

Meet the Board:  Michele Besso, PRSA Philly Secretary

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

It was on an assignment as a reporter for The News Journal in Delaware that Michele Besso found her next career.

“I was covering higher education for the newspaper and was assigned a story about the little-known Delaware College of Art and Design,” she said. “I learned through a phone call that they no longer had a spokesperson. Shortly thereafter, I became that spokesperson and it was a great fit.”


A longtime member of PRSA Philly, Besso is currently the Public Relations Director for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). In her new role as PRSA Philly Secretary, she keeps records of all chapter meetings, takes copious meeting minutes, distributes minutes to the board and supports the president’s strategic planning initiatives as special projects arise.

“I’ve really enjoyed my membership in PRSA and my time spent on the chapter’s communications committee,” she said. “I was looking to get even more involved with the chapter and be a change agent, so joining the board was the natural next step.”

PRSA Philly and professional development is important to her work, she said.

“It’s nice to have a professional organization to fall back on when you need career advice or are looking for ways to advance your career,” Besso said. “There are many exceptional members of this chapter who have a great deal of wisdom. I particularly enjoy attending networking events because you never know who you’re going to meet in this field. They might become a mentor or have an impact on your career.”


Besso has a few tips for young PR professionals.

“Be assertive and be a go-getter!” she emphasizes. “Don’t be afraid to stand out. When I wanted the job at The News Journal, I called the editor once a week to check in and remind her how well-suited I was for the job. It worked.”

She also recommends staying connected.

“Networking is a great way to meet new people who might play a role in your future career,” she said. “If you can, find a mentor who can guide you in the right direction. Lastly, make sure you keep your LinkedIn profile and your resume updated. And join PRSA!”

When she’s not running after her six-year-old sports-obsessed son, Max, Besso enjoys singing with her a cappella group, the ChaiLights.

Meet the Media: Sharyn Flanagan

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

As we celebrate February as Black History Month, it’s only fitting that our Communications Committee sat down with Sharyn L. Flanagan, magazine editor for The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest continuously published African-American newspaper in the country. Besides her longtime stint at the Tribune, Sharyn has served as an editor for the Associated Press and USA Today, among other news outlets. She currently serves as Parliamentarian for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

What made you decide to go into journalism?
Journalism chose me. I was a senior at Philadelphia High School for Girls and my guidance counselor was concerned about me because my chosen career path was to be a teaching nun. I was supposed to go to West Chester University and get a teaching degree. But I felt journalism’s call ever since grade school when a teacher said we could do our history report “in any format” and I chose newspaper. I had crinkly paper and typed each article in skinny column form that I then glued onto each broadsheet page. It was called The Flanagan Flash. I interviewed my father, uncle and their World War II colleagues in Philadelphia. I photocopied war photos from the encyclopedia. It was only four pages, but it was a project from the heart. I got an A+ but I also got a passion.

You’ve been an editor at several news organizations and now at the Tribune. What do you like about editing?
I have to be an expert on everything that I read and that’s a great thing for a busy-body like me. If I don’t know the answer, I’m going to find the answer.

According to your LinkedIn profile, you were a news editor and copy desk chief at the Tribune many years ago. What made you decide to return to the Tribune as magazine editor last August?
This is actually my fourth stint at The Philadelphia Tribune, which has always meant family and true community service to me. I needed to be where my family and my support system are in Philadelphia. Being at USA Today was a definite goal of mine and I was able to work there and rack up experience and awards over 15 years. But I had to focus on my daughter and stop being the “weekend warrior mom” with the Virginia-Philadelphia and then the NYC-Philly daily commute. So, I go from USA Today to the Associated Press to (now) one of the nation’s top black media groups — and I get to wake up every single morning at home with my baby girl! #Winning.

What do you enjoy about working at the Tribune? What has contributed to the paper’s longevity?
The Tribune covers what the black community cares about primarily from that cultural lens and so it has a niche. I love the story opportunities that make me feel that I’m truly contributing to my community every day.

What are your major responsibilities as magazine editor?
Magazine editor barely covers what I do day to day. I’m responsible for the daily coverage of all things arts, entertainment, lifestyles, leisure, society, weddings, and milestones (anniversaries, centenarian birthdays, retirements, etc.). I love that I also get to write a lot at the Tribune. I enjoy doing stories about our city’s centenarians and finding out their “secrets” to long lives.

How have you adjusted to the move from print to digital media over the years, and then add in social media!
I’ve been working on multiple platforms since I was at The Tallahassee Democrat 20 years ago. We were doing online presentation of stories and tons of audio and what is now called podcasting. The social media aspect is new and it adds a great layer of fun and creativity. For me, my job has always been 24/7. I don’t turn off from the news and that can be good and bad. My daughter is truly a newsroom baby.

Your LinkedIn profile states that you are an editor who loves to “platform dive” and “put the audience first.” What does that mean?
I’ve read numerous reader surveys and studies that say that audiences demand accuracy and consistency. I love getting it right every single time in print, online, in graphics, etc. I’m the go-to person when the heat is on. I don’t lose my cool under deadline, I just thrive. I think that comes from being part of a family where the head of household was an Army sergeant during WWII and also a police officer. I’m also a United States Marine who is 4’10. Discipline and top performance were always expected in our household.

What advice would you give PR professionals who want to get their organizations covered by the Tribune? Any dos and don’ts?
Call me and pitch me. If I’m busy, I’ll tell you and just follow up. Absolutely DON’T spell my name wrong. When pitching, make it quick and make it good. I’ll usually tell you right then how likely it is that I’ll cover your story. We want it (the news) first (as in exclusive) and my team’s mantra is “unique and distinct.” Think unique for us. We don’t want to be like everyone else — not by a long shot.


PRSA is offering three webinars in February, all free to members.

Wednesday, February 13: Win Over Journalists and Influencers in the Changing Media Landscape, with Michael Smart. PR trainer and coach Michael Smart will discuss how to pitch journalists who are busier, and more inundated with pitches, than ever. He’ll cover how to choose your targets, identify successful pitches “line by line,” and improve your storytelling. Live 3-4 pm 2/13, available on-demand starting 2/20. Free for PRSA members, $200 for non-members.

Thursday, February 21: How Curiosity and Attention Drive PR Outcomes. Susan Young, CEO of Get in Front Communications, will show you how to use your innate curiosity to improve your business. Topics will include applying curiosity in PR, “The 1 Question You Must Ask in Every Conversation,” and how to live a “curious – and attentive – life.” Live 3-4 pm 2/21, available on-demand starting 2/28. Free for PRSA members, $200 for non-members.

Tuesday, February 26: Survival Planning: Busting Silos, Breaking Bad Habits and Embracing Your Heresy in Order to Return to Growth, with Joseph Jaffe. Admiral Jaffe of The HMS Beagle will offer tactics and advice for dealing with a troubling business climate that is already seeing established companies and industries collapse. He will cover brand modernization, modern collaboration, and new business models and revenue streams in today’s business world. Live 3-4 pm 2/26, available on-demand starting 3/5. Free for PRSA members, $200 for non-members.