Home » Chapter Chat » October 2019

President’s Report


Martha Gaston

Dear Members,

October is a busy month for PRSA. We recognize October as Diversity & Inclusion Month, an important opportunity to reflect on our progress as a national organization and profession. This year, PRSA Philadelphia made a major commitment to D&I through our formal pledge in conjunction with PPRA. We are fortunate to have had two hardworking Diversity & Inclusion Chairs over the past few years, Renee Cree and Meredith Avakian, who helped us raise our awareness as a chapter and ensure diversity is ingrained in what we do. I hope that you have felt the progress and will continue to champion D&I with us.

October also is when PR professionals from around the globe gather for PRSA International Conference. I am honored to represent our chapter and participate as part of the Mid-Atlantic District at this annual event along with our Programming Chair, Ryan Sheehy-Cox. As you may recall, we awarded our first-ever chapter scholarship this year to a member to attend PRSA ICON, and I look forward to hearing more about Chad Harris’ experience as he brings back ICON lessons to share with all of our members.

Here in Philadelphia, preparations are well underway for our annual Pepperpot Awards. We are pleased to announce that Ronnie Polaneczky, an award-winning journalist and current editor of The UpSide, the new, weekly good news section of The Philadelphia Inquirer, will join us for our awards banquet as our emcee. Polaneczky is a longtime Philadelphia reporter who celebrates the best of us, and the best in us. Prior to her current role, she was a 20-year metro columnist for both the Inquirer and its sister paper, The Philadelphia Daily News, and a freelance writer for national magazines.

The Pepperpot Awards will be on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at The Lucy in Center City. This is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues and friends in the industry while enjoying networking and full dinner. I hope you will join us for our 51st Pepperpots!


Martha A. Gaston, APR
PRSA Philadelphia President

Welcome New Members

Please join us in welcoming our newest chapter members!

Lindsey Allumbaugh
Director of Content & Media Relations                                           
The American College of Financial Services

Catherine Ann Leighton
Leighton Communcations, Inc.

Sarah Smedley
Senior Manager, Internal Communications

Equity vs. Equality:
Ensuring Everyone Has the Tools to Succeed


By Renee Cree, Associate Director, News and Media Relations, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and PRSA Philly Diversity & Inclusion Chair


As PR pros, we know that words matter. And one word that’s been popping up lately alongside “diversity” and “inclusion” is “equity.” Not to be confused with “equality.” Some may see the words as interchangeable when they mean two very different things—especially in the context of diversity and inclusion. 

Equality essentially means the state of everyone being equal. We’re all on an even playing field, we all get the same tools, tips and tricks to succeed. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.

In a society where people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, those with disabilities, and countless others have been traditionally marginalized, they need more of a boost in order to be successful. This is where the difference between equality and equity becomes even more pronounced.

Equity means that people are provided with the tools they need to be successful, and these tools can look different for everyone. Take the somewhat famous infographic of the three children of various heights trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. Equality means each child gets the same size stool to stand on. But while the tallest child gets an even better view, the shortest may still not be able to see over the fence. Equity means that the tallest child gets no stool, the middle child may get one, and the shortest may get two, ensuring that all have the same view of the game.

This is how we need to be thinking about our diversity and inclusion strategies, particularly from a communications standpoint. It’s not just about whether we have enough women or underrepresented minorities on our staff, or whether our marketing materials have enough people of color in them. To be sure, representation is important; a 2018 analysis in the Harvard Business Review found that:

  • Nearly 88 percent of PR practitioners are white
  • 8.3 percent are African American
  • 5.7 percent are Latinx American
  • 2.6 percent are Asian American

Additionally, the analysis reported a chronic pay gap issue—between men and women, the gap is roughly $6,000 and between whites and non-whites, the gap widens to $9,000. And, while women comprise almost three-quarters of the PR workforce, only 30 percent have advanced to C-level positions.

Representation matters and is still a hurdle to overcome, but we can only be truly diverse and inclusive when we not only bring marginalized individuals to the table, but also allow them to have a voice. Having a young African-American woman as an account specialist at your agency is doing nothing if you’re not listening when she tells you that an ad, tagline, photo, or other asset is insensitive—or flat out racist.

How can we ensure we’re giving a meaningful boost to those who need it? In researching this topic, two main action items kept popping up: mentoring programs, and bias training. On the mentoring side, PRSA National has a varied list of affinity groups with which to partner if members are looking to become mentors; and the PRSSA has launched its own mini-internship program that matches young professionals with more senior practitioners from similar backgrounds for a day of mutually beneficial learning. Closer to home, your PRSA Philly chapter is working hard to create local mentorship opportunities.

On the bias training front, Renee Cree, PRSA Philadelphia’s Diversity & Inclusion Chair, participated in an educational session with Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia that helped open her eyes to some of the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQIA community and recognize some biases she harbored that she hadn’t even realized. These sessions can be uncomfortable, but also incredibly informative and thought-provoking. 

We’re communicators by profession, and so much of what we do relies on listening. By making equity a more pronounced facet of our diversity and inclusion efforts, we’re providing opportunities for a wider swath of voices to be heard, which can do wonders for the field. It leads to more compelling campaigns, fewer potentially self-inflicted crises and a better work environment for all.


Event Recap: Crafting Your Perfect Pitch with Michael Smart

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


Michael Smart brought his tips for the perfect pitch to members of the PRSA Philly Chapter at the Pipeline Philadelphia Coworking space October 7.

About 50 chapter members listened as Smart presented new ways to grab journalists’ attention and how not to be annoying in follow-ups.

Smart said the two-part recipe for great media relations includes building relationships with journalists and the quality of the story being pitched. The challenge is to separate the business message from what the reporter needs. He said the best PR pros work on building an intimate one-to-one communication with journalists.

Top takeaways from the session:

  • Make the pitch interesting by finding something novel, quirky or useful, and use videos and graphics to support the pitch.
  • Help overwhelmed journalists by giving them everything they need, including examples of trends, photos, video, real people, and third-party experts. Smart used the acronym DIFT — Do It For Them. Include links, no attachments!
  • Customize your pitch — target the top 20 percent of journalists.
  • Pitch an old story to a new entity by using different real people. If readers haven’t seen it and it’s useful, they won’t care that it’s been out there before.
  • Don’t be a mere pitcher — create content for influencers to share. If it goes crazy on Reddit, a big publication may be interested.
  • Keep your pitch short and to the point.
  • Think magazine covers when trying to come up with a subject line. To grab attention, use numbers, a — question or ‘how to.’ Most compelling? Not the subject line — it’s the sender line. You want them to see your name and open the email.
  • Follow up! Reporters can’t keep up with emails, so follow up. Annoying is following up the same day, or if they already said no. Add value to your pitch in your follow-up: include another asset or additional note. After a week, call the reporter!
Smart summed up with three tips:
  • Create great content and shop it around
  • Don’t be afraid to call
  • Perseverance pays off

Smart told the PR pros that improving their pitching can help them get more respect from journalists and bloggers, that pitching gets easier and more successful, and that it can help build more confidence and job satisfaction.

Kimberly Kerr, communications coordinator at Gift of Life Donor Program, came to the workshop to learn how to master the pitch.

“This helped me really understand what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to stacking a pitch,” she said. “Yes, you’re worried about your company, but you also have to be worried about what the journalist wants and what the journalist needs.” Her biggest takeaway? The follow-up. “This helped me realize it’s not annoying and it’s actually helpful because their inboxes are full just like ours.”

Louise Eliason, an independent public relations specialist, said, “It’s very validating for me to hear a lot of, ‘Yep, you’re doing it absolutely spot-on,'” she said. “That was huge for me to get that feedback.”