Home » Chapter Chat » November 2019

President’s Report


Martha Gaston

Happy November!

I can think of no better month to express my gratitude for all we accomplished as a chapter in 2019. I am thankful for all of our members: those who participated in an event from our media pitching seminar with Michael Smart to our higher education workshop, who engaged with us on social media and those who spoke to a friend or colleague about PRSA. As a non-profit organization for professionals, we rely on your participation and engagement to thrive.

There are even more reasons to be grateful: Earlier this month, we celebrated local PR stars at the 51st Pepperpot Awards, hosted by Ronnie Polaneczky, editor of The UpSide section of The Philadelphia Inquirer. I was honored to present the chapter’s annual Integrity Award to NBC 10’s Tracy Davidson, who, along with being a broadcaster in Philly for 20 years, is a champion of several causes in our community.

It was also my pleasure to give the President’s Award to Lori Doyle, Senior Vice President of University Communications at Drexel University, and PRSA Philadelphia’s Membership Committee Chair. Lori is an invaluable resource to many PR pros in the area, and she has been an outstanding leader on our board of directors. Congratulations again to all of the Pepperpot winners!

PRSA Philadelphia also celebrates the 2019 PR Institute participants, who wrap-up their 10-week program this month. A big thank you to Melanie Wright, PR Institute Chair, and our professional mentors who volunteered their time this fall.

Finally, in the spirit of gratitude, I need to recognize the PRSA Philadelphia Board of Directors, Committee Chairs and chapter administrators. Thank you for all you do for PRSA and the communications community in Philadelphia.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Martha A. Gaston, APR
PRSA Philadelphia President

Welcome New Members

Please join us in welcoming our newest chapter members!


Emily Branch             
Cage Free Design and PR

Amanda Lake            

Todd Lineburger       
AVP, Foundation and Alumni Communications                        
Rutgers University Foundation and Alumni Communications

Mia McNeely

Maria Montero        
External Affairs        
Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority

Daniel Pettine      
Manager, Public Relations 
Allen & Gerritsen

Marissa Phillips
Communications Specialist
Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW)

John Reynolds
Account Supervisor and Director of Media Relations
Buchanan Public Relations

Emma Schmidt 

Alyssa Shand-Perreault
Marketing Communications Specialist

Mallory Siegfried     
E-Communications Specialist Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS

Gordon Tayloe                                                                                  

Event Recap: PR Institute Awards Ceremony

By Mellany Armstrong, associate director of communications at Moore College of Art & Design, PRSA Philly/Communications Committee Member

PRSA Philadelphia Chapter celebrated the newest graduates of the PR Institute with a party at Smokin’ Betty’s in Philadelphia on November 21.

The six participants spent eight weeks in a public relations “boot camp” to create a plan for this year’s client, Runwell, The Linda Quirk Foundation, which provides access to treatment programs for substance use disorders through financial scholarships. The nonprofit helps those in recovery pay for treatment beyond the typical 30-day rehab program. Runwell raises money through athletic events like races.

“All of our clients are worthwhile organizations, but this one was really relevant,” said Melanie Wright, chair of the PR Institute. “When the team members did the presentation, [they asked] ‘How many people know someone who is in recovery or who has had a substance use disorder?’ and everybody raised their hand.”

Kevin Peter, director of Runwell, a program of Caron Treatment Centers, said Runwell meets an urgent need.

“We had good insurance that covered the first 30 days of our son’s treatment,” he said. “But when a counselor recommended extended care, that expense was paid out of pocket. We were very fortunate to be able to afford that. Lots of people can’t.”

Wright said Runwell, like many of the PR Institute’s clients, needed help spreading awareness of  its mission. Over the eight weeks, the team members interviewed workers at Caron as well as people who have run marathons to raise money for Runwell. Because there are a lot of organizations that do similar things to fund-raise, the teams had to come up with something that stands out.

One part of the plan included holding a signature tether race, where people are connected to each other for the duration of a race.

“We wanted to compare it to folks that are going through the struggle of addiction and substance use disorder, and they usually lean on someone else when they need support,” said participant Sakeenah Benjamin, public information coordinator for WHYY.  “So we wanted the race to be that you have to be tethered together for the entire race to make it through.”

Phil Jackson, who works for the United way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, said the team came up with a complete program for Runwell.

“The plan highlighted all of the areas of opportunity for the business, starting with things like budgeting, building partnerships through media sponsors, and really digging into the weeds of social media growth,” he said.

“The client was just blown away, and the team members are actually helping people and families make a difference in their lives,” Wright said. “One of the things we stress in the program is to come up with a comprehensive plan that can realistically be executed by the client. They suggested an advisory board to help provide expertise, and guidance in how to get volunteers.”

Wright said the PR Institute helps the participants see more than just one part of a public relations plan.

“It’s really big-picture thinking, more on a management level, and this program really prepares them for that next management level of responsibilities,” she said.

“It’s probably one of the best programs that I think I’ve ever gone through in my professional life,” Jackson said. “There were times when we had different ideas on certain things, and we brought all of that together and in the end came up with something really solid.”

“It was really a great feeling when I saw the proposal come together,” said Jessica Gibson, a proposal consultant at Cigna. “I learned a lot about working with other people, a lot about time management and a lot about listening.”

“I felt accomplished and I felt like I helped change another nonprofit,” said Benjamin.

Pictured below: Jessica Nutt, Phil Jackson, Zachary Raczka, Michael Potter, Sakeenah Benjamin, Kelly Lyons


Meet the Board: John Kouten, Immediate Past President and Ethics Chair

By Michele Besso, Public Relations Specialist at Masonic Villages of Pennsylvania and PRSA Philadelphia Communications Committee member

What is the role of the immediate past president? What are your responsibilities?
As Immediate Past President, I serve the needs of the President. In 2019, I worked closely with President Martha Gaston on key chapter issues. Most of my 2019 work focused on the Pepperpot awards, developing a chapter nominating committee and building up the chapter’s sponsorship committee. 

How long were you president and when did you serve?
I had the privilege of serving as the PRSA Philadelphia president in 2018. I was extremely lucky to have held this office in 2018, as it was the 50th anniversary of our coveted Pepperpot awards. In 2018, we also witnessed the Eagles pull off an improbable win over the New England Patriots, and the Villanova Wildcats won their second NCAA basketball title in three years. A very fun year in Philly!

Have you served any other roles on the board? Why did you want to get involved with a board role?
Since joining PRSA Philadelphia in 2013, I served two terms as chairman of the chapter’s PRSSA liaison committee and as the membership committee chair. In 2020, I plan to serve as the chapter Treasurer.

I have been a member of PRSA since 1990. Before that, I was a PRSSA member since 1987.  During that time, I served in various board roles. In the Anthony J. Fulginitti (AJF) PRSSA chapter, I was 2nd vice president, vice president and sponsorship committee chairman. Over the years, I also served the Big Apple PRSA chapter and the NJ PRSA chapter in various board and committee chair positions.

I serve PRSA because my mentors encouraged me to serve. And it has been my experience that the more I give, the more I get. Over the years I have held board positions at the New Hope Foundation (7 years) and the NJ Komen Foundation (14 years). I also currently serve on the board of CancerCare (5 years and counting).

What is the role of the Ethics Chair, another position you hold?
As our chapter’s ethics committee chair, my responsibility is to serve as a liaison between the national ethics committee and the chapter. I attend monthly calls of the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS). As the chairman of this committee, I ensure our chapter is abiding by the PRSA code of ethics which sets out principles and guidelines that uphold the core values of the ethical practice of public relations, including advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity. 

You’ve been CEO of your own company, JFK communications, for 16 years. What does your company do and what does your role entail?
JFK Communications, Inc. is a life science-focused public relations firm. We provide communication services to pharmaceutical, biotech, medical devices, diagnostics and medical technology companies. We position the firm as a boutique alternative for clients who prefer white glove service from senior counselors, versus cookie cutter service common in the big agency model.

Our myriad of services include all aspects of corporate communications, product PR, inbound marketing and investor relations. As the CEO of JFK Communications, I lead all business development, client services and operations functions.

What do you like most about your job? What do you like about working for yourself?
As the principal of a healthcare PR firm, every day is different. Also, I have the privilege of client selection and work schedule flexibility. I am really excited about serving clients developing drugs for rare diseases, especially in oncology.

How long have you been active in PRSA? Why do you stay on the board – what do you like about the organization? Why should someone join PRSA?
I have been an active PRSA member since 1990. For the most part, I have always served – either as a board member, committee chair, or committee member.

My parents have always reminded me of our responsibility to our communities and the vital nature of charity. I find my service in PRSA extremely rewarding, personally and professionally. As a junior member of PRSA, I can say that I utilized a plethora of services, mentors, workshops, conferences and training modules. As I grew in my professional career, I felt an obligation to give back – and that feels great!

If your goal is to become a PR professional, why wouldn’t you join PRSA? PRSA is unmatched in its services and ability to provide career development to the PR pro in all stages of her career. Just check out what some our own PRSA Philly members say.

You went to college at Rowan University. Were you active in PRSSA there?
I was a member of the AJF chapter of PRSSA in ’87, ’88 and ’89. During this period, we competed and won Outstanding Chapter in the nation two times and competed and won numerous regional PRSSA awards. I also served as an account executive in PRaction – the chapter’s student-run PR firm. We forged lifelong relationships which enriched my college experience immeasurably.

Who would you consider your mentor and why? Have you mentored PR professionals?
Anthony J. Fulginitti was our professor, leader and mentor. He always had time to offer advice. His booming voice and clear instruction forged my worldview on public relations. I can hear Tony now – “Passion, John! You must practice public relations with passion!”

During my time at Rowan, my professional mentor was a man named Frank X. Long. Frank invited me for coffee and long talks at his Cherry Hill office. By the late 80s, Frank was semi-retired from a stellar career in corporate PR. Frank’s advice and counsel was the icing on the cake of my Rowan experience. I would be remiss without mentioning Anne Sceia Klein, founder, Anne Klein Communications Group. Anne was a professional advisor to our PRSSA chapter. Her steadfast support for the chapter impressed me and stays with me to this day! Likewise, I always make time for emerging PR professionals and have served on mentor committees for PRSA and Rowan.

What do you like to do in your spare time (hobbies)?
I love to travel with Sara – my better half since 1993. We recently visited Greece. We also love to spend time with our three children: Michael, Cassidy and Tommy. I still surf the Jersey Shore (now that I’m fat and old, I’m limited to my long board on small summer days). I also love to hike, ski and read. And, I saw my first Grateful Dead concert when I was 15 and got hooked – enough said for those in the know.