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May 2022

Michele Besso | Published on 5/20/2022
May 2022 PRSA Philly Chapter Chat

President's Letter
by Michele Besso

Happy Spring Everyone!

I hope you have been enjoying this (somewhat) warmer weather, even though we’ve had some cooler/rainy days and even some windy ones. Hopefully nicer weather is on the way for the rest of May!

As part of an effort to attract new members and encourage those whose memberships may have lapsed to rejoin, I’m excited to announce that we’ve launched the “Summer Spree: Discounted PRSA Chapter Dues” incentive, a limited time offer through June 30, 2022.

When I ask someone what’s keeping them from joining PRSA Philadelphia or why they chose not to renew their membership, one of the main hardships I hear about is typically MONEY. While we can’t change our national dues (although there are several tiered membership categories that can fit most budgets), we can try to do something on the local end.

With this special new coupon code, you can get receive up to $30 off your Philadelphia chapter dues. You must be a national member to join the Philadelphia chapter. See more information about this new initiative below and visit now to take advantage of the discounts or e-mail Shari Rosen at with any questions.

On another note, I personally enjoyed meeting many of you last month at our first in-person networking event of the year at Victory Brewery. The craft beers and light bites were great, and I saw a lot of networking and connecting happening, which made me very happy.

Speaking of connecting, we plan to host at least two more networking happy hours over the summer -  in addition to other programs - one in the King of Prussia area and the other over the bridge in New Jersey. Keep checking our website for more information!

Lastly, I would like to ask all of you to consider becoming a board member next year. These are volunteer positions, but you will receive a lot of board support to help you during your tenure. The job is rewarding and fun!

Please reach out to me at if you are interested or know someone who may be interested in a leadership position. We’re also looking for membership and D&I committee chairs, as well as volunteers for all our other committees.
Take it from me, being president is a pretty cool place to be!

Hope to see you soon,
Michele Besso
President, PRSA Philadelphia

Exclusive Member PRofile:
70th Anniversary Edition
FeaturingDavid Kirk, APR, Fellow PRSA
by Wendy Harris, SHRM-CP
In celebration of the 70th Anniversary of PRSA Philadelphia, over the next few months the
newsletter will feature several leaders and members of the organization to share their insights about the PR field, moments from their careers, challenges they’ve faced, and advice they have for the next generation of PR professionals.
This month, we provide a Q&A with David Kirk, APR, Fellow PRSA. David is the founder of thePRguy LLC, a public relations firm in Phoenix, Arizona, where he relocated in 2012. He focuses on three industries—healthcare, financial services, and commercial real estate. Kirk has 48 years of experience in all aspects of communication art and science. He is past president of PRSA Philadelphia (1990), one of three founders of Goebel, Kirk, & Pilato Public Relations, and was senior vice president of Ketchum Public Relations in Philadelphia.
      “Ironically, I’m turning 70 in a few months, and this is the 70th anniversary for the PRSA chapters so, it’s just perfect that we’re both 70 at the same time,” he quips.

Why did you choose public relations as a career?
I fell into it accidentally; my undergraduate degree was in psychology. When I was in my last year of college, I ran the box office and other business aspects of the LaSalle Music Theatre and performed in several shows. I collaborated a lot with the PR director at Temple University’s Department of Theatre. When I got out of school, she offered me a part-time job for a few months to help her run a subscription campaign for the theaters at Temple. My job became full time after that campaign and ultimately the PR director retired. So, I became the PR and audience development director for the Temple University School of Communications Department of Theater.
After a few years there, I struck out on my own and started a publicity firm, mostly promoting authors. I ended up with four employees working out of my apartment at Fourth and Spruce. Though I had a success with it, I realized at a point that I just didn’t know enough, I wasn’t good enough, and I needed to get a “real” job, so I went to an old-fashioned industrial PR firm called McKinney Public Relations. That’s where I learned the real basics of the trade of media relations, case histories, trade shows, and events. The president of McKinney was a PRSA member, and she encouraged me to join the local chapter.
What a revelation that was! I found out that there are actually people who are trained to do this. I was flabbergasted because I didn’t know that. I glommed onto the accreditation process, and I absorbed everything I possibly could, short of going back for another degree. Then in 1982 Chick Gobel and Claudia Pilato, two other professionals working at McKinney, decided it was time for us to start our own agency. We started our business in my apartment, soon got an office on Rittenhouse Square, and then moved to a bigger space at Fourth and Market.
We built our staff and client base and by 1990 we were the largest independent PR firm in Philadelphia. We made it through one recession. Then we were started to see a second recession coming around 1989/1990. Chick and I (Claudia had left us earlier) decided that we didn’t want to go through that again, so we sold the company to Ketchum Public Relations, which was big in Philly at the time. 
My contract with Ketchum required me to work for them for a year and on the 366th day I left because I just couldn’t work for somebody else. After that, I did a short stint with a pioneering public affairs agency, a company called HRN, Inc., for about a year. In 1991 I went back on my own and I’ve worked at home ever since then. I’ve been doing mostly crisis communication and public affairs work around federal legislation.

Who were some of your early influences in the business?
I would have to say there is one—Tony Fulginiti—at Rowan University. Tony was the original town crier for accreditation in Philadelphia. He convinced everybody to get accredited and he ran the prep programs. He just did it all. He is a knowledgeable, enthusiastic coach, mentor, and trainer. He was pretty much the influence in my early career that got me interested in professional public relations.

What do/did you enjoy most about working in PR?
Counteracting testosterone. What I really enjoyed and continue to enjoy is going into those fraught situations where somebody is in trouble, the business is at risk, and men are wearing their testosterone on their sleeves. I love coming in with a rational, proven process to figure out what the damage is or isn’t and what we need to do. Is there really damage, has the company suffered or about to suffer any damage, or is it just your ego that’s hurt? That to me is extremely satisfying, where you go into a big mess and you put aside all of the emotional nonsense, look at the facts, determine what’s really going on here, and take appropriate action.

What are some of your most memorable moments working in PR?
There is a model of a red 1964 1/2 convertible Ford Mustang in my office that represents one of my most memorable moments. That moment is the impromptu speech I gave at the PRSA Accreditation Board in New York that convinced the board to scrap the old examination and create a new one, the current accreditation examination where you go to a testing center and it’s all computerized. That’s not how it was. We used to have a written test that included writing a complete communication plan based on a scenario.
Just as we were determining how to replace the firm that scored the examination for us because its head was retiring, I gave this impassioned speech about how the current exam was like a 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible. I had one right out of college and it was the greatest car. I kept it tweaked and it was in great shape, but it didn’t have seat belts or air bags, it didn’t have built-in navigation. It wasn’t a modern car. It was an old car that I kept up. So, I said in my speech that we have a choice. We could either keep this old exam together with spit and chewing gum or we can do what every other profession in the world has done and build a scientifically designed examination that can be delivered in testing centers by the same people who deliver the SATs and the LSATS. We can have one of those but it’s going to be expensive and it’s going to take a lot of time, but I say we have to do it.

Well, everybody agreed and at the next quarterly meeting I was given this Mustang as my reward for having done that. We hired some of the biggest and best consulting companies in the world to teach us how to do psychometric testing. There were about a dozen of us who were trained on how to write questions and answers and we had this massive process in which we tested and validated every question. It was a really sophisticated scientific process that led to the exam that exists today.

Why did you join PRSA and how did it help your career?
Tony Fulginiti said so and my boss said so, so I did. How it helped my career is that it turned me on to the professional side of public relations and off I went.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a board member, chapter leader or national leader?
I was the 1990 president of PRSA Philadelphia. The membership was and always is extremely diverse. I would say the biggest challenge was responding to the diverse needs of the membership based on the arc of members’ careers. The focus of my year as president was holding onto the spectrum of members by providing some level of service and/or programming that was appropriate for them. We would do specialized programs just for our senior members, for example. We set up mentor programs and that sort of stuff.

What do see as some of the biggest challenges facing PR practitioners today?
I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot. There’s technology to deal with and knowing technology and how communication is changing and all of that stuff. I think the biggest challenge now is either keeping or getting a seat at the table in the senior management ranks and finding ways to prove the value of public relations to the organization.

What is your philosophy regarding the role PR plays in shaping a company’s brand and culture?
My philosophy is that you’re either in a position to be influencing culture and brand or you’re not. You’re either on the horse or off. You’re either at the table or not. Public relations people should have a huge role in both brand and culture, but you need to be at the table, so you have to be able to demonstrate that you did something of value for the company and not just that you got some clips, had a nice party where everybody thought it was great, got nice letters, or great reviews on Yelp.

Who do you admire in the PR field?
I would have to say categorically it’s the people who have done things to influence the world’s understanding of what we do and our perception. One guy who comes to mind is Shel Holz. Shel is the world expert in corporate internal communication. Some of the other people I admire are proteges of mine and people who used to work with me many years ago like Timothy Bird. He’s now the CEO of a huge multi-location healthcare PR shop in Manhattan and Tim worked for me when he was 20 or 21. Laura Liottia is another success story. I admire a lot of people who grew up in my circle of influence who have since gone on to be enormously successful.

What message do you have for young people considering a career in PR?
Get a degree. Get two degrees. Get three degrees. Get all the degrees you can and get trained. Don’t try it on your own and don’t make it up. Learn it. There is a difference between most PR people and attorneys. Attorneys argue from a body of knowledge, the law. You’d never hear an attorney arguing to the Supreme Court that “it just isn’t fair, your honor!” Yet that is the equivalent of arguments I’ve heard from PR people, when they plan to “generate enthusiasm” and “create excitement” with some “great idea.” I want PR people to be properly educated, to work from a body of knowledge, to know how to do research and know how to bring persuasion theory to the table, argue for a course of action that is going to solve a problem, and then demonstrate what was achieved. There are just too many hacks out there that don’t have any of that and they make it up. Whenever they are making it up, they are embarrassing the rest of us and poisoning the well for the people who are doing it from a foundation of facts.

If you could have changed one thing in your career, what would it be?
It would be that I would have 10 degrees. I would have an MBA or master’s in communication. I’d probably have Ph.D. by now. The more education that you get the more powerful and successful you’re going to be. Fortunately, I learned early on that I needed to get that so I went out and found it on my own and took all the courses I could get and put myself around the best people I could possibly be around to teach and coach me.

Insight from a PRSA Pepperpot Awards Winner
by Michael Wood, MBA

In the fourth of our series spotlighting the PRSA Philly chapter 2021 Pepperpot award winners, congratulations to the team at Penn Medicine. Penn Medicine consists of 11 “entities” with more than 43,000 staff, faculty and students.

The Penn Medicine team won four Pepperpot and two Ladle awards in the following categories:
  • Internal Communications for a Non-Profit for its “I Got the Shot” campaign;
  • Internal/Employee Communications for its Penn Medicine Experience “Year of Being Present” program;
  • Media Relations for its “How Penn mRNA discoveries helped save the world” publicity:
  • Brochures for its “Facts & Figures 2021”.
  • A/V Programs for its “Bariatric Patient Success Stories” (Ladle); and
  • Website for its “Penn Medicine’s Reimagined Digital Community Benefit Report.”
Penn Medicine’s Princeton Health also was awarded for its Marketing Communications campaign, “Cancer is no match for me,” spotlighting its patient stories.
Holly Auer is associate vice president, Communications & Marketing. With two Internal Communications awards, we spoke with Debbie Foster, senior director, Internal Communications, who has been with the University of Pa. Health System for 10+ years.
Why do you participate in the Pepperpot?
When I joined the Communications team with PR and Marketing, after previously being in HR,  we were actively encouraged to participate. It was a different mindset for me, and part of the organization’s DNA. We have a really talented team and won awards dispersed across multiple parts of the department. The Pepperpots become a chance to pause and reflect on the work we’ve done, celebrate amongst ourselves, and get recognition for outstanding work. The recognition allows us to amplify what was done with our leadership, too. It was daunting the first time submitting a nomination, but I learned so much from my peers. The exercise is worth it, and I recommend taking part.
Tell us briefly about the Penn Medicine Experience campaign?
The Penn Medicine Experience (PMX) program began as a patient experience initiative and expanded to include our employees. It is a multi-year effort to promote and reinforce a set of service excellence standards across the Penn health system. It’s a way to celebrate our culture, show employees how valued they are, and provide services and resources to manage personal or professional challenges.

Each year, the campaign focuses on one “standard” to embed the behavior at all levels of the organization. While it is centrally driven, all 11 entities participate. We collaborate on core elements like key messages and branding and create a web site with a toolkit of resources for local teams to customize and operationalize at their location. We had weekly (employee) huddles, monthly manager meetings, and dozens of system-wide and local celebration events.

The theme was “Present”, meaning how everyone shows up, connects with others, and stays engaged in their work every day. It is a celebration of our staff, and we focus on getting leaders out in the organization to interact with and recognize employees. We sourced incredible stories that reflect every part of the operation and every type of role. The storytelling gets featured in email newsletters, on digital signs, photo spreads, posters, blogs and videos, and become part of manager discussion guides. Some powerful stories came from emails and letters from patients. Some of the stories come from the Penn Listening Lab, which spotlights the power of listening to make an impact on patient care. The campaign is very visible to patients and visitors, so they can see the faces and read the stories that we spotlight.

Tell us about the “I Got the Shot Campaign.”
Unlike the PMX, this campaign came together quickly as soon as we knew the vaccine would become available in early 2021. Specifically, our goal was to encourage staff system-wide to be vaccinated and recognize how everyone had a personal reason for getting it. Penn became the first academic medical system in the US to mandate the vaccine. We believed the vaccine would help people be safe and could bring about a sea change with the pandemic.

Our planning had to account for wide range of perspectives -- many enthusiastic and thankful for the vaccine, others were fearful, particularly in the minority community. With daily COVID email updates, computer screen savers, posters and banners, we reinforced the “truth” about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. We had a secondary audience, too. Our posters and digital signs became visible to our patients and visitors who can go nearly anywhere in our facilities.

Has internal communication become more prominent at Penn Medicine?
Internal communications has always been important at Penn, but I would say more people have come to recognize its value and the need for effective internal communications. COVID impacted everything in terms of how we operate and everything we needed to communicate. As a result, there’s greater recognition of the expertise we can offer.
We have a talented team that works collaboratively in the organization, and those relationships shined during COVID. Our operations are 24/7 in many different environments. There’s no one audience, and no one consistent way to get information out. We must deploy messages through multiple channels, and we must meet people where they are. As a designer originally, I feel a well-designed piece shows respect for the recipients of our communication, and employees feel valued as a result.
PRSA Philly's Upcoming Events


Get The Job: PRSA Philadelphia Resume & Portfolio Discussion
Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 6:30 PM

Are you fresh out of college or new to the field and trying to land your next job? Or are you a seasoned professional looking to advance your career? Then, join PRSA Philadelphia for our Resume & Portfolio discussion. You will hear from two local hiring managers,  Aly Maloney and Steve Orbanek, on what they're looking for in their next employee. Courtney Rice, PRSA Philadelphia's Emerging PR Pros Chair, will moderate this session.

The session will include time to ask questions and attend an optional breakout room at the end of the Q&A time. You can discuss your resume and portfolio more in-depth with one of our speakers or PRSA Philly board members in the breakout room.

About our Speakers

Aly Maloney, Communications Manager at American Board of Surgery
Aly Maloney is the communications manager for the American Board of Surgery, based in Philadelphia, PA. Aly is a communications professional with a decade of experience under her belt and has been a "team of one" for most of her professional career. She is familiar with all communications areas from journalism, marketing, public relations, and everything in between. Originally from New Jersey, Aly earned her bachelor's degrees in journalism and psychology from The Pennsylvania State University. When she's not managing her organization's social pages, website, and emails, Aly enjoys snuggling with her puppy and binging Netflix with her husband. She also serves as the Secretary and Treasurer on the PRSA Philadelphia board.

Steve Orbanek, Director of Communications at Temple University

Steve Orbanek is the Director of Communications at Temple University, where he serves as the University's primary spokesperson for all news media outlets. On a daily basis, he collaborates with national, regional, and student reporters in an effort to bring greater visibility to Temple University and the key role it plays as a global institution of higher education and as Philadelphia's Public University. With a focus on media relations, public relations, and issues management, he works hand in hand with key stakeholders across the University to ensure accuracy and transparency and also drive positive outcomes when sharing the Temple story.

A native of Erie, Pa, Steve received a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Duquesne University in 2010 and a master's degree in Communication Studies from Edinboro University in 2012. He continues to contribute as a freelance writer for a number of publications, and while in Erie, he volunteered as a board member for PRSA's Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter for nearly six years, serving as chapter president during 2017.
Timely Announcements

Coupon codes:

  • Use code PHILLY30 for $30 off chapter dues for returning PRSA Philly members who also need to register for a PRSA National membership
  • Use code PHILLY20 for $20 off chapter dues for new PRSA Philly members who also need to register for a PRSA National membership
  • Use code PHILLY2022 for $30 off chapter dues for those with an existing National membership
* You must be a PRSA National member to join the chapter.

PRSA Philly is currently looking for individuals to serve on the Board of Directors next year!
  • No board experience required to serve
  • Fun and enriching experience where you can really make a difference
PRSA National News

Professional Development opportunities from PRSA National, including webinars, workshops, on demand training sessions, case study presentations on various industry topics, and a range of certificate programs can be found HERE.

Love your PRSA Membership? Encourage a friend or colleague to join today!
Learn more here
PRSA Job Board
For those of you who may be in the hiring position, we hope that you will 
submit your openings as they become available so we can share them with our
community of PR and communications professionals.
If you are on the job hunt yourself, check out our local chapter listings.
We also encourage you to visit the PRSA National job board.
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