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Philly Chapter 70th Anniversary  PRSA Philly

News / Articles

June 2022

Michele Besso | Published on 6/23/2022
June 2022 PRSA Philly Chapter Chat

President's Letter
by Michele Besso

Volunteerism: The practice of providing time and skills for the benefit of other people and causes, rather than for financial benefit.

That is the definition for volunteerism I grabbed from a basic Google search.

I actually like this statement even better, this time from the UN Volunteers website ( “Volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel that they matter to others. We strongly believe that the social relationships intrinsic to volunteer work are critical to individual and community well-being. The ethos of volunteerism is infused with values such as solidarity, reciprocity, mutual trust, belonging and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to quality of life.”

The PRSA board of directors is made up of volunteers. We do not get paid. We all have families, pets, day jobs, hobbies and other interests, but we make sure to carve out enough time to serve an organization that we are immensely proud to be a member of. I consider it an honor and a privilege to lead as President of PRSA Philadelphia. I enjoy giving back to a professional organization that has given so much to me over the years, from networking opportunities to programs that enhanced my career, to national webinars that helped me learn new skills, to the connections I formed that I hope will last a lifetime.

If you are a current member hoping to get more involved in our chapter, I say to you – YES. DO IT. VOLUNTEER. You will get so much more out of it than you could possibly imagine.

We currently have open board positions for next year’s slate of officers. We are also looking for committee chairs and committee members. There is a place for everyone, regardless of how little or how much time you have to spend with us.

Please consider volunteering today. If you would like to discuss possible opportunities, contact me directly at and I would love to set up a call with you. I have been having lots of wonderful discussions lately, and it has energized me quite a bit!

I believe we can all play a role in strengthening the chapter and making a difference. Plus, it just feels good to do something for others! 

PS: Make sure to check the events calendar for upcoming networking happy hours in King of Prussia and South Jersey and stay tuned for events leading up to our 70th anniversary!

Hope you are having a great June!

Michele Besso
President, PRSA Philadelphia

Exclusive Member PRofile:
70th Anniversary Edition
FeaturingMarisa Sharkey, MA, APR
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 Marisa Sharkey, MA, APR, Director of Corporate Communications at Harmony Biosciences. She was the 2008 President of PRSA Philadelphia and served on the Executive Committee of PRSA’s Health Academy from 2013-2018.
 “Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen more organizations stepping up and speaking out on societal issues, and as PR professionals, we’ve often been called on to help navigate companies’ journeys that accompanied the societal and cultural shift, taking more pronounced roles in change management both internally and externally.”

Q: Why did you choose public relations as a career?

A: I started college as a journalism major. Back then, I didn’t know about public relations – in fact, I hadn’t heard of PR until I took a PR class as part of the journalism track. I realized the writing and reporting that I liked about journalism was there in PR, along with many other components such as strategy. In my junior year, I decided to change my major to PR and never looked back.

Q: Who were some of your early influences in the business?

A: I’ve been able to work with and learn from so many practitioners in the business; however, there are three who immediately come to mind.
First, Anne Klein. While the experience in PR strategy and issues and crisis PR was invaluable, I learned that sometimes the most successful PR work keeps clients’ names out of the media. Another takeaway from her I continue to hold close is the importance of telling clients and leaders what they need to hear, even if they’re not going to like hearing it.
Another early influence is Annie Jennings, who heads a publicity company I worked for early in my career. As a national publicist, I wasn't just pitching thought leaders and authors to top tier media, I was conceptualizing and pitching TV segments and stories to feature them in a way that supported their mission and business need. At the time, I thought I was just getting some really cool media relations experience. In retrospect, the work I was doing was setting the stage for powerful storytelling and looking at content ideas through a storytelling lens. Something that has remained relevant over the years.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my PR 101 professor and graduate thesis advisor at Rowan – Dr. Don Bagin. During one of our PR ethics classes, I remember him saying that throughout our careers, we’re going to be faced with a lot of choices, including some that may compromise our ethics and values. His guidance was to remember that if you do right thing, you're always going to be able to sleep at night. That's something I've always taken with me.

Q: What do/did you enjoy most about working in PR?

A: I have a strong appreciation of PR being one of the few disciplines that has a truly holistic view of an organization as it’s one of the few functions that has both an internal and external view of a company’s landscape. This 360 degree purview helps empower PR to be able to help inform decisions and influence the business, and I’ve enjoyed that responsibility.

Q: What are some of your most memorable moments working in PR?

A: There are quite a few; however, the ones that continue to stand out in my mind are experiences that have allowed me to be able to connect directly with people and communities. My career has seen me to an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, diverse places of worship in Houston, and patient communities worldwide.
Having spent the majority of my career in healthcare, I’ve been able to see firsthand the positive impact the companies I work for have on patients. Hearing how my organization’s medicines help people live better lives is priceless. One of the most powerful memories that comes to mind is from when I led marketing and PR at a hospital – during a TV interview, a patient said – unrehearsed and without encouragement – the doctor “saved my life.”

Q: Why did you join PRSA and how did it help your career?

A: I was familiar with PRSA since college when I was on the PRSSA Bateman Case Study Competition team my senior year. I joined PRSA as an active, professional member when I worked for Anne Klein. She said everyone who worked for her needed to be involved with an industry organization. The agency would cover our dues and the senior leaders would be fully supportive, provided we made the most of the opportunity. Because of my experience with PRSSA, I opted to join PRSA and the Philly Chapter. In addition to attending programs, I volunteered for various committees. Ultimately, I was elected to the Executive Board and subsequently chapter President. I later took on a leadership role at PRSA’s national level on the Health Academy’s executive committee.
My Philly PRSA colleagues became one of my first PR networks – a network of professionals at all levels who I could tap into for brainstorming, mentoring and support, and I’m grateful we’ve continued to stay connected over the years.
When I was President of PRSA Philly, the chapter was one of the largest in the country – 600 members strong at the time – and the leadership experience was invaluable, particularly in heading up department and functions for my day job.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a board member, chapter leader or national leader?

A: I’m really proud of the impact and legacy from my Philly chapter president year. The chapter re-launched our website that year, and importantly, launched the PR Institute. While these were two separate initiatives, the focus was providing members with the tools and resources they needed and wanted from the chapter. That was a constant in the decision-making process for me and my board – we had a membership of highly skilled and motivated practitioners at various levels in their careers, across industries, geographically ranging from Cape May to Mercer County, NJ though Philly’s western suburbs. Meeting their needs and providing value to their membership was a challenge I like to think we met. This thinking was relevant during my time on the Health Academy Executive Committee as well – ensuring that members’ diverse needs were met.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing PR practitioners today?

A:  There are a couple that come to mind. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen more organizations stepping up and speaking out on societal issues – often employees, investors and the people they serve demanded it, and PR was often called on to help navigate companies’ journeys that accompanied the societal and cultural shift taking place. This often meant taking more pronounced roles in change management both internally and externally. For many practitioners, this was a new part of the discipline that required new skills and professional muscle. As we all learned to work virtually, PR was often at the table helping to direct and inform the new work style in a way that preserved organizational culture.
Another significant challenge that has come to our forefront in recent years is misinformation. It’s rampant spread and ability to influence and shape perceptions are scary. As PR professionals, we have a responsibility to our organizations and clients to protect their reputation. Combatting and challenging the heresay, disinformation and misinformation that has become prevalent in society is a key part of today’s crisis, issues and overall reputation management discipline.  I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to check out PRSA’s VoicesForEveryone website and resource center.

Q: What is your philosophy regarding the role PR plays in shaping a company’s brand and culture?

A: PR teams are reputation stewards for the organizations in which we work and represent, and culture is a key reputation driver. Culture must inform a brand in order for a brand to be authentic, and that starts inside an organization.

Q: Who do you admire in the PR field?

A: Broadly speaking, I’ve been fascinated by Futurists. We are at such an interesting place from a cultural perspective and listening to how they see our society’s evolvement is intriguing and inspiring.
On an individual level, I’ve admired Peter Shankman for years, for his business motivation and how he has continued to evolve in a way that has been authentic to him. When I was Philly chapter president, he was the featured speaker at one of our monthly member programs – it was a sold-out-with-waiting-list event and I’ve followed him ever since.

Q: What message do you have for young people considering a career in PR?

A: Get a solid foundation of real-world experience on top of your academic learning. Learn your industry and your company’s or client’s business. Take classes and gain experiences that provide you with skills and insights beyond PR.
Listen to what people are saying as well as to your intuition. Always remember your thoughts and voice are valid, regardless of your level, and your aspirations are valid too. Pursue the career and the role that you want, even if you think the cards are stacked against you. Shape the future you want for yourself.

Q: If you could have changed one thing in your career, what would it be?

A:  This will sound cliché, but I don’t think I’d change anything. Like everyone, I have “should haves” and “I wish I dids” along the way. The steps I did take have gotten me to where I am now.
Insight from a PRSA Pepperpot Awards Winner
by Michael Wood, MBA

In the latest edition of our PRSA Pepperpot winner spotlight, we connected with Donna Farrell, senior vice president of Corporate Communications, and Grant Gegwich, director of Corporate Communications at Independence Blue Cross to discuss their award-winning campaigns.

Pictured above, from left: Grant Gegwich, IBX director of corporate communications; Denise Porter, of Steege Thomson; Britni Zahodnick, IBX digitl communications manager; and Jill Wacker of Steege Thomson.

Congratulations to Independence for three Pepperpot awards in 2021 in the following categories:
  • External Communications/Non-Profit: “Beat COVID-19” campaign that evolved over two years to educate and provide comfort to the region during the pandemic (with Brian Communications)
  • Public Service: “Know your Mind” campaign on mental health (with SteegeThomson Communications)
  • Multicultural: “Our Community. Our Health.” health awareness campaign (with The Philadelphia Tribune) focused on chronic diseases impacting the African American community (Brian Communications)
Read descriptions on the IBX website here:
The conversation with Donna and Grant highlighted three themes:
  1. the power of partnerships – skilled agency partners, media partners who can provide multiple platforms to reach target audiences, and community ambassadors
  2. the value of research, and
  3. the importance of making impact with effective, creative PR campaigns.

Why do you feel it is important to participate in PRSA’s Pepperpot awards?
“We are a big fan of the Pepperpots. It is a well-organized program, and it is truly meaningful for us to take part. It is important because the Pepperpots are iconic in our region. An award like this is a validation of the value of strategic communication and the impact we can have. It is also a good team builder that shows your work is as good as the work done by our well-respected peers in the region,” said Donna Farrell.

“There is a sense of pride with having our work validated and recognized. We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented and dedicated team, and we are proud of the work that we do,” said Grant Gegwich.

How have your agency partners assisted IBX in your successful campaigns?
“These campaigns were huge team efforts, and we could not have done this without our agency partners who are so very talented and collaborative.  Brian Communications, who has played a key role in our Beat COVID-19 and Our Community. Our Health campaigns, is our primary agency and has been for a long time. We value their partnership. They not only bring creative ideas and a thoughtful approach to our campaign development, but they offer another very skilled set of hands who can activate messaging in the media very quickly as we needed to be agile.

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, there was an urgent need to communicate, and we were up on the air with messaging within 48 hours with what became the Beat COVID-19 campaign. Our health systems were under tremendous pressure. We needed a robust communications campaign with staying power. Two years later, the campaign continues!

Our work with SteegeThomson on the Know Your Mind campaign began in 2019, before the pandemic. We had been working with them on a potential mental health-focused campaign as part of our corporate commitment to equitable, whole-person health. When the pandemic hit - and the focus on the mental health needs of people in our region was heightened - we were ready. Initially, the City of Philadelphia asked if we would work with them on a campaign during Mental Health Awareness Month.  We already had a campaign ready to go that Steege helped us craft that we called #mindPHL Together.  We wanted to raise public awareness around mental health, reduce the stigma of seeking help, and offer resources for support. The team at Steege helped us with thorough research and identified voices of diverse mental health experts we could elevate when the campaign evolved into “Know Your Mind.” Steege does a lot of work in the non-profit space and had many relationships that were pivotal to the campaign.

Our partner agencies help us take it up a level, and sometimes help us take a step back and think in a different way, so we can make the impact we want.” – Donna Farrell

How have media partners helped your campaigns be successful?
“With our Know Your Mind campaign, we wanted to reach as broad an audience as we could across the 5-county region with research indicating that anxiety and depression impact all parts of our community. At the same time, we wanted to reach some specific audiences that our research showed were more likely to be facing mental health challenges, including millennials and people of color.   

So, we worked to partner with diverse media outlets to reach our target audiences. Through partnerships with WHYY/Billy, NBC10/Telemundo62, and iHeart radio, we were able to create a range of educational PSAs, social posts, and editorial content about mental health featuring a team of clinical experts from Independence and the community. These unique partnerships helped us to amplify our messages in a more organic and effective way. And the outlets also gained some great content.”– Grant Gegwich.

Describe the different approach in your “Our Community. Our Health” campaign?
“We joined with The Philadelphia Tribune in a different way that combined traditional PR and advertising with a unique grassroots campaign (“Our Community. Our Health.”) to combat chronic diseases in the African American community. As a partner, The Tribune brought so much to the table, not only with the influence of their respected paper and website but also with a grassroots effort involving influential community ambassadors.

More than 100 well-respected, trusted members of the community volunteered their time to speak in person, with some of those featured on video, in print and billboard ads, and on social media, about diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.  As vaccines became available to the public, the campaign also addressed vaccine hesitancy and encouraged community members to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones in the African American community. The campaign, which continued in 2022, is all about meeting people where they are – in the neighborhood, at the barber shop and at church, at work, or at play. It has been a very successful relationship.” – Donna Farrell.

What did you learn from these campaigns that can benefit any of us?
“Our President and CEO Greg Deavens is always thinking about the problem we are solving and the impact we want to make. As we shape campaigns, we base them on solid clinical research and information to be as effective as possible. We are a healthcare company and tied deeply into our community,” said Farrell. “If you have a long-term campaign – for example, the Beat COVID-19 campaign – it must be flexible. The pandemic remains with us, so we have had to be nimble, move quickly, and always be thinking of the next iteration.”

Gegwich added, “Our research focus groups and interviews with experts were important to help inform the messages we used and the images we considered to reach different people across the region. These efforts added to the costs and time, but they made the campaigns more effective.”
PRSA Philly's Upcoming Events


Eat, Drink & Mingle: July Happy Hour
Thursday, July 21, 6:30 PM

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar 
250 Main Street
King of Prussia, PA  19046

Eat, drink and mingle with other PR and MarComm professionals from the Philadelphia area. Join us at Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar in King of Prussia for our first Summer Happy Hour, where you can make new connections. Everyone attending will have a chance to win a free year membership to PRSA Philadelphia, along with other raffle items!

Price includes food and one drink. Additional drinks may be purchased during the event.


Eat, Drink & Mingle: August Happy Hour
Wednesday, August 27, 6:00 PM

Bonesaw Brewing Company
570 Mullica Hill Road
Glassboro, NJ

Eat, drink and mingle with other PR and MarComm professionals from the Philadelphia area. Join us at Bonesaw Brewing Co. in Glassboro, NJ for our second Summer Happy Hour, where you can make new connections. Everyone attending will have a chance to win a free year membership to PRSA Philadelphia, along with other raffle items!

Price includes food and one drink. Additional drinks may purchase during the event.


Save the Date: 70th Anniversary of PRSA Philadelphia with Felicia Blow, PhD, APR
Tuesday, September 20, 2022, 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Rodeph Shalom
615 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA  19123


Join the PRSA Philadelphia Chapter as we kick-off our 70th anniversary with a luncheon with our speaker and national president, Felicia Blow, PhD, APR.

*More information and registration coming soon.

About our Speaker
Dr. Felicia Blow, APR, is an award-winning leader with extensive organizational, fundraising, strategic planning, leadership and management experience. With a 30-year career spanning work in manufacturing (Caterpillar, Inc.); waste management and environmental services (Southeastern Public Service Authority); telecommunications (Cox Communications); and higher education (Paul D. Camp and Tidewater Community Colleges), Dr. Blow currently serves as Associate Vice President for Development at the renowned historically black institution Hampton University.

At Hampton, Dr. Blow led the university’s $150 Million Dream No Small Dreams II Campaign as its campaign director. That campaign concluded in December 2019 and ultimately exceeded its goal, raising more than $166 million in support of university priorities. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Blow has been featured in the book “Diverse Voices,” published by the PRSA Foundation in 2018. She has also been featured in “PR Women with Influence: Breaking through the Ethical and Leadership Challenges” by authors Juan Meng and Marlene S. Neill, published in late 2020.

Dr. Blow has taken on several leadership roles within PRSA over the years. Prior to serving as chair, she served as chair-elect in 2021 and senior counsel to the 2018 and 2019 PRSA Board of Directors. From 2013-2014, Dr. Blow served as a PRSA Board of Directors member representing the Mid-Atlantic District.

Beginning in 2019, Dr. Blow led a nearly year-long strategic planning effort that concluded in the establishment of PRSA’s first three-year strategic plan for Diversity & Inclusion, serving as co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee in 2020. Dr. Blow formerly served as chair of the Universal Accreditation Board, during which she worked to approve and initiate the APR+M credential, which positions PRSA with military organizations. In 2000, she was president of the PRSA Hampton Roads Virginia Chapter, the first African American female to be elected to that role.

Dr. Blow is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and numerous other business, economic development, and community service organizations. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mass media arts from Hampton University; her master’s in business administration from Strayer University; and her doctorate in higher education administration from Old Dominion University. In 2012, Strayer University named Dr. Blow its Outstanding Alumna of the Year.


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.
New & Noteworthy Programs
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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