PR Advanced: Be the Change (Boston University’s Regional Activity)

Every year Boston University hosts a conference, and every year I have been impressed by the dedication of the conference committee, caliber of speakers and involvement of professionals, agencies and professors.  This year my expectations were completely surpassed under the leadership of conference coordinator, Ginny Soskey.  I have had a different perspective of the conference this year as I worked with PRSSA Nationals to oversee the Regional Activities across the country.  But it was nice to be at Boston University to see the process throughout the past few semesters.  I saw as Ginny dedicated her life and put her heart and soul into this event.  Not a day went by without her working to make it a success, and it was better than I could have imagined.  I’m truly excited to see all the wonderful things Ginny (who is only a sophomore) is going to do in the future with BU PRSSA and beyond.

For those of you who were not able to attend PR Advanced: Be the Change, there were many fantastic speakers who I was able to listen to.

Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, IBM

Jon Iwata started off by discussing the strengths of public relations: listening and adapting.  He then spoke about the marketing funnel:

He then split his talk into four sections: Forge a shared belief, Spur people to act, Sustain Behavior and Enable advocacy.

In this digital age, people find out about things almost instantaneously.  During his presentation, he admitted that people were probably posting about his presentation, and he didn’t know what they were saying.  It could be bad things, but he has no control over that.

He spoke about why belief is important.  He used a scenario about bottled water as an example.  It used to be the belief that bottled water was better than tap water, but we now know that isn’t true.  He said, “We ought not to confuse fact with what people believe.”  Belief matters in the public relations field, and it is over predetermined by customers.  It is the job of public relations professionals to distinguish beliefs from fact.

People don’t like change.  Iwata suggested to not try to convince people to change but eliminate the inertia that is preventing them from changing.  He gave the example of hotels trying to convince people to reuse towels.  There was a 26% increase in people who used towels in hotels for more than one night when the signs said “Hotel guests use towels more than once” instead of telling people to use towels more than once to help the environment.

He continued by quoting The Social Network:

He spoke about the multiplier effect and how Facebook was able to grow so quickly.

Finally, he spoke about something everyone was waiting to hear about: Watson.

He told us that he actually competed against Watson (and lost) before they went public with him!  We watched a clip from Jeopardy and spoke about the benefits to Watson.  During questions, he said the next step for Watson would be health care to help physicians stay on top of all the literature.

And did I mention “Jon Iwata” was a trending topic in Boston almost immediately?

The conference continued with two breakout sessions.  I attended both agency panels.

Session 1 – Opportunities Worldwide

This panel covered topics from skills and personality traits to getting your first job to client relations.

Barri Rafferty, Senior Partner and Director, Ketchum New York

She spoke about the importance of being able to translate social media skills to the corporate role.  You might be able to use Facebook and Twitter, but can you use it in a professional setting?  You also need to be a good communicator verbally and orally.  Finally, be open to trying new things.  Don’t be afraid of doing something you have not previously worked on.

Meaghan Smith, Senior Account Supervisor, Edelman New York

When you start a new job, you need to learn other people’s working styles and be organized.  Keeping up relationships when searching for your ideal job is important.  Something may not be available right away, but in a few months you could get something you are looking for.  It is also important to give a business case to clients to convince them it is worth investing in your company.  That’s where business classes come in handy.  Finally, there is not a line between personal and professional social media.  You always represent your company so be careful what you say about the company and its clients.

Katherine Wilburn, Consultant, Gagen McDonald

Resiliency is important.  You may finish a plan for a client and have to redo it.  It is important to try to make clarity out of chaos in an agency setting.  Remember to listen and ask the right questions to arrive at a solution.  Keeping in touch with people is important.  If you see an agency is in the media, show that you saw the article and congratulate them (if appropriate).  Take as many business classes as possible, especially negotiations.  It may come in handy when working with clients to tell them what the consequences of their decisions may be.

Session 1 – Opportunities in Boston

This panel focused more on the Boston market.

Sarah D’Souza, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Edelman

Agencies never know when they will need to hire so it is important to keep in touch with people.  They are looking for interns who will get their hands dirty and work on multiple accounts.  It is important to learn to juggle multiple projects at the same time.  Internships are like long job interviews so it is important to show your best work.

Jason Glashow, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Fleishman-Hillard

The Boston market has an entrepreneurial environment that creates a lot of opportunities.  There is an untapped opportunity as some of these companies try to figure out their social strategies (which will be very important in the future).  Things change very quickly and constantly which is important to get used to in an agency.

Christine Perkett, Founder, PerkettPR

The ways you can reach reporters are now different.  Twitter may be a great resource, but sometimes reporters want to be reached in the “old fashioned ways.”  It is important for interns to learn how to juggle multiple clients.  Interns should take initiative and walk in with ideas.  If you can talk through a strategy for a class project and show you understand strategic thinking, that is great!

Margery Kraus, Founder, President and CEO, APCO Worldwide

The afternoon started off with another keynote address.  She told us about the way APCO has survived and made a name for itself.

  • Be the partner of choice with clients.
  • Push the boundaries of communication.
  • Provide a global service, culture by culture.
  • Do not build an organization by yourself.  Build it with a team of people.
  • Help companies, organizations and governments build, defend and monetize their reputation.

Clients often are looking for a solution but do not know how to get there.  It is the job of the PR agency to think about what they need and how it can be achieved.

The formula that APCO lives by is ROR (Return on Reputation) + ROI (Return on Investment) = Market Share.

They also live by the word passion.

  • Passion provides the fuel for our souls and minds.
  • Passion makes us work better and smarter.
  • Passion makes it more than a job.
  • Passion builds relationships that live beyond the project.
  • Passion is our secret weapon.

Ginny Soskey, Regional Activity Coordinator

I then had the honor of recognizing Ginny for all her hard work on behalf of the National Committee.  Mike DeFilippis recognized her on behalf of the conference committee.

I should also mention that by this time #pradvanced, Jon Iwata and Margery Kraus were all trending topics in Boston on Twitter.  And #pradvanced was a trending topic in the United States on Twitter.

Career Panel

Stephanie Deitzer, Founder and President, Style at Work

She gave advice about what to wear in an interview.  Know your audience when deciding what to wear.  Think of it as a first date.  What impression are you trying to make?  And she said you can never fail with the blazer!

Kate DiChristopher, HR Manager, Marina Maher Communications

When you go into an interview, show that you are passionate about the agency.  She is looking for people who know a lot about the company and are digitally savvy.  Also, be prepared to talk about the ways you consume media.  You should be able to name a few blogs you read and talk about why you read them.

Eric Leist, Emerging Technology Strategist, Allen & Gerritsen

When people come in for an interview, they are asked three main questions: Are you curious about technology?  What are you curious about?  How do you fulfill your curiosity?  It is good to ask questions that show you know what’s going on in the industry.  Look at your skills and passions and think about what you want before choosing a job.

Maggie Van der Leeuw, Manager of Human Resources, Burson-Marsteller

Show your personality during your interviews.  Does your personality online match with your personality in person?  It should!  It is good to show that you have a life outside of the industry, but also show you have industry knowledge through Twitter.  During the interview, show that you went beyond the basics of the website.  Don’t settle.  As an employer, they want to know you are going to dedicate yourself to your job.

Other Parts of the Conference

There were also many other speakers that I did not get a chance to see including Mariana Agathoklis, Director of Communications, MTV, Peter Stringer, Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics and Jamie Thompson, Founder and CEO, Pongr.

Additionally, Twitter was a constant throughout the conference.  Students were tweeting the entire time, but they also were asking questions of the panelists through Twitter.  Questions were answered by people raising their hands but also taken right off Twitter.

The day ended with a career fair with companies including 360 PR, Allen & Gerritsen, Boston University College of Communication Graduate Program, Burson-Marsteller, Cone, LLC, EMC CorporationFleishman-Hillard, Hill Holliday, Ketchum, Lewis PR, Marina Maher CommunicationsMSL Group, NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Porter Novelli, PRSA Boston and the Publicity Club of New England.

Once again, congratulations to Boston University and the entire conference committee!  Another job well done!


Social Media and Small Businessess

It is no secret that I am a fan of social media.  But one part that really grabs my interest is the effect of social media on small businesses.  I wrote a blog post called “Twitter and Small Businesses” that referenced a New York Times article that highlighted small businesses using Twitter to gain more business.  It showed that the larger companies who use Twitter to interact with their customers are not the only ones benefiting from social media strategies.  Throughout the last few months, Mashable has published articles about their thoughts on social media and small businesses beyond Twitter.

A Mashable article published 6 months ago called “How Small Business Is Using Social Media” surprisingly showed that only 16% of respondents are using Twitter for customer service purposes.  I feel like a lot of people think this is the only use of social media for companies, but the statistic really showed that there are so many ways to utilize social media.  LinkedIn and Facebook seemed to be the most used tools to create company pages.  It is true that almost every company you can think of has a company page and not every company uses Twitter yet.  Despite articles that show the importance of Twitter for small businesses, many of these companies do not see the value or purpose of Twitter.  Even more so they will not use this social media tool in a strategic manner.

Another article by Mashable “Why Small Businesses Shouldn’t Take Social Media for Granted” says that the size of the smaller businesses and their simplicity are actually assets when using social media.  It is so important to have that intimacy when communicating through these social media tools, and small businesses can achieve this easier.  The article highlights Starbucks as a company that is great at using social media, but they cannot communicate with all of their customers.  By being smaller, these businesses can interact with a larger percentage of their customers.  Who doesn’t like to get a response on Twitter from a company after tweeting at them?

Now with the recent trend toward smart phones, located-based deals are becoming prominent.  Just look at Mashable’s“5 New Ways Small Business Can Offer Location-Based Deals”.  Small businesses can use verified check-in rewards, social barcodes, group deals, challenge-based rewards and opt-in deals to gain not only more customers but more satisfied customers.  Mobile is one of the biggest upcoming trends, and small businesses have the perfect opportunity to become early adopters and use this tactic.

What do you think about the ways that small businesses can use social media?  Is it effective?  Or do the larger businesses have more control?


In a country of opportunity, the United States attracts people from all over the world.  Though many people may feel discouraged (especially with this economy) when they enter this country, it still brings the promise of hope and education to many people.  One such hard-working boy comes from Haiti.  He moved to the United States during 8th grade and completely committed himself to his education.  He is now not only graduating as the valedictorian of his class but has earned a full scholarship to MIT in the fall.  For more details on his story, see

When I was told to read this inspiration article, I figured it would be just another story of someone was given all of the opportunities in the world to succeed.  But that was not the case for this protagonist.  He truly had to prove himself in a new country and work hard to achieve his success.  He did not always have the work ethic to succeed, but he knew if he developed this dedication, it would prove beneficial to him later in life.  And what can be better than attending MIT, especially with a full scholarship?

Even with a terrible economy, difficulty finding jobs, and a more competitive environment, there are still truly inspiring success stories.  It is still possible to succeed and be given opportunities that you deserve.  Many of the people in the most recent graduating class feel hopeless because all of their hard work is not resulting in a job.  But there is still hope for dreams to come true, as Paul has shown.

With no special connections or privileges, he earned his way to the top in the most natural way.  Hard work.

Law and PR

As I pursue my dual degree in Public Relations and Business Administration, I am required to take a business law class.  At first, I did not know what to expect.  I only knew 2 things about law: 1) My sister was in law school. 2) Public Relations and law have a close-knit relationship because often public relations professionals and lawyers cross paths.  However, I have been pleasantly surprised about how much I have enjoyed the class, and I feel that it will greatly enhance my future in public relations by being aware of legal issues.

PR professionals believe that they need to maintain good relations with lawyers in order to seek their professional help and advice.  Though some lawyers do not appreciate PR professionals? lack of knowledge about the law, they do respect their ability to act in a crisis.  However, when promoting a product or cause, employees in PR may be unaware of certain laws.  Additionally, ethics greatly comes into play when one is immersed in the field of Public Relations.  For example, if an employer tells you to write on a blog promoting the product or cause that you work for, do you do it?  If you report the wrong information and discover it later, do you change it, even if that means hurting a client?  The Public Relations Society of America has a Code of Ethics ( to maintain their high ethical standards, but at times, professionals may ignore this document and run into trouble.  Additionally, many PR professionals do not know much about contracts, libel, slander, malpractice, or intellectual property.  That is where the relationship with lawyers may come in handy.

For example, a potential client approaches you and says he is starting a business to produce cookies and other baked goods.  He has a great recipe, but he needs the help of a professional to get his name out.  You agree to the terms and sign a contract.  However, a few weeks later you find out that he stole the recipe from Mrs. Fields and can no longer have his business.  In the meantime, you passed over another client to take him on.  Are you entitled to any damages?

In another case, you may find yourself ordering supplies to help your PR business.  You agree with a friend who sells office supplies that he will give you supplies on the 1st of every month.  You do not sign a contract ? after all, he is your friend!  You owe him $450 every month.  However, after three months of this business deal, he stops selling you the products, and you are now forced to pay $1000 for the same amount of supplies from another retailer.  Are you entitled to any damages?  (I actually just learned yesterday in my class that all contracts for the sale of goods that are over $500 must be in writing).

In another situation, your client is a restaurant and is quoted in a newspaper saying that its competitor not only does not clean the facility before cooking but uses various chemicals that are unhealthy without telling its customers.  However, your client knows this information is not true and says it anyway.  You think it is a crisis communication situation but really the competitor is planning its lawsuit against the restaurant, YOUR client!

These issues are three of many that PR professionals may not have much prior knowledge or experience with.    Many law issues may seem like situations that can just be handled by contacting the press and using crisis communications strategies, but in fact, they have the potential to turn into lawsuits if not handled properly.  The importance of communication and networking opportunities between lawyers and public relations professionals is just as important, if not more, than communication and networking between the media and public relations professionals.  A PR professional could easily lose his or her good reputation due to the unfortunate case of a law-breaking client.  Thank goodness for this law class!