A Stamp of Excellence

February 10, 2016 by


Recently, each student in the IMC program received an email requesting that we nominate a faculty member for the Alexia Vanides IMC Teaching Award.

Ok, no big deal. A simple superlative to recognize a deserving faculty member. With a little research, an email to last year’s recipient and after watching a video from Chad Mezera explaining the meaning behind the award, I learned that this award is far beyond a simple superlative for an IMC faculty member. In fact, it means so much more to the program than I originally credited.

Alexia Vanides, whom the award is named after, was an instructor of the IMC program that was really a shining example of providing her students with an exceptional course experience. Along with being an instructor in the program, Vanides managed the marketing communications for Fortune 500 companies, such as Hughes and Varian Associates and also ran her own marketing consultancy for 20 years. She taught IMC 616: Direct Marketing and IMC 626: B to B Direct Marketing.

“I took both of her classes and became infused with the effectiveness of direct response as an essential component in the IMC tool box. That’s what great professors do, isn’t it?” said Maureen Ryan, a 2010 IMC Graduate.

In January 2011, Prof. Vanides passed away leaving a legacy of excellence in education. The IMC program remembers the exceptional work of Vanides by polling students each year to select a professor to win this award.

I had the opportunity to reach out to Mike Kohler, IMC instructor for IMC 633 and IMC 637, who was the 2015 recipient of the Alexia Vanides IMC Teaching Award.


Here’s what Prof. Kohler had to say:

What was your reaction when you were selected for the Alexia Vanides IMC Teaching Award?

When I was notified that I was a nominee, of course the thought crossed my mind that I’d better be prepared for actually being honored. But, as I’ve now discovered, prepping yourself mentally doesn’t really cut it. When I heard my name announced, I was stunned. I guess it told me that you can prepare words and thoughts, but you can’t really prepare emotions. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

What does winning this award mean to you as an instructor?

Earning the Alexia Vanides Award validated that I was correct to follow my passion and to always have teaching as part of my life. In both my corporate career and in business ownership, I’ve always had adjunct teaching as a piece of my life puzzle. I guess this award means I won’t let go of it. Ultimately, I’ll have to make sure the retirement home has strong Wi-Fi!

What is your teaching philosophy and how do you approach your IMC courses?

I’ve had my teaching philosophy documented for a long time. “Through my teaching, students will have fun and learn a lot … and I will have fun and learn a lot.” This program is a perfect match for me.

Who or what has inspired you to be an instructor in the IMC Program?

Chad Mezera inspired me to join the program and deliver my best work. Does that count as sucking up? Well, anyway, what struck me about my first association with Chad was the businesslike manner in which he runs this program. As a lifelong practitioner, not an academic, I was impressed by Chad’s seriousness about the business model of the program, including the #1 priority – deliver quality instruction to high-caliber students.

What elements do you feel make an exceptional IMC instructor?

What makes an exceptional IMC instructor is genuine engagement with students who are bringing diverse perspectives from all walks of life. I admire our admissions standards in this program because we’re blessed with students ranging from big corporations to small town nonprofits. That gives IMC instructors the opportunity to act as symphony conductors in facilitating group interactions.

What advice has had the biggest impact on your success?

I learned something the first time I stepped into a classroom full of college seniors and grads years ago. At that time, I thought my business reputation in the community was worth something. Wrong! The body language alone told me “We are tuition payers … give us something we can use.” So I’d say that a big impact for me has been to recognize that we can learn, sharpen, and grow right along with the students. Every class I teach arms me with tools and knowledge that carry forward to other students.


So I encourage all of my fellow IMC classmates to take five minutes out of your busy day to nominate the instructor who has had the greatest impact on your time in the program!

It’s a one question nomination and available online at: https://wvuimc.wufoo.com/forms/qczkprz05p9tmu/

As you can see from Prof. Kohler’s comments above, it means a great deal to the deserving faculty member recipient… and your IMC program!


You Can Do It!

February 2, 2016 by


Recently I’ve been talking a lot with my niece who is starting back to school after having to take a break due to health issues. She had to drop out in her first semester of college because she was falling behind and wasn’t able to physically attend class for a while. Today is the first day of her semester and she’s already worried that she won’t be able to keep up, that maybe she will get sick again and, just maybe, she isn’t in the right field for her.

She’s neither alone or the first person to have ever been in this situation. Many of us have had to make similar decisions. Do we stay in school and tough it out, do we withdrawal before we lose our money and end up with a semester GPA that we may not recover from? These are difficult questions to answer and sometimes the decisions we make aren’t always the right ones.

When I was in undergrad I had to have emergency surgery. I was in my junior year and didn’t want to withdrawal from classes, but my recovery took longer than expected and even though I tried, I ended up with a low GPA that took me a while to recover from. I kept moving forward. I even ended up having to withdrawal from classes due to a move for my husband’s job. After taking a semester off and changing my major, I finally graduated after 7 years of school (4 part-time while I was working and 3 being a full-time student).

We are in the third week of a new semester and there are a couple of my classmates who have indicated that they’ve had to take some time off for one reason or another. They are back in the program now and looking forward to the challenges to come.

So, what’s my point? It’s that life happens, things get in the way and we have to make decisions that may make us put our goals on hold. If you’ve been in a master’s program that doesn’t seem like a great fit and are looking at the IMC program; take a chance, I don’t think you’ll regret it!

If you have to take a break remember you can always come back. You can pick up where you left off and you can achieve the goal you set for yourself. Your timeline may change but the end result will be the same. That’s one of the great things about the IMC program! If life happens and you need to take a break, you can step in out of the program based on your needs, not a school schedule that you have adhere to in order to graduate.

Remember…you CAN do it. As I told my niece this morning, the most important thing to remember is to take can’t out of your vocabulary. You CAN do anything you set your mind to.


you can do it

Building your network while helping others is a two-way street

January 20, 2016 by


The first month of the New Year is an excellent time to meet new professionals or to reconnect with those individuals we have helped or who have assisted us.  During January and February, I will find room in my calendar for at least two dozen meetings over coffee, lunches or happy hours.

I might be one of the luckiest guys alive or the biggest sucker for meeting new people, hearing their personal and professional stories and trying to see how I might lend a hand.  I have been doing this for decades, and I think it is the “curiosity” of being a former news reporter and Congressional  staffer.

These networking / mentoring sessions have made me a smarter, richer person.  More times than not, I receive far more than I offer.

No matter how busy you are, I encourage you to make time for others.  It will benefit you in many, many ways over the years.  Instead of deleting those invitations to trade association, alumni or office happy hours, take a chance and put your best foot forward.

The benefits of networking are endless, but here are some specific ways I am richer for meeting new people or staying in touch with my associates:

There are people I have met over the years who I enjoy getting together with for coffee or lunch and comparing notes about current events, the state of advocacy and communications, or other topics.

  • I needed a contact at a specific pharmaceutical company for a non-profit client and I turned to LinkedIn to see who might work there or be connected to the firm. I emailed a connection (a former client from the past) and within an hour I was emailing with the pharmaceutical company executive in charge.
  • I visited a Congressional contact from some years ago at his current place of employment, and it turns out my agency had a solution to some specific needs of his organization. They are now my second-largest client.
  • People I have helped when they graduated from college or who were between jobs are now hiring managers and I am able to refer promising professionals to them for job opportunities.
  • I went to lunch with a grassroots professional as a favor to an associate who wanted to know if he was experienced enough to teach an online course. I was blown away by his talent. He is now teaching in the program and we have partnered on several projects that benefit the government relations profession.

Here are some of the ways you can get involved in networking and mentoring:

  • Take a chance and attend a happy hour or event with an organization you have wondered about and might like to join.
  • Exchange your business card with interesting people there and follow up via email to see if a follow up meeting might be warranted.
  • Contact your alma mater to see if any students or young alumni need some career guidance or a guest speaker.
  • Tweet or post your professional insights so others might learn from you and your experiences. One of my friend in PRSA is actually tweeting a “mentoring tip of the day” throughout January.

There seems to be a new awakening after the holiday break and a newfound enthusiasm to start off 2016 with some resounding successes. It is not too late to get started.

Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C. office of the Asher Agency (www.asheragency.com) and teaches Public Affairs IMC 638 at the master’s level for West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program.

Connect with Mike at mikef@asheragency.com; @hillrat1156 or on LinkedIn.

Quality Service: 10 Steps for Winning and Keeping Clients

January 7, 2016 by


This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of PRSA Tactics and was authored by Mike Fulton. He teaches IMC 638 – Public Affairs for the WVU IMC program.

One of the most common questions that new PR and lobbying professionals ask me is: “How do you find clients and how do you keep them?”

Spotlight on businessman and customer at desk surrounded by finance and communication images

© Sarah Jones/Ikon Images/Corbis

I have been in this profession for more than 25 years and am blessed with some fantastic clients whom I love to work with. You have to love what you do and give 100 percent, every hour of every day.

During the first few years, when I worked for a PR/government relations agency, I serviced the clients that my boss sold. All of the pressure was on the back end, as I sought to exceed expectations in achieving each client’s objectives. As the firm grew and more senior executives joined our team, I had to build my own book of business on which I would be judged and compensated.

Although I am a hard worker, I had never been the lead dog on the sled, so to speak. I was anxious and apprehensive. However, I soon learned that business development is more of an art than a science.

Through the years, I have learned many lessons that led to some solid professional guidelines. Here are some highlights:

1. Pursue specific clients where you have relationships, experience, and knowledge first. This can include alumni from your alma mater, former business partners or coworkers and organizations with needs that are in the news and have deadlines for solutions.
2. You cannot network with enough people. People sell people — not websites, brochures or videos.
3. Be thoughtful in your follow-up with prospects and do so immediately. Every day that passes after a successful meeting with a prospective client significantly reduces the chance that you will work with them.
4. Even if you get a “no,” say thank you and keep in touch. Many people have come back to me for various reasons after they told me “no,” “not now” or initially hired someone else.
5. Doing great work for current clients is just like selling. You always want to retain the clients and seek ways to expand your business with them as you offer spectacular service.
6. Do not chase other consultants’ clients; there is enough business for everyone without cutthroat tactics.
7. Never skip over the fees and expenses to get to the work. Execute a signed agreement before you start work.
8. Send out invoices with a part-personal and part-business note, and always thank clients for the opportunity to work with them. If you delegate this important task, then you miss a valuable opportunity to interact with your clients and let them know you value their relationship.
9. Be transparent. Be honest and forthcoming on fees, expenses and other aspects of your work. When you try to bury something and the client learns, or even suspects, that something is awry, they will never trust you again.
10. Do not hesitate to ask your current clients for help in expanding your business. If they really like you and consider your work meaningful, then they will want their friends to work with you and your agency.

There are many other finer points to selling, servicing and retaining clients, but these are the ones you need to build a solid foundation for achieving success, for both you and your clients.


mikeMike Fulton directs the Asher Agency’s Washington, D.C. office and teaches Public Affairs IMC 638 at the master’s level for West Virginia University’s IMC Program. Connect with Fulton at mikefulton.wv@gmail.com or @hillrat1156, or on LinkedIn.

Finding Inspiration

November 11, 2015 by


I just started IMC619 Emerging Media and the Market. This class includes the creation of a blog with a minimum of one post per week. My initial reaction to this requirement was there was no way I was going to be able to come up with ideas for one weekly post, let alone the possibility of more. What I’m finding, however, is that through the class discussions, there are lots of topics that I can write about I hadn’t even thought of before.

For instance, this week we are discussing Fortune 500 companies and how they market to minority populations. I find it interesting that only 4% of these companies have a minority at the helm while minority groups, such as Asian Americans. generate the highest spending (Berman, 2015). Disney has separate websites for English-speaking and Latin-speaking guests. The websites are very different in how they are created with different color schemes and focuses of information.

latin disney

regular disney (Raziuddin, 2015).

While these are just two examples of things that have sparked my interest and will more than likely become topics for my IMC619 blog posts, there are a plethora of others that come from the reading materials as well as the discussion posts from other classmates. The Fortune 500 leadership information is something I found in my own research while the information about the Disney sites came from a classmates post.

My point is that there will be classes throughout your IMC course work that will challenge you and maybe even overwhelm you from the moment you read the syllabus. When this happens, remember to react with a mindset that you CAN do this. Take a deep breath, do your own research and read classmates posts and the responses. I have no doubt that you’ll soon be finding inspiration that you never thought of for posts and responses!



Raziuddin, Sarim. (2015, October, 28). Disney !Aja!. Retrieved from ecampus.wvu.edu

Buyer Beware: The Non-Disparagement Clause

November 10, 2015 by


In the age of Yelp and ubiquitous product reviews, consumers may think that they are safe to voice their unfiltered opinion of an experience they’ve had with a brand. Alas, that’s not quite the case.

Thanks (or no thanks) to non-disparagement clauses, companies are allowed to take legal action against customers who post negative reviews if the review could hurt the company’s bottom line. The clauses are currently allowed in every U.S. state, with the exception of California.

non-dispSenator John Thune (R, SD) is fighting for legislation that bans such ‘gag’ clauses nationwide.

“This is really sort of online bullying, when you intimidate and create an atmosphere of fear, that a consumer can’t express their views about a product or service online.”

The flip side of the controversy argues that the non-disparagement clause protects the company from defamation and false allegations that may be detrimental to the health of the business.

So what say you? Are non-disparagement clauses an infringement on free speech? Or are they a justifiable measure against damaging online reviews?

Advergaming or Adverblaming?

November 10, 2015 by


This week in IMC 619 we’ve been taking a closer look at advergaming. Advergaming is an online video game that promotes a particular brand, product, or marketing message by integrating it into the game. There are a variety of companies utilizing advergaming as a major part of their advertising campaigns. Some of the companies clearly state that the game consumers are about to play is an advertisement while others don’t indicate that fact anywhere in the game.

Advergames photo

That it is not always clear whether the game is an ad or an actual game is interesting. What is even more interesting is that children have become major targets of food companies via advergames. The end result of this type of advertising is the undermining of the fight against juvenile obesity.

Because this tactic has become such a major concern, “the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is currently able to take action against a company if a game encourages poor nutritional habits, such as excessive consumption or unhealthy lifestyles.” With this in mind, it makes me wonder why a company would even attempt to create something that could potentially be seen as negative. The result of a company being seen as promoting negative eating habits is having its advergaming product banned and turning away parents who care about their children’s health.

The idea that advergaming can have an adverse effect on the market it is targeting leads me to wonder when it is that advergaming becomes adverblaming? Where is the line crossed from one to the other?


Using social media for qualitative research

November 10, 2015 by


Market research is extremely important for marketing programs. Research helps companies develop products and services that meet the needs of their target customers. Qualitative research in particular is useful, because it involves figuring out what consumers think about certain products, services, or trends and why they think that way. Traditional qualitative research methods include focus groups, interviews, and observations. However, social media has opened up new ways to do qualitative research.

As I was searching the WVU e-library for information on market research, I came across an interesting academic journal titled Social media’s emerging importance in market research. The authors point out that traditional qualitative research can be costly. It’s also time consuming; it takes time to find consumers to study and to listen to them. However, social media advancements have made finding and listening to consumers easier.

Social media allows people to congregate at specific locations on the Web and share their ideas with each other. Additionally, many people do openly share their concerns, problems, and preferences on social media. Furthermore, this sharing happens instantly and transcends geography. People can get in touch with other people and even organizations no matter their location or time of day! This presents a great opportunity to directly engage with consumers and learn from them.

According to an article on Chron, the following are some steps you can take to come up with a plan for conducting qualitative research through social media:

1. Identify what kind of information you need to gather. For example, do you want to get consumers’ views on new menu choices, a new product, or website layout?
2. Figure out who you want to gather information from. Do you want to get the desired information from your target audience, past customers, or potential future customers?
3. Once you know who you want to gather information from, you will then need to figure out what social media platforms they “live” on.
4. Create the questions you want to ask. It is best to keep these questions concise and specific.
5. Determine the format you wish to present your questions in. This will partly be determined by the type of social media platform you are using.
6. Monitor social media platforms for responses to your questions.
7. Monitor social media platforms for mentions of your products, services, brand, or even the industry you are in. Many social media sites have search functions to help you with this task.
8. Analyze feedback from consumers to improve your business.

Here is a great graphic depicting the process:

Next time you have to perform qualitative research for a marketing program, think about the opportunities that social media presents!


November 5, 2015 by


Long time, no see. Well, sort of.

The obligatory selfie from my hotel room.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I proudly donned my cap and gown and graduated from the WVU IMC Program. Because I wouldn’t dream of missing the annual Integrate Conference, held in Morgantown each spring, I’m still able to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and of course – learn some new tricks from seasoned pros.

That’s why when I heard that the IMC Program was bringing a one-day Integrate Conference to Washington, D.C. on October 27, 2015, the nation’s capital and one of my absolute favorite cities, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by.

I live in Ohio, the heart of it all, so Integrate DC was a very quick plane ride away. Since 2011, I’ve worked as a Marketing Coordinator for a non-profit organization headquartered in North Canton, Ohio, and one of our programs, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, is housed inside the United States Patent and Trademark Office located in Alexandria, Virginia. Instead of flying in solely for the conference, I was able to stop by our very own National Monument of Innovation, grab some photos for our social media pages and introduce myself to new staff.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office's Madison Building is quiet a beauty, especially with the leaves turning.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Madison Building is quite a beauty, especially with the stunning colorful leaves

In reality – the conference was so amazing, it would have been completely worth the trip on its own! Five presenters, along with their anecdotes and advice, filled our morning with high-quality content.

Speakers for the day were Leslie Schrader, of Ketchum Washington, Michele Bartram of Business USA, Keith Quesenberry of Messiah University, Kurt Kehl of Monumental Sports and Entertainment and last but certainly not least, Eric Asche of Truth Initiative.

Some of the most memorable takeaways for me had to do with earned media, how to turn an old process into a better one, the importance of influencers and so many social media related pointers that I am grateful I took notes. These are all part of ongoing conversations at my job, and because I handle social media for our multiple programs, the words resonated with me.

Following the presentations, we took a short walk over to Ketchum Washington’s workspace, which was unbelievably and utterly epic (my apologies…there are no other words to describe this, I tried). The environment is one that certainly fosters creativity, and the team was extremely proud to show us completed national (and often, award-winning) projects they produced for clients.

We closed the day with a networking event at the HON Showroom. This was a beneficial way to get to know more about the people I had spent the day with and view quite possibly the most amazing office furniture showroom known to man. Can you tell I am fascinated by architecture and decorating?

I ended October 27 with new contacts, new experiences and better yet – a new bank of knowledge.

So, what’s next for me? I’ll be in the Washington, D.C. area November 17 for my organization’s Collegiate Inventors Competition Expo and unless there’s an unavoidable catastrophe  – Morgantown once more for the two-day Integrate Conference in June 2016.

Fun fact: During Integrate 2015, I sent my department leader an email with a high-level idea that came to mind during a presentation. I just had to send it right then, because I knew it was that good. And just this week luck was on my side, as several required pieces aligned seamlessly, and I received word it’s a go!

You never know where you’re next bit of inspiration will develop but as an alum of WVU IMC, I have the resources needed to make the most out of tasks I am given, large or small.

Twelve cardinal rules for connecting and motivating Congressional action

October 28, 2015 by



Article originally featured on TheHill.com

By Mike Fulton and Joshua Habursky

We find it fascinating how many organizations break or ignore the cardinal rules for connecting with busy Congressional staff and motivating Congressional action on behalf of one’s organization. It sounds like common-sense Lobbying 101, but it turns out most groups want to make advocacy more difficult than it needs to be.

Our collective thinking was confirmed recently at an Association of Government Relations Professionals panel on best practices for communicating with Congress more effectively. Research conducted by the non-partisan, non-profit Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) headed by Bradford Fitch was instrumental.

The two of us have been in government or advocating at the state and federal level for more than 50 years, and we encourage our colleagues and newcomers to adhere to these cardinal rules:

1.) The Ask

On Capitol Hill the answer is almost always “yes.” It becomes the advocate’s job to raise the level of “yes” as high as possible. Many groups do not clearly articulate a call to action as they present their case.

2.) Knowing Committee Assignments

It turns out many people just get their itinerary on lobby day and pay no attention to the Committee assignments and jurisdiction of the Members of Congress they are visiting. This is a death knell with overworked Congressional staff who are seeing an average of six groups a day and trying to keep up in a dozen issue areas. It is also offensive to Congressional offices because this basic information is on their websites and in all Congressional directories.

3.) Set the Tone for a Congressional Meeting

Prior to your day on the Hill, mobilize your grassroots efforts to send email , post social media messages, and get your advocates to make calls to congressional offices to give staff and members a preview of the legislative action that you are seeking. Members of Congress and staff should not hear about your issue, cause, or “ask” for the first time during your in-person visit. Set the tone for a congressional meeting in the days leading up to your meeting so that you can speak more confidently about your topic knowing that the staff or members has heard recently from constituents and passionate advocates prior to your arrival.

4.) Pick Up the Phone and Call

Your iPhone does more than help you text and email. You can also make calls to Congressional decision-makers that allow for more of a connection and a better give-and-take. It is more effective to call sometimes, rather than rely on technology.

5.) Convey a Personal Story

People are most often swayed by other people, and personal stories greatly enhance the technical aspects of a complex issue. To communicate effectively, advocates must explain their issue and how it impacts real people. Storytelling and anecdotes are the best ways to do this.

6.) Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

Lobby day fly-ins bring hoards of people together in packs to approach each office, and members of Congress and Congressional aides have difficulty connecting personally with large groups that are often leaderless. Thin the herd and have a team leader manage the introductions and the dialogue for better results.

7.) The Golden Nugget

We all have our kryptonite likes and dislikes, and the more we know about the Members and staff we need to help us, the better the outcome. We encourage you to do your research, pay attention and be a good listener in your advocacy. Find that “golden nugget” that makes an elected official or senior staff person tick and that will open the path to success.

8.) Truth or Consequences

Many organizations make their pitch for a project or issue and, when asked, they cannot explain the potential consequences of the Member of Congress supporting their position or project. Members of Congress are more cautious than ever, for good reason, and they need to understand the ramifications in they offer an amendment, cosponsor legislation, appear at your event, etc. The ability to create win-win situations can win the day.

9.) Keep Your Friends Close, and your Enemies Closer

It is important that you know your organization’s issue inside-out, but it is more important to know the other side of the story. Members of Congress and their staff need to know all facets of an issue, who supports each side, consequences of inaction or action, and many other details. If you can share these critical elements, it will crystalize the issue and speed up potential support. Staff and members of Congress tell us often that the best lobbyists are those who know and can articulate the other side of an issue as well as their own.

10.) Not in Session Makes for Better Meetings in DC

Most lobbyists think the best meetings occur when Congress is in session. Not so, said Congressional aides in a CMF survey. They say more quality time is available without the pressure of watching Floor and Committee action.

11.) Being nice will get you farther on Capitol Hill

Professional conduct and best manners are noticed and appreciated. Lead with a smile and your best behavior, and go out of your way to treat everyone as if they are a decision-maker (because they are)!

12.) Say Thank You

When someone in government takes action on your behalf and your organization, please take the time to say thank you. Congressional aides relate that many people fail this simple courtesy and it catches up with them the next time they are in need.

Habursky is senior manager of Advocacy and Engagement at the American Diabetes Association and can be reached at jhabusky@diabetes.org. Fulton is director of public affairs and advocacy at the Asher Agency – mikef@asheragency.com or @hillrat1156. Both teach online communications courses for West Virginia University.


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