Posts Tagged ‘public relations’

Twelve cardinal rules for connecting and motivating Congressional action

October 28, 2015



Article originally featured on

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 Fulton is director of public affairs and advocacy at the Asher Agency – or @hillrat1156. Both teach online communications courses for West Virginia University.

A New Way to Reach Your Audience

October 20, 2015


Advancements in technology now allow us to communicate with each other instantly through text messengers, Skype, Face Time, and other platforms. But have you ever wanted to learn more about a brand or receive news about the company from their CEO through live broadcasts on your smartphone?

One of the great things about the IMC program is that the program evolves quickly and adapts to new technologies. In one of my elective courses, IMC 628 – Applied Public Relations, I was able to create a crisis communications plan for one of my assignments. Once I learned about the new app, I started thinking about how I could incorporate it into my crisis communications plan.

Thanks to my boss, I recently learned about a new mobile application called ‘Periscope’ that allows users to broadcast videos live. As their website says, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.” Using Periscope allows people to share their moments with others without actually having to be there in person, but still having the sense of being there and interacting with someone in real time. You can see some photos from the Apple App Store of the application below:

Periscope 1Periscope 2Periscope 3Periscope 4

The application is available for free through the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Many brands have begun to use the application to show the audience what the brand is all about, what they have to offer, and build relationships with their customers. The app would allow someone in the company to respond to questions via live video and would show the audience that the brand is being transparent and genuine.

Have you had experiences with the app? Do you think the app will continue to grow in popularity with brands?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Q&A with Dr. Karen Freberg

December 9, 2014

Doesn’t INTEGRATE 2014 seem like yesterday? For me, one of the highlights of INTEGRATE was meeting Dr. Karen Freberg in person before PR Concepts & Strategy began in summer session. It marked the first time I’d met an IMC instructor before beginning class. Dr. Freberg is so friendly! If you haven’t met her, learn about her background here.

Continuing with the Q&A’s (read my interview with Dr. Larry Stultz), I thought I’d reach out to Dr. Freberg to get her input on Uber’s recent PR problems, what she considers the top three PR strategies, and what not to do in a press release.

Q: What role does public relations play in today’s IMC mix?

A: PR plays a huge role in today’s IMC mix. It’s a profession that continues to evolve along with the changes we are seeing in society with the technology advances, changes in consumer attitudes and expectations, as well as helping to address crisis situations.

In addition, we see PR play a stronger role in investing in the relationships between not only brands and their audiences, but with fellow professionals. PR is all about the human-to-human interaction as Brian Kramer has stated and it also focuses on the importance of storytelling and return on relationships within the community.

Q: Are there any campaigns – past or present – that you believe should receive more recognition?

A: This is a great question – there are so many to choose from!

I’d say that there are a few campaigns that have really struck out to me include the following: Chipotle and the Scarecrow Campaign, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke Campaign, Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, WestJet’s Christmas Campaign, and Starbucks and Tweet-A-Coffee.

All of these campaigns have unique qualities, effective brand storytelling elements, and were able to connect with their audiences with emotion, action, and build a stronger relationship with their community.


How should Uber handle its recent PR disaster?

Q: How do you think the recent anti-journalist PR disaster will affect Uber moving forward?

A: I think this is an interesting case because Uber is a company that is either viewed very positively or very negatively – so it’s a polarizing brand right now because of their actions.

I do think that they are facing challenges right now with this particular issue and they need to adapt not only their PR actions and practices, but it really does come down to the internal corporate culture and leadership to really make the changes necessary. Time will tell to see if they address these concerns.

Q: What are the top three PR strategies?

A: Education is always a good measure, especially if you are looking at new technologies or creating awareness about a new initiative or product.

Another one that is good to do is engage with audiences through storytelling principles through content creation and curation measures.

Lastly, driving effective partnerships with credible third party endorsers, influencers, and opinion leaders is another one we see to be effective. However, PR strategies are the most effective if they are tailored for the company and audience in question – it’s all about connecting the dots.

Q: When writing press releases, what do we not want to do?

A: There are a lot of things not to do in a press release. Forgetting who you are targeting, making spelling and grammar mistakes, just using the press release to promote yourself, using jargon that is not familiar with your audience, and not including all of the added multimedia/social media content expected for press releases now.

Thanks to Dr. Freberg for answering my questions!


The 24-Hour Challenge

February 27, 2014

When my friend Grace told me she signed up for a 24-hour design challenge to benefit a nonprofit project, I immediately had two reactions: jealousy* and doubt. Is it even possible to design and begin to implement a quality campaign –including every branding and web presence element you can imagine-  in one day’s time?

It is.

health race

Photo Credit: The Great Health Race

The 2014 Louisiana “Design-A-Thon” sponsored by Doublet Media presented the nearly 20 challenge participants with the New Orleans Council for Community & Justice’s youth wellness program, “The Great Health Race.” The program plans to educate and empower middle and high school students of New Orleans to pursue health-conscious lifestyles, according to “The Great Health Race” website– a site developed during the design-a-thon, of course! Health advocacy through student leadership is another core aspect of the program.

Split into design, development, and public relations teams, those in the design-a-thon spent a day relying on their creative talents to form the campaign’s elements.

Inspiring. That’s one of the words Grace used to describe the experience.

The design-a-thon is a perfect example of what can happen when skill and collaboration meet. Although the experience was inspiring in itself for my friend, it also moved me to pass along the torch of inspiration to readers of this blog.

What causes can we contribute our talents toward? Simply promoting awareness of worthy projects can help – and it only takes a minute.




Tweet: #GreatHealthRace

Thanks to Grace for sharing her experience! Check out her personal blog, change ya mind. change ya life.


*We live over 1,000 miles away from each other. Not convenient. Maybe West Virginia and Louisiana could move closer together?

The Sociopath’s Guide to Strategic Planning

September 23, 2013
Catherine Ames

Catherine Ames/Cathy Trask. Illustration by arelia-dawn @ deviantart

There’s nothing like sifting through a 600-page book to reference a 60-year-old definition of a sociopath, but I’m always looking for a good reason to talk about my favorite book – John Steinbeck’s (1952) classic, East of Eden. Plot aside, Steinbeck’s sociopath is a natural-born strategic planner whose method of achieving goals deserves a brief mention if not some bit of admiration. He likens her to a monster.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? (p. 72)

When reading about Catherine Ames (aka Cathy, aka Kate), you root for her downfall, but at one point Steinbeck uses the character as a contrast to human tendency to falter on the course of our goals out of anxiety, hurry, or fear. He almost seems to pause to give readers a life lesson before returning to the flow of action.

If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. (p. 240)

The author notes that while “very few people learn this,” Kate’s one good quality was that she was able to form a plan and patiently work it to completion.

She thought to the end very quickly and then put it out of her mind. She set herself to work on the method. She built a structure and attacked it, and if it showed the slightest shakiness she tore it down and started fresh. (p. 240)

I’m currently building a strategic communications plan for PR Concepts & Strategy, and it occurred to me that the process is similar to the one used by Steinbeck’s villain. Textbook authors Laurie Wilson and Joseph Ogden guide students through a planning matrix that breaks down the classic public relations RACE model – research, action planning, communications, and evaluation. In the action planning phase, would-be strategic planners are instructed to begin with a goal, or “the end to be achieved.” Only after we have clearly identified what we want to accomplish do we begin constructing the method and identifying the means that will lead to success. It is not an easy task.

The goal setting part of the process is fairly simple. I compare it to that old Seinfeld episode where car the rental company tells Jerry that they’ve run out of cars despite him having made a reservation. To paraphrase, he complains to the agent that anyone can take a reservation, but it was the holding of the reservation that the company didn’t seem to understand. Similarly, I often think that anyone can set a goal, but it’s in the process of achieving the goal where so many people fall off. A well-constructed strategic plan is the bridge between starting out and reaching the finish line, but if you’ve spent at least 10 minutes in the marketing realm, that’s not big news.

Strategic Planning is Missing

Courtesy of Fran Orford

The challenging part about strategic planning – and the lesson from our sociopath – is to emotionally remove ourselves from the end goal so that we can focus on the specific tasks and daily minutiae that are required to reach the goal. What’s great about corporate strategy is that the process is often spread out between upper-level planning and lower-level execution. In our own business and personal ambitions, however, we’re solely responsible to form the plan and work the plan. This means that we have to stop daydreaming about and brooding over our goals just long enough to be productive and objectively manage the necessary actions along the way.

Lifehack discusses this productivity practice in “How to Practice the Art of Detached Focus to Achieve Your Goals.” Author and Productivity Coach Ciara Conlon states, “And so the secret is to focus intently, but to focus on the path and not on the destination.”

In using Catherine/Cathy/Kate as an example, let’s remember to set aside such sociopathic tendencies as selfishness, manipulation, lack of empathy and evil plotting. Nevertheless, some of our goals could stand to benefit from a thorough strategic plan and an ice-cold determination not subject to emotional derailments, hurried mistakes or irrational fears.

Further Reading

Steinbeck, J. (1952). East of Eden. New York, NY: Penguin Books (reprinted in 1992).

Don’t Forget Public Relations

April 30, 2013

As practitioners of Integrated Marketing Communications, one aspect of the marketing mix that I often see as an after-thought is what I refer to as Marketing Public Relations.  It is an integral piece of the pie and can reap measurable benefits to all sizes of organizations. And, best of all, many of the tactics are free.


Most of the time, PR is a separate department housed in the Corporate Communications group.   And, they are focused on what I label, as mentioned above, as “Corporate PR” versus “Marketing PR”.  In my opinion, Corporate PR covers investor relations, crisis management, media editorial board management and internal communications, while Marketing PR covers things like press relations, events, sponsorships and community outreach. Marketing PR is what I feels gets lost in the shuffle.  The fact is most marketing departments at medium to small sized companies simply do not have the resources to put a whole lot of effort against Marketing PR.  Sure they participate in events, set-up sponsorships but have a hard time with activation of these due to time constraints and resources.

PRBoth are very important but need to be integrated either by combining the functions, or better yet, developing a team that functions together to tell the corporate story.

Marketing PR’s value is that it can help companies that are smaller get their message out quickly and extend the promotional time period of their efforts through repeated media relations efforts and social media efforts such as blogging.  You no longer just have to launch an advertising campaign and let it run, you can create other stories around the advertising program in the form of on-going public relations.  Let’s not forget about it as an integral part of the integrated marketing mix and work with our corporate PR partners to find and execute on the value it can provide.

The Future Starts Now!

October 23, 2012

Rising 39 stories high in the skyline, the magnificent Marriott Marquis San Francisco Hotel exudes an essence of modern luxury and the convenience of an extraordinary downtown San Francisco hotel. For four power packed days, this lovely hotel in San Francisco served as the home of the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference and largest public relations gathering in the world!

The theme of this year’s conference was aptly titled, “The Future Starts Now.”

As an IMC student at WVU, I was given the fantastic opportunity to experience this conference and represent the Mountaineers! Let me say, that I wasn’t disappointed. The conference included lots of opportunities for good networking and focused on several relevant topics for those keeping tabs on the trends taking place in the field of public relations and  integrated marketing communications. Here are a few of my favorite sessions:

  • How to Turn the Agency/Client Relationship Into a Win-Win
  • World Class Communication: How Great CEO’s Win With Key Audiences 
  • Speaking to Diverse Groups: Successful Strategies in Multicultural PR
  • Leading the Way for a More Social Business (My favorite!)

Overall, I had a fantastic time and was certainly able to combine the lessons learned in the IMC program with the topics being discussed in each workshop. One person in a particular workshop talked about the need to remind students who are fresh out of college about the importance of traditional marketing and ROI. Guess what? What a perfect opportunity to plug the IMC program at WVU and share some of my knowledge gained.

Sure seems like we’re going back to that theme of “real world application.”

Well, of course, because it’s true!

Thank you WVU for the awesome opportunity!

The APR Process – Is it Worth It?

August 22, 2012

APR Image

That is a question I get asked all the time.  I attained my APR in April 2011 and I absolutely think it was worth it.

According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential is valuable to those practitioners who earn it; to the agencies, clients and organizations they represent; and, perhaps most importantly, to the public relations profession itself.

Established in 1964, the Accreditation Program is the profession’s only national post-graduate certification program. It measures a public relations practitioner’s fundamental knowledge of communications theory and its application; establishes advanced capabilities in research, strategic planning, implementation and evaluation; and demonstrates a commitment to professional excellence and ethical conduct.

I’m not gonna lie – the process is a bit daunting.  In a nutshell, here’s how the process went for me.

  1. I APPLIED – In May 2010, I completed the APR application and sent it (along with the testing fee) to the Universal Accreditation Board.  In about two weeks, I was notified by mail that I was eligible to pursue the APR. *Please note:  I was lucky to get my employer to pay for my testing fee.  It was considered professional development.  Plus, if you pass the computer-based exam, you (or your employer) receives a rebate of some of the fee.
  2. I PREPARED– My local PRSA chapter offered study sessions to prepare for the Readiness Review and exam so I immediately signed up.  They also paired me with a local APR as a mentor through the process.  That was invaluable.
  3. READINESS REVIEW – The Readiness Review is essentially a process to find out if the APR candidate is ready to take the computer-based exam.  I presented a portfolio of my work to a panel of APR professionals and responded to their interview questions – live and in person.  I allotted one-to-two hours for the readiness review session.  The panelists scored my knowledge, skills and abilities in 16 areas and considered my readiness to proceed.  They felt I was ready…so I moved on 🙂
  4. COMPUTER-BASED EXAMINATION – It took three hours of my life.  As soon as I was done, I got my  unofficial pass/did not pass feedback, in addition to my strengths and weaknesses in tested knowledge, skills and abilities.
  5. I PASSED!  – After a year-long process, I got my official letter of notification in April 2011 and had the honor of being pinned by the CEO and Chair of the National PRSA at our monthly chapter luncheon.

The process was exhausting, but I learned a lot about myself both professionally and personally.  Professionally, I was able to use the body of knowledge and preparation resources to fill gaps in my PR knowledge, skills and abilities, specifically in areas where my experience was limited.  I was also armed with a strategic process on how to practice PR that would be ethical, credible and able to be measured.  I have found that to be very important, especially when having to explain WHY we make the decisions we do in the communications field.

Personally, after going through the APR process, I realized I could actually handle pursuing my IMC degree. I know it seems backwards. “You already have your APR and now you want a master’s degree?”  Well, yeah. I do.  I see the value in having both.  Outside of the PR industry, the APR isn’t very well-known, but I can tell you that what I learned in the process made me a better practitioner.  Even if the outside world doesn’t see the value yet – I do, and I don’t mind being an ambassador to help spread the word.  At the same time, I know the reality is that having a master’s degree opens career doors wide open that were just cracked with my bachelor’s degree.

So here I am continuing the journey.  Have you thought about pursuing the APR?