3 ways to maximize organic social media engagement on a shoestring (or $0) budget

By Dan Beckley, Social Media Specialist, STRS Ohio

Everyone knows the benefits of organic. It’s transparent, controlled naturally and free from outside influences. Plus, it costs you nothing! Wait, we’re talking about social media, right?

Since 2016, STRS Ohio has been establishing a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The challenge: build awareness, generate inbound traffic, engage our community AND spend $0 on social media advertising.

I know what you’re thinking. How’d that turn out? What’s it like tweeting to the wind? If you post to Facebook in the forest and no one sees it, then what the heck is the point?

During the past four months, our Facebook business page’s organic average engagement rate per post has been stellar: 9.7% in July, 8% in August, 8% in September and 9.1% in October. All of these percentages are well above the Facebook average engagement rate per post for nonprofits (0.13% 1).

Our team has been building up to this crescendo of success for a while now, because we had a strategy in place that was built on three main pillars of success.

  1. Follow your social media mission.
    Your social media mission is very important because it defines your content and refines your audience. It will guide not only you, but also your organization in making decisions about what you want your channels to look like.

    Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach? What specific information will you be sharing? All of the answers to these questions will factor into your social media mission. Once your mission is in place, your unique brand voice will begin to emerge, and you can start to get more creative with your content and imagery.

  2. Create engaging content about your audience.
    The first and most important rule when creating social media content is that it’s not about you—it’s about your audience. How can your audience get the most out of your product or service? How can you inspire them today? If you see your audience members winning awards or doing amazing things in their communities, feature them on your channels. Your posts should not only provide your audience with useful information, but also highlight your followers’ day-to-day journeys and engaging stories.

  3. Test new times and different types of posts.
    Many social media management platforms offer features that suggest optimal posting times for all of your channels. However, don’t be afraid to try different times or rely on other sources for guidance. One of the reasons that our engagement has been so stout for the past couple of months is because we’ve been following a comprehensive report2 containing detailed graphs about the best times to post. This is just one of the many reasons that you need to set up Google Alerts to stay up on all the latest social media trends.

    Also, experiment with different types of images. Our in-house communications team pairs inspirational quotes with images, designs infographics with interesting info from our publications and highlights audience members in a creative way. We’ve found that the more unique your image and content, the better your reach and engagement.

    The great news for PR professionals is that “pay to play” is not your only option for making an impact on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can generate great social media organic engagement with a sound strategy and a flexible, creative mindset.

Dan Beckley is the social media specialist for STRS Ohio. He is passionate about creating content that educates, entertains and inspires. Connect with him on LinkedIn: danbeckley

1 Feehan, Blair, Rival IQ 2019 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report, (Feb. 15, 2019).
2 Arens, Elizabeth, Best times to post on social media for 2019, (July 31, 2019).

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Central Ohio PRSA Well Represented at PRSA International Conference 

Many Central Ohio PRSA members journeyed to San Diego to participate (and win awards!) at the PRSA International Conference on October 18-22.

  • Ohio State PRSSA was recognized as the winner of the national PRSSA membership contest by recruiting more new members than any other chapter in the country.

  • Ohio Northern University PRSSA won a Dr. Frederick H. Teahan Award for Chapter Development and a Star Chapter Award.

  • Ohio University Scripps PRSSA received the Dr. Frederick H. Teahan Award for Outstanding Chapter Website.

  • Jaron Terry, APR, Fellow, PRSA, presented on “Getting It Right: Diversity and Inclusion in LGBTQ and Latinx Communications.

  • Lisa Arledge-Powell and Kevin Volz spoke on how to “Create a Video Storytelling Strategy That Gets Results and Shows the C-Suite the Value of Your Work.”

  • Dan Farkas, MBA, presented on “Cracks, Hacks and Backs: A Practical Guide to Multimedia Communication in 2019.”

  • MJ Clark, APR, Fellow PRSA, presented on “The Art of Managing Workplace Conflict.”

  • Katie Thomas, APR, John Palmer, APR, and Kery Francis, APR, represented Central Ohio at the Leadership Assembly.

We’re proud of all of our members who represented Central Ohio! And mark your calendars, next year’s event takes place October 25-27 in Nashville.

Ohio University Scripps PRSSA Chapter

Ohio State University PRSSA Chapter


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Get Your Ethics On: 5 Tips for the Ethical Practice of Public Relations

By Kerry Francis, APR

PR ethics sounds pretty straightforward and boring – always be truthful, disclose conflicts of interest and don’t plagiarize, right? Yet when you dig into it, the ethical practice of public relations is a lot more interesting and complex. Our jobs are more complicated thanks to social media, data privacy, social activism and today’s news environment, just to name a few. As the profession wanders into new territory, so does our ethical practice. For example, how many of us have grabbed an image off Google or used a GIF of a popular movie on social media? I know I have. The Code lays out what media is ok to use in what cases - personally, it’s probably ok to use much of this media, but using it professionally can get into a gray area.

Today it’s more important than ever to understand what is and is not ethical, not to mention legal. And it’s important that our work aligns with our personal ethics. As we close out Ethics Month, here are five tips from this month’s Coffee Chat to help you apply ethical practices to your work.

  1. Know your Code. PRSA’s Code of Ethics is simple, sets a strong foundation and offers guidance on some common areas. As members, we have all agreed to practice according to this Code.

  2. Promote good journalism. News-ed classes teach journalism as the fair, unbiased reporting of facts. With citizen journalists, the constant news cycle and competition for eyeballs and clicks, that’s not always the case. As PR pros, we can promote good journalism by supporting the outlets that do a good job, helping journalists report balanced news and calling it out when reporters don’t get it quite right.

  3. Know the regulations around endorsement. The FTC’s endorsement regulations specify what needs to be disclosed and when. They help guide work with influencers and work produced in- house as well as considerations for posting on personal channels. Knowing this ahead of time can keep you and your organization out of trouble.

  4. Research your target companies. It’s important to know what a potential employer or client stands for. This helps avoid personal conflicts later. And it helps us counsel clients on becoming involved in an issue or business and when responding to a crisis. These issues are bound to come up – just look at the discomfort Ogilvy’s employees had with taking on Customs and Border Patrol as a client, and the internal backlash at Google for its handling of sexual harassment claims.

  5. If you’re not sure what to do, seek guidance. Sometimes the answer isn’t very clear, or it can be hard to understand all the implications of doing or not doing something. Talk to a mentor. Talk to me, your Ethics Officer. Or talk with PRSA National’s Board of Ethical Practices and Standards.

While most of us likely won’t have to wrestle with a BIG issue, PR ethics is still critical. Small steps taken every day build our reputation as individuals and of the profession.

Thanks to Hinda Mitchell, president of Inspire PR Group, for sharing her expertise at this month’s Ethics Coffee Chat.

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Adulting 101: how informational interviews and a polished resume can help you stand out from the crowd

By: Sam Metcalf

I’ll never forget the spring semester of my senior year in college. It brings everyone a lot of stress. Finding a new job, somewhere to live, not having a meal plan anymore – all of it was hard for me. I said to myself over and over again “I wish there was a welcome weekend for post-grad so I could figure out what I was doing.” A lot of that doubt came from the fact that I didn’t have a job lined up after graduation. Graduation day crept up faster and faster, and my confidence levels fell lower and lower after each rejection email I received. I had great internship opportunities, I was involved on my campus, I had good grades. I really couldn’t figure out why someone wouldn’t hire me.

Luckily, my Aunt Pam, one of my biggest mentors and supporters, is an executive coach. I met with her to chat about my frustrations with this process and how hard it was for me to find a job. That’s when she introduced me to informational interviewing. A concept I had never heard of, but helped me land my first job. Note: I found out I got said job the day before I graduated! It will all come together – I promise you.

With that being said, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to nail your informational interviews and make your resume stand out. I’m not an expert by any means, these were just things that really helped me along the way.

Informational Interviewing

We all know that networking can be exhausting. Going to a room full of strangers all trying to meet everyone else in the room is no bueno. Personal opinion. Anyways, if you find yourself agreeing with that, informational interviews can be an amazing solution! My Aunt Pam gave me this tip my senior year of college, and it 1) was the best tip I received as a graduating senior, and 2) helped me land my first post-graduate job!

How to start preparing for informational interviews:

  • Make a list of organizations! This is your “target organizations” list. Start by thinking of industries you think you’d enjoy working in ­– sports management, tourism, retail, government, IT, etc. Aim for 3-5 industries with 3-6 companies listed under each one. This does require a little bit of effort and maybe even some homework.
  • Tap into your personal network. Reach out to previous or current bosses, coaches, professors, and mentors to ask for 30 minutes of their time. You’ll want to formally type out your target organizations list and attach it to this email! I use the same heading that’s on my resume and cover letter just to stay consistent.
  • Meet at their office: A great way to learn more about job spaces is to go to them! If you get lucky and get an interview at this company down the road, you’ll be familiar with the space going into things.


In an informational interview:

  • Let them get to know you: Tell them hobbies you have, activities you are involved with, your career goals, passions, etc. This will help frame the entire conversation.
  • Discuss your target organization list together: Ask them if they know of other people who have worked with these companies and if their experience was positive or negative. After one of these interviews, you may be able to cross 2-3 organizations off of your list if they don’t match with your values and career goals.
  • Ask them about themselves: Their career history, their interests, their take on industry trends, etc. You have their undivided attention, so use it wisely! If you get nervous or anxious talking to strangers, compile a strong list of open-ended questions to take with you. Open-ended questions = conversation.
  • Take notes: One conversation I always made a point to have was about the target lits in general. Are these good companies to work for? Do you know positive or negative things about any company listed? You’d be surprised what you’ll learn! Jot these things down, and make sure to cross off a company if it doesn’t end up matching your personal values.
  • You’re not here to get a job: Going into an informational interview with the hopes that you leave with a job lead will only lead to disappointment. It’s just a conversation – for you to know them, and for them to know you. Be yourself, show your personality, laugh, and really engage with the person you’re chatting with.


After an informational interview:

  • Give them your thanks: Most people you’re chatting with will be on company time. After an informational interview, I would send a $5 Starbucks card through the app to express my gratitude. A quick “Thanks for your time today! Your next cup of coffee is on me” will really help make a lasting impact


Resume Tips

  • There’s less room for interpretation with numbers than with words. Use successful metrics when discussing a job duty or project you’re discussing on your resume.
    • "I wrote e-mail campaigns" (Weak)
    • "Crafted ten monthly e-mail campaigns to an audience of 1,582" (Stronger)
  • Get rid of your objective statement. You’re applying for a job – someone reading your resume knows what your objective is!
  • If you’re a recent grad, and you have a GPA that you’re proud of, by all means list the GPA. If you have a GPA that you aren’t so proud of, then don’t list it! Employers who want that information will give you an advanced heads-up if they want an official transcript.
  • I always avoid the use of pronouns to be more descriptive.
    • “I strengthened their web traffic.” (Weak)
    • “Grew Company A’s web traffic by 15% over a two-month period.” (Stronger)
  • Don’t list the same skill twice! If you had three internships that you’re listing on your resume, if you used InDesign in all three jobs, only list it under one position. This is the first chance you have to showcase how broad your skillset is!
  • Always, always, always send your resume and cover letter as a PDF!


I hope this was helpful for you! I know these are things I wish I would’ve learned earlier on. Make sure with the time you do have left in undergrad that you’re challenging yourself, taking the hard classes in your major, and taking classes with the tough professors. That’s where you’ll learn the most. Your experiences in this field are far more important than your GPA. If you need help preparing a target organizations list, fine tuning your resume, or preparing for an interview, I’m happy to help. Let’s chat – [email protected]

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How Influencers Must Adjust If Instagram Hides “Likes”

By: Logan Trautman

In an effort to relieve pressure on its users, Instagram is conducting trial runs of hiding the number of likes a post receives in markets around the world.

The new method comes after several studies have shown that the social media platform contributes to self-esteem issues in its users. By not displaying the amount of likes a post receives to the public, Instagram hopes its users will feel less judged, and focus more on sharing their stories. Users can still see how many likes their own post receives.

So, what does this mean for those users who make a living on Instagram? Will Influencers cease to exist without “likes”? Not exactly. However, the way they use the platform and measure their success will have to adjust if Instagram decides to implement its new model worldwide. Here’s how:

Engagement rates are a thing of the past

Initially, brands cared about how many followers their influencer partners had. This quickly transitioned to brands caring less about how many people followed influencers, but rather how many users engaged with their posts, seemingly proving that the content was read and consumed. But in a world where likes aren’t visible, engagement rates don’t hold the same weight.

Influencers will need to start focusing on different KPIs to successfully sell themselves, such as Instagram story views and link clicks to a brand’s website. For B2C brands focused on selling product, the ROI from influencers will evolve to actual sales made, whether in-store or online.

High-quality content is the only option

With the public unable to view the amount of likes a post is earning, and users feeling less judged, Instagram is bound to see an increase in the amount of posts being shared by users. This is great news for the platform, but for influencers it means more competition to get in front of their audiences. Influencers will have no choice but to spend time creating high-quality content that earns the attention it receives. Many will rely on their preestablished fanbase, but for those looking to grow (what influencer isn’t looking to grow?) content is key.

Heavy focus on loyal communities

Unlike other social platforms, YouTube for example, Instagram influencers haven’t been forced to reciprocate the engagement their followers give to them. In the past influencers could address their following as a group, or simply give their followers’ comments a “thumbs up”, but as competition for views increases, and the way engagement is demonstrated and recorded shifts, influencers will need to put more effort into building their followings, and ultimately turn it into a community. By responding to comments and messages, and including their followers in their content creation, influencers will be able to maintain and grow their fanbase.

Instagram Stories

It’s no secret that short form videos are becoming king in the world of content creation today, and with Instagram likes no longer being an applicable measure of success, Instagram Stories will be more significant than ever before. For those influencers who aren’t already using Instagram videos regularly, they will need to learn to not only pose for static photos, but now talk to their audiences through video and share compelling content in 15-second increments. Brands will focus on how many story views an influencer receives as a KPI and will start integrating Instagram story content as part of their partnership agreement with influencers.

What do you think about Instagram hiding likes from the public? Share your thoughts with us!

This post was originally posted on Inspire PR Group, and reposted with the author's permission.

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A Lesson in Ethics Courtesy of “The Great Hack”

By: Michael Vannest, APR

If you have not watched Netflix’s new documentary “The Great Hack” immediately schedule a date with your couch and tv and watch.

Over the course of two hours the documentary exposes how Cambridge Analytica, a data research group, obtained private information on citizens in the United States and Great Britain with the purposes of creating marketing and public relations content during the 2015 Brexit Vote and 2016 US Presidential Election.

“The Great Hack” raises many ethical red flags public relations professionals must address. Here are five of the most important.

  1. How much data and profiling is too much when creating social media ads?
    In “The Great Hack”, big data company Cambridge Analytica (CA) built profiles of citizens and voters in Great Britain and The United States to create personalized content to persuade their feelings on issues and candidates.

    The company was able to access data on 87 million people.  The information helped Cambridge Analytica identify “persuadable voters.” From there, the firm targeted blogs, websites, articles, videos and ads specifically at those voters until they saw the world the way Cambridge Analytica wanted them to.

    As PR pros we have an obligation of honest communication. Mining data that violates personal privacy to benefit business is very unethical. As PR pros we need to be aware of how much data we collect on stakeholders and understand how much is too much. In addition, we need to be mindful of the ways we use the data and understand creating content that exploits the data we have is also unethical.

  2. As PR pros are we being ethical when we create fear mongering content to convey our message?
    The main message of the documentary is that the Cambridge Analytica gave information to various political campaigns and helped to create voter profiles to disseminate fearful messages and persuade voters to vote for a candidate.

    Much of the content created was misinformation in the form of news stories and video news not true. The misinformation disbursed to the potential voters was what we now deem “fake news.”

    As PR pros and according to PRSA’s Code of Ethics we have an obligation to be honest and accurate in all communications and avoid deceptive practices. We simply cannot take information on an individual’s most private nuances to create fearful and deceptive content.

  3. Can we be ethical when dealing with a crisis?
    According to the documentary, Cambridge Analytica approached multiple public relations firms and as former COO Julian Whitehead said:

    "We spoke to tens of crisis PR companies that listened intently, went away to think about it, and came back and said, 'sorry, we can't associate ourselves with your brand'. I thought that's what they were there for.

    “It became impossible to get a voice.”

    From an ethical PR perspective, representing a company involved in a “scandal”’ can be difficult. And while it my seem impossible to represent a company during a scandal crisis without violating an ethical code it can be done.

    If a company can take responsibility for detrimental action, avoid making excuses and keep from spinning a situation then maintaining brand positivity can happen. It just takes some time to recover.

  4. Do we as PR pros have an obligation to call out employers when something seems unethical?
    Brittany Kaiser, was one of the main the whistleblowers on Cambridge Analytica. Knowing the repercussions of what would happen if she blew the cover on Cambridge Analytica, she felt she had a moral obligation to let people know the truth.

    It can be difficult to stand up for what is right. Especially when your career and livelihood may be on the line. But as professionals in an era of misinformation and “fake news” it is even more crucial that we keep our companies on the right side of ethics and morals. We owe ourselves, our clients and the public relations profession honesty and integrity.

  5. As PR pros do we owe stakeholders a more transparent communication with the fine print?
    In the documentary every time someone allowed a third-party app to log in to your social media account the user would have to agree to allow the app access to their profile. This allowed the company who ran the third-party app (in the case of the documentary, Cambridge Analytica) to gain access to all of your personal data. The user barely paid attention to what they were allowing. And even though there was a small link to a terms and conditions page paid no attention to what those terms were.

    According to PRSA’s Code of Ethics safeguarding confidences is one of the vital components of professional practice. Society has a right to privacy and as PR professionals we have an obligation to protected those rights of clients, businesses and stakeholders. Proper communication of terms and conditions needs to be at the forefront of websites, landing pages, and other areas where personal data is being obtained.

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Spotlight on Ethics: Social Media and Ethics

In today’s digital world, social media is an integral part of every communication strategy. We use it throughout the day in our personal and professional lives and find ourselves responding as fast as possible to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate crises. Unfortunately, sometimes those reactions can unintentionally get us into some sticky situations.

Building ethical practices into social media processes ahead of time can help avoid inadvertent problems. Questions to develop ethical social media processes include:

  1. What triggers the deletion of content? Social media is designed to generate conversation. Sometimes, that conversation may not go the way you want. While it may be tempting to delete negative posts, that limits the free flow of information. A documented policy clarifies when to delete a post – and when to not delete. Your policy should include narrow and specific reasons for deleting posts, such as the use of profanity, disclosure of confidential information and attacks directed at individuals or groups of individuals. Posting the policy on your social media channels creates transparency and can help avoid backlash if a poster is upset you deleted a post.

  2. Where will we source images and graphics? We all want to find that perfect photo or gif to include in a post, and there are many options at our fingertips. Know ahead of time where you will source image and graphics. In-house talent and stock photo services are easy, safe sources. If you search the internet for graphics, be sure they have a Creative Commons license. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the license to see what it allows. Check with your legal counsel for specific guidance.

  3. Are you including necessary context? Some industries, such as the banking industry, require specific disclosures when talking about products and services. The Federal Trade Commission also has rules around sponsored content and advertising. Knowing those is an important first step, however, you can get into some grey areas outside of those requirements. Be sure to include any necessary context in posts so your followers have the information they need to make informed decisions. Are claims backed up by research? Are the people who are endorsing your product being compensated? Are you being compensated in some way to promote a product or service from another organization?

  4. What are our privacy triggers? Posting photos of customer and employee events is a great way to generate buzz for your organization. Since these posts occur in real-time, it’s important the team understands your process. Some areas to consider include posting photos of minors, obtaining signed waivers and notifying participants ahead of
    time the event will be photographed. Every organization will have different triggers based on the industry and culture. For example, posting photos of an invitation-only event for
    patients who are being treated for a specific condition could raise privacy and HIPAA concerns. Again, check with your legal counsel for specific guidance.

Thinking through these ethical considerations can help ensure social media channels are a positive tool to promote your organization. If you have questions about social media ethics, feel free to reach out to me.

Kerry Francis, APR is the Ethics Officer for PRSA Central Ohio. You can reach Kerry at [email protected].

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Spotlight on Ethics: The Ethical Use of Interns

Ah, summer! Many people will be taking time off to go on vacation, enjoy the weather and spend time with family and friends. While we all need and deserve time off, it can be difficult to cover things at the office. With all of our PRSSA chapter schools, hiring interns can be an easy and inexpensive – perhaps free? – way to keep things moving at the office.

As you prepare to hire interns, there are a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re using interns in an ethical way.

What should I pay my interns?

Compensation can be in the form of an hourly wage, class credit or a combination or both. While an unpaid internship sounds like a great solution when budgets are tight, getting something of value for free – the intern’s work – raises ethical questions. A few points to help determine compensation:

  • Are the interns replacing a regular employee? If an intern is doing work that you would pay another employee to do, they should be compensated.
  • Are you billing clients for the interns’ work? PRSA’s Board of Ethical and Practical Standards (BEPS) advises that interns should be paid if they are performing real, billable work.
  • Does your company have a policy? Some organizations have policies around if and how much interns are paid.

In addition to the ethical issues, there also are legal considerations when determining the compensation for interns. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires for-profit employers to pay employees for their work. In some cases, interns are considered employees. The FLSA uses the primary beneficiary test to determine if an intern is an employee – if an intern is the primary beneficiary of the internship, they aren’t considered an employee under the FLSA and you aren’t required to pay them. This U.S. Department Labor Fact Sheet offers more information, but check with your Human Resources Department or legal counsel for guidance.

What kind of work should I assign to my interns?

The first thing to remember is that the student is the primary beneficiary of the internship experience. While you benefit from the work your intern completes, the benefit to the student should guide your decision-making. You should be assigning your interns real-world, portfolio-building work that allows them to develop skills that will prepare them for that first job – not grunt work that no one else wants to do.

While you should be assigning your interns “real work,” it’s important to remember that they are students first. The deadlines you give them should be flexible enough to still allow the student time to complete an important school assignment or study for an exam.

How should I supervise my interns?

Supervising interns isn’t that different than supervising regular employees. The same processes apply, including setting goals, holding regular meetings to touch base on progress and offering ongoing coaching and feedback. You may need to spend more time offering an explanation about the work and your expectations, as well as helping your interns connect their work with the company’s objectives. This extra time spent is critical to helping interns gain real-world experience that they can learn from and apply.

If your interns are completing the internship for class credit, be sure you understand what documentation is needed for them to earn that credit.

Do employee policies apply to my interns?

A good rule of thumb is that, if you are paying your intern, all the same policies that apply to regular employees apply to interns. If you aren’t paying your intern, only broad policies that encompass non-employees such as contractors, vendors and visitors apply. This includes workplace violence and sexual harassment policies. Regardless of whether or not you pay them, it’s recommended that you have your intern complete the same orientation process as a regular employee – this ensures they receive the same information about policies and procedures, and it gives them a glimpse into what to expect when they start their first full-time PR job. Just be sure to point out any policies that don’t apply to them as interns so there’s no confusion.

An important note: Interns are young and may have little to no experience in the workplace. It may be difficult for them to identify and report inappropriate behavior due to their inexperience, or fears that they will be labeled as a complainer early in their career. It’s critical your interns know they have the same protections as regular employees. Be sure they are aware of your company’s policies, and who they can raise an issue to without fear of reprisal.

Quick Quiz

  1. You are a sole practitioner and have five clients. You contact the local university’s public relations department and agree to hire two interns over the summer. While the internships are unpaid, the students will get credit. Is this practice unethical?
  2. The answer is no, the practice is not unethical as long as the interns are working under close supervision, doing more than menial clerical work and aren’t displacing a regular employee. If you are charging a client for the work they are doing, then they should be paid.

Thinking through these ethical considerations can help ensure the internship experience is beneficial to everyone. If you have questions about the ethical use of interns, feel free to reach out to me.

Kerry Francis, APR is the Ethics Officer for PRSA Central Ohio. You can reach Kerry at [email protected].

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2019 Prism Award Winners

More than 120 communication professionals joined us to celebrate and honor the best work in our profession from the past year. Thanks for everyone who submitted and congratulations to our winners!

  • Approach Marketing
  • Baker Creative
  • Belle Communication
  • The Catholic Foundation
  • City of Dublin
  • Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Fahlgren Mortine
  • FrazierHeiby
  • Geben Communication
  • Great Lakes Publishing
  • Homeport
  • Inspire PR Group
  • Jaron Terry Communications
  • Kappa Kappa Gamma
  • Marketing Works
  • MediaSource
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital
  • Ohio Northern University
  • RMD Advertising
  • The Saunders Company
  • The Shelly Company
  • Smart Columbus
  • Team Fleisher Communications
  • TrueNorth PR
  • Visit Grove City
  • The Wendy’s Company

Best of Show:

  • Non-Profit: Geben Communication and The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, The Women's Fund 2018 Keyholder Video: The Moment is Now
  • Profit: Fahlgren Mortine and Columbia Gas of Ohio, Digger Dog Storybook

Individual winners:

  • Tom Poling: Christa Dickey, The City of Westerville
  • Walt Seifert: Lois Foreman-Wernet, PhD, APR, Capital University
  • Rising Star: Heather Clark, Cardinal Health
  • PRSSA Outstanding Graduate: Myrissa Stalter, Ohio Dominican University
  • Volunteer of the Year: Mike Vannest, E.V. Bishoff Company

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My APR Journey

Michael Vannest, APR

If you want to change how you conduct public relations strategy, if you want to learn how to gain a seat at the management table and if you want to grow professionally, then make earning your APR in 2019 your next personal goal. Those three little letters not only change how you work in the PR field but will transform you personally and professionally.

My journey was spread out across 19 months culminating on January 12, 2019 with the word “pass” plastered on my computer screen in a stuffy testing center. After raising my arms in celebration of the achievement, I got into my car and before I started the engine, I reflected for a moment on this journey and smiled because I knew how much my professional life had changed.

For me, the constant thirst for learning and gaining knowledge in my career field has always been fueled by my desire to succeed. Seeing the APR as a chance to broaden my PR skills, I went to a luncheon event hosted by my local PRSA chapter in the spring of 2017. At the luncheon I heard from a local member who just obtained her APR. In her presentation she outlined the benefits of accreditation and why one should pursue. From that moment I was hooked on the challenge of gaining my APR. After the luncheon I “ripped off the band-aid” and dove into the studying process. The first thing I did was plan my approach. I set my target exam date and worked backwards from there to create my studying schedule. I downloaded and placed in a binder the APR Study Guide from the Universal Accreditation Board and bought Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics from Amazon. I thought six months would be enough. Boy, was I wrong.

Upon beginning my studies, I quickly realized I basically had no clue how to properly conduct PR from a strategic standpoint. The terms, theories and communication models as well as learning the RPIE process (research, planning, implementation and evaluation) proved to be cumbersome and overwhelmingly difficult to digest. It was at this moment I realized six months to be ready for my exam was ambitious and not realistic. I needed to regroup and take more time to study.

In January 2018, as I continued to study, I began to talk to some local APR’s about the process and they all told me the same thing – “Take the online APR class.” The online class is $195. Without hesitation I registered. Little did I know this would be the game changer on my journey.

The online class is a self-paced, 10 module APR preparation course that included a weekly meeting where we reviewed potential exam questions, listened to current APR’s give their exam advice, discussed the online course modules and gave practice presentations on case studies. We also had the opportunity to deliver our panel presentations as practice for the real thing.

The online class proved to be invaluable for me. Not only did it help work out confusion on terms and models, it also gave me confidence in my studies. In addition, I learned early on from fellow classmates about the “Bible of PR” book, Effective Public Relations by Carter and Cutlip. This book gave me the context to understand all the terms we learned in the online class. To all of those starting the APR process, I recommend purchasing this book. Though the online class is self-paced, I did the best I could to keep pace with the weekly meetings and the weekly studies suggested. Three months after using the class and Effective Public Relations I volunteered to give a practice panel presentation. In my opinion, I quickly bombed on the presentation. I used output objectives instead of outcome objectives. My strategies were tactics, and my goals seemed like a marketing plan goal instead of a strategic PR plan goal. After this I quickly, once again, adjust my target exam date.

With my confidence quickly falling, I reached out to the online class leader who gave me some sound advice on managing some of the terms. Primarily, the class leader helped me with understanding the difference between outcome and output objectives. He also pointed out that PR is all about RELATIONSHIPS and to apply everything you read and study in the APR journey to your daily work. With this knowledge in mind, things began to dramatically change.

Understanding how to use outcome objectives and focusing on research, planning, implementation and evaluation (the RPIE process) while applying it to my current job helped make things begin to click. I began to see how to formulate goals. I understood how research helped find holes in my company’s business plan and how we communicate to our clients and prospects.

With my new confidence and knowledge gained in the online studies and daily readings, I mapped out a new internal communications plan targeted at our current clients. I conducted an online survey with our clients asking them their thoughts and ratings on customer service and their overall satisfaction with our company. This research led me to develop the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics to create my plan. The research also gave me a baseline to evaluate my program against during and at the end of the campaign.

By July of 2018, grasping the concepts in the online class were coming together, but I still did not think I was quite there yet to begin the application process. So I decided to participate in one more session of weekly meetings and another review of the ten modules. Along the way I bought a house and got married!

With my marriage and house purchase I quickly found that having $400 around to submit my application didn’t exist - once again another change to the mythical test date. Only this time it would be the last.

While sitting at lunch with a coworker I was asked how the exam process was coming. I said, “Good but I keep pushing back my test date. Whether lack of confidence, timing or life events I always come up with a reason to move my goal date and push it out further.” A few hours later my coworker, who is also my direct report, came to me with an envelope and said, “Here is an early wedding present from the company.”

Inside was a check for $400 from the owner. Tears of joy began to stream down my face. Excitement ruled and I quickly filled out my application, stuffed an envelope with it and the check, and reached out to my local APR Chair. It was on! My application was approved on Sept. 21, 2018. My panel was set for Oct. 4. I was pumped but apprehensive. Was I truly ready? I didn’t know. All I knew was I needed to just do it and stop making excuses.

In the days leading up to my panel presentation, I put together a nice binder with my latest company internal communications campaign - the one I had created with my new RPIE knowledge. At the panel I was greeted by the APR Chair, who was relaxed and welcoming. I had two other panelists as well. We met at the APR Chair’s office. I was super nervous but once we started, I quickly calmed. It was a conversation plain and simple. Not a grilling. It was a conversation about how the exam is conducted and what to expect. A discussion of my presentation. What I learned. What I would change. After two hours of conversation, I said my goodbyes and was walked to the door by the APR Chair. She told me great job and that I would know within two hours of my results. Needless to say, I was on the edge of my seat! When I got home, I stared at my email and waited. It finally came. In the subject line: “APR Advancement. You passed with flying colors!” The journey continued.

One more read of Effective Public Relations cover to cover and it was time to take the exam. The exam was 177 questions. All questions were scenario-based and had no more than five answers to choose from. Some questions required two-to-three correct choices and all of them must be correct to receive credit for the question. You have three hours and 45 minutes to complete the test. Upon entering the exam room all you are allowed to be equipped with is a small whiteboard and dry erase marker.

I used all of my time given and when I got to the “submit your exam” screen, I paused, took a deep breath and clicked “Submit.” On the next screen all I saw was the word “pass.” I did it! I raised my arms in celebration and with a huge smile, left knowing I am an APR!

It’s an amazing process. If you are thinking of getting your APR in 2019, do it! I assure that you will not regret the decision. It will change you personally and professionally. If you are in the process of getting your APR, don’t give up. There will be struggles and you may get discouraged, but keep driving, keep studying, and I promise you will pass the exam.

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