You Are Not Alone – PRSA Pittsburgh Stands by Those with Mental Illness

Ending the Stigma

Diabetes. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. They’re noble causes that hundreds of thousands of individuals across the nation come together to raise funds and awareness for.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. They’re causes just as noble, though are so often stigmatized.

But mental illness isn’t just having a bad day. It’s not just feeling a little bummed every now and then. It’s not just a simple switch able to be turned off.

Mental illness is life-changing. It’s unpredictable. It often requires both psychological and medical treatment, in addition to conscious self-care management. It’s very, very real.

In fact, according to

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34

Despite these numbers, less than half of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018.

It begs the question: why are individuals not receiving treatment? Is it healthcare or cost-related? Or is the stigma against mental illness so powerful it prevents individuals from seeking necessary treatment for fear of tarnishing their personal reputation or even job security?

We want to see change. That’s why PRSA Pittsburgh has partnered with NAMI Keystone this past year to offer communications outreach on behalf of their “CEOs Against Stigma” campaign.

NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania

And now you can help, too. Join us at the NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania on Sunday, October 6 at the Monroeville Community Park West.

Or, if you can’t make it on Sunday, consider making a donation to our team here.

All funds raised directly support the mission of NAMI to provide support, education, and advocacy to individuals and families right here in our community.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania kicks off this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 6-12. Mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. Throughout the week, take the time to educate yourself and those around you about the facts surrounding mental illness.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Cigarettes, Juul and the Quest for Success: When Targeting Your Audience Goes Wrong

By Ashley Jones

The advertiser’s dream: audience targeting. It’s what Facebook, Google and, in 2019, pretty much every digital platform in-between has gifted us. With a few clicks of a mouse, we can target our campaigns with hyper-precision: gender, age, demographic, geographic location. Even specific interests of those best suited to receive our ads. It’s cost-effective, and it increases the conversions we need to achieve our campaign goals.

But we don’t just target digitally — we target through our creative strategies as well. We target our ideal demographic through our creative assets in terms of our choice of colors, the age, and ethnicity of models or influencers, the copy, the media placement. The list goes on.

But targeting an audience is only half the battle of campaign success. The true heartbeat of any campaign is, and always will be authenticity. You can meet or exceed every objective of your campaign strategy, but if your messaging is misguided, fictitious or deceitful, your credibility and reputation can be tarnished. Negative backlash can connote your overall brand, sales can drop, and, in more extreme cases, legal action can be taken.

More importantly, the well-being of your audience can be at stake.

The Juul Example

Recently, Bloomberg published an article regarding the infamous Juul and a lawsuit taken against Juul Labs Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc. for “illegally marketing nicotine-delivery devices to minors and deceiving consumers about the risks of vaping.”

Not long after, The New York Times published a piece about the FDA’s warning letter to Juul for the illegal marketing of their product as “safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes.”

If you haven’t heard of the Juul, no doubt you’ve seen the sleek USB-looking e-cig in the hand of a college-age kid, or the vapor clouds at bus stops, on the street, even in the grocery store. It’s the latest “alternative” to cigarettes. And it’s gained momentum, fast. Particularly, among Gen Z – many of whom are kids not old enough to even legally purchase. Paradoxical; considering the Juul’s “goal” is to “improve the lives of existing adult smokers.”

Remember That Scene in Mad Men?

But it’s no secret that the tobacco and nicotine industries have a convoluted advertising history.

In 1937, Camel ran an advertising campaign supporting the idea that their cigarettes “aided digestion.”

In 1949, Viceroys cigarettes deployed an advertising campaign that claimed your dentist thinks “smoking isn’t all that bad for you.”

In 1951, L&M claimed their filters were “just what the doctors ordered.”

These are just a few examples of the vintage advertising campaigns that claimed cigarettes could achieve great feats — like helping you keep a slender figure, curb your candy cravings and cure a common cold. With a quick Google search, you can find countless slogans, billboards, and advertorials perpetuating the health benefits of cigarettes — unsupported by facts.

But there’s no denying these ads were, well, really successful. Although they didn’t have digital targeting at their fingertips, thanks to the introduction of color print, tobacco companies were able to create campaigns and cartons that were aesthetically pleasing to target mothers, athletes, and young adults. They constructed a trendy lifestyle, even fashionable – if you didn’t smoke a square, you were a square. They included beautiful women and handsome men. Their slogans purported health benefits, self-image improvement and normalized the act of smoking.

As suspicions began to arise about the real health risks of smoking and its link to cancer and other diseases in the ‘50s, the ads began to reassure consumers by featuring doctors, dentists as well as popular actors and athletes, like Ronald Reagan and Willie Mays who swore by cigarettes, thus appealing to consumers’ trust. And consumers were dedicated to their particular brand of smokes.

By 1953, 47% of American adults were smoking cigarettes.

After the U.S. Surgeon General’s first Smoking and Health report were published in 1964, there was a steep decline in the smoking rate of adults.

Not a Solution, but a Replacement 

Despite the radical decline of smoking in recent years, “vaping” has found its place. But not with the community of adult smokers who have been addicted to nicotine for years, or those seeking to kick the habit to try to combat the long-term health tolls their bodies have taken. Since the Juul’s inception in 2015, vaping among 12th-graders increased from 16.3% to 26.7%.

For a company dedicated to curbing the already-existing habit of adult smokers, Juul’s targeting didn’t quite seem to align. Their initial ads were bright and colorful and depicted attractive 20-somethings enjoying the pleasures of life while vaping. These ads were scattered along with metro areas and highways, in addition to social media platforms with trending hashtags. The company also tapped dominantly millennial and Gen Z demographics social influencers for blogs and Instagram posts. And the campaign performance has been incredibly successful: teen exposure to these ads is every seven in 10. As a result, 27.5% of high school students and over five million youth are current e-cigarette users.

Juul didn’t appeal to the middle-aged parents trying to quit for the sake of their children or elderly smokers diagnosed with smoking-related diseases looking to finally put the habit to rest. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. They’ve placed addictive nicotine products in the hands of people who have never touched a cigarette. Instead of educational campaigns that expressed the dangers of smoking and how the Juul could help wean cigarette use, their campaigns repeated the tobacco industry’s past of glamorization.

Thanks to recent backlash, Juul has pulled many of its original ads and replaced them with commercials that explore existing smokers’ experience with “making the switch.” However, this has done little to curb the radical increase of vaping, according to The New York Times.

Considering traditional smoking’s negative stigma, and compared to the harsh smell of tobacco, it’s understandable how it may be hard for younger users to believe that the mango smelling nicotine within their dainty, decorated little devices could have the same health repercussions as cigarettes. And true, scientists are still learning about long-term health effects. But, will it be too late?

After all, there are now hundreds of cases of curious vaping-related diseases. And the toll for vaping-related deaths has risen to seven. While none of these can be linked to one specific source, it’s enough to heighten concern and scrutiny.

Learn from the Past, Old Sport

As communicators and advertisers, we hold great power and responsibility can be heavy. We influence the world down highways, on television and phone screens. We shape how individuals feel about a company and its products, what individuals purchase and what individuals believe.

As our capabilities continue to advance, we must be as transparent and genuine as possible as we approach our campaigning and the way the world perceives the messaging we share. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. It’s a dangerous game we play – don’t cheat.

In the Spirit of Failing – Practice Interviewing Like It’s an Instrument

By: Ashley Jones

My Dad, The Drummer

My dad is a dedicated drummer. Anytime you look at him he’s tapping away to the beat of a song in his head or following along to a song he has blasting on full volume. After a couple of introductory lessons to learn the basics when he was 12 years old, he taught himself the rest (and this was pre-YouTube tutorials, mind you).

When I was 11 years old, my dad tried to teach me to play. He held my hands as I held the drumsticks to demonstrate some rudimentary drum rolls – easy as pie, a piece of cake. The second he let go, the bakery was on fire. I couldn’t hold a beat with two limbs, let alone four.

I gave up so easily. Despite knowing practice and studying were necessary, I still maintained that desire for inherent aptitude and instantaneous perfection.

Pfft, Interviewing is EASY

When it came time to interview for my first big kid job, an administrative coordinator position at ARTnews in New York City, I thought I had it in the bag. I studied education – if I could command the attention of a room full of angsty teens to explain classic literary works, surely, I could hold a conversation and answer the questions of one professional. I did a couple of hours of research on the magazine the night before, checked out a few common interview questions and made sure I got to bed early. Enough effort to ace an interview, right? Wrong. So wrong.

I couldn’t give a coherent explanation for switching career paths. I couldn’t remember the current editor’s name or the year the magazine was first issued. I couldn’t give examples of what was happening in the modern art world or what some of my favorite art publications were. When the interviewer asked me if I had any questions for her near the end, I squeaked out a very unsure, “no.” I was never so embarrassed in my life.

I don’t think I have to tell you I didn’t get the job. I didn’t even get the courtesy let-down email. Rightfully so. I made it clear that I didn’t take the opportunity seriously enough to pass even the most routine aspects of the interview. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Just Kidding, Interviewing Takes Work

For my next interview, I was full-on determined for redemption and success. I spent at least a full week in preparation –

  • I didn’t just peruse the website, I studied it. I made sure to know the company’s CEO, mission, values, clients, and industry.
  • I went on Glassdoor to try to get an idea of the interview process and questions individuals had been asked before.
  • I researched general interview questions and interview questions specific to the position I was interviewing for. I wrote down my answers and took up at least seven pages of notebook paper front and back. And then I studied that.
  • Then, I had a friend ask me those questions and I answered them verbally without reading the answers I had previously written down.
  • I researched the best kind of questions to ask after an interview and made a list of roughly 12 questions to ask, just in case some of the ones I initially planned to ask were naturally answered throughout the interview.
  • Finally, I put together a portfolio binder complete with my transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume and tons of work samples to reference and present.

Embrace Embarrassment

After a phone interview and two rounds of in-person interviewing, I nailed my first professional job at ProExam in New York as an editor. In each interview, I felt confident and prepared, almost a step ahead of my interviewer. I was able to anticipate their questions; I was able to provide real-world examples, and I was able to genuinely demonstrate my interest in the company and the opportunity before me.

I’ve used the interviewing practices previously mentioned to great success, landing three of four career opportunities stemming from interviews since my job in NYC.

But if it weren’t for bombing that first interview, I wouldn’t have learned how to prepare properly. Sometimes it takes embracing embarrassing situations and failures to challenge you to do and be better.

It reminds me of my dad and his drums: repetition, patience, dedication, and passion. You might drop the drumsticks now and then, but picking them back up is what matters. That’s what it takes to succeed.

Join us at the 2019 PR Summit: Failing Forward

Join PRSA Pittsburgh at the Ace Hotel on October 1 from 5:30PM to 9:00PM for an evening of networking, learning, and failing forward. For one night, we’re ignoring those award-winning ideas, and we’re going to instead talk about the presentations we bombed, the campaigns we created that met exactly 0 of our KPIs, and the jobs we lost.

Get tickets here!

Our Flaws Are Our Strengths

Originally Published on Public Relations Strategery| By: Steve Radick


I get distracted easily. I don’t call my mom nearly often enough. I’m sometimes, ok, oftentimes, arrogant. I have constant anxiety over the fact that I give presentations talking about how success isn’t measured using impressions and likes, yet I find myself building client reports that do exactly that. I’ve sent emails complaining about how bad my client is…to my client. I have no idea how to use power tools.

The list of my mistakes and flaws could go on and on. Just ask my wife. So could yours. So could everybody’s…if people were willing to talk about them.

But no one wants to talk about their flaws, mistakes, screw-ups and failures. They’re embarrassing. They’re uncomfortable. They’re awkward. They make us seem weak and inadequate.

That’s why we use technology to hide every flaw, cover up every defect, and filter every word. Every text, email, post, and Snap is concepted, staged, shot, and shared to emphasize our strengths and optimize our brands.

We can present the absolute best version of ourselves all the time. And that’s the problem.

Our flaws are our greatest strengths and we’re not only not using them, we’re actively hiding them.

Don’t believe me?

  • Think about the waiter that tells you not to order the fish because it’s not fresh.
  • The car salesman who tells you the car you’re considering has a lot of reliability issues.
  • Or the politician who goes on Saturday Night Live and lets the cast poke fun at him.

Now think about your reaction to those situations.

  • You don’t order the fish, but you do order the pasta the waiter recommended.
  • You believe the salesman when she directs you to another car she says is much more reliable.
  • You start to think that politician isn’t such a bad guy – you might even say you’d have a beer with him.

These reactions are driven by science. The Pratfall Effect states that people viewed as highly competent are deemed to be more likable following a blunder. And as Robert Cialdini explains in his book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” – when you admit your flaws, people are more receptive to what you say or do next. And several recent studies have demonstrated that while we over-magnify our own flaws, we minimize flaws we see in others.

It’s why we still embrace celebrities like Charles Barkley or Britney Spears. It’s not despite their scandals and mistakes. It’s because of them. It’s why celebrities read mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel. It’s why shows like Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition and Dancing with the Stars exist. It’s why Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has won every award. It’s why Eminem won the final rap battle against Papa Doc.

Psychologically speaking, it’s our own insecurities that prevent us from using some of our greatest assets in building and maintaining relationships. We underestimate the power of authenticity, flaws and all. Our flawed reality, no matter how difficult it is to talk about, creates a stronger, more sustainable brand than a perfectly manicured one.

That’s why flaws are the basis for PRSA Pittsburgh’s annual PR Summit – “Failing Forward.” We’ve all bombed job interviews, flubbed presentations, sent emails to the wrong person, and shared unflattering pictures of ourselves. Instead of hiding from those things, let’s celebrate them. Let’s turn our flaws into our strengths.

Get ready for the 2020 PRSA Renaissance Awards

A look at what’s changing this year

By: Robin Rectenwald

Planning for our biggest event of the year — PRSA Pittsburgh’s 2020 Renaissance Awards — has been in full swing. As the Renaissance Chair, I couldn’t wait to share what we’re changing this year.


You may have noticed that we’re promoting the Renaissance Awards early this year. The awards ceremony will still take place the last Thursday in January – January 30, 2020, but we’ve decided to open and close the call for entries before the holidays. Entries will open September 9, giving you plenty of time to submit your campaign, tactic or individual award before the holiday stress kicks in. The early bird deadline to submit an award entry is October 11 and the final deadline will be October 25.

Please note the timeframe of the work completed will remain the same. The work of the campaign or tactic should be completed between October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019.


This year’s Renaissance Awards will take place at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse – the new theater located in downtown Pittsburgh on Forbes Avenue (not to be confused with the old playhouse in Oakland). Based on feedback from previous years and to help keep the costs of tickets down, the Pittsburgh Playhouse offers a beautiful space to mingle, heavy hors d’oeuvres and two complimentary drinks. Street parking is free after 6 p.m. or there are plenty of spots available in the Market Square Garage (228 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222), less than two blocks away from the Playhouse.

What about the Renaissance After Party? Don’t worry, we got that covered as well. Join us this year at Wolfies Pub located less than 500 feet away from the Playhouse. We’ll be sure to remind you closer to our event in January! 


This year we have two ways for students to participate – the Student Campaign and the Bob O’Gara Student Scholarship.

We know how hard students work in their classes and on campus. That’s why we’ve decided to create a new entry just for college students to submit their campaigns. We’re excited to showcase their work at the 2020 Renaissance Awards. Students, this is a unique opportunity to share your talent and creativity in front of hundreds of companies. And employers, what better way than to recruit new talent!

The Bob O’Gara Student Scholarship honors an outstanding undergraduate student with a $2,000 scholarship. Bob O’Gara is an admired professor who recently retired from Point Park University. He has been a long-time supporter of PRSA Pittsburgh. We will continue our tradition of awarding a scholarship in his honor, which is open to all Pittsburgh-area students, even if you’re not a Point Park student.


This year’s awards ceremony will be very different from past years, but we think you’ll love the changes. This year, we have two goals – to maximize networking time with the best PR teams coming together to celebrate their work and to fully showcase each campaign and tactic. How will we do that?

More networking time

With doors to the playhouse opening at 4:45 p.m., guests will have ample amount of time to network (and eat) from 5 – 6:30 p.m. and after the awards until 10 p.m. with desserts and post-ceremony drinks. The awards ceremony will start at 6:30 p.m. in the PNC theater. Because it’s theater-style seating, we won’t have tables like we have in the past, but teams can still buy group tickets. More to come on event ticketing and prices.

Shorter ceremony format

This is a big change, but one that I’m most excited about. During the ceremony, we won’t present awards by going through each award category. Instead, we will highlight the campaign, share videos and photos of the campaign, and hand out all of the awards that entry received at once. This means that we will not repeat campaigns that are submitted for multiple award categories and teams will only come up once to retrieve their awards. Why? Because we want to give ample amount of time to showcase each campaign once without feeling rushed or enduring a long awards ceremony.

Focus on the visuals

We want this year’s awards ceremony to be visual, so we’re asking that teams submit videos and photos we can share. The same is true with the individual awards – we’d love to see videos of our individual honorees to get a full picture of where they work and hear more about them from their colleagues.


As you can see, we have some big changes in store for this year’s awards, so we wanted to make sure you knew about them before entries are due. We think this year’s event is going to be extra special, so we hope you will join us! If you have any questions about the entries or these changes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! If you want to reach out to me directly, feel free to email me at

Important Dates

September 9, 2019 – Call for Entries open

October 11, 2019 – Early bird deadline to submit entries

October 25, 2019 – Final deadline to submit entries

January 30, 2020 – 2020 Renaissance Awards Ceremony at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

A Look Back at Renaissance Award Success – Top Hat

By: Ben Butler

To prepare for this year’s upcoming award season, we’re taking a look back at some of our previous Renaissance Awards winners to see what made them successful, and what they’ve been up to since.


Campaign Name & Year 

“Will Work for Beer” – 2018


Top Hat — an award-winning design and marketing communications agency in Millvale.

Campaign Overview

As of April 2017 Top Hat had worked with 30 different industries, but something was missing: beer clients. So rather than waiting around hoping their luck would change, they decided to launch “Will Work for Beer.”

“Will Work for Beer” was a call to all craft breweries — Top Hat would do any communications project purely in exchange for beer for one brewery. Interested breweries had to send in a compelling presentation as to why they should select them as our partner.

The campaign resulted in a flood of media attention — from Hop Culture Magazine to Adweek — and word of mouth. It attracted brewery pitches from all over the United States, and even as far away as Brazil. Top Hat ultimately selected Lord Hobo Brewing Company, the country’s soon-to-be fastest growing regional craft brewery from Boston.

The campaign also went on to win (2) prestigious Silver Anvil Awards later that year.

What It Won

  • “Best in Show”
  • B2B Campaign
  • Reputation Management
  • New Products & Services Communications
  • Media Relations
  • Digital Campaign

Why it won

“Aaron (Top Hat creative director/partner) and I have always been pleasantly surprised by how much people love this campaign,” says Ben Butler, APR, founder of Top Hat.

“It was a relatively simple idea, but very disruptive for our space. Usually agencies kind of just wait for the new industry sectors to come to them. Any efforts otherwise tend to fall flat (pun intended).”

“Most of all, however, I think besides being a fun idea, we had tangible measurables that demonstrated to the judges just how successful our efforts were. We blew those out of the water, entered a brand new industry we’d never touched, and doubled our business within one year.”

Advice for Creating an Award-Winning Entry

“The judges want to know what you were trying to achieve with your campaign, and why that goal mattered at all,” says Butler. “For us, it was crystal clear — revenue-driving business development in a new sector that we aimed for and surpassed.”

“You also have to sell them on why your approach was a good idea. What research did you do? What hypothesis did you come to? Make that all crystal clear in a nicely formatted PDF, and you’ll be putting yourself in the best possible spot for success.”

What the agency/company is up to now

Since “Will Work for Beer,” Top Hat has gone on to work with 19 different beer brands including the iconic Pittsburgh Brewing Company. They recently launched the complete design identity and communications overhaul for Iron City Beer, I.C. Light, and I.C. Light Mango this summer.

Why “Off the Clock” is the happiest hour for Pittsburgh PR

PRSA Pittsburgh’s “Off the Clock”

Networking. It’s arguably one of the things we, as communications professionals, do best. It’s how we thrive.

That’s why we at PRSA Pittsburgh created “Off the Clock,” a laid-back monthly happy hour that allows us to meet new minds, learn new perspectives and bounce ideas off other local individuals in our industry.

For the last six months, “Off the Clock” has served as an open, interconnected event that has surpassed our goals. People are meeting and connecting in an environment where they’re able to converse freely without expectations — a space that has led to progressive conversations, partnerships, employment (!) and professional advice. In many ways more important, it has led to good times with great people.

Networking isn’t always the easiest, even if you’re in the communications field. All too often, networking events can feel forced and overly structured. We saw the need for a place that our community of professionals, both new to the industry and experienced, could come together and share the conversations that propel each other, and our craft, forward.

That’s why we choose to meet at Sienna Mercato: Il Tetto, a venue located in the heart of Downtown, Pittsburgh. There are no assigned seats or forced situations, just opportunity. For conversation. For business. For fun.

If we haven’t yet, we hope to meet you and catch a drink at the next “Off the Clock” happy hour.

Never been to a networking event before? Here are some tips and conversation starters.

  • Talk about where you’re from.
    • “Off the Clock” targets professionals in our region — and we love Pittsburgh! Tell us your story. Are you a born and bred yinzer? New to the city? Tell us: “Why Pittsburgh?” What about the city has kept you or brought you here?
  • Bring a friend!
    • Bring a familiar face to a networking event — a colleague, classmate or friend who helps boost your confidence and makes you feel more comfortable. The more, the merrier!
  • Keep going to events.
    • Practice makes perfect. Get out there and get to know the faces in your region and industry. The more events you attend, the more you learn how to start a conversation, keep it going and reconnect.
  • Ask: Where did you start working, and where are you now?
    • Ask people about their professional journey: where they started, where they work now, what they do and how they got there. Sharing career paths isn’t just interesting, it can open the door for potential employment or collaboration.
  • Should we say it again? Have fun!
    • It wasn’t made to be complicated. Relax, drink (alcoholic or not) and enjoy the company of others with similar goals.

P.S. Use the full potential of “Off the Clock!”

Did you catch the recent news about Red Havas? We helped them celebrate the exciting relaunch of their brand with a special themed “Off the Clock” happy hour! Interested in joining forces? Contact us and let’s chat!

The Age of Tiptoeing

By: Ashley Jones

A New Age?

It’s a familiar social media storm: the summer’s biggest movie hits theaters. The crowd-dividing show airs its finale. In an instant, pop culture phenomena populates our timelines and web streams. Memes, excitement and backlash follow in a matter of minutes.

If you’re in PR, you know the effect well — for better or worse, it parallels reactions to brands and product campaigns. On more channels than any mere human can keep up with, ideas and opinions spread like wildfire. Just as quickly, they’re forgotten.

Things move so fast that “Age of Technology” no longer feels like a fitting title for the experience of communicating in today’s world. So, are we living in a new age?

Not the age of technology, but the age of tiptoeing?

Latest Victim: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones’ recent finale was met with overwhelming negativity from even its most dedicated, decade-long followers and devotees.

Prior to the finale, the show’s producers were the butt of a colossal online joke: trollers and casual onlookers alike spotted the infamous Starbucks cup in a scene of a broadcasted episode. It was a facepalm moment for the show’s video editors, yet the blunder resulted in “billions” of free PR and advertising for Starbucks as posts were shared and tweets retweeted hundreds of times across social platforms.

The show responded in a perfect manner, equal parts humor and GOT appeal: “News from Winterfell. The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. #Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

While this may have been an embarrassing PR learning moment, it was a moment of humanity. An opportunity for fans of the show to have a little lighthearted fun.

But then, there was the response to the show itself.

After the finale aired, fans were up in arms — signing petitions, demanding the series be rewritten and scrutinizing the writers for rushing the final season.

When people care about something — a product, a company, a campaign or a dragon show — the emotional reaction is immediate. And thanks to social media, individuals can share those immediate reactions, well, immediately.

For those of us working in PR, this influx of emotional response can be overwhelming.  It raises questions:

  • How do we avoid these situations?
  • How do we handle these situations, when they arise anyway?
  • What do we do when a brand is, by no doing of its own, caught in the middle of the latest “outrage”?

What if?

Take Avengers: Endgame for example.

Before the film was even out, multiple brands had capitalized on its impending release, creating Avengers-related campaigns and ads.

The film was heavily anticipated, setting industry records left and right. And it brought fans to tears in theaters — mostly in a good way.

What if Avengers fans had reacted to the movie in the same manner as GOT fans? What if there were blunders? Upsets? Offenses? Would those      brands be associated with the negativity? Does the old saying, “Any press is good press” still ring true?

With audiences ready to immediately analyze, scrutinize and pick apart scene by scene, second by second on platforms where the information can spread to thousands in the time it takes to open a can of La Croix, it can feel like a tiptoeing game whose end goal is to not cause an uproar. While advertising and film have always required authenticity, thought, and discretion, do they require even more foresight than ever before?

These occurrences remind us as PR practitioners to:

  • Do the research – Know your demographics and the latest news in the industry.
  • Listen and take part in the conversations – Keep up with what your audience is thinking, saying and don’t be afraid to communicate with them.
  • Be genuine – Stay true to your brand, always.
  • Be prepared – Have a crisis communication plan in place, just in case.

As far as tiptoeing? The simple fact is it’s impossible to appease everyone.

Create good work that you’re proud of and stand by it. That may be a career-long challenge. But PR professionals like a good challenge, don’t we?

The Roast of Legendary Point Park Professor, Bob O’Gara

By: Courtney List

Who is Bob O’Gara?

Bob has been a full-time Public Relations and Advertising professor at Point Park University since 1993.  His dedication to the school started back in 1983 when he first became a member of the Pioneer community as a part-time professor.  Bob’s passion for helping students has shown throughout his career.  Bob served as the advisor to PRSSA and currently serves as the advisor to the Advertising Federation.  In addition, Pittsburgh PRSA sponsors the Bob O’Gara Scholarship Award to students at the annual Renaissance Awards.

What’s a Roast?

For Professor O’Gara’s retirement party, he requested that students and staff come together to roast him.  He wanted a fun celebration where students, faculty, family and friends could gather to roast, boast, and toast his career.  At the roast, PRSSA advisor, Camille Downing, and I had the honor of announcing the new name of our chapter which will now be referred to as, the Bob O’Gara Chapter of PRSSA at Point Park University.

His Legacy.

Bob O’Gara has been one of the most influential professors I have ever had.  When I was a senior in high school, I had strong interest in pursuing a career within Public Relations and Advertising.  I visited 18 universities, and I chose to attend Point Park because of Bob and how dedicated he was to helping his students succeed.  I would not be the student I am today without the continued guidance I have received from Bob.

Thank you, Bob, for everything you have done for the Point Park community.  Your leadership and dedication have been second to none, and the School of Communication would not be the same without you.  As a university, we thank you for your continued support.


Courtney List is a senior Public Relations and Advertising major at Point Park University currently serving as the President of PRSSA and Assistant Firm Director of Bison Media.

When Public Service Makes a World of Difference (to YOU)

Written by: Jennifer Rignani, Co-Chair, NAMI Public Service Project, PRSA Pittsburgh

There are a lot of reasons people volunteer. Altruism, personal development, professional connections and community service among them.

But sometimes we give our time and talent because the opportunity is 100% aligned with everything we believe in, and to not step up would be a great loss. In a constellation of circumstances, such a chance came my way.

After a 15-year sabbatical from professional involvement with PRSA, I was thrilled to reignite my relationship by joining the board of the Pittsburgh chapter. My first task was to co-chair the Public Service Project (with Deanna Tomaselli) bringing structure and energy to this key initiative focused on providing an area nonprofit pro bono services. As a former “client-side” nonprofit marketing and PR practitioner, this was near and dear to my heart. After many years of being the respondent to RFPs, I was happy to help design one, distribute it and review the many worthy submissions we received with our committee.

CEOs Against Stigma

In the end, we selected the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Keystone Pennsylvania “CEOs Against Stigma” campaign. This further deepened my commitment, as the issues NAMI addresses are personally connected to people in my own life.

NAMI seeks to raise awareness and provide support and education for the individuals and families affected by mental illness. Through different programs, events and activities across the country, NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania works to break the stigma on mental illness. It’s hard to believe such a campaign is needed, but it is, and our chapter of PRSA will be providing pro bono public relations support to the organization until mid-2019.

Addressing Mental Illness in the Workplace

The goal of the CEOs Against Stigma campaign is to break the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. CEOs will pledge to educate themselves and employees about mental illness and how the stigma and silence affects workplace productivity.

A survey from 2014 conducted by NAMI Massachusetts found that out of the 800 registered voters, 17% said they knew of a co-worker who had a mental illness, but just 27% would advise someone with mental illness to tell their co-workers about it. The poll confirms that those who need help stay silent for fear of the consequences of their illness being disclosed in the workplace.

Getting the right information is the challenge of our time.

The reality and perception of mental illness is murkier than it should be. We are educated consumers when it comes to shopping and our own health. Our digital lives are constant, so getting information certainly isn’t elusive. But as we all know, getting the right information is the challenge of our time. To play a role in devising a strategic communication plan, which will include market research, marketing materials, social media, and media relations for “CEOs Against Stigma” is deeply gratifying. 

I expect to learn a great deal from this project. For NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania’s part, I feel as strongly about delivering an exceptional job to the organization as I have with any paid project. There’s a certain pride and pressure that accompanies volunteerism. Maybe it’s the issue we are addressing. Perhaps its that my peers on the board are sharp as tacks. Or it could be that after many years away from giving my time, I realize the gravity of the personal reward is truly great.

Learn more about CEOs Against Stigma.