Welcome, Soon-to-Be Graduates, to PRSA Pittsburgh

By Meredith Klein

As we prepare to welcome the newest class of PRSSA graduates to the ranks of PRSA Pittsburgh, I wanted to get a better understanding of what the transition from PRSSA to PRSA is like.  As vice president of the chapter, and after serving as young professionals co-chair for two consecutive terms, I’m passionate about helping emerging professionals to identify and assume their niche in the marketing communications world.

So, as college graduations swiftly approach and we look forward to welcoming new members to our chapter, I connected with PRSA Pittsburgh blog coordinator and Social B community manager, Valerie Bennett, to learn more.  Val recently eclipsed her first anniversary of college graduation as well as her first anniversary with PRSA Pittsburgh and provided some great feedback on easing the transition. Check out my Q&A with her below!

PRSA Pittsburgh: Where did you go to school and what year did you graduate?
VB: I attended West Virginia University and graduated in May 2015.  I bleed blue and gold for life!  I actually started at Social B a week before I graduated college and recently celebrated my one-year anniversary.

PRSA Pittsburgh: Why did you become involved with PRSA Pittsburgh?
VB: I was part of PRSSA at West Virginia University for close to two years, serving as our president during my senior year.  I got involved because there were so many opportunities to learn, grow and develop as a professional.

I was an advertising major but also interested in public relations and felt PRSSA was a great opportunity to challenge myself to learn more.  I attended a regional PRSSA conference, on behalf of our chapter, and fell in love with the event and the people I met.  I even keep in touch with some of those people to this day!  After my great experience with PRSSA, the natural next step was to get involved with PRSA to maintain the connection.

PRSA Pittsburgh: What are some of the similarities between PRSA and PRSSA?
VB: PRSA and PRSSA both provide opportunities to network and learn from skilled professionals in your region.  One of my favorite things about PRSA Pittsburgh is that it’s a close-knit circle of people who are committed to helping you learn new skills and elevate your career.  The growth opportunities with PRSA Pittsburgh may be at a different magnitude but at their cores, PRSA and PRSSA share the same goal: to build the next generation of PR pros through education and networking.

PRSA Pittsburgh: What has been your favorite part of being a member of PRSA Pittsburgh in the past year?
VB: When I first joined PRSA Pittsburgh in 2015, I had just moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone and was starting my first job.  But by joining PRSA Pittsburgh I was able to quickly meet new people and connect with them on similar passions.  The chapter has created great opportunities to find mentors and people to whom I can look up to and learn from.

PRSA Pittsburgh: From your vantage point, what are the greatest benefits of membership?
VB: I think the access to knowledge is what sets PRSA apart.  The organization provides a variety of resources including newsletters, educational events and access to industry leaders in the region to help you develop.  Personally, I love the daily and weekly newsletters – I’ve even printed some of them out and hung them around the office so others can learn and absorb the information as well!

PRSA Pittsburgh: What keeps you excited about being part of PRSA Pittsburgh?
VB: Definitely the growth of the organization – I love to start somewhere and see where it goes.  PRSA Pittsburgh, and PRSA overall, has endless opportunities to study and evolve.  It’s a great community and everyone is willing to help you on your journey.

PRSA Pittsburgh: What’s your biggest takeaway for students looking to transition from PRSSA to PRSA Pittsburgh?
VB: The truth is, it can be scary to be fresh out of school.  You’re looking for ways to build relationships and extend your network while also looking for a job.  PRSA Pittsburgh was a tight-knit group that helped to make the post-college transition much easier and more enjoyable for me.

I was able to meet new people and being to develop relationships soon after my move to Pittsburgh.  It was comforting to know you had a great network that was invested in you and wanted to help you succeed.  It also helped me to learn the city better as I settled in to my new routine.

PRSA Pittsburgh: What has been your favorite PRSA Pittsburgh event to attend in the last year?
VB: The first PRSA Pittsburgh event I attended was the 2016 Renaissance Awards.  I was there on behalf of PRSA Pittsburgh to report on the event and the honors delivered that evening.   It was incredible to see all of the great work produced in Pittsburgh as well as the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to create award-winning campaigns.  It’s awesome to meet PR pros that you’ve heard about and become part of the conversation.

PRSA Pittsburgh: Three words to describe PRSA Pittsburgh.
VB: Exciting, educational, and innovative.

PRSA Pittsburgh: What would PRSA Pittsburgh’s theme song?
VB: I think it would be a mean combination of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by    Queen, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, and of course Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

We’re excited to meet those of you who are recent graduates and looking to get involved with PRSA Pittsburgh! Contact us hereand let us know who you are and what you’re looking for – we’re here to be a resource as you begin the next chapter in your careers.


Meredith Klein is vice president of PRSA Pittsburgh and public relations account supervisor at BRUNNER.

Stop Pitching and Start Helping: PR and Media Can and Should Be Working Together

By Elizabeth Bacheson

Public relations professionals hate pitching. Reporters, editors and writers hate being pitched. But here we are, driving each other crazy day after day anyway. How can we stop that?

On Wednesday, March 30 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Sharp Edge Bistro downtown, members of PRSA Pittsburgh and Online News Association (ONA) Pittsburgh joined forces for a no-pitch, no sell night of talking and learning from each other, or having a drink and getting to know each other!

Upon arriving, attendees were encouraged to share their questions or suggestions on slips of paper (or via the #PRSAONA hashtag) on what can be improved or should be avoided when working with either PR professionals or members of the media. This would serve as the basis of a moderated discussion later in the evening.

After mingling with fellow attendees over drinks and appetizers, PRSA Pittsburgh President Steve Radick who serves as VP, director of public relations and content integration at Brunner; and ONA’s Kim Lyons, news editor at NEXT Pittsburgh; held an interactive discussion to break down the barriers that PR professionals and members of the media may encounter when working together. And so we can take some advice from each other!

The topics and questions submitted spurred a great dialogue that offered some hilarious, truthful insights from both PR professionals and members of the media. Some included:

  • What’s your favorite and least favorite parts of working with PR professionals?
  • The fine line between persistence and badgering when it comes to pitching a reporter.
  • Get the reporter’s name right when pitching.
  • Should a PR professional formally thank the reporter after running a positive story about their client?
  • Crisis scenarios: If a PR person’s client isn’t available during a crisis, make sure you give the media the right point person.
  • What’s newsworthy? It’s the reporter’s job to judge that. PR professionals should have honest conversations with their client about what is a story and what isn’t. Taking it to a reporter will just burn bridges.
  •  You’re not doing a client any favors by shopping around a story that no one will be interested in.


The evening ended with a discussion on empathy. PR professionals have a job to do and so to members of the media, but we need to help each other out in order to do that. Enough said!


Elizabeth Bacheson currently serves as PRSA Pittsburgh’s Programming Director and social media communicator at Westinghouse Electric Company in Cranberry Twp., PA where she oversees corporate social media activities, including strategy and content creation to ensure alignment across social media accounts globally.

PRSSA – Benefits & Opportunities

By Megan Bayles, Waynesburg University PRSSA President

When someone hears about PRSSA for the first time, the most common reaction is, “What is that?” Most people would respond, “the Public Relations Student Society of America,” but, not me. I would respond, “PRSSA is a life-changing organization that will enhance your education, broaden your network and prepare you to succeed in the fast-paced professional world.”

PRSSA has transformed my life as a student studying public relations; opening my eyes to potential career opportunities, helping me gain national recognition, introducing me to future colleagues and providing me with additional funding for my undergraduate education.

As a freshman at Waynesburg University, I joined PRSSA, and had no idea what the organization was or what it had to offer. It was not until my sophomore year that I fully understood the organization’s member benefits, including: national publications, national and regional events, a career and internship center, professional development documents, competitions and scholarships, and access to a PRSA parent Chapter.

When PRSSA Chapters maintain and foster relationships with their PRSA parent Chapters, the possibilities are endless. As an active member of Waynesburg University’s PRSSA Chapter, I have had the opportunity, through PRSA Pittsburgh, to work hand-in-hand with some of the region’s finest public relations professionals.

Working with members of PRSA Pittsburgh has taught me how to conduct myself in a professional setting and has allowed me to network with professionals in the Pittsburgh area. These experiences have also taught me the importance of continuing my education, whether that be formally or within a professional organization like PRSA.

I believe that PRSSA lays the ground work for future professionals interested in public relations and communications. PRSA provides professionals with opportunities to continue their educations, practice their skills and give back to students in the region.

PRSA Pittsburgh has given back to me in many ways. The connections I have made by working with PRSA Pittsburgh have led to internships. The events I have attended have inspired me to become the best professional possible, and the knowledge I have gained has helped me finalize my post graduate plans.

I am excited to announce that, in May, I will begin my graduate studies at West Virginia University. While studying Integrated Marketing Communications, I will work as a graduate assistant in public relations and communications for the institution’s Reed College of Media. I also plan to become a member of PRSA Pittsburgh. It is my goal to give back to the region’s students; working with PRSSA members to mentor and assist them as they transition into the professional world, just as PRSA Pittsburgh’s current members have done for me.

March Board Meeting Highlights

The monthly PRSA Pittsburgh Board meeting on Tuesday revealed that the chapter is well on its way to reaching the 2016 strategic goals described in President Steve Radick’s post earlier this year.

In the first quarter of 2016, PRSA Pittsburgh:

  • Hosted two events: the annual Renaissance Awards at Hotel Monaco and a joint networking and media relations event with the Online News Association (ONA)
  • Presented on behalf of PRSA at locations such as CCAC Boyce Campus and Clarion University, with several more engagements at colleges and universities scheduled for spring
  • Distributed two of the chapter’s new e-newsletters, featuring programming previews, member spotlights, national PRSA updates and more.


Discussion at the Board meeting focused heaving on programming. Educational programs, communicator tours, membership events and networking activities are being planned on a monthly basis from April through December, sometimes overlapping and often featuring partner organizations such as WIB-Pittsburgh and PRSA Cleveland. Members should find these events fun and a little unexpected, and we look forward to sharing them with you as the planning unfolds. Stay tuned!

Plans for our 2016 Public Service Campaign and the development of a new PRSA Pittsburgh website also served as topics of discussion at the Board meeting. Many exciting projects are underway—more to be detailed following the April 26 Board meeting.

If you have any suggestion for our Board, email us as info@prsa-pgh or find the Board Chairperson you wish to reach here.

CCAC students learn the golden rules of PR from PRSA members – and joke about Kanye West

By Robin Rectenwald and Eric Winkfield

On Tuesday, March 28th, PRSA members Robin Rectenwald and Eric Winkfield made a trip to CCAC Boyce Campus in Monroeville to speak to a public relations class.

The class had just returned from Spring Break and finished reading a chapter on the internet and social media. Eager to share our insights as PR professionals, Eric and Robin jumped in once the class started at 12:45 p.m. and began sharing insider knowledge on social media tactics.

We first asked the class if anyone has a social media account and every hand shot up. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and even MySpace were a few of the platforms that students said they use.

Next, Eric gave a step-by-step overview on how to select a platform and start creating content. He proposed to the class to imagine their goal is to market McDonalds to women ages 25-30 years old. Eric asked which platforms these women might be using and the topics they might like to read. Together, the students came up with the following list of content to post on social media:

  • Low calorie meals
  • Nutrition
  • Budget-friendly products
  • Products for children and their families

At this point, the students sat up in their chairs and began firing out questions. One student mentioned that he is helping a business sell paints by utilizing social media and asked how he could be more conversational as opposed to sell, sell, sell.

Robin gave the students a very important tip to remember while working in PR: treat your audience like your friends. If you want to share with someone why they should try a new salad at McDonalds or why they should consider buying paint from a certain company for a DIY project, Robin suggested going about it the same way you would when speaking to a friend. Give reasons why and connect with them on a personal level as opposed to a salesman level. In PR, this is also known as the golden rule of getting to know your audience.

Robin and Eric were feeling good about all of the insider secrets they were sharing with these students until one bright student put them on the spot and asked the dreaded PR question – how to handle a social media crisis. We joked about the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, Justin Bieber and Kanye West, but we hope that we were able to get across how important it is for an organization to have a crisis communication plan in place.

Carol Howard, the professor teaching this class, chimed in and asked how the students could apply what they learned to their class project. The class is currently helping The Youth Project, a nonprofit based in New Kensington, plan and fundraise for an opening at a new location.  The last half hour of the class was a group brainstorming session on how to pitch this story to the media and items to include in a media kit.

The PRSA Pittsburgh Chapter is full of board and chapter members who are passionate and knowledgeable about the field of public relations. If you’re interested in inviting a PRSA member to speak in your classroom, at your next meeting or event, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Spotlight: Rachel Willis

Twitter | LinkedIn

What made you want to get into public relations?

I am a naturally outgoing person. My friends joke that I could even befriend a rock if I tried. When I was looking at potential majors, I realized PR is founded upon genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with others including clients, publics and coworkers. Moreover, PR requires strong writing skills on a variety of platforms. I have always loved to write and to share other people’s stories. So when I finally had to choose a major, I knew PR was the right fit for me because it values relationship building, writing and storytelling.


What is your year in school?

My situation is a little confusing. I am in my second year at Duquesne University; however, thanks to the college courses I took in high school, I am considered a junior in credits.


How do you explain your major to other people?

When I tell others I am a double major in Public Relations and International Relations, I always follow up with, “Basically, I am getting a degree in relationships.” Although this is a simple synopsis of these two majors, I think it humorously defines the most important aspect of each: Relationships. The PR profession would not exist without relationships founded upon mutual responsibility, integrity and trust. Moreover, PR and IR emphasize understanding and compromise when building and maintaining these relationships. I think both of these qualities are needed more in the world today.


What do you hope to do with your degree?

With my degree, I hope to foremost share the stories of others with the people who care about them the most. As human beings, we are natural storytellers. A degree in PR though means I am equipped with a valuable set of verbal and written communication skills to effectively share these stories.

Ultimately, I would like to use my degree to share the stories of those individuals, organizations and businesses that invest time, energy and money in sustainable community service and engagement projects benefiting underserved communities and groups throughout the world. There are numerous non-profit organizations that work daily to provide social and economic opportunities for these communities yet their stories go untold. I believe the PR skillset is a valuable tool for these organizations. I hope to one day be able to share their stories, expand their audiences and, overall, raise awareness about the important work they humbly do everyday improving the lives of others and making the world a better place.


How did you feel when you learned you won the Bob O’Gara scholarship?

Initially, I was utterly surprised and, then, extremely grateful. I was thankful that my time and energy invested in being a disciplined student had paid off. Additionally, this scholarship is going to help pay for my study abroad program next fall in Chile. I am thankful that my hard work and passion for PR has earned me this recognition.


Why do you believe PRSA is beneficial?

PRSA allows its members to be a part of a local public relations community and do what so many PR professionals do best: socialize and network. Moreover, PRSA serves as the ideal environment for a sharing of new ideas and fluid discussion of industry-defining trends. To be cliché, two heads are always better than one. PRSA provides PR professionals with the opportunity to brainstorm the next big-idea in a supportive community of distinguished and experienced peers.


What’s one thing other PRSA members should know about you?

I am a strong advocate for women’s rights and girls’ empowerment. My interest in these issues led me to become involved with Duquesne’s Chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG), a mentoring organization which serves to foster a safe and strong communities for young, at-risk girls in the Pittsburgh area where they can learn about successful female role models, develop leadership skills and feel empowered to pursue college. This year, I am the Social Media & Outreach Coordinator for SWSG. In this position, I have been able to use PR to share SWSG’s story with others. I believe this position is critical for our fundraising efforts as well as our audience’s overall awareness of issues currently affecting women and girls’ empowerment throughout the world.

PRSA membership: what’s in it for me?

By Jessica Franklin

PRSA is the world’s largest and most prestigious organization for public relations and communications professionals.  If you’re looking to energize your practice, broaden your skill set, meet like-minded professionals and make an investment in your professional development, then you’re in the right place.

Membership will instantly give you access to a whole host of development tools, such as:

  • Exclusive industry publications and industry news delivered daily to your inbox;
  • Case studies, white papers and members-only research/e-books;
  • Access to the industry’s largest job center and a library of career resources;
  • More than 50 free webinars per year; and
  • Preferred pricing on PRSA seminars and conferences.

And with 200+ Pittsburgh members representing agencies, independent practitioners, corporations, associations, schools, professional services firms and nonprofits, you’ll expand your circle of local industry colleagues and receive discounted rates when you participate in:

  • Professional development seminars and programs;
  • Networking events;
  • Service project activities; and
  • Board and committee leadership opportunities.

So, come join us. Network with us. Learn with us. Have fun with us. And most importantly, help us continue to advance the profession we all love.

We look forward to meeting you soon!

What’s in store for PRSA Pittsburgh in 2016?

By Steve Radick

When I took over as your President two months ago, I was excited (maybe a little too excited) to really dive into the job. Like I tend to do with any new position, I threw myself into the role, setting up a bunch of meetings, sending late night emails, and creating all kinds of plans. However, I quickly realized that my role as President isn’t to take over and try to do everything, but to empower and activate everyone I’m working with – including our Board members and by extension, all of you.

The strongest PRSA chapters are the ones where everyone is committed to moving the entire membership forward. Where members feel a sense of community with each other. Where the lines between agencies, brands, non-profits, and academia disappear and we realize that we can all be better together.

That feeling is really what drove the development of our 2016 Strategic Plan. That’s why our #1 goal is to activate more of you. We want to get more of our members involved, both online and off. And we want to create more opportunities for you to do so. Judging by our most recent Renaissance Awards ceremony, we’ve got a fantastically talented group of members that we can all learn from. And I want to do whatever I can to help connect all of us more often and in more ways than ever before.

That’s why we developed these goals and objectives for 2016:

Already, Elizabeth has made some great progress getting our programming calendar squared away, and if things go according to plan, we’ll have a whole lot more to share in the next few weeks, including some exciting partners and speakers we’re talking with now. You may have also seen the monthly newsletters that Chelsea has created. I hope that by supplementing our website and social media properties with this regular drumbeat of communications in your inbox, we’ll be able to keep you better informed of what’s going on.

Thanks to some absolutely fantastic work by Jess Franklin, Paige Blawas, and Lauren Wenzel, we also put on one of our largest Renaissance Awards ceremonies in years. If you haven’t watched the highlight video, you should do it now. This is the second highlight video produced by the uber-talented Tim Long, our new Multimedia Director. He also produced this excellent recap of our Professional Development Day in October.

We’ve got a lot more on tap this year – make sure you read our newsletters, bookmark our blog,    follow us on Twitter at @prsapgh and like us on Facebook at PRSA Pittsburgh.

Member Spotlight: Bob Oltmanns

Connect with Bob

Describe your career.

I’m the president of OPR Group LLC, an independent public relations/marketing communications business. Before I started OPR in 2010, I was the president of one of Pennsylvania’s largest independent PR firms.

I didn’t start out intending to work in public relations. As a kid growing up in New Jersey, I had wanted to be an architect and went to architecture school after high school. But I soon discovered that I didn’t have the design skill set I’d need to cut it as an architect, so I switched to teaching. My dad was a carpenter, and I had worked as a draftsman while in architecture school, so I majored in industrial arts education. But while I was doing my student teaching in the 1970s, the energy crisis really fascinated me. So by the time I got my teaching degree, I was more interested in pursuing my passion in alternative energy systems. Pitt offered me a full scholarship and a graduate assistantship to study energy resources in the School of Engineering. I jumped at it and that’s what brought me to Pittsburgh. After getting my masters degree, the bottom dropped out of the energy industry and the only job I could find was a public information position in the federal fossil energy research program. At the time, I had no idea what that was but I needed a job. I learned a lot in a real hurry and had to essentially acquire the education for this career that I should have gotten in college while I was actually on the job. But that’s how I got my start in PR.

After doing that for 4-5 years, a small PR firm here in Pittsburgh needed help with some technology accounts. I had lived in a technology environment both in grad school at the Department of Energy, so that’s how I got started in the agency business.

But I never lost my love of teaching, so I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the adjunct faculty at both Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University Center for Environmental Research and Education.


How do you explain what you do to other people?

This is the age-old affliction we in PR seem to have. We make our living explaining our clients’ businesses to the world, but for the life of us, we can’t explain what WE do to anyone who doesn’t already work in PR. I actually wrote an article on this phenomenon about 20 years ago called “PR and the Cocktail Party Syndrome.” We’ve all been there. You walk into a cocktail party and someone asks what you do. “I work in public relations,” you say. “Oh, you mean like advertising.” And to avoid stuttering out some inside-baseball PR-speak jibberish, we simply say, “Well, advertising is part of what we do.” And then you proceed to follow them all over the room all evening with “And I also do media relations…..and speechwriting…..and community relations….and social media…..”

It’s a bloody curse.


Where do you currently live?

I live in the small town of Chester, West Virginia, about 45 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.


Where is your favorite restaurant?

My absolute favorite spot is the York Harbor Inn in York Harbor, Maine. (I used to live there.)

But in Pittsburgh, I like different places for different meals. Breakfast at Pamela’s, lunch at Gaucho Parilla Argentina, burgers (and those shakes!) at Burgatory.


How long have you been in PRSA?

Since 1985


Why do you believe PRSA is beneficial?

In my career, PRSA has been a fabulous vehicle for professional development, networking, and business opportunities. I once did a root-cause analysis of where my clients came from and found that PRSA was the best source of referrals. And some of the friendships I made in PRSA 30 years ago are still some of the best friends I have in this business.

2016 Programming Preview

By Elizabeth Bacheson, Programming Chair

We’re working on an ambitious programming calendar for our members this year including several expert speakers, panel discussions and networking events. Here’s a preview:

Young Professionals Communicator Tour Series

Our Young Professionals committee will host their first tour of the year in March! The Communicator Tours series provides students and young professionals with a look inside a variety of PR agencies and corporate settings in the Pittsburgh area. Past tours include rue21, BRUNNER, Elias/Savion and Gatesman+Dave. Stay tuned for where our tour series will make its next stop!

GIFs, Memes, Hashtags, and Celebrities – What content can brands create and share and what should they avoid?

We’re working on a Q&A discussion with an IP/copyright attorney to discuss the do’s and don’ts for creating, curating and sharing content. This can often be a blurry topic, so we’re looking to bring some clarity to this important issue.

PRSA Cleveland Partner Event

We’re looking forward to joining forces with our fellow PR pros at PRSA Cleveland for a partner event to unite our two cities.

And much more!

Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming events and what’s to come this year! Be sure to follow us on Twitter at @prsapgh and like us on Facebook at PRSA Pittsburgh for ongoing updates!