#PPRA Member Monday: Denise Spillane

Denise Spillanean , award-winning integrated marketer, has served as VP, Marketing and Communications at StayWell/Krames since 2018.

Denise Spillane is an award-winning integrated marketer, possessing 20+ years of experience serving diverse healthcare-focused businesses ranging from global Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profit, community-based healthcare providers. Board certified in health care management from the American College of Healthcare Executives, Denise holds a level 5 certification from the Pragmatic Marketing Institute. She received her MBA from Widener University and holds a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Emerson College. She is proud to serve as a member of the Board of Directors for One House at a Time and the Beds for Kids program.

PPRA: Who are your clients and/or what are you working on right now?
DS: I’ve served as VP, Marketing and Communications at StayWell/Krames, a 40-year-old provider of patient acquisition, education, and experience technology and solutions, since 2018. We were acquired by WebMD and rebranded in 2020, so now my team and I are focused on building out our new brand.

PPRA: What is your favorite part of your job?
DS: The pace & the people! It’s energizing to compete in a market like healthcare, which is constantly evolving and adapting due to internal and external forces. Our competitive set is diverse and never resting, which keeps us on our toes. And, then I think of healthcare clients, and their resilience and heroism fuels me to deliver for them. And it doesn’t hurt that I have the privilege of leading a very talented and scrappy team of marketing, design, and communications pros who have me laughing and learning all day.

PPRA: What one piece of advice would you give to your fellow PR pros?
DS: Every day – but especially in times like these – hold yourself accountable for the energy that you bring into a room. It’s an intense time for everyone right now, and, people will remember how you made them and others feel for far, far longer than they will recall your latest professional achievement.

PPRA: What is your favorite spot in Philly (museum, park, store, etc.)?
DS: Race Street Pier will also have my heart, since that’s where my husband & I shot our engagement photos. Lately, we are spending a lot of time at the newly opened Columbus Square Dog Park with our labradoodle puppy, Quincy.

PPRA: If you weren’t in PR, what profession do you see yourself in and why?
DS:
If I weren’t in this field, I could see myself in the field of sociology or social research. I am fascinated by different subcultures and the impact on language, symbols, fashion, and more.

PPRA: Favorite Philly food?
DS: Oh, the ever-polarizing Irish potato candy. Growing up outside of Boston with strong Irish roots, I had never heard of this tasty treat before moving to Philly in 2007. Now, every March, I’m on a hunt to find the best ones.

Between You and MEdia…with Jenna Meissner

In this edition of Between You and MEdia, we chat with Jenna Meissner, PHL17 Morning News’ Traffic Anchor.

Years in the industry? 5 years

How did you get started as a journalist? I studied broadcast journalism at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication. I interned at PHL17 in May 2015 and the rest is history.

Who/what inspired you to pursue journalism and what keeps you inspired? As a young girl, I watched the local news with my mom every night before dinner time. I remember watching the reporters and thinking it would be really cool to do that one day. The people I’ve met over the years and their stories keep me inspired. There’s so many amazing things happening right here in the community and I’m honored to give these voices a platform.

What’s your favorite aspect of your job? I’ve always been a people person. I love the interaction that comes with being on set and talking with my coworkers. PHL17 Morning News is definitely not your traditional newscast. We’ll tell you the stories you need to know, but we have SO much fun doing so. I love going to work and knowing I’m definitely going to laugh today.

What’s your favorite story that you’ve worked? As traffic anchor, I rarely get to leave the studio so anytime I’m able to get out into the field is exciting. I really enjoy our “PHL17 Down The Shore” segments throughout the summer where I get to highlight local businesses and activities down at the Jersey shore. I also enjoyed my “Community Heroes” series where I highlighted first responders making a difference in their community.

How do you work with PR professionals? We are constantly looking for guests for our show. Whether it be booking a chef for our outdoor grill set or setting up an interview to discuss an upcoming fundraiser, I rely on PR professionals to find the best of the best meaning strong interviewees and visuals.

What advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you? Graphics always catch my attention. If there’s an attached image, video, etc. I’m more likely to look at that than read a long email. The shorter the email with the most important information, the better.

How do you step away from the 24 hour newscycle? What do you do outside of work? Outside of work, I spend a lot of time with my growing family. I have one niece and three nephews I try to see every week. I’m recently engaged so planning a wedding has taken up a lot of my free time (send help!!!!)

Can you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself? I was a professional dancer trained in ballet, tap, jazz and modern for 20 years of my life.

#PPRAMemberMonday – Gail Ramsey

Gail Ramsey is an Assistant Professor of Media and Communications at Chestnut Hill College. She has been a member of PPRA since 2016.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gail.whiteramsey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gailwhiteramsey (under construction)

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gailwhiteramsey/

After a successful career assisting lawyer with evidence presentations at trial, Gail began a career in academia. The influence of media on trials is Gail’s most passionate area of academic interest and study. It is the stuff she teaches and writes about. Specialty: Litigation Public Relations 

PPRA: Who are your clients and what projects are you working on right now?

GR: At the college, I oversee the public relations concentration.  I challenge my students in public relations courses to advocate for causes they care about like, social justice, rights, equality, etc. I share with my students that public relations skills can help them change the world. Next semester, we may explore messages surrounding the death penalty.

PPRA: What is the favorite part of your job?

GR: On the job, before I became a professor, I worked with families caught between tragedy and pursuits of justice.  It was nice to help families unfamiliar with how to navigate the press on high-profile cases become more comfortable with sharing their stories.

As a professor, seeing students so engaged in their studies bring me joy.  It is common to have perfect attendance, students arriving early, and students discussing things after the class has ended.

PPRA: What was your latest and greatest accomplishment at your job?

GR: This may be a simple latest and greatest accomplishment, but I would say in the sudden pivot to remote instruction in the spring, all my students in every class finished strong. 

PPRA: What one piece of advice would you give to your fellow PR pros?

GR: I am not big on giving advice, but I would share that when advocating on behalf of the many different genres of clients we work with, research and relationships are crucial to storytelling. 

PPRA: What book or movie could you read or watch again and again?

GR: Many books and movies. 

Books:  “A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage” by Mark Twain and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway.

Enjoyed: “Good Self, Bad Self” by Judy Smith. I enjoy Most things Olivia Pope-esque 

Movies: “Up Close and Personal” (Jon Avnet) 1996

“The Birds” (Alfred Hitchcock) 1963

“The Greatest Showman” (Michael Gracey) 2017 

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

GR:  I love many of the eateries near the college in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, and looking forward to gathering again post-pandemic to all the fabulous spots.

PPRA: If you weren’t in PR, what profession do you see yourself in and why?

GR: That’s an easy one. Between teaching and caregiving, I daydream about writing romance and mystery on exotic beach locales.  I am a storyteller and so finding ways to create worlds, characters and motives is my next chapter. 

PPRA: Favorite Philly Food?

GR: Soft mustard Pretzels!

Top 4 Considerations for Creating Visually Engaging Virtual Content

I think it’s safe to say that, in the last six months, we’ve all been on more Zoom calls, Teams meetings and webinars than we can count!  For marketing and communications professionals, the most urgent question right now is: How do you get your message to breakthrough in a time when screen fatigue is at an all-time high?

Though there is no replacement for in-person interaction, there are ways to do it well if you are willing to rethink your approach.  Since March, I’ve witnessed and participated in a paradigm shift within the events and meetings industry and what we’ve learned is applicable to anyone trying to reach a target audience in this environment.  Here, I share my top takeaways to date.

 #1:  Deploy Content in a Television Broadcast Style

Increasingly, we are seeing this approach to virtual events and video content.  I am a huge fan of this trend as it creates a lot of space for innovation and creativity.  In my experience, you can achieve this look and feel with these best practices.

  • Instead of your executives or speakers using a Zoom background or their living room as a backdrop, consider using a studio (many local A/V providers have setup studios for client use) or creating a temporary studio setting at your office or at a speaker’s home.
  • When planning out your broadcast or virtual event, try to break the content down into digestible segments with a clear start and end. Research tells us that the average human attention span is just eight seconds (!), so changing up what’s on screen often keeps viewers engaged. 
  • A mix of live and pre-recorded content can allow for transitions and set changes from segment to segment.
  • I cannot stress this one enough: Plan for rehearsal time. Executives and speakers who are normally great at the podium during a live event may not be used to speaking into a camera or on a set without no audience.  Budget in time (and space rental costs, if applicable) for a couple of run throughs, particularly if the actual program is going to be done live.

#2:  Get Your Technical Needs Straightened Out

Working with a quality A/V provider is the best tip I can give here, as they can take your vision and make it happen from a technical standpoint without you having to understand the nuts and bolts.  That said, some high-level considerations crowd sourced from my friends in audio-visual and production include:

  • Ensure that proper static lighting is used to ensure all presenters are properly lit with no dark spots or shadows.
  • If using a custom backdrop, beware of vinyl, as it may cause a reflection from the lighting. Keep it simple so as not to overload the viewer.
  • Do not rely on the microphone on the camera to capture your audio. Lavalier microphones will provide better quality.
  • Be sure to discuss the minimum bandwidth needed for your broadcast to ensure no break-up or latency.
  • Start with mapping out the experience you want attendees or viewers to have while tuning in and let that lead you to the right tech solutions.  For example, think about the level of interactivity you want with the audience, if any.  Platforms such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Zoom, Run the World and ON24 all have varying capabilities.

#3: Be Thoughtful About Your Backdrop

Ultimately, you want to make sure that what you are putting out to your audience looks polished, professional, reflects your brand and translates well from set to screen. That means providing a backdrop for live speakers or panelists that is unobtrusive, easy on the eyes and allows the audience to focus on the message you are trying to get across.

  • Stay away from recording in rooms that have windows or doors that let sunlight in. Natural light is great for in person meetings, but for live or recorded content, rely on professional studio lighting.
  • Drape is often a go-to for providing a professional looking backdrop.  It can be setup in an office or home just as easily as a studio setting.
  • The goal of the recording or broadcast and/or your company’s brand may dictate the best color drape or backdrop to use. For example, for a healthcare company or charity, light beige or white can convey softness and caring while an important corporate announcement may call for black, navy blue or presidential blue, which convey seriousness and professionalism.
  • To add depth and dimension to your backdrop, consider up-lighting it. A nicely painted wall, with artwork and tastefully styled shelves can also help give the background some depth.
  • Greenery such as potted trees and plants can help add some life to your set. Consider faux greenery for a no muss, no fuss solution.

#4: Stage Your Speakers Properly

Whether you need to stream a fireside chat, a panel or a single speaker, you’ll want the seating to be the at the correct scale for on screen presenters and provide the right tone for remote viewers.

  • Allow for proper distancing with multiple speakers in the same space.
  • Use neutral or traditional colors for seating such as tan, gray, blue and brown.
  • Stay away from black and white furniture – the presenter or panelists’ clothing may blend in too much with black furniture and white seating may look blown out on screen.
  • Consider the material used in the seating.  Shiny leather, for example, may not read well on camera. Chairs in a matte fabric or vinyl will keep the focus where it should be – on the people sitting in them!
  • Refrain from using glass tops on coffee and end tables as the lighting on set will likely reflect off of them. Instead use tables with a flat finish.
  • Make sure the seating is the right size and height for your presenters. For taller people, choose chairs that sit a bit higher off the ground. For a petite presenter, choose seating with a smaller profile that won’t swallow them up.
  • Have speakers being fed in from multiple locations?  National suppliers who have warehouses throughout the country, including CORT Events, can provide the same on-brand set pieces to speakers in different locations around the country for a uniform look.
  • To provide a higher comfort level for speakers on a panel or to allow for less distancing between them, consider placing freestanding clear dividers between chairs or barstools. 

Just as with an in-person press conference, activation or event, the challenge remains the same: creating engaging content that will capture the attention of your target audience and provide the desired marketing and communications outcomes. Luckily, there are many resources available to communications professionals to make that happen.  

Kellie Mayrides,CMP holds a B.A. from Elon University in Communications/Journalism and a Marketing Certificate from the Wharton School of Executive Education. Kellie is a Certified Meeting Professional with 17 years of experience in event marketing and design.  She has worked at CORT Events since 2017 and since the start of the pandemic, has been helping clients pivot from live events to top notch virtual meetings and broadcasts. She can be contacted at kellie.mayrides@cort.com

Between You and MEdia… with Michelle Caffrey

As PR professionals, we all know the importance of building meaningful relationships with members of the media – reporters, producers, assignment editors, etc. But how does that happen, and where do you start? 

In this new section of the PPRA blog, PPRA members will share insight, tips and tricks, and fun facts learned from members of the media through informal interviews. You won’t have to wait for our “Media Mingle” or “Editors Panel” to get your tough questions answered and connect with the media. Our goal with this blog section is to continue engagement with our media counterparts in an informative and fun manner. So, between you and me – enjoy!


The Philadelphia Business Journal is the region’s go to source for business news. The weekly print publication is paired with a digital newsroom that publishes stories daily and offers exclusive content to subscribers. Hear from PBJ reporter, Michelle Caffrey, on how she works with PR professionals to turn pitches into published stories in this interview by PPRA member and past president, Adam Dorvin.

How did you get started as a journalist? I’ve been obsessed with reading and writing since I could physically do it, so I wound up writing for my middle school newspaper, the ‘teen section’ of my local newspaper, my high school newspaper and college newspaper. My first full-time gig in journalism was covering the wild local political scene in Washington Township, Gloucester County for the then-named Gloucester County Times, now the South Jersey Times. I don’t miss sitting in school board meetings until midnight, but that town still holds a special place in my heart.

Michelle Caffrey Headshot

Who/what inspired you to pursue journalism and what keeps you inspired? Watching reporters on TV on 9/11 made an enormous impression on my 12-year-old mind. I was terrified, and realized how crucial their role was in communicating important facts to the public. Now, I’m constantly inspired by the amazing work other journalists are churning out, especially those at local papers fighting never-ending cuts and layoffs to keep those in power accountable. Black and brown reporters who work incredibly hard, against systems designed to oppress them, to hold truth to power also deserve immense respect and inspire me every day.

How do you work with PR professionals? Often and respectfully. Reporters need PR professionals and PR professionals need reporters, there’s no way around it. At the end of the day, we’re both just trying to do our jobs the best we can. There’s always going to be conflict, since sometimes our goals are mutually exclusive, but I always try to hear people out, see their perspective, explain where I’m coming from and go from there. A little bit of mutual, professional respect goes far.

What advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you?  Since we’re a regional pub, make the Philly connection clear to me right away. If I don’t see a local dateline or area code in the contact info at first glance, I usually hit delete since a lot of national pitches end up in my inbox. Highlight the hook high-up as well. They hide at the end of a press release a lot. A straight-up personal email will also catch my attention much more than a generic release.

How many pitches do you get a day from PR folks? Depends on the day or week — please give me more things to write about during the dead week between Christmas and New Years, please — but between a dozen and three dozen. Some are relevant, but a lot aren’t, just because the Business Journal has a fairly narrow focus on stories that are important to the Philadelphia-area business community.

How much follow up is too much on a pitch—with someone you don’t have a relationship with, and someone you do? If we’ve been working together for years, and you know it’s a story I’d normally write (a well-known tech startup raising a big Series B round, for example,) feel free to keep bugging me, since there are a lot of times when I just miss an email or call when things are busy. If it’s a story that’s kind of on the fence of my normal coverage, I’d say two or three, max, check-ins and move on. Honestly, that goes whether or not we’ve worked together before, because the only way to build a relationship is to start one.

Also, if I turn a pitch down, please don’t try and convince me otherwise and sell the story anyway (unless there’s good info you’ve withheld, but why would you do that?) The number one reason I don’t respond to pitches that aren’t a good fit is because I don’t want to have to get into a whole debate and turn it down a second or third time.

How do you prefer to be pitched? What is the best way to make a pitch stand out?
Definitely an email. There’s so much noise out there it’s helpful to just have one place for pitches, and email is the easiest way to keep track of them. If we don’t have an established relationship though, I don’t love phone follow-ups. Usually if someone is calling me it’s because I didn’t answer an initial email, because it’s not a good fit for us, and a polite decline on the phone turns into one of those debates. I don’t always have the bandwidth to get into it. Oh and if I do pick up the story, please don’t ask me every day asking when it’s going to run, unless you’re giving me a heads up another outlet could scoop me. Things are always shifting and plans are always changing in a newsroom, usually a story is going to run when it’s going to run.

How do you step away from the 24 hour newscycle? What do you do outside of work?
In the summer I try to spend as much time with my family in Cape May as possible, but in general, my healthy coping mechanisms are running, yoga and reading. My unhealthy ones are bourbon and reality TV. It’s all about balance, right?

Can you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself?
I spent seven years working as a dental assistant on and off before getting my first full-time gig as a reporter. I like to think it helped me learn how to get people who are anxious or under stress to open up, pun kind-of intended.

Best way to contact: mcaffrey@bizjournals.com