#PPRAMemberMonday: Niki Gianakaris

niki giankaris_member monday_08_29_16Facebook:
Twitter: @drexelniki

PPRA: Niki, tell us about your background and your current job.

NG:  As executive director of media relations, I oversee media relations at Drexel and the Drexel College of Medicine. Our team consists of an assistant director and three news officers. We each have our own beats so that we can better serve the needs of the University. My beat focuses on media communications for most of the central university administrative areas, including community engagement programs, corporate relations, international programs and more. I also work with the LeBow College of Business and the Close School of Entrepreneurship. I joined Drexel in 2002 as a staff writer and later became an assistant director of media relations before becoming director in 2010 and executive director in March. Prior to Drexel, I worked in Rowan University’s Office of University Relations as a graduate assistant while earning a master’s degree in writing with a specialization in journalism. I also received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Rowan.

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

NG: There is never a dull moment at Drexel. I have worked here for more than 13 years and haven’t been bored yet. One of the University’s big initiatives that was recently covered by media was the announcement of Schuylkill Yards. Drexel and Brandywine Realty Trust made history when they announced their partnership and unveiled plans for the innovation development that will be created on a 14-acre site next to Drexel’s campus and adjacent to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. The collaborative neighborhood will feature entrepreneurial spaces, educational facilities and research laboratories, corporate offices, residential and retail spaces, hospitality and cultural venues and public open spaces. This is a long-term investment in Philadelphia and its University City neighborhood, with master developer Brandywine leading the development plan.

PPRA: What is the favorite part about your job?

NG: What I like most about my job is that I’m not promoting one college or school, but a variety of topics and experts, which keeps things interesting.

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

NG: I am most proud of the effort and the collaboration among the media relations team. We accomplish many things when working as a team, running pitches by each other or ideas about how to pursue a story. I am currently working on compiling our hits for the academic year and they are impressive.

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

NG: Many times, we hear about the importance of contacts but a good story and a good pitch will always get coverage whether or not you have a relationship with a reporter. It’s not about the contacts; it’s about the story.

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

NG: I don’t think there is a movie or book I would watch or read over and over again. I like to move on to new experiences.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

NG: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

NG: I don’t eat cheesesteaks. I prefer healthier food.

PPRA Mentorship Program: A match made in PR heaven


berke and fergus.jpg

There is no better way to tell the story of Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s Mentorship Program than through Ashley Berke and Sarah Fergus.  Like many in the program discover, mentorship moves beyond professional guidance and into lasting friendship.


“It’s been incredibly rewarding to share advice, review her resume, and celebrate her many achievements over the years.”

Ashley Berke, PPRA Mentor

I wasn’t exactly sure what I could offer, but I knew I wanted to be involved. PPRA had just announced a new mentorship program for members. I enjoyed speaking to area college students and granting informational interviews to recent grads, so I thought the program might be a good fit. It was 2011, and I had worked in the industry for six years. Part of me thought I should be seeking a mentor rather than serving as one, but I decided to pursue the opportunity anyway.

To my delight, I was paired with Sarah Fergus. A quick review of her two years in the industry revealed that we had a lot in common. We both shared a passion for the arts. We both enjoyed working in the non-profit sector. And we both worked with partners in hospitality. It seemed like a perfect fit, and it was.

Ours was a unique mentoring situation from the start. I felt a bit guilty that Sarah was the only mentee paired with a mentor who had less than 15+ years experience in the industry. Would I be able to offer any meaningful advice? Was I preventing her from learning from someone with decades of knowledge to bestow? Thankfully it never seemed weird that we were matched.

We hit it off right away. Sarah and I met regularly to catch up on life and talk about our jobs and aspirations. Although I was technically the “mentor” in the relationship, I gained a lot from our discussions. Sarah was always full of energy and creativity, and she inspired me to look at my work in a new light. I hope that our frequent phone calls, happy hour meetings, and email exchanges were equally beneficial for her.

Since then, I’ve served as a reference for Sarah as she pursued new, exciting job opportunities (which she always landed because she’s a superstar). She even served as Public Relations Manager for the National Constitution Center – the job I held when we first were paired. It’s been incredibly rewarding to share advice, review her resume, and celebrate her many achievements over the years. It was particularly thrilling to nominate her for PPRA’s Fast-Track Award last year, which she won (no surprise). But above all, it’s been a pleasure to call Sarah a friend. I’ll be attending her wedding in October where I’ll be cheering her on again – this time as a friend of five years. It all started because of PPRA. And that’s one of the wonderful things about our organization. You never know how someone you meet at a program, or through the mentorship program, might impact your life in a really meaningful way.

Ashley Berke is Director of Communications for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), where she oversees media relations, marketing, publications, social media, and the website for the renowned school and its two hospitals. Ashley previously served as Director of Public Relations for the National Constitution Center. She graduated from Cornell University in 2005. You can connect with Ashley on LinkedIn here.


 “Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my career thus far I can attribute to Ashley and to PPRA.”

Sarah Fergus, PPRA Mentee

When I speak to college classes about my experiences in PR, I urge students to find a mentor to lean on as they work to break into the industry. Which leads to an oft-asked question I receive in turn – “But, how do I find a mentor?”

In 2011, as a recent college grad trying to get my footing, I asked myself this same question rather frequently. I felt like I was navigating the beginning stages of my career somewhat blindly – there wasn’t exactly a manual that answered the litany of questions racing through my brain. I wanted to ask for advice, but I knew cold calling a seasoned pro with a “Hey, I need a mentor. Can you be my mentor?” probably wasn’t the best method. I could not, for the life of me, figure out a non-awkward way to broach this subject with people.

Enter PPRA.

When the organization announced the return of its Mentorship Program, I signed up, not truly knowing what to expect but figuring I had to start somewhere. I knew I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and, as it so happens, gain I did.

I still remember receiving the email from Ashley letting me know that we had been paired. She had an extremely impressive background, and I remember feeling very green and slightly intimidated. I was also quietly excited – if she could accomplish so much and only be a handful of years older than me, well then, she was a person I wanted to get to know.

I was pleasantly surprised to find how quickly we hit it off. Ashley was warm and down to earth in addition to being energetic and self-assured, particularly about her work – I felt those strong attributes start to rub off on me immediately. We met regularly over happy hours and coffees. She helped me navigate all of my questions, always answering my emails and calls despite her demanding schedule. She never patronized, lectured, or judged, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I’m not positive how long the mentorship program formally lasted, but five years later, I still consider her my greatest mentor, cheerleader, and close friend. With Ashley’s help, I took on new challenges and job opportunities – one even at the National Constitution Center, where Ashley was working when we first met. Last spring, Ashley nominated me for PPRA’s Fast-Track Award, and I was honored to accept it with her beside me.

Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my career thus far I can attribute to Ashley and to PPRA – so, if you’re feeling unsure about the idea of signing up for the Mentorship Program, know that it a) does indeed work and b) may just change your life.

And Ashley, if you’re reading this, thank you.

Sarah Fergus is Manager of Marketing Communications for the Philadelphia Flyers, where she oversees all publicity and messaging for the team’s off-ice and business initiatives. She has previously worked in public relations and marketing roles for the National Constitution Center and the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Temple University in 2010. You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn here.


Learn more about PPRA’s Mentorship Program


Top 10 PPRA Firsts

As the outgoing PPRA president, I wanted to share my reflections on our last year without taking up time from the busy program at our recent Annual Meeting Reception, so I decided to put a Top 10 list together for our blog.


Some of you may recall that 2016 is “My (Leap) Year of Firsts” – meaning I’m daring myself to try something new for the first time every single day this year.  Since PPRA’s calendar year is mid-year to mid-year, here are my Top 10 firsts from our 2015-2016 PPRA programming year:

  1. Founding the PPRA Sylvia Kauders 50-Year Club
  2. Jeff Jubelirer’s Hall of Fame Luncheon
  3. Mayor Nutter performing Rapper’s Delight and Mighty Writer Christian Precise reading her poetry at the Gold Medal Luncheon
  4. Greeting Card Workshop at Magic Gardens
  5. Launching the Firm Founders Series
  6. Grape Expectations outdoor fashion sketches at City Tavern
  7. Launching Networking 101 at CBS 3
  8. The “Meet the Messengers” breakfast panel with Mayor Kenney’s communications team
  9. “Kicking” off our exclusive in-studio breakfast program at CBS 3 with Margaret Cronan (and our matching boots)
  10. Lu Ann Cahn (a.k.a. the inspiration behind the “firsts”) interviewing Philadelphia Media Network Publisher Terry Egger

There were a lot more highlights, but the reason I’m emphasizing these experiences is because they were all “firsts” for PPRA.  We were not afraid to take risks and try some things differently.  For example, we revamped PResence – PPRA’s monthly e-newsletter – and the open rate has nearly peaked at 50 percent.  What were your favorite #PPRAfirsts from this year?

Furthermore, I would like to sincerely thank our PPRA members for their support and dedication.  It truly has been amazing to experience these “firsts” and grow with my PPRA family.  Thanks to all for the memories that will last.      

Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway is the immediate past-president of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and director of communications and marketing at the Philadelphia Bar Association.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @MZApoetry.

Member Get a Member

Congratulations to the following PPRA members, who all won prizes in the final “Member Get a Member” contest of the program year:

  • Cooper University Health Care System Marketing Manager Amanda Bednar, who received passes to Helium Comedy Club for referring her colleague Kate Johnston, who is also a marketing manager at Cooper University Health Care System.
  • Buchanan Public Relations President Anne Buchanan, who received tickets to the Philadelphia Folk Festival for referring Philabundance Deputy Communications Director Stafanie Arck-Baynes.
  • Brian Communications Assistant Account Executive Rachel Christie, who received Phillies tickets for referring Gregory FCA Account Coordinator Olivia Noble.

  • Anne Klein, who is founder of Anne Klein Communications Group, received a gift card to Hard Rock Café Philadelphia for referring Sandee Bengel.
  • Independent communications consultant Jessica Lawlor, who received a gift card to Hard Rock Café Philadelphia for referring Alexa Johnson, public relations manager at Visit Bucks County.
  • Lisa Simon, who is president of Simon Public Relations Group, received a gift card to Hard Rock Café Philadelphia for referring Amy Buckman, who is manager of public relations and special events at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.

In addition, Adam Dvorin, media director at Winning Strategies, referred Della Bozeman.

Thanks to Cashman Public Relations, Lisette Bralow, Helium Comedy Club and the Phillies for providing this month’s prizes.

Finally, thank you to everyone who helped spread the word about joining PPRA.

#PPRAMemberMonday: Dan Weckerly

Today we are featuring Dan Weckerly, Communications Manager at the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board. Dan has been with Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board for over three years and he has been a PPRA member for three plus years.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.weckerly
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dan-weckerly

PPRA: Dan, tell us a bit about your background and your current job.

DW: My corporate communications career, including various PR responsibilities, reflects experience across industries that include insurance, tech and financial services. In 2015, I was awarded the Frank X. Long award from PRSA, in recognition of writing excellence. My mainstream career advancement was augmented in 2012 with the publication of my first e-novel, whose sales on outlets that included Amazon generated just enough revenue to fill my car with gas, twice.

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

DW: As part of the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, I work daily to promote Montgomery County as a leisure and business travel destination. Currently, we are extending our overarching brand to highlight weddings, golf, sports and history, all of which represent economic impact to the county.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

DW: One of my responsibilities is publication of our weekly blog on valleyforge.org. Called “The Pursuit,” the blog enables me to promote our members through experiential reporting; therefore, I have been ziplining, hot-air ballooning and rock climbing. I’ve paddled a kayak with Governor Corbett, learned how to execute a clean-and-jerk and interviewed the actress who played Zuzu Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’ve made gnocchi at a culinary school, painted my own version of a Van Gogh, hand-fed a giraffe and sat with the King of Prussia Mall’s Santa Claus.

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

DW: I work with an incredibly talented and creative team, under a generous and visionary leadership. Our day-to-day work involves collaboration on just about every level, so any “personal” accomplishment would need to be viewed in a group setting. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. It’s an environment that I’ve come to love.

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

DW: Follow your instincts. Pitch the way you’d like to be pitched to. Kill the bland quotes. Put the stats into a narrative that people can get invested in. Drop the cheesy photo ops. Be creative. Be engaging. Be different.

Also: Read. Read-read-read. Good PR often comes down to good writing, and good writing is the product of good reading. Read everything: the morning paper, a juicy novel, a touching memoir, the back of a cereal box, a challenging poem, a classic play. Read Stephen King. Read Shakespeare. Read Lisa Scottoline. Read the Gospel of St. Luke.

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

DW: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite film of all time. I cannot recall when I saw it first, or how many times I’ve seen (and cried) over it, but it must be dozens by this point. There’s something about the story of George Bailey that resonates with me deeply: The fact that one can live a life of self-sacrifice and assume that nobody notices. And then come to the realization that in actuality, EVERYBODY notices. It’s not a perfect film (there are some continuity errors), but it’s a perfect movie, despite the fact that people find it somewhat cheesy.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

DW: Ummm, my favorite spot in MONTGOMERY COUNTY would be the Bryn Athyn Historic District. I’ve lived in Montco since 1988 and yet, before working for the tourism board, I’d never been there before. I was stunned. And I never tire of going back.

Runners up: Valley Forge National Historical Park, downtown Ambler, Green Lane Park.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

DW: Onions, no peppers. Slathered in ketchup.