#PPRA Member Monday – Ryan Wall

#PPRAMember Monday_Wall

Ryan Wall is an Account Executive at Brian Communications. He has been a PPRA member for one and a half years.

Twitter: @ryan_wonderwall

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ryanmwall/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RyanTheGreatWall

A friend once remarked that “Ryan thinks in action items”… which sounds about right. A creative thinker with a knack for social strategy, Ryan loves to come up with big ideas to tackle complex communications challenges. He enjoys taking a thoughtful approach to craft campaign narratives (he’s at his best in a brainstorm) and seeing projects come to fruition. Ryan is a proud alumnus of La Salle University (#NeverLost), passionate writer and noted lover of a witty pun. He’s been at Brian Communications since he graduated (and even before then, when he interned there his senior year). Call him, tweet him, if you wanna reach him.

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

RW: I’ve worked with Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), Milton Hershey School, La Salle University and the Horatio Alger Association, to name a few. I also work on the social media strategy for Brian, as well as the job shadow and internship programs. Right now, I’m very excited to be working on the re-imagining of the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (I could go on and on about how my team helped #MoveTheSphinx)

PPRA: What is the favorite part of your job?

RW: I love the people I work with– I think that sometimes in PR, we forget that “relations” is literally a part of our job description. I am lucky to work alongside a team that has given me some of the greatest (and most caring) friends, cheerleaders and mentors I could have. The pace of agency life keeps me on my toes and pushes me to challenge myself daily. I feel like I am always learning and growing personally and professionally each day in the office.

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

RW: Earlier this year, I was able to support my alma mater on several high-level announcements. I worked alongside top executives from the agency to provide strategic counsel to leaders from La Salle, while working on extensive media relations and brand positioning projects. There were quite a few times when our CEO, Brian Tierney, specifically sought out my opinion as an (outspoken) Explorer to inform our strategy—as a younger professional, that made me feel incredibly valued and gave me a unique opportunity to take an informal leadership role early on in my career. Seeing press releases and media pieces that I wrote posted on the La Salle website was honestly something I could have never imagined back when I was a student. It was also incredibly cool to see a project I shepherded get syndicated nationally and receive over 2.5 million impressions. Being able to positively impact a community I hold so near and dear to my heart was an amazing and particularly special way to start my career. 

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

RW: Something I remind myself—and my friends—over and over is that you can never compare yourself to others. Despite working with (read: obsessing over) social media daily, it’s so easy to forget that real life is not just curated, picture-perfect Instagrammable moments. It’s no use getting caught up comparing yourself to peers, colleagues and role models because everyone goes at their own pace and has their own story. As soon as you start focusing on yourself and your goals, you’ll start to notice personal growth and find joy in your daily life. 

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

RW: I’ve read “The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan every single year since I turned 18. It’s a collection of essays that is named after a beautifully written commencement piece focusing on the excitement (and anxiety) of the unknown. I think it’s informed my writing style quite a bit, and I always find myself reflecting on it differently. 

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

RW: I could people watch for hours in Rittenhouse Square. Catch me there every Saturday all summer with a book from the Parkway Library (a truly underrated gem) and a taco bowl from some hole-in-the-wall place. 

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

RW: When I was younger, I wanted to be the Editor in Chief of Reader’s Digest. I don’t particularly know why, but I know I just have always loved to write. I could also see myself as a linguist or cultural anthropologist. I’ve also been told I’d be a good high school English teacher. So I suppose being in PR kind of takes elements from all these careers and combines them. 

PPRA: Favorite Philly Food?

RW: I will *never* pass up a cheesesteak…and before you ask, I’m partial to Dalessandro’s (Please don’t @ me).

#PPRAMemberMonday: Michelle Sonsino

#PPRAMember Monday_Sonsino

Michelle Sonsino is the Director of Communications and Marketing for Germantown Friends School. She has been a PPRA member for 7 years and currently serves as our Vice President for Membership.

Twitter:
Personal @pumpoclock
Professional @GFSchool

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-sonsino-5659379

Facebook:
Personal @michelle.sonsinolewis
Professional @GermantownFriendsSchool

Michelle has over 15 years of diverse communications experience that spans public relations, internal communications, community relations, B2B and B2C marketing, grant writing, and crisis communications. 

Michelle currently serves as the Director of Communications and Marketing at Germantown Friends School, a role she loves because of the creative and thoughtful faculty and students, and the programmatic focus on social justice and equity. Prior to her work at GFS, Michelle served as the Director of Development at Career Wardrobe, where she currently serves on the organization’s Advisory Board. She has also held roles at the City of Philadelphia, Chubb Insurance, Aramark, and Women’s Way. Michelle interned for Philly.com when the site was in its infancy, and continued on as a part-time employee for two years.

Michelle volunteers with Saved Me animal rescue and has two sweet dogs, Crouton and Gretel. Michelle lives in Bella Vista with her husband and son, Max.

I appreciate being a part of the PPRA community for a few reasons. First, every event has directly advanced my work. From media panels to Pitch Perfect events, I have found direct success from building new relationships, gaining feedback from peers, and opening my eyes to new marketing concepts. I have also found the mentorship opportunities to be greatly beneficial, both learning from experts and advising those new to the field. Throughout my entire career, mentorship has been very important to me, from my first boss out of college to my current supervisor to the many people I have met at PPRA, I am grateful for their professional guidance and support, as well as meaningful friendships.”

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

MS: I support many teams at GFS, including the leadership, admissions, fundraising, academics, athletics, auxiliary programming, community relations, and more! We also work with neighbors and non-profit partners.

PPRA: What is the favorite part of your job?

MS: Every day is different and there is always a new story to tell. The relationship between the school and the community is also heartwarming to me, particularly as someone who worked in nonprofits for many years. We partner with the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia, John B. Kelly School, and many more! Students are able to learn from many different perspectives. I have the privilege of learning something new every day as well!

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

MS: I worked with a group of students to publicize their walkout efforts and we made it into the Wall Street Journal’s online site (well, for half a day), and many other outlets. I was beyond proud of their work to encourage, and demand, gun reform. They recognize their power to change the future, and I was thrilled to help get their message out.

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

MS: Be kind and honest, and enjoy your amazing job! It can be stressful, but how lucky are we to be able to share stories near and far?!

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

MS: All the President’s Men. I watched it in high school and I think it sparked my interest in journalism.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

MS: Dilworth Park, particularly when the fountain is on. This joyful site brings together people from all over Philadelphia and the world.

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

MS: An adoption or foster care social worker. Adoption has played such an important part in my life and I would love to learn how to support others who are interested in building a family in different ways.

PPRA: Favorite Philly Food?

MS: John’s Water Ice

#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.

#MemberMonday-25

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.weckerly
Twitter:@dweck140
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.

#PPRAMemberMonday: Ashley Berke

In honor of her first week of presidency, today we are featuring the 2016 PPRA President, Ashley Berke. Ashley is the Director of Communications for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet). Ashley has been a PPRA member for over 11 years and is a past PPRA Fast-Track Award recipient.image

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.berke.7
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleybberke

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

AB: I am the Director of Communications for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), where I oversee media relations, marketing, publications, social media, and the website for the renowned school and its two hospitals. I previously served as Director of Public Relations for the National Constitution Center. I graduated from Cornell University in 2005.

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

AB: We just wrapped on our new TV docu-series for Animal Planet. The show follows six of our fourth-year veterinary students as they complete their rigorous training. We hope to announce a premiere date soon, so stay tuned!

Other fun projects that I’m currently working on include promotion of our new robotics-controlled equine imaging system at New Bolton Center, sponsorship of NBC 10’s Clear the Shelters initiative, and an amazing event called the Best Friends Bash that brings together craniofacial patients from CHOP and canine craniofacial patients from Penn Vet for a unique form of pet therapy.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

AB: Well, for starters, I love animals. But what I love most about communications is that every day is different. You can never predict what’s coming – one minute I might be writing a pitch and then a national news request will come in and my day will totally shift. It keeps me on my toes.

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

AB: The TV docu-series for Animal Planet (see above). Pitching the show and securing a network took over two years, so it was incredibly fulfilling to see it come to fruition. Filming non-stop for three straight months was exhausting but eye-opening and exciting at the same time. We think the show will bring national attention to Penn Vet and showcase just how intense veterinary training is. Please tune in!

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

AB: Be a sponge. Soak up as much knowledge and advice as possible. This is a constantly changing industry, and PR pros – no matter their experience level – must stay on top of the trends in order to remain relevant.

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

AB: Movie – The kid in me can’t say no to watching The Goonies over and over again. I’m also pretty obsessed with The Royal Tenenbaums. Book – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

AB: I love the Reading Terminal Market and the Mutter Museum.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

AB: From Steve’s Prince of Steaks, a cheesesteak hoagie with (“wit”) onions and American cheese. They pre-melt the cheese!
(Now I’m craving one.)

PPRA: You’ve been a very active member of PPRA, describe your road to becoming the next PPRA President.

AB: I joined PPRA as soon as I graduated and started my career. My boss at the time, Denise Venuti Free, recommended that I join as a way to meet the key players in Philly’s PR community. It definitely paid off. I never would have gotten to know so many people in so many different cross-sections of our industry if it wasn’t for PPRA. A few years into my membership, Bill Cowen reached out to me and suggested that I join a board committee. He was serving as President-Elect and asked me to assist with College Relations. As a recent graduate, it was a perfect fit. After that, I joined the board in an official capacity and have been serving ever since.

PPRA: What can people expect from you and what do you hope to achieve as the new PPRA President?

AB: You can definitely expect a lot of enthusiasm! I am so grateful to PPRA for helping to shape my career. During my presidency, I want to hone in on what makes PPRA unique, and utilize that to energize our members and build on our successes. To me, PPRA is a wonderful community of mentors and friends. We can learn so much from one another. I’m looking forward to a great line-up of educational events and the chance to grow our mentorship and community outreach programs, which are near and dear to my heart.

PPRA: The PR and communications industries are changing everyday. Will you be making any “changes” to PPRA to reflect this? 

AB: The Board has long felt that the PPRA website is in need of an update. I certainly can’t take credit for starting this project, but I do hope to see it come to fruition this year.

#PPRAMemberMonday: Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway

In honor of her last week of presidency, today we are featuring PPRA President, Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway.  Meredith wears a dual hat as both the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Director of Communications and Marketing as well as the Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s President. Meredith is a past PPRA Fast-Track Award & Dr. Jean Brodey Award winner. Come out and meet Meredith at PPRA’s Annual Meeting Celebration held tomorrow at the Liberty View Ballroom at the Independence Visitor Center. Register here.

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Twitter: @MZApoetry
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meredithavakian

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

MZA: Prior to my roles as PPRA President and the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Director of Communications and Marketing, I spent nearly eight years at DuPont working in a variety of positions with vast responsibilities. Most recently, I served as a regional public affairs manager. In this role, I led internal and external communications, including 24/7 issues and crisis communications support, for eight manufacturing plant sites in three states – Delaware, New Jersey & Rhode Island.

I have received notable recognition for my work. Most recently, I received the Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Rising Star Award from my alma mater. I also was named a “Rising Star of PR” by PR News, a “Hero” by the American Red Cross and “Notable Alumni” by Temple University’s Department of Strategic Communications. PPRA honored me with its Fast-Track Award & Dr. Jean Brodey Award. I am a member of the Public Relations Society of America and have received a couple of national awards from the student chapter of the organization. I also am an active member of the National Association of Bar Executives.

 In addition, I am a past chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union Young Professionals and have led communications efforts for the annual Armenian Genocide Walk.

 In my “spare” time, I have published two books of my own poetry – “Propaganda Begins with PR: Poetry for the Soul” and “PRhyme Time: Power of Poetry.”

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

MZA: My clients essentially are the 12,000 members of the Philadelphia Bar Association – a diverse cross-section of lawyers, judges and politicians.  I’ve been working on creating and promoting a number of important forums lately, from the recent one we held on the proposed sugary drink tax to the joint PPRA “Meet the Messengers” panel with the mayor’s new communications staff to hosting a forum with the three new justices of Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  Other projects focus on pending legislature related to merit selection bills, medicinal marijuana and more.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

MZA: The people.  I enjoy working with some of the most influential leaders in Philadelphia and beyond, as well as helping to get the word out about all of the free legal advice and other pro bono support our members provide for the community-at-large.

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

MZA: Contributing to our chancellor’s mission to increase the Philadelphia Bar Association’s relevancy and visibility this year, which has led to an uptick in media coverage and increase in event attendance as well as timely and enhanced programming and membership initiatives.

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

MZA: Get involved.  From serving on trade/industry association committees to volunteering in your communities to attending conferences and seminars, it is important that we be connected, relevant and educated.

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

MZA: I’m sure these answers will surprise some, but I can’t get enough of The Bible (book) and the original 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (movie) with Gene Wilder.  Here’s to righteousness and breaking through glass ceilings!

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

MZA: I’d disclose this information if it were public knowledge, but privacy also starts with “PR.”  😉

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

MZA: Sometimes “wit” and sometimes “wit-out.” Often with extra cheese, but never whiz.

PPRA: Since this is the last week of your presidency take us down memory lane and describe your first week as President?

MZA: I had very big goals, including a detailed month-by-month plan for the year. However, most of my energy and efforts the first week as president were focused on team-and-relationship-building with PPRA’s new leadership and planning our annual Board Retreat. This immediately started with 1×1’s with every Board member, followed by our Board Retreat and then culminated with a special happy hour for Board members and committee chairs.

PPRA: You had many accomplishments as PPRA President, what would you consider your greatest?

MZA: Moving the needle while staying committed to our three initiatives for the year. We weren’t afraid to try things differently.  PPRA programs were substantive, creative and fun.  Our partnerships helped us build bridges.  The support we provided to Mighty Writers has been meaningful.  Plus, founding the PPRA Sylvia Kauders 50-Year Club will forever be something I am honored to say we launched this year.

PPRA: What do you see for the future of PPRA?

MZA: For one, a much-needed, long-awaited and highly anticipated new website.  We weren’t able to complete the project this year, though I know Ashley Berke and Gary Bramnick will carry the torch to completion in 2016-2017.  Additionally, we are looking to rebrand PPRA, so in addition to a new website, we may also have a new logo and more.  Furthermore, I envision us being the go-to association for reporters who are looking for PR experts on any given industry or beat as well as the place every active Philly PR professional can call “home.”