#PPRAMemberMonday: Art Ellis

Today we are featuring Art Ellis, Vice President for Communications and Member Relations at WHYY. Art has been a PPRA member for 23 years and is a past PPRA Hall of Fame recipient. He has worked for WHYY since 1987, making this year his 30th year with WHYY.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.02.00 PM

Facebook: www.facebook.com/art.ellis.12
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/arellis

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

AE: I started at WHYY as a publicist in 1987 and over time picked up additional responsibilities in branding, marketing, on-air promotion and customer service. For the last 18 months I’ve also been managing membership, with a $12.5 million annual goal. Prior to WHYY I held PR positions at Case Western Reserve University and what is now Philadelphia University.

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

AE: My clients are all internal departments at WHYY. One issue we’re paying attention to is how best to reinforce WHYY’s position as the region’s leading non-profit media provider in light of the recent shifts at Philadelphia Media Network.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

AE: Constant change in the media field is both a favorite part and the greatest challenge. I get to figure out how to use new technology to better serve the public and at the same time have to deal with the challenges of pitching stories in a shrinking print media world.

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

AE: Working with my team to say farewell to Downtown Abbey. Our goal was to provide a great experience for our viewers while leveraging the popularity of the series to increase engagement and membership. We did everything from gala costume dinners to a City Council proclamation. Who knew 300 people could eat 700 scones in 15 minutes?

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

AE: Working at a media outlet I often receive errant PR pitches. Even the most experienced folks in our profession need to remember the basics: Before calling or sending an email, make sure you research the reporter/editor/program. And keep those pitches short and timely.

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

AE: I’ve watched Broadcast News (which ironically was released the same year I started at WHYY) many times. I’ll always remember the line uttered by William Hurt’s character when he is accused of “crossing the line” of ethical journalism. “It’s hard not to cross it–they just keep moving the little sucker, don’t they?” A great reminder of the need to pay attention to the ethics of any profession.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

AE: My favorite stress reliever is to hike or bike in the Wissahickon section of Fairmount Park.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

AE: Sorry, but I’d prefer a grilled veggie hoagie.

The State of the Industry


Public relations professionals from PPRA, PRSA Philly and PBPRS gathered April 19, 2016 for the third ever State of the Industry event. As attendees enjoyed a filling breakfast, PPRA President Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway welcomed the audience followed by PRSA Philly President Kimberley Ciesla and Philadelphia Black Public Relations President Vincent Thompson. Next, guests transitioned into the main part of the event which consisted of four interesting panel discussions about the state of public relations in Philadelphia organized into two breakout sessions.

During the first breakout session, “Staying Out of the News: Insight from Philly’s Top Crisis PR Experts” event attendees had the opportunity to learn more about crisis public relations from some of the top Crisis PR professionals. The panel consisted of Cathy Engel Menendez, Director of Communications for PECO, Joshua Peck, PR Head at international law firm Duane Morris, and Christopher Lukach, president and member of the ownership team at Anne Klein Communications Group. Neil Foote, president of Foote Communications LLC and the National Black Public Relations Society, moderated the conversation, introducing various challenges faced by professionals who perform crisis management. By the conclusion of the session, audience members learned the importance of getting the facts, identifying the ideal spokesperson, sharing a plan for dispensing information with stakeholders and setting the tone for a crisis during the first response. The panelists also explained the importance of preparing for crises before they occur, already having established relationships with C-suite executives and being able to communicate the values of your organization when in doubt.

555The other portion of the audience attended “The Influence Behind Philly Brands” during session one. This event was moderated by David Brown, Founder/Managing Director of the Marketing Collaborative and assistant professor of teaching at Temple University. Janeane Tolomeo of Di Bruno Bros., Trevor Prichett of the Yards Brewing Company and Paula Butler of Visit Philadelphia sat on the panel for this discussion.  Each professional discussed some of the unique challenges their brands face and the ways they leverage their brand’s Philly connection to meet their bottom lines. While Visit Philly tries to make cultural connections with Philadelphia and the outside world to engage their audiences, Yard Brewing Company competes with large companies on their small budget by appealing to Philly loyalty and using social media, traditional PR and multimedia content to develop campaigns like their “Brew onto Others.” Tolomeo explained that the Di Bruno Bros employs market research, high level connections and influential partnerships to keep their finger on the pulse of consumers.

The second breakout session focused on two different subjects: social media and changes in healthcare. In “We Snapped, Posted & Tweeted… What’s Next?,” Rakia Reynolds, CEO and Founder of Skai Blue Media, and Matthew Dickman, Executive Director of Digital Communications at Comcast Corporation, shared their expertise with the audience. After tweetgiving brief professional backgrounds, Boyd and Dickman dialogued about their recent shared experience in the Comcast lounge at SXSW. They reminisced about how Comcast spent 1/10th the amount as many other brands at SXSW but generated more engagement by providing great content, incorporating various forms of social media and creating an interactive and engaging space. Boyd and Dickman continued the discussion providing advice about strategically growing interaction on social media, organic posting versus paid search, determining the appropriate content according to platform, incorporating snapchat for large companies and more.

Other professionals who attended the event elected to attend “From Consumerism to the FDA—How Changes in Healthcare Impact Communications.” Rachel Schwartz, Vice President of Tonic Life Communications discussed the role that patient bloggers play in affecting policies in the healthcare industry. Leah Sheppard, Senior Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications, also spoke about the more active role patients are taking in healthcare consumerism. Rather than simply following doctor’s orders, patients have begun to take agency advice in seeking out physicians and institutions and it is shifting the conversation in this field. For Charlotte Sutton, Health and Science editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, she recognizes the rise in patient stories but what she looks for is the data underpinnings of these increasing patient stories.


After the breakout sessions, the audience heard from April Mellody, Deputy CEO of Communications of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee. The 2016 Democratic National Convention is coming to Philadelphia this July and Mellody is responsible for all aspects of official convention communications. A short Q&A session followed Mellody’s spiel that broached topics from communication challenges Mellody’s staff may face to volunteer opportunities. Attendees left the third State of the Industry event more informed about changes in the field of PR and with more insight about the state of Philadelphia in the near future.


Jameeda Rucker is a senior at Temple University majoring in Strategic Communication and minoring in Spanish. Jameeda has held five public relations internships and multiple leadership roles in pre-professional organizations including her current role as Vice President of Public Relations for Temple’s Chapter of PRSSA. You can connect with Jameeda on Twitter @_JRPR_ and on LinkedIn here.

Coffee and Conversations with CBS3’s Margaret Cronan

Public Relations Professionals filled Studio B at CBS3 on April 14, 2016 for Coffee and Conversations with Margaret Cronan. We were all joined by Assistant News Director, John Wilson. PPRA President Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway and Margaret kicked off the morning on a fun note … showing off their similar footwear — medical boots!

Meredith and Margaret at CBS PPRA Event

PPRA President Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway posing with CBS3 Margaret Cronan. Photo By: Cari Feiler Bender

Margaret started the program by talking about the changes at the station. She first showed a new, lively promo video and immediately created an engaging atmosphere. They are relaunching their station brand and the video, which opened in black and white but transitioned into vibrant color, showed just how lively and warm their newscasts are.

So what is the plan at CBS3 now? They are looking for and presenting meaningful stories other stations don’t have while also telling the news of the day in a more meaningful way. Our region doesn’t want just murder, fire, weather and traffic. We want more and CBS3 believes we deserve a better newscast. To explain this further, Margaret gave an example. Recently, their 11 p.m. news kicked off with a story that a year ago wouldn’t have been their lead story. She showed a clip of a story about a case of animal abuse against horses and the amazing teamwork it took to help the Last Chance Rescue Farm take care of these horses.

A sample of how CBS3 is making changes was how the station handled the terror attacks in Paris. While the other channels were running their regular programming, CBS3 interrupted the Dr. Phil show and brought Ukee and Jessica on the set to report the breaking news. CBS National broke the story at 5 p.m. but Margaret felt it was important for us to be informed right away, before 5 p.m.

John Wilson opened his portion of the program by talking about a new segment called Good Question. This airs on the 11 p.m. news and the segments are not posted online – intentionally. Viewers can only watch this segment on television, and cannot find it at another time online. Good Question can be a serious, timely topic like the taxes in April or a more humorous topic like having a linguistics expert from PENN explain where the Philadelphia slang word JAWN comes from. John’s tip: If you want to get a client on Good Question, pitch your client as the expert who can answer the proposed question.

Another light feature that has become very popular are the reports by Vittoria (Tori) Woodall who is as energetic as she is well-received. She began with a segment called Taste with Tori which focuses on the story behind the restaurant. She is now also doing more feature stories such as: what’s it like to actually be inside the crane that is part of the part of the construction site of the new Comcast Tower?

This led to the question and answer portion of the morning. I’d like to present this you all as it happened during the event:


Who should we be pitching and when does CBS3 use entertainment stories?


John quickly shared his email address with us all: Wilson@cbs3.com and said you can never over communicate! Don’t forget morning producer Steve Lindsay. He is filling live air for two hours.

For entertainment, this is a real opportunity for Tori. Maybe she can jump on stage with performers! But remember, there has to be a deeper feature for Tori to share.

John also mentioned that you could pitch a story to him but then in their meetings they’ll decide the best reporter to cover it.  They all share story ideas during their meetings.


The Last Chance Rescue Farm story that was given as an example in the beginning of the event took place in Quakertown, PA. Do you have a wider demographic because of viewership?


They do, always have. John said that if they realize that many of their stories are in the city, it’s time to get out of the city!


We don’t want to overstep any boundaries with reporters and producers at the station. Let’s say we’re working with someone/pitching them, but they don’t really know if the story will work for them. What if we also think the story could be really good for, as an example, Stephanie Stahl. Can we pitch her as well? We don’t want to pitch two people and chance offending anyone.


In our meetings, we don’t really know where the pitches come from. Chances are you’re not always going to get a yes; we’re looking for something unique. John said he has never heard from someone at work rolling their eyes saying, “Oh My God, I’ve heard from this person again!”


What’s the biggest headache you have from people like us?


That’s a better question for the assignment desk but, we’re still news people and we’re trying to tell stories and do the news. The focus at the station isn’t your client’s happiness. It’s ratings and viewer happiness, etc. That’s positive PR. John went on to talk a little on PR practices that frustrate them. His example was the need for quick turnaround during a crisis. They need to hear back immediately especially when something is time sensitive. It doesn’t matter how you respond; email, text, call phone… just give us something, he says.


How would you describe your sports coverage?


We are putting an emphasis back on sports again. We are the only station who sent a camera out to Seattle with St. Joe’s. There’s the sports side of sports, but the people side too. CBS3 is particularly interested in the people side of sports. Maybe we’ll highlight a story during Lunch with Leslie instead of standard sports highlights on the 5 p.m. news.


You receive 600 emails and more a day so how do we really get you to open the email? How do you feel about phone calls?


Email is better because you can catch up quicker than voicemail. When sending a pitch, John can tell what’s national or local. Frankly – it’s in the subject. “Possible Good Question” is a good subject. Adding Philadelphia to the subject line is good to get him to open the email.


I find it interesting that KYW Newsradio and CBS3 are partnering. Are you doing more of this?


Yes, it goes both ways. Both news rooms are mirror images of each other. Someone from KYW Newsradio is in the CBS morning meeting!


There were more opportunity for sponsored content on Talk Philly at noon. Probably 80% was sponsored content. Why did it stop?


We wanted to get back to the news; it was just too fluffy.  When John is questioning if it’s news or fluff, his criteria is if a story is a waste of time. He wants the story to be meaningful. If his brain switches from work to interest, its news. Unfortunately, there is no homerun formula. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don’t.


Health reporters seem adverse to a health awareness angle unless it’s during the specialty month. Next week is osteopathic medicine week so would next week be a good pitching opportunity to do a story on a correlating procedure?


John responded that he wants to know how new and radical the procedure might be. Is there something new or different here? Is there a new trend or is it affected by a new insurance law? Make awareness week the chance to talk about newsworthiness or trends etc.


Thinking about your Grammy promo piece, how can we help you tie into the national trends and national stories with a local story? How do we know other trends that are coming that we can help you with?


Some of the stories, we should just know. For example, the Masters are known, the Superbowl is known. We should follow the headlines. Here’s an example that may not have been a homerun but was. James Corden was doing a prime time special on carpool karaoke. So what makes it newsworthy to us? We did a local carpool karaoke story with Tori. It was right around the time that the Pope was in town so we got the big people who were here!

Follow Up Question:

Would you ever tweet out that you’re looking for something?


Nah, we’re more about building that relationship with the assignment desk.


What’s the mood in the room to the arts coverage?


Let’s get Tori access to your arts stories but there’s got to be a story there as well. For example, maybe the lead in the nutcracker has some amazing story on her life and how she got there.

All in all, it was an amazing morning. I’ll leave you with the words that Margaret left us with: She would love for us to call her and tell her there’s a huge story breaking down the street but she also now wants us to remember as we work for our clients that CBS3 is doing something different now. She wants us to think while we’re in our meetings, “You know, CBS3 will do this because they’re doing something different now. They aren’t doing all hard edge stuff.”

Hope Horwitz is the Vice President of Sharla Feldscher Public Relations and a long-time PPRA member. 

Fox29 Anchor Dawn Timmeney Brings National Attention


FOX29 Anchor Dawn Timmeney recently was mentioned on the national TV news trade Web site, TV Spy. Just not for the typical reasons the site mentions TV news — like a job switch or a ratings boost.

Timmeney was anchoring the news on a recent night, when her phone rang, on-air. Turns out, she made an honest mistake that many of us make – she didn’t realize her cell phone ringer was erroneously turned to “on”.

The story did not stop there. The caller – Timmeney’s 14-year-old daughter Oona – wrote an apology note to the station’s news director, so her mom would not get into trouble.

The note read: “Dear Mr. Driscoll: I’m so sorry I called my mom during the news. I was just calling to say goodnight because I haven’t seen her all week.”

Adds the Fox29 Web site: “In the end, Dawn’s boss thought the note was the sweetest thing, and Dawn looks forward to silencing her phone in the future!”

Link to TV Spy Story Here.

#PPRAMember Monday: Debbie Albert

Today we are featuring Debbie Albert, Owner, of Albert Communications, a firm providing communications counsel to companies around the world. Debbie is an award-winning communications executive with extensive experience in Corporate and Internal Communications, Crisis and Issues Management, Media Relations, and Website Content.


Twitter: @AlbertComms

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Albert-Communications-LLC-158515524202034/?ref=hl


PPRA: Debbie, tell us a bit about your background and what you do.

DA: With three decades of journalism and communications experience that took me from the White House to North Philadelphia and from baseball fields to board rooms, I am the owner of ALBERT Communications, a firm providing communications counsel to companies around the world.

Before starting my own firm, I was the Associate Vice President of Corporate Communications at Aramark.  With a degree in journalism from The George Washington University, I have extensive experience in television news having worked on the assignment desks at Independent Network News (WPIX) and CNN in Washington, D.C. as well as WPVI-TV Channel 6 Action News and KYW-TV in Philadelphia.

From 1989-1992, I was the Public Relations Manager at the Spectrum (Philadelphia’s former indoor arena). Following my stint at the Spectrum, I handled all public relations and marketing functions for an association management company.

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

DA: Clients are varied, and run the gamut from for-profit to non-profit and from small start-ups to larger companies that use Albert Communications as their de facto communications and public relations department.

Many of our clients are without user-friendly websites and a good deal of our work starts with helping design and build their sites, then adding social media and of course, media relations

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

DA: The work is different every day, every hour, and as someone with a background in the news business, that’s a must!

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

DA: We have recently designed and built two excellent website for two very different clients, one a production company in NYC and the other an accounting firm in the Philadelphia suburbs. Two very different audiences, two very different needs, yet both completely satisfied the need.

It’s also a thrill to get great placement for an unknown company in a great media outlet, and we did that for two clients this year. Believe it or not, one was a funeral home and the other has a product that prevents bed bugs!

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

DA: Never burn a bridge. Thanks to my connections from all of my wonderful positions, the work keeps flowing.

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

DA: I recently devoured “All the Light We Cannot See.” It’s a piece of art in book form.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly? 

DA: In the winter, the Barnes soothes my soul. I love being in there surrounded by some of the world’s greatest paintings in our own backyard. In better weather, we’re a family that loves to hike in the Wissahickon and in the summer, you’ll find me in Cape May.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

DA: I’m Kosher, so don’t go there.