#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.

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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.

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#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.”

#PPRAMemberMonday: Kellsey Turner

Today we are featuring Kellsey Turner, Assistant Account Executive for Vault Communications. Kellsey was last year’s 2015 Dr. Jean Brodey Student Achievement Award winner along with Rachel Christie. At this years Annual Meeting Celebration, Alissa Steele will receive the 2016 Dr. Jean Brodey Student Achievement Award and Darrah Foster will receive the 2016 Fast-Track Award. Register for the Annual Meeting Celebration here.

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Twitter: @KellseyTurner
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/kellseyturner

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

KT: As a transplant from a small farming town near Reading, I’ve enjoyed exploring my new home in the City of Brotherly Love. I’m a 2015 graduate of La Salle University where I earned my bachelor’s in Communication with a concentration in PR and minors in Environmental Science and Leadership & Global Understanding. Today I enjoy staying involved by volunteering for PPRA’s College Relations committee.

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

KT: I work with a variety of corporate and nonprofit clients on media relations, speech writing and social media. We recently wrapped up pitching the First Day of Spring free Italian Ice giveaway for Rita’s Italian Ice, which was such a fun project to be a part of.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

KT: The diversity and the challenges that come with every day. I’m always learning something new.

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

KT: I recently drafted college commencement remarks for the CEO of one of my clients. It was a challenging assignment, but I enjoyed the opportunity to showcase my writing.

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

KT: I actually wrote a blog for PPRA on this! The content is directed at recent entrants to the field of PR, but the advice is transferable across all experience levels. Check it out: http://bit.ly/1SwLQo5

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

KT: I have a soft spot for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

KT: I love the Art Museum steps at night. It’s the perfect vantage point to look out over the city.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

KT: Whiz wit.

#PPRAMemberMonday: Kerry O’Connor

Today we are featuring Kerry O’Connor, Senior Communications Manager at Einstein Healthcare Network. Kerry has been a PPRA member for nine years and has been working in the PR field for 18 years. As an avid writer Kerry has a passion for telling stories.

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Twitter:@PenandLens
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kerry-o-connor

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

KO: Since graduating from La Salle in 1998, I’ve been working in Public Relations. It’s a career born out of necessity. As a credentialed but broke journalist and photographer just out of college, I started working in PR as a way to keep the lights on between newspaper assignments.

In PR, I’ve worked for organizations like Communities In Schools of Philadelphia and Magee Rehab, to name a few of the many, before coming to Einstein Healthcare Network. As a writer, I’ve written for everything: Inquirer, Northeast Times, Irish Edition, Weekly Press. I even had a piece in Tattoo magazine once. (Never saw that coming.)

PR or writing…I just like to tell stories.

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

KO: At Einstein Healthcare Network, I work for a variety of service-lines and network initiatives, like our 150th anniversary campaign this year. But, the bulk of my work is for MossRehab, Einstein’s physical and cognitive rehabilitation facility, which I really enjoy. There’s always new technology and new methods that truly help people with disabilities.

I’m working on some fun stuff right now, including our #BornAtEinstein campaign–a crowd-sourcing initiative to collect pictures and stories of people who had their kids or who were born at an Einstein hospital over our 150 year history: BornAtEnstein.com. I’m also putting together MossRehab’s sponsorship of the GlobalAbilities wheelchair racing team for the Broad Street Run and spearheading MossRehab’s involvement with They Will Surf Again in June–a one day surfing event for persons with disabilities.

PPRA: What is your favorite part about your job?

KO: My favorite part about my job here at Einsten is that I work for a place that is open to me not just writing/pitching about what is going on, but to creating community partnerships and programs. (Then I get to pitch them, so It’s a win-win.)

They Will Surf Again is a great example. I surf, so I volunteered. When I came to Einstein/MossRehab, I thought it was the kind of thing MossRehab could be involved in and my leadership in PR and the leadership at MossRehab said “Go for it!” This June will be our fourth year. We’ve sent down over 150 volunteers so far and we’ve gotten lots of great publicity. This year our art therapy program is working with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to create graphics for a surfboard to be used at the event. All because leadership was/is willing to hear ideas. You can’ take that for granted.

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

KO: The #BornAtEinstein campaign that is running till the end of this year. We’re asking Philadlephians to take the time to find baby pictures and share them, along with their often-times very personal stories about their experience at Einstein and people are sharing them. We have over 500 submissions so far, ranging from people who were born at an Einstein hospital in the 20s to babies that were born a few days ago.

The Hospital Association of Pennsylvania is highlighting the campaign at their annual PR conference in April.

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

KO: Never take the first no as the last no when trying to do something new. A few adjustments–and a little tenacity–may be all it takes.

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

KO: Movies: Casablanca, Jaws, Goodfellas…and my guilty pleasure, Captain Ron. Books: I love Hemingway. I’ve read his novels and short stories a ton of times.

PPRA: What’s your favorite spot in Philly?

KO: The Blue Horizon on Broad Street. When I started writing sports features, I covered a lot of boxing matches there. It’s closed now.

But, if I’m honest, my favorite all-time Philly spot is probably XIX Nineteen. Had my first date with my wife there. Proposed there. Now we have a three year-old son. That place is the epi-center for my happiness.

PPRA: How do you take your cheesesteak?

KO: Being a Boston native, I was exposed late in life to the wonders of the cheesesteak. My favorite, by far, is a cheesesteak from Donkey’s Place in Camden. (They only make it with American cheese, on a round roll and you can get grilled onions, which I do.)

When I lived in Manayunk, I loved Delassandro’s. But, I gotta say, a heart-attack wit’ (provolone, american, whiz in a hollowed-out roll) from Pat’s is pretty spectacular.