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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

#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.”