Key Insights from PRSSA’s 2023 East Central District Conference

By Evelyn Kretzer

PRSSA at The Ohio State University hosted the 2023 PRSSA East Central District
Conference, titled “PR Pioneers,” where attendees explored the people, strategies,
culture and campaigns that have shaped the PR industry. If you were unable to attend
the conference, want to learn more about the sessions you could not attend or were too
absorbed by the speakers to take notes, here are some key takeaways that will help
propel your success in the PR world.

Keynote Speaker

The next generation of PR professionals started their day of speakers, food and
networking with keynote speaker Thomas McClure, Founder and Executive Director of
the Columbus Fashion Council and Fashion Week Columbus. Thomas discussed
believing in your brand, message and vision; thinking outside the box; rolling with the
punches; remembering your values; and more:

★ Be rooted in your authenticity

● Create your own feedback loop, which starts with your inner voice and who you
surround yourself with
● Be true to yourself and true to your brand, and communicate that transparently
● Tell your stories with confidence and don’t listen to the haters
● Be enthusiastic: if it’s not a “hell yeah” it’s a “hell no”
● Learn your leadership style and understand other people’s styles
● Compromise, but don’t compromise yourself or your values

“If we can’t promote ourselves, we can’t promote others” –Thomas McClure

What Should PR Pros Know About NIL?

Matthew Heichemer, manager at NIL Business Development and Operations at Ohio
State Sports Properties, discusses the ins and outs of NIL with student-athletes Sydney
Taylor and Mitchell Pehlke.

★ Don’t just copy what other schools are doing, play your own game

● NIL stands for “name, image and likeness” and refers to college athletes creating
brand campaigns for themselves to make money
● You must understand what message the organization wants to convey through
the student-athlete and see if it aligns with their own
● Clients pitch to athletes and athletes pitch to clients
● Ways to create your brand include: schools, camps, social media, promotions,
commercials, cameos, etc.

“[We want] those brands to have that great first experience, so they continue to have
these opportunities down the line” –Matthew Heichemer

Transforming Diversity in Communications

Christine King, VP of Digital Marketing at G&S Business Communications, discussed
DEI in communications, how diversity has affected her career, how to challenge the
status quo and ways to foster an inclusive working environment.

★ Put people first and business second

● You get out what you put in: you have to put the work in to get what you want out
● Acknowledge the disproportionate representation in the field of PR
● Persevere because there will come a time where you’ll be in a position to
effectively make change
● Do not create an environment that makes people feel like they have to blend in
● Do inclusive recruitment and make inclusive accommodations to attract and
retain employees
● It takes one person to speak up and start changing the narrative
● Advocate for yourself and others

“You can’t change the past, but you can do something about the future” –Christine King

Ohio State’s Brand Experience: Engagement Reimagined

PR pros who attended this session talked with Kevin Saghy, Head of Audience
Engagement at The Ohio State University (formerly with Ketchum and the Chicago
Cubs) to discuss creative engagements and strategic campaigns, such as #BuckeyeLove at Ohio State.

★ Be intentional with what experience you want people to feel

● Don’t settle for average: make big goals
● Do good in the world and work that into what you do for your job
● What’s in: intentional focus on caring community and sharing kindness
● What’s out: casual messages of love or affinity
● Create one strategy and multiple tactics to accomplish goals
● Use “brand health” to measure impact of reputation with audience and market
● Share motivation for social impact through stories to earn media and loyalty
● Take small wins and scale them up
● LinkedIn is a great place to find thought leaders

Why shouldn’t we be the best?” –Kevin Saghy

Future of Leadership in PR

During the lunch break, attendees listened to Alyson Hoffman, senior at Ohio Northern
and PRSSA National President. Alyson shared scholarships, awards and professional
development opportunities, as well as other tips to be successful in group settings.

★ There are many different group personalities, each are important and your
personality type can shift in different settings and dynamics

Alyson described the many different group personalities (positive and negative), such as
recorder role, supporter, task leader, joker, doormat, gatekeeper, information seeker,
aggressor, harmonizer and substantive leader. She emphasized how all the positive
group personalities are necessary for a thriving collaborative group environment. Alyson
also highlighted playing devil’s advocate and taking new perspectives to address
problems and cover all your bases and not being afraid to share opinions and ask

How to Book Your CEO or Clients on TV: The Fastest and Easiest Path
to Boosting Any Brand

Participants who joined Meredith Liepelt, CEO of Rising Star Publicity, learned how to
get a client on television, specifically lifestyle television.

★ Be flexible with your time and ideas, build relationships to get things done faster,
sometimes the simple things are the most impactful

● Shifts in thinking:
– Help your client go from expert to presenter/entertainer
– National to local focus—start small, then aim for stretch goals
– What you don’t need as PR pros: a press release…you need a story

● Tactics:
– Timely Hook (create opportunities and jump on opportunities
– Piggyback on pop culture (follow trends and what’s in the news)
– Celebrity tie-in (you don’t need to know the celebrity, know the news)
– Holidays (create holidays for your company if they don’t exist)
– Head-turning story (find something to grab the audience’s attention)

“[Lifestyle television] is a way to create fast, free and professionally produced content
that can be easily leveraged forever on your owned media platforms.” –Meredith Liepelt

Core Skills You Still Need: AP Style
Katie Thomas, Senior Manager of Population Health Marketing at Nationwide Children’s
Hospital, shared her top ten writing tips and other bits of wisdom from her years of
writing, such as her love for AP style.

★ Writing is a lifelong skill that you have to continuously practice

  1. Know your goal (Awareness? Persuade? Inform? Educate?)
  2. Know your audience (Teens? Doctors? Parents?)
  3. Know your channel (Print? Social Media? Blog?)
  4. Keep it simple (Use simple words to save time and have inclusive language)
  5. Eliminate unnecessary words (Are they very sad? Or are they sad?)
  6. Ask questions (If you don’t understand it, no one else will)
  7. Triple-check names, dates, titles and organizations (matter of your branding)
  8. Leave it alone and come back to it (have a fresh mind when reviewing)
  9. Feedback is a gift (See how you can improve and grow)
  10. Every single word matters (Clarity, Accuracy, Brevity, Simplicity)

“We have a three-second attention span, so we need writers that can get their point
across clearly, concisely, in a short amount of time” –Katie Thomas

Pioneering the Remote Workplace: Best Practices in Employee and
Client Relations

Emily Steinberg from Belle Communication presented the benefits and challenges of
working remotely and how you can turn weaknesses into strengths and challenges into

★ Practice self-compassion and advocate for yourself

● Workplace culture is especially important when working remotely
● Working remotely takes intention
● Be patient and adaptable
● Learn what time management and organization skills work for you
● Don’t rush into a job just to have a job, it is worth waiting, researching and finding
that perfect match
● As important as your job is, you can take a breather

“It’s PR not ER, nobody’s lives are on the line” –Emily Steinberg

A Social Revolution: The Power of Innovative Social Media Branding

Dani Dean, Associate Director of Social Media at Ohio State, and Colin Wylie, Social
Media Manager at Ohio State, presented the power of social media in helping build
success for a brand.

★ Be a trusted brand that aligns your posts with your values to build authenticity

● If you post about a meaningful cause, you have to show how your brand actually
values the cause in its everyday practices and values
● Storytelling can include: entertaining people, differentiation from others, informing
others, etc.
● You only have about one second to capture the audience
● When creating social media content, ask: Who are we talking to? What do we
want to inspire them to do? How can we speak to them in the best way?
● Different social media platforms call for different strategies
● Have a humanized voice for your brand
● Aim for organic content

“Understand who we are talking to and how they will receive content” –Colin Wylie

Positioning Wendy’s as the ‘Queen of QSR’ in the United Kingdom

Megan Hill, Global Communications Manager at The Wendy’s Company, talked about
how Wendy’s captured the attention and hearts of customers and generated mass
media, which resulted in Wendy’s trending in the top five Google searches in the United

★ Create conversation, get coverage and connect with the brand

● Grab the stories of your customers and make those visible in your branding
● Make sure you are known before you dive into other marketing
● Foster connections with journalists for earned media opportunities
● Create confidence that the brand is not going anywhere
● Create that conversation, that shout moment
● Embed yourself in the audience’s culture

“It’s the little things that make a lasting impact.” –Megan Hill

Closing Ceremony

PR pros ended the day with some final remarks from Mary Sterenberg, professor at
Ohio State, Assistant Professor of The PRactice at The Ohio State University and
Co-founder of SALT effect.

● Showing up is important; showing your face is valuable
● Stop and reflect to learn and grow
● Grow your connections on LinkedIn: NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK!

Students’ Key Takeaways

For many attendees, this was the first in-person conference they have attended in their
college career–and what a great one to start with! As the 2023 PRSSA East Central
District Conference came to an end, students shared their biggest takeaways from the
day; for example:

● Teamwork means working cohesively as a team and knowing when to listen and
when to chime in
● Networking with peers and professionals is extremely important
● Partner with people who understand the community you are targeting
● Leverage with social media
● Ask what you can do to help
● The PR world is smaller than you think
● It is important to walk up and introduce yourself to people
● Find purpose in what you do
● Nothing will happen if you don’t try

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