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Top Young Professional Offers Insights Into Communications Changes

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Digital communication channels continue to transform public relations, and it’s young professionals like PCI’s Michael Queroz, who are helping lead the transformation.

Michael, named PRSA’s 2018 Chicago Public Relations Young Professional of the Year, is an account supervisor who helps lead the agency’s digital services and strategies. He joined PCI in 2014 and continues to advance in his responsibilities and roles in the agency, including generously sharing his knowledge and experience as a mentor to young people interested in communications professions. 

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Nominated for his strategic thinking, his skills and his determination to see his clients succeed, Michael is passionate about making a difference in the world. He combines his personal interests in helping youth and advancing social justice with his commitment to client programs that deliver results, which aligns with PCI’s mission to work with purpose.

Michael shares his insights and tips for creating opportunities in communications and in the public relations profession in this interview:

How do you stay current with PR trends and best practices in the digital era?

I thoroughly enjoy reading articles about new digital PR trends outside of the office, which can be time consuming sometimes but ultimately helps me brainstorm new and different strategies for clients. You need to have a natural curiosity about trying new products and platforms because there are a lot out there. As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be among the first to try new platforms or apps or learn about trends - for example, when Google + was a thing I joined the early waitlist to see what the buzz was about and how it could change social media. Of course, it didn’t, but being aware of how new platforms work and if they’ll be valuable communications tools is important. Working in PR in a digital era isn’t easy –when trends sometimes end before they even catch on.

What are your tips for succeeding as a communications professional?

Know your strengths, always be open to learning more, and remember to tap into the talents of others.  It’s easy to succeed when you have a great team of professionals, like the team at PCI - we work together to solve challenges. 

You also need to learn how to strategize, which takes time and patience. In my honest opinion, you need to master tactical aspects of PR programs (pitching, writing social posts, etc.) before learning how those fit into overall PR strategy. But taking the time to learn how to properly strategize is so helpful – starting any program or project with a cohesive plan in place helps guide processes and ensure success.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of PCI’s work with the Greater Chicago Food Depository because it was one of the first projects I led, including developing the strategy. The goal was to expand the number of in-school breakfast programs for in-need students in Illinois who didn’t have breakfast at home, making a successful day at school nearly impossible. Our team used the best of traditional media relations and digital strategies to achieve the client’s goals, leading to increased awareness and ultimately the signing of legislation that resulted in hundreds of more kids receiving breakfast in schools across the state. I still remember the day we learned the legislation passed – it was such an amazing feeling to know that we helped make that happen. It’ll always stand as one of my proudest accomplishments.

What was something about PR that you wish you knew as a student?

When I was a college student, I assumed that working at a corporation after graduation would result in greater long-term success. I’m happy that wasn’t the path my career took. My job at PCI was my first out of college, and I’ve learned that working at an agency is the best way to jump start a career in public relations. At an agency, you’re getting a variety of experiences that other people working in-house would take years to gain. Everything you learn within an agency is essential to becoming a better practitioner, which is why I’m happy I landed where I did.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone entering the field?

 I always like to say to college students and interns to “go the extra mile, even if it’s a tight squeeze.” In the early days of your career it’s essential to establish with your coworkers (and yourself) that you have the stamina and intelligence to make it far in this field – all accomplished through hard, smart work.  As long as you’re passionate about your work, going the extra mile shouldn’t be an issue. Find the work that’s right for you, and everything else should fall into place.

What does this award mean to you?

My college guidance counselor at UIC once told me – out of the blue – that she could see me working with nonprofits and being very successful at it. I didn’t have that vision for myself and kind of wondered what the heck she was talking about. But through my work with the large number of nonprofit clients at PCI, I’ve realized that there’s an innate passion in me for working with clients with purpose. It’s an amazing feeling to work on programs that make a difference. Through client work, my colleagues and I have been able to help people beyond our office downtown – whether they’re students who need breakfast to succeed, conservation organizations that are passionate about saving wildlife, or an organization that wants to make Chicago a more enjoyable place for families.

This award was not expected or even something I’d thought about, to be honest, but it’s much appreciated and it’s a great reminder of how much value working at a place that values not only clients with purpose, but me as a young PR professional.

Wondering How to Boost Your Fundraising? New Report Has Answers

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Good news for CEOs and the boards of nonprofit organizations. The latest study of philanthropy in America shows hope for charitable nonprofits challenged to broaden their base of private financial support. 

At PCI, we recognize the importance of developing communications strategies that help nonprofit organizations achieve their goals for advancement, development and fundraising. The first step is finding the data and insights you need to answer your most important business decisions.

Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017* is the most comprehensive and accurate benchmark for charitable giving in the U.S. The report provides insights to benefit both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The report addresses key questions vital to shaping effective strategies to communicate a nonprofit’s case for support. It also provides insights to help for-profit business leaders make informed decisions about how to reach current and prospective customers in more meaningful ways.

Where should a nonprofit organization focus its outreach? CEOs and the boards of nonprofits may think that, of the four sources of charitable giving—foundations, corporations, individuals and bequests—foundations and corporations make up the bulk of charitable donations. Not true. This year’s report shows that individuals and their households are overwhelmingly the biggest source. 

How individuals give, the causes they support and the impact of younger more diverse generations are shifting. There are gender differences, too. Millennial women are more likely to engage in crowdfunding and newer methods of giving while Boomer women tend to prefer traditional forms of giving like direct financial contributions. 

Consumers have come to expect that corporations will use their resources for the greater good. Corporate giving is responding. Objectives for corporate social responsibility (CSR) are shifting—from a reflection of corporate values to reputation management, and now to generating new customers and products. Corporations are increasingly expected to address social and environmental issues.

Millennials turn out to be socially conscious—87 percent believe that companies have a role to play in addressing such urgent issues. The generation born after them in the mid-1990s, Generation Z, even more so: 94 percent. Generation Z is less confrontational, both online and offline, and favors positive engagement over an adversarial approach.

For more details on the report findings, check out this infographic or email GivingUSA@pcipr.com

*Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017. Chicago: Giving USA Foundation.

Ideas and Collaboration Build PR Power in Worldcom

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They say there’s power in numbers but there’s even greater power in top-notch companies joining forces to complement each other’s capabilities and extend their geographic reach. Thirty years ago, PCI and six independent public relations firms in the U.S., Canada and Europe joined forces to found Worldcom to provide comprehensive services to clients in several parts of the world.

From those six founding agencies, Worldcom has grown into an international organization of 110 firms in 95 cities on seven continents, representing 2,000 public relations professionals. Recently some of those agency members met in Toronto for Worldcom’s 30th Annual General Meeting where the organization’s founding partners were toasted and presented with awards by Worldcom chairman Patrik Schober of PRAM Consulting, Prague, Czech Republic.

“For the past 30 years Worldcom has allowed us and our partner firms to maximize and extend our capabilities and provide exemplary client service in a variety of ways – providing local market intelligence, on-the-ground support in far-away places, and content-specific resources and information,” said PCI Senior Vice President Wendi Koziol, who received the award at the Toronto meeting. “The Worldcom agencies continue to support each other, learn from each other and inspire each other to do the best work possible as the communications world continues to change and evolve.”  

Digital Advertising Plays Key Role in Integrated Communications

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Public relations and advertising. There was a time when they were often presented as two disparate and sometimes mutually exclusive communications techniques.  Today, they go hand-in-hand, with digital advertising an increasingly important part of the strategic mix.

As PCI continues to build and expand its digital capabilities, we welcome Peter Spinner as our new Digital Advertising Manage. Peter comes to us with an eclectic background in journalism, public relations, digital marketing and branding.

“The reality of today’s digital landscape is that advertising has to be a component of a well-thought-out strategic plan if clients are to achieve the results they want,” Peter said. “It’s becoming more challenging for brands and companies to reach audiences solely through free or organic marketing tactics.”

Peter is responsible for developing strategies and managing digital advertising campaigns across client programs while working with PCI account teams on implementation of paid promotion campaigns, digital marketing analytics, and business development initiatives.

He came to PCI from Allstate Insurance Company where he served as project manager in the Marketing Analytics Business Unit and before that he was Director of Integrated Marketing for the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association. At IFMA, he managed the strategic development of all branding and marketing communications initiatives. He also worked as a staff reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago and Sun-Times Media Group.

In 2013, Peter became an equity partner with Hannah Banana Bread Company, where he created the company's brand communication strategies, launched its e-Commerce store, and built out a B2C and B2B targeting approach.

Awards Call Out Purpose-Driven Client Work

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PCI is an agency that works with purpose and that purpose is to use the power of communications to make a difference in the world. That purpose and power were front and center in the four awards we received with our clients recently from the Publicity Club of Chicago.

At the PCC Awards Dinner in late May at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, we received four Silver Trumpet awards for the following programs:

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  • Crisis/Issues Management– Fresenius Kidney Care: “Maintaining Care During Hurricane Season,” a comprehensive campaign to ensure people who rely on kidney dialysis to stay alive and healthy in the face of overwhelming obstacles: loss of electricity and clean water, flooded streets, extensively damaged clinics and nurses and other providers flooded out of their own homes

  • Multi-Cultural Campaigns– Southland College Preparatory High School: “Hidden Figures No More,” a national media relations campaign to showcase the success of an extraordinary charter school by highlighting the story of the African American women scientists and mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s, including Katherine Johnson, whose nephew attends Southland Prep

  • Social Media- National Society of Genetic Counselors: “Genetic Counselor Awareness Day Empowers,” an integrated communications campaign to promote the society’s first annual awareness day. The campaign utilized organic and paid social media, the NSGC blog, member and partner outreach, and media relations to generate awareness of genetic counselors

  • Special Events- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: “Elevating The Lutheran Message,” a media relations campaign publicizing its observance of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

“We’re so grateful to our many clients who entrust PCI to help them tell their stories and advance their important missions,” said PCI’s Chief Executive Officer Jill Allread.  “Seeing our programs recognized by our industry peers just makes our work all the more gratifying.

Plan to Action: Strategic Planning Sets Direction for Success

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Every organization needs a strategic plan. Poor decisions made without the benefit of research, analysis and a unifying strategy, can cripple an organization. Increasingly, PCI is working with a variety of clients that seek counsel to develop an effective strategic plan, which then informs their communications and marketing plans.

Amy Ritter Cowen joined PCI in Mark to work with PCI's senior counselors in addressing the growing strategic planning needs of our clients. She brings deep expertise in executive leadership including planning, issues management, operations, revenue generation and integrated marketing for a wide range of nonprofits and cultural organizations. She supports a variety of client sectors with a focus on strategic planning, brand management and C-suite leadership development.

Amy most recently served as Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Chicago's Navy Pier. Since its reopening in 1995, the Pier has welcomed more than 190 million guests, including a record-breaking 9.3 million in 2016 under Amy's leadership. She was instrumental in the planning and execution of Navy Pier's 18-month Centennial Celebration that culminated in the Pier's first fundraising event, its comprehensive Arts & Discovery strategic plan, brand evolution work and in building a comprehensive Guest Experience team in partnership with 80+ Pier w ide commercial and nonprofit partners.

She also held executive leadership positions at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and the John G. Shedd Aquarium. At the Aquarium, she oversaw sales, audience development, guest experience and marketing communications to exceed annual attendance of 2 million guests, making it a top attended aquarium in the United States and generating 80 percent of the Aquarium's annual revenues.

"Amy brings first-hand experience as an accomplished, nonprofit executive with skills and expertise that can be applied to a variety of sectors," PCI Chief Executive Officer Jill Allread said. "She understands the complexities of strategy, and she effectively counsels organizations in finding their strengths and creating a plan that helps ensure success. Without strategic priorities, an organization will find it difficult to have effective communications and marketing."

Let Your Pictures Do the Talking: Visual Storytelling Brings Client Messages Alive

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At PCI, we love good stories. They’re at the heart of how we work with our clients to deliver their messages to the audiences they want to reach. Increasingly good stories are told through good pictures and PCI is expanding our visual story-telling capabilities to help bring our clients’ stories alive. Reporter, TV anchor and multimedia journalist Lauren DiSpirito is passionate about visual story-telling and she brings her passion, experience and skills to PCI as our new Account Supervisor of Video Strategy. 

Lauren began her career making editorial coverage decisions in Philadelphia and she has worked for network news affiliates in Colorado, Florida and Georgia, reporting on stories on public policy, conservation and education, and guiding teams in producing engaging video content for traditional, digital and social media channels.

“Digital Strategies are constantly evolving, which makes videos and other digital media initiatives more prominent than ever.” Lauren said. “You have to choose and test out various visuals to know what works for your brand because it makes the connection with your target market that much more valuable.”

In addition to developing video strategy and producing videos for clients and PCI projects, Lauren will use her television journalism experience to work with our media group to develop effective media pitches and media training exercises to help client spokespersons prepare for media interviews.

Take Our Crisis Readiness Assessment

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The constant steam of headlines about companies and organizations losing public confidence because their leaders didn't follow best practices in crisis preparedness and crisis management should prompt every company to stop and ask this question: could it happen to us? 

Is your organization prepared to face a crisis? Do you have clear action plans, roles and procedures in place, and is your staff familiar with them? Here's a quick check to help assess your organization's readiness. Select which of the following best describes your situation and find out how prepared you are to manage a crisis.

Choose one:

  • We have a crisis plan with clear procedures that are understood and used by all employees.

Assessment: It's a good start but, there's always an opportunity to review your procedures with your team through tabletop exercises that help practice responses in real time and identify what can be improved in the action plan. Also, regularly update contact information for the crisis team and leaders, and ensure your key spokespersons are trained and ready to address audiences in a crisis.

  • We have a crisis plan, but it's not refreshed regularly and many employees don't know it exists.

Assessment: If your crisis plan is outdated or you have not conducted a mock crisis test and risk assessment, now is the time to take action. Managers need to include crisis readiness in regular team updates so that each person is familiar with how to respond in a way that protects people and the organization's reputation. Refresh the plan, determine additional risks and consider staff training. 

  • Our organization has no crisis plan, and employees would be unprepared if a crisis happens today.

Assessment: If this describes your situation, your company reputation, and possibly yours, is in jeopardy. The lack of a crisis plan leaves an organization and its leadership vulnerable to criticism and to responding late and less-than-professionally to situations that are certain to arise. Accidents, allegations, financial failings, lack of safety — the list of risks is endless.

You'll never eliminate all risks, but how your organization responds to a crisis can demonstrate responsibility, transparency and leadership in times of trouble. Often it's not the crisis itself, but how it's handled and communicated that causes the real damage.

If you want to reduce the risk of damage to your organization's reputation during a crisis, then be proactive and get prepared. PCI issues management counselors help organizations of all sizes identify and assess their risk, then develop a crisis strategy and detailed plan that can guide you successfully through a crisis. 

Healthcare Innovators: PCI + MATTER = 360-degree Momentum

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At the center of Chicago's thriving healthcare ecosystem from startups, corporations and universities to hospitals, health systems and associations is an incubator of ideas and innovations called MATTER, founded to break down the silos that inhibit solutions to complex healthcare challenges. 

PCI became a MATTER partner this year, contributing communications expertise that leverages a shared 360-degree view of healthcare.

PCI recently shared tips, case studies and best practices for effective communications and marketing at a MATTER-hosted workshop. PCI's experts in strategy, media relations, digital media and visual storytelling led the workshop, titled "Gain Traction for Your Brand Story Through Communications."

MATTER was formed to connect technology innovation with healthcare by facilitating collaboration and new partnerships. It conducts workshops and seminars, facilitates networking, and provides resources for its partners and members.

Through our new partnership, PCI will contribute creative services to help promote MATTER news and expertise, both nationally and locally. 

If you or your organization are interested in learning more about PCI's work with MATTER or hosting a similar communications workshop, please contact us

How a Business and Employees Both Gain in Giving

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The pride was palpable as our employees packed carefully wrapped gifts and loaded them for delivery. Bags bulging with presents fulfilled the wishes of third graders who wrote letters to Santa, each with a single holiday request. The PCI Cares team made every child’s wish come true; however, it wasn’t only the delighted children who gained from this giving project.

Being Santa this week for a class in a high-need Chicago neighborhood is just one example of how PCI employees invest their time, treasure and talent to help others. In return, they are lifted in spirit and say they also enhance their professional skills. The company benefits, too, as we follow our staff-created mission: Use the power of communications to achieve results that matter most to our clients and make a positive difference.

Philanthropic giving shapes a company’s culture and values. It builds teams and empathy. It develops skills that make the PCI staff members more diverse in their thinking and skilled as communication experts and strategists.

We asked our 45 employees – ranging in age from 21-71 years – their personal opinions about volunteerism and the PCI Cares program, an employee-guided philanthropy initiative. PCI Cares plans staff volunteer days in food banks, beach cleanups and other helping-hands opportunities for team engagement all year long.

Through an anonymous, internal survey, team members offered overwhelming support for the agency’s commitment to philanthropy and to giving employees the chance to support causes important to them.

Nearly 90 percent report actively volunteering in 2017, and 75 percent used PCI’s employee charitable matching-fund program to expand their giving impact. During the year, 27 different charities received support from the PCI Cares fund.

In survey responses, employees expressed appreciation for a culture that fosters teamwork and a commitment to helping change the world through our work with clients – multinationals to small nonprofits – in sectors including healthcare, wellness, education, wildlife conservation, civic and social causes, sustainability and community engagement. We also have many job candidates seeking opportunities with PCI because they desire to work for an agency that makes a positive difference.        

Professional and personal benefits are derived from giving. Most PCI employees (83 percent) said they are better communicators and counselors and more engaged community members because they volunteer their time and talent. In fact, 34 percent of the staff have served on nonprofit boards providing expertise and leadership.

Individually team members offered why they believe volunteering and giving makes them better PR counselors, employees and more well-rounded citizens:

  • “Volunteering helps me express my passions, which I bring to my client accounts.”
  • “Getting first-hand insight into the issues that can cause problems for board and staff leadership of nonprofits. That helps me be a better counselor to client organizations.”
  • “It helps me feel connected to my community”
  • “I better understand the Chicagoland community and working with diverse populations.”  

These are strong endorsements, and they demonstrate there is more to gain from giving than some companies may expect. The return on investment (ROI) profits our company, the return on our mission helps each of us lead a more fulfilling life.

 


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Jill Allread, APR, is Chief Executive Officer, Public Communications Inc., and principal of the agency for more than 20 years.