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Meet Chapter Member Tom Williams, APR

Tom Williams is Managing Director of Communications for Maryland Public Television where he plans and executes both institutional communication and production-related publicity and promotion for the statewide public TV network. He also supports MPT communications with local, state, and federal elected officials; contributes strategy and content for social media engagement; and handles a range of internal communications and external relations assignments.

Did you always want to be in public relations?

As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, (laughs) but all kidding aside I wasn’t a star student in math and science in high school. In college I entered St. Bonaventure University as a Communications major since I enjoyed writing, and felt my way through those four years in an effort to determine what I wanted to do with my degree. It wasn’t until my senior year that a possible career in public relations came into focus.

What is it that appeals to you?

What I love is contributing to an organization’s success by whatever the key measures or objectives are. The communications team here at MPT works hard to both protect the reputation of our statewide public TV network and enhance that reputation with key stakeholders. We have great stories to tell about the value of public television and we attempt to capitalize on those opportunities to grow relationships and engagement with Maryland citizens and increase viewership.There are times, too, when we contribute to issues management and help overcome organizational challenges. It can be very satisfying to troubleshoot an issue, deal with it, and come out on the other side without harm being done to the organization or minimizing the issue’s impact. Knowing I’ve made a mark in all these areas, I find that very rewarding.

Describe your start in public relations.

I found a job out of college as an assistant account executive for the N.W. Ayer advertising agency in New York City, working on the U.S. Army account. This is the agency that created the iconic “Be All You Can Be” campaign for the Army. I worked there two years, a portion of which included helping to coordinate PR campaigns for the U.S. Army Reserve. At that point I moved back to my hometown of Buffalo to join an agency there, and continued for another year as an advertising account exec before moving laterally within the agency to the PR department. I remained at that firm for seven years before moving to Baltimore.

Was there one thing, person or event that you reflect back on, as something that propelled you forward in PR as you began your career?

I had a tremendous mentor early in my career, a real strategic public relations pro. His name is Bill Collins and I worked for him at Collins & Company, a PR firm in Buffalo. Like me, he graduated from St. Bonaventure University and he took a sincere an interest in my professional growth and development.  His impact on my career speaks to the value of having a mentor willing to share their knowledge and experience with you and provide feedback to steer you in the right direction. Bill was certainly supportive of me, and when I needed redirection or a critique he would be quick to tell me how I needed to change or how I should adjust my approach.

Can you identify anything specific that you learned from him?

One particular area I remember, Bill taught me how to be a counselor to clients – not to be bashful about putting forward my ideas and recommendations, and expressing a point of view. That’s hard to do as a young professional. But he would tell me, ‘move forward with that recommendation’ or would say, ‘that’s what they’re paying you for.’

How else has mentorship impacted how you work?

When I moved to Baltimore I was also blessed to secure a position working for Sandy Hillman at Trahan Burden & Charles (TBC), another great mentor. Sandy is a remarkable PR counselor and project manager. Here again, I was able to observe and learn from a wonderful boss. Sandy is fully dedicated to providing clients with the highest level of service possible and helping them meet their campaign or project objectives. She possesses a unique combination of strength and kindness. I try to approach what I do professionally using the example she showed in the years I worked for her.

Do you advocate for mentorship as a PR leader?

Yes, I do. In many of the places I’ve worked, including here at MPT, I’ve taken a lead in standing up or managing an internship program. I’m cognizant of the value of a good internship for students and what that can do to propel them forward in their careers. I put a premium on providing students with a rewarding and beneficial internship experience, offering advice and counsel, and helping them any way I can after they graduate and enter the job market. In a few cases that has evolved into a longer-term mentorship relationship with particular students.

What advice to you have for students considering a career in public relations?

I tell students that if you want to work in public relations, develop two important capabilities – critical thinking and writing skills. It’s very important to be able to assess an issue or opportunity and provide good counsel and it’s essential to develop strong writing skills. Both are foundational for a successful career.

Are you still challenged in the work?

Working in a media organization has been both fun and challenging. I’ve spent four years here at MPT and I’m still learning quite a bit about public media. Part of that learning is understanding the ways our industry is changing and the potential impacts of these changes. It’s not just about broadcasting anymore – it’s streaming, direct to consumer video, creating relationships with our viewers, and taking advantage of social media channels. For instance, MPT will soon be a streaming company. By the beginning of 2020 MPT will be available on YouTube TV in our DMA, livestreaming our main channel (MPT-HD) for the first time. It also give us an opportunity to offer viewers a live stream of the channel on our website and MPT app. We already provide a livestream of the PBS KIDS channel, which parents with kids absolutely love. It’s very exciting to be a part of these kinds of changes. We’re taking advantage of technology so that more and more people have access to our content and can benefit from what Maryland Public Television has to offer.

Describe your PRSA membership. Has it been helpful along the journey?

I’ve been a PRSA member since 1989, first with the Buffalo-Niagara Chapter, where I served on several committees and eventually served as Chapter president in 1994. While in Buffalo I also passed the Accreditation exam.

When I moved to Baltimore I joined the PRSA Maryland Chapter, where I got involved on committees, and eventually served for seven years as chair of the accreditation committee. During those years I enjoyed working with our chapter’s accreditation candidates and seeing many of them earn their APR designation. We added some 40 new accredited members to our chapter during those years. I also served for several years on the chapter’s board of directors and the national Accreditation Marketing Committee.

I’ve benefited greatly by being a member of PRSA both in this market and where I came from previously. The organization has provided wonderful learning and professional development opportunities and a setting to build and grow relationships with others in our field.

Connect with Tom on LinkedIn.

Meet Chapter Member Dr. David Marshall, Morgan State University

For August, we talked with the Chapter member Dr. David Marshall, Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at Morgan State University. Dr. Marshall speaks about his love for Public Relations and his students at Morgan State.

Where did you grow up?

I’m Baltimore raised and bred. I went to public schools here. Then I went to a private high school and then to Morgan. I’m also a Morgan grad, so that makes my job much more fantastic because I feel that I am coming back to the institution that gave me so many opportunities.

In fact, almost every success I can trace in my professional career, I can tie to some professor, some influence at Morgan who has helped me along the way. So, it’s really quite refreshing to be there.

How long have you been a member of PRSA and what made you decide to join?

I have been a member since March of 2018 when I took my job as professor and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication at Morgan State. The dean wanted us to have a very close and strong relationship with our professional organizations. So, I reached out to the good people there and I got hooked up right away. Claudia Ciolfi, who was PRSA Maryland chapter president last year, was just awesome and got me connected and introduced us around. And the other part of the dean’s initiative at Morgan at our School of Global Journalism and Communication is a need to not only have academic credentials for people who are teaching students aspiring to be in public relations and strategic communications, but also substantial experience. He has indicated that he also wants them to have a very strong relationship with PRSA and particularly finds great value in the APR.

Can you talk a little bit about how journalism has impacted your PR career and what it’s done for you?

It’s amazing because I think we see this trend of people being in media and then moving to PR. I think these are the people who do really well in PR because they understand the role of the media. They can put together media releases in such a way that captures the attention of the assignment desk. Having been in the media, we all know that sometimes what gets talked about in the morning story meeting at the reporters’ table is based on the relationship the reporter has within the community. A news station has values. It has a mission statement. It has metrics. And, so I think people who’ve been on the other side of journalism who are now in PR understand they have to know the values of the media organizations. So, I’m very grateful for my experience in media because I think it helps me understand these two bodies are not at odds with each other, that they’re doing separate things.

What do you love most about the PR field in general? What drives you the most?

I think it’s the opportunity to inform and to provide information in such a way to help audiences really understand the vision, mission, values of an organization. I think the educational arm is really key in helping organizations and businesses build very strong relationships with their publics and then given the outcomes that an individual company or organization wants. Building on those relationships, they can help move people to act in a way that’s beneficial to everyone. I think that’s very fascinating.

What is one thing industry-related or not that you have learned in the last month?

I just went to a workshop sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund at Western Kentucky University. We got our hands on a lot of technical tools to use for storytelling and how you can use that to also influence people. I learned how to fly a drone and I’m thinking about getting a license. It’s a tool that’s been used a lot in journalism, but I don’t know that we’ve used it in such a powerful way to sort of help tell organizational individual stories. And that power of using different types of visual elements to tell a story…it’s beyond what I ever thought was possible.

Credit: Western Kentucky University

What inspires you the most?

I think what really inspires me is that I am teaching students at Morgan, many of whom are coming from circumstances that are very challenging. And every day, they get out of bed and they come to school and they’re ready to engage and they see this as an investment and what’s going to happen to them that they know they have an opportunity. That is the thing that really does inspire me, especially in a media sort of frenzy that paints students and particularly students of color as being crime-engaged or not really participating fully in society. That’s the thing that really inspires me because I am seeing every day that this is not the typical young person in the city of Baltimore. They really do have hopes and dreams and aspirations that go far beyond where they are and that they’re willing to give it a try.

How would you define success?

For me, success is defined as a student who has come through our program at Morgan. And as the president is shaking their hand on one end of the stage and an employer in public relations is on the other hand saying, welcome to our firm or to our company. That is really the biggest measure of success for us at the university level because it lets us know that whatever it is that we’re doing in the classroom does have some salience or relevance to people in the industry.

Where would you like to retire?

I don’t know where I’m going to be, but I know one thing is for sure, wherever I am there’s got to be a direct route for wherever I am to BWI..

Connect with Dr. Marshall on LinkedIn.

Meet Chapter Member and Volunteer Allison Mayer, APR

For July, we talked with Maryland Chapter member Allison S. Mayer, APR, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor. Allison tells us why she joined PRSA, what she loves the most about PR, who inspires her, and more.

How long have you been a member of PRSA and why did you join?

I joined in 2004, fresh out of college, as a member of the Charleston, SC chapter. I wanted to grow my portfolio, make friends and build leadership potential.  I served that chapter as president in 2010.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for PRSA?

Volunteering allows me to stay engaged in the profession and mentor the next level.  For example, I volunteer on the accreditation committee for this chapter. I also judged the Agriculture Special Interest Group awards this year. While agriculture is not a field I work in, judging provided accreditation points for my APR, keeping it active. Volunteering shows engagement in the chapter and/or leadership.

What is your current position in the State of Maryland Governor’s Office?

As deputy chief of staff, I oversee a portfolio of agencies, including transportation, commerce, the secretary of state office, and a handful of others that focus on business and infrastructure.

Before taking the role this past February, I led communications at the Commerce Department. My background is in the maritime industry. My typical day involves engaging with the agencies, communicating with various secretaries to find out their priorities or challenges, and troubleshooting to advance the governor’s priorities.

What do you love most about the PR field?

It’s more than media relations; it’s problem solving and troubleshooting while trying to earn public trust for the organization. It’s challenging but rewarding. I’ve always had an outgoing personality.

How do you define success?

I try to strive for professional goals and a work/life balance. Some days are easier than others!

Who inspires you?

I’ve had several female mentors. An early one was my boss at the Port of Charleston who oversaw the public affairs of the port and moved up in a male-dominated field. She taught me how to build credibility with controversial issues. I also admire Nikki Haley.  When she was governor (South Carolina), it was inspiring to watch her on the national and international stage.

What’s one thing ­– either industry-related or not – that you learned in the last month?

I learn something new every day given the breadth of issues I’m tackling. I’ve made it a priority to go on tours to learn about different transportation projects and assets, for example, the construction of the Purple Line of the Metro and the reconstruction of Howard Street Tunnel by CSX. 

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

I used to be a certified Jazzercise instructor, but my certification has lapsed. It was a fun way to combine dance and activity.

What’s the last book you read?

“The Food Explorer,” by Daniel Stone. It’s the true story of a young botanist who worked for the USDA and traveled to foreign lands to introduce different foods to the U.S. We can thank him for introducing us to avocados!

Where did you grow up and where would you like to retire?

I grew up in Lexington, South Carolina, near the state capital. As for retirement, the South Carolina coast is my favorite place, but my husband talks about a ranch out West.

If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Variety is too important to pick just one, but if I had to choose, it would be pasta.

Connect with Allison on LinkedIn.

Meet Chapter/Board Member Courtney Benhoff

This month, we talked to Maryland Chapter member Courtney Benhoff, regional communications manager at Erickson Living, while she took some time to walk around the Erickson Living campus getting her steps in on a picture-perfect day.

How long have you been a member of PRSA and why did you join?

I joined PRSA back in 2013 when I was new to the Public Relations (PR) industry having recently transitioned from publishing world into PR. My background in publishing translated well but I wanted to educate myself on best practices and get up-to-speed in regards to the latest trends in the industry.

 

What do you enjoy most about being a board member and volunteering?

The professional and personal connections that you make are what I enjoy most about serving on the board. The relationships that you build can also become invaluable. When it comes to volunteering, I enjoy that it lets me explore different paths than what I do in my day-to-day, which provides a great education and overall learning experience.

What is your current position at Erickson Living?

I am the Regional Communications Manager, which means I handle external communications, public relations, social media, and crisis communications for a portfolio of continuing care retirement communities throughout the United States. I share positive stories about our residents and staff to strengthen the position of our communities and enterprise in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

What do you love most about the PR field?

I love the opportunity to tell stories. I also love that as the industry continues to evolve, PR consistently challenges us to be creative and try new things.

Who inspires you?

On a personal note, my family inspires me. I always want to do and be the best for them. Professionally, my team at the office is a wonderful source of inspiration. I’m fortunate to be part of a team that is incredibly supportive and collaborative. I am always learning something new from them as they provide constant education. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our residents, whose lessons and life experience inspire me every day.

What’s one thing you learned in the last month? Professional or personal.

A recent PRSA course in Digital Communications reinforced to me the increasing value of data-driven PR. It’s so important that you understand the role measurement plays in the industry and the crucial impact it can have on strategy.

What’s something about you not many people know? A fun fact.

Both my daughter and I were born on Super Bowl Sundays.

What’s the last book you read?

A recent favorite was Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Where did you grow up?

I grew up right here in Baltimore, in the Towson and Lutherville areas.

What’s one career tip or piece of advice you’d share with others based on your experience?

Be proactive! Remember that you’re the only one in control of your career. 

Connect with Courtney via Email, LinkedIn or Twitter

 

Meet Chapter Volunteer David Harrison

This month, we caught up with volunteer David Harrison. David is the 2019 Best in Maryland Chair (a position he’s held twice before) and a past board member and chapter president. 

In his day job, David is principal of Harrison Communications, specializing in overall communications strategy, earned, social and owned media primarily for professional associations. 

When and why did you first join PRSA?
I joined when I was new to the field in 2000, primarily for networking.

What do you enjoy most about being a board member or volunteers?
When I first chaired BIM in 2015, we saw an opportunity to rejuvenate the program and encourage new people to become active in the chapter. I have since served on the board and as president. This year, I’m excited to chair BIM again and we have a new twist on the event that’s going to make it fresh and fun. BIM is the one opportunity we all have every year to celebrate the holidays, reflect on the great work of our PR community and connect with each other.

How did you become your own boss? 
Going out on my own was a professional passion I wanted to pursue. I wanted to be entrepreneurial, and I just jumped into the cold water. That was 12 years ago, and I’m very happy.

What do you love most about the PR field?
Every once in a while, you really can cause positive change. An example is a project I recently worked on with Abel Communications for the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team, the Flying Queens. Our goal was make the program more visible as they pursued enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Our work has been credited with helping to achieve that goal; I’m excited that the team will be enshrined later this summer.

How do you define success?
I separate personal and professional success. Professional success is everything that it indicates: career growth and financial goals. Personally, it’s about feeling good about who you are, being a strong spouse, parent, family member and friend.

Who inspires you?
David Letterman. He’s naturally funny, incredibly gifted, but also – admittedly — flawed. He is constantly evolving and improving himself. Clearly, his life’s ambition was to host the “Tonight Show,” but when it didn’t happen, he found a new path.

What’s one thing – either industry-related or not – you learned in the last month?
How to throw an axe! (see photo)

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?
I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like. I served as the “voice of god” at an association conference, and I love the stage production aspect of conferences.

What’s the last book you read?
The biography, Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation by Philip Norman. I found it fascinating.

Where did you grow up and where would you like to retire?
I grew up in Pikesville (MD) and I would like to retire at a beach. TBD – I can’t even think about it!

If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A 24-hour Las Vegas buffet

Contact David at 
Harrison Communications
david@harrisoncommunications.net
410-804-1728
@harrisoncomm

PRSA Maryland Member Spotlight: Lauren Walbert

This month, we talked to Maryland Chapter member Lauren Walbert. Lauren is Vice President of Sandy Hillman Communications, and has been an active volunteer serving on the PRSA Maryland Board of Directors since 2017.

How long have you been a member of PRSA and why did you join? I joined in 2015 at the urging of co-worker Dave Curley, who was tasked on asking me by past president Claudie Ciolfi. I had been considering joining a professonal group since I moved to Baltimore eight years ago. I joined because PRSA offers growth opportunities, events, and a community to meet other practitioners.

I was not a PRSSA member because my college, La Salle University (Phila.) didn’t have a chapter.  So, I started a PR club as a student. The club helped other LaSalle clubs or groups promote their events. 

 

What do you enjoy most about being a board member and volunteering? Being involved with a group opens me up to new world of colleagues who are also working in the field, providing a broader sense of the community in Baltimore and Maryland.

What is your current position at Hillman? I am a vice president of the lifestyle division, representing our consuming-facing clients. A sampling of our client list includes Diamond Resorts (a timeshare company with properties all over the world) and United Way of Central Maryland.

What do you love most about the PR field? I enjoy a little bit of everything and that I can place great stories in coveted outlets. I get to play a consultant role on different issues, coordinate events, write, and travel a little.  I do it all because Sandy Hillman Communications is a smaller company.

How do you define success? Overall, success is to be happy. On a professional level, making clients happy means placing the big story or orchestrating the big opening and securing the right media. Happiness is about making sure you can do it all while making time for other things in life, too.

Who inspires you? Our owner Sandy Hillman is my professional inspiration.  She’s done so many incredible things and has taught me about being a professional in Baltimore and about life.

Personally, my twin four-year-old daughters are my inspiration. Children have a different perspective on the world and life. They often make me stop and think about what’s important and re-prioritize.

What’s one thing – either industry-related or not – you learned in the last month? I just listened to an interesting podcast called WorkLife with Adam Grant. The episode was about personality and explored what being an introvert or an extrovert could mean for your work life. As it turns out, there are many levels of being introverted and extroverted, and everyone draws energy from the people around them (even introverts!) And, there are ways to stretch beyond your innate personality traits. If you’re interested, listen here.

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know? I’m really into yoga and I practice Ashtanga, a modern arm of classical yoga. It is supposed to be done at dawn, so I try to get to the gym every morning. But, since the class starts at 6:00 a.m., I don’t always make it.

What’s the last book you read? A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne which has a current event link to the author A.J. Finn, a.k.a. Dan Mallory. The book was lyrical, interesting and had great character development.  Currently, I am reading the murder mystery about the “Golden State Killer” entitled, I’ll be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara with an introduction by Gillian Flynn (who wrote Gone Girl).

Where did you grow up and where would you like to retire? I grew up in South Jersey outside Atlantic City. Where to retire?  I have no idea, but I think near the water.

If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Tacos!

Connect with Lauren via LinkedIn or by Email

 

Thank You to Our Chapter Sponsors

Thank You to Our Chapter Sponsors