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PRSA Maryland hosts first successful APR panel presentation online!

PRSA Maryland Chapter’s APR Chair, Dianna Fornaro, APR, announced that the first-ever virtual APR Panel Presentation held this spring was an enormous success!

Dianna explains that, prior to COVID-19, PRSA National required chapters to host the APR Panel Presentation (formerly called the Readiness Review) as live, in-person meetings. The Panel Presentation is the first step in a candidate’s quest for accreditation and requires the candidate to present a PR campaign that he or she has been intimately involved in. During the presentation, the judges score the candidate on presentation skills, including speaking, listening, and engaging.

However, because of the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, the APR Committee took to Zoom to host its first very successful Panel Presentation in April. Special thanks to the candidate, Andre Riley, Director of Communications for Baltimore City Public Schools; and to judges Ken Smith, APR, Manager of Internal and CEO Communications for Boeing Defense, Space and Security and a PRSA-MD Board Member; David Marshall, Ph.D., APR, Professor and Chair of the Strategic Communications Dept. at Morgan State University and a PRSA-MD Board Member; and Janice Smith, Ph.D., APR, Assistant Professor and Director of The Strategy Shop at Morgan State University (and no relation to Ken).

Learn more about getting your APR!

The new COVID challenge >> too many zoom meetings! Let’s hack the virtual meeting!

We held our 4th #PRSAMDWeeklyChat on Friday, May 1 where we “hacked” the virtual meeting. Led by Maryland Chapter administrator Peggy Hoffman, the chat delved into how we can alleviate some of the pain points of virtual meetings and shift them from dreaded to welcomed 

Listen below for the full chat or see recap for some of the top tips shared by all the participants. And for more tips, check out Peggy’s list at Virtual Meetings? Let’s Make Them Engaging! 

Tips for all participants:  

  • Use a virtual background such as a portable web around screen or virtual background (see Howfinity to learn how to add). Tip: use an image off a photo site such as Big Stock, IStock, etc., or have a professional do one for you.  
  • If not using a virtual background, know what is going on behind you. Be sure there is enough light but no glare. A light in front of you is recommended.  
  • The camera angle is key. Be sure to look into the camera, not at your screen.  
  • Raise your laptop up so you are not looking down.  
  • Put white piece of paper or foamcore below your chin to lighten the face (see 5 simple ways to improve your Skype calls for more).
  • Mute your mic until you want to participate. Also turn off email and calendar alerts. 

Tips for meeting planners:  

*Don’t have people just sit there … keep them engaged. 

  • Create a theme of the day. Be creative and make each day different. 
  • Have a powerful agenda. Review at top of meeting to stay on track. 
  • Use a slide deck only when you need it. Put it away when you don’t so you can see the participants.  
  • Use a virtual white board, i.e., Trello board, split screen (Zoom/Board) 
  • Split up into groups, i.e., Zoom Rooms. If no breakout options, use Google doc to collaborate in groups.  
  • Insert polls and fun slides into presentations. 
  • End early. Leave them all wanting more.

Getting and keeping participants engaged:  

  • Ask participants to change their names to something fun, i.e., superheroes, famous people.  
  • Ask people to do things, i.e., if someone has a great suggestion, ask them to post in chat.  
  • Use interactive buttons to keep participates engaged: Chat to share tips, comments; Reactions to insert Thumbs up/Thumbs Down, Clap Hands; Raise Hand to hold a vote.
  • Be human. Add fun items to the meetings such as wear or share fun items, i.e., Mickey Mouse ears, mugs ect.; have surprise guests, i.e., pets, family members; include a virtual tour of an animal farm via Goat-2-Meeting.
  • Allow participants to share as needed. Allowing people to share funny stories/ gripes/ tips for dealing has been really key at the beginning of internal meetings.
  • Encourage stretch breaks. 
  • Monitor to see if people are checking out. Be flexible. 

Additional tips on using Zoom:  

  • Zoom shortcut key: to Mute/Unmute microphone – hold down space bar when talking and release when not 
  • Know the difference between meetings (everyone is on video) vs. webinars (only moderator/presenters are on video).  
  • Copy chats after meeting using three ellipsis at bottom of chat.

How we’re living, working, and coping during the COVID-19 crisis

Photo by Kyle Hanson on Unsplash


We wrapped up the week with a dose of optimism and ideas on how to find a balance. Joining us in the chat were three PR pros who are sitting in the middle (you know that space where you have to delegate down and up?) – Lauren Walbert (Sandy Hillman PR), Emily McDermott (Van Eperen), and Phill Yerby (Weber Shandwick).

Each offered a glimpse into their challenges and successes on finding that balance. Note: we don’t have a recording of this chat but below are some of the top tips offered.  

Challenge: Not being in the office and connecting with your team on a daily basis.

Tip: *Be your #1 advocate! Put a hard stop to the day for some self-care.

  • Hold weekly Zoom Happy Hours to chat about non-work issues.
  • Hold regular team meetings to exchange ideas.
  • Hold one-on-one meetings with staff (up and down) to discuss work/issues etc.
  • Above all … be flexible!

Challenge: Experiencing more anxiety issues caused by increased noise, limited spacing, etc.

Tip: *Find a calming app to help deal with the stressors. Check out the Happiness Lab podcast series to help destress.

  • Have open conversations with other people in the house.
  • Share with your team how you are feeling, i.e., you’re exhausted over trying to balance and deal with stress – BE HONEST, BE VALUABLE
  • Put your computer and work stuff away at the end of the day.
  • Cut out too much news and transition to more helpful podcast vs news

Challenge: Trying to get work down vs. giving family attention (including being teacher to your children) when needed.

Tip: *Know that you can only take in so much info a day so limit your intake to avoid overwhelming yourself.

  • Establish your own space.
  • Get into a routine by setting limits on your time.
  • Take breaks during the day

Challenge: Feeling energized especially if you’re losing or pausing clients.

  • Find something meaningful to do, such as starting a new hobby or volunteering for a local cause.
  • Get out as much as possible.
  • Interact with others (at a safe distance of course!).
  • Support local businesses as much as possible.

Challenge: Taking vacation or days off when this is a demanding time for communicators

Tip: Find time to turn it off! Do have to have selfcare; talk to other people … take a break!

  • Ask for a mental health day
  • Shut down with out of office
  • Driveway drive-bys
  • Avoid workspace as much as possible
  • Take advantage of Employee Assistance Programs if your employee provides
  • If you’re self-employed, take vacation with no check-ins.

Look for the positive – create your own environment (i.e., put on your own music). Get into your own space!

So what’s to like about this new work environment? How about the flexibility?

  • Flexible work hours (but stay consistent!)
  • More time to exercise, i.e., online exercise classes
  • Savings on gas, childcare, etc.
  • Less chitchat while trying to get out of work so workday ends when it ends.

The question in the end is How will this time change the way we work?


Have tips you’d like to share? Send to info@prsamd.org.

Missed the last few weekly chats? Here you go …


Spring Session of APR Online Course begins January 28

The next session of the APR online course begins with an Orientation on Jan. 28 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. This course is invaluable to help you prepare for the APR exam.

Participants in this course are PR and communications professionals from all over the country. Facilitators are senior PR professionals who hold the APR designation as well as senior level positions at private and public organizations across the U.S. They often speak from experience to the various topics at hand.

The course is supported by a Study Guide as well as several textbooks. Over the course of 13 weeks, you will delve into the 10 modules, or chapters, covered in this course. Chapters include: Public Relations: A Management Function, Applying Ethics and Law, Communication Models and Theories, Managing Issues and Crisis Communications, Leading the PR Function, Managing Relationships, and, of course, Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation (RPIE), the 4-step process that is at the heart of all successful public relations campaigns

During the final week of the course, you’ll have a chance to discuss your ideas for a Communications Plan utilizing RPIE. This information will be especially helpful in preparing your individual Panel Presentation, which must be presented and approved before you can take the APR exam.

The course is very convenient; it will be held completely online for one hour each week during the evening from 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. The PRSA member price is $195 (group discounts are available), and participants may take this course up to three times a year – in the spring, summer, and fall.

For more information on the APR online course, click here,

For the Spring 2020 course schedule or to enroll, click here.


PRSA Maryland Announces Four New APRs

Photo caption: PRSA Maryland Chapter Accreditation Manager Dianna Fornaro, M.A., APR (center) with Janice Smith, Ph. D., APR (left), and David Marshall, Ph.D., APR, at BIM19 in Dec. 2019. (Not pictured: Christine Frey, APR and Kelly Stoll, APR.)

PRSA Maryland is proud to announce our chapter’s four newest APRs! The four were first announced at our Best in Maryland (BIM) Awards Gala on December 4.

The APR is our profession’s only national post-graduate certificate program. It demonstrates a PR practitioner’s or educator’s commitment to the highest standards of the profession, to ethical conduct, and to professional excellence.

Unlike the credentials required for competence in many other professions, the accreditation process for PR professionals is voluntary, Consequently, the APR credential is held by very few today. Currently, only 19% of PRSA members are accredited, according to PRSA National.

PRSA Maryland Chapter’s four newest APRs are:

Christine Frey, APR
Senior Corporate Communications & Patient Education Manager
American Urological Association

David Marshall, Ph.D., APR
Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Strategic Communication
Morgan State University

Janice Smith, Ph.D., APR
Asst. Professor & Director of The Strategy Shop, Morgan’s in-house PR agency
Morgan State University

Kelly Stoll, APR
Senior Strategic Communications Specialist

Congratulations to all of them!

Exploring the emotional side of brands

Who hasn’t heard the stat 70% of emotionally connected consumers spend twice as much on brands they have an emotional attachment to than those who do not?

Research stats also confirm that connections based on feelings last longer any made based a need.

These findings have driven Shana Harris, COO, Warschawski, to explore how to create emotional connections between brands and their target audience will ultimately impact the bottom-line. She will share her learnings and experience in the PRSA Maryland webinar “The Emotional Side of Brand” on Thursday, October 24 at 12pm.

She will cover how to assess your audience perceives your current business practices along with practical tools to create a unique, powerful emotional connection with your target audience. The webinar is free to members and $15 for guests. Register here! 

Thank You to Our Chapter Sponsors

Thank You to Our Chapter Sponsors

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