The value of PRSA Leadership

By Nancy Wiser, APR, Fellow PRSA

There I was, a youngish professional from a small city, sitting as an equal with some of the nation’s PR elites. It was an eye-opening experience to serve on the PRSA Board of Directors, the PRSA Foundation and related committees. Together we made decisions regarding policies, professional development requirements, future leadership and other issues of the day.

How did I get there? Was I connected or an extremely talented person? While I like to think so, the truth is I was there because I raised my hand and volunteered to play a leadership role in our association repeatedly through the years.

Service takes time, but it’s a worthwhile investment. I sometimes wonder about professionals who say they don’t have the time or money to be involved with a professional organization. I paid my own dues and monthly luncheon fees for the first 10 years that I was a member even though I worked for non-profits and didn’t make a lot of money. My first leadership position was chapter secretary. Step by step I progressed through every officer position in the chapter, then each East Central District position. Year after year I gained experience and contacts.

That’s when I received a call that PRSA needed to fill the unexpired term of Don Durocher. Don was a highly respected and beloved ECD member from Detroit, so these were big shoes to fill. Someone on the Board had recognized my service and nominated me for the seat. Fortunately, Tom Preston, APR, Fellow, PRSA, for whom I was then working, was all for it. He agreed to give me the time and pay the expenses for me to serve.

So, what’s the payoff of spending your personal and professional time this way? The benefits I experienced fit into several categories:

Gaining visibility: Had I wanted to move to a bigger market, I could easily leverage my relationships with renowned leaders such as Patrick Jackson, John Beardsley and John Paluszek. You may or may not recognize those names, but they were leaders worth knowing and emulating. John L. Paluszek continues to serve the profession as Senior Counsel at Ketchum.

Learning from peers: We tackled tough issues on the board and it was illuminating to see how others approached problem-solving and communication. In addition, I could get their input on issues I was grappling with.

Camaraderie: I grew very close to a few of the board members I served with. We had fun spending time in different cities where the meetings were held. It’s been many years, but I still have fond memories of them and the good meals and laughs we shared.

Having a say: As communicators, we want to have input into our professional association, so it can be meaningful to consider the challenges and opportunities, offer solutions and then work together for the best possible decision. Leadership gave me experience in doing this and made me value my membership more than those who have no idea what goes into association management.

Recognition is not something I usually seek, but I must admit it feels good when it comes along. The East Central District recently noted my years of service with the 2015 Platinum Award. It wasn’t until I looked at the completed nomination form that I realized how many roles I’d played over the past 36 years. Ironically, the award is given in honor of Don Durocher, whose seat on the national board I’d filled.

Hands down, leadership in PRSA has helped me grow as a professional and gain confidence. I know that there are thousands of my peers I can call on and many of them are my friends. What a great return on my small investment!

Nancy Wiser, APR, Fellow, PRSA, is president of Wiser Strategies in Lexington, Ky. Nancy is a member of the Thoroughbred Chapter and the Counselor’s Academy.


Strategic Planning: A Unified Roadmap to Future Success

By Darcy Schwass, APR

Serving on chapter leadership is exciting. Knowing where your chapter is going, or should go, and how it’s going to get there is reassuring and exciting as well.

The Cincinnati PRSA chapter has a term process that ensures consistency in leadership members from year-to-year, while recruiting new members and providing opportunities for them to rise through the ranks. This means our chapter has leadership pros with a firm grasp of our unique challenges and opportunities, as well as fresh voices and perspectives.

It’s a process that has proven successful. But inherent leadership transitions, especially the election of a new president every year, merited a unified plan that would ensure consistent, measurable objectives and goals even under new leadership each year.

We needed a strategic plan.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to start a strategic plan process for your chapter, then check out these six steps below to find out how we developed our five-year strategic plan for the Cincinnati Chapter.

Recruit several voices.

We convened a strategic planning task force, consisting of leadership and nonleadership team members; longtime members and new members; agency and in-house professionals; seasoned members and new pros. An eclectic and diverse group ensured well-rounded views of long-term chapter goals.

Look inward and ahead.

At a Saturday morning meeting, Erin Rolfes, APR, our then vice president for programming, who is now serving as current president-elect, guided the task force through a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and a discussion about desired goals for one year, three years and five years. Erin captured everything on the whiteboards at the front of the room.

Draft the plan.

As then-president-elect, I reviewed the many notes from our session and drafted our plan. I took a step back and determined what the overall goals were and their measurable objectives. From there, I drafted the associated strategies and tactics. The plan also included a situation analysis and an annual evaluation process.

Edit, edit, edit.

I shared the initial plan with a couple of key leadership team members who served on the task force and incorporated their input before sharing with the larger group. After incorporating their edits, we had a solid strategic plan draft.


Our board needed to vote on the plan to make it effective. It passed unanimously.

Move forward.

It’s imperative for each year’s leadership team to ensure the plan is kept top-of-mind through annual transitions. It’s also incumbent upon each president to use the plan as a roadmap for the year and ensure the appropriate leadership team members assume responsibility for their objectives.

At the beginning of 2018, I was excited that we had a plan in place. We’re already tackling our objectives – especially those that need to be met by year’s end – and we have a good start on those that need to be met in the years ahead.

If you have questions or would like more insights about the Cincinnati chapter’s strategic planning process, feel free to contact me any time at Happy planning!

Darcy Schwass, APR, is president of the Cincinnati Chapter, PRSA, and senior account executive for Vehr Communications.


Platinum Award Winner

Please join us in celebrating our 2017 Platinum Award recipient Karen Stiffler, APR, of the White Pine Chapter.  The award,  the East Central District’s top individual recognition, was presented in November by Melinda Shriner, former chair of the East Central District, who read a letter of commendation from the ECD board.


Mentor at ICON

Connect, ask and benefit from a lifetime of experience: College of Fellows Mentoring at the PRSA 2017 International Conference

Make the most of your PRSA 2017 International Conference connections, share your experiences and career goals with a member of PRSA’s College of Fellows, a distinguished group of accredited PRSA members with more than 20 years of professional experience.

The College of Fellows hosts 30-minute mentoring sessions from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8, and Monday, Oct. 9. Sessions are offered as a premium benefit (at no cost) for PRSA members.

These one-on-one professional development sessions are available to PR practitioners at all stages of their careers:

  • New professionals (career planning and advancement)
  • Mid-career (business skills and leadership)
  • Senior professionals (personal growth and development)
  • Your mentor will:
  • Provide professional, confidential insights based on extensive experience in the practice of public relations
  • Make creative, yet proven suggestions for handling public relations challenges
  • Offer encouragement and assurance
  • Provide a fresh perspective on your career goals and timelinesSign-up deadline Thursday, Sept. 28.
  • Sign-up form available at

QuickStart 2017

Are you taking on a leadership position in your PRSA chapter in 2018? If so, mark your calendars for the annual QuickStart Leadership Conference, being held on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Columbus, Ohio at the Fahlgren Mortine offices in Easton Town Center.

For more information, click here.

Elevating the Profession
Location: Fahlgren Mortine ▪ 4030 Easton Station, Suite 300 ▪ Columbus, OH
Hotel: Courtyard Columbus Easton ▪ 3900 Morse Crossing ▪ Columbus, OH

FRIDAY, September 29
• 1 to 5 p.m.—ECD board meeting @ Fahlgren Mortine offices (ECD Board members only)

• 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
o Happy Hour: PRSA ECD QuickStart, hosted by PRSA Central Ohio (Everyone!)
 Bar Louie at Easton
 NOTE:  Heavy appetizers provided; all attendees on own for beverages

SATURDAY, September 30
o 7:30 to 8 a.m. Good morning! Continental breakfast open

o Welcome and Introductions
o Andrea Clark, APR, chair elect, ECD

o PRSA East Central District Overview
o Gretchen Fri, APR, chair, ECD

o PRSA National update and overview
o Jill Alexander, Fellow PRSA, PRSA Regional Representative

o Strategic Planning and Chapter Operations – Erin Rolfes, APR, Cincinnati

o The Evolution of PR, Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, Immediate Past Chair, PRSA

o Recruiting & Retaining Members PANEL DISCUSSION (over lunch)
PRSA ECD Facilitator: Andrea Clark, APR, President Elect-ECD
 Emily Kibling, Hoosier
 Erin Maggied, Central Ohio
 Ed Stevens, NW PA

o “Great Programming = A Strong Chapter”
 Holly Prather, Bluegrass – via Skype

o Leveraging Social to Engage Members & Elevate the Profession
 Tim Long, Pittsburg
 Angela Bennett, Akron

o Diversity & Ethics – Tom O’Connell, Detroit

o “Show Me the Money” – Chapter Sponsorships & Fundraising Roundtable Discussion, moderated by Jennifer Flowers-Kolf, APR, PRSA East Central District Board Member (Detroit chapter member)



Tri-Play Offer

2017 Fall “Triple Play” Offer

New members who join PRSA at the $255 membership level by November 30 receive a complimentary Chapter membership**, a complimentary Section membership**, and the waived $65 initiation fee.

**RESTRICTIONS: If joining Counselors Academy, dues are $100 ($95 discount).  Chapter dues are covered up to $100. This offer is not available for Associate member types ($200 or less annual dues) and is not available to current or renewing members. Please click here for details.

Timeframe: Through November 30, 2017

Cost: $255

Promo Code: FALL17


2017 ICON

PRSA 2017 International Conference
Oct. 8–10, 2017 | Boston, MA
International Conference offers practical insight and networking for public relations professionals of all career levels, sectors and work environments. Demonstrating value with actionable best practices is what drives the PRSA community and is the focus of this annual event.



The PRSA Board of Directors elected 11 practitioners for the College of Fellows Class of 2017, two of whom are from the East Central District.

Please welcome these new Fellows from the East Central District:
Barbara Paynter, APR, Fellow PRSA, President, Paynter Communications LLC, Greater Cleveland Chapter
Sonja Popp-Stahly, APR, Fellow PRSA, Manager, Global Employee Communications, Eli Lilly and Company, Hoosier Chapter

Other new Fellows are:
Loring Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCO/Managing Principal, Clarity
Joseph A. Brennan, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, Vice President of Communications and Marketing and Clinical Professor of Business, University at Albany – SUNY
Dotti Gallagher, APR, Fellow PRSA, Principal, Dotti Gallagher Consulting
Kevin Gaydosh, APR, Fellow PRSA, Director of Public Relations/Strategic Planner, O’Brien et al Advertising
Janelle Guthrie, APR, Fellow PRSA, Communications Director, Washington Employment Security Department
David Hakensen, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Vice President, FleishmanHillard
Nancy J. Sterling, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications, ML Strategies, LLC
Kaye D. Sweetser, Ph.D., APR+M, Fellow PRSA, Professor, San Diego State University
Mary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA, Principal, Mary Beth West Communications, Inc.

They will be inducted on Oct. 7, 2017 in Boston during ICON.


In Memoriam

W. Thomas “Tom” Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA, the East Central District’s 2013 Platinum Award recipient, passed away on Sunday, June 18 in Akron, Ohio. He was 84.

A graduate of Kent State University with a degree in journalism, Tom also completed the Advanced Management Program in Business from The Ohio State University. He began his public relations career in 1955 as an advertising and publicity assistant at the Ohio Edison Company in Akron.

Tom was a man of “firsts.” He established the first community relations program for the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation and was the first Community and Public Affairs Manager at B.F. Goodrich before moving to the agency side, establishing the first public relations function for the Urda Company. After moving to Greenville, S.C. in the mid-1990s, Tom was the first Director of Public Relations at Jackson-Dawson Marketing Solutions (now Jackson Marketing, Motorsports & Events). He built a successful division that won the Michelin account, and he later served the agency as Senior Public Relations Counselor.

Following his retirement in 2007, he returned to Akron and went back to work, opening his own consulting practice and working as Director-Communications for Akron SCORE, an organization mostly comprised of retired senior managers and executives that consults with existing and start-up businesses to help create jobs and improve the economy.

His leadership in PRSA was exemplary. He was the founding president of the Akron Area Chapter in 1968 and 1969, having spun it off from the Cleveland Chapter. After he returned to Akron, he served as president again in 2010. He also was president of the South Carolina Chapter. In recognition of his service, Akron made him a life member in 1994 and South Carolina followed suit in 2005.

In 2003, Tom was named the Distinguished Public Relations Practitioner in South Carolina and the chapter renamed the award for him in 2007. He received the Lighthouse Award from the Cleveland Chapter for lifetime achievement in 2012 and the East Central PRSA District lifetime achievement award in 2013. He was a member of the PRSA National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards and served his Kent State alma mater as a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Kelly J. Wilson, APR, South Carolina Chapter president, who was the first recipient of the Tom Duke Award, said Tom “truly epitomized everything the award is designed to recognize, and it was an appropriate and enduring tribute to his service not only to our state and our chapter, but also to the public relations profession as a whole.”

Mary Eaddy, APR, Fellow PRSA, recalled that “Tom’s exemplary commitment to professional ethics set a high standard for all. He was an excellent communicator devoted to advancing the public relations profession.

One of Tom’s classmates in 1998 and past PRSA Chair, Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, said he was “a consummate professional and a shining example of paying it forward and giving back to the profession. His sage advice will be missed and also remembered for the wisdom it imparted to colleagues and aspiring pros.”

Tom served as a GoodFellow for Bill Gay, APR, Fellow PRSA, in 2014. “I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but nevertheless he had a major impact on my career. Through his solid advice and encouragement, he helped me shape what began as a raw outline of a College of Fellows application into a package that resulted in my induction to the College. I will be forever grateful for his assistance.”

Rhoda Weiss, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA and past PRSA Chair remembers Tom as a “passionate advocate for advancing our profession and our professionals. When I was national chair, we would talk regularly about his ideas for making PRSA of more value to our members. He loved being involved with PRSA on every level, attending conferences, mentoring others, leading chapters, serving nationally and demonstrating enormous pride in all we do. He will be greatly missed.”

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Juanita, five children, six grandchildren and other relatives and friends. The family suggests memorials be made to the Tom and Juanita Duke Endowed Scholarship in Public Relations, c/o Kent State University Foundation, Inc., P.O Box 5190, Kent, Ohio 44242-0001.

Condolences may be sent to Juanita Duke, 4169 Tomahawk Trace, Copley, Ohio 44321-2797.

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