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ECD CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: PRSA PITTSBURGH – STRONG AS STEEL, FLOWING LIKE A RIVER THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES

I visited Pittsburgh for a job interview years ago. On the way from the airport to WTAE-TV the cabbie mentioned, “You know about 80% of the population of Pittsburgh is born and raised in Allegheny County.”

I heard that factoid at least three more times before my flight home.

The people of Pittsburgh own their city, and the same can be said of PRSA Pittsburgh chapter members.

“The City of Neighborhoods,” the sixth most livable city in the U.S., is a big league metro with a hometown feel.

Likewise, PRSA Pittsburgh is an exciting, progressive chapter and a close-knit club. When industry legend Steve Radick or current Pittsburgh Business Times “30 Under 30” star Jordan Mitrik talk about their chapter, don’t expect to get a word in edgewise.

Why even try to stop them? They have a lot to say because they have accomplished much and have much more they want to do.

It’s fair to say the chapter leadership didn’t just pivot with COVID, they ran circles around it, increasing programming 131%. As Jordan said, “The pandemic forced us to break habits, form new ones and allowed us to focus on what mattered most within our Chapter: our members.”

To face the challenge of DEI, they leaned-in and then kept pushing. Most chapters would be proud of any one of their initiatives.  The PRSA Pittsburgh Diversity & Inclusion Pledge is perhaps the most intriguing.  Read more in Jordan’s summary and decide for yourselves.

It takes hard work on the part of all PRSA chapters to keep their organizations alive and thriving, especially through a pandemic.  It’s beyond impressive to see the Pittsburg members devote volunteer time, sweat equity, and talent to not just their chapter, but to public service across their community.

Maybe that’s what makes Pittsburgh a “City of Neighborhoods.” Every neighborhood is your neighborhood.

A lot of water has run through the Three Rivers since my cab ride in Pittsburgh. The city now balances a population of “Born and Raised” with the “Born and Moved Away.” But a “Fun Fact” Jordan offers about the Pittsburgh Chapter speaks volumes about why so many natives and neighbors always have Pittsburgh on their minds.

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: PRSA Pittsburgh 

 Completed by Jordan Mitrik, 2020-21 PRSA Pittsburgh President 

  Give us a brief history of your chapter (when it was founded, how many members). 

 PRSA Pittsburgh was chartered in 1953 – so for all the PR pros who don’t like math like me – we’re celebrating 68 years as a Chapter!  

 For several years, we’ve consistently maintained a membership of more than 200 professionals within the western Pennsylvania region. However, as all Chapters across the country are experiencing, we’ve seen a slight decrease within the past year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently at approximately 180 members, but we are looking forward to seeing this increase again as we adapt to our new normal.  

 At our core, our Chapter’s vision is to create an exceptional member experience that educates, inspires, guides and galvanizes a diverse community of ethical, strategic communications professionals in our region. 

 We also are the proud sponsoring Chapter to 12 PRSSA Chapters at California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University, Duquesne University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst University, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, Slippery Rock University, Washington & Jefferson College, Waynesburg University, and Westminster College. 

 Who are your current executive officers? 

President | Jordan Mitrik, Brunner 

Vice President  | Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite 

Secretary | Kristen Wishon, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council 

Treasurer | Darcey Mamone, NAMI  

Assistant Treasurer | Brian Ackermann, Health+Commerce 

 Describe your membership. (General professional representation). 

 Most of our members service industries in line with those that lead the economy of the Pittsburgh region, including: healthcare, transportation, banking and utilities.  

 That said, overall membership continues to span across virtually all organizational settings. Our current breakdown includes:   

  • 30% — Corporate 
  • 30% — Agency 
  • 14% — Nonprofit 
  • 14% — Education 
  • 12% — Other 

We also have an interesting breakdown as it relates to how long our members have spent in the industry, with 26% having less than 5 years of experience (which we consider young professionals), 38% having 6—19 years of experience, and 36% having 20+ years of experience.  

 In addition, we have 11 members Accredited in Public Relations and 3 in the PRSA College of Fellows!  

What is normally your biggest project of the year? 

 We host the annual PR Summit – our largest professional development conference – which is geared towards both our PRSA members and surrounding PRSSA Chapter members. We’ve tackled topics ranging from PR disruption and the search for authenticity, to failing forward and how communicators can turn their mistakes into lessons learned. In 2020, we hosted weekly virtual presentationsfeaturing topics in recognition of Global Diversity Awareness Month and facilitated hard conversations worth discussing regarding mental illness, ageism, race, and more in the PR industry. We’re currently in the process of planning our 2021 event, which will discuss misinformation in the media and the communicator’s role guarding against it!  

 Our biggest non-professional development event is our Renaissance Awards — which attracts between 150 to 230 professionals each year. Our 2021 ceremony, held virtually for the first time ever, recognized more than 30 different communication campaigns and tactics created in 2020 from some of the most recognizable brands both regionally and nationally such as Duquesne Light Company, Highmark, Pittsburgh Zoo, Starkist and The Home Depot. 

 How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic? 

 The pandemic forced us to break habits, form new ones and allowed us to focus on what mattered most within our Chapter: our members. We immediately prioritized new ways to offer valuable programming virtually through Zoom, Instagram Live, Facebook or email communication that we likely wouldn’t have done during any other year. As a result, we more than doubled the number of opportunities for members and increased programming by 131% YoY. We also adapted quickly by reinstating a Diversity & Inclusion Chair position and forming a committee to build awareness of D&I standards, resources, and best practices for communications professionals (more on that later!). 

 In addition, we put a greater emphasis on our young professionals within our membership, including PRSSA students and recent graduates in the area, many of whom felt lost and defeated as it pertained to launching a career due to the uncertainty that stemmed from the pandemic. In 2020, we launched a private Facebook Group specifically for professionals and pre-professionals with less than 5 years of experience in our region. We regularly host Facebook Live events, share job and internship postings, and offer AMA events that have allowed members to virtually network with peers that share their industry commitment and help them understand the unique challenges that new professionals and students face.  

 We currently have more than 250 professionals and pre-professionals in the Group!  

 How is your chapter leaned into Diversity, Inclusion and Equity? 

 As previously mentioned, in 2020, our Chapter reinstated a Diversity & Inclusion Chair position as a mandatory board member after the role was vacant the last few years. We then quickly formed a D&I Committee underneath the position, simply because we needed a dedicated task force to tackle the lack of diversity in the PR industry.  

 Now more than ever, we are committed to elevating the voices and telling the stories of those who are so often unheard in the PR industry. Some of our Chapter’s efforts (so far) include: 

  • Established a workflow that ensures our efforts support D&I initiatives in four categories: 1) content, 2) audience appeal, 3) speaker / panelists and 4) impact; 
  • Developed PRSA Pittsburgh’s Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit for those who want to learn about the significance of D&I to the PR industry; 
  • Held a lunch & learn panel discussion with local D&I professionals representing DICK’s Sporting Goods, PPG, and the Pittsburgh Penguins to discuss recent events and the ways in which communicators can implement D&I efforts in our workplaces and communities; 
  • Held a programming event entitled, “Empowering Tomorrow’s PR Leaders: PR Girl Manifesto Joins PRSA Pittsburgh for Black History Month” with guest speaker Fatou Barry, brand strategist and founder of PR Girl Manifesto
  • Created and distributed the PRSA Pittsburgh Diversity & Inclusion Pledge for members to virtually sign and commit to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

 In addition, and perhaps one of our most rewarding efforts to date, we created and awarded our first annual Black Excellence Award in response to the lack of diversity in the profession, particularly in the Pittsburgh region, and to show young professionals there is a home for them in the Pittsburgh PR community. This endowment grants $2,000 to and is intended to assist and recognize a new graduate who is of African American / Black ancestry – working in the PR, marketing or communications field – for outstanding academic achievement and commitment to the practice of public relations in the region. We presented the first award, sponsored by BCW Global, this year at our Renaissance Awards to Isabella Moreland of Gateway Health.  

 What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

I must admit, I’m so proud of all the work that our board of directors, committees, and member volunteers have accomplished in the last 18 months while I’ve served as Chapter President, that it’s hard to pick just one!  

 Aside from some of the efforts I’ve already shared, perhaps the Chapter’s proudest achievement is our ongoing commitment to public service and giving back to Pittsburgh organizations that need it most, particularly in 2020.  

 For as long as I can remember, our Chapter has had a dedicated Public Service Chair and Committee responsible for implementing one public service project to support the communications efforts of an area nonprofit. At the beginning of the pandemic, we realized it was more important than ever for us to rally around the Pittsburgh-area nonprofits that were in greatest need, so we adjusted the focus to help area-nonprofits deeply affected by COVID-19. 

 After receiving many moving responses to our RFP, we selected, for the first time ever, two nonprofits – Pittsburgh Hires Veterans and Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) Pittsburgh – and offered pro bono support over the course of six months.  

 As a result, our committee provided the two-person staff at Pittsburgh Hires Veterans strategic counsel for social media, email marketing, and media relations. For SWSG, the committee delivered communications and marketing support for their first-ever virtual 2020 Strong Awards, their primary fundraising event. Through these efforts, SWSG surpassed its ticket sales revenue by 150%, received 3.95 million impressions for the Strong Awards through media outreach, and the event had more than 300 individuals in attendance, doubling its results YoY during their 2019 in-person event.  

 This year, we’ve continued our trend of doubling our public service efforts and are partnering with two new organizations – Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania and When She Thrives – and will be supporting them with overall brand direction and strategic communications efforts for fundraising initiatives, respectively.   

 It was truly inspiring to watch our members give their time to work with these organizations that experienced a challenging year, especially knowing it was a challenging year for everyone.   

 Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share? 

 We’re excited to have our Pittsburgh Chapter represented at the National level! Ben Butler, APR, former Chapter President, currently serves as a Senior Counsel Member to PRSA’s 2021 Board of Directors. He also recently served as the PRSSA 2018-2020 National Professional Adviser.  

 We also have members of our Pittsburgh Chapter that live outside western Pennsylvania! 5% of our membership don’t call Pennsylvania their current home and reside in the surrounding states of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio.  

 What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”? 

A dedicated and diverse board of directors. Our group consists of individuals of all ages, experience, and walks of life – from 2020 college graduates to professionals with 40 years of experience – and having that diversity has challenged our thinking, offered great dialogue, expanded our perspective, pushed our creativity, and ultimately resulted in more opportunities for our members. We’ve continued traditional tactics that we know work while introducing new channels, topics, and ways of working into the mix that have helped us evolve. Our members have appreciated our adaptability, and that’s all we can ask for.  

 Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you? 

 info@prsa-pgh.org  

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