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THE SECRET SAUCE: ECD APRIL CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT AIMS HIGH BEAMS ON PRSA DETROIT

The ECD April 2021 Chapter Spotlight clicks on the high beams and shines brightly on the Motor City and the PRSA Detroit Chapter.  Our thanks go to Sharon Tatom Garcia, APR and Detroit Chapter President for offering Spotlight information and insights into her chapter.

You may think it takes a hard sell to close the deal in Motown.  But Sharon was quick to take the ECD pitch for putting Detroit in the Spotlight:

“We’ve been thinking about reaching out ever since Jennifer Day became a Platinum Award winner and ascended to the PRSA board. Your chapter has a lot to be proud of – including our esteemed past president Jennifer Flowers Kolf!”

War-time Detroit was not back to manufacturing cars yet in 1945 when the PRSA Detroit chapter was founded.  But Sharon rolled out the chapter history like the gleaming Ford Super DeLuxe Tudor, the most popular car of 1946.

The Detroit chapter emerged from the tough COVID year of 2020 with a similar post-war resolve to be better than ever. They pulled off dynamic virtual events for the board retreat and the annual meeting. “We wanted our members to feel supported and to provide value when they needed it most,” said Sharon.

They continued to lean in to D&I initiatives, working to build the board and committees with a diverse group of leaders which represent the makeup of metro Detroit and offering a “Diversity Moment” during board meetings.

Most of all, they honored their people. From the most esteemed members who have risen nationally in PRSA, to the hardworking committee volunteers, both young and seasoned pros, and the loyal senior council members who continue to renew their memberships long after retirement. “They are of great value to the chapter,” said Sharon.

Special recognition goes to a contributor who is the “secret sauce” of the chapter.  What will Detroit do without her?  Find out how they carry on.

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SURVEY – PRSA Detroit Chapter

Completed by Sharon Tatom Garcia, APR; 2021 PRSA Detroit President with help from the PRSA Detroit Executive Board

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

Our Detroit chapter was formed in 1945, 76 years ago, with 260 members. In March 2020 we had over 350 members, but we soon began to see a sharp decrease in membership due to economic insecurity around the COVID-19 crisis. We are excited to see our membership beginning to increase once again. Tradition holds that at the annual meeting in November, the incoming president shares their vision and some key objectives with the chapter, and the board and committees will work together to accomplish them throughout the year.

#1 goal for 2021: Every member finds value in their membership.

This year’s key objectives are to increase mentorship and networking opportunities and provide professional development programs around leadership and our roles as communicators in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Who are your current executive officers?

  • President – Sharon Tatom Garcia, Director of Communications, The Salvation Army, Eastern Michigan Division.
  • Past President – Kim Eberhardt, Account Director at Identity.
  • President Elect – Michelle Gilbert, Vice President – Public Relations, Heartland Region at Comcast.
  • Treasurer – Maribeth Farkas, Account Supervisor at Caponigro Public Relations.
  • Secretary – TaQuinda Johnson, Social Media Specialist at Eastern Michigan University.

Describe your membership.

Our members are PR and communications professionals representing agencies of all sizes, sole practitioners, nonprofit, government, education, and corporate spanning numerous industries, including automotive, healthcare and technology.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

Our annual meeting attracts the largest audience each year. Even last November, during Michigan’s second COVID-19 shut down, we held a virtual annual meeting in which we saw a very solid turnout. We welcomed our newly elected board members, thanked those whose terms were up, celebrated Kelly Rossman-McKinney, APR, Fellow PRSA, being elected into the PRSA Detroit Hall of Fame and reflected back on the challenging year in a video featuring members.

(Photos include the 2021 board retreat in December. Board members and their committee volunteer gathered for a meet and greet and to establish goals and objectives for 2021).

But our biggest ongoing focus is on creating consistent programs that resonate with our members.

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

In addition to holding a successful virtual annual meeting, we have continued to provide virtual robust and relevant professional education programs to our members – all at no cost to members.

Between May and December of 2019, we created a program called “Professional Transition Connect,” which connected PRSA Detroit members who had been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis, with nonprofit communications leaders. This program’s objective was to assist our members by offering professional communications services to nonprofits in need; in return, the member had the opportunity to keep their resumes up to date during their layoff, as well as network and make new professional connections during an extremely uncertain time. We wanted our members to feel supported and to provide value when they needed it most.

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

I’m proud to share that our Diversity and Inclusion Committee grew in volunteers this year! We currently have 6 committee members and 3 of them are on the board. Our overarching objectives for 2021 continue our longtime commitment to leadership in the D&I space.

  1. Continue partnering with MI PRSA chapters on MI-wide DE&I strategies so that we can continue to provide leadership and resources to our members at a statewide level
  2. Provide interesting and relevant programming, and collaborate with expert leaders and speakers
  3. Building a leadership pipeline for communications professionals currently underrepresented.
  4. Establish a “Diversity Moment” during board meetings. A D&I committee member will research a trending topic and present a bite-sized report (including guidance and best practices). This investment during board meetings has been an effort to deepen the board’s knowledge of important DE&I topics so that they may serve as informed allies in the workplaces they represent.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

We are proud to have grown so many stellar leaders – many of whom have risen to regional and national levels of PrSA service. Jennifer Day, APR, Platinum Award winner, ascended to the national PRSA board, and our very own Jennifer Flowers Kolf, APR, is an ECD past president. We are also extremely proud to be one of the leading chapters in members achieving the APR. I personally am proud of the Detroit’s chapter’s response of leadership and strong communication when the COVID-19 crisis began, and around the national reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

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

Certainly, sponsor support helps keep our chapter vibrant, particular during a year where we were not holding in-person events for a fee.

In addition to the generous support of our sponsors, our chapter remains strong thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteer leaders who donate their time and talent to serve on the board and committees. Without their creativity, expertise and grit, we couldn’t provide the resources that we do.

Any “little known fact” about your chapter to share?

One thing – or rather, one person – has been our secret sauce for many years. For over 33 years, Nancy Skidmore has served as a friendly face at programs, and has provided countless connections and counsel to communications professionals throughout every stage of their careers. On top of her stellar administrative duties, she provided meaningful professional and even personal support and care when a member needed it most. She retires on April 30 and her presence will be truly missed.

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

You are welcome to contact me anytime at sharon.tatomgarcia@usc.salvationarmy or on my cell at (248) 331-5561.

SHARON TATOM GARCIA, APR: 2021 PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) Detroit Chapter President; Director of Communications, The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division.

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