Call for Nominations: Counselors Academy 2019 Executive Committee

The Counselors Academy is pleased to announce the call for nominations for the 2019 Executive Committee.  

The Call for Nominations is now open and we are seeking candidates for three open positions of Member-At-Large.

The purpose of the Public Relations Society of America Counselors Academy (CAPRSA) is to advance the professional status and interests of senior-level public relations counselors and to increase their knowledge and proficiency through professional development programs and activities of special interest to the field of public relations.

Service on the CAPRSA Executive Committee (ExComm) is an opportunity to guide the organization and provide thought leadership for the public relations industry.


Service on the executive committee provides a chance to grow personally and professionally, to develop skills, gain unique experience and make lasting connections with a team of other passionate and motivated professionals. The Public Relations Society of America provides support from qualified and exceptional staff in New York, New York, who make the executive committee’s job as fulfilling as possible. 

The organization is led by a set of officers, also, elected by the membership. This includes: Chair, Chair-Elect, Secretary/Treasurer, Past Chair.  Based on the CAPRSA volunteer leadership, ExComm committees drive a number of initiatives including the website, membership and the annual Spring Conference.

Member-at-large candidates must meet a professional standard of excellence by demonstrating the following: 

  • Current member in good standing of PRSA and Counselors Academy
  • Willing to commit to three years of service
  • Participate in monthly ExComm calls and attend a minimum of three in-person meetings (January, May, October).
  • Participate as an active member of ExComm through committee leadership, volunteer recruitment.
  • Provide financial support through Friends of Counselors sponsorship at the annual Spring Conference
  • Uphold the PRSA Code of Ethics (

Self-nominations are allowed.

CAPRSA members interested in being considered, should submit a letter of interest addressing the items in this call for nominations, your contact information and anything else you would like to have considered by the nominating committee.  The letter of interest/nomination should be submitted by Friday, August 10, 2018 to Tom Garrity, Past Chair, Nominating Chair via email Letter of recommendation from current Counselors Academy board members or members at large are welcomed.

Nominees will be contacted via e-mail and phone.

Excomm members at work and play

Stop Chasing Likes and Do More Likable Things

An Interview with Counselors Keynoter Peter Shankman

By Greg Abel

You probably know Peter Shankman from his most famous professional creation, HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, a service that matches reporter’s requests for sources with PR professionals and experts.

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But did you know that the New York-based Shankman is also the creative force behind one of the hottest podcasts around, “Faster than Normal,” which features Peter interviewing guests from around the world who embrace the notion that having ADD or ADHD (as he does) is a gift, not a curse. He is also an author and sought-after speaker who will provide the Monday luncheon keynote at Counselors, “The Economy of the Next 50 Years Will be Run by Customer Service.”

Recently I caught up with Peter and a condensed version of our discussion follows:

Greg Abel: Peter, tell us about your keynote discussion and why you place so much value on the customer experience.

Peter Shankman: I’m teaching companies to stop chasing the like and start doing more likable things. That can feel very intimidating when people hear that, but I don’t need you to be awesome, I just need you to be a little better because we have a really bad state of customer service. I don’t need you to be great, I need you to suck a little less.

GA: Can you give an example?

PS: Sure, say you make reservations at a steakhouse for dinner. They ask if you’re celebrating anything and you might say, ‘oh yeah, it’s my wife’s birthday and her name is Rachel.’ And then when you show up, there’s a card at her seat at the table that says, “Happy Birthday Rachel.” She’s going to love that. We don’t need amazing stuff, we need stuff that’s thoughtful, that’s a little better.

GA: How might this philosophy apply to the PR agency world?

PS: Don’t call the client only when you have to sell something; call them to offer an experience. And you should know what they like - maybe it’s bass fishing or going to the theater. People don’t hire businesses, people hire people. A little humanization goes a long way.

GA: What makes you excited for the PR industry?

PS: The agencies who do get it, who do understand that if they do the little things, they are going to win and they are going to be top of mind for the client. You need to be thought of as a trusted partner, not just an agency, so that means being a little better. Focus on being human, not a machine.

GA: Let’s talk about customer service generally. Why do you feel it’s so bad and what can be done about it?

PS: What’s important is for a company to have an online or offline place where the customer feels like they matter and where they have a voice. Almost 70% of people who complain on Twitter don’t want a resolution, they just want to be heard. Because we live in a world where no one is heard. Listening turns people who are angry into people who want to see you succeed because you listened to them and you helped them.

GA: How important is speed when it comes to customer service?

PS: The quicker you respond, the more the client or customer will calm down, and the more they’ll feel like they’ve actually been taken care of. Own your mistakes when you make them and if you’re any good, you’re going to make a lot of them.

GA: Why are mistakes important?

PS: I’m a huge fan of making mistakes because you learn from them. As long as you’re learning, you’re the kind of person I want in my corner. The smartest people in the world are the people who learn from their mistakes.

GA: Looking forward to coming to Counselors?

PS: Very much. One of the best things about coming to a conference like this is not just the speakers, but there’s so much to learn from everyone else who is there. You can learn from everyone you meet. I love this stuff.


The Best Investment an Agency Owner Can Make: A Q&A with Steve Cody, Co-Founder of Peppercomm

By Brenda Barwick, APR
Owner and President, Jones PR

A natural comedian, Peppercomm founder Steve Cody has incorporated humor into employee training and pioneered the creation of insights for his agency. He was named one of 50 Game Changers in PR last year by PR News. A long-time leader of Counselors Academy, Steve has shared some of his insights and a sneak preview of Spring Conference in Toronto.

Brenda Barwick: What has Counselors Academy and the Spring Conference meant to you over the years?

Steve: It’s an advanced MBA degree. I have been involved in Counselors Academy Spring Conference for 20+ years. One of earliest memories involved having the privilege of listening and learning from Kathy Cripps and Ken Makovsky. Each had created incredibly successful agencies at a time when I was still trying to figure out how to scale Peppercom from five to 10 people. Each was incredibly transparent in terms of sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of transforming a neophyte agency into an industry force. Like an advanced MBA, Counselors will enable you to learn best practices, how to avoid minefields, how to prevent one client from representing too large a percentage of billings, and discover new, and creative, workplace initiatives. As an entrepreneur, Spring Conference is the best single investment I ever made and has paid for itself multiple times over.

 Steve Cody, Peppercomm CEO

Steve Cody, Peppercomm CEO


BB: What is different about Spring Conference from all other conferences?

Steve:  It’s like Vegas. What happens at Counselors Academy, stays at Counselors Academy. The sense of community, collegiality, and intimacy does not exist elsewhere. It’s a safe environment to say, “I have this problem, and what do I do about it?” Everyone is there to help you succeed. Counselors Academy is directly responsible for my having been able to create lifelong relationships with professionals I am honored to now call friends. Thanks to Counselors Academy, I can now call upon a coterie of experts in different fields and regions who can help me deal with an opportunity or challenge. That is priceless.

BB:  As the pioneer of creative insights, what insights will you be sharing in Toronto?

Steve:  I will be sharing research revealing the #1 pain point for Fortune CCOs and CMOs: Taking a stand on societal crises ranging from mass shootings and illegal immigration to environmental rollbacks and tariffs. The findings are a result of a co-branded initiative with the Institute of Public Relations ( in which we conducted real-time qualitative interviews with 25 Fortune 500 CCOs and CMOs from a wide array of industries. Each not only provided best practices for standing up and speaking out on critical societal issues of the day, but also shared insights into the myriad ways in which they are coping with the plague that is fake news.

BB:  You have published a very successful book. Tell us about “What Keeps Your Customers Up at Night.”

Steve:  The book actually helps people to go to sleep (a key benefit in today’s world of uncertainty). I partnered with a top sales organization and combined best practices of media and sales training to better understand how to differentiate and identify breakthroughs in sales meetings. Agency leaders will learn ways to approach (and close) other C-Suite decision-makers within prospect organizations.  The book is flying off the shelf, particularly in Asia (where sleep deprivation is a huge problem), and has been translated into seven languages.

BB:  What excites you about the future of PR?

Steve: The best is yet to come. Competitors in other disciplines do not have the training or acumen to counsel clients through the crises-driven news maelstrom in which we find ourselves. PR counselors are uniquely qualified and better positioned to advise clients on strategy and messaging in today’s environment.

BB: What is PR’s role in today’s integrated marketing environment?

Steve: We should own it.  We understand the sensitivities of the marketplace and the divisiveness in a climate where clients simply want to sell products and services. We also intuitively know when to speak up and when to remain silent. It may seem counterintuitive, but we possess a better sense of where a client should advertise and what they should say than ad agencies do (that’s because the latter are programmed to sell at all costs). We can also better evaluate a client’s supply chain partners and determine if those organizations’ values and purpose are in alignment with that of our client’s. That’s becoming table stakes nowadays.

BB: What is your best tip for agency owners?

Steve:  Resiliency. It’s the hallmark of a great agency owner. Prepare to fail. One has to learn to deal with the loss of a large client, key executive or some other unforeseen crisis and keep going. The best way to do so is to be continually asking, “What’s keeping my prospective client base awake at night?” The answer(s) to that question will continually drive innovation and ensure your resiliency.

BB:  Who inspires you and why?

Steve: CEOs who have the courage to stand up and speak out. There have been multiple examples this year alone, such as when, in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fl. school shootings, Edward Bastian, Delta’s CEO, said his corporation’s values were not for sale (in response to Georgia lawmakers rescinding their incentives).

BB: Thank you, Steve. We will all look forward to the C-suite insights you will provide on fake news in Toronto on Monday afternoon.

"You Can’t Just Be a Dreamer, You Must Have a Strategy"

A Q&A with Elise Mitchell
Founder & Chairman, Mitchell Communications Group
CEO, Dentsu Aegis PR Network

To meet Elise Mitchell is to be inspired -- and perhaps even a bit awed -- by her. This is a woman who is a force in the PR industry and in life, who brings seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm to her endeavors.

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Elise built Mitchell Communications from scratch into one of the top 10 fastest-growing firms globally, a two-time Agency of the Year winner and Inc. 500/5000 Fastest Growing Company. These days, Elise, author of “Leading Through the Turn,” is CEO of the Dentsu Aegis PR Network and a highly sought-after speaker and executive coach.

As she has done many times in the past, Elise will be a featured speaker at PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference this year in Toronto. Her session, The "It Factor, How to Get Further, Faster," promises to be outstanding and memorable.

I caught up with Elise recently as she was traveling internationally. We chatted about what Counselors has meant to her in her career; and her current passion for executive coaching. A condensed version of the interview follows:

G: Hi Elise, so great to talk to you as always. Let’s start with Counselors; what has the network and spring conference meant to you over the years?

E: Thanks Greg! As you know I love talking about Counselors. Counselors was instrumental in helping me build Mitchell Communications Group. When I was trying to build an agency, the people I met who had success in building their firm before I did were mentors and advisors and acted as a sounding board for me on too many occasions to count.

They were available to me when I had a question. They were willing to share concepts that worked for them and how it worked and why. The network I was able to build was great but then the counseling itself was always the focal point for getting practical content around how to build an agency.

G: What’s different about Counselors vs. other conferences you’ve attended?

E: There’s a lot of different conferences you can go to to get ideas about how to be a better strategist or what are the trends and changes with PR, but no other conference that I went to had the practical aspects of building an agency.

They didn’t just say “oh I built this agency and it’s great.” They said, “OK, let me tell you how to put together an HR model to evaluate people, or recruiting strategies, or how to make more profit.”

G: What are you focused on professionally these days?

E:  I’ve taken a new role as chairman at Mitchell, I am still the CEO of the Dentsu PR Network and I am doing a lot of work around the intersection of neuroscience and leadership.

G: I had the pleasure of reading your book, “Leading Through the Turn,” and it was very influential. Are you continuing to write?

E: Yes, I write regularly on my blog, “In the Turn,” and have a blog post that is really popular about how individuals can transition from “I’m overwhelmed to I’ve Got This!” People desperately want to have some measure of control over their schedule and over the demands of their life. My blog elaborates on a practical approach on how to balance those priorities.  

G: I also understand that you’re doing more work in executive coaching, correct?

E: That’s right. I’ve done a lot of coaching over the years but it was very informal. I wanted the discipline of a process and also an approach to coaching that I felt was very powerful so I am becoming a certified executive coach. I have seen a huge impact on the professionals I am working with right now. I think that is going to become a powerful part of what I do in the future.

G: What I like personally is that you never seem to stay in one place. You built your agency then pivoted to doing more things at an executive level, and now writing and coaching. Why coaching?

E: My greatest passion right now is to help others to live and lead at their best. I am particularly interested in working with executives who are serious about improving, enhancing their own leadership abilities and that of their team. I want to work with people who are really interested in taking things up a notch and getting to the next level. Particularly, leaders who are trying to surpass the toughest challenges that they are facing right now. Those kinds of individuals are highly motivated to grow in a motivated space.

The idea is to create context, then vision, then inspire others. If you only have a great Idea, no one will buy anything from you. You can’t just be a dreamer. You must have a strategy.
— Elise Mitchell

G: What do you hope to bring to these kinds of leaders?

E: I want to help people identify and thoroughly think about their strengths and opportunities. Also, to help them set a framework for achieving their most important goals. I want to combine all my business expertise, experience and many mistakes into one practical approach.

G: What’s a tip that you think most leaders need to hear and remember in our industry.

E:  I think that one of the primary jobs of a leader is to set a context for their employees, clients, and the audience that they serve. The only way to set the context is by connecting the dots yourself and constantly monitoring the environment around you. Also, by identifying the larger forces that impact or could impact what you do, and draw conclusions from that.

G: How would you advise executives to recognize these larger forces?

E: Sometimes, you have to do it on your own. We have to figure out what is important and what do we need to do about it. Leaders have to think about the implementation of the context. Then they need to ask themselves, “Well what does this mean for us?” “How do my clients anticipate, prepare, leverage, identify opportunities?”

The idea is to create context, then vision, then inspire others. If you only have a great idea, no one will buy anything from you. You can’t just be a dreamer. You must have a strategy.

A View from the Window Seat

By Tom Garrity, Chairman of the PRSA Counselors Academy

The window seat is one of air travel’s great pleasures.  With the raising or lowering of the shade you are able to provide light for the cabin, get a visual weather report or just stare!  The latter is something I enjoy because the vastness provides a great backdrop to meditate, plan for the future while providing a unique perspective from 30,000 feet.

In the season of reflecting, when a lot of us are flying to visit loved ones my CAPRSA 30,000 foot view is the great work of your executive committee.  There are a number of great successes, highlighted with a successful Spring Conference in Seattle.


However, with permission of the board members who remain to serve Counselors Academy in 2018, I want to share some thoughts of the practitioners who will be rolling off of the board to spend more time building their practices, helping clients and contributing to their community:  Ann Barks, Lisa Gerber, Pam Golden and Martin Waxman.

If you don’t know Ann Barks, you are missing out.  She is a solid practitioner who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her background as a military photographer provided the foundation for her public relations know how.  She served as my Ex-Officio on the board and did a great job with membership and making sure that everyone felt welcome at Counselors. By the way, need a reference on where to get good eats in NOLA?  Ask Ann!

Lisa Gerber is someone whom I had the honor of meeting at CAPRSA in Palm Springs.  She is a digital nomad who lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.  Skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer and making all of us outdoor maniacs jealous year round!  Lisa is the person who helped to bring the website and blog to life.  She led the content committee with great success.  Oh, and if you enjoy skiing in deep powder with a penchant for foreign travel, ask Lisa about Northern Japan.

Pam Golden is amazing! Her leadership of the programming committee resulted in our professional development on either side of the Spring Conference.  Quite frankly, it is a tall order!  She led her team to develop informative webinars.  She also did a great job setting up the recent CAPRSA event in Atlanta, which was a hit and helped to oversee coordination of a roundtable event in Chicago.  What impresses me about Pam is how well traveled she is.  Before a recent visit to Las Vegas, Pam shared with me her list of places to go and places to eat.  It wasn’t a google search kind of overview, She was like Wikipedia meets Trip Advisor!

And last, but definitely not least, is Martin Waxman. Conference Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, Chair-elect, Chair and past chair. Yup, he has done it all and throughout has managed to successfully run a public relations practice, participate in a successful industry podcast, host digital media classes through and pursue a masters degree at McMasters University #OverAchiever #unassuming .  To know Martin is to appreciate his dry humor and fantastic storytelling.  While we’ve had a chance to play the board game Sorry in Ashville and attend Jazz Fest in New Orleans Martin’s best attributes are his gift of hospitality and friendship (many times co-existing). Thank you.

From my view at 30,000 feet, Ann, Lisa, Pam and Martin have made a positive mark to move CAPRSA forward and the public relations industry is better as a result of their respective leadership.

Plan To Win More Business


By Ken Jacobs, ACC, CPC

Winning new business is one of the most important things you must do for your agency, whether it’s medium sized, small, boutique, or it’s just you and a partner. (Even if that partner might just be a dog.)

And one of the most important things you can do to win that business is to have a written business development plan. (You heard me!) 

I’ve been sharing the “gospel” of the written plan with CAPRSA members for a number of years, via conversations, the Spring Conference Best Of Counselors Academy Pre-Con,  and most recently, a Counselors webinar called “How To Start Winning More New Business, Now!” 

During the webinar, a number of the attendees had wise answers when I asked “Why must you have a written business development plan?” Here’s a selection: 

  • “To keep us accountable.” Dory Anderson, Lemke Anderson
  • “If you don't know where you're going you can't possibly know when you get there.” Mary Deming Barber
  • “To set future direction of the firm” Todd Barish, Indicate Media
  • “To set our strategy and work toward goals.” Natalie Ghidotti, Ghidotti Communications
  • “If it's not written down, it's not going to happen!” Chris Kuban, Chemistry Multimedia
  • “To focus and drive efforts, ensure everyone is on the same page, and approaching the best targets for the business.” Bonnie Shaw, Clearpoint Agency

I agree wholeheartedly. And here’s a recap of nine of the 11 reasons I shared: 

  1. It’s Not Really Optional, Is It?  As an agency owner, you’re not just in the business of PR, marketing communications, social PR, content, etc. You’re in the business of winning new business. The sages tell us if we fail to plan, we’re planning to fail. Doesn’t it make sense to have a (written) plan to succeed? 
  2. Your Agency Will Be Fired, Due To No Fault Of Its Own. They want a bigger agency. A smaller agency. They’re hiring the agency run by their sister-in-law. It’s a fact of agency life that our firms will be fired. Now we’re starting, from what feels like scratch, to rebuild, to make our annual numbers…
  3. Your Budget May Be Reduced, Due To No Fault Of Its Own. Those of us who experienced the “Great” Recession of 2008/9 know that no budget is sacrosanct, and unfortunately, PR/Communications is the first to go. A strategic, active, new business effort allows you to bounce back.
  4. What Do Prospects Perceive About You? When you experience #s 2 or 3, we get out there, pitching every piece of business we can. What do prospects pick up about us? The smell of desperation! And if I may quote myself, “The smell of desperation does not new prospects attract!” At best, we sign on with clients who sense that desperate aroma, and haggle over prices, resulting in absurdly low profitability for us. Until they find a more desperate agency.
  5. Someday You’ll Want to Fire A Client. The aforementioned price haggler. The one asks for explanation over and over and over. Who never presses the button. Who constantly asks for work beyond the agreed-upon scope or budget. OR worse, is abusive to your staff. They deserve to be fired, and life will improve when you do so. An active business development effort allows you to replace the billings you lose when you say “Buh-Bye,” and then some. 
  6. Some Things Worth Having Take a Long Time To Build: If you’ve ever targeted, pursued, created a relationship with, been hired by, and gotten that first check from a dream client, I imagine you’ll acknowledge it took longer than you expected. The time to start this effort is yesterday!
  7. Agencies Must Be Like Sharks: I’m not saying they must be predatory. But just as sharks must keep moving to live, agencies must grow to exist. Why? Are salaries and benefits going down? How about your rent, technology, or other capital investments? Plus, if you’re going to retain and attract talented and ambitious staff, you’ve got to grow the agency to accommodate their career paths. Your agency doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to be bigger than it was last year.
  8. The RFP Hamster Wheel Is An Exercise in Futility. I’m not talking about an RFP from a prospect with whom you’ve been building a relationship. I’m talking about the RFPs that go out to a large list of agencies, seemingly without reason.  They may be perfectly happy with their incumbent. Perhaps they just want new, free ideas. If you look at how many of these “open” RFPs you won last year, I imagine you’ll see a very low win rate. So why keep participating in them? Doesn’t it make sense to use methods where the odds are in your favor?
  9. Writing It Down Makes It Happen. I’ll share three quotes that prove the point: “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” Antoine de Saint Exupéry; “Well begun is half done,” Aristotle; “It’s only a dream until you write it down, Then it becomes a goal,” Emmitt Smith. 

For the other reasons you must have a written business development plan, nine questions you must ask yourself to build the plan, three rules to follow, and the first six steps to do so, please reach out to me personally at and I'll share the complete presentation. And if you aren't a member of Counselors, let's change that! Learn more here

Ken Jacobs, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which does two things: 1) Helps communications agencies grow and manage business, improve client relationships, and enhance team performance, communications and leadership skills. It does so via training and consulting; and 2) Empowers corporate and agency PR, and corporate communications leaders and executives to breakthrough results by becoming more inspired and inspiring leaders. He is also a strategic advisor to the Prosper Group.  You can email him here.  

Call For Entries: Counselors Toronto 2018

You've worked hard to build expertise and knowledge - now is the time to share it! The 2018 Counselors Academy Conference will take place from May 6-8 in the beautiful city of Toronto. We are actively building a new conference program that will help agency leaders grow and succeed. Here's where you come in: it's time to take what you know and share it with your colleagues. Our Call for Presentations is now open and will close on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. 

Please visit this link to apply. 

When A Client Leaves: How to Learn from Losing

By Greg Abel


If there’s a single message that’s been drilled into my head from attending the annual Counselors Academy conference the past five years, it’s this: all of your clients will eventually leave. That’s not a terribly uplifting thought, is it? But knowing that simple fact will do wonders to drive behavior in order to maintain a successful and profitable business. Anticipating client turnover can help agency leaders focus on important activities such as: