D.C. PR Pro Joe Kovacs, APR Shares Thoughts on Accreditation, the Profession, D.C.

How cool is this: A few years ago, a fellow public relations professional who was planning to pursue the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential reached out for advice.  He was living in Denver at the time, and he learned about my passion for the credential by reading some articles I wrote that was published in PRSA Tactics, perhaps this one.

I was, of course, flattered, and of course, I offered my assistance. The guy in question, Joe Kovacs, APR, is the subject of this question and answer post from the PRDude.  Since our initial  communication via phone, Joe and I have met in person during business meetings I’ve attended in Washington, D.C., most recently chronicled in this recent “travelogue.”

Here’s what Joe — Director of Marketing for a Bethesda, Maryland-based CPA firm — had to say about his career, Accreditation and what’s taking place on the national political scene and his burgeoning career as a fiction writer.

Joe Kovacs, APR

Joe Kovacs, APR

1. What are the biggest challenges you face when managing communications for Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman, CPAs, which has a large, diverse client base?

You have to do the best job possible segmenting your communications. That’s a huge challenge. You can send ANY client helpful information about personal taxes, since everyone has to pay Uncle Sam. But business owners won’t benefit or even find interesting the same material as nonprofit executives. So you really do need to dig deep into the demographics of EACH of these distinct audiences, think about what matters to them and develop customized messages for distribution that will help them find solutions to their problems or build on success they already enjoy.

Another huge challenge is bridging internal communications gaps. Every professional in a fast-paced work environment tends to focus on their personal work and goals, and may not sufficiently consider the importance of sharing information internally among various stakeholders for a project. This can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and tension. I see one of my jobs as keeping an eye out for those gaps and providing communications to stakeholders whom no one thought to contact about some new item of interest to our firm. It’s a small thing, but when you can keep everyone on the same page, it really does work miracles.

2. How has earning the APR and what you learned during the process contributed to crafting strategies to meet the firm’s communications goals?
One book I read when I was studying for my APR was Strategic Planning for Public Relations by Ron Smith. I think that book, more than any other, pushed me from being a tactician to a strategist. It really broke down all the different roles of communications professionals within an organization, which gave me a vivid sense of the different between someone who just does something and someone who thinks about what is the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t studied for my APR.

The other factor that turned me into a strategist for my firm is the APR test itself. It was an amazing test. Anyone who is going the route of accreditation should prepare themselves for the reality that it isn’t about rote memorization. You have to absorb knowledge and learn to think like a strategist because the APR test essentially gives you various fictional scenarios and it’s the “thinking” you developed during the study process that will serve you when you choose your answers. Really, I can’t say enough about the resources that PRSA encourages you to study or the intelligence behind the testing format, which helped me grow into a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

3. Speaking of Accreditation, we became acquainted when you reached out for guidance on the APR process after reading article I wrote for the PRSA Tactics magazine. Have you inspired others in your market to pursue the APR?

I don’t know that I have directly inspired anyone to say okay, yes, I’m going to go for it. But I have had some friends who decided to pursue Accreditation and one of the first things they told me they did was reach out to me for advice because they knew I had already gone through the process. I will say, though, that I think any communications victories you achieve on your employer will reflect on the value of the APR.

Not long after I became Accredited, I joined the public relations committee of a membership association. The following year, I was asked to be chair. The year after that, I was asked to be on the organization’s board of directors. That was an incredibly flattering experience, and I attribute whatever success people think I may have had, to my accreditation training. When the board launched a strategic communication committee late last year, guess who was selected to be the board liaison to that committee? And we have had some successes in media relations since then that I know have got some people excited. I regularly list the APR after my name (including on my LinkedIn profile) so whenever people look at how I’ve become more involved in the association, I hope they also notice the APR and think…hey, I wonder if that can help me out, too. I would be excited if anyone did that and ended up pursuing accreditation.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

4. You work in metropolitan Washington, D.C. — the center of the national debate on all things taking place in the nation. Do you get very involved in the conversation? And, who do you plan to vote for in November?

Yeah, you know, this city doesn’t have the best reputation. Washingtonians are often considered rude, short and ambitious, and they’re only interested in you if you can help them get where they want to go professionally. I wish I could say that’s completely untrue, but there is some truth to it. With that said, though, a lot of the fiery personalities are individuals with big hearts pursuing some fantastic causes. D.C. is a nonprofit mecca simply because with Congress here, you have a lot of groups that send their government relations people up to Capitol Hill to advocate for this and that. I did that; I worked for several nonprofits, including once as the media relations coordinator on the government relations team of an educational nonprofit. The other side of that coin then is that you may have some cold, ambitious people, but many of them are committed to making the world a better place, and that’s the side of D.C. that people should consider more often, in my humble opinion. As for who I would vote for, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal politics. But two candidate who are NOT running who it would have been interesting to see are Joe Biden on the left and Paul Ryan on the right.

5. And, when we visited last you shared some insight into your fiction writing. Would you care to share some further insight about you chief character and why you’re taking on this “second career?

Wow. Second career may be too strong a word at this point. But yes, I did just publish a literary novel independently. My main character is a Border Patrol agent in Arizona. I intentionally chose someone very different from me–meaning, I’m not from Arizona and had little knowledge about the Southwest when I first started this project–so that the writing wouldn’t become derivative and end up as some barely disguised autobiography. I think I succeeded in that regard. I am well into the first draft of another novel that takes place in Wichita, Kansas in the early 1900s. Again, I think by choosing a different location and time period, I can focus on how to build a good story rather than by writing about myself. I have always had a vivid imagination. That hasn’t gone away with time and I enjoy being excited about a lot of things and being child-like occasionally. One should never lose one’s zest for life and personal creation is a great way to keep the fires burning.

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Antonio Hernandez: Providing a Global Voice in Modern Communications

Strategic communicators know that understanding and targeting your audience is one key element that leads to success in building a brand, mitigating a crisis or generating awareness for a product or service.

From a textbook public relations perspective, it’s called “defining your publics.” But that’s a subject for another day.

Antonio Hernandez.

Antonio Hernandez.

Today we’ll hear from an expert who manages communications programs for clients in the multicultural market. Our Q&A guest, Antonio Hernandez, is managing partner of Globovoz Communications, a Chicago consultancy that concentrates on communications for consumer products companies.

I’ll share that I served with Antonio on the PRSA Chicago Board of Directors, and he invited me to moderate a panel discussion in late April. I could share more about this outstanding professional, but I’ll let Antonio take it from here.

Below you’ll find Antonio’s responses to five questions.

1. Your bachelor’s degree is in business administration and psychology. Where did you turn the corner and start working as a public relations professional?

I remember that I was always interested in writing and the practice of public relations. I often found myself exploring PR as a professional career throughout my college years. While working on my undergraduate degree at the University of the Incarnate Word, I served as business editor for The Logos, our campus newspaper, and was named Outstanding Communicator by my graduating class. At some point, I was encouraged by one of my professors to apply for an internship with a local PR agency. From there, I completed another internship with the PR department at VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority, San Antonio’s public transit system. Upon receiving my bachelor’s degree, the company offered me my first professional PR job.

After my early start in PR, I was fortunate to have worked with three Fortune 100 companies: McDonald’s, Abbott and Exelon, before opening my own global business advisory firm, Globovoz, which is a Spanish-language expression for “global voice”.

Still today, I channel my studies in psychology and human relations when exploring barriers to effective communications and to come up with combined solutions for clients.

2. You have a tremendous resume in the corporate side of public relations, having provided counsel for household names like McDonald’s Corporation and Abbot Laboratories, among others. What insight can you offer practitioners representing clients of more modest size? What strategies, skills, experiences apply to both local and global clients?

When I lecture on multicultural public relations, I tell students that most companies today, regardless of their size, are focused on having a global reach with a local impact. To that end, what is most important for PR practitioners today is to know the business inside and out and to be diligent about building relationships across divisions, geographic areas and with key internal stakeholders.

I have seen the value corporate senior management places on strategic PR counsel evolve over the last couple of decades. This is why PR pros need to get up to speed on what’s going on in the business world that could negatively impact their brand or client. From what I have observed – skills and experiences aside, PR professionals flourish in their careers when they are viewed as trusted advisers and this outcome is built one relationship at a time.

3. Globovoz Communications provides communications GLOBOVOZ final logo-1for “multicultural consumer segments,” as noted on your website. Do you face the same challenges in the multicultural market as communicators representing clients in the “general public” market (if that even still exists)?

Based on my experience in the corporate sector and on now on the agency side, I believe there is still work to be done when it comes to prioritizing and allocating corporate budgets to support multicultural versus general market PR programs. Some brands are doing a great job at understanding where their greatest market growth will be and apply the necessary financial and management resources to their PR teams. Based on my consulting work today, these are companies that have a vested interest in building brand trust and external relationships with diverse and emerging consumer segments, such as Hispanic, LGBT and millennial.

I also counsel clients that multicultural consumers will continue to grow and will demand a new set of engagement touch points when it comes to building market relationships in the future. In fact, research shows America of the 21st Century will be the most pluralistic, multicultural nation on earth with ethnic ties to every part of the globe, and by 2042, ethnic consumers will make up more than half of the U.S. population.

When it comes to multicultural PR, I also caution clients about the notion of a “total market” or “cross-cultural” approach when trying to connect with many different consumers with one full sweep. Successful marketers know that leveraging powerful cultural cues relevant to specific ethnic consumer groups can establish brand loyalty with multicultural consumers over many generations.

4. We’ve read about pioneers and innovators in mainstream public relations, advertising and other communications disciplines. Who would you rank as pioneers in the multicultural side of the industry?

One person who immediately comes to mind is John Echeveste, a true Hispanic PR pioneer and someone I have learned a great deal from. I met John when I was leading U.S. Hispanic public relations for McDonald’s and he was a partner with Valencia, Perez & Echeveste – the company’s national Hispanic agency of record.

More than 31 years ago, John also was a founding member of the Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA). Today, HPRA is the nation’s largest and premier national network of Hispanic public relations, marketing and advertising professionals with chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C. I currently serve as National President-Elect for HPRA and look forward to expanding our association’s influence and outreach in the U.S. and globally.

John also received the Public Relations Society of America Pioneer Award in 1994, and was named one of the top 100 Corporate Influentials by Hispanic Business magazine in 2010. In 2003-2004, he served as president of the Public Relations Global Network, an association of 40 worldwide PR agencies.

5. What three issues — political, cultural, technological, etc. — will impact multicultural communications in the next five years?

Talent. Talent. Talent. Leading brands that want to build relationships in diverse and emerging markets around the world know it begins with recruiting, developing and retaining talent reflecting their client population. These companies know they can develop the most robust marketing plans, but at the end of the day, consumers want to trust and do business with companies who understand them from different economic, political and cultural perspectives.

I continue to counsel clients that they must define and market an employee experience that will resonate with new generations of workers whose opinions are shaped by globalization, cultural preferences, inclusion, social media and a brand’s corporate citizenship.

* * *

Did you enjoy this post? Want more insight from another outstanding professional?  Read this Q&A post from December of 2013 featuring Elena del Valle.

Thoughts on Accreditation from Anne O’Connell, APR: A Q & A

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)\

For the past few years, one way I gave back to the public relations profession was to help nurture professionals who were pursuing the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential through my volunteer work on behalf of PRSA Chicago.

I’m pleased and proud to share these thoughts from Anne O’Connell, APR, a Chicago area communications professional who participated in the Chapter training program in 2014 and earned the APR earlier this year.

Here’s Anne’s unedited replies to my questions regarding the APR challenge.

1.   Congratulations again on earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential. What was the most challenging part of the APR process?APR 50th

Thank you, and again, I appreciate your help. It’s hard to pick just one most challenging aspect as the overall process is taxing.  At first, I was worried about the timing of the research and my case study.  How would that mesh with my readiness review and the timing, based on the year, during which to take the examination?  Michael Henry (of Online2Learn, producer of the APR online study program) also was helpful in reassuring me that my timeline was doable. The case study does require a lot of mental energy, but it’s worth it. 

 2.   How do you plan to use the knowledge, skills and abilities learned from the APR process in your work?

I already have been using the KSAs in my current position.  I have been informally mentoring my staff in the best practices I’ve learned.  I work at an all-girls private high school and have started a club for students interested in public relations, journalism, graphic design and related fields.  I have shared some of my new knowledge with these students, as well.

ChgPRSA150325EdwardBuryAnneO'Connell-1

Anne O’Connell, APR, was recognized for earning Accreditation by PRSA Chicago at the Chapter breakfast March 25. Oh, and that’s me at left.

 3.   Can you provide a brief overview of the experience at the ProMetric Testing Center? Were you intimidated in any way by the rigid testing process?

I checked out the ProMetric center prior to my testing day.  The staff were helpful and explained how things would work.  I wasn’t intimidated.  In fact, one thing I found slightly amusing, on the morning I took the exam, was the staff told me if I went into the testing center with my zip-up sweatshirt on (over a T-shirt), I’d have to keep it on for the duration of the test.  Other tidbits were I could not take Kleenex into the testing area, nor could I take a couple of cough drops I had in my sweatshirt pocket. Now, I would not cheat, but even if I were so inclined, there is no way one could put cheat notes on a cough drop wrapper! 

All that aside, the test itself was situation after situation – very much process based, as all had indicated.  Each screen gives you a scenario and then multiple-choice answers.  I took a break to get a drink of water about half-way through.  The time seemed to go quickly, though I did not feel rushed and had extra time than I needed to finish.  I found some of the answers to slightly contradict what I had learned, but I chose the most logical answers that were closest to being what I considered being correct. I only marked a few questions to return to ponder further, but when I did so, I left the answers as I originally had them.

4.   The numbers tell the story: The APR program has been in decline, and PRSA has launched a concerted program to boost participation by professionals. What do you think needs to be done to get more professionals to pursue Accreditation?

I’m not up on what has been considered or done, but perhaps college/university professors could be engaged to help encourage students to pursue the APR once they are eligible. It occurs to me, though, having just met a young professional that the timing is interesting.  Once graduating from college, s/he needs five years in the profession.  That timing roughly puts people around the age of getting married and then perhaps having children.  Maybe there is a way to quantify that the APR enhances one’s earning potential, and that could be promoted extensively.

5.   In 50 words or less, give a shout out on why all serious PR professionals should consider earning the APR.

I highly recommend that serious PR professionals earn the APR.  I am much more strategic, valuable and confident.  I wish I would have pursued my APR earlier in my career. One of my goals now is to directly encourage colleagues I know and then mentor them through the process.

More Thoughts on Ethics and PR Pop Quiz Deconstructed

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Don’t you wish all exams were this easy?

Well, hopefully, those who took last week’s quiz on ethics in public relations found my three questions to be within their grasp.  But before we get to the an analysis of the quiz, two thoughts on ethics.

Ethics_signTechnology — The Great Equalizer and Enabler

The ability to tweet, broadcast, post and publish in real time makes it easy and convenient to call out situations where ethics are breached. That goes for lapses in ethical standards in the public relations profession, as well as in just about every other industry. That’s good.

But from another perspective, the ability for anyone to tweet, broadcast, post and publish could create and certainly exacerbate situations where ethics are compromised.  The take away: An effective public relations program — including an up-to-date crisis communications plan — is essential to mitigate damage resulting from a breach of ethics.

Who’s in Charge of Managing Ethics?

The modern workplace is a much, much different place than it was not too long ago.  In the past, alleged ethics violations more than likely were handled by the boss or management team.  Today, some companies have employed an ethics officer, a senior staff person who becomes “the organization’s internal control point for ethics and improprieties allegations complaints and conflicts of interest,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Conglomerates and publicly-traded entities can afford to pay — and certainly need — staff dedicated to ethics. But what about smaller businesses, local governments, start-up firms? Are there people with the right skill set who can “freelance” ethical counsel?

Now, back to last week’s questions:

1.  You’re the account manager for a new client landed by your agency.  During the first face-to-face meeting with the client, you want t0 capture everything that’s discussed; so you record the conversation — but don’t tell the client or your colleagues.

Is this a breach of PRSA ethics?  If so, which provision?

Answer: Yes, of course it is!  This surreptitious action violates open disclosure of information by being a deceptive practice.

2.  ABC Amalgamated is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As the director of communications, one of your responsibilities is to order logo merchandise for use at anniversary events.  Your old friend, a fraternity brother, owns a promotional products company in town.  The friend offers your company a discount to get the order. You ask your superior if you could do business with your friend.

Are you violating any ethical standards?  If so, which one?

Answer: No. As long as the boss is aware of your relationship with the vendor, there’s nothing wrong with this type of transaction. There would be an issue if you got a kick back or gift.

3.  As head of business development, you’re asked by agency leaders to complete a new business RFP.  The prospective client is a manufacturer of an agricultural product that is under investigation by the EPA for being unsafe.  Before the RFP is due, you learn though a source at the EPA that the product will be approved.

Answer:  This is a tough one, but I say “yes.”  The way the information constitutes a potential conflict of interest and stifles open competition.

As this post is published, there’s just a few hours left in the month of September, PRSA Ethics Month.  Did you have to cope with any ethical challenges recently?

Think You Got a Grasp on PR Ethics? Take This Pop Quiz

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Just like a structure is built upon a foundation, the practice of public relations is built upon a foundation, too.

It’s called ethics.

And, anyone who purports to provide public relations counsel should have a solid grasp of established ethical standards and guidelines.  What’s more, serious PR professionals should identify and call out those who violate the rules.

After all, without adherence to sound ethical principles, public relations devolves into hucksterism, or worse, propaganda.

PRSA_RGB_234781_altSo, how well do you know what’s within the boundaries of ethics in public relations today?  In recognition of PRSA Ethics Month, spend a few minutes taking this pop quiz courtesy of the PRDude.

I’ll provide the answers later. Or write a comment and share your thoughts.

If you need a refresher, read the current PRSA State of Professional Values and Provisions of Conduct.

And, for the record: I am a member of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of the Board of Directors of PRSA Chicago.  (What Provision does this statement fall under?)

1.  You’re the account manager for a new client landed by your agency.  During the first face-to-face meeting with the client, you want t0 capture everything that’s discussed; so you record the conversation — but don’t tell the client or your colleagues.

Is this a breach of ethics?  If so, which provision?

2.  ABC Amalgamated is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As the director of communications, one of your responsibilities is to order logo merchandise for use at anniversary events.  Your old friend, a fraternity brother, owns a promotional products company in town.  The friend offers your company a discount to get the order. You ask your superior if you could do business with your friend.

Are you violating any ethical standards?  If so, which one?

3.  As head of business development, you’re asked by agency leaders to complete a new business RFP.  The prospective client is a manufacturer of an agricultural product that is under investigation by the EPA for being unsafe.  Before the RFP is due, you learn though a source at the EPA that the product will be approved.

Does the PRSA provision of safeguarding confidences apply here?

These should be fairly easy for most of us in the industry, and it should be noted I figuratively pulled these scenarios out of thin air.

Want some more challenging ethics-themed questions? Take this challenging test prepared earlier this year by the Detroit PRSA Chapter.  And, another full disclosure: I didn’t get all 10 questions correct.

Want more on ethics?

Read this post from earlier this year on the question of ethics involving generations.

 

 

 

Shameless Self-Promotion: A Post on Accreditation Published by PRSA Chicago

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This post most assuredly will be short.

Very short.

The reason: I want you to read this post, one published last week as the debut to Insights, a blog hosted by my friends and colleagues at PRSA Chicago.

APR 50thIn the post, “Get Serious About Public Relations and Your Career: Earn the APR Because You Want To,” I make a case for earning the credential and cite some personal thoughts and insight.

Accredited PR professionals — and I’m sure many, many other communicators — understand and support the concept of open disclosure in the ethical practice of public relations.  Here goes:  I’m the 2014 Chapter Accreditation Chair and hopefully my thoughts will inspire others.

So please read the post — the one noted above, I mean.  The post is relevant now because the APR turns 50 this year, and PRSA christened April at Accreditation Month.  But I hope all serious practitioners will consider Accreditation at some point in their careers.

If you’re Accredited, share why you pursued the APR.

If you’d like to read more of my musings on Accreditation, here are some other posts to consider:

 

APR Training Year Two: Guiding the Next Generation

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Aside from getting a permanent tattoo of the APR logo, I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate my commitment to the Accreditation in Public Relations program and the public relations profession than by helping fellow public relations professionals earn the credential.

APR_logoStarting next week, I’ll have that opportunity through my position as Accreditation chair and board member at PRSA Chicago.  Yes, I’ll be co-teaching a six-session program designed to nurture, inspire, cajole — hey, threaten if I have to (kidding, of course) — local colleagues who plan to take on the challenge of the APR program this year — the 50th year of Accreditation.

One may ask, “Why?”  Why allocate time and energy to the APR? Well, regular readers of The PRDude have read often about my passion for the credential and my unwavering belief in its value to elevate a practitioner from a tactician who knows how to a true strategist, a valued counselor who knows why.

Now, here’s perhaps a better question: Why would anyone with right mind want to pursue public relations as a career?Stress

According to this article from a leading industry publication, “public relations executive” ranks as the sixth most stressful job in America.  This is purported to be a statistically valid report, but I don’t see underwater welder or long-haul trucker anywhere in the top 10 list. ( As far as I know, no one in PR is submerged and clutching a torch while working or has to motor mile upon mile in a vehicle that’s 50 feet long with up to 18 speeds.)

But, for certain, working in public relations for a few decades can result in a few grey hairs and facial wrinkles.

I won’t ask the four candidates why they’re in the profession.  I will ask if they understand the challenges ahead, and if they’re prepared to work hard to earn the APR.  Without question, I will point out that Accreditation was the best thing this former journalist did career wise.

And, I have the grey hairs and wrinkles to prove it.

Want more from The PRDude on Accreditation?