Avoid the Risks and Costs of an Outdated Crisis Communications Plan

By Mike Hatcliffe, President, The Hatcliffe Group LLC

When was the last time you updated your crisis plan?

Next week you can get a glimpse into a Fortune 100 company that got its crisis preparedness right – the insurer Allstate in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

On Wednesday, May 16, PRSA Tampa Bay is hosting a luncheon program on Disaster Communications, a timely and mission-critical topic for area PR and communications professionals as hurricane season approaches. Sponsored by In Case of Crisis, an award-winning crisis management platform, the program will share firsthand experience on what it takes to access and activate a plan amid a rapidly unfolding crisis.

So how good is your crisis preparedness plan?

Go and take a look at it right now.

If the last revisions were dated more than two years ago, you are in trouble.

There is a high probability that your plan will not serve you well should you face a real crisis, in a world where digital media drives threats at lightning speed – and in which online and social media is the source of so many reputation and business crises.

And where was the plan when you went looking for it?

Buried deep in the files on your computer? In a dusty 3-ring binder on a shelf? On a flash-drive in a forgotten pocket of your bag?

Or maybe you didn’t know whether you had the latest version.

Now take a look at the content of the plan.

Do the plan’s procedures, processes and resources reflect the digital world?

Does the plan recognize old and new sources of risk, including online and social media?

Does it place digital tools and resources in the hands of your crisis team so it can respond with the effectiveness and speed to match the threat’s scope and velocity?

And what about the specific crisis scenarios covered by the plan – as well as traditional threats such as extreme weather, cyber security, and product and service problems? Does it identify and deal with newer sources of risk from cultural, social and political issues?

There are huge costs and risks with an old, outdated crisis plan.

You really don’t want to find out that your plan is useless at that moment when a very real crisis is upon your organization, threatening your customers, employees and reputation.

While we all hope for the best, you want to make sure that you’ve planned for the worst. Please join us next week for some real-world lessons on what that looks like from our colleagues at Allstate. 

“Disaster Communications: A Look Inside A Fortune 100 Company’s Playbook,” hosted by PRSA Tampa Bay and sponsored by In Case of Crisis, takes place Wednesday, May 16, at Brio Tuscan Grille, Bay Street at International Plaza. Check-in and networking begin at 11:30 a.m. Click here to register now.


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PRSA Tampa Bay's Volunteers of the Month – Quarter One

Every month, PRSA Tampa Bay recognizes an outstanding volunteer whose hard work has significantly served our members and helped to make our chapter even stronger. In the first quarter of 2018, we celebrated the following contributors:

January -- Kaity Eagle

Kaity Eagle served as the programs chair in 2017 and is being recognized as January’s Volunteer of the Month. Kaity coordinated all the details for a wonderful holiday mixer at Flemings, providing an excellent way to end the year. She also put together an informative and well-attended cybersecurity program in November. She chose a new afternoon time slot, which will serve as a model for a June 2018 program focusing on stakeholder engagement and the Imagine Clearwater campaign.

February -- Liz Taylor

February’s Volunteer of the Month is the 2018 programs chair, Liz Taylor. A freelance content writer and marketing professional, Liz specializes in translating complex topics into compelling content that engages target audiences. She planned engaging and popular programs early in the year, including a PR Career Panel and an Internal Communications program. Her great ideas and energy are evident in the great programming planned for the year. Contact Liz with ideas and questions for PRSA Programs at or on LinkedIn.    

March -- Nancy Gay, APR

Congratulations to Nancy Gay, APR, for being identified as March’s Volunteer of the Month. She has hit the ground running as new social chair taking the initiative to pitch and test new strategies for tackling event registrations and member engagement. Her team - half of whom are committee veterans and half of whom are brand-new chapter members - are already growing social media referrals to our website each month.

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PRSA Tampa Bay Recognizes Future Practitioners’ Academic Excellence at USF Awards Ceremony

(From Lto R) Sara Sturgess, Ashleigh White, Emilee Wyatt (John Cassato Scholarship), Kirk Hazlett, Tyler McConnell (Walter E. Griscti Scholarship), Alexandra Purcell, Katie Cafiero.

Edward L. Bernays, arguably the “Father of Public Relations,” had this to say about public relations education in his 1961 book “Your Future in Public Relations”…“If an individual is to give advice to others, he should have knowledge and understanding.”

Honoring its long-standing tradition of recognizing up-and-coming public relations professionals for their stellar pursuit of “knowledge and understanding,” PRSA Tampa Bay presented two scholarships to two outstanding University of South Florida students, Emmilee Wyatt and Tyler McConnell, at the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications “Honors and Awards Banquet” on April 19.

The “John Cassato Scholarship” is awarded in memory of John Cassato, a former public affairs officer of the Jim Walter Corporation, and the “Walter E. Griscti Scholarship” is awarded in memory of USF professor emeritus Walter E. Griscti, APR.” Each requires residency in the 15-county West Coast area served by PRSA Tampa Bay, a 3.0 overall GPA, enrollment in 12 or more hours at USF, and enrollment in or completion of at least one public relations course.

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, a recently-retired public relations professor himself, represented PRSA Tampa Bay at the ceremony.

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Member Spotlight: Justin Herndon

This Member Spotlight profiles Justin Herndon, manager on the National Media Relations and Issues Management team for Allstate and a licensed insurance agent in the state of Florida, and 2018 treasurer of PRSA Tampa Bay. Justin joined the chapter in 2013, has served as a member of the Sponsorship Committee and the Digital Communications Committee, and is currently serving as 2018 co-chair of the Sponsorship Committee.  

1. First news publication you read in the morning?

I open the Google News app on my phone before I even get out of bed. I like the variety of sources and content I get access to each morning, from international to national to even local news outlets.

2. First public relations job?

I was the first employee hired by Selig Multimedia – a boutique PR firm started by former longtime Fox 13 reporter Glenn Selig – and helped build the business from the ground up in the areas of sales development, news release writing, and search engine optimization, as well as local and national publicity, all the way up to co-directing the national media blitz of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. I also helped hire and onboard three new employees – one of whom is now an ESPN SportsCenter anchor, Randy Scott; another who is living in China and freelancing for NPR, Patrick Flanary; and another who is still in PR and a Tampa Bay chapter board member, Kim Polacek.

3. Most important career mentor, and why?

Before PR, I was a TV news reporter, and my news director in Fort Myers, John Emmert, was a constant source of knowledge and calm who taught through his leadership and not just about news. He mentored countless journalists who now work across the country and who still talk about his impact on their lives; and I’m fortunate enough to still be in contact with him and see him once a year in Las Vegas, where he retired several years ago.

4. Top grammar, style or writing pet peeve?

“More than” versus “over.” I know AP Style finally gave in and says either one is fine, but “more than” my dead body, I say. :)

5. Most rewarding accomplishment in public relations?

Last year, Allstate received an email from a customer who said her dad, who had died more than 20 years ago, had been in a TV commercial for Allstate in the ‘70s, and she was trying to find the video to surprise her brother at his wedding. I pushed and prodded my way through a lot of channels and not only got the video but found some behind-the-scenes footage with their dad, and I was able to surprise the family in person in an event that become an award-winning story picked up by multiple national news outlets.

6. Advice to new public relations professionals?

Build and maintain as many relationships as you can, and nurture them by checking in even when you don’t need a thing. I got started late in my PR career, but I carried over strong contacts from my time in news, and it’s amazing how many opportunities I have to call on old contacts that still take my call because I took the time to cultivate the relationship.

7. Job you would pursue if you weren’t in public relations?

Aside from continuing my news career, I would pursue politics (against the wishes of my wife). I love building relationships and trying to make a difference for the greater good, and I’m also not good enough at golf to make that a career.

8. Favorite movie?

The Shawshank Redemption.

9. Favorite vacation?

My wife and I went to Norway before we had kids, where we went dogsledding in the Arctic Circle and saw the northern lights. Yes, it was brutally cold, but absolutely worth it.

10. Any three dinner guests?

Morgan Freeman, my favorite actor; Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time; and my great-grandmother on my dad’s side, a full-blooded Choctaw Indian who could teach me more about the Native American culture of my family.

My family.

Making new friends in Norway.

My wife and I get ready to hit the trail on our Norway trip.

The northern lights were an unforgettable sight and one-of-a-kind memento to take away from the Arctic Circle.

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Are You ‘Social’ Enough?

By: Kirk Hazlett

It seems like I’m hearing this more and more every day about the “importance of social media,” usually prefaced by “You really need to be active on …”

If you’re the target of this “helpful observation,” the first piece of unsolicited advice I offer is to ask (politely), “Why? Why do I have to be on …?”

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about you and your particular needs as a communicator.

The “bright, shiny object” syndrome seems to still be alive and well today when it comes to social media. Clients and bosses alike are running around yelping, “It’s new. I have to have it.” But slow down a minute and ask yourself, “Who are our target audiences, and how do they get their information?”

In my most recent transformation as a PR professional-turned-PR professor, I learned the importance of this initial research step early on in classroom communications. I reasoned that I had a school-assigned email account and my students had school-assigned email accounts so email was the way we should communicate outside the classroom.

However, when I actually implemented this system, I got crickets!

Nothing most of the time. Not a peep.

Then, one day, I was on Facebook posting my usual annoying weather updates and other mostly-useless stuff. I just happened to glance at the contacts listing on the right and noticed that a particular student, who I had tried unsuccessfully to contact via email (and with whom I was connected on Facebook), was online.

All it took was a click and a quick “Hi! ?” to get a meek “Yes, Professor?” from the culprit.

The moral of this story is, “If you want to reach and communicate with your target audiences, you need to know their information-gathering habits.” And, speaking as a Baby Boomer myself, that might still include traditional print and broadcast media.

But back to your social status …

Being “social” is a commitment. It’s not an “Oh well, it’s May; I should change my ‘Merry Christmas’ posting” kind of thing. You need to establish a schedule of regular postings on whichever platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a blog, etc.) you select as your avenues for communicating.

And, it’s not about lurking in the shadows spying on others’ activity. Being “social” is about communicating with others, making relevant comments on their posts, posting your own observations,  engaging as an intelligent human being that others can and will want to relate to. They expect you to be visible, viable and valuable.

So, homework time.

  • Who is your target audience? What are their demographics?
  • How/where does your target audience get information? Traditional media? Social media? A combination of the two?
  • What are your objectives? Building awareness? Driving foot traffic? Generating leads?
  • What is your product or service? Which platforms best support your objectives for it?
  • What is your message relating to your product or service? Which platforms (traditional or social) allow you to effectively convey that message?
  • Who will have responsibility for generating your social media content and then monitoring the conversations that will arise as a result of or in response to your messaging?


Once you’ve done your homework, you’re ready to implement your social activities.

Social media can be a blessing, a curse or, in some cases, both! You need to give serious thought to your ability to effectively and efficiently incorporate those platforms that best support your goals and objectives and then commit to developing and maintaining a visible presence.

And finally, sit back, take a deep breath and monitor traffic (responses or reactions to your message). As the Boy Scout motto says so well, “Be prepared.”

Dose of reality here: Not everyone is going to fall all googly-eyed in love with you. You will have detractors. You will have people posting snarky remarks about you, about your product or service, about virtually anything.

You will have to make a determination as to how you will (or if you should) respond. Be prudent, and remember: what you say and how you say it will be interpreted differently by any- and everyone who visits your site. First impressions are lasting impressions, so think carefully before you respond if you choose to do so.

So there you have it. It’s the 21st Century. Communicating with your target audiences is morphing at Star-Trekian “warp speed.” Take a moment to focus on your methods of getting your message to your markets and answer this one simple question: Are you ‘social’ enough?

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Deadline Extended: PRSA Sunshine District Conference Member-Only Scholarship

As a benefit to our valued chapter members, PRSA Tampa Bay is offering two $575 scholarships for chapter members to attend the 2018 Sunshine District Conference. This year’s conference is July 12 -14 at the Wyndham Grand Harbourside in Jupiter, Fla. Learn more about the conference here.

To apply, complete the online scholarship application found here.

About the scholarship: The scholarship recipients will be required to perform a volunteer role during the conference. Be sure to indicate in your application which role(s) you are willing to perform, if you are awarded a scholarship. The Tampa Bay Chapter scholarship will cover the registration fee and reimburse up to $300 for lodging and travel. Recipients will need to submit receipts to the PRSA Tampa Bay chapter treasurer for reimbursement after the conference.

Deadline to apply: 5 p.m., Wednesday, May 2.

Judging: A selection committee from another PRSA chapter will review and choose the scholarship recipients based on merit and need.

Winners will be notified by May 11.

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Public Relations Students Gain Firsthand Experience in Motorsports

By Katie Cafiero and Jessica Martinez, USF PRSSA

The Firestone Grand Prix, which served as the IndyCar season opener, transformed the streets of downtown St. Petersburg into a racetrack. The weekend-long event kicked off on March 9, and the city was buzzing with excitement. Thousands gathered to watch the races and check out the events. 

Unlike most of the volunteers, we had never even been to a race before. If you would have asked us what an IndyCar was, we would have stood dumbfounded. But our interest dramatically shifted when Bart Graham, Firestone Grand Prix Media Center Leader, invited us to volunteer at the event. Needless to say, we did not hesitate to accept! As aspiring public relations professionals, we were eager to gain firsthand experience working for a major sporting event.

The Mahaffey Theater turned into a working media center, housing journalists and photographers for the duration of race weekend. We had the opportunity to watch live press conferences, distribute race results to the media and transport drivers to their interviews. Not only did we gain experience in the career path of our interest, we were also able to meet some of the people behind it all like the Senior Manager for National Media Outreach of IndyCar. The experience opened our eyes to the busy, yet exciting world of sports public relations. More importantly, we were able to apply our knowledge outside of the classroom.

Our favorite part of the weekend, though, was getting to experience the racetrack firsthand. On Sunday, we were quickly ushered to the track when we arrived at the Mahaffey at 7:30 am. There, we suited up in a HANS device and were escorted into a car to take one (very quick) lap around the track for a test run. As soon as the car doors shut, we were off! We blinked our eyes and crossed the finish line. It’s difficult to describe the experience. It’s a mixture of the kind of adrenaline rush you get on a roller coaster and the surge of anxiety you get when you’re a passenger in your 16-year-old brother’s car. Nevertheless, it was an exciting experience we will certainly never forget.

We would like to thank Bart, our PRSA Tampa Bay “mentor for the weekend,” for giving us insight into the world of IndyCar and all that it has to offer. His love and knowledge of the sport was able to give us the most valuable experience possible. We are both looking forward to applying our newfound knowledge of this industry to our future endeavors.



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The Path to Accreditation

By Paula MacDonald

April is APR month, and I’ve had the honor of serving as PRSA Tampa Bay’s Accreditation co-chair with Katy Parsons, APR for the past three years. We’ve helped to guide seven candidates on their Accreditation journey and look forward to working with six more chapter members this year in our 2018 study group cohort.

The decision to work toward Accreditation is a personal one that can take on many different forms. Our chapter has a comprehensive seven-week program that offers an opportunity for candidates to work alongside one another and support each other in their APR journey. Other opportunities to learn include the online APR course, a rigorous three-day APR boot camp offered periodically by PRSA National and, of course, self-study.

Regardless of the chosen path, the end result of this preparation is the completion of an extensive questionnaire and portfolio presentation in front of a peer-reviewed panel, followed by a comprehensive 132-question computer-based examination. Passing both of these hurdles earns candidates the privilege of adding “APR” to their signature and profoundly changes the way that they look at public relations planning and execution.

The APR is a testament of one’s professional expertise, ethics and personal commitment to the public relations industry. Any practitioner with a minimum of five years of professional experience in public relations who is a member of PRSA or one of eight other public relations organizations recognized by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) is qualified to apply for Accreditation.

Reasons for seeking this voluntary certification vary among candidates. For many, public relations might not be the curriculum that they studied in college, and these individuals find the depth of the APR program valuable in affirming and reinforcing what they may have learned on the job. For others, becoming Accredited offers new opportunities in career advancement and credibility among other industry professionals.

In an era where the reputation of the public relations practitioner is often on the line due to near daily misdeeds of highly visible “spinmasters,” the significance of differentiating oneself as an Accredited professional is more prudent than ever. By abiding by and adhering to a certain set of defined ethical standards, APRs tell the world that they care about doing the right thing and are committed to excellence and advancing the industry as a whole.

In the Tampa Bay Chapter of PRSA, we are proud to have nearly one-third of our chapter certified as Accredited public relations practitioners; the highest percentage of APRs in the state. This group of professionals is committed to their craft and to supporting other chapter members in beginning their APR journey when the time is right.

If you are interested in learning more about Accreditation, or would like to join our 2018 study group, there is still time. Please contact APR co-chairs Paula MacDonald, APR or Katy Parsons, APR, and visit our web page for more information. Candidates are beginning to work with APR mentors to prepare their portfolios and will be starting classes on Tuesday, June 19, following Panel Presentations.

Six Steps to Accreditation: 

  1. Apply to begin the process with PRSA.

  2. Prepare your questionnaire and portfolio with mentor guidance.

  3. Present your portfolio at peer-guided Panel Presentation.

  4. Study for exam independently or with a group.

  5. Take exam at testing center.

  6. Pass exam and celebrate your new status as an APR!


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PRSA Tampa Bay Mentors Future PR Pros at Resume Review

By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, and Joseph Priest, APR

Whether you’re a new grad, young professional or seasoned veteran, for many of us, one thing that never ceases to amaze is how working with the next generation of PR pros can re-energize our passion for our profession.

This was our experience on April 3, when, for the second year in a row, our Public Service Committee and Students Committee held a résumé review session and mixer with USF’s PRSSA chapter at the main Tampa campus.

Our effort consisted of reviewing assigned student résumés about a week in advance and then meeting with the students at the USF Marshall Student Center to discuss our impressions. We talked about everything from résumé content  selection to writing quality to organization to formatting. More broadly, though, we were able to spark some deep conversations about PR and offer real-world advice and personal anecdotes about the best ways to start and succeed in a PR career. Then, to reward everyone for their hard work, we hosted a mixer with light snacks and drinks so we could get to know each other even more.

Our team included 11 volunteers who dedicated almost an hour of their time beforehand as well as several hours of a Tuesday evening to help prepare eight students begin their first chapter in their careers. Team members included both seasoned professionals who were able to share lessons from the breadth of their careers, as well as younger professionals who were able to offer some insights from their recent experience on what to expect in the early part of a PR career.


We offer a special thank-you to these members for lending their expertise to this event:

  •          Betty Carlin, APR
  •          Bart Graham
  •          Mary Haban, APR
  •          Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA
  •          Mary Margaret Hull, APR
  •          Curtis Krueger
  •          Paula MacDonald, APR
  •          Joseph Priest, APR
  •          Jenna Stock
  •          Liz Taylor
  •          Kelsy Van Camp

Ultimately, the event involved 19 PRSA and PRSSA members and lasted a few hours, but the contribution it makes to the future of our local PR community is almost incalculable. We were able to provide up-and-coming PR practitioners with firsthand insight from a diverse mix of pros, tap into a pipeline of the latest talent to consider for our organizations’ hiring needs, and strengthen our relationship with our area’s largest PRSSA chapter. It was a rewarding experience in every way.


The event builds on last year’s résumé review and mixer that we held with USF PRSSA, and it lays a foundation for a similar effort that we hope to plan soon with the University of Tampa’s newly formed PRSSA chapter.

The Public Service Committee and Students Committee are also working on other ideas to keep our chapter involved in the community and engaged with college students this year. Please stay tuned to the PRSA Tampa Bay website for more on our upcoming events and ways in which you can participate.



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The Puck Stops Here: What I Learned From Sports PR

By Daniela Espinosa

Last Tuesday, March 27, I was fortunate to attend PRSA Tampa Bay’s event “The Puck Stops Here,” featuring marketing and communications leaders from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena. The luncheon included a panel with Bill Wickett, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brian Breseman, director of public relations, and Angela Lanza, sr. manager of event marketing. They opened the room for a discussion about their day-to-day duties, including sharing stories about overseeing public relations and marketing for one of the top sports franchises in the nation, as well one of Tampa Bay’s busiest event venues.

Daily jobs for the Tampa Bay Lightning PR and marketing teams include handling media interviews and press conferences, along with creating content for their own broadcasting, social media and websites. The teams are also heavily involved in community outreach programs focusing a lot on volunteer work with the community prior to playoff season. The Community Hero program, for example, is well known for acknowledging and rewarding people who have served the Tampa Bay area.

If the Lightning makes it to the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup final, the National Hockey League takes over most of the public relations efforts. The team here at Amalie Arena then retreats to the locker room—meaning they are in charge of interviews and making sure there is enough content for broadcasting and other forms of media.

For non-hockey activities in Amalie Arena, public relations specialists must help with planning events several months ahead of time, coordinating media engagement and making sure customer satisfaction continues to be great.

Now, while I am a fan of sports, I felt a little out of place walking into the event. I was not 100-percent sure that sports PR would be the right fit for me. I wondered if the panel would be useful for my own future in public relations.

In the end, I was thrilled to have heard Lanza, Breseman and Wickett speak about their experiences. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I got was when I spoke with Bill Wickett privately. It was simple, but nonetheless incredibly true. He said that you must be fearless and aggressive in your chosen career. Wickett shared that, in order to get experience in the field, you must reach out to people, put yourself out there, accept criticism, deal with difficult situations and learn from them. PR is an incredibly competitive field, so you cannot hang back and expect things will just work out.

The rest of the panel provided a lot of useful information, even for those who may not be entirely interested in sports PR.

Wickett and Breseman spoke proudly about how running a top sports franchise across all U.S. leagues means that everything starts from the top down. In order to have great customer service and a beneficial relationship with the public, you need to start by building strong internal relationships. A team that cannot work well together cannot connect well with its audience.

This means there needs to be consistent change and continuous improvement. You have to ask yourself, “What skills are you personally lacking? What do you believe your team can do better? What is one way you and your team can be better prepared for a possible issue?”

That last question brings up a huge point that the Lightning PR team touched on: Crisis communication plans are a necessity. Uncertainty is always an issue, especially in sports PR. Challenges like not knowing whether to alert the media about a possible injury on the team before a game, or having a concert act cancel at the last minute must be dealt with immediately and responsibly. The crisis communications plan needs to be adaptable, and it needs to include provisions for owning up to whatever mistakes the organization might have made.

Besides communications plans for emergencies, an individual in public relations has to work side by side with the media. Wickett said that working with the media involves a mix of giving them what they want while also trying to achieve your own objectives. In other words, you must be able to compromise with the specific goal in mind. As Wickett stated, “The main thing is listening.”

I feel fortunate to have gained insight on how the Tampa Bay Lightning public relations and marketing teams work together. The chance to speak and learn from the panel has encouraged me to be more proactive and get my foot in the door. After all, experience leads to wisdom.






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