PRSSA Leadership Assembly

Today we had the pleasure of attending PRSSA’s virtual leadership assembly! We got to hear from current president, Nick Goebel, Columbia College Chicago professor, Shanita Akintonde, Principal of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction, Adam Ritchie, the senior VP of communications at MSNBC, Errol Cockfield, and managing director of the PR agency Lambert, Michelle Olson.

9 a.m. PST

A welcome from PRSSA National President Nick Goebel

Nick started us off with a warm welcome and an overview of what the morning would entail. He also gave a special shoutout to our unofficial sponsor coffee for giving us the energy to continue to be PR kings and queens ☕!

9:10 a.m. PST

Motivational session from Shanita Akintonde, Columbia College Chicago Associate Professor of Communications

Contact: @Shakintonde | 312-369-7543 |

  • Shanita’s program was centered around the acronym and mantra ROARR (Reject Oppression and Reclaim Respect)
  • Shanita’s Ten Rules
    1. Determine your attributes (create the perception)
      • you can give your chapter members the same information and they may not understand you… things can be processed differently based on how people learn and receive information
    2. Identify your target audience
      • be transparent, make sure your chapter members are seen and are given leadership opportunities regardless of their board position
    3. Determine your target audience’s needs
      • understand what kind of leader you are and how you can hone your strengths to help your audience
    4. Create and enhance your image
      • we are constantly working on our own personal brand
    5. Aspire to greatness without fear
      • “I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. All these things, sorrow, misfortune, and suffering are outside my door. I am in the house and I have the key.”- Charles Fletcher Lummis
    6. Sell the sizzle!
      • once you have an idea, drive it home
    7. Steal Shamelessly
      • don’t be afraid to draw from great leaders around you
    8. Build Alliances
      • PRSSA is one of the best groups at allowing bridges to be built. Don’t be afraid to reach out, if people don’t respond, then it’s a shame for them, not you
    9. Believe in yourself
      • Rewrite the rules and don’t sink yourself into smallness
    10. Just do it!
      • It’s never too late or too early to start
  • The ROARR Mantra
    • Soul search. Eat open-faced sandwiches. Be a CEO. A sister. A fighter. A parent. A professor. Attract what you expect. Reflect what you desire. Become what you expect. Mirror what you admire.
    • open-faced sandwiches = taking something conventional and making it your own
  • Shanita’s Closing Remarks
    • Leadership is commitment
    • communicate, communicate, then communicate more
    • Evaluate your organization’s needs and issues. Develop a leadership retention and succession plan
    • There’s no better time than now to start networking

10 a.m. PST

Keynote Address: “The Career Advice They’ll Never Tell” from Adam Ritchie, Principal of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction

Contact: @aritchbrand |

Adam’s session was all about career advice that’s usually left untold both for the pursuit of a job as well as how to succeed once you’ve landed a job.

PART ONE: FINDING THE JOB the greatest sin is being boring

  • You don’t have to be immediately in pursuit of the job of your dreams
  • No one cares where you went to school unless they went there
  • Look like you’ve arrived, but don’t sound like a jerk
    • De-studentify your socials
    • Don’t pin medals to your chest
    • Speak like a human
    • Have memorable business cards (even if you don’t have a job)
    • Forever filter your posts
  • Effort is obvious, effort is everything
    • Arrive 15 minutes early to interviews
    • Your leadership in activities is important
    • Make a show out of writing things down
    • Don’t ask things you could have googled, know their business
    • Write your own letters of rec
  • Remove doubt
    • Nobody takes chances
    • Turn the interview into a collaboration by asking them what their greatest challenges have been and offering solutions
    • Be the first handwritten thank-you note
  • Refuse to be filed by being 3-dimensional
    • Don’t use a template for your resume and don’t be generic
    • Transform yourself into the product
  • Supercharge your brain
    • Read inspiring books and listen to leadership podcasts
    • Approach the authors and guests, because nobody says no to a fan
  • Network like it’s your job because it is and it always will be
    • Tell those you connect with what you want
    • Keep your mentors around forever
    • Use physical and digital nodes of networking
    • Don’t just reach out to people when you need them for something
  • Assume the worst and move on quickly
    • Go to an interview and kill it, then move on to the next one assuming you didn’t land the gig at the first one
    • Disappointment from rejection is a momentum killer
    • When you write a thank-you note think of it as a farewell note
  • Think about money last, if you can afford to
    • Make experience decisions
    • Negotiate a six-month review

PART TWO: YOU’VE GOT THE JOB … NOW WHAT? the greatest sin is being boring

  • Log quotes and moves from those around you
    • Example: “If you want the ice cream cone, ask for Disney World”
  • Be fearless
    • Don’t be afraid to make phone calls, it opens doors
  • Manage up and offer to fix things
    • The world doesn’t need more PR people, it needs better ones
    • Your job is to make your manager’s life easier
    • Present things for a “yes” or a “no”
    • Fix inefficiencies for your manager’s own sake
    • Make an internship guide if they don’t have one
  • Find allies but have your own back and do what’s ethical
    • Choose a mentor who protects you
    • Junior staffer’s time is often devalued, stand up to your boss and media if they don’t have your best interest in mind
    • Clients, coworkers, and the media may test you with unethical situations. It’s your reputation and it’s up to you to talk them out of doing unethical things by presenting the ethical choice.
  • Play the fame game and break the rules in the right way
    • Deliver with style but be professional, you EARN the right to be more of yourself
    • Let aspects of your personality shine through but play the game
    • Don’t be inappropriate in sharing
  • Own your mistakes and be careful with others’
    • Use your best judgment on meticulousness
    • No version is ever “final”
  • Keep learning, start teaching
    • Be a living collection of case studies
    • Find your signature PR cause that’s important to you
    • Adam’s cause is using PR as a force of invention. He creates projects for his clients rather than using what he is handed.
    • Learn from your failures, use it as a fuel to get back up again

10:50 a.m. PST

Session: An Integrated Strategic Communications Landscape
Errol Cockfield, Senior Vice President Communications, MSNBC
Michelle Olson, APR, Managing Director, Lambert, PRSA Chair-Elect
Moderator: Nick Goebel, PRSSA National President

  • The industry is losing reporters, media brothers and sisters are struggling as much as PR people are right now. So, owned and earned PR will be equally important
  • Sometimes Strat-com is slow to embrace digital fully
  • Social mindset is super valuable right now 
  • PR as a profession during the pandemic has been ORDER, speaking from ONE VOICE
  • If you’re a student going out into the work world you should be confident about going into a field that needs smart people with the right instincts to shape the future 
  • Build your network: ask professionals to connect you with more professionals 
  • Be open to being on Zoom all the time 
  • If your contacts are PRSA they are all about the PRSSA students 😉
  • Show that you can bring something new!
  • Consume a lot of different news… not just entertainment and lifestyle, be a good crisis manager even if you’re not in crisis comms. Sports can intersect politics. If you consume lots of different things it informs your writing and makes it rich 
  • Communications is a lifestyle thing, you don’t just turn it on. 
  • Look for creativity in sectors that we aren’t in
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about the work culture, and ask for examples of what people your age are doing
  • Marketing is a lifestyle for your life, throughout your life
  • Be curious, Be empathetic, ask questions

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