PR Lessons from the Campaign Trail 2016

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Topic: PR Lessons from the Campaign Trail 2016
Plus Hear from Our Graduate, Sultana Ali!

Date: February 19, 2016

In this informative session, the Director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and U.S. Congressman, Mark Kennedy, will provide analysis on the 2016 Campaign Trail. He’s also joined by the program director of our Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program, Professor Larry Parnell, who will examine the Presidential Contests from a PR perspective.

Sultana Ali will offer valuable insights as a graduate of our Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program.


Hon. Mark Kennedy
Director, GSPM

Director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management; and former U.S. Congressman (2001-2007). He also served as SVP & Treasurer of Macy’s (1988-1992); trade advisor to Presidents Bush and Obama; Council on Foreign Relations; Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota; and author of forthcoming book on Engaging to Win from Columbia Business School Press.

Professor Lawrence J. Parnell
Associate Professor & Program Director
Master’s in Strategic PR

Over a 30-year career, Professor Parnell has held senior communications positions in consulting, on the client side and in politics. He was named PR Professional of the Year (2003) by PR Week magazine and he was inducted into the PR News Hall of Fame in 2009.

Professor Parnell’s previous corporate experience includes senior positions at leading corporations such as Barrick Gold, Ernst & Young LLP, GTE Corporation; People’s Bank of Connecticut. He also has extensive consulting experience and his governmental and political experience includes staff communications positions with the Mayor of Atlanta; Carter for President campaign; the Attorney General of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.
He holds an MBA from the University of New Haven; and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University.

Sultana Ali
2011 Graduate

Communications Officer
The Pew Charitable Trusts

Sultan works as a communications officer within the Family Economic Stability portfolio at The Pew Charitable Trusts. In her role, she serves as the media and communications lead for a range of consumer finance and economic mobility issues. Prior to Pew, she was the Director of Public Relations for Liquidity Services, a DC-based technology company, and also previously worked for Ketchum’s Washington, D.C. office in its social marketing department serving clients such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FedEx, and Bayer Consumer Health Care. She began her PR career 12 years ago at an agency in Orlando, Florida where she directed communications strategy for clients ranging from an NBA player’s foundation, to a Congressional campaign, to one of the leading Supervisor of Elections offices in the U.S., where she served as spokeswoman during the 2008 and 2010 elections. Sultana is a lifelong volunteer and in addition to serving in various board leadership roles and as a youth mentor in high schools, she has spoken at the United Nations and successfully engaged groups on how to impact youth and to increase dialogue on global issues. She has a Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations from The George Washington University and received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in Marketing with a focus on International Business, and a minor in Political Science. She currently serves as the president of PRSA-NCC, the largest chapter of PR professionals in the U.S.


[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Kira: And hello everyone. Welcome to the George Washington University’s webinar today. We will get to hear from our director of the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and U.S. Congressman Mark Kennedy, who will provide analysis on the 2016 Campaign Trail.

We’re also pleased to have the program director of our Master’s and Strategic Public Relations Online Program, Professor Larry Parnell who will examine the PR perspective.

And we’re also very delighted to welcome Sultana Ali, a graduate of our program who has freed up her schedule to join us on this beautiful Friday afternoon, as you have as well. So thank you so much.

Sultana will join the discussion and participate in our Q&A session. So please be sure to forward all of your questions to me. My name is Kira and I will be your moderator.

I know everyone is excited to begin with our event. So let’s go over to – before we go and meet our feature speakers, let’s go over to the logistics of today’s event.

Please note our conference line is currently on mute and this is to ensure that we have a smoother line of communication as this presentation is being recorded. To communicate with me please type your messages to me via the chat box. It’s the roundish bubble icon that lights up blue when activated.

We will be taking your questions throughout the webinar, so please don’t hesitate to send your questions over to me via the chat box and I will bring them to our panellists for the Q&A segment.

If we’re not able to get through to all of your questions within the hour, we will be sure to get in touch with you after our event. Also our enrollment advisor will be happy to follow-up with you at a later time on any program related questions.

Now let’s introduce you to our first speaker, the Honourable Mark Kennedy, the director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and former U.S. Congressman from 2001 to 2007. He also served as senior vice president and treasurer of Macy’s, was trade advisor to Presidents Bush and Obama, Council on Foreign Relations, chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota and author of forthcoming book on “Engaging to Win” from Columbia Business School Press.

Also with us is Professor Larry Parnell who is an associate professor and director of the George Washington University’s Master’s in Strategic PR Program in Washington, D.C. G.W. offers both an on campus and online master’s degree, which celebrated its inaugural graduation in May 2009.

Over a 30-year career, Professor Parnell has held senior communications positions in consulting on the client side and in politics. He was named PR Person for Professional of the Year 2003 by PR Week magazine and he was inducted into the PR News Hall of Fame in 2009.

Professor Parnell’s previous corporate experience includes senior positions at leading corporations such as Barrick Gold, Ernst & Young, GTE Corporation, People’s Bank of Connecticut. He also has extensive consulting experience; and his governmental and political experience includes past communications positions with the Mayor of Atlanta, Carter for President Campaign, the Attorney General of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

He holds an MBA from the University of New Haven and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Boston University.

And I’m also thrilled to introduce to you a graduate of our Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Program, Sultana F. Ali. Sultana works as a communications officer within the Family Economic Stability portfolio at the Pew Charitable Trusts. In her role, she serves as the media and communications lead for a range of consumer finance and economic mobility issues.

Prior to Pew, she was a director of public relations for Liquidity Services, a D.C. based technology company; and also previously worked for Ketchum’s Washington, D.C. office in its social marketing department serving clients such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FedEx and Bayer Consumer Healthcare.

She began her PR career 12 years ago at an agency in Orlando, Florida where she directed communications strategy for clients ranging from an MBA Players Foundation to a congressional campaign to one of the leading supervisor elections offices in the U.S. where she served as a spokeswoman during the 2008 and 2010 elections.

Sultana is also a lifelong volunteer and in addition to serving on various board leadership roles and as a youth mentor in high school, she has spoken at the United Nations and successfully engaged [unintelligible 00:05:00] on how to impact youth and to increase dialogue on global issues.

She has a master’s degree in strategic public relations from the George Washington University. And received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in marketing with a focus in international business and a minor in political science.

She currently serves as the president of the PRSA-NCC, the largest chapter of PR professionals in the U.S.

Welcome everyone, and Mark, Larry and Sultana our panellists.

So today for our agenda we will be talking about the communications from the Campaign Trail 2016. There will discussion on the various news events that have occurred during the campaign trail with particular attention to Iowa as well as New Hampshire. And also Professor Larry Parnell will go over the program overview so that you have more insight on what is entailed in your learning experience.

And finally there will be a Q&A session where we will get to hear from our panellists. So Professor Parnell, please take the stage.

Larry: Thank you very much, Kira. And welcome everybody.

Let’s begin really by defining our terms. I think that’s a good place to start.

Many of you are familiar with the Public Relations Society of America definition of public relations. The key words are underlined here is “strategic communication process.” This is the basic concept of public relations.

However in our experience – next slide please, Kira – and in our program we – we take it a step farther and look at strategic public relations as a – as really as a management function ideally where you are the interpreter of outside events and activities, trends, things going on in the world, things going on in your business and in your community, things going on in politics, which we’ll talk about today.

And then forming an opinion on what is happening in the marketplace. How it might affect your client or your company or your organization. And giving advice based on that.

Ultimately it comes down to being able to develop programs that are successful in preserving and enhancing reputation. What we’re saying here basically is the difference between being a really good mechanic and being a strategic advisor.

There’s nothing wrong with being a good mechanic but many of us aspire in our careers to get more exposed into so-called be in the room when discussions are made and decisions are made regarding strategic direction of a company, a campaign or an organization. Rather than be called in afterwards and said here’s the decision. Go write a press release or go do a plan.

So that’s our goal in our program and that’s our focus. And that’s what we endeavour to produce in our graduates, people like Sultana who you’ll hear from later on.

If you’ll move ahead now please.

So in that vein, observing what’s going on in the marketplace and what the trends are, there’s always opportunities in terms of the major media to see what’s happening in your industry and in the news. And certainly right now in the news, the campaign is dominating all the coverage.

We thought it would be interesting today to talk about what is happening on the campaign trail generally. And Mark, being an expert and a former elected official and an advisor to many other elected officials, is going to talk to us about the campaign and what he sees going on from a political perspective.

And then we’re going to bridge into a discussion again, back to my point about the essence of strategic PR, what are the lessons we can learn by observing what’s happening in the marketplace? What are the opportunities for us to take back insights and opportunities to advise our clients, our companies or organizations? And how this is indicative of a kind the activity that goes on in our program on a regular basis both online and on campus.

So with that, let’s bring Mark into the discussion and go to the next slide.

Mark: Thank you, Larry. And we certainly have an interesting campaign. And those that study in our strategic public relations do not necessarily have a focus on politics. But certainly the skills of message – strategic messaging in politics becomes very highly honed particularly during competitive races.

And I would suggest even more in a primary race because whereas a general election is left versus right, you have to even be more refined in your message in a primary race. And in this case, we have very strong and significant players that are battling in the area of public opinion to try to get their message heard, to target their message in the right – right places, and to break through the clutter or trip on other people’s messages.

So we’ll have a number of lessons that we’ll be talking through coming out of this primary cycle that I think are applicable to those of all persuasions in any business.

Larry: Could you –

Mark: – [NGO 00:10:06] –

Larry: – give us a sense of where you – where you see things right now, Mark? We’ve got – we’ve got Iowa, New Hampshire behind us. We have South Carolina this weekend.

Who do you think is doing a good job of communicating? And how does that play out into being a successful candidate and having – having better results than your competitors?

Mark: Well two or three of the things that are – are clearly evident is that Donald Trump is a masterful communicator. You may not agree with his policies. But he is one that controls the tempo of each day.

He wakes up every morning saying how do I make sure the news they’re talking about me. And he’s particularly good at tripping on other people’s messages and not letting them get their message out.

For example if you think about yesterday when he made the comment on the Pope. He happened to do that on a day when Haley Barbour, the popular governor of South Carolina, endorsed Marco Rubio, which would normally be a big event, would normally mean the light was shining on Marco Rubio.

And the fact that here you have somebody of Indian persuasion, somebody of Cuban persuasion, a very diverse community coming together for Republican Party. It’s a very compelling story, except nobody talked about it yesterday. And nobody talked about it because Donald chose to make a derogatory remark about the Pope.

Now he did that in advance of the South Carolina primary. Not in – not in a catholic state where it could have had ramifications. But in the largely evangelical state where he could get by with saying that in a way that – that didn’t hurt him, possibly helped him.

He also did this one the eve of the Pope having been very assertive as it relates to climate change, which made him less popular with many conservatives. And so it was a very strategically chosen timing and targeted audience that he chose to make this statement.

Now again, many find this objectionable. But it – in the world of strategic communications is an example of how he is trying to control the tempo, control the debate, keep all the attention on him and not allow any attention to be on any other potential competitor.

Larry: Thank you. Could you move to the next slide please, Kira?

Kira: Give me one moment, please. Yeah.

Larry: So – so in your view then on the – on the Republic side, clearly Trump is – is the master communicator. Are one of the lessons on – then we’ll talk about the Democratic side – is one of the lessons though does – does media coverage and media noise and visibility necessarily translate into votes?

I mean is one of the lessons from Iowa for example, where he was not successful in – in getting the – the number one total of votes, is that an indication that a media strategy in and of itself is not sufficient? And is a ground game something that also needs to be discussed?

Mark: It – it absolutely is. And when you think about why he didn’t do well in Iowa, he is largely running an outside game. At least in politics we say you need both an outside game in the media and an inside game or on the ground.

Whenever you [unintelligible 00:13:35] you have a caucus state like Iowa, or like we have coming up in Nevada, you have to have more than just people that are going to come and spend a few minutes in line and cast their vote at a polling booth.

At the Iowa caucuses you have to come to Caucus. You have to stay there for several hours. You have to go through the whole process and the whole ritual. And it requires you and in – in the middle of challenging winter weather to be going to connect with them in that way.

So I think that’s both why Trump didn’t get his ground game because he doesn’t have that strategy. But also a reason – like Clinton is downplaying expectations in Nevada because Bernie Sanders has more enthusiasm going for him right now. And that enthusiasm typically is what you need for a caucus state.

You know, when you translate that into a commercial sense, you – you need to get people not just liking your product but perhaps buying your product. And so there are, I think, even in this ground game perspective corollaries in the non-political sense.

Larry: Is part of the game then, what we’re talking about here and we’ll talk about this as a lesson that – that our listeners may take away for their communications plans, but the notion of managing expectations before a campaign, before an event. How critical is that both in a political campaign and in general from your experience in business in a business situation?

Mark: It’s – it’s vital because whether you win or not is a – a question of where you come vis-à-vis expectations. I – I don’t think Trump did a good enough job of downplaying expectations in Iowa. He did post facto rather than pre – pre the – the campaign. And that hurt him a little bit. Took a little bit of the – of the gloss off him.

And I think a lot of folks, particularly, you know, Bush and Kasich and those that devoted very little time in Iowa downplayed it significantly. And so managing your expectations as you frankly see the Clinton campaign doing relatively aggressively and downplaying expectations for Nevada and trying to shift the focus onto their performance in South Carolina is a vital component of any form of communication strategy.

You want to define what winning is. And the way you define what winning is is you make sure you set expectations that you can exceed.

Larry: Now how does that play out in the experience we had recently in New Hampshire? Did you think Secretary Clinton do a good job of managing expectations or did they get beyond even her predictions? And how might those that on the Republican side were all in on New Hampshire ended up having to bow out?

Talk about the New Hampshire example and how this expectation issue comes into play.

Mark: Yeah, I think Clinton again was a little bit late to the party and downplaying expectations. She emphasised, you know, later on that this is right next to Bernie’s next door. But – and she also mentioned how it’s whiter than the average – the rest of the country.

But, you know, she lost in just about every demographic category including women. And so she was not doing a good enough job of downplaying expectations. And I think that damaged her.

And the fact that – that Bernie now is ahead of her in some national polls is a function of her leaving that opening. Because, you know, if you – I give Capitol tours all the time. It wasn’t until we won Saratoga by ourselves as a colonial nation country that the French came in to support us.

By letting Bernie have such a decisive win in New Hampshire without having adequately portrayed that as happening and downplayed those expectations, it gave people more sort of license to jump on board within – in other states.

Kasich was all in on – on New Hampshire. He had to perform. He did perform. But there’s still a question of whether he can go beyond that.

Cruz downplayed expectations significantly in New Hampshire and exceeded those. And that has been a benefit to him.

Part of that was, you know, the – the fact that – that Christie took a little bit of the varnish off of Rubio going into that and creating an opening for Cruz. But I think the fact that Bush did not perform has – any better than he did that means that there’s still a cloud hanging over Bush’s head.

Larry: Yeah. Kira, if you could advance the slide right here please.

One of the things that you and I talked about the other day in preparing for this is the notion of shooting the messenger. And – and while in New Hampshire you just mentioned Christie was effective at impacting – slowing the momentum that Rubio had.

What – what do you make of the price he paid in having to – to suspend his candidacy when he did not get the kind of results he was expecting in New Hampshire?

Mark: Yeah, I mean I think it really hurt them. Because there is the old adage that a lot of the reasons people vote is would you like to have a beer with them. And a lot of times when you are the attacker, people are saying, you know, if he’s saying that about so and so, would he say it about me.

So there’s no doubt that it was a – a temporary hit at least, maybe a longer term hit, on Rubio. But it – it really downplayed Christie’s opportunities because people just sort of had negative initial reaction.

Again if you translate that to the commercial sense, you need to, whether you are in business or in politics, have surrogates that can do things for you that you don’t necessarily want to do yourself. And that would have been far better in – in many ways that Christie was maybe a surrogate for other candidates who were trying to compete with – with Rubio.

But it – it did not work out well for Christie himself. And there is a corollary for any kind of commercial or NGO operation as well.

Larry: Right. The notion of – we talk a lot in – in public relations about third-party endorsements in a positive way. But also you can have stalking horses that might go out on your behalf and defend the company or – or your organization from an attack by an activist group.

And that’s perhaps more effective than the CEO or an executive of the company doing it for obvious reasons because it becomes more personal in that regard. Wouldn’t you agree?

Mark: Absolutely. And the one story I tell is when I was trying to get the head of the New York Stock Exchange to come and talk at the Economic Club in Minnesota. I found that a small town broker, who happened to love the New York Stock Exchange and be very articulate, was – he had an easier time getting me a meeting than I did even though I was on the Financial Services Committee.

Because they’ve cultivated the small town broker in Anoka County, Minnesota because when the New York Stock Exchange gets attacked, they know that having a small town guy who’s very smart and articulate in favour of them is a much better vehicle to have – much better face to put forth than some, you know, body in a pinstripe suit on Wall Street.

And so you want to cultivate a cadre of folks that can speak on your behalf in a variety of ways. And again that’s – that’s true in politics, that’s true in any other form of communications.

Larry: If we could move ahead, Kira, to the – to the slides about the takeaways?

We’ve talked about this one here. There’s one more. So back up – no, back up a couple of slides, please, Kira.

So sort of – let’s wrap-up here with – with the – with where you think things are going, Mark. And then we’ll bridge into the discussion about what are the takeaways that we as non-political experts might use in our – in our PR plans.

Where do you think this is going? Do you want to give us a prediction for South Carolina? And longer term, your views on what you think might happen and where me might be come November?

Mark: I think on the – first of all on the Democrat side if Hillary doesn’t perform very well in South Carolina it’s going to be difficult for her. But what – what – what Sanders doesn’t realize is that he’s heading into the South where I think she has a lot of strength.

So although the conversation is still Sanders, Sanders, Sanders right now, once you get into the – what they call the SEC primary season, Hillary’s expected to do well. If she does, the talk of Sanders will fade. If she doesn’t then Sanders may still be alive.

The – there is two wings of the Republican Party, the so-called establishment – I don’t like that name – and the non-establishment. Cruz and – and Trump are both considered to be of the non-establishment.

And there will be huge pressure by the establishment so – so-called to consolidate to one candidate and push the other folks that aren’t that one candidate out after South Carolina. That becomes increasingly critical because once you get to mid March it’s winner take all primaries. So they can’t afford to be splitting that vote.

So that’s what I see going on in the – in the campaign.

So Peoria Project aside, we have up is one of our examples of researching digital communications. And out of that, we’ve been able to get early warnings by tracking every single Facebook, Twitter post as well as the mainstream media. And looking at how messages are resonating – which messages are getting through.

And it’s an example of the type of cutting edge research that we’re doing on communications techniques that’s applicable to all communicators.

Larry: Okay. That’s good. Thank you. So I notice you didn’t – you didn’t give us a prediction for November – too soon for that – who these two candidates will be?

Mark: I – I still think Hillary’s going to be our candidate on the Democrat side. I think that the institutional advantages that she has are still going to outweigh Sanders.

And on the – on the Republican side it is – there’s – I have many hopes, but it’s really too hard to tel. But I think that there – once there is a consolidation on the establishment side, you will see an – an even bigger fight within the party. Because right now the establishments have been sort of attacking each other to –

Larry: – right –

Mark: – try to get sort of the – the person – be the person in the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz lane.

But once that happens, the – it’s happening later than the establishment wanted which means the chances of the establishment also to be prevailing are – are less. So normally one would say that establishment would be able to ultimately put their candidate through to the final end. But at this point, you can’t really predict on the Republican side.

Larry: All right. Well we could go on about this for hours. But let’s move on to sort of what are the takeaways?

As I said at the outset, one of the – one of the strengths of our program and one of the focus points of our program is to – to teach our students about – for instance, who’s likely to go in and make a vote. It – it’s very key to understand what drives that audience and has key messages to reach them.

It’s especially important in the political campaign. But all of us know who’ve worked in corporations and non profits, paying attention to what your competitors are saying, what activist groups are saying is very key so you can react to and get ahead of issues. So constant monitoring is very important.

And as much as one gets carried away dealing with an individual state primary or caucus in the political world, and as much as corporate world is accused of being short term focused, we has communications people have to have a long term perspective. And the long game is to succeed in the marketplace, to raise money for our charity, to build awareness for our causes, or to help market our products.

So these are some of the takeaways.

Next slide for a few more please.

So as I mentioned, each market is unique. So you have one strategy for Iowa and you have one strategy for New Hampshire.

That’s the same thing if you are in a situation where you have a regional product or a U.S. product or U.S. product or service and then you’re trying to take it global. You have to understand the market that you are operating in and not just take the same approach and try to apply it over and over again.

We’ve talked about understanding the larger goal whether you’re trying to win an election or launch a new product that is your ultimate goal. So you have to play the long game as Mark was talking about and manage expectations around the short game.

This is a fine art. But this is the kind of thing that we focus on and teach in our classes and in our program.

You need to focus – we didn’t talk a lot about this, but the so-called PESO: Paid, Earned, Sponsored and Owned media. More and more the public, in this case voters, but in – in our case customers, clients and other stakeholders, respond to all these different media. It’s no longer about news coverage and awareness and getting a story in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or your local daily newspaper.

People are responding to sponsored media, which is basically stuff that companies provide – owned or native media on their websites. Individuals are using this to make opinions and – and treating it with as much or almost as much credibility as the mainstream media.

Social media we talked a bit about that in this campaign. It’s becoming vital to our success. It’s certainly critical from a – from a political perspective. Let me ask Mark to talk about this in a second here.

And then the idea of really measuring your – your progress. Mark started out by saying setting up, you know, what is success. Defining your own success and then driving towards that.

But, Mark, if you could talk about the role of social media in the campaigns that might be worthwhile here for a minute or two.

Mark: It – it absolutely is vital and critical. And a lot of times, particularly in the primary process, it’s the most motivated in either side that are going to engage. And they are the ones that are more likely to be following on social media. So turning out your base is critical and important.

It also allows you to get messages out in a more targeted way. And you can do, you know, a – a video done on your iPhone that you can send out through your social media that can have in many ways as much impact as an expensive TV ad that you paid somebody to produce and put on TV.

So all of these campaigns are – are going to be using full access of – of not just Facebook and Twitter but, you know, SnapChat, many of the – the social media channels to constantly be getting their message out, constantly going to be feeding the very strong enthusiasts that they need to have turning up on primary day or on caucus day.

Larry: How much do you think social media is driving media coverage by the so-called mainstream media? I mean they’re monitoring it very closely and reporting on what they’re tweeting, right?

Mark: Yeah. The intriguing thing is on this Peoria Research Project, we track each candidate on social media and on – on mainstream media. And even though a lot of people for example are blaming the mainstream media on making Trump, his social media market share is higher than his mainstream media is.

So it is – really what Trump is doing, and he’s a masterful tweeter, as you’re oftentimes seeing his tweets being report – reported. His social media is almost forcing the mainstream media to pay more attention to him.

Larry: And he’s communicating directly with his base and not necessarily relying on the media which – which might filter what he says as well, right?

Mark: Absolutely. So again, you’re controlling your own message. And the more that you control the message, the better control you are in of the ultimate outcome of your communications endeavour.

Larry: Agree. Next slide please, Kira.

So we – we were just talking about this. So media noise and visibility does not always equal success is something that we’ve heard. And Mark’s talked about Trump in Iowa. You know, we’ve talked about the importance of direct messaging and how it’s been very beneficial for Cruz and Sanders in their efforts, both in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

Mark and I, we talked about this the other day, this concept of public opinion that D.C. is broken due to the so-called gridlock that we’re all so frustrated by. And some of the candidates are responding to it and some of the candidates are not.

Do you have a sense of who’s doing a particularly good job of – of that – getting that message out there and then offering themselves as a solution to that? Is that part of Trump’s appeal?

Mark: It is. It’s harder for somebody that’s actually governed because as we can see by the far edges of either party being the energy in each party, once you govern you have to bring two sides together. But neither Sanders nor – nor Trump have ever governed.

You can say Sanders a bit in the legislature for all this time, but he’s really not been a driving force in any mainstream legislation. So that makes it easier for them.

But there is typically – and this is where you talked early on, Larry, about having research – what’s the environment like? Understanding where your – when your message goes out into the ether, what – what’s that environment look like? Because if you’re not addressing the fact that people are frustrated with D.C., they have economic angst, you’re not going to connect with them.

You know I’d – I’d be U.S. senator right now if there wasn’t an overarching anti-Iraq war atmosphere that was pervading the electorate at that time. So whatever you do can’t be just in-house. You have to be surveying the environment and being able to communicate in the context of all the other things that are weighing on people’s minds.

Larry: All right. Thank you very much. Kira, would you go to the next slide please.

So we – we could go on about this for a while. I want to talk a bit about the program and then bring in Sultana and get to your questions and wrap this up by one o’clock to be mindful of people’s time.

If you can move ahead here, Kira, please.

So one of the questions we get asked a lot as we go out and speak with perspective student, and frankly executives in the marketplace, is what is the value, what is the role of a graduate degree in public relations?

What we – what we’re seeing over the past eight years that I’ve been involved in this, having joined GW when this program was just getting started, is that there’s been a constant effort on the profession to credentialize itself. And master’s degrees have become a very, very acceptable means of doing that.

Some of you may be aware there’s professional certifications from PRSA and IABC. And those are fine and valuable on an individual basis.

But from a resume perspective, from a prospective employer perspective seeing a master’s degree from a recognized institution is going to be very valuable. And whether you get that online or on campus that is something that is very valuable.

So the benefits of being in this program whether you’re online or face-to-face is it’s – it’s a very important decision that you’re considering making. And I would urge you to think through the – the marquee value of the brand name you put on your resume as where you got your masters from.

What GW offers, we believe, is this massive network of your student peers, excellent adjunct faculty, 225,000 alums around the world that you are able to immediately access as a member of the family once you come into the GW program.

We’re also finding more and more that this is a credential people are looking for. We did a study a couple of years ago of – of recruiters, hiring managers at agencies and in corporations and asked them given the choice, you know, what was the value of an advanced degree.

And basically the feedback we got was a master’s in public relations from a recognized institution is a difference maker between one candidate and another. It implies a commitment to the profession. It implies an ability to do [excellent 00:34:29] work and – and do the – the digging that is involved in getting a degree and bringing that to your expertise.

In fact this might be a good time to ask Sultana about your experience both in graduate school and since then. Sultana?

Sultana: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much, Larry. And I’ve been enjoying this conversation.

I was just saying in the chat room that I’ve been resisting jumping in because I think one of the key things is being able to connect the skills that you learn from GW and this program with the real life opportunity.

So I wanted to give you a couple of quick examples. One of them in my last role where – when I was directing PR for this technology company, they sold surplus assets and they were one of the largest sellers of surplus assets in the world.

So you think of, you know, returns that come back from Christmas. You know, the ugly sweater. Where what happens to that ugly sweater?

So, you know, we had warehouses and different places around the world managing that. And a key example and I had just finished my master’s program, I think, the year before was just thinking through the messaging. What are the potential impacts of – of the messages that I’m putting out there?

So the automotive manufacturing industry was shutting down, literally shutting down in Australia. And we were going to be managing a lot of the equipment that was going to be shutting down.

So you can think of the potential headlines. You know, you were able to see some of the headlines from Trump and Cruz and so forth talking about the political campaigns. You can imagine the – the types of – of headlines you might get out of a news event like that.

Well what ended up getting published in the Australian was parts makers have cause for optimism. Not what you would expect. But a lot of that was about the management.

So the way we managed it was talking about how this equipment provided opportunities for small businesses and innovative businesses to obtain high quality equipment at affordable prices.

And so, you know, building out the media networks, talking to the messaging, doing practice sessions. Something that we call murder board sometimes in the – in the real world where we just sit – sit down with some of our colleagues and people that are unrelated to the issue and practice different messages.

So the result that we got completely different what it – than what it could have been. And it was a total win. For us it was a win for the – for – for the folks, the automotive companies that were trying to liquidate their assets. And it was also a win for, you know, the – the larger industry it played as well as small businesses.

So I think that’s just a real life example of how it’s – it’s really benefitted me.

The other thing was – that happened for me was there was a corporate social responsibility class that I took at GW that was fabulous. And I was able to put together a full CSR plan.

So what ended up happened when I was working for this big agency, Ketchum, was I was given the opportunity to work with FedEx. And they came to me and said, hey, do you happen to have any examples of a CSR plan?

Well I turned right to my – right to my curriculum and the work that I had done through the CSR class and that became the – the template for the example for FedEx. Now when you talk about a real life impact and what you can make –

Larry: – right –

Sultana: – the – the work that you can make. I mean those are just specific examples.

But I think the value of the degree has definitely helped me in my career. I would say it – it’s almost like you just cross that line off. Like when you’re in the interview process, it’s like oh, you’ve got your masters from GW. Perfect. So you just sort of come right into the door.

And it has helped open doors for me here in Washington, because I had moved here from Washington five years ago from Florida. And it has been key to my trajectory in my career.

Larry: All right. Thank you very much.

Well we – we love to hear examples of our – of our alums doing well. And even more how you take what we do in a classroom and apply it the next day. That’s – that’s a hallmark of our program. And something that we’re really very – very pleased about.

Let’s move ahead here to the next couple of slides because I want to get to the questions, Kira.

So this is a quick summary of – of the program options and describing what – what we have out there. I think the important thing here to tell you is that you can complete this degree online or on campus in 18 months. We do not require the GRE. We do not require a formal master’s thesis at the end.

You’re able, in both environments, to get the core courses done and then use your electives to really customize your degree. We’re particularly excited – move ahead please, Kira – Kira – about our residencies and our out of classroom learning.

This is an example of – we had a fieldtrip. We went to New York. We spent the day at the Federal Reserve and NASDAQ at Edelman and other firms talking about the business. This is the media relations class that we took, and this is open to online students as well as on campus students.

Next slide please, Kira.

Also talk a bit about our global residencies. This is something that Mark has brought to the program a couple of years ago. This is one in China. And the next one is in London.

Next slide please.

And Mark, maybe you can talk a minute about that and then we’ll get to the students’ questions.

Mark: Yeah I would just say that these are great opportunities to really learn about communications from different angles. Because we meet with our embassy, their politicians, left/right, public affairs firms like Edelman Fleishman, Ogilvy, NGOs, media, corporate government affairs executives.

And the power of this is it helps you understand that each communication environment is different. And by having even this degree of exposure to international a lot of times can be an edge up for you and make you sort of the international person in the office. Not because you know more about London than people in London, but you know more about London than people in your office.

Larry: Right. The key thing here is this is a one-week residency and it’s a hybrid class. And then the rest of it is done prior to actually going on the trip. So this is one of the electives that our students often take advantage of. And we’re going to be expanding that to the online community as well.

Let’s wrap up and get to the questions now, Kira, please.

Kira: Perfect. Thank you so much, Mark, Larry and Sultana.

So the question is for Sultana. And it’s regarding your experience as one who’s researching your master’s degree.

Can you share with us what your thought process was like? And how you ended up choosing GW as your program of choice?

Sultana: Absolutely, that’s a great question. You know, I was – back when I was searching for graduate programs I was working fulltime for an agency in Orlando, Florida.

And I had been in PR for, you know, I think six years. And I was at that point where I – I was like okay, I’m ready to make the next step in my career and it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to make that next step without having a higher level of education, because I was sort of hitting that ceiling.

And when I started to research programs, back then there were not as many online programs. There’s still not a lot. But the key thing for me was I can’t afford to just quit my job and go to school fulltime. I mean that’s sort of the dream world.

But that’s not the case for – I think most of the people living – like listening in on the phone right now. You’re looking for something that you can make work with a very busy lifestyle, a hectic, you know, work schedule. And also have time for your family and other personal commitments.

So, you know, I was looking for something that had some flexibility but also had the name brand and reputation and had a really good strong curriculum. And I – I – you know, I interviewed with an admissions counsellor. That was a very valuable and rewarding conversation. So I’d recommend that you do that.

By the end of that conversation I knew that GW was for me. And the next thing I knew, like literally within the day, I submitted my application. And – and when I got that acceptance letter it was one of the best days of my live. I was so proud of myself. And proud of the decision that I made.

And, you know, just under two years later I had my master’s degree and I felt so much more validated and confident about my decision. So I’ve never regretted that.

Kira: Thanks, Sultana –

Larry: – thank you very much –

Kira: – and the next question we have is how did you find a motivation to complete the program? I mean you’re a very busy professional. And you’re – you know, you’re serving various boards, professionally as well.

So as – as – for someone who is sort of debating between the classroom setting – just because it’s a different type of discipline that’s reserved for online – so how – how would you overcome those hurdles?

Sultana: It’s hard work, you know. And I – I think that the people that sign up to be in a program like this, it’s really important that you look at what you need to really balance to make your life work. Because there is a lot of balance that’s going to take place.

For me I did have to take away some of my volunteer commitments because I had several at the time. I said, okay, what’s most important to me. And I can keep that one.

And then I kind of, you know, handed over everything else because the reality was I was working my fulltime PR job during the day, and then at night I was coming home and I was doing my homework. I was [unintelligible 00:43:22] my classes. I was calling – there’s a lot of group work that happens which is phenomenal and productive and really wonderful.

I mean I had teammates that were in other areas of the world. And it facilitated great conversation. But you’re just going to have to set up your life to make time for it.

But I can tell you this, if you put it off and you wait two years that’s two years that you could have been working on your degree. So, you know, just get started.

You know, they call it the present because it’s a gift. So, you know, I think –

Kira: – I like that –

Sultana: – for me I just decided, you know what I’ve been putting this off long enough. And it’s time for me to do this.

And – and I – and I just said I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone and get this done. And so yeah, it was a lot of work. It was hard. But it’s been tremendous in – in terms of my career, the networks that I’ve built. And you’ll never regret that decision. I certainly don’t for myself.

Kira: Can you share with us how it has impacted your career being a graduate of GW’s Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Program?

Sultana: Absolutely. I mean the thing was, you know – and again, I mean there’s folks that may be in D.C. now or there may be folks that are living in major cities. But a lot of folks listening may be living in a rural area or a smaller city.

You know, I certainly was. And I was looking to make the jump to a bigger city. So putting GW on my resume, it made a huge difference.

You know, I’d been trying to apply to jobs, you know, in D.C. a couple of years before. And I wasn’t making a dent. And you know, I didn’t have the network in D.C. You know, I knew a few people but that was about it. So suddenly having GW on my resume started to open doors for me that weren’t there before.

The other thing I started doing was just – you know, whether it was talking with Larry or talking with classmates or talking with other folks within the GW network that gave me some advice on my career. And that was extremely helpful and valuable for me because I didn’t necessarily know how my skills would translate.

And once I recognized the most – you know, the easiest way to translate my skills was to go to a bigger agency and, you know, I was able to get some introductions, that made all the difference in the world.

Kira: Thanks, Sultana. So I’m just going to take this opportunity to provide our audience with the application requirements for our program.

So we are currently accepting applications for the summer semesters. And to begin you would need an application form. There’s also an application fee of $75, a statement purpose or writing samples, three recommendations from professional or academic sources, and your official transcript.

And the good news is there’s no GRE required or thesis for this component of the application process. It’s a very streamlined process. And we have a really wonderful enrollment advisor who is there to assist you.

Larry: Kira?

Kira: And I really look forward to –

Larry: Kira can I add something –

Kira: Yes –

Larry: – here?

Kira: Yes, of course.

Larry: The important thing – the notice – the – the writing samples are very important. Writing samples are something we’ve added to the mix because we’ve – we’ve set up a process whereby experienced students who submit public relations writing – and this is new since you left, Sultana. Sorry.

But the – the students can – can place out of the advanced writing course. And that means they would just take another elective.

The program is now 30 credits instead of 33. And for experienced professionals who show through a resume and writing samples that they have the credentials, we arrange so that you can place out of one of the intro courses and take one more elective. And that may very well be coming to Washington, D.C. for the residency or going on one of our global trips.

So I – I do want to emphasize that as a new element to the application process.

Kira: Thank you so much, Larry. And it looks like we’re just coming up to the hour. I want to steer back to Sultana.

What – what advice or what final words would you like to share with our audience who are sort of researching programs and looking at our program currently?

Sultana: Sure I think that, you know, experience is great. You know, I’ll give you a quick example.

So, you know, in D.C. one of the things that people say moving here is if you find an apartment that you like, you know, book it right away because, you know, it’s hard to find good housing. But one of the things I did when I was looking for an apartment was I hung outside the building and waited for somebody that lived there to come outside. And I asked them about their experience.

Because, you know, that’s the best way to do it. You can read some reviews online. You don’t know how many of those are real.

But when I was able to talk to people coming out of the building and say how do you like living here? What’s the response to maintenance issues like? You know, does – does the landlord respond quickly or the management company?

And that really changed the decision that I made in terms of living somewhere. So I would say the same thing about a graduate program. You know, find out from the admissions person or talk to Kira and say hey, can I talk to a graduate? Can you set up an opportunity for me to talk to somebody who graduated from the program?

Or, you know, see if there’s an opportunity to – to listen in on a class. But, you know, just like anything in life you get out of it what you put into it. So, you know, put forward the effort. You know, kind of consumer report style. And line everything up and see what’s going to work for me.

But at the end of the day, you know, it’s not – it’s not just like a cost decision. Because I feel like, you know, you do get what you pay for. And the education that you get from GW is worth every penny. And it certainly has been for me.

You know, whether you look at my income and – and what’s happened to my income since before I started the program, or, you know, the opportunities that have come into my life since that point. It has more than paid off.

So, you know, just – you know, when you’re looking at different programs, it’s – it’s important to kind of say what – what are the considerations that I want to take into account and talk to a graduate. Talk to them about your unique experience.

And also talk with an admissions councillor so that you can get a little bit more information and make sure that it works for you. The nice thing is the flexibility of the program and the experience of the professors.

You know, these are folks that have worked in the real world that understand what the PR is – what PR requires of you beyond just the classroom and the day-to-day setting. And it’s – it’s a very good value for your money.

Larry: Okay, well –

Kira: Thank you so much, Sultana.

Larry: Well that was a – I must say, I – I really enjoyed hearing that. It made me feel very good, Sultana, because I know you’ve been one of our brightest stars coming out of the program.

We’re very proud of what you’ve done, and really pleased that you would spend some time with – with us today. And I’m hoping that people take advantage of your suggestion and do follow-up and talk to other graduates like yourself. They are by far our best ambassadors for the success of this program.

Kira: That’s right –

Sultana: Thank you. It’s my pleasure –

Kira: I’ve had the opportunity to get in touch with our graduates and a very common theme is that everyone who’s been through the program just thoroughly enjoys it and really finds the value and impact it has had on their careers.

So, Sultana, I really appreciate the time that you spent with us today. As well as Mark Kennedy, our director, and Larry Parnell, the professor and program director of GW’s Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Program.

And of course to our audience who joined us today. And for your patience and be able to, you know, be present for the entire event. I really appreciate your time. I hope the session has been beneficial to you in terms of the analysis of the campaign trail as well as the impact of our program curriculum on – on the real life stage.

And we will be having more webinars throughout the year as well. I hope you’re able to join us.

And once again, currently we are accepting applications for the Summer 1 and as well as Summer 2 start date, with Summer 1 being both online and on campus. Summer 2 is exclusively for the online audience. And May 9th is Summer 1. May – June 27th is for Summer 2.

And Marie Alouche is your enrollment advisor. Please get in touch if you have any questions, so that you can join GW’s stellar alumni network. And I hope to see you back in our future webinars.

Thank you so much for your time, everyone.

Larry: Thank you.

Mark: Thank you all.

Sultana: Thank you.

[End of recorded material 00:51:48]