PR Lessons Learned: The Pandemic and the 2020 Election

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Title: SPR Lessons Learned: The Pandemic and the 2020 Election.

Presenters: Professor Larry Parnell, Program Director and Associate Professor
and Jamie Hennigan, Vice President, Communications at National Association of Manufacturers

This webinar will examine the PR lessons following the presidential election and uncover the road ahead.



Okay. Good morning and good afternoon, everyone. We’re very glad you’re able to join us for our webinar event through the George Washington University’s Masters in Public Relations online program, where our program director, Professor Larry Parnell, and GWU’s alumni, Jamie Hennigan, will speak on the topic, Lessons Learned from the 2020 Election and the Pandemic. Jamie will go over a mini case study from his organization, National Association of Manufacturers, and I look forward to introducing both of them to you, and thanks again for attending.

Before we meet our speakers, let’s go over some housekeeping items. This event is being recorded and your lines are muted, to ensure sound quality. There’s going to be a Q&A segment at the end, where one of our enrollment advisors will be joining us, so be sure to send over your questions and comments at any time, via the Q&A window, it’s located at the bottom of your screen, and you can also activate the slide’s Media Player to view our speakers on webcam and the presentation slides.

Now, let’s meet our panelists. Jamie Hennigan is the Vice President of Communications at the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest industrial trade association. Jamie has also spent time working on Capitol Hill, as a communications advisor, as well as in the White House, as the spokesperson for the former Vice President Cheney. Jamie received both his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University.

And Professor and Program Director, Larry Parnell, is an award-winning public relations professional and academic. He also operates Parnell Communications, a strategic communications and leadership training advisory firm that advises government, corporate, and non-profit organizations on executive development and strategic communications. Professor Parnell was recognized as PR Professional of the Year by PR Week, and was named to the PR News Hall of Fame in 2009. He is a frequent author and speaker, and his latest public relations textbook he co-authored has been adopted by over 30 leading undergrad PR programs across the country.

So, welcome both, and now I’d like to invite Professor Parnell to present on today’s topic.

Larry Parnell:

Thank you very much, Kira, and welcome, everybody. It’s always good to see you, Jamie, have an alum come back. We’re very proud of our alums. There are probably close to a thousand now across the country, and great roles, Jamie is an online alum, but we have online and on-campus alums that are doing really great work.

Today, we’re going to talk about where we are as a country, but more specifically, what we has practitioners are going to do in this current environment. I’ve asked Jamie to talk to you, in a few minutes, about how his organization is coping, but I thought I’d set the stage with a little background of what our research and information is telling us about the pandemic to date and the election of 2020 and what lessons we’ve learned and what we do, going forward.

There’s really five key themes I’m going to talk about today. First is, not surprisingly, a decline in trust of government. Also, we’re going to look at how there’s a major change in how people are getting information, they’re changing the sources they rely on, which has an effect on us as practitioners, from a media relations perspective. We’re going to spend some time on that, primarily because media relations is what so much of what we do and so much of what our clients expect us to do. So, we’re going to talk about that generally, and Jamie will talk about it specifically as it relates to his organization.

Really, the public mood is fascinating, at least from my perspective, because we have really this dichotomy of both hope about a new administration and all it represents, and fear about a pandemic which is raging, as we speak, to levels that we thought we would never reach again, if not even higher than those. And all those have an effect on government, on business, on advocacy organizations and non-profits, and we, as communicators who serve them, have to think about that and how we represent their interests and message for them to the marketplace. So, let’s talk a bit about each of those in detail and then we’ll get onto hearing from Jamie.

There’s a lot of research out there, but what we’re really seeing is that the public sector is declining in something that the public relies upon. Whether it’s because of their political persuasion or whether it’s because of mixed messages, whether it’s because the federal government is saying one thing and state and local governments are saying another, people don’t have the confidence in the government that they had before. There’s finger-pointing, there’s false hopes, there’s this sense that the government is not acting quickly enough or in our best interest.

The people want to know what’s going on, and as far as the election are concerned, we’re all still waiting for closure. We know what the numbers are, it certainly seems insurmountable, it certainly seems that we’re going to have a new administration, but it’s not been finalized and formalized, so people are in this uneasy state and they’re not trusting government to be able to help them sort out what to do in the meantime, while we figure out what the political and electoral college challenges are.

As I mentioned, the research is really telling us some interesting stuff about where people go to get their information. It’s not from political leaders, as you can see here, they’re the least trusted, and it’s not from online websites, although, traditionally, many of those have been, unfortunately, a source for a lot of people. What it is is more of the trusted organizations like, historically, and still recently, CDC, NIH, at the federal level, and state and local health authorities, people believe that those organizations are acting in their best interest without necessarily having an agenda. Local officials, especially health officials, are also scoring well, and hospitals and academic centers remain trustworthy to the public, according to this research done back in early spring.

But what’s really critical to talk about here though, as it relates to our business, is the role of the media, and what’s happening here is really interesting, in my view anyway. Traditionally, pre-COVID, everyone was thinking about online and delivering messages online and reaching the right people online, and that still is important, but what the research is showing us, both in terms of COVID and in terms of the election, more recently, is that people are going to so-called trusted sources of information, traditional media is preferred, the research indicates; mainstream media, as opposed to social media, like Facebook and Twitter, retweets and coverage of things from mainstream media is still very important, but where people believe they get accurate and current information is changing.

So, people are looking, according to Paul Holmes, who’s been observing this industry for many, many years, people are turning to traditional, so-called objective media, for their information. Given that, where do we go from here as a profession? Where do we go from here as practitioners, given that so much of what we do is based on communicating to our key publics through the media? So, let’s turn our attention now to a specific discussion of media relations and how we might all move forward, and then we’ll hear from Jamie on how his organization is tackling this issue.

One of the themes and things that we need to be thinking about, in my view, as we do our media relations strategy are indicated here: transparency, authenticity become very, very important in times of crisis, in times of public concerns about the dual events that we are facing and talking about today, the pandemic and the election still not being “settled,” and moving forward on this dichotomy that we’re in between hope and fear, it becomes more and more important that we are getting the right messages, at the right time, to the right media, and being consistent.

And that means we don’t want to find ourselves piling on. We say this in the pandemic coverage, in particular, where people would come up with messages and strategies and tactics that really sounded like they didn’t have a lot of value-add to them, they just wanted to be part of the conversation. That is probably worse than not being part of the conversation at all, in my view, because it’s not authentic and it’s not legitimate to the extent that you can address how your organization is dealing with it and you can connect to the issues that people are concerned about.

If you’re in the hospitality industry, if you’re in the training industry, what are you doing to address the impact of the pandemic on your business? Then you might have a story. But, right now, as we all know, the press is focused on two big stories: the pandemic and post-election transition, new government. So, if your message and your story doesn’t connect to those two topics, it’s going to be very hard to find an audience. But don’t make that artificial either, it has to be legitimately connected to this.

As we talk a lot about, in our classes at GW, my view is issues management, there’s a premium and a value-add on issues management versus crisis management. Think of it as preventing a fire as opposed to putting out the fire. Long-term, you’re going to be much more valued if help prevent a problem than if you help clean one up that may or may not be your fault. So, issues management becomes very, very important in this current environment, and we must maintain our normal activity and look at stories and opportunities that make sense to us, but don’t just react to things.

Take a lesson from what president-elect Biden is doing, he’s not reacting to the drama that is unfolding in the White House and elsewhere, he’s very calm, he’s very confident, he’s talking about moving forward. Regardless of your political persuasion, people want to hear that. So, to the extent your organization can add to that, business as usual, moving forward, things are going to be okay, you’re fine. If you try to jump in there with messages that don’t connect to that, I think it’s problematic. And I’ll be interested to see if Jamie’s finding that in his examples.

So, we talk about strategy. Strategy always goes before tactics. You’ll always find, in my experience, clients will come and say to you, “We need a press release,” they jump to the tactical stage. We know from our own work here at GW and your own work as practitioners out there, strategy always precedes tactics. So, we’ve talked about strategy, what are some tactics that you should be thinking about before you foray into these challenging waters that we’re in right now?

Well, number one, my advice is make sure your house is in order, first. Don’t go out there with a point of view or a perspective and then find out that you have an issue or a challenge inside your organization that’s going to undermine your credibility. That’s critical. Very important, I think, generally speaking in terms of strategic public relations, especially in this climate, that you outreach to key media, not everybody, not a shotgun approach, but much more of a rifle, targeted approach to which media is most important to you and your members and your constituents and your customers and your voters, whoever you’re representing.

More and more, I think especially now in this uncertain time, people are looking for third-party experts, knowledgeable academics, people with no political agenda, per se, no corporate agenda, to be the messengers of things that we want to get out there. So, think in terms of who inside your organization or affiliated with your organization or knowledgeable of the industry can carry this water for you because you saying it as a spokesperson in a time when people have a lack of trust in government and big business is problematic, in my opinion.

Don’t speculate, don’t predict, don’t get ahead of yourselves or the story because trying to be first with a bulletin and finding out you’re wrong, again, is worse than not being in the game at all, in my opinion. To the extent that you have generated content or there is relevant, important content for your cause or issue or client or corporation, grab it, be an amalgamator, put it on your website, verify it, of course, don’t post stuff that you don’t know is true, make sure it’s objective and independent and verifiable, and share it through your company sites so people look at your site and your organization as a source of information, not just somebody with a point of view that they’re trying to sell something.

To the extent that it’s appropriate for your organization, you need to engage with government and make sure they’re aware of what you’re doing, what your issues are, what your concerns are, pandemic-related in particular, but necessarily perhaps the impact of the election on the economy or your business, and make sure that they know what you’re saying and how you’re saying it and when you’re saying it so they don’t get surprised and then, perhaps, disagree with you and cause more trouble than you are prepared for.

So, these are some thoughts as you head into this difficult period of time that we’re facing. I’m going to bring Jamie in in just a minute. Let me just make some suggestions to you about some guidelines for how you message. Overcommunicate, but be consistent. Have more information, not less information, but be sure to make sure that you are consistent. You must put issues as they relate to what’s going on in the marketplace right now into context of your organization. What is your point of view? How is it relevant? Connect it to your business, connect it to your organization, connect it to your objectives; just having a comment generally about something is not necessarily enough.

And to the extent that you can do so, talk about what you’re going to do or able to do or willing to do to help, to make things better for people dealing with the pandemic’s impact or the uncertainty of the election as it relates to their business or their organization. Specifically, we know there’s challenges ahead, they’re scary, they’re growing, this is the fear thing I talked about earlier. So, what can you do and message about how you are preparing your organization, your company, your candidate, your cause, as it relates to the situation?

From an election perspective, there’s a lot of optimism lurking and ready to come forward about a new administration and changes that might represent an historic first, in terms of having a woman vice president, etc., but there’s a lot to do to improve the way things have been between the media and government. So, that is going to be a challenge for us, as we know. To borrow a phrase, I think it goes back to Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps farther back, what are your known unknowns? What don’t you know and what are you going to do about that and what do you need to get more information about? So, the ongoing impact of the pandemic, how much dissent and concern, from a public opinion perspective, about the election, and just the general weariness of the public with all of this. Understanding all that and messaging accordingly, it becomes very, very important.

So, having set the stage, Jamie, perhaps you can come in now and talk a bit about … Let’s begin your remarks by what your organization is doing, because we’re talking about media relations right now, then bridge into your total pivot discussion want to get into, how is your organization handling media relations now and what advice or guidelines can you share with our audience?

Jamie Hennigan:

Thanks, Larry, and you actually hit on a lot of great points there, so I’ll try to add to it and put into context as to what we’re doing. I think that really the first and most important thing, I would say, is that we are overthinking our message and ensuring that, in every instance, before we go out to the public, to a specific audience, that we’re being authentic.

We had a discussion very early on, what’s our role in the public discussion and the narrative? Where can we add value? I’ll get into that in a minute when I get into my presentation, but that’s incredibly important. We want to be seen as a credible voice on behalf of the sector, and so to do that, we need to be authentic and, as you said, Larry, don’t just pile on to the noise, which happens all too often.

The next thing we’ve been thinking about, and, Larry, you mentioned this earlier, people are getting their information from so many different sources, so you have to be very strategic with what media you engage, and a big piece of that is understanding the audience for each outlet and understanding the audience that you want to reach, and, oftentimes, there are multi-pronged strategies that we deploy with various news publications to reach different audiences.

Another big lesson we’ve learned, not just with the pandemic, being in advocacy in general, is that the messenger matters almost as much as the message. I remember companies have been our most valuable asset, by far, as we try to communicate with the media and the public on the impacts of the pandemic, and so we’re incredibly lucky to have such a diverse incredible membership at the National Association of Manufacturers, and I’ll get back to that, again, when I jump into this case study.

And then the last thing, on dealing with the unexpected, having a team that really understands the values and the mission of the organization makes pivoting to deal with these crises a lot easier. And so I would just say organizations out there that have strong values and very clear mission statements, you can pivot a lot easier when you know where everybody is rowing in the same direction.

So, those are just my initial thoughts on Larry’s comments and, with that, I’ll jump into my presentation here. What I’ve tried to do is put together just a very small case study of how we’ve dealt with the pandemic. For those of you that don’t know the National Association of Manufacturers, we’re the largest manufacturing association in the United States. We represent about 14,000 companies, and this is anywhere from a one to two-person fabrication shop, to the largest global auto, aerospace, pharmaceutical, energy companies in the world, and actually many other sectors. I lead the Communications team, which includes media relations, digital strategy, social media strategy, and also advocacy and rapid response.

So, before I get into how we dealt with the crisis, I want to take you back to February and what we were thinking about in February. We were actually getting ready to launch a multi-million dollar nationwide campaigned, called Creators Wanted, and this was going to focus on building the manufacturing workforce of the future, inspiring the next generation. This also happens to be our 125th-year anniversary, and so this campaign was a big way that we were going to celebrate this. We were going to take what you see here, which is a traveling exhibit, across the nation to debates, national events, state fairs, you name it, we were planning to be there.

These are a couple of really cool renderings of a gamified escape room-style experience that was going to be inside of that trailer that would take participants through an experience where they would get to see the past, present, and future of manufacturing. So, needless to say, we were really, really excited about this campaign. And then March happened, and we had to pause everything and change our plans entirely. And so we pivoted. We pivoted from Creators Wanted to Creators Respond.

Let me give you a little context around that. One of the things we learned very early in the shutdown was that a lot of people, particularly in the state and local government, didn’t understand the essential role that manufacturers were playing. Just a quick example to put that into context, we have a small fabrication company that was shut down because they weren’t seen as essential, but it turns out they were actually making a component part for ventilators. And so that’s an example, but that’s a real-world example of the impact of people not understanding what’s actually going on. So, we had to realign our plan to address this problem very quickly. And there were several goals for this campaign.

One, so these vital factories could stay open. Two, so the public could understand what the sector was doing. You had heroes out there, to be honest, out there developing vaccines, making PPE, donating millions of stockpiles of PPE to people in need in hospitals. The other big goal here was to ensure that we could communicate to policymakers what we needed, the immediate, impactful relief we needed from Congress and from the federal government.

So, we launched an earned media blitz, a digital campaign around highlighting the value and the critical nature of manufacturing and, also, as I said, celebrating the workers. We created new content for our digital news platforms. We met daily to discuss compelling storylines that we could pitch to reporters. And then we used all of this content in a public affairs campaign to educate policymakers on why it was critical that they support the industry.

So, just a couple of top-line statistics on the success we saw. Obviously, from an advocacy public affairs perspective, it was overwhelming successful, we saw many, many states adjust their operating guidelines to allow these essential manufacturers to remain open. We were able to pressure OSHA into finally releasing updated guidelines so these facilities knew exactly how to operate safely, which is, obviously, our top priority. And then, from an analytics perspective, the campaign was a huge success. Our webpage views are up over about 40% from last year; our Creators Respond hashtag, which was literally created out of thin air, has over 50 million impressions, and our earned media output is about 50% up from last year and, obviously, we’re only in November. So, that was a great public affairs success.

One other thing I wanted to highlight as a huge pivot that we made, something we’ve never done before, we got into the PSA business, public service announcements. We felt strongly that the economy can’t recover unless people follow the CDC guidelines, and we didn’t see enough focus coming from top leadership on that issue, so we decided to take into our own hands. You can see, in this slide, some original renderings of some creative designs that we did to put into context different issues. We partnered with the NFL to put out some ads. We partnered with a couple of TikTok stars, which is something that was very new to us, to put out these ads. And so far, the PSAs have reached about 1.5 million views, and that’s without any paid advertising behind them, so we were excited about that.

Before I turn it back over to Larry, let me just give you a couple of key lessons that at least I learned throughout this pivot. I mentioned this earlier, I can’t stress it enough, when there’s a deep understanding of the mission and values and the culture of the organization, these opportunities are much easier to identify. Second, having a flexible infrastructure and a clear message, very, very key to this environment. And then, third, old assumptions, we had to throw the out the window because they didn’t apply among this pandemic, and so that meant we needed to have a team that was very closely aligned and, luckily enough, we did.

I think those were three key lessons we learned from the pandemic. Obviously, I could speak forever on this topic, I’m very passionate about it, this is an exciting time to be in communications and media relations, but that’s a sense of how we adjusted to the environment. With that, Larry, I can throw it back to you.

Larry Parnell:

Thanks very much, Jamie. I guess you can all see why we’re so proud of our alums and the exciting work they’re doing. They take the lessons and the discussions and the activities that we do in class and put them to work every day, and I just continue to be very, very impressed with the quality of the people that we see come into our program and then go on to do great things, so allow me a little moment of pride here, just to be happy and very thrilled for you, Jaime, and thank you very much for that.

Let me take a minute or two and tell you about the program, which is, after all, part of what we’re here to do today, and then we’ll get to your questions and answers. As I mentioned at the outset, our program is available both fully online and on campus; right now, all of our classes are online, we expect they will be for another semester, but, nonetheless, we are moving forward.

It is a 30 credit hour program, that means 10 courses. Typically, that means you do about two courses per semester, and you can be through, as you might figure out very quickly, in five semesters. The core courses range from an introduction to our view of what is strategic public relations covered in the first class, to classes on writing, research, media relations, fundamentals of business and finance, very, very important class. It is not designed to make you an accountant, but it is designed to help you speak to accountants because they don’t really understand what we do, so it’s incumbent upon us, as communicators, to understand how to put our recommendations into bottom-line, return-on-investment approaches to communications.

We have a required course in ethics, very important to us, especially since so many of our graduates go onto work in the public sector, we want to produce people that are effective and ethical communicators. The electives range across the spectrum from what you might be interested in in terms of sustainable communications, corporate-social responsibility, public opinion classes, issues management, which Jamie has just taken you through a clinic on how to do that well, as well as two residencies we offer.

Online students can come to Washington, D.C., which is new, Jamie, we didn’t do that when you were there, but you were already here, so it didn’t matter, but the D.C. residency basically is an online class, and then you come to D.C. for a week, under normal circumstances, and interact on Capitol Hill, at the White House, in major media outlets with big PR and public affairs firms, non-profits, advocacy groups, and you produce a paper based on your experience.

Similarly, we have global residency programs, which are available to our online students as well. There’s four per year, they take one week where you are actually in country. They range from London to Shanghai to Mexico City to Santiago, etc., all over the world, Brussels, very important. You do some online work, and then you do a paper and deliver it for your colleagues. Then, the last class is one that I teach, I teach the first class and I teach the last class.

The capstone class is basically where you take everything you’ve been taught and discussed and you apply it to something that you’re interested in. We don’t assign you a topic, you can do it for your current employer, you can do it for a cause that you’re concerned about, personally, and you produce a communications plan with the input of your peers in class and you present it to your class, and we bring in alums of the program and other experts to give you feedback, and many people use those capstone plans to improve their standing at their current job or get a new job. So, it’s practical, as well as challenging.

We’ve had some success, we’re pleased with that. Kira mentioned we were recognized by Public Relations Week as the best program in the country. We’ve been ranked very highly by organizations that rank online master’s programs. GW is a military-friendly school, we recognize, since yesterday was Veteran’s Day, we should thank everyone for their service. We have many members of the military. The online program allows the flexibility to start, if they’re amid one base, if they get deployed or sent to another base, it doesn’t matter, they can continue their studies.

We’ve been pleased to be ranked highly by organizations for our work with the military and we’re doing more and more of this, the perspective that members of the service bring to our classes is very, very valuable and makes for a very diverse mix in our student body, so that’s critical.

Like anything else, it’s important to measure results, we talk about this in terms of our public relations programming, and we do the same thing with ourselves. We have some very good numbers here about what our students think of the program, they would recommend it to somebody else, they rate it good or very good. We’ve had students who’ve reported back to us that get raises or promotions within six months of finishing the degree program.

An advanced degree from a recognized institution, like George Washington University, has currency in the marketplace. Don’t underestimate that. Many organizations will look at someone as a prospective employee or as a current employee who’s made the commitment to get an education, and our classes are online or at night, so people still work, probably three-quarters of our students work full-time and go to class, and their employers see a commitment to the profession, a commitment to learning, and they recognize the school they go to as one that has standing around the world. This has value in the marketplace, it has value with your employer, and I’m sure Jamie would support me in this, it’s made a difference in many, many careers, so I would encourage you to keep that in mind when you pick a graduate program, that the brand of the school and its reputation is critically important to how well it’s going to be received by your current or future employers.

With that, I will turn it over to my colleague, [Sahar 00:31:24], who is going to talk to you about the application process. Sahar?

Sahar Shiraz:

Yes. Thanks so much, Professor Parnell, and thanks again to our viewers for tuning in up until now. Again, my name is [Sahar Shirazi 00:31:36], and I’m one of the enrollment advisors likely working with a few of you already, and so the rest of you may be working closely with one of my colleagues, we’ve got [Shernaz Kennedy 00:31:44], [Deborah Sacks 00:31:45], Gillian Birmingham, and [Rajiv Sharma 00:31:48].

As your enrollment advisor, our role is really to discuss the program insights with you, help you determine if this program’s going to be the right fit for you, and essentially guide you through the application process. Today, I would like to give you an idea of what the application process looks like.

Once you have decided that you are ready to apply, you can simply log in to George Washington’s Graduate Student Application Portal and start compiling your documents. Now, the application link can be provided to you by your enrollment advisor, of course, and it is a pretty standard and straightforward process, but you’re always more than welcome to reach out to your designated advisor for any questions or anything that you may be unsure about.

Let’s take a closer look at what types of documents are required for submission. That would be two letters of recommendation, one academic and one professional. We’ve got your current resume or CV to be uploaded, along with a personal statement, where you might want to highlight what’s brought you to consider this program, what makes you a strong candidate for a program like this. Also, kindly remember to send transcripts from every post-secondary institution you’ve attended. So, even if it was just for one course, we do kindly ask that it is submitted. Also, your advisor will share the mailing address for sending transcripts through. And then, when you’re ready to submit your application, there will be a nonrefundable application fee of $80.

Also, for entry into the program, we do require an overall GPA of 3.0. Now, I would strongly encourage you to connect with your advisor in case your GPA does fall a little bit below the 3.0 mark, just to really discuss the options available for you. For instance, those who hold relevant work experience can share professional writing samples and that may suffice. And on the topic of the professional writing samples, that can also apply for those who are looking to waive out of the advanced writing course, so keep that in mind as well. And then I’m sure you’re all happy to learn that no GRE or thesis is required.

And, now, onto the start date. Let’s look over these key start dates. For those who are looking to join us this upcoming spring session, please do aim to submit your application before the end of November. We have a couple weeks to go, and class will commence on January 4th, so it’s really just around the corner. For those who might be looking for a future start date, you can also reach out to your advisor to learn more about what the next sessions available are, what the key dates around those look like as well. Also, here, we have Ryan’s contact details. Ryan is our academic advisor for the on-campus, and she’ll be available to assist, so if you want to jot down her contact details, they are right there for you.

So, I think that’s basically all we have for admissions. Kira, I think we’re ready now for Q&A.

Larry Parnell:

Let me just start off the Q&A, if you don’t mind, Kira, by asking Jamie to talk about his experience in the program and how, and if, you see you’re able to apply what you learned in your day-to-day work at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Jamie Hennigan:

Great. Thanks, Larry, happy to. I decided, after about eight to 10 years in government, working primarily in media relations on Capitol Hill and at the White House, that I wanted to broaden my skillset and learn more about the broader public relations discipline so I could start to contemplate the move into the private sector, and so that’s when I made the jump into the online program. I chose the online program because I was working in a position that required frequent, often last-minute travel, and so I couldn’t really commit to a classroom.

I’ll tell you, I was so impressed with the program, I still, to this day, apply lessons that I learned in the courses. Larry, I still truly believe the business course was, for me, the most helpful course, I learned so much, learning to read a quarterly earnings statement to learning how to talk to an accountant, those were certainly skillsets that I did not have before the program. So, absolutely, real-life lessons that you can apply.

The other part that we didn’t mention is the faculty, beyond Larry being best-in-class leading the program, the faculty are real-world practitioners, so we’re talking to people who are working at the highest levels of the profession every day when you’re in class. There are just so many strong points in the program and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get into the profession.

Larry Parnell:

Thank you, Jamie. I’ll turn it over to you now, Kira.


Great. Thank you so much, Professor Parnell. Jamie, I want to know, you mentioned a little bit about, in terms of the interaction, can you go into detail how it has been for you when you’re going through the program and what kind of classmates, the kind of connection that you made in the program and how it was for you?

Jamie Hennigan:

Yeah, absolutely. I still keep in touch with, actually, classmates and in the position I’m in now, I still run into instructors, whether they’re working for member companies or working on coalition issues that we happen to be involved in. So, you make really strong connections in the online program, and I know the in-person program also has best-in-class instructors as well, so I’d say that, to me, is a huge selling point for the program, and you get people who are practicing the profession at the highest levels who are teaching you the fundamentals, and I don’t think that can be said for many programs beyond this GW program.


Thanks, Jamie. You mention that you travel quite frequently for work, so how did you manage the time basically tackling your professional obligations and commitment to the schoolwork, in terms of your schedule? How many hours per week are you looking at? How’d you handle all of that?

Jamie Hennigan:

Larry mentioned this earlier, but the great part about the online program is that the vast majority of folks who are in your classes are working professionals as well, whether that’s in a typical career or in the military, so there’s definitely flexibility with the professors when it comes to getting the coursework done. I can tell you, I traveled with our CEO to Germany, Brussels, and London, and I have distinct memories of doing my daily class discussions at night, in a hotel in Germany, so my professors were always very flexible with me, as long as the work was completed.


That’s great. This question is for Professor Parnell and as well to Sahar, you can chime in as well. What do you look for in a strong application portfolio? Can you speak maybe specifics regarding recommendations and also writing the application essay?

Larry Parnell:

Sure, I’m happy to do that. I get this question a lot from people interested in the program. As someone who looks at applications along with my colleagues, I can tell you specifically what matters. What matters to me, as the program director and the faculty members involved as well, is the statement of purpose, the essay. Obviously, we want to see a good transcript from a school that we recognize and has a reputation as an undergraduate program, and we can talk about that specifically, but the most important thing, given the table stakes being taken care of, is the essay.

And what we’re looking for there, it’s like your interview with us, let’s be honest, you’re not going to see us, so that’s a very important thing. We’re looking for passion, we’re looking for commitment, we’re looking for a sense of why you want to do this now in your career and what you want to do once you finish because the people that you’re going to interact with are all in that same kind of space. You’re going to be with people who are committed to this profession, committed to this industry, and want to be better practitioners, and we want to see that from you, we want to know what gets you going, what do you care about, and that’s important.

Writing is very important. If you’re submitting to us and asking to be considered for a waiver of the writing class, we started this a couple years ago because we found we had a mixture of brand-new, recent undergrads without a lot of working experience, and people with lots of experience, so we decided that we would focus the writing class on those who need the most practice with their writing in terms of persuasive communications-based writing. And so to the extent that if you have working experience, and it has to be professional working experience, as a journalist, communications person, marketing or salesperson, you’ve done plans, strategies, memos, articles, press releases, submit those and we’re assess whether or not we think your writing is at the level we want you to be at as you start the program.

Throughout the program, you will work on writing. Every class has writing that’s built into it, just like every class deals with digital media and social media challenges. But writing samples, to answer your question, Kira, your letter is very important to communicate your passion, your writing samples show your capabilities, especially if you want a waiver of that intro class, and when we’re looking for the transcript to meet our guidelines or be close to them, and if there’s not an exact match at the 3.0, as Sahar said earlier, then an explanation and some background as to how that happened and give us a chance to assess whether or not you deserve an opportunity. Sahar, I’ll turn it over to you for more thoughts.

Sahar Shiraz:

Yeah. That was well stated and pretty much sums it up. I think if you do have any kind of specific cases that you’d like to discuss with your advisor, we do have a number of resources that we’d be happy to share, just some insights, tips, suggestions to really help strengthen your application before we send it in for review, so don’t hesitate to reach your advisor.

Larry Parnell:



Thank you, both. I’m just going to have this question for Jamie. I know you graduated a number of years ago, but if you can recall, what was the experience like for you, did any course really stand out in terms of the curriculum that you’re still able to apply now into your current role?

Jamie Hennigan:

Yeah, I would say one course that I really enjoyed, and I don’t know if we’re calling it a course, but it was the capstone project. It was back in 2015, this was when the NFL was experiencing a rash of domestic abuse stories that were coming out in rapid-fire succession, and we actually did a deep dive on how they were responding to it from a public relations perspective, and put together several recommendations of things they could do. And, obviously, the NFL has only grown the number of crises they’ve had to deal with, but that’s something that stood out to me as a project where you really had to dive in and look at all angles, all stakeholders, all messages, all tactics. That’s something that really prepared me for the job I’m in now because, as Larry said, you got a million tactics, but you really have to look at your goals and your strategy, first, and that project forced me to go through that entire exercise, so I found it to be really helpful.


Thank you so much, Jamie. Now, Professor Parnell, I just wanted to call you out to speak to our audience, we’re coming up to the 45-minute mark.

Larry Parnell:

Sure. Okay, well, I hope that you found what we talked about today interesting. I think it’s a very challenging time. Jamie mentioned this at the beginning, the good news/bad news is that in times of crisis and times of national challenge, our role could not be more important. So, in that sense, job security and opportunities are out there, but you’ve got to be equal to the challenge. You’ve got to be able to think strategically, you’ve got to be able to implement, you’ve got to be able to measure and evaluate your results, all of which we talk about in various classes that I’ve detailed earlier, and really show your principals, whoever they are, clients, candidates, CEOs, or members, in Jamie’s case, that you deliver value.

The opportunity is there, the challenge is there, the question is are you ready to meet that challenge, and we believe this program will help you be more ready to do that because it is hands-on, applied, real-world stuff we’re doing. We do have theory, we do have research and foundations and all the academic things that one needs to have, but it’s really about how do you do this well, better, smarter, faster, cheaper than your competition, and, therefore, succeed in the long run. So, that is what we’re about as an organization.

Our alums are doing amazing things. The network, just the other day, I had a situation where one new student who just graduated posted her diploma online and everybody jumped in on the LinkedIn groups, started talking about, “Welcome to the club of people doing amazing things,” and the people that responded to her, she doesn’t even know them, but now they’re colleagues, are in high-level organizations around the world, doing great things and making us look good in the process. So, people like Jamie, people like his colleagues from any years since then are really demonstrating that what we’re doing is making a difference, and I find that, frankly, very personally gratifying and it’s why I keep doing what I do.

So, I’m pleased that you all could be with us today, I thank you very much for your interest in our program. If you want to know more about it, there’s ways to reach us. I know that Kira will explain to you how you can get a copy of this. And I’ll just thank you for your time today and wish you all the best. Please stay safe, take care of each other, and wear your mask. Kira?


Thank you so much, Professor Parnell and Jamie and Sahar, for making the time available to present to us on this very important topic, and to our audience for reserving the time to spend it with us during your lunch hour. We look forward to welcoming you to our next cohort, which is going to be the spring, it’s actually January 2021. The contact for enrollment advisor are on your screen, and for those who registered, you will also be receiving a link to the recording automatically in your email, so look out for that. And thank you so much, once again, and take care. All the best for the rest of the year.

Larry Parnell:

Thanks, everyone. Jamie, thank you, take care of yourself.

Jamie Hennigan:

Thanks, Larry, you too.


Bye, everyone.