Thinking Critically with Anthony W. D’Angelo

By August 26, 2018 July 25th, 2019 Interviews

As PR pros know, PRSA is among the most prominent PR organizations in the country. It educates PR pros from all types of organizations and aims to be a valuable asset to PR every day. We recently had the opportunity to speak to the 2018 PRSA National Chair, Anthony W. D’Angelo. He provides insights into PRSA’s initiatives, the upcoming annual conference in Austin, Texas and tips on how to advance your career in PR.

Q: What’s your day-to-day like as PRSA’s national chair?

Anthony: I can’t believe how fast this year is going–it’s been a blur. My day-to-day varies a lot and I like that, but I focus constantly on enabling other members to do their volunteering to the utmost. We want to provide value to people in their professional lives, and we do that through professional development and networking. Fundamentally PRSA is a learning organization, and we have to be learning continuously in this profession. It’s amazing how PR is shifting beneath our feet–it’s not just fast, it’s accelerating. One of PRSA’s goals is to educate people on the need to act on that reality. For example, I often ask PR people, “How different is your job today than five years ago?” Every single person tells me it’s totally different, and PRSA can help with that. However, you can’t be a passive receptacle of PRSA benefits. You get out of it what you invest into it, and when you get engaged PRSA keeps rewarding you along the way.

Q: What are your initiatives for PRSA for 2018-2019?

Anthony: I don’t have individual initiatives as PRSA’s chair. Together with our board of directors and staff leadership, I’m guided by our three-year strategic plan. Within that plan I’ve been spending a lot of time on four areas represented by the acronym D.A.T.E., meaning diversity, advocacy, technology and ethics. Regarding diversity, we need to lead by inclusion and improve involvement of diverse populations in PRSA’s membership and leadership. There’s definitely been progress in this area and there are a lot of things we’re doing with our Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the PRSA Foundation, but more needs to be done. With advocacy, we spotlight the most important issues today in the world of PR and promote best practices in the field. Frankly, PR isn’t a complimentary acronym for a lot of people. They think PR is an outcome when it’s really a strategic process, and we aim to educate people inside and outside our profession. In technology, we’ve made a half-million dollar investment over three years in PRSA’s digital infrastructure, and have just added a staff position, in order to advance electronic delivery systems of the Society’s services. We’re already beginning to realize the benefits, with more to come. Ethics is our foundation, and the guidance that we give through our Code of Ethics in concert with our Board of Ethics and Professional Standards is what research has shown our members appreciate and value the most about PRSA. We have the highest satisfaction scores among members for our support of the Code of Ethics and that’s where we need to stay. We can never not be good at that and need to focus on ethics relentlessly.

Q: The 2018 PRSA conference is coming up in October in Austin. What are you looking forward to, and what should attendees be excited for?

Anthony: I’m really looking forward to the conference. This year’s theme is communications convergence. It’s a really applicable theme because the silos between communications disciplines are coming down with the advancement of digital and social media. This convergence also means you can be collaborating with someone in the morning and competing with them in the afternoon. Globalization is another factor that’s imposing new rules on the way communicators operate, interact and behave. Along these lines, there are preeminent speakers presenting in Austin that we’re very excited about. There are also six professional tracks that attendees can choose from: marketing communication, leadership & management, big data & measurement, reputation & crisis management, tools & techniques, and a special interests track. We also have a variety of social mixers and receptions, and Austin’s such a wonderful city–it’s going to be great!

Q: What advice would you give PR professionals who’re interested in advancing their careers?

Anthony: In my 35 years of being in this profession, I’ve learned this: writing is job number one. Today’s employers of my students constantly reinforce this priority. You need to be a professional writer and write for your audience for an intended effect. To get attention in an attention economy, you need a finely-tuned strategy and be able to present it well. You also need to be able to connect the dots between organizational and communication strategy and start down the path–whatever path it is–knowing clearly what success will look like when you cross the finish line. Patrick Jackson, PRSA’s chair in 1980, was a seminal thought leader. One of his sayings that I’ll never forget is “People want to be involved, not told; served, not sold.” It really takes a lot of knowledge, skill and ability to implement that transformative principle, and I urge all PR professionals to pursue that level of capability with everything they’ve got.

Q: What do you feel is the most rewarding about being PRSA’s national chair?

Anthony: The most rewarding by far is the professional and personal connections and interactions that I’ve had as chair and in volunteer roles leading up to being the chair. I’m able to connect with people around the country and around the world, and be a part of a group that’s endlessly inspiring and energizing. I’ve also been fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling. The CEO of PRSA and I are conducting a listening tour this year where we go to various PRSA chapters, sections and districts around the country and ask what’s working well with PRSA and what isn’t. We’re also meeting with groups that aren’t part of PRSA but perhaps should be. We’re bringing that input back to our strategic planning committee to chart a course for what is the biggest communications association in the country–21,400 professionals and 11,000 student members. What I tell anybody who’s considering joining PRSA is the greater the personal investment that you make–like a lot of things—will produce similarly favorable returns. As one member told me, “It’s like the lottery—you have to be in it to win it,” and no one else is going to do it for you. We’re in a time of disruptive change for public relations and the organizations we serve, and I think PRSA is going to be a vital part of an exciting and rewarding future for the profession and its professionals.

Anthony W. D’Angelo

Anthony W. D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a professor of practice in PR at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. His appointment followed more than 25 years of service in the corporate and agency sectors. Currently PRSA’s national chair, D’Angelo a past chair of PRSA’s College of Fellows, and a founder of PRSA’s MBA program to bring strategic communications content to MBA curricula nationwide. D’Angelo’s pieces on the importance of strategic communications to organizational leadership have appeared in BusinessWeek, The Financial Times and The Public Relations Strategist, and he is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s “Crisis of the Week” column. He has presented seminars on change management at several conferences and universities over the past 15 years.

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