Strategies & Tactics

PRSA Chair Tony D’Angelo Talks 2018

January 5, 2018

Name: Anthony W. D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, 2018 Chair of PRSA

Current status: Professor of practice in PR at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and director of its executive master’s degree program in communications management

Location: Syracuse, N.Y.

Work experience: ITT Corporation, St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation, United Technologies, Sage Marketing Communications

Any three dinner guests: Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Vince Lombardi

Favorite book: Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff”

Best place to travel: Italy’s Abruzzi region

Best career advice received: “Always deliver just a little bit more than expected; the rewards will be great. (Thanks, Mom!)”

What challenges does PRSA face in 2018?

Let’s call them the three Cs: change, convergence and competition. Last summer, I commissioned a study at Syracuse University to assess the knowledge, skills and abilities to equip graduate students in the 21st century. A market research firm looked at curricula and professional demands in public relations and communications, and said, “We study a lot of professions and don’t know if any are changing as fast as yours.”

As a professional association for communicators, PRSA has to stay current while also equipping our members to manage strategic change.

And as a PR professor, I believe I’m preparing students for careers that haven’t been invented yet, in terms of their specific job requirements. These careers are going to be under the heading of what we now call public relations, communications or integrated marketing communication.

The skill sets that communicators need to be valuable and relevant are changing quickly. Part of PRSA’s responsibility is to stay abreast of these changes for the benefit of our members. And we need their help to do that. We need to engage with members and they need to engage with PRSA, so we know the demands they face professionally.

Convergence is another change we’re going through. Digital and social media technologies are demolishing walls that previously stood between professional disciplines. PR people have to be equipped to do more than in the past, and to wear different hats.

The boundaries that once separated professions such as journalism, public relations, content management, marketing and advertising are converging. We’re all in the business of content generation and content consumption, and trying to figure out the rules.

The third C is the competition we all face. We might be working with somebody as a colleague one day, and against them as a competitor the next. PRSA’s competition for the attention of our members and other PR professionals is also more acute than ever before. For the professional development and networking that are central to PRSA, our members can now turn to other sources they didn’t have just a few years ago.

We have to make sure that the value we offer today is not only better than what we offered yesterday, but that it’s also better than the alternatives that professionals have in the marketplace.

How can PRSA stay relevant in today’s changing communications landscape?

PRSA is a learning organization. Members come to us for the value they receive in learning, professional development and networking. We provide a forum for valuable industry conversations.

We have to focus on ethics and diversity. Ethics are more relevant than ever, and our Code of Ethics and related education are among the highest member benefits we provide. We also have a professional mandate for diversity and inclusion. It’s critically important that we engage all publics and all populations.

Public relations is a growing profession. There’s terrific opportunity for PRSA if we’re on the leading edge of the knowledge, skills and abilities that PR professionals need.

PRSA is working on its “Framework for the Future” strategic plan. How do you characterize PRSA’s future?

The framework lays out what PRSA has to do to advance public relations and the professionals who work in the field. But the value of PRSA membership has remained consistent for decades. I tell people the main reasons I joined PRSA and why I’ve been a committed member for so long are two headline benefits:

The first is professional development. The second is networking. PRSA continues to deliver new professional-development programs, including certification, updated webinars and an evening series. We also deliver more traditional formats, such as the International Conference. PRSA provides networking, in the physical and virtual worlds, that is enormously beneficial.

Those are the key values, among many other benefits. We have to make sure we’re delivering those two things better than anyone else. They’re why people join and stay members of PRSA.

Why did you first get involved with PRSA?

I joined when I was a young account executive at an agency. I thought I could develop professionally and increase my network through this association. And PRSA has delivered those benefits to me year after year. Joining PRSA is an investment. The more you put into your membership, the more you get out of it.
I have no doubt that PRSA changed my career. It also gave me hundreds of professional colleagues whom I’m now proud to call counselors and friends. I can’t calculate the value of that.

Why did you decide to pursue a role in PRSA’s leadership — twice?

I’ve pursued a leadership role continuously since I joined PRSA. When I was a Chapter member, my first volunteer job was as a newsletter editor. I was later asked to join the board and I moved up through the chairs there.

Over time I gained a lot of professional skills that have increased my value in the workplace. I also definitely benefited from the collegial relationships and friendships that resulted.

From the Chapter level, I got involved in District activities. I’ve had some Section involvement. I was on the National Board as a director. I’ve been treasurer, secretary and chair-elect. Each step has been more rewarding than the last.

You’ve held leadership positions in the corporate and agency sectors. How have they prepared you for your current role in academia?

My career experiences have given me empathy and a knack for recognizing patterns. In the agency and corporate sectors I was exposed to many different scenarios and challenges, and saw patterns emerge. Sometimes patterns from one sector apply to another. I love looking at situations and trying to recognize the patterns. What factors are at play? Have I seen them before?

Empathy is the key to influence. I’ve been in different roles, so I can empathize with an agency person or a corporate professional. I think I can bring an empathetic view to the classroom, because I was once a PR student. I have an undergraduate degree in public relations and English, and a graduate degree in communications management. I know what it’s like to sit in the classroom and wonder, “Can I make a career out of this? Is this the right thing for me?”

What are you looking forward to as PRSA’s chair in 2018?

I’m looking forward to more interaction with members. PRSA needs our members engaged and needs their ideas. That’s what this is about.

PRSA is not an organization that you realize value from by being a passive member. One has to be engaged and go get the benefits. It’s by contributing that we all receive.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of PRSA's publications.


Dan Dent says:

Well done, gents. Years ago I joined PRSA for the networking, and that led to connections I still have today. Jobs change but PRSA has always been there.

Jan. 11, 2018

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