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A Year in Review: Victories, Challenges & A Growing Public Relations Practice

By on Monday, January 2, 2012

Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2011 drew to a close for Steppingstone LLC – and we’ve been in business for more than 8 years – thriving amid a rocky and unstable economy. We’ve gotten to work on some amazing projects this year helping nonprofit organization and associations. Our celebratory blog toast would not be complete without a sampling.

Veteran Aimee Sherrod, who was 7 months
pregnant at the time, came to DC to share her
story and how the lawsuit will affect her family.
She is pictured with attorney Bart Stichman,
co-executive director of NVLSP at the National
Press Club in Washington, DC.

We won – lawyers reach settlement victory for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 2008, we’ve worked to help the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) with media relations and outreach. They filed a class action lawsuit in December 2008 to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who were illegally denied their benefits. It’s been a long haul for the attorneys and the veterans they are trying to help. And finally, we have achieved victory. A proposed settlement was announced in July. Only three days before Christmas, the judge at the US Court of Federal Claims gave final approval to the settlement, putting in motion a settlement that will give thousands of veterans and their families the benefits and healthcare they earned and deserve for their service to our country.

Media, media, media. I did a lot of work in media relations this year on behalf of my nonprofit and association clients – working with the Associated Press, CNN, ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel, the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the History Channel, US News & World Report, National Journal, and many, many others.

Thanks to our amazing clients. We get to work with some wonderful people who are doing amazing things, and we were privileged to support in 2011:

– the Plus 50 Initiative at the American Association of Community Colleges and their work to help thousands of people coping with job loss and revolutionize campus support for adults age 50 and up returning to the classroom.

– the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and its work to help families of our fallen military service members.
– the National Veterans Legal Services Program and its fight to help veterans get the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

– the Society for Public Health Education and their work to raise awareness about health professionals and their important contributions to helping Americans live healthier lives.

Resource Action Programs – aiding their work to better educate K-12 students and teachers about energy conservation by assisting with curriculum development.

– the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and their annual Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill honoring law enforcement for work locating missing children and stopping child exploitation.

–  the Christian Camp & Conference Association with articles for their magazine on opening doors to diversity in Christian camping programs (January/February 2011), helping ministries thrive amid a rocky economy (November/December 2011) and improving how they utilize social media (publishing in January/February 2012).

– the Association for Women in Science – with help on a publication opportunity at the last minute that allowed them to feature an amazing young leader in science and educate parents about opportunities in science, technology and math for young women.

Social media goes to a new level of importance – for us and our clients. We scored one of our first significant media placements for a client through Twitter this year – by responding to a tweet with a simple 120 character note. Our client, TAPS, was invited to interview for an online video story and blog posting by the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its impact on charities and services for military families.

My first Twitter account – @AmazingPRMaven – launched in 2009 offering tips and advice to help nonprofit PR pros (and stuff I find interesting) and saw tremendous growth in 2011 – advancing to four-figures worth of followers – with 1,233 people getting updates and 74 people thinking my updates are interesting enough to add me to their official lists. It’s ranked 528th in the Washington, DC market by Twitaholic – not bad for a city known to be frequented by mavens!

Speaking out – on a new level. It was a big year for me with formal public speaking engagements. I’ve always conducted training programs to help others learn (with facilitated hands on activities so I don’t have to talk the entire time) – but this year I went up a few notches in difficulty. I was invited to share what I’ve learned supporting trauma survivors at PRSA-NCC’s PR Day for Nonprofits in a presentation called, “We’re Not Victims, We’re Survivors.” I survived the speech and I think the roomful of PR pros walked away with some helpful advice on how to balance the needs of the media and trauma survivors.
Testifying for a Congressional subcommittee in June.
On behalf of TAPS, I testified for a congressional subcommittee in June on the improvements happening to correct problems at Arlington National Cemetery – an issue I’ve been on the front lines with for years. I also attended several White House and Hill events this year and got to talk with key policy staff about issues impacting surviving military families.

I also did several media interviews this year myself. It’s not typical for a PR person to do so many interviews – but there are times when deadlines and my experiences as a survivor and professional align with the project. I talked with WTOP a few weeks ago about my feelings on the Iraq war troop pullout for a story that was picked up by CBS radio nationwide. I also was interviewed by McClatchy about the war ending and my feelings – I described in the interview my emotional moment on a plane to Colorado when I teared up seeing troops coming home. I have to believe my reaction was serindipitous in a way  – allowing me to purge some of those emotions and giving me the ability to focus and crank out a statement when the President announced the next day that the troops would leave Iraq for good. That statement led to this story in the  Washington Post. I also talked with Fox Channel 5 the day news broke that 30 U.S. service members had died when a chopper was shot down in Afghanistan – what’s not in this story on YouTube is that I did this interview on the fourth anniversary of my brother’s death in Iraq – which was the same day as that crash. I recently met some of the family members from that crash and we embraced in sorrow and care.

It’s been an amazing year – and we are looking forward to more work in 2012 helping nonprofits and associations improve how they communicate and engage with the news media. While we’ve done a lot – we still have so much work yet to do. Thing I am emphasizing this year:
  • Work life balance – with a toddler at home (and three grown kids out of the house) we always have a lot going on in our home – and keeping that balance even is always challenging – especially when working in media relations supporting organizations working on hot issues that people care about. I’m grateful my husband decided to become a stay-at-home dad this year, relieving me of some household responsibilities and injecting a dose of much-needed calm into our chaotic lives.
  • Growing our ability to help nonprofits and associations – I plan to introduce a line of e-books this year to help nonprofits and associations that will be for sale – drawing on some of the best advice in the business, while keeping the copy short enough to not overwhelm over-taxed nonprofit pr pros.
  • Improving teaming synergy – while I’ve collaborated with other public relations professionals over the years – I’m doing more teaming and collaborative work with other indies on some of my projects. What I’ve found is that this adds value for my clients – giving them a broader range of expertise and experience – so they get the best recommendations and advice. It also gives me vital backup when needed due to a media eruption, and I’m blessed to have amazing people to work with.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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