Public Relations Pro Opens Up about Work, Family: PRSA-NCC Spotlight
The National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America featured Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller in a member spotlight in March 2013. Here are Ami’s answers to some questions about public relations, her greatest career achievement, and work-life balance.
Years as a Member of PRSA-NCC: 9
Why did you join PRSA-NCC?
I wanted to connect with other PR professionals and participate in professional development opportunities. As an independent PR professional, I find it especially important that I be linked with other PR professionals, because they are my “water cooler” community – the people who can swap ideas and rejoice in successes.
What was your first job in the profession?
I joined my first nonprofit Board of Directors (and public relations committee) at age 20 while still in college. My first vote as a board member involved firing our executive director, who had lied about the agency’s finances and hidden $80,000 in unpaid bills in a shoebox under his desk. Needless to say, that was my first experience dealing with a serious potential PR problem – the agency came out OK. I stayed involved in the community and became an op-ed columnist while in graduate school – that led to my first PR job working at a major state university in a publications office.
Tell us about your range of experience and/or your greatest skills.
I help nonprofits and associations take the next step in sharing who they are and what they want to do. Media relations, social media, writing, web content, and strategic communications are daily activities for me. I do some curriculum writing projects, magazine writing, and training too.
I have a lot of variety in my day-to-day work and that’s part of why I like what I do. My practice helps organizations that assist families of fallen service members, that advocate legally for disabled veterans to get the benefit they’re entitled to, and that are helping unemployed baby boomers go to community college to re-train for new careers.
What’s your greatest career achievement?
Memorial Day 2009 – when The Washington Post featured one of my clients in three stories that all ran on the same day: (1) a front page (under the fold) long-length feature with a photo that profiled someone helped by the organization, (2) a story in the A section talking to a group of people helped by the organization but with a very different focus, and (3) a story with a photo on the front of the regional section that continued onto the next page by a columnist exploring one of the more emotional workshops the organization was holding that weekend. I should have retired from PR the day after.
What are your current career/professional goals?
Write another book in 2013.
How would you describe your professional philosophy?
I believe strongly in building relationships with reporters, not just blasting out thousands of press releases – I think those relationships better serve our clients for the long-term. Social media and online publications make it easier than ever to research journalists and understand what they are covering, and the hectic pace of the news cycle has made some of them even more reliant on PR professionals than in the past.
I think you should care about your work and know what motivates you to do it. In 2007, my 22-year-old brother, Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Iraq – and that tragedy changed my perspective and my consulting practice. I do the work I do because I have the same values my brother did – a belief in service to community and for the greater good. I was a community activist and writer before my brother died, but my work became more personal after he died.
Don’t be afraid to be a voice or to help others find their voices and share their stories. And try to get other people to listen. I am known as an advocate in the military family and veteran community, and I don’t mind that label. If it’s appropriate, I am sometimes quoted by the media, because of my personal connection and the tragedy that happened to my family. I think many of us could be better advocates in our communities on issues we care about.
What’s your dream job?
The job I have right now.
Who would you consider to be your mentor, and why?
I have been really blessed with several mentors from our chapter and throughout my career – including PRSA-NCC Board member, Christie Phillips, who hired me to work at National 4-H Council many moons ago, and former PRSA-NCC chapter president, Brigitte Johnson, who also worked with us at 4-H. When I started my independent consulting practice – Heathere Evans-Keenan, Helen Sullivan, and others from the Independent PR Alliance gave me support and advice. I think one of the best things a mentor can give someone is believing that they can do something – and assuring them that they aren’t crazy for trying something new.
Offer any advice you have for maintaining work/life balance.
I don’t think it’s as much a balance, which implies that you are giving up your life for work, or vice versa, as maintaining a work-life flow.
Know what qualifies as urgent for you. Really ask yourself if something is urgent before you dump your personal life out the window and dash off to deal with the latest office crisis. Obviously breaking news and incoming press calls are going to trump a lot – but many of the things we think are urgent – are not.
Schedule time for yourself and pay attention to your personal health and fitness. After many years of neglecting my health and living with a lot of stress, I began a few months ago to focus on nutrition and fitness. So far, I’ve lost 27 pounds and I feel great.
If you have a family– you need a battle plan and preparation is key. Before the work week starts –I like to have meals organized, laundry done, and our home reasonably in order. So if life gets a bit unpredictable that week – I know my family’s needs will still be met.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Family and faith are my anchors. We have an almost three-year-old, so our home life right now is about potty training, play dates and tea parties. Our three older children from my husband’s first marriage are grown, but we love following their lives – which seem much more fascinating than ours. I belong to a book club that meets monthly and being part of our church community is important to us.