Meet the PR Pro: Michael Gross

[This is a Philly PRSA blog dated Feb. 16, 2010. To comment:]

by Amy Merves, public relations, healthcare, and media professional and PRSA Philly Chapter Publicity/Web site Chair

Welcome to “Meet the PR Pro,” a new column designed to highlight professionals in the PRSA Philly chapter through conversations that reveal career paths, industry advice, and a touch of humor. For this edition, we interviewed Michael Gross, vice president of public relations with Jack Horner Communications and PRSA Philly’s 2010 president.

Can you describe your daily responsibilities at Jack Horner Communications?
Generally speaking, my job is twofold. First, I oversee many elements of the firm’s accounts, such as plan execution and making sure our clients get the best work and the best results. Second, I have leadership responsibilities as the supervisor of our PR and creative team.

What was your first PR position after college?
I was hired by Cherry Hill Township following an internship with the municipality. There, I worked in the recreation department planning the township’s events. We planned more than 60 events a year and my job involved everything from organizing event logistics to speech writing to media relations.

What newspapers/blogs do you read on a daily basis?
I get most of my news online. I wake up to for national headlines and for local news. Then, throughout the day, I follow most major news outlets’ Twitter feeds for breaking news and current events. I often read the hard copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer, too. And for fun, I follow, which is a fun blog (and podcast) for the other stuff I’m into.

What are your top three favorite books?
The geek in me still loves the “Lord of the Rings” series by J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Road” (Cormac McCarthy) is great. And I’d be remiss not to mention “The Public Relations Practitioner’s Playbook” by Larry Litwin, APR, Fellow PRSA. It’s a great tool for any PR pro, no matter what level of experience.

What advice do you have for anyone entering the PR field?
Network, network and network. Our industry is all about building relationships.

What is the top goal that clients have in mind when they hire a PR company?
Results. Everyone is looking for results. We as PR practitioners are, in essence, sales people. We’re selling ideas, concepts, stories, etc.

What is a common misconception that people have when they think of PR?
I can’t tell you how many students tell me they got into PR because they are “people persons.” While it’s nice to like people, PR is more about strategy — understanding attitudes, opinions and behaviors and knowing how to move the proverbial ”needle” by persuading or influencing an audience. Being good at PR takes a bit more than being a ”people person.” Rant over. Oh, and we don’t “spin.” We “position.”

Outside of work, how do you enjoy spending your time?
Wait, there’s time of outside of work? Just kidding. I enjoy spending my time with my family (boring answer, but it’s true). I also love the outdoors, so I fill the rest of my spare time hiking, fishing, camping, etc.

What was the best advice you received when you were just starting out in your career?
The best advice I got when I started out was to “speak up.” Don’t be shy. Go out, meet people. If you have an idea, express it. The only way to get ahead is to find a way to be heard. Hopefully at least some of your ideas are good ones!

What is the funniest PR story that you have read?
Have you heard the one where a news release, a brochure and a newsletter walk into a bar?

Key Communicators – It all started at Rowan University

     To comment: and check out Billy, Ashley and Eileen’s blogs.      

 It has been nearly half a century since Rowan University Professor Emeritus Don Bagin coined the term Key Communicator. And while Key Communicators are still an authorized grapevine that delivers facts to a community quickly and honestly, the channels used to get those facts to KCs has changed with the times.

            Key Communicators remain a school system’s lifeline to the community – especially in time of crisis or when the district needs public support. KCs – properly “schooled” – can be and are strategic message “carriers.”

            While face-to-face or word-of-mouth is still number one to assure that messages are received and interpreted to produce intended results, other modes of communication have evolved from primarily print and regular mail to cross platforming (sometimes referred to as convergence of distribution –print, Internet, wireless, broadcast [radio/TV]).

            No longer is a printed, hardcopy of such newsletters as Keynotes the preferred, but rather an inline version – which appears on the computer screen the moment an e-mail is opened. E-newsletters and blast e-mails have taken on a life of their own. The cross platforming might include newsletter attachments, text messaging, Podcasts, Vcasts, social media, Blogs and blast voice mails.

            Key Communicators – sometimes referred to as influencers, connectors, consumption pioneers or opinion leaders – are “a collection of individuals who have influence over part of a community,” says Tom Salter, senior communication officer, Montgomery (Ala.) County Schools . “A Key Communicator network is a loose-knit panel of opinion leaders who can shape community perceptions.

            “Nothing moves faster than a speeding rumor, is more powerful than an editorial board or able to leap tall special interest groups in a single bound,” states Salter.

            Three South Jersey school districts established Key Communicator programs years ago – during the 70s.  Heather Simmons, Glassboro (Gloucester County), Jan Giel, Washington Township (Gloucester County) and Susan Bastnagle, Cherry Hill, inherited and have nurtured their programs assuring they would continue to be their lifeline to the community.

            No matter how effective, Key Communicators should be only one of a school system’s feedback techniques. But KC programs serve as the hub of the face-to-face public relations program because “they (Key Communicators) will gladly tell you what they – and their friends, neighbors and local businesspeople – think,” Salter says.

            “No matter how many times we’ve heard it,” says Glassboro’s Simmons, “as public relations professionals in education, we always have to be mindful that we are dealing with the two things that take priorities in the life of a family – their children and their wallets.           

            “Key Communicator groups are helpful as we attempt to communicate to these families and other stakeholders with sensitivity, accuracy and efficiency,” states Simmons who serves as public relations consultant to the Glassboro Public Schools.

            “Key Communicators are valuable because they provide an opportunity to learn or confirm information, which helps us anticipate issues and make educated and researched decisions that relate to the public,” says Katie Hardesty. Hardesty, a Rowan graduate, is in the process of establishing a Key Communicator network for the Cherry Hill Public Library where she serves as public relations and special events director. She is using what is often referred to as the “Rowan University KC model for schools.”

            “KCs will help us gauge the community, give easier access to focus groups and other informal research, and help us counter misinformation that might arise,” Hardesty explains.  

            Like Cherry Hill, Washington Township has about 100 core Key Communicators who receive regular e-mails. Jan Giel, community relations coordinator for the district, reflects that it takes time to develop and maintain a successful KC program. “But it’s worth it,” she says. “In the long run, KC programs save far more time than it takes.”

            To make her point, Giel cites one recent example: “We used it (KCs) for rumor control when two of our middle schools were found to have mold.”

            Like most districts in the country, New Jersey school systems rarely, if ever, bring their KCs together for formal meetings. Two-way communication is accomplished through e-mails, interactive newsletters, phone and face-to-face.

            However, the Glassboro Public Schools have taken the route of bringing their 130 KCs together three times a year to inform and discuss issues of importance and to seek input as the district develops its budget.  The final meeting of the academic year – usually in April – is reserved for a post-mortem following the annual school election and to preview issues that may be coming up for the following year.

            While many think only in terms of influential residents or businessmen and women, a district’s internal family must be included among those who play a vital role in a district’s two-way communication process. One reason is because it’s the right thing to do. Another is because school employees are among the most trusted to tell the truth about what’s happening inside a school or at the district.

            No rule, written or otherwise, states that all Key Communicators must be strong school district supporters – or supporters of public education in general. In fact, it might be best if some are detractors.

            All, however, should be recognized as opinion shapers, community leaders, or just the woman or man next door willing to listen, talk and serve as a liaison (connector) between the schools and those with whom they come in contact. KCs are vitally interested in the welfare of their municipality, schools or the company or organization for which they work.

            No community, company or organization is immune to rumors – and rumors continue to grow unless they are snuffed out in their earliest stages.

“Research is clear,” says Mark Marmur of Makovsky & Company Public Relations, New York City, “Key Communicators, effectively chosen, are the pulse of their community.

            “It is an incredibly successful concept that helps build and maintain relationships and will quickly become an integral part of any organization’s ‘relationship marketing program’,” states Marmur, who holds bachelor and master’s degrees in public relations from Rowan University.

            Marmur notes that it is not only school systems that incorporate Key Communicator-type networks in their over-all public relations plan. Major corporations like Walt Disney World Resorts, Staples and smaller retailers like Hello, Sports Fans! (Cherry Hill) have relied on KCs for years to give them constant feedback and to relay positive and negative stories of their experience.

            Public schools starting a KC program might include PTA presidents and other officers, barbers, beauticians, lawyers, doctors, dentists, bankers, real estate and insurance agents, teachers, support staff, bus drivers, students, shopkeepers, and former school board members.

            While Bastnagel, Cherry Hill’s public information officer, courts Key Communicators, she believes, as does Disney, that electronic communications empowers everyone to be a Key Communicator. “Within minutes,” she says, “we can have a video message from our superintendent or other administrator on our district Web site and I can e-mail the link to thousands of subscribers on our e-mail notification list. 

            “I’m obsessive about sending out my e-news every single week during the school year, so that anyone who sees it is equipped to be a Key Communicator. And even if they don’t read it carefully each week, they know it’s there as an information resource.”
            In Glassboro it’s known as the Bulldog Bulletin, in Cherry Hill’s the CHPS e-news and a number of districts publish their own Keynotes. While they may have started as printed newsletters – one-way communication – all have evolved into e-newsletters with many of the articles containing links to “landing sites.” Many times, those links contain a “casual” survey asking for comments, reactions and other input to certain questions.

            “When I need our Key Communicators for something and send an email to that effect, they are used to seeing my name and know they can trust me,” says Simmons. “You can’t put a value on that.”

            Like many others responsible for coordinating school system KC programs, Bastnagel faces the challenge of “rethinking the entire Key Communicator concept – how to meld the power and pervasiveness of electronic communications with the one-to-one, face-to-face feel of a Key Communicator program.”

            Says Bastnagel: “As with every other aspect of my job, the Key Communicator program has changed as the power of electronic communications has evolved. Ten years ago, we reached out to our 100 or so Key Communicators with letters, phone calls and periodic face-to-face meetings.  But, 10 years ago, I didn’t have a cell phone, lots of parents didn’t have (or didn’t use) e-mail and our district Web site was still under construction.  Today, third graders have cell phones.  It’s a lot harder to stay ahead of the message.  (And, as Montgomery, Alabama’s Tom Salter said) News travels fast and bad news travels even faster.”

            During the recent National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) annual seminar, superintendents agreed, “Communication is a contact sport. If you are willing to mix it up in terms of communication and get close to people, face-to-face human contact, then you and your district will be successful.”

            Well thought out and effective Key Communicator networks should be an integral tactic in every school systems’ communication plan.


M. Larry Litwin, APR, Fellow PRSA,  is an associate professor of public relations at Rowan University in Glassboro and a former school public information director in Washington Township, Gloucester County. He is the 2006 recipient of the National School Public Relations Association’s Lifetime Professional Achievement Award for “excellence, leadership, contributions to the profession, and advocacy for students and our nation’s public schools.” His two books, The Public Relations Practitioner’s Playbook and The ABCs of Strategic Communications, both published this year, have won national acclaim.

Nice to be remembered

Melissa Matthews

Rowan grad Melissa Matthews, beauty editor of Woman’s Day magazine, writes in the October issue about the best career advice she ever received. “Make sure everything you do is open, honest, thorough and valid. I follow this advice from my college mentor, (Rowan University) Professor Larry Litwin. It helps me make decisions, especially when evaluating beauty products.”  (First spotted by Rowan U. Prof. David Hackney. Thanks David for the heads up.)

A Weisman-Litwin-Altenberg family addition

To comment:

Our newest nephew Eytan Ziv Altenberg’s birth and bris were celebrated in Houston on August 13. During the ceremony, his proud father offered this remarks:

(Eytan’s Savta [grandmother] said, “We had a magnificent evening last night!  Eytan’s bris was spiritual and communal.  We had about 80 + people welcome him into our covenant. There was a real sense of love and community.

“Although you weren’t with us physically, we certainly felt your love!  I am forwarding Joaquin’s remarks so you can feel even a bit closer to Eytan.

Hugs and love SAVTA!!!”

Eileen Weisman

Joaquin’s remarks:

Thank you to everyone for coming and sharing this joyous occasion with us. We appreciate your support and contribution to our son’s life!

I would also like to give special thanks to those who have made this possible, our wonderful family members who are no longer with us. They include:

Mr. and Mrs. Eddie & Jean Litwin – Alison’s maternal grandparents

Mrs. Sophie Weisman – Alison’s paternal grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Pequin & Maruja Perez – Joaquin’s paternal grandparents

Mr. Norman Altenberg – Joaquin’s maternal Grandfather

And Mrs. Marcella Altenberg – Joaquin’s mother

Without their love and support, we would not have been able to be here today.

For those with us and with whom we have the privilege to share our lives with, we would like to thank:

Eileen and Lenny Weisman – for being parents to us each day, for their constant support, love and guidance and for hosting this fantastic Bris. Also, we are glad to share with them their first grandchild.

To Alison’s Paternal Grandfather – Moses Weisman who we get to share each day and this honor of his first great grandchild.

To my grandmother – Delia Altenberg who could not be here but is here in spirit

To our sister and brother-in-law Jessica and Ernest Cambareri, and to Eytan’s adorable cousins Marcella and Julia for making the trek from New York to be here.

To our other brother and sister-in-law – Josh and Liz Weisman for making the trek from Dallas and putting aside other arrangements to be here for us, To Josh who is here in spirit and supporting us from Iraq and possibly here via Skype.

To Alison’s paternal aunt – Aunt Pearl Westrich coming from Delaware to be with us today

To Alison’s maternal aunt – Aunt Jan Barbell who came all the way from New Jersey to be with us.

To all our family, we thank you.

I would also like to thank Dr. Mintz for officiating the ceremony and for being the ever-delicate mohel to celebrate this with us.

We would also like to give a special thanks to Dr. Todd Ivey who delivered our son under tense circumstances and kept us calm, safe and took great care of Alison through it all.

Naming Ceremony:

We wanted to share with everyone the idea behind the name: Eytan Ziv Altenberg

The first name, EYTAN, is Hebrew meaning STRONG… and a name he is already living up to.  We loved the sound of the name and more specifically, we wanted a name that also enabled us to give respect to Alison’s dear Grandfather Eddie Litwin.  It is customary to use the same first initial, “E” in this case after the person being remembered.

Eddie or Poppy, as he liked to be called, is remembered for his larger than life personality.  A big hearted, loving family man who had a great sense of humor, charisma and solid work ethic to provide for his family and always wisdom to impart in a jovial way. We hope EYTAN reflects Poppy’s values and spirit and we are thrilled to share our son in his memory.

Ziv, the middle name is Hebrew for splendid or brilliant.  We chose this name because it reminded us of my mother Marcella Altenberg.  My mother was a radiant person. She shined with her smile and big heart. She always had a kind word or something to offer anyone who needed it.  We did not have much, growing up, but somehow she always had something to give. It was that radiant nature and quick to laughter that made her such a wonderful person to be around.  We hope our son shares this gift of brilliance to connect with the world out of kindness and love from his heart.  We also wanted to honor my mother for all that she gave to guide me here to this day.

Please feel free to practice his name, share it with others and we hope you find as much joy is saying it as we do! With love, Alison and Joaquin Altenberg

Jazmyn Engelhardt – on the tube – a member of CBS’ “The Crew”

Jazmyn Engelhardt

Provided by CBS-TV – Philadelphia

Jazmyn Engelhardt has been a member of The CW Philly Crew since May, 2010.

Jazmyn currently attends New Jersey’s Rowan University, planning to graduate in 2011 with a degree in public relations and advertising. Active in campus events, Engelhardt worked for Theater Arts Management in Pfleeger Concert Hall at Rowan, running every aspect of hosting a concert or show. She was also elected Relations Chair of her sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon.

Her on-camera experience includes conducting interviews for websites such as and In her spare time, she has earned a second degree Black belt in Karate, and teaches the art to younger students in her area. A budding fashionista, Jazmyn enjoys shopping for vintage clothing to put together the right outfit that expresses her unique personality.

Born in Philadelphia , Jazmyn, the oldest of seven brothers and sisters, lives in Logan, New Jersey.


  • Dream Job: On-air spokesperson for a non-profit organization
  • Hidden Talent: Second degree black belt in Karate
  • Favorite Show: The Office
  • Birthday:  May 8, 1989
  • Star Sign:  Taurus
  • Hometown: Logan, NJ
  • Favorite Movie Star: Jude Law
  • Siblings:  4 Brothers and 2 Sisters
  • Favorite Food:  Sushi
  • Dream Vacation:  Egypt
  • Favorite Singer: Kevin Hammond

(The CW Philly)

End of an era for Penn Football

Philadelphia Sports Writers Association member Joe Kadlec sent this along. It is a true tribute.

C.T. Alexander (l) with son John, U of P C'87.

Don’t forget, tickets to the 2011 PSWA dinner are on sale at Honored guests include the Phillies’ Roy Halliday and Shane Victorino and Eagles’ legend Bill Bergey.

[To comment:]

Posted on Saturday, December 25 2010

C. T. Alexander was not a public-address announcer. He was the Voice
of Franklin Field, and at the University of Pennsylvania, that
qualified him as a celebrity.
When he walked into the Faculty Club at the Inn at Penn, a table of
Quakers basketball fans stopped eating their breakfast to stand and
shake his hand. He waved to passersby while strolling the Locust Walk
on Penn’s campus on a recent Saturday. Later, Gov. Ed Rendell, a proud
Penn alum, greeted Alexander.

Franklin Field has been deemed by the N.C.A.A. the oldest stadium
operating for football games. And for 50 of the stadium’s 115 years,
Alexander was behind the microphone in the press box, joined by his
son and daughter as the spotters who help him to identify the players.

But a Penn tradition came to a close on Nov. 13 when Alexander, 76,
called his final game at Franklin Field.

“I just think it’s time,” Alexander, who graduated from Penn in 1956,
said over coffee that morning. “A lot of people don’t decide it’s time
until it’s too late. Fifty years is a nice round figure.”

But for 50 more years, those at Penn might have stories to tell about
Alexander. With a wink and a knowing smile, he built his legend.

He claimed the secret to his vocals was his triple rinse with
mouthwash before each game (not true). He carried a foam microphone in
his briefcase (true). He jokingly boasted about being named the
best-dressed public-address announcer in the Ivy League (not true). He
and a Penn assistant once lined up cultural attachés from Europe in
Franklin Field to teach them about American football (true).

“He’s the kind of person, if you were stuck on a desert island, you’d
want him,” Barbara Alexander, his wife, said. “He’d figure out how
you’d eat, how you’d get shelter and how you’d get home.”

John Charles Thompson Alexander — called C. T. by members of Delta Tau
Delta who wanted to differentiate him from another freshman, John W.
Alexander Jr., who was also rushing the fraternity — has a personal
history that belies steady cadence at the microphone.

After graduating from Penn, Alexander served two years in the Marines,
then nine years in the active reserve. He worked as the senior vice
president of a Philadelphia bank from 1962 to 1969. The Wall Street
Journal wrote about the “bankruptcy party” Alexander hosted at his
home in 1982 to lighten the mood during tough economic times.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Alexander the director of a
professional and cultural exchange program for the United States
Information Agency. From 1989 until 1993, Alexander served as an
appointee in President George H. W. Bush’s administration as the
director of a grant program for the Department of Education.

But Alexander, now working as a handyman in suburban Philadelphia, has
one bullet point on his résumé that outlasts the others: the Voice of
Franklin Field.

Alexander’s favorite memory was Penn’s 23-21 defeat of Harvard in 1982
for the Ivy League title on a second-chance field goal with no time on
the clock. He built a reservoir of historical perspective: he attended
all but three games in 50 years.

In 1994, Alexander crossed the globe in one day to get to a game. In
Kyrgyzstan while working abroad for his consulting business related to
international education (another of his many past occupations), he
flew to Kazakhstan, then to Moscow, then to New York, then took a
train to Philadelphia. He arrived roughly 30 minutes before kickoff
after the 24-hour whirlwind.

“It takes great discipline,” Alexander, whose payment came in the form
of credentials and a parking pass, said of his attendance record.
“Like it takes discipline not to use so many words when announcing.
It’s the same thing.”

In 1960, the Penn sports information director asked if Alexander
wanted to take over for Ray Dooney as Franklin Field’s public-address
announcer. Alexander agreed, but he never could have known he would be
at it decades later — or that it would later become a centralizing
force for his family.

His son, John Alexander, joined him in the press box in 1976. At age
12, the younger Alexander fit snuggly. More recently, Linda Alexander
Rocca, one of Alexander’s daughters, made it a threesome. Through the
years, they sat alongside their father, working as spotters with
binoculars and rosters at the ready.

“My father and I through the years were very tight, and we’ve had some
years where we ran into some difficulties,” said John Alexander, who
graduated from Penn in 1987. “But no matter what, there was no
question we’d be together five weeks every fall. That never wavered.”

Now that his father has stepped aside, John Alexander, 46, hopes to
become the new voice of Franklin Field, carrying on a tradition that
has become as much a part of the family as it has Penn. He filled in
during the games his father missed, and called half of Penn’s victory
over Dartmouth on Oct. 2, but no successor has been named.

“He’ll definitely be in consideration,” Steve Bilsky, the Penn
athletic director, said in a telephone interview. “If that happens, it
would definitely be cool. We also want to make sure the person is
professional. That’s what Penn and Franklin Field deserves.”

On Nov. 13, Penn played Harvard with the Ivy League title at stake, a
dramatic game that seemed an appropriate conclusion to Alexander’s
eventful career. He wore a sweater vest, khakis and a hat that
included his initials and his title, “The Voice.”

A number of Alexander’s classmates were in attendance to share the
moment, one of them giving him a bottle of Champagne as a gift. Many
more Quakers fans stopped to offer Alexander good wishes. Rendell, who
was also in attendance, wrote a letter of recognition to mark the day,
extending “my gratitude, respect and admiration on behalf of all

After a slow start, Penn pulled away from Harvard and cruised to a
34-14 victory to claim at least a share of its 15th Ivy League
championship. (Penn clinched the outright title by beating Cornell,
31-7, on Nov. 20.) While watching the Quakers celebrate on a beautiful
fall night here, the Voice of Franklin Field, his microphone turned
off for good, made his final announcement to no one in particular.

“I’m going out on top,” he said.  (source New York Times)