GFW PRSA October Webinar: The Art and (Brain) Science of Effective Communications

Learn how to craft bite-sized content to get people’s attention from Kristin Graham, principal of culture & communications at Amazon.

About this Event

There’s plenty written on the art of creating content. This conversation, however, will focus on the sexy side of the science. By learning more about information psychology, attention spans, and technology trends, you can better plan communications in today’s digital (and distant) age.

Kristin Graham, principal of culture and communications at Amazon, will share insights about anticipating the needs of today’s evolving audience and how to be more productive in your own day.

Through a collection of “nerd facts,” you’ll learn how to craft bite-sized content to get people’s attention.

Bring your questions and comments for an interactive conversation on how to be heard in today’s digital environment.



  • 11:30-11:45 a.m.: GFW PRSA Annual Meeting and presentation and official vote on the 2021 slate of officers
  • 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.: Program including Q&A

After you register here on Eventbrite, an Outlook calendar notice with the Zoom link will be emailed to you.

Please invite a colleague or friend to this webinar.


Kristin Graham, principal of culture & communications at Amazon

A former journalist and current technology leader, Kristin Graham has centered her career on storytelling. Curiosity wove her career from non-profits to Fortune 50s before she moved to leading communications and employee programs for Expedia, Inc.

Her experience includes executive and employee communications, diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, learning & development, and employer branding initiatives. She also ran a global recruiting team for three years and saw up-close the art of negotiation and the art of the ask.

After a year-long travel sabbatical, Kristin joined Amazon where she leads culture and communication programs. At Amazon, she leads the Amazon narrative writing classes, reaching more than 10,000 Amazonians in six countries – and now globally online.

A frequent speaker on the topic of communications and information science, Kristin is part of the Ragan Communications Leadership Council and has given keynotes at organizations like Microsoft, Facebook, Walt Disney World, International Association of Business Communicators, Public Relations Society of America, and the National Investor Relations Institute.

Kristin has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and an executive MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For more information, visit

Whatever Floats Your Boat

The PR campaign that help sink a war hero’s presidential ambitions

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

People often discuss politics using military terms. We refer to “campaigns” and “war chests,” or lament, “But we can’t count on the French.”

Coincidentally, one of the more memorable recent political PR campaigns involved military service—particularly, that of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. While serving in Vietnam, Kerry had earned three Purple Heart medals, as well as the Bronze and Silver medals.

Kerry’s military record appeared to be an impregnable front line. But a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) thought otherwise, and set out to prove it. In a press conference, they announced that their mission was to “accurately portray” Kerry’s service in Vietnam, and they presented a statement that was signed by a regiment of veterans. Or maybe it was a battalion—in any case, it was a lot.

In August 2004, they launched, if you will, an all-out assault on Kerry’s record. Two members of the group published a book about Kerry titled, “Unfit for Command.” They also created a website and a series of well-crafted commercials featuring comments from several concerned vets, who questioned Kerry’s honesty, character, courage, and woefully unassertive eyebrows.

Kerry’s campaign responded, noting that two of the vets appearing in the commercials had previously supported him, and one of the retired officers attacking him had previously written commendations.

Other questions popped up. Some of the interviewees said their comments had been edited in a misleading fashion, the military doctor who accused Kerry of lying about his wounds had no record of having ever treated him, and one “witness” later admitted he had no firsthand knowledge of the events.

Republican Sen. John McCain, himself a Vietnam vet, condemned the ads, saying they were “dishonest and dishonorable.” And as I’m sure you all remember, the group’s initial statement was signed by some suspicious Navy vets, including Popeye, Gilligan and Capt. Jack Sparrow.

The strong resistance did not deter the SBVT troops, who ran four commercials and did numerous interviews. At the end of the month, they called on Kerry to release all his military and medical records, and released an open letter stating, “Tell the Truth and We’ll Stop the Ads.” To which the Kerry campaign reportedly responded, “You can’t make me, you can’t make me.”

In a matter of weeks, the SWBT campaign had changed the arc of the contest. But did it also tip the election? Many of George W. Bush’s supporters thought so; one conservative columnist wrote that the SWBT’s efforts “gave Bush a chance,” and another wrote, “There is not a doubt in my mind this was the difference in the race.” Kerry himself later wrote, “If I were a citizen watching that ad … I wouldn’t vote for me.” (Nor would Ralph Nader.)

For a while, “swift boating” became a noun referring to the act of making exaggerated or unsubstantiated allegations to damage someone’s credibility. Today of course, we just call it Tweeting.

PR pros may not agree on whether the SWBT campaign is something to be celebrated or shunned. But there’s little doubt it’s a clear example of the critical role PR can have in a presidential election.

And look, here comes one now.

GFW PRSA August Webinar: 2020 Media Panel presented by GFW PRSA

Virtual media panel with journalists from KERA, the Star-Telegram and local TV affiliates.

About this Event

Brought back by popular review! This year we are offering a virtual media panel with journalists from KERA, the Star-Telegram, Fort Worth Business Press and local TV affiliates.

Hear about how some of the most respected DFW journalists have covered and coped with the COVID-19 epidemic, and the impact on staffing, assignments and the news outlet’s business overall. Learn about the preferences and pet peeves of journalists when working with PR professionals.

WEBINAR: 2020 Media Panel presented by GFW PRSA


    • Chris Connelly, KERA
    • Robert Francis, Business Press
    • Yona Gavino, NBC5
    • Luke Ranker, Star-Telegram
    • Teresa Woodard, WFAA

Moderator: Gigi Westerman, APR, Fellow PRSA

Bonus! Bring a pitch-in-development and get feedback on the spot!


    • Wed., Aug. 5, 2020
    • 11:30 a.m.
    • Cost $5 (This helps cover our Zoom costs.)

After registering, an Outlook calendar notice with the Zoom link will be emailed to you.

GFW PRSA July Virtual Program – Unheard: Black Lives and the Fight for Justice

Mark your calendars! Join us for our next GFW PRSA Virtual Program on Friday, July 31!

Across the globe, protesters took to the streets after George Floyd died while in custody of Minneapolis police. People of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds marched to seek justice for Floyd and to support Black Lives Matter, a movement started in 2013 to “build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” The protests have awakened the consciousness of the nation, calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system at all levels of government and a dismantling of systemic racism and white supremacy.

In addition to calling for systemic change, white Americans have been challenged to listen to African Americans and learn more about the racial injustices people of color face both at an individual and a societal level. At our June program, which happens to fall on Juneteenth, we will hear from the co-hosts of Blackbelt Voices, a podcast that “propagates the richness of Black Southern culture by telling the stories of Black folks down South.”

Through first-person narratives and in-depth conversations, hosts Adena J. White, Kara Wilkins and Katrina Dupins share the experiences of Black Southerners living in, loving, and reconciling with the region they call home. During this program, Adena, Kara and Katrina – all professional communicators –  will talk about how Blackbelt Voices came to be, the importance of media representation, and adapting messages to resonate with different audiences.

Featured Guests:

• Adena J. White, APR is an accredited public relations professional with more than a decade of experience in strategic communication and storytelling. She is the director of communications for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the 2019 president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is currently the secretary of the PRSA Southwest District.

A strong believer in the power of storytelling for social change, Adena founded Blackbelt Media LLC in 2017, which produces the Blackbelt Voices podcast. The podcast propagates the richness of Black Southern culture by telling stories from and about Black folks down South.

Adena obtained a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and journalism with an emphasis in public relations from Arkansas Tech University. She later completed a master’s degree in applied communication studies from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

• Kara Wilkins is a solutions-focused communications and community engagement consultant, with an extensive background in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. She has over a decade of experience working with diverse communities to create innovative solutions to improve health and human equity.

Prior to her role as owner and principal consultant at KWilkins Consulting Group, Kara worked at the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, where she honed her skills in communications, outreach, public policy, development, and advocacy/government relations.

• Katrina Dupins is a professional communicator who writes features about people whose circumstances tend to change their perspective on life.

Katrina joined UAMS in 2013 as media relations manager. Before going to UAMS, she spent seven years at KATV Channel 7 where she worked in several positions, including video editor, production assistant and field producer. Katrina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Arkansas Tech University.

She spends free mornings jogging or scoping out the best places to enjoy a quiet sunrise. She enjoys cooking, gardening and photography.

Something Clicked

Over the years, seat belt PR campaigns have helped save thousands of lives–despite our objections.

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

This month’s column has some loose ends. For one, our research team has had a hard time confirming some specific dates. And two, our topic is seat belts–loose ones, to be exact.

Up until recently, Americans had a very uneasy relationship with seat belts. In the U.S., belts were introduced 1949; unfortunately traffic fatalities were already a concern. In 1959, one government official called it “the epidemic on the highways.”

But the innovation had more than a few skeptics. As one journalist reported, “Among the arguments put forth against seat belts was that they could cause internal injuries; that they prevented easy escapes from cars submerged in water; and that devices frequently failed.” The reporter added that, although researchers refuted these beliefs, “opposition remained fierce.”

Seat belts also were bad for business. In 1956, Ford’s advertising focused on their seat belts and other new safety features, while Chevy’s ads focused on power.  Chevy sales squashed the Blue Oval that year, prompting Henry Ford II to note that while their company was selling safety, “Chevrolet is selling cars.”

By 1963, 23 states had laws requiring carmakers to put seatbelts in the driver’s seat, and in 1968, federal legislation was passed. The catch is, while the government was requiring car makers to install the seat belts, there was no law requiring people to actually wear them.

During the decade, the National Safety Council tried to nudge Americans along with their “Buckle Up for Safety” PR campaign; the jingles were quite cute and still worth listening to.

The real struggle began in December 1984, when New York became the first state to require the use of seat belts. Notably, Texas was not far behind, passing its law in September 1985–before Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.  (To be fair, Arkansas did not really have a need for the law at that time, as most of the state’s vehicles were on cinder blocks.)

Opposition remained fierce. A radio personality gathered 45,000 signatures calling for a referendum, and some people cut the belts out. A national columnist compared a seat belt law to being fined for leaving the skin on your chicken, while an editorial writer railed, “In this country, saving freedom is more important than trying to regulate lives through legislation.” And no, I did not steal that line from my Twitter feed.

A regional survey confirmed the resistance, with many drivers finding seat belts to be “ineffective, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.” (Notably, the report also found that belt opposition was more likely “among persons who reported that they drove after marijuana use, or heavy drinking, or both.”)

Enter Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies. This PR campaign was introduced some time in 1985 (another loose end). The duo wrapped their serious message in clever humor and the tagline, “You could learn a lot from a dummy.” The campaign ran until 1999, winning numerous awards. More important, Vince and Larry are credited with dramatically increasing seat belt usage. In 2010, the costumes were (carefully) moved to the Smithsonian.

Accelerate to May 2002, when “Click It or Ticket” went nationwide. This PR campaign also made an impact: By 2008, seat belt usage had increased to 83 percent.

Today, the only state without a seat belt law is New Hampshire, whose state motto, fittingly, is “Live Free or Die.” The National Highway Something Something reports that from 2013-17, seat belts saved approximately 69,000 lives; their current slogan is, “Wear your belt every time—no matter how uncomfortable it feels or how far you’re going.” (Incidentally, if you want to see just how wimpy American PR campaigns really are, search for New Zealand seatbelt safety campaign.)

In June, the government concluded a month-long traffic safety radio campaign that ran in 13 states, including Texas. Chances are, you didn’t hear the ads—or perhaps you just didn’t notice them. After all, seat belts now are just so routine.

And what was once considered a radical affront to our liberty has become a norm most people not only tolerate but desire. But it has been a long road. As one journalist noted, seat belt acceptance required “public service campaigns, legal enforcement, and even regular reminders from our cars themselves.”

So take it from Vince and Larry: Skilled and dedicated PR professionals have repeatedly shown they can influence our thinking and save lives—if we will let them.