PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin Elects 2020 Leaders; Katharine Foley and Christine Dunbeck Become Youngest Chapter Leadership

Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Southeastern Wisconsin confirmed its 2020 board appointments at its December meeting and elected Katharine Foley, PR Advisor at Kane Communications Group as chapter president and Christine Dunbeck, Marketing Manager at MARS Solutions Group as chapter president-elect. Foley and Dunbeck, both 28, are the youngest people to be elected to lead the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter in its 69 year history. PRSA SE WI is the local chapter of PRSA, the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals, founded in 1947.

“I’m honored to serve as the PRSA SE WI president and work alongside our new and seasoned board members to elevate and energize the organization,” said Foley. “In 2020, PRSA SE WI plans to redesign its programming structure and expand local partnerships to offer a diverse lineup of events that meet the industry’s evolving needs.”

PRSA SE WI is comprised of approximately 300 members representing public relations and communications professionals from across the region, ranging from recent college graduates to mid-level professionals to leaders in agency, corporate and nonprofit settings. The local chapter was founded in 1951 by Greta W. Murphy, who served as vice president of public relations and development at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

“I’m elated to assist implementation of new initiatives in our chapter,” Dunbeck commented. “We are dedicated to providing the highest level of programming and resources for Southeastern Wisconsin communications professionals. I look forward to serving my esteemed peers.”

The 2020 board is comprised of 12 local PR and communications professionals and includes:

  • President – Katharine Foley, Kane Communications Group
  • President-elect – Christine Dunbeck, MARS Solutions Group
  • Immediate Past President – Ryan Amundson, Potawatomi
  • Treasurer – Christine Dunbeck, MARS Solutions Group
  • Junior Treasurer – Katrina Schwarz, National Fluid Power Association
  • Secretary – Tim McCormick, Harley-Davidson Museum
  • Membership Chair – Allison Kucek, Trefoil
  • Director-at-Large – Community Service – Claire Koenig, VISIT Milwaukee
  • Director-at-Large – PR Palooza – Emily Tau, VISIT Milwaukee
  • Director-at-Large – Marketing – Emily Bultman, New Berlin Redi-Mix
  • Director-at-Large Midwest District Liaison – Patrick McSweeney, APR, Fellow PRSA
  • Director-at-Large Ethics Officer – Michael Pflughoeft, APR, Fellow PRSA
  • Accreditation Committee Chair – Annie Gentil, APR, Harley-Davidson Motor Company
  • Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair – Lindsey McKee, VISIT Milwaukee
  • PRSSA Liaison – Heidi Fendos, Fendos Public Relations

About PRSA

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community. With more than 30,000 professional and student members, PRSA is collectively represented in all 50 states by 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, and on nearly 375 college and university campuses through its student organization, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The Southeastern Wisconsin chapter sponsors student chapters at Carthage College, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Whitewater.

Words Matter in the Battle for Rights in America

After three generations spanning seven decades, tremendous personal sacrifices and financial investments, the 19th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution 99 years ago this month.

Wisconsin was one of the first states to ratify the Amendment in 1919 (officially ratified on Aug. 18, 1920) and so the anniversary celebrations to commemorate the historic event have already begun. The spirit of the era was optimism; women were finally guaranteed the right to vote and believed they would have a new voice in Congress.

Public Relations and marketing were major parts of the suffrage movement, with carefully chosen words at its core. We need to remember the implications of word usage because words matter. Even chosen carefully, we must be aware of the unconscious biases, historical context, implied racism, or other inferences associated with the words we choose. Because of the Suffrage Movement, PR and marketing became the norm in political campaigns.

While the words “suffragist” and “suffragette” are often used interchangeably, they really aren’t. One is desirable, and the other is offensive and dismissive, used most often to mock those involved in the suffrage movement.

“Suffragette” was a British term used to reference the women fighting for suffrage. The suffix “ette” is used in reference to something small. Thus, this term marginalized the women and their cause. In the U.S., it was a negative label used only by those that wanted to forever deny women the right to vote.

While the 19th was a positive step forward for women, it wasn’t until other Amendments and Acts were ratified and passed decades later that all women were protected and able to actively participate in the electoral process.

The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee is committed to advancing equity for women. We do this by creating community conversations, providing scholarships for women age 35 and older who are pursuing their first bachelor’s degree, and making grants to area non-profits that are addressing systemic issues affecting women. We know money and philanthropy have power, and the Women’s Fund leverages the gifts made to it, to move the needle and create an inclusive world-class community where women and girls realize their full potential, and everyone thrives. To learn more, go to

Lisa Attonito
Executive Director
Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee

What Does Diversity & Inclusion Really Look Like in 21st Century America?

Admittedly, a 60-year old white man is probably not the poster child to represent diversity and inclusion. Nonetheless, I have seen and experienced the stares, the finger-pointing, the hushed conversations and condescending treatment of bias towards “different” people.

My father was born with achondroplasia and was only 54 inches tall (we used to call people with this condition “dwarfs”). My mother was only a few inches taller. Complications during birth resulted in an intellectual disability for my youngest brother (we used to call people like this “mentally retarded”).

My parents taught us how to adapt and overcome limitations and that others’ biases were “their problem.”

Having grown up in an all-white suburb, my only interactions with African-Americans and non-Christians were with bus drivers, housekeepers or laborers. It wasn’t until college that I met, worked with and began friendships with people of color. Many of these friendships continue to this day, thanks to social media.

Having “the talk” with my teenage sons was about treating women with respect and being responsible sexually. It didn’t involve responding to others’ comments or what ifs involving the police as illustrated in a video last year by Proctor & Gamble. Nor have I experienced others’ reactions to my physical presence walking down a street or into a store like those in P & G’s follow up video, “The Look.”

As a married Christian man, the issue of equal rights for LBGTQ persons (Queer folk) was strictly an intellectual exercise when Ellen DeGeneres disclosed she is gay. And even when our congregation left the Episcopal Church a few years later, rather than supporting the first openly gay man to lead a mainline denomination, it didn’t affect me.

The issue of workplace protections, equal rights in housing – even the ability to purchase a wedding cake – became real when our younger son came out to me and my wife ten years ago. While my wife had an inkling of this, I was blindsided. Between reading several books on the subject, family counseling, and conversations with my wife and son, it was clear that nothing really had changed – he is my son, whom I love and respect.

What I’ve found is that statements of Queer folk wanting “special treatment” for “a lifestyle choice” ring hollow. Those kinds of statements are a thin veneer covering a hatred of others who are “different.” Substitute the terms “African-American,” “Asian,” “Jew,” “Christian,” “Blonde hair,” “blue-eyed,” or “women” for “gay” or “lesbian” in these kinds of conversations – and if it sounds discriminatory, it is.

About 150 years ago, my great-great grandfather faced ethnic discrimination summed up in signs posted by businesses stating, “No Irish need apply.” A century ago, American women finally won the right to vote. Fifty-five years ago, civil rights laws ensured the rights of African-American voters. Today, it’s Queer folk that is the minority group seeking equality. A common thread is that each marginalized group used or is using public relations tactics to change public opinion and win equal rights and equal protections under the law.

As PR practitioners, our job sometimes involves being the conscience of an organization. We are tasked with identifying and then communicating with a variety of publics. That’s why it’s important that we recognize unconscious bias and proactively work to ensure everyone has an equal place in our community conversations.

Our PRSA chapter has made a conscious decision to seek out speakers and programs that may challenge PR pros’ thinking and help them see and hear different points of view on issues of diversity and inclusion. We’ve done this because diversity is not a black and white issue and much still needs to be done to ensure no group or individuals are marginalized in our society. We are working with a variety of organizations who are dedicated to making Milwaukee and Wisconsin a better place to live and work. We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t completed our journey.

I hope to see you at our after-work social on Wed., August 21 at America’s Black Holocaust Museum at the corner of North Ave. and Vel R. Phillips (formerly North 4th) just north of downtown Milwaukee. You can sign up here.

Patrick McSweeney
Past President of PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter


Alone We Won’t Boil the Ocean, But Together, We Can Make Some Waves

Recent news on the economic impact of Wisconsin’s creative industry is eye-opening. Looking most broadly at arts and creativity as a regional resource – including printed goods, architectural works, the arts and, of course, advertising and PR – we’re a force providing more jobs than historic Wisconsin industries like beer and paper.

This presents an opportunity and responsibility to ensure the industry stays strong through developing talent, pushing creativity and supporting diversity. There are many leaders working on such efforts statewide and locally, but it’s hard to argue more isn’t needed especially in D&I.

One program alone isn’t going to boil the ocean when it comes to a prosperous, diverse and inclusive future for our region and its talent, but can we make some more waves from creative services’ waters edge?

Recently, I learned about The BrandLab, founded by the late John Olson of the Minneapolis agency that bears his name. The Brand Lab’s CEO visited Milwaukee to meet with a handful of Milwaukee creatives and share why she thought we could be next for The BrandLab.

Those gathered shared great programs here and talked about the ongoing challenges in building and sustaining a diverse creative industry especially in, and representative of, Milwaukee.

She peeled back what has worked in Minneapolis and is now offering promise in Kansas City – creative towns similar to ours. The BrandLab program formula focuses on providing exposure, access, opportunity and equity.

It was a discussion that piqued interest – could the program succeed here and does Milwaukee have the formula for success? Those “must haves” include:

  • a committed school district;
  • industry leaders willing to give time and talent;
  • financial support from companies, agencies, foundations and others; and
  • creative leadership willing to listen, learn and change.

The group that met with her concluded that this just might be the time. Several leaders have already pledged initial support, and The BrandLab CEO will return to Milwaukee in the fall to meet with others. You are invited to help test the Milwaukee waters. Will you join us? Contact me by email at if interested.

Kris Naidl, APR
Member of the PRSA SE WI Diversity & Inclusion Committee
EVP, Managing Director of PR
Laughlin Constable

Communicating D&I Initiatives Publicly – Risky or Rewarding?

Acknowledging that we can all do better with our Diversity & Inclusion efforts is of paramount importance for every business. This sentiment has been shared over and over across our client roster and within our own agency walls. In fact, according to Deloitte Insights, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of executives rate diversity and inclusion a critical issue. The intentions are well-meaning and true. The efforts and programs toward more diverse and inclusive workplaces are all created to move the needle in the right direction.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, “is what we are doing for our D&I initiative something worth sharing publicly?” I was recently in a social media workshop with a client, brainstorming topics for content. One well-meaning participant suggested, “we should really talk about our D&I work.” My response was, “what makes your work different and groundbreaking from other companies? Do you have real results you can share?” The answers were, “not really anything, and not yet.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to take hard look inward at the realities, not the aspirations, of diversity within our businesses. In fact, a report by Bloomberg found that although a majority of organizations (71 percent) aspire, within three years, to have an “inclusive” culture, only 11 percent report that they currently have one. There is a very careful balance we must contemplate as communications professionals when considering whether to promote our D&I initiatives. We run the risk of coming off as disingenuous or simply “checking off the D&I box on our ‘to do’ list.”

Just as we carefully communicate our corporate social responsibility and philanthropic efforts, we need to also consider how we can genuinely position ourselves within the D&I space. And, maybe most importantly, not give ourselves undeserved credit in this important, and sensitive, area.

That’s not to say that we all shouldn’t work hard to accomplish more diverse and welcoming workplaces and businesses – it is to say that we all need to be careful about how much public praise we give ourselves, and share with others, about those efforts.

To learn about PR and Diversity, please visit

Sara Hood
Vice President, PR/Social Director


D&I: Creating a World That Embraces All Abilities

The term “diversity” is not some nebulous concept to me. Diversity has always been a big part of my life, and I’m proud to be part of a group that encourages awareness of this important issue in all aspects of life – from gender, to race, to abilities, and many more.

My blog will take more of a personal approach. As honored as I am to be involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin, my hope is that D&I Committees are eventually not needed – that diversity is just a part of the daily fabric of life in businesses, organizations, social groups, schools, etc.

We have a long way to go.

For this post, I’d like to focus on the differently-abled population. For as long as I can remember, I never understood why it was such a big deal when I would meet a person with special needs. We’re all just people right? We all have special needs and abilities. The first step to inclusion is removing that label of being different, or “challenged.”

Don’t get me wrong. I know that medically, having special needs can be a very big deal, and many people need extra care in order to survive & thrive. Families have to find a new normal to take care of their loved ones with special abilities. But when you REALLY get down to it, we’re all just people. Some of us are funny, some more serious, some athletic, artistic – each of us contributes to the rich tapestry of life.

Ever since college, I have volunteered with organizations that serve the special needs population, and I have learned more from these experiences than from any college course.

One of those lessons – don’t sweat the small stuff. We get so consumed by our daily problems, and wanting more. Sometimes we forget to just BE. This is a lesson I’ve learned from the special needs population. Sure, it’s human nature to vent and complain because life is hard at times. But if we lead lives that are based in patience, kindness, and acceptance, life’s challenges just might seem a little less daunting.

Those qualities of kindness and acceptance carry over to the workplace & professional organizations. It’s not a bold, new idea to say we need more people with special needs in the workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2017, 18.7% of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7%.

The disparity between those numbers is staggering.

In some cases, a person physically can’t work. But in many other cases, these gifted, differently-abled citizens don’t get a chance to be hired and share their diverse talents with the rest of the workforce. Many can’t afford or access transportation, and if they do find jobs, they are minimum wage positions, in subpar working environments.

I encourage anyone who has even a little bit ot free time to check out local organizations that promote inclusion – Best Buddies, Easter Seals, Special Olympics, The Eisenhower Center. They are always looking for volunteers to help with events and programming. I think you’ll fine you’ll get more out of it than the people you’re assisting.

And next time you see someone with a disability, I challenge you to see them for what they CAN do… I bet you’ll be surprised!

Steph Graham
PR & Content Manager



2019 Offers Diverse New Opportunities and Challenges for Strategic Communicators

We’re already entering the third month of 2019, and it’s clear that communications professionals can play an active role in helping employers and clients benefit from greater cultural diversity in the workplace and the greater community. Those benefits are both reputational and contribute to an organization’s bottom line. In 2019, communicators can be strategic partners to leaders in their roles as culture builders.

Several recent articles I’ve read, and conversations with D&I leaders and communications colleagues, have reaffirmed the business importance of developing more diverse leadership. Companies like Netflix, M&T Bank, and Uber have deliberately increased the diversity of their organization’s leadership, and their businesses are thriving because of it. Research confirms the real benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to improved organizational performance and success. Organizations whose executive teams reflect the diverse culture that is the American melting pot are growing and succeeding.

As communicators, we can leverage our professional platforms both internally and externally to enhance appreciation for D&I programs. Furthermore, we can help with the ongoing challenges of recruitment and retention – a problem for many organizations, especially in the advertising/marketing/public relations sector – by connecting our employers and clients with organized community efforts, attracting desirable executives in a systematic way.

Recent studies by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and rank Milwaukee among the top five worst cities for African Americans holding corporate leadership positions. To address this problem, 80 business and community leaders from various sectors in Milwaukee have come together to develop and support a growing pool of diverse and talented African American leaders. The goal of the African American Leadership Alliance (AALM) is for Milwaukee to rank as the best city in the U.S. for African American executives by 2025!

In short, helping to increase D&I awareness, facilitating participation in community improvement initiatives, and partnering with organizations such as AALM present unique opportunities for PRSA members and our strategic communications colleagues to demonstrate a new level of value for our organizations.

We must seize these opportunities to lead as only we can, helping to form diverse multigenerational works teams that bolster creativity and innovation, and producing communications deliverables that help our organizations achieve revenue, reputation, corporate social responsibility, and D&I goals.

Besides, bringing diverse viewpoints and cultures to the table is a proven deterrent to organizational missteps, which often require communicators to shift into “crisis mode” at a moment’s notice.

The choice is ours – be proactive or reactive.

Debra A. Miller, Ed.D., APR, Fellow PRSA
President and Senior Counsel
Global Communication Strategists, LLC
Chapter Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair

Notice of 2018 Annual Meeting

All members are hereby notified that the Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America will be:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 at 12:00 pm  at:

Italian Community Center, 631 E Chicago St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (free parking in back)

The following item of business will be brought before the members: The slate of officers, board members and committee chairs to lead the PRSA chapter in 2019:

President – Ryan Amundson

President-elect – Jeff Dardis

Immediate Past President – Patrick McSweeney

Treasurer – Christine Dunbeck

Secretary – Stephanie Graham

Membership Chair – Katharine Foley

Ethics Officer/Midwest District Liaison – Carolyn Schamberger

Director, Marketing – Nicole Koremenos

Director, Community Service – Katrina Schwarz

Director, PR Palooza – Allison Kucek



Diveristy & Inclusion – Debi Miller

Accreditation – Annie Gentil

Mentorship – Emily Bultman

Education/PRSSA – Heidi Fendos


Judges Needed

PRSA is currently recruiting judges for the Sierra Nevada Chapter awards. Sierra Nevada graciously volunteered their time earlier this year to judge our Paragon Awards, and now it is time to return the favor. Judging is a great way to see the great work that another chapter is doing, and also give back a bit to your PRSA chapter. Judging will be from September 18th (entries sent to judges) – October 2nd (entries due back to the chapter). Each volunteer judge will judge between two and four entries (depending on final number of entries and judges). Please sign-up for judging no later than September 1st.

If you are interested or have questions, please email Immediate Past President, Sara Rude at