Survive the Holidays with a Little PR

thanksgiving blog image

The Thanksgiving holiday is here, and if you’re anything like me, you’re getting ready to kick your feet up and think about turkey, the weather, maybe some football in the yard, and certainly that fat slice of pumpkin or apple pie. The last thing on your mind is the to-do list on your desk at the office. Yet, if you think about it, the PR skills you bring to the office all year long will serve you well as you prepare to engage in the holiday’s offerings and gorge on its treats.

I know you think I’m crazy, because you’re likely picturing how nice it’s going to be to sit down, eat a delicious meal, and drift into tryptophan land shortly afterwards. But in reality, what looms are the possibilities of kitchen fiascos, flight scheduling nightmares, burnt desserts and family time overload. How do we use what we’ve employed all year long to keep ourselves and our clients on a winning track, to make that enjoyable scene in our head play out as planned?

Check out these tips for using PR to survive your Thanksgiving holiday this year.

  1. Brainstorm, organize, plan, execute!

You would never run a client’s campaign without thorough preparation and planning. You should apply that same approach to your holiday, especially if you’re hosting.  Hosting the big get-together is always fun,but as a wise man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Or in the case of hosting, “With large parties comes extensive preparation.” Follow your game plan from the office, and outline  how you’re going to execute the big day. Have lots of youngsters coming? An arts and crafts station, or an outdoor activity to keep them entertained – and out of the kitchen – is always a good idea. My grandpa used to rent a bounce-house every year, and it was always (and still is) my favorite. Likewise, if you have a large or diverse group of family and friends, consider surveying – send printed notes or go casual with a text – your guests for the drinks and appetizers they’d love to see. Just like you strive to learn everything about your client so you can best serve them,  you want to anticipate your guests’ needs to ensure a fun and relaxing holiday for them – and yourself.

  1. Teamwork is a must, but so is leadership.

Ever hear the phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen?” I haven’t done the research, but I’m willing to bet someone coined it after a Thanksgiving “uh-oh.” We all love getting together in the kitchen and whipping up those recipes that go generations-deep, and doing it together is what makes it special. Aunt Jan knows just how to whip the sweet potatoes for Granny’s famous pie, and your brother never forgets to remind you that you shouldn’t overcook the green beans, and of course mom will have to help stuff the turkey because, well, it’s her thing. Everyone contributes in his or her own way, but getting too many cooks in the kitchen leads to disaster – or frustration at the very least. Run your kitchen like you run your client accounts: lead, but employ lots of well-organized help. We have account executives and account coordinators, and interns and executive vice presidents for a reason. When everyone performs his or her role the team functions at its best. So, Uncle Ryan can handle the turkey how he likes, and your sister can ice the cake, but like you would with your client team, keep control of your kitchen.

  1. Recognize when it’s time to enjoy.

And finally, if you’re anything like me, or my mom, or the large majority of Thanksgiving-fanatics, you’ve already shifted into high gear preparing for Thursday, and by the time that bird comes out of the oven, you’ll be ready for a nap. It’s often like that in the PR world — so many details to attend to in frequently compressed timeframes.  While it can be overwhelming at times, it’s also what keeps it fun. And, it helps make those moments when you can sit back, reflect on your work and appreciate it that much sweeter. Thanksgiving should be no different. Holidays are bound to be stressful, and rightfully so with all we pack into them, but they’re still holidays. So, you’ve prepped every dish, served every beverage, and pulled out every chair in the house. Now, it’s time to sit down, relax, and enjoy the work you’ve put in. Dig into that turkey, have an extra piece of pie, and be happy with what you’ve accomplished alongside your team – er, I mean family. You deserve it.


By Morgan Beavers, SDI

Morgan is a senior at the University of Georgia studying public relations and English.

November 23, 2015

Celebrating Susan’s Special Day – Words of Love and Moments Captured Forever

birthday candles 2If you ask Hallmark how to say Happy Birthday to those in  your work environment, they’ll feed you the generic line, “It’s a pleasure to work with you… and to wish you a happy birthday.” At Susan Davis International, we are anything but  generic.  Our wonderful CEO, Susan Davis, is celebrating her  birthday today and all of us at the SDI office as well as some of Susan’s close friends have a lot more to say than just,  “Happy Birthday.”


Susan is always looking around for young people that she can lift up, mentor, or coach through both their careers and lives. She truly enjoys sharing her own experiences with up and coming professionals.


When a former boss recommended that I look into an internship at SDI because of the woman who started the company, I knew before meeting Susan that she was a person of great strength and character. I’ve seen that confirmed in many ways since I started here. I’ll always remember when she invited all the interns for lunch and told us about her experience working with Egypt’s Minister of Defense in the Susan Davis1980s. A young woman, she flew to Egypt on her own and spent days negotiating and holding her own with some of the most prominent and powerful men in the country (even as they sized her up through an unspoken challenge to match their bourbon intake at dinner).

Susan, you’re an inspiration for me and for all women wishing to gain ground and make a difference in a changing world. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from you this semester, and I hope to take away even a fraction of the gusto and influence you bring every day. Happy Birthday to an outstanding example!


It has been a pleasure working for you this semester. Your passion and “driving sense of mission” is truly amazing, and it has been an inspiration to me as I embark on my professional career.  I couldn’t have asked for a better internship environment and learning experience, as I’ve had the chance to work for the best.  I hope one day my library trophy case will be half the size of yours.

I wish you another year of success and happiness!

Julie Haupin

elvis While I’m still relatively new to the Susan Davis International team, Susan  has welcomed me with open arms. Beyond her inspiring leadership  and strong business savvy, Susan’s warmth and
sense of humor emanate throughout the entire office
. I especially  enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with her at a recent client dinner, and  look forward to our continued work together. Happy Birthday, Susan!

 Julie Seger

Happy Birthday!! I trust your special day is exciting, adventurous and all that you hoped for. I’ve had the greatest opportunity to be able to work with and learn from you. I’ve really gotten to know you over the past year and I value the relationship we share. I appreciate all that you’ve done for me and the SDI staff. Have a wonderful day and cheers to another great year!


The first time I got to sit down and talk to Susan was when she invited the interns to lunch.  I knew she was intelligent and accomplished but the stories she shared with us about her professional career were incredible to hear and extremely motivating as a young women entering the work world.  I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to work and learn at SDI.  It’s also nice to have a fellow Wisconsinite in DC! I wish the happiest of birthdays to you Susan!


Samsung Phone Photos 039

Thank you for serving as an inspiring example for young women like myself — and proving
what can happen when you follow your passion and dreams despite the challenges. You created this company at a time when few women owned businesses and succeeded remarkably.  Now, you help other
young women carry on the legacy of initiative and drive, both through Vital Voices and meetings with interns where you share your experiences and encourage them to dream. I wish you a very happy birthday.


Here is your birthday horoscope!  “Being a Scorpio born on November 18th, you’re as caring as you are determined. You dedicate yourself fully to all your relationships, which explains why you often find yourself looking out for the needs of others above all else. Your friends and family appreciate your nurturing ways, but they truly admire your determination. When confronted with a worthwhile challenge, there is nothing that will prevent you from conquering it. Your willpower is amongst your greatest strengths. And your dreams bring you lots of inspiration and hope for the future.”

Those astrologers got it right – wishing you an absolutely fantastic year ahead- Happy Birthday!


One of my favorite memories with Susan is when she took Aliza and me out to lunch at Brasserie Beck. I hardly touched my (delicious) food, because I was so engrossed in Susan’s stories.  Her experiences working on a diverse range of clients make for some amazing stories—not only were they very entertaining, they also spoke to her entrepreneurial and creative spirit. I feel lucky to have such a strong female role model in my professional life.  Wishing you all the best on your birthday, Susan!


Happy Birthday to the wonderful Susan, the only woman I know who serves pork at a dinner party for Jewish guests and who love her so much they eat it and ask for second helpings!”

Love from Norman x 

susanbdayresize1 S-sweet, is what she likes to eat.

 U– never know what she will have you do

 S-serious about have FUN

 A-adventure is her middle name

 N-never considers quitting (especially at having FUN) Happy bday!!!

Meet me for a donut!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the amazing Susan — who gets more done in a day than most of us accomplish in a week.  Hope that on THIS day, though, you’ll be able to slow down a bit and just savor… starting with a life already oh-so-well lived and a future that beckons with even more opportunity to do good and have fun.  Also trust you’ll remember that birthdays are Mother Nature’s way of telling us to eat more cake.  (And speaking of moms, congratulations to Vivian too!)

Love,  Carol


susanbdayresize3 susanbdayresize2Dear Susan, Pictures are worth a thousand words. Wishing an old and  dear friend a very Happy Birthday!


 Sharon Borth

 (Lest you forget, that’s Sister Marlene)


Disco Susan,

Too bad I can’t find a photo of you in your hot bell-bottom clingy polyester jump suit with sparkles on the front.  Ah, the early seventies were so much fun. You may have changed your outfits to St John’s knits, but the belle of the ball dancing queen is still inside. Wishing you many, many more decades of having too much fun!

Happy Birthday,

Fran Ulmer  


Dear Susan,  We’ve been friends a long time (dare I say 40+ years?  I think so)…During that time we’ve
collaborated in business, enjoyed our pleasure, invested ourselves in philanthropy and I have admired you throughout.  You are one of the most generous, selfless and beautiful individuals I’ve been proud to have as a cherished friend.  When I brought you into the Vital Voices inner circle more about a dozen years ago, I should have known you would go right to the top of that organization and do the fantastic job you have done managing and carrying it to new heights. For that I thank you and for all the other adventures we’ve shared, let’s just say it’s been great and I hope there are a lot more adventures yet to come.  Lastly, let me say that you are a great daughter. In fact, I admire your entire family for the tremendous love and kindness that exudes from the whole Davis clan.  And, on your birthday, dear Susan, there are no wishes better than an Irish blessing:  May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.


Mary Daley Yerrick

Happy Birthday, dear Susan!

“To me, fair friend,

you never can be old,

for as you were when

first your eye I eyed,

such seems your beauty still.” (Sonnet 104)

I am a great Susan Davis admirer. You are a Renaissance woman: vibrant, upbeat, fun loving, brilliant, “go to and get around” gal: whether DC, Capitol Hill, Arena, Vital Voices, and, of course, Ireland.  With all that traveling, you continue to show your commitment to family values.

I love being with you for your enthusiasm which is contagious, your caring about others, and your joie de vivre.

So, dear friend, have a great birthday and a great year!







Dear Susan, So many special days, so many more ahead.

 Love, Marcia

Hi Susan 

How wonderful to be able to wish you happiness void health and prosperity in your business. With my best wishes for a long and lovely life with God’s blessings.

Mary Piyatissa

Sister – I speak for the crowd.

You can talk me into anything. I like that about you, and I hate that about you. But I love everything else (including your closet). Skol!



Hi Susan, Thank you for being so kind and generous of spirit for many years now. The scariest moment was when I brought my friend Tim to your Halloween party in Georgetown and he became a gay icon overnight!! Great memories of a great individual who has done so much for US-Irish relations. Happy birthday Susan and hope to see you soon.

Your friends forever,

Liam and Cathy

Seems like only yesterday. September evening with the smell of burning leaves in the air. Susan walking home with Glen Simonis, and me walking a couple steps behind looking at a flight of snow geese silhouetted against a full moon. Susan says “you know what you did…” Glen replies “no, I don’t, tell me…”  Susan, “you know what you did…” Glen continuing to profess ignorance of his transgression and bewilderment.  So, when the interminable moment finally does end, and Glen disappears, I say…”so what did he do?”  Answer, “nothing, just need to keep him on his toes.”  From the beginning, she’s Untitled2 always had a plan, and she’s playing chess while you’re playing checkers.

 Bro, Tom

 Super Susan … Life force and energizer bunny and extraordinary  networker…Not to mention her role as the Royal Flush of the Poker Pals  group! Hope you have a wonderful bday and that you keep us all on your list for  adventures to come



“It’s so nice that you decided to go back to your natural color.”

Happy birthday to my loving, comforting, fun, creative, stimulating, smart soulmate of close to (eeeek!) 30 years! Here’s to many, many more!!  Love you, dear buddy.

P.S. Still looking forward to that airplane.



Wherever you are, there goes my heart. And whatever brings  you joy, makes me joyful tenfold. (Except to beat me in UNO)

 Happy Birthday my darling,





Maddie Packard, SDI 

Maddie is a senior at St. Norbert College studying Media Communications and Business

November 18, 2015

Land of the Free, Because of the Brave: 90’s Kids Perspectives on Veterans Day

Veterans Day gives us all a chance to say thank you to the brave men and women who have fought for our country’s freedoms.  In my life, Veterans Day has always meant a lot.  

My grandmother, Elaine St. John, was a US Navy Wave Lieutenant J.G. in WWII.  My grandfather, George St. John, ended up as a Commander in the U.S. Navy, stayed with the Reserves and was Commanding Office of the Atlantic City Naval Reserve Unit during the 1950s.  My uncle, Jeff St. John, was first a midshipman in the US Navy and ended up as a Captain of the U.S. Marine Corps.  He earned a bronze star for bravery.  My grandfather, George Haupin, was a WWII Army expert marksman, and received four campaign stars for serving on the Mountain Artillery Reconnaissance Services Task Force in the 612th Field Artillery Battalion in the China, Burma, and India Campaigns.

I am honored to be part of a family that sacrificed its time together, so other families could stay with theirs. Words cannot describe my pride.

When I was younger, I had pen pals in the military that I would write to and send tokens to, attempting to brighten their day just a little bit.  I’m not sure if it worked, but I know for a fact their letters back brightened mine.  I think now how lucky I was to have a hero as a pen pal.

Veterans Day not only gives us a chance to thank those who once served, it also enables us to thank those who are currently serving.  Although we should be thankful for veterans every single day, it’s important as a nation we collectively dedicate this day to the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of complete strangers.

I personally think we owe a debt to veterans for most of our way of life. In my day-to-day life, I don’t live in fear of any kind.  My gender doesn’t prevent me from going to college.  I’m allowed to speak my mind (maybe too much) without fear of recrimination.  I’m free to work hard and follow my dreams.  I can travel and explore our country without hostile border checks by armed guards. All of this is possible and we have the choices and amazing lives we do because of our veterans.

Being in Washington, D.C. at this time has even added to my patriotism.  I live right next to the Arlington Cemetery, I jog around the national mall after work, and I pass by the memorials regularly.  In D.C., everywhere you turn there is an iconic landmark or memorial, therefore, everywhere I turn, I am proud to be an American.

This is what I think. But out of curiosity, I asked some of my college-aged friends from around the country to describe what Veterans Day means to them in one sentence.  Here are the results:

“I don’t have immediate family members who fought—and unfortunately those who did are distant or deceased, so Veterans Day is a specific time for me to remember those strangers who have given so much to protect this nation, to protect me; and it’s their sacrifice for everyone, even those they don’t know, that amazes me.”- Morgan Beavers, University of Georgia

“For me, Veterans Day means recognizing all those we know and don’t know for their incredible service who don’t always get the credit they deserve. – Maddie Packard, St. Norbert College

“It’s a time to pay tribute to those who are serving and have served our country in the armed forces.” – Chris Griffith, Clemson University

“Veterans Day gives me a chance to appreciate those who have fought for our country, as they are more courageous and brave than I could ever imagine being.  I’m proud of my grandparents and family members for the patriotism they continue to have today which is demonstrated by their constant service to the community.  Sorry that was two sentences.” – Jamie Haupin, University of Delaware

“Veterans Day represents a day of honor and remembrance for the significant minority of individuals willing to preserve, protect, and defend the ideals and values of our great democracy; it’s also a day of solace for those that have paid the ultimate price with their lives.” – Ethan Murray, Texas Christian University

“To me, Veterans Day means taking time to honor and remember those who have served America and those who are currently serving our country.” – Ally Alden, University of Oxford through University of Georgia

“Veterans Day means honoring my family members who are veterans because I know they appreciate having that recognition as they are typically very modest about it.” – Maddie Squier, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Veterans Day means celebrating the people who have advocated for, protected and fought for my American right to freedom, and for that, I am eternally grateful.” – Bella Cowdin, St. Louis University

Sometimes, especially for younger generations who do not have a relative or friend who served or is serving, it may be difficult to see how veterans have affected our everyday lives.  Sometimes it’s easy to take liberty and freedom for granted when we have never had it taken away from us.  I was surprised by the answers I received, and I think the “older generations” will be too.  Veterans Day is a reminder of our country’s place in history, and that the freedoms we value came at a high price, paid by those we celebrate on this day.


By Julie St. John Haupin, Susan Davis International

 Julie is a junior at Pennsylvania State University studying public relations and advertising.

 November 11, 2015



How Collegiate Athletics Prepared Me for PR

With nearly three months under my belt working as a student intern at Susan Davis International, my hopes for an experience that would push me in new directions have been met and surpassed.  I’m living in and navigating a new city, working full time, taking three classes and learning so much every single day. What has really surprised me is how much my collegiate athletics prepared me for the professional world. I’m an equestrian, and I ride for the University of Georgia’s NCAA 6x national champion equestrian team. Since my freshman year, I’ve been told that the skills, responsibilities, and character traits I’m learning as a student-athlete will continue to guide me after graduation, and I’m seeing that play out specifically in my PR experience now. Since starting at SDI, I’ve discovered three truths about my athletic experience that are now helping me understand and manage my professional experience.

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  1. Time Management is a Must

As a college athlete, every minute of my day that isn’t put to good use is wasted. Now, that doesn’t mean that I consider much-needed naps, mental breaks, and frozen yogurt dates with friends “wasted” time, because it certainly is not – those are VERY necessary! The point is, those 24 hours in each day run out very quickly if you don’t plan your time well and use it wisely.  It’s easy to waste time, but it’s also possible to manipulate your schedule to make the absolute most of it.

My daily schedule typically involves at least two workouts with our team’s personal trainer where we do strength and conditioning in the gym, two to three hours of practice out at the barn, around three hours in the classroom plus more studying outside of it, and meetings and responsibilities for the extracurricular and non-athletic involvements I have. Factor in three meals a day and a hopeful seven or eight hours of sleep, and it’s clear I couldn’t meet all of these commitments without good time management skills.

While I’m not spending my days running around campus and tacking up horses right now, I feel surprisingly at home with the pace of my new work schedule in public relations. When I sit down at my desk in the morning, I don’t know whether it’ll be a slow day or jam-packed, but more often than not, it’s the latter. And that requires being fully focused and ready to tackle whatever comes my way. There are tasks I have every single day that I can always expect to do, like scanning the internet for our clients in the media. Then, there are others that come unexpectedly like last-minute media advisories, pitching clients’ stories, or assembling twenty boxes of Giant’s new peppermint holiday treats to send to bloggers for reviews. And often, those unexpected tasks seem to come in waves—or avalanches. I’m able to prioritize my tasks and use my time to the best of my ability because of the time management skills I learned on campus as an equestrian.

nats ribbons

  1. You’re a Member of a Team

Until I joined a high school riding association my junior year, I grew up riding by and for myself. Joining the team at Georgia transformed my experience and my perspective, and I’m so grateful for that. I learned to work in a group dynamic, and rather than relying on myself for everything, I benefited from my teammates’ creativity, collaboration and support on difficult days, while contributing all I could at the same time. That’s made a huge difference in my perspective in the office, too, where although my instinct may be to charge ahead, I now realize that collaboration, well managed, is often the better pathway to successful and ahead-of-the-curve PR.

PR is all about creativity and skills and being up to speed with everything related to your client and your industry. One person can’t do it alone! I’ve learned largely through college athletics how to both participate as a team member and a leader, and I try to bring that to the office with me. I work as a team member on the intern team and as a member of the larger SDI team as a whole. As an intern, I have so much more learning to do than leading, but I still try to take initiative wherever I can and be the best leader I can be when the time calls for it. Whether it’s doing a job I see that needs to be done or taking the lead on an intern group project, I try to find the balance between leading and following.

nats ring

  1. You Wear a Lot of Hats

Perhaps the most significant similarity between my equestrian experience and working in PR is that in both I learned to love wearing different hats every single day. On campus, some days I’ve got to kick it into student-mode, and others I really have to focus on my sport while still maintaining my grades.  I have days where I’m up at 5:00 a.m. for a cardio workout with the team, then immediately switch to student-mode to focus in class for a few hours, then turn and go straight to the barn for practice on a horse that afternoon. After all that, I still need to study at night, so I’m constantly switching back and forth between being an athlete and being a student.

Through my internship with SDI, I’ve applied the same hat-swapping skills on a regular basis. Sometimes I’m helping out our cyber security practice by keeping up-to-date on the happenings in the cyber landscape. Sometimes I’m channeling my inner-salesman, calling journalists and pitching stories about Giant Food’s new store opening. Other times, I’m being creative with Photoshop and refreshing SDI’s website. All of it is fun, and all of it is so different. I love having to constantly shift my focus and being challenged to use different skills every day. The stimulation of changing dynamics keeps me on my toes both in the office and in the stirrups.

Everything I’ve learned in the last four years of being an NCAA equestrian has prepared me for the professional world, specifically in PR, and I see that more and more as I spend my semester here in Washington. It’s incredible how the skills I’ve worked to acquire as an athlete – both tangible and intangible – can be tweaked and applied to almost everything I do here at SDI. I may have swapped my helmet and boots for a blazer and heels, but each day still presents new fences to clear  – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


By Morgan Beavers, SDI

 Morgan is a senior at the University of Georgia studying public relations and English.

 November 5, 2015



Nightmare on K Street, or, Interning Is Scary

ghost-clipart-Ghost-Clip-Art-7It’s Halloween and thoughts turn to… an internship?  Makes sense to me.  Both are scary, but if you get over your shivers, they can be a lot of fun and give you what you need for the future: experience.

Internships provide that wonderful yet terrifying life experience in between student and working adult when you’re both really sure of yourself and not so sure at the same time.  I’m sharing that experience right now with some other awesome, yet spooked interns.  We can agree that given the season, ghosts and ghouls have nothing on being a public relations intern.  Here’s what we think can bring double trouble boil and bubble to interning in PR.


A comment I get constantly after telling someone that part of my work in PR involves social media is, “So you pretty much just tweet all day?”  What they don’t understand is the brand building and reputation managing that goes along with the social media aspect of PR.   At my first internship, I was given a two-hour long presentation showing all that could go wrong with companies using social media.  I was shown a tweet about scoring a case of beer and, ‘#gettngslizzerd’ that showed up on the American Red Cross twitter account.  It was a simple mistake of an employee not switching back to a personal account.  The Red Cross handled the faux pas well with a little humor and all was forgiven, but the story stuck with me.

Of course, as an intern, I’m not given free range over any social media accounts, but there is a nagging fear that I will somehow get accounts confused and send out a post that should not be connected with SDI. While it can be easy for people to blame the intern and damage control isn’t too difficult by posting a follow up to explain the blunder, you never want to be the one to cause that chain of events in the first place.  It can be unnerving when the beginning of your adult career can be tarnished with a rogue click of a button labeled, ‘Tweet’ or ‘Post’.  Thankfully, that has never even come close to happening to me.  I get all the posts I write okay-ed before I put them up and haven’t accidentally left myself logged onto the SDI account.  If anything, my fear has helped me be more particular and pay more attention to the work I’m sending out, which is never a bad thing!


New internships are ALWAYS scary, no matter how much experience you’ve had. But more often than not, it’s just that newness that makes them intimidating. I think what may have been the “scariest” part of this particular internship for me was coming in blind. By that, I mean that I had never met anyone at SDI, seen the office, or gotten a feel for the environment. In fact, I sent my resume, interviewed and accepted my internship all over the phone from England this summer. My past internships, for the most part, have been near my school (The University of Georgia) so I’ve been able to talk with others who have gone through the position and visit the office for interviews before taking the job. So, navigating the DC internship process was intimidating on its own. And to add to that, though I had visited DC multiple times, I had never experienced “real” life in the city. I knew it would be a challenge to start a new year in a new city with a new internship, all experiences I really haven’t had before. And it’s been a challenge. But, it’s also been one of the best semesters of my college experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. SDI has helped me become better at PR and at navigating the professional world in ways I never could have learned without this internship. I can’t believe it’s been two and a half months since I came into SDI “blind,” because now it’s like home here in DC.


As I was winding down my second year at Penn State, I found myself asking reflecting on, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”  I had always been an explorer; but it dawned on me that I was half way through my four years of college, and I really craved some challenging new experiences in order to stretch beyond my comfort zone.  I decided it was time to take a sabbatical from the college life that I loved, to spend my junior year away from campus in order to experience new things, grow and expand my perspective.  Life can get pretty boring if you stay within the limits of your comfort zone, so I decided there was no time like the present to get a jump start on my career working at Susan Davis International.  Here are the scariest aspects that I’ve experienced so far with my internship and D.C. experience:


  1. You are forced to learn how to become independent. Although moving to college and starting a life away from home required independence, it is nothing like traveling to a new city alone and throwing yourself into a workplace with full-time professionals.  You don’t get to have your best friend as your roommate helping to keep you from missing class, or even as a buddy to walk to work together.  From day one you are forced to pave the way, and be fully accountable for yourself.
  2. Time Management.  Time management is crucial to your college career, and it was always something I felt I could handle.  In fact, I find it easier to manage my time when I have more on my plate.  Not in D.C.!  Public relations is definitely not just a 9-6 office job.  There are endless amounts of work and something can always be improved.  Also, it’s difficult to step away from the work in order to study for the three classes I am taking as well.  In addition, I need enough time to visit my friends in and explore the city, because all work and no play could make Julie a dull girl!
  3. Networking. Dressing up in a suit and going to a fancy restaurant to make small talk with professional and successful alumni is definitely not something I had on my top priority lists before coming to D.C.  Although these functions were intimidating, I can now answer the question, “Why did you choose public relations?” like a pro, and I have even started to work on my “elevator speech.”
  4. The people.  One thing is for sure, every person in D.C. is on a mission.  Whether they are asking for change, power walking to work, or even shopping, everyone is usually always serious!  There are some friendly people that you may meet in your travels, but for the most part, they do not make up the majority.  On our first day, we were instructed to stay out of several sections of the city, and that we always have to be careful when walking alone especially at night.  The people I work with, however, have been amazing, and I am learning something new every day.  This really is a life changing experience, and I have been really fortunate!

Despite our pre-internship jitters and concerns as we plunged headfirst into the PR world, our experiences have made us all more capable interns.  By facing our fear and doing what scares us, we have been able to navigate through the challenges thrown our way and find ourselves better prepared for whatever lurks ahead!


Maddie Packard, SDI

Maddie is a senior at St. Norbert College studying Media Communications and Business

October 29, 2015

LUNGevity Crushes Cancer One Step At A Time

LUNGevityWhat does taking a deep breath mean to you?  It could offer you a chance to relax, gain some peace of mind, fill your lungs with fresh air, and be thankful for all of life’s blessings.  There’s a place you can do that while supporting a tremendous organization dedicated to helping individuals with lung cancer reach for a breath, and for hope.

Breathe Deep DC, LUNGevity’s annual community walk on the National Mall, is set for November 1st.  Anyone can participate and can register right up to the day of the walk.  Pets are welcome too.  They even get their own “Fur a Cure” shirt!

The event was originally developed by lung cancer survivor and Bethesda father of two, Jerry Sorkin, when he realized that there were no DC events that brought together lung cancer survivors and raised awareness of the disease.  Now, thousands of people affected by lung cancer from all walks of life come together with friends, family, volunteers, and advocates all with one common goal: to improve survivorship, quality of life, and to ultimately make lung cancer a manageable disease.

LUNGevity has spent every year of Breathe Deep DC focusing on raising awareness of lung cancer and celebrating the great progress that has been made against the disease.  But there is still a great deal of work to be done – and by participating in walks and donating, people across the nation can help LUNGevity create a world where no one dies of lung cancer.

LUNGevity is the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit, and it has changed the lives of the lung cancer community through research, education, and support.  Breathe Deep DC is one of LUNGevity’s signature events with counterpart walks in other cities across the nation.

Last year, LUNGevity launched a new website that features a Lung Cancer 101 section, event advertisements, links to blogs, expert resources, and offers opportunities for people to connect and share their own stories.  The site empowers and inspires people to stand up and make a difference.

Listen to a few voices from LUNGevity supporters:

“LUNGevity is about survivors, hope and networking. The people with this organization have changed my crazy life forever.  I found a network of lung cancer survivors who have given me so much inspiration to get out and advocate for lung cancer.” – Beth S.

“Everything that LUNGevity does is to lift us up and inspire us as survivors.  They do their jobs so well.” – Jessica S.

“Together we are so much stronger than just one of us alone.” – Gail L.

SDI has been proud to support LUNGevity’s walks nationwide and its passion to eradicate this disease while bringing hope to generations of individuals living with lung cancer.  Every breath is a gift.  SDI is honored to witness firsthand how LUNGevity is changing the national lung cancer conversation, one step at a time.


By Julie St. John Haupin, SDI

October 21, 2015

How I…Respond to a Hack Attack

Transparency and constant communication are key to a company’s response plan, says Tom Davis, vice president and crisis management expert at Susan Davis International.

By Naomi Eide, BizSmarts

Published in the Washington Business Journal

Sep 18, 2015

Tom WBJ article image

With security breaches popping into the news almost weekly, Susan Davis International works to find the best way to respond to the potential fallout. Vice president and crisis management expert Tom Davis, a member of the firm’s recently created cyber risk communications team, discusses how a targeted company can still at least protect its reputation.

What’s the first piece of advice you have for companies? You’re entering a relationship with a client somewhere along the continuum, from the planning and preparation side to the response side. I think anyone in the business will tell you that, ideally, you’re coming in on the preparation side. You’re really talking about doing the planning, evaluation and doing some sort of exercise to understand what the true capabilities are. Then, if and when there is an actual incident that occurs, then supporting the plan. Now that isn’t the way it always works, that’s the ideal way. Because when you get to the response side, a lot of what’s going to be done will be heavily dependent on what is done on the planning and preparation side.

Planning and preparation early on is key to how well a company responds later to a hack… more

When there is a compromise, what do you advise companies to do? There are essentially two parts that have to work in harmony here. One of them is the distinct technical response internally, which is not what we do. But the company, either using its assets or a vendor will be dealing with the breach to patch that. On our end of it, on the response side, basically the company needs to do the calculus about what the damage is and what its stakeholder universe is. Then look across that stakeholder universe to understand what the key concerns are of all those who have an interest in the company’s response.

What’s key in thinking about that? Effectively, what’s at stake here is the company’s reputation. How people perceive the company’s response will have a lot to do with the ultimate penalty that any given victim of a breach will have to pay. What you’re looking to do there as quickly as possible is understand what the key concerns are and start addressing those concerns on the communication side. This is really a critical component: You have to make sure what you’re saying is consistent with what you’re doing.

How should companies deal with the communications if they don’t want to share there was an attack? You really do need to make sure that you’re getting out in front of it. This is sort of a classic crisis management consideration. The underlying reality here is that, at some point, it is going to be apparent. Generally speaking, when a company is breached, the data suggests that it takes, on average now, nearly seven months for the company to discover the breach. Most of the time, it doesn’t discover it itself. The breach is brought to its attention by somebody from the outside, could be law enforcement. Ultimately, the accompanying reality here is that people are going to know about the breach, and it is going to get disclosed in some fashion.

So what should they do? The appropriate thing for a company to do is take control of the situation. You want to be in control and driving the messaging, rather than responding to it. Understand your responsibility to all your stakeholders is to do just that.

How should companies do this? Identify internally how responses are going to be handled, and set some policies. Typically, you’re going to identify the characteristics of an incident here, which is unlike others. If you’ve got information of value, you’re going to be the subject of recurring kinds of attacks. What you’re saying is, for us to respond, it has to cross this threshold. Part of the process on the front end of planning and preparation is to say, “Here is our threshold.” When an incident occurs and it has these characteristics and crosses that threshold, that’s going to mean our crisis management team is going to be brought to bear on this. All the internal procedures we have been practicing regularly, hopefully, will now kick in.

Is a cyber attack any different than any other crisis a company might face and need to respond to? There are two things that make it a little unusual. One is the usually distinctly technical aspect of it. You’ve got the wonkiness part of IT people where the language is not that which is generally available to other people in the organization. There’s sort of a chasm here that has to be crossed, that has to be bridged in some fashion so that the internal communication flow makes it really obvious exactly what’s going on. Because that, in turn, has to be part of the messaging that takes place on the other end of it.

And the other thing that differentiates it? There is a certain unknowability about the breach. If you have a classic crisis that’s driven by a natural disaster, for example, or you have an oil spill — any of the things you think about that constitute crisis for different kinds of organizations — there’s all this information you have going out in the early stages. But there’s more of a certainty to what it is and how it’s going to play out than when the crisis is driven by a data breach. The breach aspect of this, there is a certain mystery that accompanies that. When a data breach is discovered, the clock is ticking immediately but it is really unlikely that the companies will really, truly understand the scale and scope. There’s going to be the issue of attribution — and you’ve seen this play out multiple times — where attribution is difficult.

What could the Office of Personnel Management have done differently in responding to its hack? Frankly, the first thing that comes to mind with regard to OPM is the dripping of information in the aftermath of the attack. It’s a very slippery slope that you start on when you don’t reveal information at the beginning, which comes out in drips and drabs over a protracted period of time. That’s a little bit like Chinese water torture, and you end up seeing that the spotlight doesn’t go away. It continues, it actually grows ever hotter. In the end, the head of OPM loses her job over this and the job loss was driven, in my mind, less by the actual breach than by how the aftermath of their breach was handled.

What’s a better way to handle the communications then? Customers will be one of a whole range of audiences that you have to deal with. This is kind of driven by an understanding of what business you’re in and which of your stakeholders are most likely to have been affected. But, it’s basically a process in which you have to say: What are your critical interests and how is this incident affecting those critical interests? Then what do we need to say to them that essentially gives them solid information about exactly what’s transpiring here — together with the implications for them about what’s transpiring? If they are injured by this, what it is that we can do that will ameliorate the injury?

How about when you don’t know those implications? There’s probably not a situation in which it is perfectly knowable. But the dimensions of the implications are generally available relatively early on. It won’t be a complete picture, it’s a little bit like weather forecasting — if you look out over 30 days, it’s a little murkier. But near term, it’s a little more clear what we know right now. That has to be part of the message. You have to lay the groundwork for the possibility that you’re going to be coming out a second time around and saying that we have updated information, and this is what we have. And that’s not unusual. But it’s important that whoever is speaking on behalf of the organization is doing so in a way that inspires confidence in people. You know, that there’s a sense that this individual in the organization is being candid about it.

What are common mistakes that companies make when they’ve been hacked? The mistakes on the response side tend to be either being close-mouthed and reticent about response or being in denial about the implications about the response. Those are sort of classic kinds of mistakes. The other thing that happens with some regularity is you see organizations being very defensive about it. The other thing is the inclination to really portray themselves as victims. The whole victimology part of this is an interesting conversation.

What do you mean? Clearly, you’re being victimized by somebody. But if you’re holding, for example, personally identifiable information of a lot of your customers and now that’s been lost in the breach, they’re seeing themselves as victims. They’re not going to send a sympathy to you as a victim.

How you deal with losing customers as a result of a breach? I wouldn’t want to underplay the fact that you might lose customers. We know that customers have this set of expectations about what an organization is going to do. There was a study done that basically says about 90 percent of people who were victimized by a data breach felt that businesses have to notify customers immediately when their breach is discovered. Because that has not always been the case, there is reason to believe that customers will be disaffected. They may judge who they’re going to do business with based on their sense of how reliable the relationship is and how reliable this business is.

What factors might that depend on? This is all driven by what competition exists in the marketplace. If you happen to be like OPM, in which no one is competing for your services, it’s a slightly different premise. In the business world, if there is competition and your competitors are deemed to be more reliable and your response undermines confidence, then you can expect there is going to be some customer loss. That’s really why we’re so adamant that you need to establish your process and be able to get out and get in front of this unfolding event as quickly as you possibly can.

What’s an example of a company that handled its response well? Frankly, you can point out small flaws in lots of different responses, but I think, generally speaking, Morgan Stanley did a pretty good job in handling its breach. It was a significant breach, and they did a pretty good job. What you’re looking at is sort of the essence of how companies are resilient in the marketplace. Part of that is keeping your relationship, and that means communicating continually, and they do a good job ensuring there are aren’t lengthy intervals where people aren’t hearing from them and understanding what’s going on.

When is that most important? Particularly when the response is unfolding, it’s really important to communicate regularly, effectively. Anthem did a really good job in the beginning, in terms of getting out in front. Once they were breached, very quickly they were in the marketplace letting customers know about the breach. Then there wasn’t any communication, and they end up having the state’s attorney general going after them because it’s taking them too long to get back to their customers. It’s really critical that you live up to what you say you’re going to do.

How about a company that bungled its response? I’m reluctant to pile on here, but let’s take Target, for example. Target had this classic slow response where it seemed to be largely in denial about the nature of the breach and, frankly, its own responsibility. That rolled out over an extended period of time. Any number of lawsuits were filed against them. It ended up being dramatically unsuccessful in getting the suits thrown out, so it’s exposed to huge damages. The CEO loses his job — that’s sort of the classic, OK, but that’s probably not the way you want to do it.

What is most at stake for companies after a cyber breach? Really, the reputation. That’s what’s critically at stake once you’ve been breached. The fact that a company has been breached is hardly going to come as a surprise. We have this steady drumbeat of breaches going on. All you have to do is look to any news outlet on any given day and see something about somebody being breached someplace. But your reputation rides on the perception of how you’re responding to it.

What sparked your firm to start a cyber risk communications practice? It really was driven by the growing recognition that this was effectively an insoluble threat at the moment. There is no response that’s going to change the nature of the dynamic right now. So for the foreseeable future, companies are going to have to deal with this. It was apparent that companies were struggling with the whole aspect of the planning and preparation and what role is played by the board of directors. There were just so many moving pieces. Because of the work we do and the people we deal with, we decided there was a contribution we could make here that could be fairly significant.

The Value of the Documentary in the New Media Age

Professional video cameraThe documentary is not a new media genre.  The reality-based form has been a longstanding tool of informing, educating and entertaining. However, as we evolve into a new media age where more than sufficient information is available anytime, and at anyone’s fingertip, is the documentary still a viable medium for your client’s objectives?

The nonfiction characteristic of the documentary distinguishes it but also limits both its entertainment value and audience.  However, research by Amy Hardie suggests that documentary enthusiasts proactively seek out topics of interest to them. Thus, the limitation of the scope of viewers can in turn mean that documentaries attract a more focused audience that is receptive to the material, not only in terms of the stories, but also as persuasive vehicles for change, and audience members are more likely to become agents for manifesting the documentary’s message.

Today, the Internet extends the documentary’s reach and increases the scope of targeted viewers who are potentially interested in its message. In the past, the only way a documentary could reach the public was through television or the big screen, excluding many independent documentaries with meaningful topics but limited resources. The Internet significantly lowers the threshold for circulating a documentary and increases marketing efficiencies. Social media makes it feasible for viewers to engage the documentary’s promoters as well as to communicate with each other.

Skilled documentarians are improving the medium with better storytelling and visual effects to attract more viewers. The combination of enhanced visuals, increased entertainment values and improved marketing efficiencies of the Internet ensures that documentaries will remain a powerful media tool for your client, business or educational objectives.

By Vicky Wang, SDI

September 25, 2015 



10 Secrets to a Successful Internship

Internships — your first taste of the so-called “real world” blogthat exists beyond the confines of your college campus. Internships offer you the opportunity to gain valuable experience in your field of study, and to test drive a profession to better understand if it’s something you’d like to pursue in the future. If you’re astute, you can absorb a bounty of knowledge and make connections that can ultimately lead to a post-graduate job! Throughout the past three months of my internship at SDI, I’ve learned that the value of your experience is commensurate with how much you invest in your success. To help you get the most out of your internship, here are some of my top tips:

  1. Set yourself apart. Demonstrating your individuality can begin before you’re offered a position and may even encourage an offer. A thank-you email after your interview is expected, so do the unexpected — send a handwritten note. Handwriting a thank-you note is not only an unusual courtesy in this digital age, it shows you understand the value of a personal touch. In my field, public relations, that’s a highly valued trait.
  1. Make an effort to meet everyone in your office and to learn about their life experiences. In my opinion, the importance of building meaningful relationships with the people you work with can’t be overstated. Making strong connections with your staff members doesn’t only make your experience in the office more enjoyable but can also help you in the future, especially when you need references and for networking. A great way to get to know people you’re working with is to take note of what professional books they’re reading and add them to your reading list. You’ll expand your knowledge about your profession and may gain insights into their perspectives.
  1. Use your time in the office wisely. Internships offer you a once in a lifetime learning opportunity; take in as much as you can. Take advantage of the extra opportunities to work beside those above you, because it’s in those moments you learn the most. Experience is the best teacher, so be sure to jump at any opportunities that come your way, such as volunteering to stay late to help someone in your office with a deadline.
  1. Learn from your mistakes. Yes, you will occasionally make mistakes along the way and that’s ok as long as you learn from them and move forward. The mistakes we make often serve as some of our most valuable life lessons.
  1. Dress conservatively and professionally. Although my mother always told me, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the way you dress often sets the tone for how people think of you as a professional, therefore it’s important to err on the side of conservative dress, unless your company culture suggests otherwise. Tight pants, low cut tops, short dresses, skirts, t-shirts, jeans, funky hair colors and extra piercings may be your preferred after-work style, but generally they are not the best way to make a good impression in an office.
  1. Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. During your internship it’s important to understand that you will most likely have to do mundane tasks. Whether it’s emptying the dishwasher or stuffing folders, maintain a positive attitude, get the job done the right way, and understand that those working above you have to trust you with the little things before they can rely on you for major projects.
  1. Take notes. When you are given a particular task or assignment, be sure to take notes so you remember exactly what the expectations are. Prior to starting your task, make sure you understand what to do, how to do it and the end goal. If you’re ever confused about something don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to take the time to ask questions and clarify things than to have to redo the entire project later.
  1. Treat every single person in your office with an equal level of respect. Whether it’s your boss or the janitor who cleans your office space, treat everyone around you with the upmost respect. Good manners, and bad ones, rarely go unnoticed.
  1. Be social … but be careful. We’ve all heard this time and again, but it’s crucial to be careful about what you post on social media – whether your account is private or not. Social media lives forever. You never know where your life is going to take you and you never know who will be looking into your past. Be smart and thoughtful about the things you post online. Use social media as a mechanism that can only help to enhance your professional reputation, not destroy it.
  1. When the time is right, speak up. It’s important to know when to speak up and offer your thoughts and ideas, and when it’s best to listen to and learn from what others have to say. One of the best pieces of advice that Susan Davis has given to me this summer is that if you listen 90% of the time, and talk 10% of the time, you can never go wrong.

These are just a few tips to help you put your best foot forward in your internship. Treat your internship like an investment, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it.

By Austin Courtney, SDI 

July 23, 2015

The Internet, Hostile Territory For Your Brand’s Reputation

Concerned about how your brand might be viewed in the cybersphere? This thoughtful blog post from one of our IPREX partners, Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald, expands upon our #CyberTuesday musings from March.

Image via ModGirl Marketing

Image via ModGirl Marketing

If you’re looking for quality insights from an agency that’s been named one of the “Top 5Public Affairs Agencies” in the U.S. then SusanDavis International’s (SDI) #Cyber Tuesday blog is for you. Trust us when we say that SDI is one of the leading sources for industry experts when it comes to public affairs, especially analysis on global cyber security threats.

The Washington, D.C.-based agency simply knows their stuff. We say that with confidence because we’ve had the pleasure of interacting with SDI over the years via our partnership through IPREX, a global network of 70 plus partner agencies, 1500 staff and over 100 offices worldwide.

Written by Tom Davis, SDI’s recent post addresses a topic of growing importance, CEO Realities: State Sponsored Cyber Crime. You may ask how cybercrime relates to you and your brand. Keep reading and we’ll shed some light into what could be a rude wake-up call for your company.

In Davis’ blog post he explores a recent state sponsored cyber-attack on WellPoint, the second largest health insurer in the U.S. who was the victim of a massive data breach this past January. Admittedly, cyber security was not among one of the newly hired CEO’s chief concerns at the time of the attack, and rightly so. Obvious repercussions ensued and the attack on WellPoint was eventually linked to groups associated with the Chinese government.

Perhaps the most pressing concern to us when reading the blog was this quote taken from PwC’s 2014 U.S. State of Cybercrime survey:

“The cybersecurity programs of U.S. organizations do not rival the persistence, tactical skills, and technological prowess of their potential cyber adversaries.”

This begs the question, is your brand equipped to handle your cyber adversaries?

If your brand has not yet been a victimized by cyber bullying then you are fortunate. We’re not necessarily talking about international cybercriminals and massive data breaches. It could be your competitors trolling the internet to say negative things about your brand or media correctly or incorrectly reporting a story that can greatly impact your company’s reputation.

On one hand, digital technology offers real opportunity on many personal and professional levels. For companies, it means efficiency and accessibility. Mobile, social, big data, the cloud, are all trends that are impacting how businesses engage with their customers, partners, and employees in order to better compete. Those trends are not going away anytime soon and companies will continue to put and store information online.

We must also acknowledge that these opportunities present challenges, and there is no denying that cybercrime is a real and ever-growing threat. The vast nature of the World Wide Web coupled with the push for businesses to go digital creates dangers that are omnipresent.

Alan W. Silberberg recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post on the Triangulation of Cyber Security, Social Media + You. Silberberg has a 20 year background in national politics and technology and uses this graphic to best describe the correlation between cyber security, reputation management and social media.


In his article Silberberg concludes:

“Face it. The Internet is a hostile place for your reputation and your brand; whether that is personal, corporate or government. The control and management of your cyber security, reputation management; and social media appearance start and end with you.”

His quote is not intended to be viewed as a scare tactic to deter you or your brand from taking advantage of the many blessings that come with establishing an online presence. It is, however, increasingly important to be aware of the risks and know how your brand is being perceived in order to appropriately manage your online reputation.

As communications professionals and experts in crisis communications and reputation management, it’s important not to take the dangers of cyber sphere for granted. Being susceptible is one thing but being proactive and prepared for the unexpected is critical. Our recommendation is to identify potential areas of weakness and develop a response plan for you and your company in order to avoid Greg Beuerman’s 4 Phases Of Crisis Anxiety.

Have you done an audit of your online reputation? Complacency can be your own worst enemy.