LUNCHTIME KEYNOTE SESSION
The lunchtime keynote session topic will revolve around pursuing public relations in Philadelphia, the field in general and where the industry is going, how the industry can more accurately reflect the demographics of our country, tips on post-graduation employment, and necessary skills PR professionals must have. Attendees will leave the session with a better understanding of how to navigate a successful public relations career in Philadelphia.
PRSA President Michele Besso is a seasoned communicator, content producer, storyteller and media relations professional with 25 years experience as a journalist and public relations practitioner. She currently works as Public Relations Specialist at Masonic Villages of Pennsylvania, which includes five retirement communities that provide retirement living, personal care and nursing care services. Her job also includes handling public relations for the breathtaking Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. Prior to coming to Masonic Villages, Michele worked in the Communications department at several Philadelphia colleges and universities, including Moore College of Art & Design and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She also spent ten years as a newspaper reporter, covering a wide variety of beats, including K-12, higher education and municipal government.
Michelle Sonsino is the President of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, an organization she has been involved in since 2005. As her day job, she serves as the Director of Communications and Marketing at Germantown Friends School, a role she loves because of the creative and thoughtful faculty and students, and the programmatic focus on social justice and equity. Prior to her work at GFS, Michelle served as the Director of Development and Communications at Career Wardrobe and currently serves on the organization’s Advisory Board. She has also held roles at the City of Philadelphia, Chubb Insurance, Aramark, and Women’s Way. After interning at Philly.com when the site was in its infancy, Michelle continued on as an employee for two years, gaining experience in digital media and reporting.
Adam Dvorin, Moderator
Alexis Levant is an Assistant Account Executive at Braithwaite Communications, a strategic communications and marketing agency in Philadelphia where she works every day to story tell and spread impactful messages. She is Philadelphia born and raised and a recent graduate of Temple University with a BA in Public Relations and a certificate in Content Creation Advertisement. Prior to joining Braithwaite Communications, she worked in the food and hospitality industry defining communications and social media strategy for food and beverage organizations and she specialized in gaining editorial coverage for a wide variety of clients.
For the past six years, Ransford has worked for Gregory FCA, Pennsylvania’s largest full-service communications agency and the 30th ranked agency in the U.S. As Business Development & Marketing Manager, Ransford oversees all new business and internal marketing initiatives. In 2021, Ransford closed and on-boarded over 40 accounts, helping the company add an additional $3M in total revenue.
Prior to his tenure with Gregory FCA, he worked as a Corporate Relations contractor at PECO. His focus within the department was to co-manage the PECO Crown Lights, assist with event planning, brand management, and manage the monthly ‘Energy for the Community’ Newsletter, which was distributed to PECO’s 10,000 employees.
Ransford has had the opportunity to help plan major events, including the 2015 Papal Visit/World Meeting of Families and the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
NONPROFIT & ADVOCACY
Cari Feiler Bender
Cari Feiler Bender founded Relief Communications, LLC in 2001 to provide public relations and strategic communication services to the non-profit sector. Over the last 20 years, clients have ranged from Mural Arts Philadelphia to AIDS Fund, from Historic Philadelphia, Inc. and Franklin Square to Fairmount Park Conservancy, from Rebuilding Together Philadelphia to Prevention Point Philadelphia.
Janel Forsythe is a Strategist at UpShift Strategies, a communications consulting firm based in Washington, DC. In this role, she works with nonprofit and advocacy clients to produce media relations and digital communications strategies to advance public policies. Prior to joining UpShift Strategies, Janel was the Social Media Editor for the Project On Government Oversight and former Digital Communications Manager at the National Academy of Social Insurance. Janel believes using communications to help people understand the issues affecting them locally, nationally, and internationally is critical for producing social change.
Kate Kizitaff graduated from Klein College of Media and Communications in December 2020 and currently serves as Communications Coordinator for Comcast Spectacor. In this role, Kizitaff supports the implementation of strategies that drive the company’s business objectives through media relations, digital storytelling, social media engagement, and brand management for external and internal audiences. She is responsible for developing communications on traditional and digital media platforms designed to showcase Comcast Spectacor’s major initiatives, talented employees, and vibrant portfolio of professional sports and live entertainment assets that include the Wells Fargo Center arena and complex, Philadelphia Flyers, Flyers Charities and Philadelphia Wings.
Nathan Weaver is the Afternoons/Promotions Director at 92.9 TOM FM. Nathan is originally from Pennsylvania and is a recent graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. Nate has worked in markets such as Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Wilmington in both Programming and Promotions.
Carla Showell-Lee is currently the chief officer of integrated communication programs at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Ms. Showell-Lee is a former broadcaster, media spokesperson, reporter and producer, who began her career working in fast-paced news and entertainment environments (KYW-Newsradio, WRTI, Fox News, Discovery Channel and more).
Ms. Showell-Lee served as a senior host and producer for CN8’s Comcast Newsmakers, an issue-oriented news program featured on CNN Headline News. Ms. Showell-Lee amplified her professional career as a Mary Kay Cosmetics Consultant, quickly rising through the ranks to become a Sales Director leading a team of 40+ entrepreneurs; she earned Mary Kay’s company car, prizes and getaways over a 10-year period.
Lauren Contino is a seasoned integrated marketing and public relations professional with decades of experience in the public and private sectors. She specializes in strategy, brand, content and digital marketing, corporate communications, media relations, and operations. Lauren joined Brinker Simpson in February 2021. She is responsible for the firm's marketing, growth strategy planning and implementation. Lauren creates and designs content that helps the brand connect with clients and prospective clients far and wide. Before joining Brinker Simpson, she was senior corporate communications manager at CrozerKeystone Health System. She focused primarily on enterprise-wide development and oversight of their strategic communications – including digital experience, employee engagement, graphic design, and legislative affairs. Lauren was also responsible for the health system's business development efforts, including physician recruitment, physician relations, strategy, marketing, and communications. She led internal communications and organizational initiatives around culture, employee value proposition, and executive engagement.
Jeanie Davey is a professional marketer in the Philadelphia area with 5+ years experience in providing excellent service in social media, public relations, and digital marketing efforts for companies. She has experience ranging from agencies, corporate franchising, higher education, sports and entertainment, and more! She is a proud Temple University alumna, and enjoys photography, videography, theatrical arts, and community involvement on the side. Feel free to connect with her on social media at @jeaniedavey!
TOURISM & HOSPITALITY
Jaime Martorana is a communications manager for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), the official tourism promotion agency for the city of Philadelphia globally. Before joining the PHLCVB, she worked as a public relations specialist for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site and as a public relations consultant for the Philadelphia Marathon. Jaime also serves on the board of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA). She is a graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communications with a degree in Strategic Communications.
As Chief Operating Officer & Senior Vice President for Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, Kate Wilhelm directs business development efforts and leads strategic planning in conjunction with Founder Larry Ceisler.
Kate’s expertise and dedication to success also assists clients with reputation management, community affairs and messaging strategy. She works directly with many of Ceisler Media’s corporate clients, developing and executing integrated communications campaigns that advance their goals.
Kate works with some of the Philadelphia region’s important and admired corporations, as well as emerging businesses or those that may not be as well known. For example, Kate assists Comcast Corporation on a range of local and national communications efforts. And when Audacy moved its headquarters to Philadelphia in 2019, Kate helped the corporation connect with civic influencers and formalize its social responsibility plans and partnerships.
Catherine Laughlin, a Temple journalism alumna, has been a freelance writer for 15 years writing about real estate, a dying man, prom dates, vodka drinks, tap dance, social media, a boy band, French pastries and more. She's also worked with professionals and wrote and/or edited content for PR and ad firms, as well as two self-help books. Since 2010, she's worked in the field for clients editing and/or writing content for websites, white pages for high-level companies, press releases and newsletters. These days, she's also an instructor in Temple's Klein College of Media and Communication teaching PR and writing classes.
Catherine believes that good writing and grammar will never go out of style. Readers will tune in if you deliver your message with an easy, clear, yet direct voice. Every stage of her professional life has involved some form of writing, editing, and communication. Before dedicating her time to words, she had diverse backgrounds in the insurance, marketing, and hospitality industries.