public relations

By F+A Staff

Launching social for NW Washington’s behavioral healthcare leader


Compass Health is Northwest Washington’s behavioral health care leader, providing comprehensive mental health treatment, crisis intervention, children’s services and community education to more than 22,000 community members annually.


In 2017, the organization had been a regional and national behavioral health leader for more than a century but had yet to fully leverage social channels for community outreach, engagement with clients and team members, and educational efforts to destigmatize behavioral health issues.

Considering the vulnerable population that Compass Health serves, there were justifiable concerns about the risks of encouraging online conversations, including responding appropriately to calls for help, protecting client privacy and fostering a safe space appropriate for highly sensitive topics.

Still, organization leaders recognized the value of meeting stakeholders – clients, team members, donors, general community members, local leaders, journalists and others – where and when they wanted to engage on social channels.


As part of an integrated communications strategy that includes robust media outreach, direct marketing, speaking opportunities and other activities, F+A researched and developed informed social strategies, including:

  • Examining industry best practices for engaging on social media in the behavioral health sphere, ensuring outreach is tactful, purposeful, and responsive – and adheres to patient privacy and other health regulations.
  • Mapping measurable goals tied to increasing brand credibility, raising awareness of the organization’s services, spurring engagement with decision-makers, and extending the organization’s mission to demystify mental health topics.
  • Implementing a weekly organic posting cadence across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn using a balance of curated thought leadership content and industry trends, Compass Health media coverage, narrative-driven and executive speaker videos, promotion of popular Mental Health First Aid strategies and trainings, employee engagement activities, and more.
  • Using targeted paid social media promotion to increase the reach of sponsored posts and generate followers.
  • Supporting the nonprofit’s development team by sharing multimedia and written content promoting its Building Communities of Hope Gala and other fundraising campaigns.
  • Enabling Compass Health to participate in and contribute credible information to social media conversations around mental health issues using hashtags such as #MentalHealthAwareness and offer coping strategies following major events such as high-profile suicides or mass shootings.


In just the first two quarters post-implementation, we partnered with our client team to drive marked results:

  • Generated a 28 percent increase in Facebook and 30 percent in Twitter followers, nearly tripling our goal within the first six months. LinkedIn saw a 10 percent increase in followers.
  • Facebook earned a 76 percent increase in total reach (likes, comments, clicks, shares).
  • Facilitated meaningful social interaction with local nonprofit partners, regional journalists who cover Compass Health, and relevant elected officials including legislators Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Rick Larson.
  • Successfully responded to urgent posts, comments or direct messages within the target timeframe, and routed individuals to appropriate service providers.


In the years since, Compass Health’s channels have continued to grow steadily, attracting highly engaged audience members. Its social presence is successful because it works in concert with other communications efforts, amplifying thought leadership, meeting stakeholder needs for information, and providing authentic touch points.

By Mark Firmani

Is Social Media Killing PR?

At a recent gathering of communications professionals, the topic of social media arose. We wondered if social media was a positive or negative force when it came to our ability to communicate complex ideas, create consensus, change minds or spur commerce.

One of our colleagues posed the question: “Is social media killing the practice of public relations?”

In our circle of friends, conversations like this are hot-button issues, along with whether to use the Oxford comma (answer: sometimes), or if David Brooks is a better opinion writer than Tim Egan (no way).

We had a spirited conversation around this and what I put forward is that inherent in the question is the problem – the belief that social media is something more than a tactic. Instead, PR practitioners and our clients should view social platforms as tools that, when used appropriately, can help support a broader range of PR-driven initiatives.

While social is just one among many channels that are critical in executing effective marketing and communications programs, the data show it is perhaps one of the most necessary and powerful tools when it comes to reaching specific audiences.

To wit: a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that a third of adults age 19-29 receive their news from social media, while only 2 percent get their news from newspapers.

Rather than ask whether social media has killed traditional PR, I think a better question to ask is how has social media amplified the practice of public relations?”

Some of the ways we effectively use social media as part of an integrated PR and marketing strategy include:

Merchandizing Wins More (Cost) Efficiently

  • We routinely use social media to amplify our successes in gaining media coverage by sharing those wins via a client’s social media channels. In the old days, we would buy physical reprints and mail them to our key audiences. Sharing via social media makes that process faster and vastly more powerful.

Cutting Out the Middle Man

  • Social media channels and digital content marketing give us the ability to communicate directly with our key audiences, when and where they want to receive information without reliance on traditional media. Using social media to reinforce individual or brand thought leadership allows us to be in front of our key audiences much more frequently than if we were relying on media outreach or direct marketing.

Controlling the Message

  • We use social media when we need to gain a higher level of control in the way we make announcements and break news on behalf of our clients. By using social media, we can circumvent the media as a gatekeeper. Politics aside, President Trump has made a study of this approach.

Producing and Publishing Multimedia Content

Social media has dramatically opened avenues to use video and multimedia to tell stories in a highly cost-effective way. Years ago, we might have hired a production team to create a video and screened it exclusively at a user conference or a fundraising gala. Now, with the proliferation of powerful-and-inexpensive technology, not only can we produce high-quality video content for these large-scale venues, we can also produce all kinds of other professional-looking multimedia content and share it more frequently, adding to our storytelling ability.

Those are just a few of the ways we’ve employed the tactical use of social media to complement PR strategies that draw from a range of tactics and tools available to us. As important, though, is our use of social media to listen.


  • For example, we use social media – especially Twitter – to keep up with key journalists’ interests and activities, which in turn helps us build relationships. Certainly, while we still have coffee and email them interesting notes directly from time to time, social media enables us as individuals to passively keep up with each other.

Stakeholder Listening

  • We also use a suite of tools that help us listen to our clients’ key audience’s social media conversations. Listening can help us better understand their interests, views and concerns, and often listening can help us identify issues or problems before they bloom into larger, more public problems.

We do see, though, inherent problems with social media, largely around the common mistake of becoming overly reliant on using it as a singular tactic, or viewing social activity as an end-goal itself, without identifying communications objectives and the right mix of strategies to reach them.

A common blunder that we see often is the belief that all things (or most things) can be communicated in 280 characters.

More critically, the siren call of social media can be an ill-fated shortcut for doing the hard work that is the foundation of any thoughtful communication strategy, which requires time, research and testing.

This work allows us to think through all the nuances of a communication challenge or strategy, spend time targeting audiences, ensure decision-makers and stakeholders are on board, and guarantee that our messages across platforms are consistent.

Once that is done, social media can be a very powerful tactic. Used properly and judiciously, social serves as a highly effective, purpose-built tool to help amplify messages and add speed and brevity to a suite of communication tactics, while enhancing our ability to be powerful storytellers.


By F+A Staff

Getting To Know F+A Senior Account Executive, Julia Irwin

Julia Irwin joined Firmani + Associates in 2016, after making a cross-country move from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, bringing creative and critical thinking and a wealth of PR agency experience to her role as a senior account executive at F+A.

Unlike some PR pros, Julia set her sights on public relations early on, selecting PR as her academic track while studying communication at the University of Minnesota. Fast-forward to today, as one of F+A’s senior practitioners, she leads strategy and execution for a number of the firm’s clients – and she also boasts the agency’s most meticulous copyediting skills.

We sat down with Julia to hear more about her outlook and insights into the PR industry and beyond.

Q: From hospitality to mobile HVAC, you work across some of the firm’s most disparate industries. What stands out to you about advising clients in such different fields?

A: I’ve always enjoyed working on client accounts that are very different from one another, not only because I get to learn the ins and outs of so many different industries, but also because having such a varied portfolio of clients keeps me on my toes. While the nature of a client’s industry certainly impacts the strategies we recommend, the common thread in all of our work is to understand the organization’s business objectives and then figure out how PR and marketing can help realize those goals.

I love that in any given day, I might help a b2b client generate sales leads by developing a digital advertising and email lead generation campaign – and then switch gears to working with a brand that wants to reach consumers directly within a key market, perhaps by securing local broadcast coverage to drive thought leadership and overall visibility. The possibilities are endless, and I never get bored!  

Q: Why Firmani?

A: As a mid-sized agency, F+A offers me the opportunity to really take ownership of my work and gain valuable experience in different areas. While there are areas we specialize in, I appreciate that we don’t limit ourselves to only working within particular industries or with certain clients.

Working here has also enabled me to continually challenge myself and regularly take on new skills outside of my comfort zone. Additionally, working one-on-one with my clients has enabled me to form fantastic, truly collaborative relationships with them. There’s no better feeling than delivering a client win and sharing in our success together.

Beyond the work itself, the team at F+A has become more than just colleagues; I consider them an extended family. My fiancé and I moved to Seattle from the Midwest almost three years ago and barely knew another soul in our new city. Since then, we (and our two pups) have been fully welcomed into the F+A crew. We’ll never say no to a work-sponsored happy hour, Mariners game or putt-putt tournament! Luna and Jolene appreciate all the toys and treats in the office, too.

Q: What advice do you share with recent graduates and young professionals coming up the ranks of marketing and communications?

A: Hone your writing skills. Making it in the agency world (and elsewhere!) requires rock solid writing chops, so look for any opportunity to continue developing your craft. You won’t regret it.

Network, network, network! Join PRSA or any other young professionals group in your area and attend their events to meet fellow people in the industry, on both the agency and corporate side. And if you meet someone that works in a field or position you’re interested in learning more about, don’t be afraid to ask them to coffee. You never know what can result from the connections you make now.

Q: What trends do you see on the horizon that all organizations should heed?

A: Right now, it’s all about data storytelling. We are big believers in using an integrated approach to realize any organization’s PR and marketing goals – and in today’s terms, that means weaving traditional and digital tactics. Organizations should embrace the data mining and digital analytics tools we have at our fingertips to uncover what’s compelling about their own proprietary data. Figure out what makes your data interesting and then present it in a visually compelling way. Better yet, partner with an integrated marketing and PR agency, and we’ll help you tap what’s interesting and promote it in the most effective ways.

Learn more about Julia at

By Keri Barker

Ready to start your PR career?

Firmani + Associates, a progressive public relations and marketing firm located in Seattle, Washington, is offering a four-month, full-time paid internship beginning this February/March.

We’re looking for highly motivated and talented candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism or another communication field, excellent writing and editing skills, and the drive to succeed. Knowledge of social media concepts and experience with execution and implementation is preferred.

We serve a range of industries, with a focus on legal, technology, health care and professional services companies. Our dynamic team provides interns the opportunity to work alongside savvy public relations professionals spanning a range of ages and experience levels. We pride ourselves on offering a real-world learning experience and value someone who will step up and add to our team of creative minds. Our interns gain hands-on experience with account coordinator-level responsibilities such as writing press releases, researching market trends, pitching to media outlets and planning strategic social media campaigns.

We offer an internship stipend, transportation stipend, paid holidays, and a bevy of other perks.

To be considered for this position, please send a copy of your resume, three writing samples, and a cover letter describing yourself, your work history, GPA, and why you think you’d make a good fit to

By Kelcie Goetsch

The Quest for Relevance: Does Talkability Trump Truth?

PR professionals work tirelessly to serve as trusted media informants to achieve client coverage from both traditional and digital news sources. While the ability to use these outlets to sway public influence and alter brand reputation often positions PR as a key player in brand management, industry professionals tend to find themselves fighting against the public stigma of serving as puppet masters, rather than storytellers.

Fake news, alternative facts, propaganda and click-bait are just a few common buzzwords used to refer to the media’s “spin” on stories; this amplified public distrust of the media has not only put the credibility of reporters into question, but also the trustworthiness of communications professionals. Although the 2016 election and the subsequent political landscape has brought issues of ethical reporting to the fore, PR professionals have long combatted a reputation of manipulating stories and staging events to gain falsified media attention for their clients.

Many say that the origins of the field (and its tarnished reputation) began pre-Civil War era with P.T. Barnum’s Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, an operation infamous for spreading lies and deception to the press to foster public intrigue. Barnum exploited the hot-button issue of slavery to sell tickets, publicizing an 80-year-old African American woman as the still-living 161-year-old enslaved nurse of George Washington — even going as far as to plant an anonymous letter in a Boston newspaper to stir up rumors around the act.

Thankfully, the majority of present-day PR professionals don’t pursue media coverage by means of deception; however, the value of brand trust is still hotly debated.

In a PR Week article published last summer, top agency executives stood divided when asked whether relevance or trust is more important for a brand. Matt Neale, co-CEO of Golin Agency, explains that brand relevance has an unfair advantage when compared to trustworthiness, because relevance is something marketers and communicators can directly impact. Neale argues relevance is the most critical metric for brand measurement: “It’s what attracts and keeps people paying attention, and what moves them to act,” Neale says. “And if a brand isn’t relevant, it’s being ignored.”

Neale’s hypothesis was put to the test in Golin Agency’s 2017 Global Relevance Review, the first ever study to reveal what drives relevance for brands in 13 markets across the globes – and [SPOILER], it’s not trustworthiness. While consumers around the world believe their ideal brand would be considered trustworthy, the findings reveal that zero percent of the most relevant brands studied actually met that desired standard of trust. “Our research indicates that despite people being continually let down by the perceived trustworthiness and truthfulness of brands, they continue to buy their products and services,” Neale says.

Before you shake your head and cue the groans, it’s important to note that not everyone agrees. While PR professionals understand the importance of hype and attention, the argument that brand relevance supersedes trust raises (at least) one issue: sustainability.

Anne Green, president and CEO of CooperKatz & Company, tells PR Week she credits the industry’s shift in focus to long-term sustainability for the change in perception that truth and transparency triumph all else. “The company everyone is talking about today can easily burn out tomorrow, and that burnout often ties back to trust… It creates a cognitive dissonance that festers over time.”

Green highlights Uber and United Airlines as examples of companies that have not necessarily seen profit loss in the wake of negative press, but are still creating distrustful customers who second-guess using their products and services — an effect that can have longer-term consequences. “They may be winning the relevance game. But the long game has a higher cost.”

We at F+A agree: We all know that relevance drives newsworthiness – but while deploying relevance tactics may garner media attention and talkability, obtaining five minutes of fame is not worth the trouble if it puts the reputation of your client, and your agency, in jeopardy. For this reason, PR professionals meticulously drum up communication strategies where truth and newsworthiness overlap, achieving the perfect combination of relevance and transparency for their clients.

When KIND Snacks rolled out its sugar-free Fruit Bites last August, the company cleverly used transparency as a vehicle to achieve relevance and make a statement. Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky knew that there was an opportunity to capitalize on the attention surrounding consumer distrust in fruit snack nutrition — especially with a recent IRI research study revealing that nine in 10 leading fruit snacks have added sugar as the first ingredient. KIND stacked 45,485 pounds of sugar in the middle of New York’s Times Square – the amount of sugar that U.S. children consume every five minutes – positioning the brand and its new offering as the solution to deceptively high-sugar alternatives.

“We have always been focused on bringing transparency to the industry and categories that we’ve been playing in,” Lubetzky tells Business Insider. “The stunt in Times Square is just a new way in which to do this.”

As PR professionals, it is our job to possess an unbeatable understanding of internal needs and external environments to tactfully position our clients as relevant and newsworthy without having to sacrifice brand trust. The success of KIND Snacks’ marketing tactic is a testament to just how sweet it is to nail that delicate balance — literally.

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Launching social for NW Washington’s behavioral healthcare leader
Is Social Media Killing PR?
Getting To Know F+A Senior Account Executive, Julia Irwin
Ready to start your PR career?
The Quest for Relevance: Does Talkability Trump Truth?