by Lou Mancinelli
Long-time WHYY (Channel 12) communications executive Art Ellis, 62, a Mt. Airy resident for 33 years, will be inducted into the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) Hall of Fame, at a ceremony this month.
The PPRA Hall of Fame luncheon, scheduled for Tuesday, May 21, 11:30 a.m., in the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons, 150 N. 6th St., will be emceed by WHYY host and personality Ed Cunningham, who produces “On Stage at Curtis.”
For more than 25 years Ellis has worked to promote the news and entertainment programming associated with WHYY, such as “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, “Talk of the Nation” on National Public Radio and countless PBS documentaries.
“Many times over the years, I’ve witnessed Art’s gifts in communication and media relation strategies,” said Bill Marrazzo, WHYY President & CEO and also a Mt. Airy resident, “and he has given back through his commitment to mentorship and public good. I’m delighted that his contributions are being recognized.”
Reflecting on the upcoming honor, Ellis said, “Most of the time as a p.r. person, I’m more interested in getting other people recognized. This is from my peers … It’s very flattering.”
Since he joined WHYY in 1987 as an associate director of public information, Ellis has worked to market and brand the WHYY name. Now, as WHYY executive director of communications and brand management, Ellis runs the organization’s communications efforts.
During his almost 40-year career in communications Ellis has witnessed the industry transform from the phone to the fax to the tweet, and in the past few years, from email to wireless.
But despite the progress of technology, according to Ellis, the underlying principles of the public relations field have remained constant. “You’ve got to be reliable and trustworthy,” he said, “and learn about people’s deadlines.”
A former president of PPRA, the nation’s largest and oldest independent public relations organization, Ellis also played a significant role in launching Newsworks, WHYY’s online hyper-local journalism source.
The Mt. Airy p.r. executive was raised in Lower Merion (his mother was raised in Mt. Airy) and attended Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion Station (now in Bryn Mawr and now called the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy). In 1972 Ellis received his bachelor’s degree in communications from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. A year later he earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.
“I guess I’ve always been fascinated by how people connect and how you get a message across,” said Ellis, who originally wanted to be a radio reporter. He became hooked on the medium while working at his college radio station. But his first job out of graduate school was writing television schedules for TV Guide. In 1973 he entered the world of public relations.
Ellis married his fiancee Lynne in 1975. The couple moved to Philadelphia in 1979 and to Mt. Airy in 1980. (They have no children.) Ellis worked as the director of public relations and marketing at Philadelphia University before joining WHYY in 1987.
As opposed to journalists who work for a news organization, p.r. reps work to promote a client to the public, often through journalists. Many stories that end up in the media are discovered because a p.r. person for a business, entertainer or athlete, book publisher, etc., pitched the story to a journalist. A p.r. rep is the behind-the-scenes person who may also serve as a spokesperson when a journalist needs a quote or information for a story.
Ellis said some keys to p.r. success are being clear about one’s expectations, listening to advice and not being too pushy while pitching a story. As an advocate of mentoring, he has also been a speaker and student project mentor at local universities and played an integral role with the WHYY Teen Council. In addition, he is a board member of the Gershman YMHA and a past board member of the Germantown Jewish Centre.
Founded in 1945, PPRA has over 300 members representing a cross-section of businesses and non-profit organizations across the region. Ellis is the 39th PPRA Hall of Fame inductee. For more information on the May 21 luncheon, visit www.ppra.net.