Communicators of the Bay Area — especially those who work downtown or could catch a quick BART or Muni to 101 Howard Street, the University of San Francisco’s Downtown campus — the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program puts on an excellent Speaker Series that is free and open to the public. Just this coming month the program will host Sara Blask, Director of Media Strategy for the OutCast Agency (Sept. 6) and Desirée Rogers, recent CEO of Johnson Publishing Company(which publishes Jet and Ebony magazines) and former White House Social Secretary under President Obama (Sept. 18). These events always promise to be informative and lively and a great opportunity to hear from leaders in the communication field.

Looking back at last year’s series will give you an idea of what to expect. The first speaker was Randy Shandobil, an eight-time Emmy award-winning broadcaster, with more than thirty years of experience as a political journalist. He has interviewed a who’s who of American leaders (Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dianne Feinstein, and on and on), and in recent years launched his own Communications firm, Shandobil Communications, where he help(s) corporate executives, policy makers and political leaders work with journalists and assists campaigns with their advertising and messaging.

At Shandobil’s talk, we learned about interviewing technique and strategies for getting honest answers from even the most polished, close-to-the-vest public figures. He provided information and great insights into how public relations practices have changed over the years, the effect this has had on political journalism, and what future journalists and communicators might expect from their shifting field.

Other speakers included John Buchanan, Director of Public Relations at Reed Smith, LLP, who told the PR side of the story and emphasized good old fashioned reading, language and close attention to the sentence in addition to the value of building relationships and trust with the media. Sunil Singhvi, now with Instagram but then Director of Music Partnerships at Twitter, talked about his transition from broadcast journalism (he was with the BBC) to forging partnerships between social media and the music industry.

Kelly McGinnis, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Levi Strauss shared Levi’s practices in multiple countries and how its values are its most important asset. I understood after listening to McGinnis, with her emphasis on business ethics and transparency, why our program requires Ethics in Professional Communication among its core courses. We also had a chance to listen to Mike LaVigne, co-founder and chief product officer at Clue, a start-up that assists women throughout the world to track their menstrual cycle and exchange information about their health and fertility with friends or family. LaVigne suggested ways companies and individuals might overcome communication obstacles and cultural barriers that risk the development of products in countries where open dialogue about women’s bodies is considered taboo.

Video Producer K’Dee Miller of Patina Pictures and San Francisco Chronicle Business Columnist Thomas Lee closed the series, with events in March and April, respectively. Miller showed top-tier corporate, nonprofit and small business videos that she created and produced, and illustrated how her work as an actress and storyteller (she has an MFA in Creative Writing as well as a BFA in Acting and Production Management) animate her work and career. Lee talked about what separates a good press release from a bad one, from the perspective of a journalist and columnist who receives a storm of email, tweets, and letters every day from businesses and organizations looking for coverage. Lee’s disarmingly frank perspective, along with his vast knowledge of the Bay Area business scene, was refreshing and memorable.

With a new year upon us, I’m looking greatly forward to another speaker series. The insights, the question and answer sessions, the opportunities to chat after the talk are all invaluable. Just as we as students learn a lot, so too can the public. These are wonderful opportunities to feel welcomed, challenged and motivated to be the best communicators we can be.

For more about the MAPC Speaker Series and for a list of upcoming events, head over to the Master of Arts in Professional Communication’s Facebook page.

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