Who’s Next

Who’s Next Communications: 18 young people helping Philly find its voice

From public relations to advertising to corporate communications, these pros are making a difference every day in Philly.

Jayna Wallace/Billy Penn

Philadelphia has no shortage of young advertising and public relations professionals playing key roles in the communications field every day. From those who work in city departments to account executives at the top firms, young people are on the ground making a difference.

Welcome to this month’s edition of Who’s Next, a Billy Penn feature presented by the Knight Foundation that works to highlight some of the city’s most dynamic young people. These public relations officials, advertising executives and communications experts were nominated by their peers for their outstanding work here in Philadelphia.

In the last year, Billy Penn has highlighted more than 200 of the city’s up-and-coming leaders through the Who’s Next feature, from teachers to artists to musicians to chefs. The category sponsor for this month’s Who’s Next is Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners. Now, meet these young people who are the next great communicators in Philadelphia:

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Erin Allsman

Senior Vice President, Public Relations and Social Media Director at Brownstein Group
38 years old

Allsman heads up public relations and social media at Brownstein Group, an advertising and digital marketing firm based in Philadelphia. She manages the PR/Social team, which works to deliver strategies for clients, as well as business development and resource planning. During Allsman's tenure since 2008, Brownstein has grown more than 300 percent, both in staff headcount and revenue. The firm has been recognized with national awards from PRSA, PR News and PR Daily, among others. Allsman is an active member of the PR community, having served on PRSA Philadelphia’s Board of Directors, as the Host Committee Chairperson for the 2013 PRSA International Conference and on several non-profit communications committees. She also currently serves on the Advisory Board for the Haverford Area YMCA. In 2013, she won the PRSA Philadelphia President's Award for Outstanding Volunteerism and in 2012 she won Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway

Director of Communications and Marketing at Philadelphia Bar Association
32 years old

Avakian-Hardaway leads the Philadelphia Bar Association's Communications Department, overseeing all communications and marketing efforts for the group's 12,000 members. As the creative director of the Bar, she manages media relations, publications, social media, leadership communications and marketing. Recent projects include launching a newly-rebranded website and hosting the World City Bar Leaders Conference. She now runs a three-person department that is responsible for a monthly newspaper, a quarterly magazine, two weekly e-newsletters, all media relations and major marketing initiatives, handling all of the Association's photography, podcasting and major speaking engagements on a daily basis. Avakian-Hardaway has spent the last decade serving as a volunteer leader of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and is also on the Emerging Leaders Committee of Turning Points for Children, a volunteer supporter of Mighty Writers, has twice chaired the Armenian General Benevolent Union Young Professionals (Philadelphia Chapter) and led communications efforts for Philadelphia's annual Armenian Genocide Walk. Prior to joining the Philadelphia Bar Association, she worked in public affairs at DuPont.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Neil P. Bardhan

Science communication coach at Bardhan Consulting
34 years old

As the science communication coach at Bardhan Consulting, Bardhan helps scientists and other technical professionals learn to communicate more effectively and clearly with their desired audiences, with a focus on presentations including slide design. He makes use of his background in cognitive psychology and linguistics, as well as training in improvisational theater and performance. He does one-on-one coaching as well as workshops. Part of Bardhan's daily work includes public relations for improvscience, a company that provides organizational and leadership development trainings. He also runs the social media presence for Broad Street Review, a local website for arts and culture essays. Outside his day job(s), Bardhan stage manages and provides production assistance for First Person Arts storyslams and special events, including the First Person Arts Festival and the National Museum of American Jewish History's annual Freedom Seder. Since September 2013, he has been a member of the Indy Hall coworking community. He's also a company member at the Philly Improv Theater and he recently joined the advisory board of the Almanac Dance Circus Theatre group.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Ashley Berke

Director of Communications for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
33 years old

Berke oversees media relations, marketing, publications, social media and the website for the University of Pennsylvania's renowned veterinary school and its two hospitals. In this role, she's responsible for positioning Penn Vet as a leader in veterinary research, education and service. One of her proudest accomplishments is securing a new TV docuseries for Animal Planet. The show follows six of Penn Vet's fourth-year veterinary students as they complete their training. Pitching the show and securing a network took over two years, and filming took place non-stop for three months this year. She's also the current president of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and has also served on the Board of Ready, Willing & Able Philadelphia and on the Marketing Committee for the Marian Anderson Award. Berke, who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University in 2005 with a B.S. in Communications, also frequently serves as a guest lecturer at area universities.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Ben Block

Marketing and Communications Manager at Clean Markets
30 years old

Block manages public relations and marketing campaigns for Clean Markets, a leading clean energy marketing firm with a focus on promoting utility and state energy-efficiency programs across the Mid-Atlantic region. Day-to-day, he's developing thought-leadership content, marketing collateral and advertising that promotes benefits for businesses and homeowners who invest in energy-saving technologies and solutions. By publishing dozens of articles in newspapers, magazines and trade publications, Clean Markets has become a leader in content marketing, especially within the clean energy sector. He says his job at Clean Markets is to help utilities and governments market their clean energy programs. Block is also a mentor for Mighty Writers and a Fulbright Scholar. He formerly managed communications on behalf of VCS, an organization setting international standards to address climate change, and for the premier sustainability think tank Worldwatch Institute.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Evon Lee Burton

Marketing and Outreach Supervisor at Philadelphia FIGHT
28 years old

As the Marketing and Outreach Supervisor with Philadelphia FIGHT, Burton is responsible for managing social media accounts, maintaining relationships with press, assisting in the planning of internal and external events including FIGHT's annual AIDS Education Month and drafting internal and external communications. He was a member of the planning committee of FIGHT's 25th Anniversary Gala, which sold out and also helped plan a '90s party featuring DJ Spinderella (of Salt N Pepa) in celebration of FIGHT's Youth Health Empowerment Project's 20th Anniversary. Burton is also the founder and Creative Director of the Anderson Street Project, an online resource for the Philadelphia R&B fanbase. The project informs Philadelphians of upcoming R&B shows and other music-related happenings in the region through weekly e-mails and social media. He's an active member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and was named Volunteer of the Year by the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society in 2011. Burton is a proud alum of the 264th graduating class of Central High School and of Morehouse College.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Christanna Ciabattoni

Senior Account Executive at Skai Blue Media
28 years old

Ciabattoni is a senior account executive at Skai Blue Media, a small, Philly-based multimedia public relations agency. She says the great thing about her job is that "there is no typical day." Some of her hours are spent traditionally: researching and pitching stories for placements in national and local media outlets and accompanying clients to interviews or speaking engagements around the country. But lately, more hours are spent non-traditionally: Planning experiential events and developing influencer campaigns and social media strategies. Some of the opportunities she's had include co-producing a week-long series on Good Morning America, creating and producing an experiential event concept for Dell that was used in New York and Austin, and securing a client the cover of Forbes Magazine. Within the last few weeks, Skai Blue clients spoke at events at the White House and the United Nations, but her proudest moment to date was when Katie Couric referred to her -- on air -- as "the nice publicist." A Temple graduate, Ciabattoni last year joined the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and took on the role of Social Media Chair. This year she's transitioning over to the Newsletter Chair.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Jennifer Crandall

Public Relations Manager at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
32 years old

Though Crandall has only been working at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation for about five months, she's spent a large part of her career working for the City of Philadelphia. She plans press events and overall media strategy for the Department, writing briefing materials and press collateral, responding to media inquiries, site visits at facilities in the PP&R system and various special assignments for the Commissioner. Most recently, Crandall served as Deputy Press Secretary for former Mayor Nutter from 2011 to 2015. In that role, she was part of the team the managed public relations during major incidents in the City of Philadelphia like record-setting snowstorms, Hurricane Sandy, the Salvation Army building collapse at 20th and Market Streets and the Amtrak train derailment. She also worked on major event communications strategies for annual events like the Wawa Welcome America! festival, Jay-Z's Made in America festival, the Philadelphia Marathon and most recently, the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit. She's a fellow with the Leading for Change Fellowship Program for Leaders in Public Service, a member of Friends of Vernon Park, a participant in Young Involved Philadelphia's Board Prep Program and a graduate of Penn State.


Kylie Flett

Public Relations & Social Media Strategist at PUNCH Media PR

Flett manages the development and implementation of all public relations and social media programs to meet the defined goals and objectives of our clients at PUNCH Media, a Philadelphia-based agency. Since joining PUNCH Media, Flett has managed to significantly impact the agency's bottom line in a short amount of time and, in six months, has added five clients to the PUNCH roster. Her colleagues describe her as an active team player who's always pushing herself and the team to do the best job possible. Originally from Australia, Flett previously worked at Neff Associates in Old City and has a masters from La Salle. Billy Penn featured Flett earlier this year in a profile, which you can read here.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Sande Friedman

Marketing & Education Director, Tria
28 years old

Friedman has spent five years taking the Tria voice and expanding it. The person who nominated Sande wrote the restaurant group "didn't really have a social media presence before her, and now they have a great one, as well as tons of mailings and other written copy." She takes feedback and ideas from the rest of the Tria staff and also guest responses to make wine, cheese and beer as fun as possible for everyone. She's makes detail-centric information about complicated products fun and accessible to anyone. Friedman says she has many jobs merged into one at Tria. She's the Marketing Director, Education Director, Beverage Manager, Cheese Director (she's working to become a Certified Cheese Professional this summer) and more. She's a board member and Vice President of Philly Wine Week, a copy editor for Philly Beer Scene Magazine and a member of the 2017 class for Leadership Philadelphia's Keepers Class. She's also been recognized as a Zagat 30 Under 30 Philadelphia, a National Semifinalist for Eater Young Guns, a Sartori Scholar in 2016 and a Drexel University Alumni Spotlight.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Francesca Gunning

Account Director at Tierney
29 years old

As an account director at Tierney, Gunning mentors and manages client teams and projects. She provides strategic direction to account teams to ensure client goals and objectives are being met. Gunning also manages the daily activities of account teams and develops and executes strategic communications plans. In addition, she serves as a teacher and mentor to junior-level team members. Gunning is a board member with Rock to the Future, a non-profit organization that provides free music education to underserved youth in Philadelphia, part of which is through an after school program where children can come, complete their homework and receive free music lessons. In the marketing community here in Philadelphia, she also participates in the 4As Institute of Advanced Advertising Studies (IAAS) program and has served as the PR instructor during the IAAS course for the last two years.

lauren hitt

Lauren Hitt

Director of Communications, Mayor Jim Kenney
25 years old

Hitt oversees communications for Mayor Jim Kenney, his administration and various City departments. Since Kenney was inaugurated in January, Hitt has been in charge of communications for two major projects, the first being the passage of a sugary-sweetened drinks tax that Kenney proposed in order to fund some of his initiatives. Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first major city in America to pass such a tax. Hitt has also led communications efforts from the city's perspective for the Democratic National Convention, including preparations and execution. Prior to working in City Hall, Hitt was the press secretary for Kenney's come-from-behind mayoral run. Before making her way to Philadelphia, Hitt worked communications for 2014 Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and for Bill De Blasio's mayoral campaign in New York. In 2011, she worked as an intern in the White House in the Vice President's Office of Communications. Hitt graduated from Penn with a degree in Communications.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Aliya Z. Khabir

CEO, AZK Communications, LLC
36 years old

Khabir runs her own public relations firm called AZK Communications and, in addition, works for a local healthcare organization in the Quality Department where she communicates with providers. Healthcare communications has been her default expertise for more than 15 years, but she has also delivered communications services to various other industries including government, real estate, non-profits, banking and community development. Her key accomplishments include hosting Magic Johnson for a fundraiser, being a part of the start-up team for a new Medicaid plan in the area, managing the public relations for the Philadelphia Eid Coalition which recently convinced the school district to add Islamic holidays to the school calendar, managing the public relations for the annual City Hall Iftar and managing the PR for the Muslim American Host Committee for the DNCC 2016. She says she's proud of being the "go to" for local and now national media on issues that are of concern to the Muslim community in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Khabir is a member of United Muslim Masjid, a contributor to the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Tribune.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Jacquelin Kollar

Senior Digital Strategist at ChatterBlast Media
27 years old

As a senior digital strategist at Chatterblast Media, Kollar creates digital strategies for organizations ranging from non-profits to large corporations. The customized strategy serves as a blueprint for the client's current and future digital content and social media plans. She says the most reward moments are "anytime I have the chance to work with passionate organizations and use social media to send out their work's story to a massive online audience that otherwise they may never have reached." Kollar is also an adjust professor at University of the Arts, a member of the Elixir Planning Committee, a member of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania Marketing Committee and a volunteer with the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride. Prior to working at Chatterblast, Kollar was a senior account coordinator at One Trick Pony.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Britney Elayne Norman

Events & Promotions Manager at SugarHouse Casino
29 years old

Norman's the current Events and Promotions Manager for SugarHouse Casino, where she manages relationships and executes partnerships with organizations and events such as PHL17 Mummers Parade, Philadelphia Auto Show, Liberty USO, Susan G Komen Philadelphia, Philly Pride Presents, Inc. and a host of community and non-profit organizations. She also manages all promotional initiatives including gift giveaways, sweepstakes, sponsorships and events from concept to execution. Starting in early August, she will be the Senior Manager of Integrated Marketing Programs for Visit Philly, where she will coordinate the Historic Philadelphia marketing project and assist in developing strategies and marketing for their African American, Latino and LGBT initiatives. In addition, she's the executive vice president and COO for the Influencing Action Movement, the Membership Chair for NExT Philadelphia of the Urban League, a Mentor for Delco Girls Code/Technovation Challenge and Co-Chair of the Finley Recreation Center Youth Advisory Committee.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Justin Pizzi

Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Saxbys Coffee
37 years old

Pizzi works as the chief communications officer at Saxbys coffee, where his job is to move the Saxbys brand forward, tell its story and find ways for guests to to enjoy the team and their hospitality, all while encouraging the brand's "love of Philadelphia and the entrepreneurial spirit." His work at Saxbys is his second career, after he achieved his "childhood dream" of being a TV reporter at NBC10. He got an MBA at Drexel while working the early shift at the TV station, and now says he's had two dream jobs before the age of 40. He was also the director of marketing and communications at Aqua America. Pizzi worked on communications committees for both the Democratic National Convention host committee and the World Meeting of Families. In his spare time, he's a volunteer at MANNA.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Anthony Stipa

Public Relations Account Supervisor at Slice Communications
28 years old

Stipa is a public relations account supervisor at Slice Communications, a public relations agency based here in Philly. Slice Communications works to align with startups and entrepreneurs who are fighting against established brands, while maintaining their loyalty to the community. In 2015, Slice was awarded the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's Professional Service Excellence of the Year Award. Stipa represents clients like the University City Science Center and Yards Brewing Company. He advises startups on strategies designed to engage with the community and, for the last two years, has worked with Hopeworks 'N Camden on their public relations efforts. Every summer, Slice Communications offers a free "Christmas In July" workshop for non-profits and small businesses looking to make a splash during the holidays. Stipa also serves as the Philadelphia Public Relations Association's sponsorship chair.

Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Uri Weingarten

VP, Digital Strategy at Red Tettemer O'Connell + Partners
37 years old

In his five years at Red Tettemer O'Connell and Partners, Weingarten has helped grow the digital department from three people into a team of 20-plus developers, designers, strategists and analysts. On a daily basis this means working directly with clients and account teams to determine brand and campaign goals, then working with the digital and creative teams to concept, design and build digital sites and products. Out of college in 2001, he moved to London and co-founded a mobile marketing agency which did early text messaging-based campaigns for media and entertainment brands in the U.S. and Europe. In 2004, that company was acquired by a Seattle-based agency called Mobliss and Weingarten headed up their New York office for several years until they were acquired by a large Japanese media company called Index Corp. For Index, Weingarten worked on a small global team that consulted for media and entertainment companies to help them expand their digital and mobile distribution and engagement strategies.

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Pamela Yau

Special Projects Coordinator at The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
28 years old

As the Special Projects Coordinator of the Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy for the City of Philadelphia, Yau is responsible for the management of the marketing and public relations efforts of the Office, including traditional public relations (press releases, media advisories, media relations) as well as managing the Office's social media accounts and website CreativePHL.org. She also serves as the Office's photographer and graphic designer. Yau coordinates press conferences and special events, and launched the "Culture in the Courtyard" performance series in the City Hall Courtyard. She also worked on the celebration and promotion of Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month, "Philly Celebrates Jazz," during the month of April. In the past two years she's been with the office, Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month has grown from featuring a little over 40 events in 2015 to over 100 events in 2016, which were all compiled into an online events calendar through a partnership with Phillyfunguide.