Homes For Our Troops: Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives

by Megan Shroy

As a PR agency, Approach Marketing has the privilege of partnering with clients to design and implement programs focused on philanthropy, community engagement and helping companies give back to their customers and the neighborhoods where they do business. 

This is the good stuff, my friends.

We recently worked with our longtime client, Vivial, to create a corporate giving initiative in support of two causes near and dear to their heart: the military and education.

Vivial Values was born, with a keen focus on improving lives and supporting those who are in need or have dedicated their lives to protecting our country.

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with CEO Jim Continenza (pictured below) to kick off Vivial Values in a grand fashion. It was such a touching experience that I had to share this story…

Megan Shroy, Approach Marketing and Jim Continenza, Vivial

A Seeing Eye Dog, aptly named Deacon, is Army MSG Eric Marts’ faithful companion.

In fact, the Labrador Retriever never leaves his side.

In 2006, while bravely serving our country, two explosive device blasts in Fallujah, Iraq caused traumatic brain injury (TBI) that took Eric’s vision and resulted in multiple surgeries for neck and shoulder injuries.

Following his service, Eric moved home to a Minnesota trailer park with his wife, Bobbie. Eric’s daily life presented a new set of challenges: The hallways were narrow, making it difficult for Deacon to do his job, and the bedrooms weren’t large enough for Eric’s equipment.

Their five grown children and grandchildren didn’t all fit inside.   

And, with no security system, Bobbie was afraid to leave Eric alone in case strangers approach the home.

This was not the life a hero deserves.

As part of Vivial Values, Vivial partnered with the nonprofit organization, Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) to help give Eric, Bobbie and Deacon a specially-adapted home that’s designed around their needs.

HFOT builds mortgage-free, custom homes nationwide for severely injured, post-9/11 veterans to enable them to rebuild their lives. These veterans are among the nation’s most wounded with missing limbs, varying levels of paralysis and, as in Eric’s case, TBI and blindness.

Honored at a ceremony attended by more than 100 community members, Eric received the keys to his new home in August. After enduring so much, Eric now has the chance to live in comfort and safety.

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Jim Continenza proudly delivered the opening remarks at this special event.

“It is thanks to men and women, like Eric, that we at Vivial are able to freely and safely do business in our country,” he said. “A year ago, the leaders at this company sat down and said, ‘All of the money we’re spending on golf outings, sporting events, you name it—let’s take that money and give it back to causes that mean something to our customers and employees.’”

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Partnering with HFOT, Vivial is committed to helping establish a stronger network of assistance for those who have bravely worn the uniform and put their lives in danger.

Helping our clients, like Vivial, connect with organizations like HFOT is a dream.

I’m thrilled that I was able to be on-site at this event and watch Eric and his family receive their home. I’ve never been prouder to support Vivial—they are truly a company that cares about the communities they serve.

To learn more about Vivial’s corporate giving and Vivial Values campaign, click here.

This is one of the very best parts of PR: being able to share the remarkable work that our clients are doing day in and day out.

If you are interested in creating a community engagement or philanthropic initiative, please contact me personally at megan@approachmarketing.com.

Managing Motherhood: How to Find Balance as a Working Mom

by Megan Shroy

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Pop the champagne, ladies.

You’ve taken the workforce by storm.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47 percent of U.S. workers are women, and mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 (compared with 11 percent in 1960).

In short: We’re killing it.

As the founder and president of a PR agency that employs seasoned consultants—the majority of whom are working mothers—I’ve found that many career-driven women, myself included, face a challenging question when we also have a family: How do I manage it all?

As mothers, we crave that elusive balance between building our professional practice and being present in our personal lives.

But unfortunately, many industries—especially PR—don’t offer the flexibility that’s needed to find it.

So, what’s a gal to do?

Sacrifice time with our kids?
Turn down challenging opportunities at the office?
Give up on our career path?

Absolutely not.

Life is a juggling act, particularly when we have fulfilling jobs and a family at home.

Deciding what’s best for your family and for yourself is, of course, different for every woman—and is dependent on the situation.

I’ve spend the last decade trying to prove that having a big job and being a good mom at the same time is possible! I’m here to tell every working mother that you can find better work-life balance by making some minor adjustments in your daily life.

In my early years of business ownership, I devoted countless hours to growing the agency. As Approach Marketing grew, so did my family. After introducing two children to the mix, I knew something had to give.

Here’s my big tip: At work, pursue the things you love doing and that have the biggest impact on the company’s success…and let go of the rest.

I recognize that might sound counterintuitive. But, growing my business means narrowing my focus so I can contribute the very best of myself to the agency and my family. When I’m about to start a new task at work, I’m constantly asking myself:

  • Is this generating revenue for the business?
  • Are my clients better off with me involved in this project?
  • Is my team benefiting from my participation here?
  • Is this contributing to the overall growth of Approach Marketing?

Also, sharing the workload allows other talented teammates to contribute to the prosperity of the business while advancing their own careers. In this scenario, everyone wins.

Below, our team of award-winning publicists and power moms offers some top-notch advice about what’s working for them—and how it can work for you.

How do you prioritize both work and family responsibilities?

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“Over time, I've learned that there will be phases where my work is the priority, and I can't be home with my family in the evening due to meetings, events or travel. There are also phases where family commitments take priority, and I need to shut down early to be at curriculum night or start work a little later so I can volunteer at a school event. Balance ebbs and flows, and keeping this in mind will help to reduce guilt.”

—Liz Woerth

What processes have you established so that you're organized and efficient (i.e., able to meet client responsibilities along with personal goals)?

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“I live and die by my calendar. I update it multiple times a day as meetings shift, deliverables are completed and unexpected items come up. It’s what keeps me sane as a full-time working mother of three. This also allows me to look at my day and ensure I’m taking a breath somewhere along the way. That might mean a mid-morning coffee run with the windows down and music up (not KidzBop). It might also mean planning for an earlier start to my day so that I can meet timelines set for myself or a project. I also have lists. And my lists have lists.”

—Janice Zielinski

What tips do you have for carving out personal time?

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“It’s important for me to have personal time to recharge and refresh. I always try to find time at least 3–4 times a week to work out, whether it be running or yoga. I block my calendar and make this a priority. And after my daughter goes to bed, I try to stay up for a bit. Even if I’m tired, I need that alone time to really ensure that I feel ready to take on the next day.” 

—Jamie Rothfeld

At the end of the day, what helps you find balance and feel present with your family?

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“Having two girls, it’s important to show them that women can be moms and have a career, too. When they ask me about working, I talk to them about how much I like my job and how they’ll find jobs they enjoy when they grow up. But I don’t want my kids to remember me always being on my phone or computer. I find that if I’m able to step away and be truly present with my family in times that I’m not working, it allows me to be fully present and engaged when I am working—which leads to better service for clients and better results.”  

—Julie Daubenmire

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“It can be easy to let work creep in when spending time with family, like during evening hours or on weekends. As much as possible, I disconnect from work at the end of the workday and on weekends so that I can give my family undivided attention.”

—Monica Bhandarkar

What does successful work-life balance look like for you?

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“While the response to this question is different for everyone, I’ve learned that part-time work is ideal at this point in my life [with a baby at home]. I look forward to working—and need to feel like I’m contributing to the greater good and helping move something forward. But I also need a flexible schedule because I want to take care of my daughter. The key has been establishing dedicated work hours and sticking to them, which includes early morning conference calls and reserving blocks of time in the mid-afternoon and at night to power through deliverables. Being able to pursue a fulfilling career and raise my child simultaneously—and be fully invested in both—is a privilege I don’t take for granted.”

—Mary Franz

I suppose my last piece of advice to all the working mamas out there is to give yourself some grace. You are doing the best you can.

Oh, and every now and then, look yourself in the mirror and say, “You are a badass.”

Because you are.

Make-A-Wish and Goldfish Swim School Make Magic for Local Wish Kids

by Megan Shroy

Earlier this month, two of our clients teamed up to dream up a fun way to raise awareness and money for a great cause (one that is also near and dear to our own hearts).

The result?

Pool parties. Pancakes. Balloon animals. Silliness. Fundraising. Magic.

For Lisa Armitage, Lizzie Cowgill and Katie Lee of Goldfish Swim School, giving back to the community and bringing joy to children is all in a day’s work.

So, when they asked Approach Marketing about getting involved with the local Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana chapter, we were delighted to make the introduction.

Just as we suspected, the organizations were pretty creative with their events.

Goldfish Dublin hosted a pancake-flipping breakfast with beloved Chris Cakes, and the Goldfish Swim Schools of Dublin, Westerville and Indianapolis sold Wish Fish to help raise funds for Make-A-Wish. Approach Marketing will be matching the funds raised at both events.

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To top it off, Goldfish hosted pool parties at their individual locations to celebrate the strength and courage of local wish kids from Columbus and Indianapolis.

These parties were non-stop romps thanks to all the vendors who happily provided services—including, the Sunny 95 Treat Truck, Simply Amazing Entertainment, Paulette’s Princess Parties, Cow Town Twisters, Buca di Beppo, Olive Garden, Fazoli’s —and, of course, the incredible Goldfish staff members who came out in full force to make sure the event went off without a hitch.

It’s moments like these that bring a smile to my face and fill me with pride. I loved seeing our clients join forces to make an impact and deliver joy to the people who need it most.

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Be Prepared: Assess Your Communication Channels Before a Crisis Hits

by Kristin Deuber

Let’s be honest: It’s not if a crisis hits, but when.

Take United Airlines for example.

Never in a million years would they have expected to see video go viral of a passenger being dragged off one of their flights to make room for United employees.

It was obvious United did not properly prepare for a crisis of this magnitude that would receive so much backlash from PR experts, competitors and the public in general.

This situation alone shows that crisis communication planning isn’t an option—it’s a requirement for a successful business.

Preparing for the unexpected is a common component of a strong public relations plan, but what does that mean exactly? And how do you go beyond anticipating a potential crisis to truly feeling prepared?

You might already have an overall PR strategy for your company, but let’s dive deeper. What specific channels need to be assessed before the alarm bell sounds?

  • Media materials: This should go without saying, but update your media kit regularly. Organization fact sheets, bios, company news—you know the drill. Keep these materials up-to-date and on-hand or easily accessible at all times. There’s no wiggle room here. Just do it.
     
  • Message-specific web page: Having a hidden or “dark” web page that is developed, approved and waiting in the wings to be activated when the whistle blows can save you from scrambling. This electronic resource can be made public or distributed using a specific web address when needed. A vulnerability assessment typically conducted during the crisis communication planning stage can help determine what issues might warrant this type of web page.
     
  • Contact lists: Do you have a list with the names and roles of the crisis team members, business leadership team and other key stakeholders? Is this list current with the information you would need to communicate with all of them when the crisis strikes? Does your list include mobile numbers for texting and placing actual phone calls? This list needs to be a living, breathing document. And it needs to be accessible. You need to be able to get to it from absolutely anywhere. A crisis won’t patiently wait until you get back to the office on Monday morning to attack.
     
  • Monitoring program: Make sure your press and social media monitoring tools are working, regularly reviewed and loaded with the appropriate key words. Again, a vulnerability assessment will help you determine the potential crisis and the corresponding key words to include.
     
  • Social media channels: Spending time growing your social networks and engaging with followers can pay off in good times and in bad. Use social media to keep the lines of communication open—from you to them and them to you. Connecting with followers during a crisis can be imperative for controlling the message and minimizing damage.
     
  • Emergency notification systems: When the ball drops, your plan needs to be put into action. Make sure the crisis team knows what to do, who’s doing it, how to do it and in what order. I’d even recommend doing a couple of trial runs before a crisis occurs. You’ll inevitably work out a few bugs in the system to ensure the real deal runs a little more smoothly.

Nobody wants to think about worst-case scenarios, and spending time and resources doing a dry run sounds less than appealing. However, it’s better to think it all through now so when something does happen, you aren’t left scrambling to do damage control.

Whether you have a crisis communication plan that you’d like reviewed or updated or you need to develop one for your organization, Approach Marketing is here to help. Our team has decades of experience and expertise in helping businesses of all sizes prepare so that they can respond promptly, accurately and with confidence during an emergency.

Contact us to learn more about crisis communication planning at kristin@approachmarketing.com.

The Power of PR: Goldfish Swim School Makes a Splash

by Megan Shroy

According to the CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Protection), three children die every day as the result of drowning. And drowning is still the second-leading cause of death among children ages 1–4.

I don’t share these tragic statistics to bring you down.

Instead, I’d like to introduce you to Goldfish Swim School (Goldfish).  

Since 2006, Goldfish has been teaching kids how to swim and be safer in and around water. With more than 65 locations open or in development across 23 states and Canada, they are proud to serve over 70,000 students every week.

Goldfish believes it’s their responsibility to educate parents in the community about the importance of water safety to prevent accidental deaths. Day in and day out, they work to ensure kids’ water safety skills are sharp year-round, through continuous lessons, so little ones have the tools they need to be confident and smart in the water. Because learning to swim is an essential, life-saving skill—not an optional activity like ballet or soccer.

Goldfish was founded in the Detroit metropolitan area and has earned a strong reputation and brand awareness through the years. However, seeing their success, other swim schools have continued to enter the marketplace.

What’s a PR agency to do to help Goldfish stand out?

Let’s take a closer look.

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Our chief priorities during this campaign to ensure Goldfish was strategically positioned to broaden its network and engage new customers included:

  • Keeping swimming and water safety top of mind among media, bloggers and influencers during a time of year when these topics are not covered
     
  • Generating new blog and social media angles to reinforce Goldfish as the authority on water safety and swim lessons
     
  • Identifying brand ambassadors to share messaging beyond those who are already familiar with Goldfish
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Goldfish’s approach was designed to achieve these priorities by:

  • Amplifying Goldfish’s unique value proposition: a proprietary curriculum that focuses squarely on water safety
     
  • Positioning co-founder Chris McCuiston as a water safety expert and resource on the topic within Detroit
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With first-hand experience, these ambassadors acted as enthusiastic advocates and were eager to talk about Goldfish with their networks. In the first six months of the campaign, we were able to generate:

  • 385 pieces of coverage
  • Coverage that was 100 percent positive in tone
  • 19,822,198 overall impressions
  • 11,500 social media engagements

While the results speak for themselves, the most exciting part of this campaign is the satisfaction of knowing that more children will learn how to be safer in and around water—and lives will be saved.

Now that’s the power of PR.  

Snap Happy: 10 Tips to Help You Take Better Photos with Your Smartphone

by Amy Carruthers

It’s the million-dollar question: Are we born with a good eye for photography, or is it something we can learn?

I used to believe that great photographers burst forth into this world with an innate mastery of light and endless source of creative concepts.

But after running my own boutique photography company, I realized that everyone starts at the beginning. And everyone—from photo enthusiast to seasoned pro—acquires know-how and talent over time.

Maybe you’re a social media manager who needs to develop a steady stream of visually-stunning content. Or, you’re an influencer who wants to take better product photos. Or, perhaps you just crave some swoon-worthy images of everyday life.

No matter your depth of experience or level of creativity, I'm here to help.

Below, I’ve condensed more than 10 years of experience into 10 practical tips you can follow to take better photos with your smartphone—and convince everyone that you were born this way:

1.     Use the camera you have
Yeah, I have a baller camera. I love it. But when I travel, hike, explore my city or spend time with family and friends, I leave the “big” camera at home. I love using my mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy s8) to take photos because it’s always with me, easy to use, unobtrusive and I can quickly edit and share my images.

So many folks wait to take photos with a to-be-purchased “good” camera. When they finally pull the trigger, a learning period follows. And once they feel comfortable using the new camera, they have to remember to grab it on-the-go.

Your life is happening right now. Fleeting moments are happening right now. Capture those memories right now with the camera you have.

2.     See the light
I’m obsessed with light. I look for it everywhere. Anyone who has ever taken a walk with me has, at some point, turned around to find that I stopped way back because…oh my gosh, look at that sunflare.

The trick to taking great photos isn’t a trick at all—it’s just a matter of finding the right light. You can find it too by practicing these three tips:

Slow down and look around. Take a moment to be aware of bright areas hit with a direct light source, notice when light shines through an object and casts a shadow across another object, look at rays of sunshine streaming through your windows in the morning—interesting shadows and highlights are always around you.

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Show the light who’s boss. If you want to take a picture, but it looks too dark, take control of the scene: Try moving closer to a light source, like a window or an open doorway, or head outside. And if you need to stay put, use a portable source to brighten the scene—like a lamp, candle, flashlight or even the glow from someone else’s phone. Or, simply wait for your subject to move into the right light.

Experiment with exposures. When taking photos with your phone, tap on a dark area of the scene and everything will appear brighter. Likewise, tap on a lighter part of the scene and everything will appear darker. Or, simply tap your screen to slide the exposure up or down. Play with this feature to see how it changes the look and feel of your images.

3.     Turn your camera
Seriously, though…turn your camera. Our first instinct is to take pictures vertically because we naturally hold our phones this way. And, yes, sometimes a vertical composition is exactly what you need to capture the scene or tell a story (like photographing a person standing next to a giant Sequoia tree). But, for every vertical photo you take, try turning your camera horizontally to see how it impacts the composition and tells a completely different story.  

4.     Go wide, then get close
When I was in college, my professor told us the best poems are both telescopic and microscopic. The same applies to photography. When you’re taking a photo, think in terms of storytelling—what story will your images tell when shown side-by-side?

For every scene you photograph, try capturing one photo of each:

Telescopic. Stand back and take a wide-angle view of the scene to set the stage and show where you are.

Microscopic. Get close to highlight the details. The little things tell a specific story, elicit an emotion and make your story more personal. Who are you with? What are you doing? Why did you choose to visit this place or be with these people? How do you feel?

5.     Move your body
Even the most seasoned pros get stuck over-shooting from a certain angle because it looks pretty, the light is right and we’re confident it’s the best perspective. After all these years, I’m still guilty of what I call “putting roots down” during a shoot. It’s easy to believe that your first idea is your best. But when you move, you see things you might not have noticed the first time.

Next time, take the first photo you think of—then challenge yourself to take at least three more from totally different perspectives (above, below, eye-level, full length, up-close, etc.) and see which one is best.

Honestly, when I challenge myself to do this, I almost always choose my last shot over my first.

6.     Build context
What if you couldn’t explain your photo in a conversation or with a social media caption? How would you shoot differently? What would you need to include to make sure the viewer knows what you are trying to say or how you feel?

Context.

If you look at the image and feel like something is missing or it doesn’t look as dramatic or interesting as it feels in-the-moment, try including an object, person or more details to add visual cues about the scene.

7.     Add interest
Keep your eyes open for things that create visual interest and make your images more eye-catching. This could be as simple as a pop of color, layers of texture and pattern, reflections in glass or water, or a framing element.

Not sure what to look for? You can easily train yourself to spot interesting elements by taking a quick scroll through Instagram or Pinterest boards. Get a sense for what draws your eye, what color palettes you love and what makes you happy.

There is no right answer here—it’s different for everyone. And, sometimes what you look for might change depending on your situation. If you visit Las Vegas, you may gravitate toward vibrant colors, bright lights, vintage signs and bold patterns. And if you’re relaxing at the beach, you may seek out muted, peaceful colors to match the mood and experience.

8.     Pop that color
Remember that “big” camera I mentioned earlier? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Even near-perfect, out-of-camera images are slightly dull and need some color love.

When I’m shooting professionally, I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit my images. But, if you’re shooting and processing on your phone, countless photo-processing apps are available to make the images pop.

My personal favorite right now is A Color Story. It’s the closest I can get to my professional color using a wide range of manual controls and an even wider range of ready-made presets to enhance the images. I also love that I can create and save my own presets for the times when I have several, similar images to edit.

No matter what app you use, my suggestion is to keep it simple: Use the app to bring out the best in your images without making them feel too overworked.

Try following these five easy steps for processing phone photos:

Choose a few favorites. Go through your shots, delete the ones that didn’t work and choose a few images you’d like to process.

Crop. Before you get started on the next steps, take a moment to crop into your photo for visual interest or crop out distracting details that take away from your subject or story.

Straighten. Almost every photo app has a tool that allows you to straighten a crooked image. Instagram offers a killer tool that gives you additional control over perspective. (I highly encourage you to play around with this one—it’s my favorite!) Taking the extra step to straighten your image and fix perspective will make the final photo feel finished and more professional. This is particularly true of images that include a horizon line like the beach or a city street.

Pop the color. Now it’s time to play with color. I have a handful of favorite presets that work for most photos (in A Color Story, you can mark your favorite presets and see them all in one place so you don’t have to try to remember them every time). The same preset will not necessarily work for every image; try clicking on several different ones to see what works best. Also, be sure to play with the opacity; try lowering the preset to 50% or less to see how it looks.

Sharpen. The final step is to sharpen your image. Again, less is best here. You just want to bring out the detail but not make it look too “crunchy.” Start with 15–20% opacity and see how you like it.

9.     Shoot often
By taking lots of photos, you’re flexing your creative mind. The more photographs you take, the more your subconscious mind will be on the lookout for photo opportunities. Over time, you’ll start to see things you never noticed before. Those things were always there of course; but, when you gain more experience, you’ll know exactly what to look for.

10.  Play
Photography should be fun! I’ve been shooting professionally for many moons, and you know what? I still love it. The key is to shoot what you love, play and experiment. If you let yourself do this, you’ll never feel like photography is a chore.

Okay, now…breathe.

You definitely don’t have to memorize all 10 tips to become a better photographer. Ease in by choosing a few of these suggestions, try them out and see how they impact your photos. Once you master those tips, try adding a few more.

For now, go enjoy the beautiful world around you, pay attention, take photos and always remember to enjoy yourself.

Eight Writing Tips for Young PR Pros

by Mona Clifton

As a young ‘professional writing and public relations’ major coming out of college, I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing in the PR industry.  

Needless to say, I was mistaken.   

In my first year at a busy agency, I struggled to perfect content for different industries and client preferences. Simply put, I wasn’t taking the time to understand my audience or dig deeper into the clients’ business.

Thinking my first draft was also my final, I dreaded the inevitable (yet invaluable) feedback from colleagues and edits from our proofreading team.

Writing should be a young PR professional’s greatest skill. So, I knew I couldn’t let it ruin my reputation—or worse, drive away clients.

That was the year I decided it was time to set some ground rules, starting with getting my head out of my computer screen and working more closely with my colleagues. Here are a few of those rules that changed the way I write and vastly improved the final product.

1.     Know your industry and audience.
Starting with the headline, make sure every piece of your content is tailored to your audience. If you want them to read your work, do the necessary homework and make it personal.   

2.     Don’t make your first draft your last.
Use your first draft to simply get the words on the page without overthinking your work. Then, write and re-write (based on suggestions for improvement from peers) with your audience in mind until it’s perfect.

3.     Do your research.
Facts and figures can help tell your story and make it more dynamic. They also lend credibility to your writing and show your audience that you know your stuff.

4.     Show (don’t just tell).
If you really want to impress your audience, work with a graphic designer to incorporate visuals. Researchers found that colored visuals increase people's willingness to read a piece of content by 80 percent (Xerox, 2014).

5.     Proofread your work.
Read through your work several times: first for any glaring mistakes, second for clarity and tightening up lengthy copy and third for grammar and spelling.

6.     Have others proofread your work.
After you proofread your work (at least a few times), ask someone else to act as your spell check, grammar guru and to generally make sure the content makes sense to an outside party.

7.     Follow style guidelines.
Young PR pros should take the time to become intimately familiar with the Associate Press (AP) Stylebook and regularly reference it when writing.

8.     Get inspired.
I find I’m most inspired and productive early in the morning at my local coffee shop. Find a time or even a different space around the office that works best for you and your creative juices.

Writing as a young PR professional in today’s landscape can be a great opportunity to boost your career if you listen closely, openly accept feedback and make sure your final product is perfectly polished.

Meet Our Team: Q&A with Julie Daubenmire

Photo courtesy Candid Kama Photography

What makes you great at your job?
My whole life I’ve always enjoyed writing. I love being able to take information about what our clients are doing and tell their story in creative ways—whether through blog posts, media pitching or articles. Being a good listener is something that’s really important in our industry, and I feel like I truly listen to our clients needs and that translates to strong storytelling. I also take a lot of pride in being detail oriented, and working in PR and juggling a lot of different things, being organized really helps me keep things under control.

How would you describe your ideal client relationship?
When I work with clients I consider it a partnership. I’m a very service-oriented person, so I’m always looking for how I can help and better meet the clients’ needs. I like working in tandem so as they are accomplishing new things and putting out new work, I’m able to come alongside them, tell that story and really highlight the impact they’re making.

What do you love about working with the consultants on the Approach team?
The Approach consultants are terrific. Even though we are independent, we have a great team dynamic. I can always call someone when I need to bounce ideas and brainstorm. And being able to celebrate each others’ successes is always a great thing to be a part of. 

How does the virtual agency model benefit your career and personal life?
The virtual agency model is perfect for my career and life right now. I love the fact that through Approach I can work on a variety of clients and industries and get to learn a lot and use a lot of different skills. For my personal life, as a mom of two young girls, it has been so great having the flexibility to work, to be at home when I need to be and not have the commute time to deal with during the week. I also enjoy being close to where my kids are I can volunteer at my kids school or pick them up at the end of the day. Working here has added so much to my work life balance.

Where do you live and what do you love about your city?
I live in Gahanna, a suburb of Columbus. I love the small town feel with great schools, parks and families—it just has a good, homey feel. And I also love that we’re so close to downtown and can take advantage of everything it has to offer. My husband and I both grew up in Pickerington and both of our families live in town. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

When your work is done, where will we find you?
Running outside or on my treadmill, cooking and baking, spending time with my family, driving my kids around town in our minivan or getting involved with church activities. We love to travel—it’s a life goal for me and my husband to visit all 50 states, and we’re getting pretty close. Holden Beach, North Carolina is a favorite vacation spot for our family.

What accomplishment (career or personal) are you most proud of?
Personally, I’ve run a full marathon, which I’m pretty proud of. And of course I’m proud that I get the chance to raise two young girls to hopefully be the type of people who will help make this world a more joyful place.

Professionally, I love that I’ve had the opportunity to work with agencies and organizations that are doing amazing work. From working in public policy, strengthening rural education and supporting teachers, telling the stories of inspiring entrepreneurs and granting wishes for deserving children and families, I’ve been honored to play a small role furthering these missions.

What is the most memorable compliment you ever received?
At one of the agencies I worked for, I was a speech writer for the organization’s executive. I was relatively new in the role and she told me she showed her husband something I wrote for her and he thought she had written it. It was the ultimate compliment.

What industry trend or technology are you excited about?
One thing that I’ve followed with my background in education is how social media is becoming a huge platform for professional development. There are group chats on Twitter where everyone logs in to ask questions, share ideas and learn from each other. This is such a valuable platform for growth, not just in education but in nearly every profession. I love that people are using it to connect to people to others in their industries, in their neighborhoods or across the country—it’s an opportunity to share and learn from each other.

What advice would you give to someone considering working in this industry?
There’s a couple things you need to be successful working remotely or as an industry consultant. You need to be independently motivated, finding your motivation from achieving the job at hand or accomplishing your tasks. You can’t be someone who needs a lot of praise or incentives, you have to be motivated by doing good work.

What is your favorite quote?
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

My approach to life is...
Focus on what matters—faith, family, friends and following your passion.

Eight Tips for A Successful Career in Consulting

by Becky Olson

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Two years ago, I made the decision to shift from a full time position at a large PR firm to independent consulting. It was quite a leap for me, having spent nearly 14 years in traditional agency settings, but I was determined to achieve greater flexibility for my growing family while still pursuing the career I love. I was fortunate to begin working with Approach Marketing right away. Approach is a boutique virtual consultancy comprised of experienced PR and marketing professionals, like me.

Over time, I’ve come to learn a lot about myself as a professional, including how I have been able to make consulting work for me.

The following eight tips may be helpful for anyone who is currently working as a freelancer or considering the switch: 

1.     Do your research
I jumped then researched when I became a consultant because I was so eager for the change. In hindsight, I’d recommend seeking the advice of an accountant and even a lawyer before joining the ranks of the self employed. From understanding how quarterly taxes work for 1099 employees to banking and determining whether or not it’s necessary to file as a LLC or SCorp, these are important factors for anyone to review before hanging the “consultant” sign on the door. Also, think about how you’ll be able to establish a client base, which expenses you may be able to write off and if you’ll need to budget for access to essential software, etc.

2.    There are many tools that make consulting easier
Working at a large agency, it’s easy to take all of the expensive tools for granted. While some may make life easier, they also contribute to overhead. I’ve found many free or inexpensive resources that help me accomplish common tasks. Some of my favorites include:

  • Zoom, which offers a free video and conference calling program.
  • Google Alerts to help with media monitoring.
  • Help-A-Reporter-Out (HARO) newsletters that tip PR pros off to reactive media opportunities.
  • QuickBooks Self-Employed, for easy tracking of expenses and deductions.
  • MileIQ, an automatic mileage tracker that logs your business miles for taxes

3.    Don’t stop learning
Working in a big agency, I hardly had time to keep up with industry news or to read articles. I also hoped someone else on my team was doing this and would tell me anything important. Now that I’m on my own, I realize it’s my own responsibility to keep up with industry trends and developments. In fact, I believe it’s more important that I do this now to keep relevant as a counselor. As often as possible, I also participate in free webinars or take online classes that address topics of interest.

4.    Discipline yourself  
The first thing people usually say when I tell them I work from home is that they would never be able to get anything done. There’s this perception that people who work remotely do nothing but sleep in or watch TV while eating bon bons. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. Since I am commonly the only person working on client work, it would become immediately apparent if projects weren’t getting done. I find myself super motivated to tackle my workload when I know people are depending on me. It helps to have a dedicated and inspiring office space and a regular schedule.

5.    Try not to doubt – or downplay – your worth
I’ve seen this topic raised in various Facebook groups. Many self employed individuals are bombarded with requests to either work for free or to significantly reduce their rate. Many of my peers, like me, sat at the VP/Director level before making the switch to consulting and bring a wealth of expertise. And, without the overhead bumping up the rate, most independent consultants are already extending a rate that is less than what would be charged for their level of talent at a big firm.

6.    Find your new “carrots”
I realized through consulting how motivated I used to be by chasing big titles at agencies. I feel like I depended on them to validate my success. Working as a freelancer, there aren’t many titles to aspire to anymore. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to strive toward. New motivators can range from growing a client relationship to establishing a new client and mastering a new or different skill. 

7.    Consulting doesn’t have to be done “independently”
It’s a myth that becoming a freelancer means you’ll have to do all your work on your own or miss out on co-worker interaction. Through Approach, I am lucky to have a growing team to work alongside. Some projects can be done alone but others require more hands. Even if you aren’t working for a virtual agency, you can always look for opportunities to support clients as a team.

8.    Network, network, network
Networking is the critical factor for success as a consultant. The majority of my client leads have come through having a complete profile on LinkedIn, or keeping my eyes and ears open on various Facebook groups for those who mention they need help. Being a freelancer means operating in a dual role as a business development officer and a PR/marketing expert.

I’ve thrived as an independent consultant because I get to focus on the elements of PR and marketing that drew me into this field. This position gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment because I can more tangibly feel the impact of my work for clients.

Do you have any tips you’d add to this list?

Virtually Everywhere: Tackling the Challenge of Connecting a Remote Team

by Megan Shroy

Those of us who watched Mad Men found ourselves amused by the sheer amount of, well, daily banter.

From planning pitches over dirty martinis in Don’s office to after-hours group copywriting sessions to exchanging pleasantries at the Xerox machine, staff members at Sterling Cooper were constantly interacting—which inevitably lead to rapport, then trust and ultimately loyalty.

Peggy, Joan, Roger, Pete et al. developed real camaraderie from working together day in and day out.

Fast forward to the new age of advertising, a world in which virtual agencies are becoming commonplace.

Ready or not, the workplace is rapidly changing—and the days of water cooler conversations may be limited. 

And for good reason. According to Ann Bamesberger, an expert in workplace effectiveness and alumnus of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, virtual workers tend to be more productive and stay with a company longer when compared to their office-bound colleagues.

It’s no secret that Approach Marketing was founded on the idea of bringing together a team of seasoned and award-winning public relations professionals, all of whom work remotely.

From home offices to co-working spaces, we are located across the country—from Southern California to Chicago to Columbus.

By eliminating the costly overhead that many traditional agencies carry, we pass this savings directly on to our clients.

Additionally, our business model offers The Golden Ticket to staff: a flexible schedule and work-life balance. And a well-adjusted, happier workforce results in greater levels of productivity and higher-quality output.

But how do we build morale, prevent those all-too-familiar silos and create the feeling of a dynamic agency when we don’t all sit under one roof?

Here, we share our tips for establishing strong company culture regardless of the distance—based on our collective experiences and what we’ve learned along the way.   

Begin with strong leadership

Whether a founder, president, executive director, CEO or otherwise, a leader with a clear vision and expectations for the organization, a progressive approach to utilizing available technology and resources that empower staff and a keen ability to recruit the right kind of people to flourish in this unique environment is all paramount. This individual will set the tone and introduce the policies and practices to carry the company forward successfully.   

Hybrid is best

LinkedIn tells us that the richness of face-to-face communication allows for fast-paced and ad hoc interactions, which help to speed up decision-making and information flow in ways that have not yet been fully matched by purely virtual work environments.

Find ways to strike a balance between employees working from separate locations and opportunities to collaborate in person, which may include:

  • Quarterly team summits at the company headquarters
  • Annual retreats in an inspiring central location
  • Professional development at conferences and other industry events
  • Group planning or onsite work sessions for large-scale or higher-profile projects
  • On-location client meetings when appropriate and necessary

Provide the latest and greatest in technology  

Empowering employees with cutting-edge tools in this digital age will make or break their ability to engage with each other. Make communication—from idea-sharing to file-sharing—easy with programs such as:

1.    Box: We store all documents in the cloud so team members can access, edit, comment and share any of the files from their devices in real-time.

2.    Zoom: Among its many features, we use high-definition video conferencing and screen-sharing* for bi-weekly team meetings. Zoom also offers phone apps for iPhone and Android so anyone can join from any location so long as they have Wi-Fi. *For up to 500 participants

3.    Facebook secret group: For Approach team members only (added or invited by the group administrator), we post articles of interest, announcements, questions, ideas and reminders on a daily basis. Or, for more robust team communication platforms with expanded features, consider exploring Slack or Yammer.

4.    Office 365: Because everyone’s schedules, time zones and availability vary, having a shared calendar system is crucial for quickly scheduling meetings and knowing when someone is “on” and available for a last-minute phone or video chat.

Encourage varied cross-team engagement

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When a team member manages just one or two client accounts, it’s easy to get lost in a silo over time. Look for ways to pair different staff on different projects so they don’t feel isolated—and can benefit from getting to know, and trust, their fellow teammates.

Opportunities to encourage cross-team interaction include:

  • Identifying and keeping record of each team member’s skillset, strengths and interests to easily match people as new work arises.
  • When a new project presents itself, poll the team and pinpoint a few volunteers who are interested in getting involved. You may be surprised by who raises their hand. Plus, your staff may be eager to work with, learn from or get to know specific teammates, which may drive their interest in saying yes to certain projects.

Share some swag

It might sound like a minor thing, but agency-branded gifts can go a long way in helping virtual team members feel like part of the same organization. In many traditional brick-and-mortar settings, you’ll see company branding everywhere you look. This collateral, signage and swag is a constant visual reminder that people belong to something greater than themselves. Make a point to give the team custom-branded items they can use on a daily basis.

The key is to invest in pieces that are upscale, practical and desirable. Some of the Approach-labeled gifts we’ve given include:

  • Patagonia vests
  • Stainless steel coffee tumblers
  • Industrial-chic clipboards to use during client meetings and events
  • Stainless steel water bottles
  • Embossed thank you notes