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 s6) 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

Help Us Help You: A Guide to Maximizing Your PR Agency Partnership

by Becky Olson

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There’s nothing more exciting than beginning a new client-agency partnership. We’ve likely just finished an invigorating discussion filled with big ideas and even bigger goals. And now we’re ready to get to work.

For some clients, this may be a first foray into working with an external partner or in pursuing Public Relations at all. Others may be well-versed in PR but are coming to us for a fresh perspective. In both cases, we understand PR is an investment and we’re committed to doing our best work. As with any relationship, this is a two-way street and there are several ways we can help each other on this journey.

Below are eight easy things clients can do to get the most out of an agency partnership and PR investment:

1.     Invite us to your inner circle.
After the handshake, one of the most important next steps in our working relationship is immersing ourselves in your brand. As the public and media-facing representatives of your company, we need to know it as well as you do. After we do our own research, help affirm and expand our findings. How do you talk about yourselves? Do you have brand guidelines? Are there any do’s or don’ts? If appropriate, can we take a tour of your facility, try samples or “interview” specialists within the organization? This will help us talk the talk and speak convincingly to media on your behalf.

2.     Gather attention-grabbing assets.
Think about the stories and social media posts that capture your own attention. Media today require clear, compelling high-resolution images and video to help tell their stories. In many cases, newsrooms have scaled back their in-house creative departments, limiting their availability to create these elements on their own. The more high-quality visual assets we can provide, the more likely media will be to share your story.

3.     Budget for success.
The great thing about PR versus other disciplines (advertising, digital, etc.) is that it’s far more cost-efficient for the impact. As a virtual agency, we’re highly resourceful, scrappy and have experience working with all budget levels. And when our team can dedicate the hours necessary to fully develop stories and pitch media – you reap the reward. The real win-win for your company is that as experienced consultants who’ve worked on global brands, we’ve made a bold promise. If our clients make a good faith effort to provide us what we need, we guarantee that we will meet our performance goals, or we'll keep working for free until we do.

4.    Train your media spokesperson.
One of our goals will be to secure interviews and speaking opportunities for company spokespeople. These can be fantastic ways to bring awareness to your organization and your call-to-action. This is your company’s time to shine and we want the best possible outcome. Even if your spokesperson knows your company inside and out, the presence of a camera can lead anyone to stumble. If your spokesperson hasn’t already been through a comprehensive media training, we can provide it along with a briefing in advance of each new opportunity. Trust us - it’s worth it. If you’re still not convinced, just Google “bad TV interview.”

5.    Share your stories. (Big and small.)
Several factors can increase media interest in a story, including its timeliness, human interest level and audience appeal. Being on the front lines, we’re experienced in knowing what media are receptive to, so we may press you for more details to strengthen our pitch. It’s always best to share any and all story ideas with your PR agency team - what may seem like an everyday experience to you could potentially become media gold.

6.    Be an advocate for PR.
As with all corporate strategies, PR and marketing works best when everyone is on board. That being said, Public Relations is often misunderstood or overlooked, particularly in large organizations. Working directly with us day-to-day, you’re aware of our goals, efforts and outcomes. Showcasing successes to colleagues within your team, or within other departments, helps validate your investment, its value and can even aid others in their own job functions. For example, we’re commonly asked to share or summarize media coverage, which can be used by sales teams for strengthening their customer relationships or securing new business.

7.    Ask questions.
It’s ok to ask us questions about what we’re doing, why we recommend it, what’s worked in the past (or hasn’t) and what you can expect from our efforts. We understand PR may be new ground and that you might be faced with answering questions internally. We’re always happy to walk you through the process to build your confidence in discussing PR strategy with anyone, any time.

8.    Keep in touch.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so important that you keep in regular communication with us. PR is a time-sensitive discipline. There is nothing worse to a PR pro than securing a story opportunity with a journalist only to lose it because we couldn’t get ahold of you. Similarly, if we have outlined a plan with deliverables and deadlines, we need you to actively review or approve items so we can stay on schedule. Communication is key and we’re always ready to take your call.

Navigating the PR path may seem daunting at first, but (we promise) it’s easier than you think. And the best part? We’ll be there for you every step of the way.

 

How to Land Your Dream Job Early On

by Mary Franz

The period after I graduated from college was a rude awakening.

I, like so many other ambitious but naïve 20-somethings, believed that I was ready to take on the world. Equipped with my degree, a résumé chock-full of collegiate leadership experiences and a positive attitude, I figured employers—especially sexy ones like Vogue magazine—would be eager to meet me.

Never mind that it was 2002, nine months post-9/11. The U.S. economy was in the tank, and companies were laying people off instead of investing in young talent.

But I could beat the odds.

My millennial mind was convinced that a forward-thinking company wouldn’t pass up the chance to bring someone like me on board—somebody so special and full of potential.

Fast forward to the fall, and I found myself working an hourly sales position for a retailer in the Midwest, a far cry from my high-styling New York City dreams.

An endless number of closing shifts in a store with little foot traffic. Living paycheck-to-paycheck. The daily dread of going into work. Questioning what I was doing with my life. That nagging feeling that I was completely wasting any talent I may have had.

This was my reality.

My mom, one of the few people who seemed to believe in me at that point, would always take my late-night phone calls. And she would patiently remind me that I needed to keep going and keep trying—and that one day I would get my big break.

Mom was right.

It took four years, but deliberate action, a whole lot of grit and baby steps eventually led me to my dream job at age 26: planning high-profile fashion events on a national level.

Based on this formative and incredibly humbling experience, below is my best advice for how a young achiever can get ahead—and ultimately land your dream job when the odds might be against you.

1.       Get your head on straight: It’s bottoms up

Of course, our society likes to encourage kids. Growing up, they are surrounded by positive messages: You are exceptional. You are smart. You can be anything you want. And while this is a good thing—namely because they feel secure, supported and empowered—sometimes it paints an unrealistic picture of how to get to the top.

Success isn’t handed to you; it takes years of hard work. And people who make it to the top claw their way there, many times making extreme personal sacrifices. It doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s earned.   

Do yourself a favor: Recognize and then accept that there are seldom privileges in the working world. The majority of us start at the bottom, in an entry-level role with low pay and little responsibility, and then we grind, learn the ropes, gain valuable experience and eventually prove ourselves.

2.       Shout it from the rooftops

LinkedIn reports that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking.

So, decide what it is you want to do long-term, and make your intentions clear to 1) your manager, 2) colleagues who can support you along the way, 2) people who currently work in the role to which you aspire and 4) the hiring manager.

Putting yourself out there and getting on the decision-makers’ radars are critical first steps towards your goal. After all, they can’t hire you if they don’t know you’re a candidate.

And while you may not be invited to interview or selected for the position the first [or fourth] time around, establishing that relationship and rapport means you’re closer than you were yesterday.

3.       Outwork the others

We can’t all be the smartest person in the room. Nor the most talented. Nor the most likable. Nor the luckiest.

However, two important things we have control over are work ethic and input. We can work harder than our colleagues—within our own company and within the industry—to set ourselves apart.

This might go without saying, but think long and hard about enthusiastically going "above and beyond" the job description and doing the best work that you’re capable of producing every single day.

Work-life balance can and should be a priority: Take your lunches, plan your vacations and enjoy personal interests outside of your career.

But when you’re at the office, be dialed in, work efficiently and do your job better than your peers. These tactics will not go unnoticed.

4.       Do it anyway

So what if it’s not your responsibility?

Show interest in taking on new experiences and roles—without pay—to develop your skill-set. This sends a very clear message that you’re:

  • Motivated
  • Adaptable
  • Willing and eager to grow

The experience will serve as practice to prepare you for a future position, and the relationships will be invaluable as you continue to climb and expand your network.    

Knowing that I aspired to become an event planner for my company, I intentionally attended as many fashion shows, designer personal appearances, private shopping events, cosmetic trend shows and store openings as possible—becoming friendly with those currently in the role and their supervisors.

What’s more, my current boss knew of my objectives and eagerly supported my desire to take on additional event-related projects to help broaden my portfolio.

By the time I started applying for open positions, the managers knew me by name and I was already doing much of the work—so the transition was natural.

Approach would like to know: What advice do you have for our readers who are just getting started with their careers?

Meet Our Team: Q&A with Becky Olson

What types of projects did you work on before joining the team?
I had the opportunity to oversee national and global programming for many well-known brands, including Unilever (I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, Bertolli, Lipton, Klondike and Breyers), the Florida Department of Citrus, Subway, Werther’s, Motel 6, the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism and Kohler, to name a few. This work included everything from enlisting and managing celebrity spokespeople to media events in New York City and media relations. What I love so much about PR is that every industry needs it and I’ve been fortunate to gain experience in many of them. I’ve had a truly diverse career in this field.

What makes you great at your job?
I’m known for paying attention to the details. But, I enjoy being creative and thinking about new and big ways our clients can do things differently. I also love being a partner to our clients by immersing myself in all aspects of their businesses.

How would you describe your ideal client?
What I’ve seen work best is open and honest communication and a desire to work as partners. The more information that is shared between us, the better. I also like talking outside of planned status calls so that we truly get to know each other as people and share updates in real time. Coupling my professional experience with my personal interests has led to some fantastic client relationships. I’m particularly passionate about the food and beverage industry, travel & leisure and products or services that benefit kids and families. 

What do you love about working with the consultants on the Approach team?
I love that we’re all of the same mindset of opting out of the traditional agency model for a variety of reasons. We’re challenging the way PR has always been done. Everyone is enthusiastic about helping each other—brainstorming projects, helping with research, attending each others’ events. We’re a friendly, open, warm group that works really hard and applies lot of our past agency experience to Approach but we put our own touch on it, which makes it fun. 

What are a few words you would use to describe the Approach Marketing culture?
Supportive and collaborative. Even though we work independently all over the country, we’re a close team and thrive as a unit.  This is also a smart bunch – we’re always thinking of ways to improve upon our work or break through the clutter.

How does the virtual agency model benefit your career and personal life?
One thing I really appreciate is getting my commuting time back. By working from home, I’m able to save a good two hours by not commuting. I would also say that I like how I can work any time. While I typically focus on traditional working hours, it’s nice to have the option to attend a school function when needed and pick back up at night. This model has allowed me more time with my kids while still working in the career field I love.

Where do you live and what do you love about your city?
I live in the city of Chicago. I love the diversity as well as the abundance of restaurants and activities that are available. I always say that if you can think of it, it exists here. (Did you know there’s such a thing as an indoor play space with an attached bird sanctuary?)

What accomplishment (career or personal) are you most proud of?
Taking the leap and going out on my own as a consultant and finding this ideal work-life balance we all try so hard to achieve.

What is the most memorable compliment you ever received?
That my hard work is noticed and appreciated and that I’m clearly passionate about making a difference. 

What industry trend or technology are you excited about?
The emergence of live streaming and consumer journalism. Being able to see unfiltered access to events and stories that traditional media has not previously provided. I think there are more opportunities to partner with these influencers in new ways and provide the public with an authentic behind the scenes look.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in PR and marketing?
When beginning a job search, be as proactive and resourceful as you can in seeking opportunities that would be a good fit. Reach out to alumni and past colleagues. Research recruiting or HR managers at your companies of interest and find a way to connect with them. But, in doing so, demonstrate how hard you’re trying. Don’t just ask if there’s an open position; review the listings at their company and point out why you’d be a great candidate for it. It’s also essential to maintain a LinkedIn page.

What is your favorite quote?
"If you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen." Conan O'Brien

My approach to life is...
Every day provides a fresh start.

Crisis Communication Workshop Highlights: Tips from the Experts

by Jennifer Lefkowitz

 
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Life is full of surprises – the good, the bad and the ugly. The same is true of running an organization, where the stakes are high and public fallout can prove detrimental for the future of the brand.

While no one wants a crisis to occur, with the right planning and response, a crisis can actually present an opportunity to restore trust and credibility and demonstrate your company’s commitment to its customers.

According to a recent survey, how a company responds to controversy, including how quickly, is more important in driving public perception than what is said about that company in the media, by employees, on the company’s website, by spokespeople or in the company’s advertising.

To help companies prepare for and prevent unexpected situations (and avoid becoming a “what not to do” example of crisis communication), Approach Marketing recently hosted a crisis communication workshop, featuring a panel of local and nationally recognized brands, legal counsel and media.

Each panelist provided real-life examples, tips and advice to help business owners and brand managers prepare for and prevent crisis situations.

Some of the key takeaways from the panelists included:

Dace de la Foret, Director of Social Media, Nationwide Insurance… on the role of social media in a crisis

Social media plays a pivotal role in the majority of crisis situations as either the catalyst or vehicle to disseminate information during a crisis. Dace shared that social media can be both a friend and foe in a crisis situation.

“Streaming video and the ability to stream live should be something to be both concerned about and take advantage of as a communication vehicle for your company. What I like about social media in times of crisis is that you can get your message out quickly, as long as you stick to your brand and who you are as a company or a person.”

Robin Grant, Corporate Counsel, Big Lots Stores, Inc… on the roles and responsibilities of legal and communications teams

As a lawyer and a former communications professional, Robin encourages companies to engage with their legal counsel in advance to establish a relationship and trust.

“Lawyers are trained issue spotters. For companies with in-house counsel - use them, get to know them, and develop a mutual trust that will be beneficial when a crisis occurs. If you don’t have in-house counsel, call an outside attorney so they can advise you if you have a problem.”

When it comes to finding a fine balance between legal and communications pertaining to what should be said in a crisis situation, Robin said, “Admittedly, we err on the more conservative end of the spectrum than public relations, and somewhere in the middle is most likely the right answer to handle the situation.”

Lisa Armitage, Owner, Goldfish Swim School - Westerville and Goldfish Swim School – Dublin… on the necessity of having a practiced and executable communications plan

As a small business owner, Lisa, knows the benefits of having a crisis communications plan ready to deploy on a moment’s notice.

“When you get the 4 a.m. phone call alerting you of a crisis, knowing you have a plan in place and being able to quickly respond, with the right team who is trained in their roles and responsibilities, is very helpful and relieves some of the pressure associated with an already stressful situation.”

Mikaela Hunt, Brand Journalist, Mikaela Media LLC… on the value of building strong working relationships with the press

As a seasoned media professional, Mikaela spent nearly 17 years in TV news in every seat from producer to anchor. In advance of any crisis, Mikaela encourages companies to develop and maintain relationships with industry-specific media. Should a crisis strike, you already have a strong working relationship with the press and can easily disseminate accurate facts. She also shared that spokesperson training is critical component of crisis preparation to make sure your is accurately communicates with their constituents.

“I always encourage spokespeople to think about their company and its mission and purpose before they go into any interview. In a crisis situation, a spokesperson that is authentically apologetic and shows empathy can help regain trust and credibility.”

Jeff Kane, Marketing Consultant… on the ability to protect all parties by ensuring everyone is prepared and informed

Jeff has spent the past 15 years working for one of the world’s largest fast-food restaurants. Because foodborne illnesses pose a serious threat, he shared that a detailed crisis management plan is posted in each restaurant location with specific instructions and contacts.

“It’s very important to have all parties involved in the crisis plan such as suppliers and vendors. When it comes to protecting the health of the customer, everyone should be on the same page with the plan and what to do. Writing a great plan is the first step, but makes sure everyone is in the loop can really save the day.”

Kristin Mack Deuber, Public Relations and Marketing Consultant… on choosing the right spokesperson

Kristin has counseled numerous spokespeople during crisis situations and knows the importance of having spokesperson that is informative, relatable and credible. But here’s the catch, it’s not always the CEO.

“The specific crisis situation will help dictate who the appropriate spokesperson should be. In some cases, it’s beneficial to use the CEO for major developments, and a representative from the communications team can deliver daily or ongoing updates. Regardless who your spokesperson is, it’s important they are well trained to disseminate the facts during a high pressure situation.”