The Power of PR: A Fresh Take on Wizard World Comic Con Outreach

by Megan Shroy

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The Incredible Hulk (a.k.a. Lou Ferrigno), legendary Star Trek and Star Wars illustrator Joe Corroney and Barry Bostwick of The Rocky Horror Picture Show all under one roof. 

That's some serious star power. 

Each year, Approach Marketing partners with Wizard World Comic Con Columbus to dazzle central Ohio audiences as comics, celebs, cosplay and pop culture converge.

And 2017 was no exception. 

A fun and funky event, Wizard World Comic Con is a convention that celebrates the best in movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, collectibles and much more—with fans young and old showing off their best costumes on the convention floor.

Based out of Los Angeles, Wizard World, Inc. produces gaming and pop culture conventions all across North America. With celebrity, artist and author meet and greets, they give die-hard fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their idols in person.

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What Brands Need to Know About the Latest FTC Disclosure Guidelines

by Monica Bhandarkar

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The FTC had a busy month. It brought its first action against a social media influencer for failing to include appropriate disclosures on sponsored posts, published an FAQ for its endorsement guide and turned its attention to affiliate marketing.

This stirred up lots of questions, so last week the FTC hosted an #Influencers101 Twitter chat to give brands and influencers more clarity on the subject.

It’s clear the FTC is ramping up its enforcement efforts. If you missed any of this, no worries. We’ve rounded up what brands need to know about influencer disclosure on social media.  

So, when should influencers disclose on social media?

The short answer: Always.

What about built-in disclosure tools on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram?

The FTC says built-in disclosure tools like YouTube’s paid promotion overlay, Facebook’s branded content feature and Instagram’s paid partnership tag are not enough. It’s possible that as these tools evolve the FTC will shift its stance, but for now, influencers should include their own disclosures.

Essentially, if a brand and influencer have a relationship, then clear and concise disclosure is a must. Below are specifics on what this means for each social channel and type of content.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Disclosure
In text-based posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, for example, this can be accomplished with #ad, #paid, #[brandname]Partner or ad (no hashtag required). The tag must be easily visible; placement at the beginning of an update is ideal. Do not bury the tag in a long list of hashtags.

Snapchat and Instagram Stories Disclosure
Influencers must superimpose a disclosure on images and videos shared on Snapchat and Instagram Stories. In a series of images or videos, the disclosure should appear on each one.

Pinterest Disclosure
Influencers have two options on Pinterest: Disclose in the pin description, or superimpose a disclosure on the image they are pinning.

YouTube Disclosure
Product review videos on YouTube must include disclosure both verbally and in the text description. This ensures people who watch the video without sound are still aware of the relationship. 

#[brandname]Partner Disclosure
This is new: The FTC accepts the use of #[brandname]Partner as sufficient disclosure. (For example, #DisneyPartner or #NikePartner.) The hashtag #partner is not enough—it must include the brand name. Similarly, #ambassador is deemed too ambiguous and doesn’t make the cut.

Giveaways and Freebies Disclosure
If a brand provides an influencer with coupons, product samples or giveaway items, then the influencer must disclose its relationship with the brand. Even in situations where the influencer isn’t paid nor is there any expectation the influencer will post about the brand, the influencer must disclose.

At Approach, helping brands build relationships with influencers is central to what we do.

Our account management teams work directly with influencer partners to ensure they understand disclosure requirements. And, we review every piece of sponsored content generated by influencers to ensure these requirements are met. Our one-to-one attention is critical to protecting both our clients and influencer partners.

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Meet Our Team: Q&A with Jennifer Lefkowitz

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What makes you great at your job?
I love working with people—getting to know them, their company and what they are trying to accomplish from both a business and marketing perspective. From there I like to dig deep, uncover hidden gems about the company or their employees and find ways to infuse creativity into their communication strategy.

How would you describe your ideal client relationship?
A relationship that includes open communication. Clients hire us to be their communications counsel and the best relationships stem from those where the clients are open to our strategic direction and guidance, and as their agency, we are equally receptive to their vision and feedback.   

What do you love about working with the consultants on the Approach team?
Even though I’ve chosen to work remotely as an independent public relations professional, I still crave the camaraderie and opportunity to collaborate with team members on projects. Everyone at Approach has dedicated many years working with different clients, companies and agencies. Together, we form a great network of seasoned public relations professionals who understand the importance of quality work, top-notch client service and the ever-changing world of public relations.

What is a word you would use to describe the Approach Marketing culture?
Smart! We’re also a group of creative and energized professionals. I’m very impressed with all the wonderful consultants I’ve had the opportunity to work with at Approach and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.  

How does the virtual agency model benefit your career and personal life?
Approach has provided me with the opportunity to collaborate with smart, creative and visionary independent public relations and marketing professionals from all over the country. We’ve chosen this path because we’re committed to making it on our own for greater ownership over our professional and personal lives. I think there’s something to be said for this type of determination and entrepreneurial spirit.

Where do you live and what do you love about your city?
I lived in Chicago for 12 years and it is an incredible city to live and work. We decided to move to Columbus, Ohio and raise our family in the same suburb where I grew up. The large number of people who move back here when it’s time to raise a family, is a true testament to the strength of our tight-knit community. 

When you are not working, where will we find you?
I love spending time and traveling with my family, repurposing old furniture, and sweating at hot yoga, Pilates or an Orange Theory class.

What accomplishment (career or personal) are you most proud of?
Personally, my best accomplishment are my kids. Professionally, I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to define my career on my own terms by becoming an independent public relations practitioner.  

What industry trend or technology are you excited about?
Given this digital age, we’re seeing more people go out on their own and start their own company. The ability to consult or hang your own shingle provides the opportunity to take your career in a different direction – one that is steeped in passion. Think about all the coworking spaces that have popped up in your city. They weren’t there 10 years ago. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well!  Our industry really lends itself to that and I see more and more of it happening, and I’m excited about that.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in PR and marketing?
You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them. Definitely find a niche you’re passionate about so you enjoy the work you do. And don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. This is where you’ll find opportunities!

My approach to life is...
Have fun. Just savor everything. Life’s too short so you’ve got to just enjoy every moment and take everything in. Figure out what’s important to you and what’s not, cut out the negative and embrace the positive.

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…

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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.