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The Power of Short Stories and Conversation

For the first two years of my life, my dad was an itinerant preacher who would travel all over the country, usually by car, with my mom and his new daughter in tow, preaching at Bible colleges and churches big and small. We crisscrossed North America during that time – in fact, by the time I was two, I’d been to more than half the states in the US.

That’s a lot of time spent in the car and my mom tells me that for hours upon hours every day, she’d read to me.

This sparked a love of reading that carried me through school. I remember reading Les Miserables when I was about 10; it was the first book that made me cry, or more accurately, sob uncontrollably through the last chapter. I remember reading with the third graders in the school library when I was just a first-grader and feeling special. I remember leaving the public library in any town we lived in with more books than I could carry. I’ve always loved to read.

Fast forward to 2021 and I rarely read for pleasure. I read a ton, but it’s for work, for classes or for research. About a year ago, I started working with Reflection Point, a nonprofit that works with companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes to build relationships through storysharing. The concept sounds like a book club when you first describe it — a group of people get together and read and discuss a story. But it’s definitely not a book club.

The storysharing focuses on encouraging the participants (guided by a facilitator) to use the story as a springboard for conversations… for giving space for people to talk about their lives, their childhoods, their history, their families, their biases and their perspectives in a new way that isn’t threatening. In fact, it creates stronger teams and more inclusive workplaces.

I’ve worked with lots of clients that do lots of interesting things and I always try to immerse myself in their work to really understand them (shall I tell you about the time I learned to knit because I worked with a client that made exotic wood knitting needles?). Reflection Point has been a different experience.

I now read a lot of short stories and poetry – at least one or two a week. Sometimes I’m reading them for social media content, but more and more, I’m reading them for myself. I read through the lens of how do I relate to this story? how might others? what kind of conversations could we have about this? And once a month, I join the Reflection Point internal team for a facilitated conversation about a new story that they’re testing.

Turns out, we all have a lot in common and our conversations are funny, serious, thought-provoking, vulnerable and refreshing. I look forward to it every month.

Even if you’re not having conversations about them, read more short stories! And think about how you relate (or don’t) to the characters. Do they give you a new perspective on a problem or an issue? Some of my recent favorites:

I find myself saying, “I read this great short story!” and sharing those stories with my social media connections, my Reflection Point friends and saving them in a folder for another day when I might need that message.

I may not be able to curl up in a corner for hours on end devouring every book I can get my hands on, but I do feel more connected to the power of story and the impact a great story can have.

I’d love to hear your recommendations for stories you love.


Inspiration Launchpad: Is That a Light at the End of the Tunnel or an Oncoming Train Edition

We’re just a couple of weeks from the end of the term. My grading pile is thicc… or is it thick? Bottom line, it’s a lot. My calendar is full… My mom is calling to figure out when we’re coming down for Thanksgiving… I’ve got an out-of-town meeting looming… whew.

So is winter break that light at the end of the tunnel? I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, lucky for us, there’s great stuff to inspire us to talk, think and blog this week.

The value of getting personalization right–or wrong–is multiplying | McKinsey — We talked about personalization related to email strategy a couple of weeks ago. This article from McKinsey confirms that people expect personalization in their communication from brands. You’ll find some interesting data you can draw new insights from here.

5 Tough Job Interview Questions Answered | Korn Ferry — Some of these won’t feel like they’re relevant to entry-level jobs, but they are! How can you answer these based on your experience?

Other People Don’t Think You’re a Mess – Scientific American — Are you a beautiful mess? I love this article about vulnerability, self-compassion (hint: people are not viewing you as negatively as you view yourself).

Meghan’s Image, Battered in Britain’s Tabloids, Thrives in U.S. | The New York Times — US vs. British media is a fascinating topic and the specific treatment of Meghan Markle really highlights the differences.

Twitter Blue Is for People Who Love Reading the News | WIRED — New subscription model for Twitter is coming. I love the idea of less noise and an edit option! What do you think?

How to Read Like a Writer. | by Diane Callahan | Creators Hub — I’ve had to reengage with my “deep reading” skills recently. On one hand, I have a client that focuses on story sharing and we have a team short story discussion every week and on the other hand, I have a sophomore who is learning to think critically and annotate stories for his English classes. I loved this article for both purposes. Whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, being able to learn from what you read will make you a better writer.

Why more people are staying single—and how workplaces can adjust | Quartz at Work — Changing demographics are not just important for workplace policies but also for internal communication and employee engagement. How does data that say more people are staying single change the way you might communication with employees?

Taylor Swift Knows the Internet All Too Well | ICYMI Podcast — It’s Taylor Swift’s world and we’re just living in it. Love her music or not, Ms. Swift is one of the best promoters and marketers in the biz and understands how to bring her audience along.

How Americans feel about ‘cancel culture,’ offensive speech | Pew Research Center — Really interesting data from Pew Research. I think we’ve all used this phrase a lot and are familiar, but don’t assume everyone is. I liked this point/definition — Around half [of respondents] (49%) said it describes actions people take to hold others accountable.

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads – PRos in Training — I wrote this post a few years ago and periodically update it. You may find this helpful for mapping out your senior year.


Inspiration Launchpad: Mid-Term Buckle Up Edition

The “honeymoon” period may be over and the midterm “holy crap, we’re only halfway through the term” period is in full force. We’re doing some great work, don’t get me wrong! But we’re also all out of practice with this going-to-school-in-person thing and it is exhausting.

This week’s inspo launchpad has a handful of links to articles that will give you some fodder for your own blog (if you’re in my class) or just give you something good to read (if you’re not). Buckle up!

Inside Facebook’s struggle to keep young people | The Verge. Teens aren’t using Facebook and it’s a problem for the company. Why do you think the company isn’t working harder to curb issues that affect teen mental health? I’m always the cynic, but in this case (as with most…) you just need to follow the money.

The Science You Need To Make Your COVID-19 Decisions | FiveThirtyEight. Science and public health communication has… not been great over the last 18 months. Part of the problem, IMO, is a lack of science literacy (how does science get “done”?). FiveThirtyEight is a fascinating site that slices and dices data on all kinds of topics. How effective is a tool like this to help people make smart decisions for themselves and their families?

Atlanta Braves Will Chop And Chant Themselves Into Embarrassment During World Series | Forbes. This is a fascinating look at the risks that the Braves’ ownership is taking on a bunch of fronts to alienate their audience. I’m still mad at the Astros for cheating… and I love that the Braves beat the Brewers (I’m a Cubs fan). What’s a baseball fan to do? What do you think?

The Netflix Effect is Bigger in Texas | The Qualifier. If you’re watching Formula One racing, you can probably thank Netflix (and this isn’t the first time the “Neflix Effect” has been a factor. Can you think of other examples?

Mars Wrigley’s Allyson Park shares top skills for rising comms pros | PR Daily. Excellent advice from a veteran communications pro! My top skill is always “flexibility” and Allyson agrees. Is there anything on here that surprises you?

A guide to integrating Disability Inclusion in marketing campaigns | Twitter. This is a guide from Twitter about how to be inclusive of people with disabilities in your campaigns with some great examples of creators and brands.

TikTok is causing problems for teachers, and it’s bigger than just a classroom distraction | The Hustle. Every time I see things about stupid TikTok challenges, I sigh and shake my head and wonder who is actually doing this stuff. But it’s bad enough that the largest teacher’s union made a plea to the social media platforms to help protect their members. Like teachers don’t have it hard enough. What do you think?

Office buildings

Guest Post: Five Takeaways from #GoldenGateDucks

Kelli’s Note: Jillian was one of 33 students who went with Instructor Courtney Munther and me to San Francisco in early December. I was impressed by her preparedness, smart questions and overall professionalism during the trip. In fact, I’ve been pretty impressed with all my interactions with Jillian. Man, we have great students! I’m happy to share her five takeaways here. 


A few weeks ago, I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to San Francisco with fellow UO students to tour PR agencies and communications branches of companies. I left inspired, starry-eyed, and a tad intimidated. But most of all, I left with some key advice:

1. Opportunity only knocks once.

When an opportunity presents itself, take it. You should try everything once. This will help you become versed in numerous disciplines. This attitude will not only help you at work, but in life.

2. Not every question has an answer.

When a supervisor asks you to research something, ask them how long they want you to spend and what they expect you to find. If you have spent an hour looking for something with no success, it may not be there to find. Ask for help, but accept defeat when necessary.

3. ESP

  • Eye contact
  • Smiling/nodding
  • Paraphrasing a question when you answer

(These are key qualities to focus on in interviews to seem more personable.)

4. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Don’t compare yourself to others. At your age, no one really knows what they’re doing. Anyone can portray themselves differently from who they really are. You never know someone else’s truth.

5. Never burn a bridge.

It’s a small world. You never know who from your past could connect you to your next job.

Jillian Niedermeyer is a University of Oregon junior majoring in public relations and media studies. She is originally from Portland. She is currently a member of the PRSSA Bateman Competition team, working for Allen Hall Public Relations as an account executive and trying to catch up on much needed sleep. You can find her on LinkedIn


Q & A with Paige Jepson of Allison + Partners Scottsdale

Kelli’s Note: I recently (re)connected with Paige Jepson (’15) and asked her if she’d be willing to share a bit about her experience as an account coordinator at Allison + Partners in Scottsdale, Arizona. Huge thanks to Paige for taking the time to respond and offer her advice. By the way, if you would like to participate in a future Q&A, let me know! 

Tell me about Allison + Partners in Scottsdale. What’s your role, what clients do you work on? 

Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, the Phoenix office houses close to 30 employees and is the third largest Allison + Partners office in the world.

Our team works with clients big and small, spanning such industries as automotive, healthcare, hospitality, sports, technology and consumer goods. Our office is home to the agency’s Research + Insights team and Hispanic marketing group (Nuestra Voz), working with clients such as Toyota and Dignity Health.

My role as an Account Coordinator is to provide general support to my team. It really depends on the account (and the day), but my work consists of taking the first draft at media relations materials, managing client’s social media pages, participating on internal and client meetings, staffing events, managing influencer relations, reporting, staying up-to-date on local and national media trends and industry trends, and presenting speaking opportunities for spokespeople to name a few!

My accounts have changed throughout my year and a half at A+P. Especially as an intern, I would touch accounts that I wasn’t a main member of to gain experience in different industries, but my current clients are below:

  • Toyota
  • StrataTech Education Group
  • Superfly’s Lost Lake Festival
  • Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Partnerships with Native Americans

What activities were you involved with at UO? Any big “lessons learned” from those activities? (ex: AHPR or a sorority)

I was involved with a sorority at UO – Alpha Phi! I helped organize our annual philanthropy event, which gave me event planning experience that has proven to be helpful.

The biggest lesson I learned would be time management. In college, I had to work on my time management when it came to balancing my workload (I graduated a year early so I was consistently taking 18+ credits per term) and my sorority.

In an agency setting, it is crucial you know how to prioritize and communicate with your teams. Deadlines are a real thing, they aren’t often extended, and with announcements that come at a drop of a hat, it is important you know what to move around and who to communicate with so nothing falls off the radar.

What assignments or projects from your classes have been most valuable in your career so far? 

So many! Our research course was incredibly valuable. Sometimes there will be a period when your client doesn’t have any new news, so it is important that even if you aren’t the one conducting a survey, that you can make suggestions as to what facts and tidbits would be interesting to a reporter and know what types of questions you might need to ask in order to get the information you want.

Our strategic writing class (J352) was probably the most valuable. It forced me to memorize AP style and taught me how to write press-facing materials.

Strategic communications allows you to see an entire plan built out and understand how it all works together.

The weekend portfolio class. In this class, we learned how to be storytellers, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell our own stories. In an interview or a new business pitch, the way you talk about yourself and your work is important.

You’ll stand out if you get in the habit of using the STAR approach (which you’ll learn in that class). Additionally, when a candidate comes in with examples of their work and can talk to it, it really makes them stand out.

As an account coordinator at an agency, what advice would you give juniors and seniors thinking about their post-grad life? 

  • Take the time to refine your skill set.
  • Keep up-to-date on media trends and start to form relationships with journalists.
  • Get in the habit of solving problems. People will appreciate when you offer solutions right off the bat and would much rather listen to someone who has ideas on how to solve problems, rather than someone who just simply presents the problem.

I understand you’ve been participating in internship interviews! Any big takeaways from that experience that you’d share? 

I’ve been sitting in on internship interviews to answer any questions candidates may have about what to expect from the internship and agency life in general. A few things I would suggest are:

  • Bring a portfolio or examples of your work: Showing an example of your work and telling the story with the situation, tactics, action and results is important
  • Writing samples: It is always good to be able to showcase your writing
  • A notepad: Come with questions and take notes during the interview. It shows you are genuinely interested and passionate.
  • Thank you!: Everyone appreciates a thank you!

What is the Scottsdale PR community like? Are there opportunities for young professionals? 

Scottsdale doesn’t have any societies or local chapters that I am aware of, but Phoenix does have an IABC and PRSA chapter which represents all of the Valley!

I am actually planning to attend the 14th Annual Valley Publicity Summit in Phoenix next month! The Society of Professional Journalists presents the event, bringing together a roomful of locally based journalists who will share insights, give their story pitch preferences and industry updates with area public relations practitioners.

Anything else you want to share? 

I think informational interviews are so important. I moved back to Arizona after I graduated, and knew not one person in the industry. I heard about the internship opportunity through an informational interview I had done at another agency who was not hiring at the time 


Rubber ducks floating down the water in the summer

Make the Most of Your Summer

We’re about mid-way through summer break at the University of Oregon. With just a few weeks to go, I’ve been starting to think about how to make the most of my time before we’re back in class. I have a light schedule, but a long to do list with class prep, personal projects and catching up on family time.

If you’re a student or recent grad, how can you make the most of your summer? I have a few suggestions:

Update your resume: I’ve had to update my own resume this summer and I wish I hadn’t waited so long! Spend some time this summer adding your recent experience, making sure to focus on accomplishments and results. Make sure you update your LinkedIn profile, too. While you’re at it, why not update your online portfolio?

Do some informational interviews: Regardless of where you are in the world, spend some time doing informational interviews. Find a PR pro near you and ask if you can buy them a coffee and talk about their path and what advice they have for a young professional. Informational interviews lack the stakes of a “real” interview, so you can just have a conversation. You never know who you’ll meet that can help you find your next internship or first job.

You could even spend a day doing this if you’re traveling this summer — what a unique opportunity to spend an hour with a PR pro in Italy, Israel, Greece or Mexico!

Need some help figuring out what to do? Figure out how to set one up and what to ask.

Read: Read newspapers, read books, read magazines, read blogs… just read!  Need some inspiration? 25 books for  your summer reading list from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog; 12 blogs you should be reading; 20 people you should follow on Twitter (most of whom write things you can read!).

Attend a professional association meeting: Find your local PRSA, IABC or American Marketing Association chapter and attend a meeting. Most offer student discounts and often have great speakers. Another opportunity to learn something and do a little networking.  Note that some areas don’t have official national chapters, so you may have to look for a local option.

Learn a new skill: We can’t possibly cover every tool, app, tech thing or concept in classes. But there are plenty of options for learning new skills — and in some cases, even coming away with a certification. My colleague Karen Freberg has a wonderful list of options from Hootsuite, Hubspot and Google Analytics (and more). Or take a stroll through and find something that piques your interest. (Remember that UO students have free access.)

Volunteer: TBH, this is my favorite piece of advice. Volunteering can not only fill your time, but also help you make great connections and even build your portfolio! If you have a favorite cause or a favorite nonprofit, contact the volunteer coordinator or development department and ask if you can help a few hours a week writing web copy, contributing to social media or supporting an event. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at a site like VolunteerMatch — search by city or by cause or by skills. You can even find remote opportunities that could have you working for a global NGO.

Oh, and if you’re a senior, make sure you read my year-long plan for senior PR undergrads.

I’d love to hear your ideas! If you’re a student, how are you spending your summer? If you’re already a pro, what advice do you have for your up-and-coming colleagues?


Great White Sharks

No Social Media Plan Puts Your Company at Risk

“Build it and they will come” is Hollywood fantasy, not social media reality. To grow and engage an audience, build relationships and create conversations takes sustained focus, constant attention and a strategic plan.

Social media are not free. This mindset is a barrier to creating an effective social media strategy and leaves an organization vulnerable to all sorts of problems. Managing, maintaining and evaluating social media channels takes time – a lot of it.

One of the biggest risks of not having a plan is that an organization isn’t able to allocate the right resources.

I totally get it. In small business and nonprofits, particularly, resources are tight. It’s common for an employee (and often a junior-level employee) to be given the responsibility of managing an organization’s social media channels on top of other responsibilities.

So what happens if that person doesn’t have enough time – or the support, or the skills – to manage the organization’s platforms?

Questions may go unanswered, negative feedback or reviews may go unnoticed, content is low quality or inconsistent and the results are (at best) mediocre.

Languishing social media channels – abandoned Facebook Pages, dried up Twitter streams and deserted blogs – are almost always the result of lack of time and budget for social media management.

All of the great things that social media can bring to the table quickly become lost opportunities that can actually hurt your business. If social media is a priority, it’s crucial to identify and allocate resources to effectively manage, maintain and grow the channels.

Concept of fake threat when businessman float in paper ship and sharks in water appear to be goldfish

A solid plan won’t magically add time to the day (I wish!) But it can help budget resources that align with the internal capacity of staff or find the budget to outsource help.

Ready to create a plan? I found a few resources that will get you pointed in the right direction:


Just For Fun, Uncategorized,

Photos are important but you should relax

This week I took about 80 staff portraits for a couple of different websites – the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) is a client and I’m managing the launch of a shiny new website and I’m a long-time volunteer at HIV Alliance.

Taking that portraits in such short time frame brought up a couple of things that I thought I’d share.

My takeaways:

  • Man, we are uncomfortable in our skin. Too this… not enough that… “hope you brought an extra camera because I’ll probably break it.” Taking pictures always reminds me how beautiful people are. We have warm smiles and beautiful eyes, we’re friendly and genuine. Sure, we have a little gut, and our noses look weird at that angle, but who cares? 
  • It makes me very, very sad when say people haven’t had their photo taken in years. Biz portraits aren’t so important, but family/friend/life photos and capturing memories is. Your family and friends want photos of you. You will want photos of you. Document your lives! It’s nice to hire a professional once in a while to capture the great above-the-mantel portraits, too.

Ask Good Questions and Listen to the Answers: A Source’s Plea to Young Journalists

I get interviewed quite a bit. Once every couple of months or so I’m asked to speak as an “expert” about PR, social media, technology, trends or any other random number of things, mostly by student reporters and TV reporters. I love to talk, so if a reporter shows up prepared, listens and asks good questions, I truly enjoy the process.

Regardless of what kind of content you’re creating (doing journalism, writing e-newsletters or blog posts or feature articles for the company magazine), being a good interviewer will help you tell a better story.


Celeb PR Not All Red Carpets and Paparazzi: Ask Scarlett Johansson

I can’t pretend that I don’t respond with amusement (and bemusement, for that matter) when a student says that he or she wants to do “entertainment PR.” I know it comes from our celeb-obsessed culture and they hope it means working on red carpets, setting up press junkets and coordinating with the personal stylist to ensure the dress and jewels are fierce.

I know that there’s plenty of that for the select few who rise to that level (and we’ve all seen the awkward publicists hovering and herding on the red carpet at awards shows).

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