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Content is Key: Four Tips for Producing Great Content

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This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

Changes in the media landscape and the growth of social media have altered the role of PR.  Now, to a greater extent than ever before, many PR pros are tasked with the responsibility of producing and managing content.

If this sounds like something you’re dealing with, here are four tips to make your role as content developer and curator easier:

Tip #1:  Plan Ahead

PR pros are used to working with editorial calendars, the published calendars of scheduled editorial features at given media organizations, and there’s no reason we can’t create our own calendars for planning blog topics (and their contributors), scheduling tweets, and planning video.  Start with a goal in mind: how often do you want to publish your content?  Then, determine what you’ll have to do, and when it will need to be done, to achieve that goal.  Next, fill in the deliverables with ideas for content…more on that below.

Tip #2:  Look for inspiration

A common exercise at blogger gatherings is to undertake a 30-day (or 60- or 90-day) blogging challenge, where each blogger commits to writing something every day for that period.  The goal of the exercise is to establish good, consistent habits to keep the content flowing.  I’ve seen blogger challenges that ask each blogger to write about certain topics on each day of the challenge, i.e. on day #1 everyone writes about where they find inspiration.

Tip #3:  Find new life for the content you’ve already got

Social Media consultant Mack Collier says that over time, many bloggers have learned how to either repurpose existing content, or to create new content that can be distributed via multiple social channels.  Collier points out that content can come from repurposing white papers, PowerPoint presentations, and questions submitted by customers.  New content can easily be created with folks you see everyday – think of video interviews with company execs and customers and recording the goings-on at industry events.

Tip #4:  Change it up

Does your creativity dry right up at the thought of writing a compelling introduction, several supporting points and a thought-provoking summary?   A blog post doesn’t have to be in essay form every time.  HubSpot’s Beth Dunn suggests using a Style Bank to spur creative blog entries.

What are your tips for keeping the content flowing?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Cover Letter Science (Not Really)


This is a guest post by Derek Pangallo.

Through much trail and error, I may have written the *perfect* cover letter. No — not bragging: I’m still getting turned down after each interview (I’ll write another post when I perfect that.) The simple method I have been employing runs contrary to conventional wisdom, but has taken me from a 1% to a 10% call-back rate.

After sending out a thousand applications and only landing about 10 interviews, something had to change. Literally my Gmail storage limit was maxing out from attaching my resume so many times. I decided to take a (qualitative) scientific approach at writing a better cover letter.

A student of Political communications, I subscribe to a lot of fundraising emails. A LOT. Most of them are pretty ineffective, all the way from subject to signature; after automagically knowing my name, “Derek–”, there isn’t much feeling of personalization… it’s all “me, me, me; donate donate donate” (Here’s looking at you, Barack.) I thought hard about what language hit the right nerve in these emails.

Next, I dug out the cover letters that actually worked (one of the better ones was addressed to Lindsay.) I went through each, looking for common words, phrases, or conventions. Synthesizing those letters into one, I ended up with the standard four-paragraph template you could read about on any number of websites, but with one notable exception: parentheses.

What could it be about use of parentheses — usually discouraged in formal communications — that made my letters click? I wasn’t sure, but was confident enough to keep using them. And while continuing to apply for the same kind of jobs, my success rate increased by 10 times. After further thought, I now understand what makes parenthetical commentary so

Parentheses let you be personal and professional simultaneously.

No one wants to read a cover letter. The letter is the arbitrary barrier to entry, the price of admission showing you’re willing to research a company, caring enough about the job to invest the time. Parentheses let you prove you understand convention while giving you carte blanche (almost) to speak as yourself, making a personal connection with the reader.

Parentheses are an aside, the inside joke between two professionals. Where the letter is the white-washed outside persona, the parentheses are a just-for-you nudge and whisper. You’re able to convey personality with a sense of humor and amicability — without using exclamation points, emoticons, or saying “I” too much (as feels like a problem in this post,

Long story short: write a standard cover letter, then spruce it up with parenthetical commentary. Some of those annotations you might turn into “real” sentences. You’ll create a more enjoyable read for the hiring manager and will likely be rewarded Just don’t over-do it (you wouldn’t want to come off as schizophrenic, either.)

Let me know how it works out: @derallo or derek.pangallo[@]

Derek Pangallo is an Online Community Manager, Communications Consultant and Advertiser aspiring toward a Political New Media career on Capitol Hill. He hates talking about himself in the third person and thinks anyone whose Twitter bio is written as such should be banned from the Internet.


Do You Work with a Don Draper?

This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

In last week’s season opener of the AMC series Mad Men, Peggy Olson tells Don Draper “we’re all here because of you.”  The episode also shows Don’s struggle with revealing his personality – he blows a profile opportunity with AdAge before getting a second try at answering the question, “who is Don Draper?” with the Wall Street Journal.  And, not only does Don shy away from revealing his personality to the public, he also tries to quaff his support staff’s attempts at defining the company (by disparaging Pete Campbell’s attempt to portray the agency as a scrappy start-up and by calling Peggy’s guerilla PR tactic a ‘shenanigan’).

Whether you work for a global PR firm, a boutique agency, your own solo practice or part of an in-house department, chances are you’ve come across PR ‘personalities.’

How important is it to have a recognizable personality behind your business?

First of all, having a recognizable personality behind your PR brand (recognizable in a good way, that is) can help attract business.  Publicizing agency leadership is a form of in-bound marketing in that it helps prospective clients understand who they’ll be working with and what they’ll be buying before-hand.  Anyone looking for a job will have heard how important it is to demonstrate their expertise through social media – by answering questions on LinkedIn, writing an original blog or posting comments to another widely-read blog, maintaining a web site and developing a following on Twitter.  “Sharing your expertise publicly is a way of promoting yourself” tweeted Kellye Crane (@kellyecrane and @soloPR) when this topic came up on a recent #soloPR Twitter chat.  “It’s also a way to practice what you preach and demonstrate that you know how to build an effective brand and reputation,” added another #soloPR chatter.

It can also help up-sell.  The bigger the personality, the more valuable the counsel that person provides and the more you can charge for it.  Anyone who has worked on the agency side of the PR business knows that the firm’s most senior leaders charge astronomically high billing rates when they are involved with client work.

Some clients and business partners are willing to pay higher rates for a big personality because they sense they’re getting more than just PR counsel for their dollars.  I call it a rain-maker mentality — in which buyers think they’re also purchasing the services of someone who has valuable connections and is business savvy.

What do you think?  Do you work with a PR personality?  Do you cultivate your own professional personality?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more about Alison Kenney.


PR as a Part-Timer

Pocket watch

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

Working a part-time schedule is attractive for many reasons and PR is an industry that lends itself to flexible schedules.  Or is it?

On the plus side:

Part-time can equate to freelance status in PR which can be more lucrative than salaried work – although non-salaried workers don’t receive benefits through their employer, they typically charge an hourly rate or project fee that equates to more money per hour than what their salaried counterparts earn.  See my previous blog and the reader comments about tips for solo PR practitioners if you’re curious about how to make a freelance career work.

Working part-time can be a good way for older workers to ease out of demanding schedules and prepare for retirement — staying employed, even part-time, enables older workers to continue to accumulate savings (through income and employer contributions) and to postpone paying retirement expenses (like contributions to health insurance).  A recent report from the Employment Benefit Research Institute says that part-time employment is a growing trend among older workers.

Some parts of PR work can be done anytime, anywhere – non-urgent PR work, such as building a media list or editorial calendar or writing executive bios or materials for a web site, don’t necessarily need to get done during certain hours of the day.

Technology makes it easy to stay connected and accessible – as long as you have access to the internet and a phone you can probably accomplish 90 percent of the PR work you need to do.  Skype and other video conferencing tools have made it even easier and more acceptable for people to work remotely.  Why is this important?  First, more people working remotely blurs the lines around work schedules which makes working part-time more acceptable, i.e. it becomes lumped in with other flexible work arrangements.  Second, it’s often assumed that if you work a part-time schedule you’ll be able to check in after-hours and be accessible if something urgent comes up and technology makes this possible.

On the negative side:

The opportunistic nature of PR makes it hard to predict that your job can be accomplished during a set time of day – many PR duties are deadline driven or arise suddenly – such as responding to a competitor’s news, handling communication during a crisis and responding to a reporter who is on deadline – and therefore require PR staff who are available around the clock, or at least during traditional office hours.

PR is a service-driven practice – PR is often perceived as a service business.  If you work at an agency, you service external clients.  Even if you work in-house you are servicing other functions of the company, such as supporting the sales team, collaborating with HR and furthering the executive management team’s agenda.  Depending on their needs and expectations for your services, these clients may not want to accommodate your part-time schedule.

It can be difficult to land a part-time position – As Lindsay can attest, most career positions are not recruiting part-time candidates.  I would hazard a guess that many part-time PR employees negotiated their hours after working full-time for that employer and building up a positive track record.  That’s not to say that part-time jobs don’t exist or aren’t advertised – but they are outnumbered by full-time opportunities.

What do you think?  Is PR the right field for workers who want part-time hours?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more about Alison Kenney.

Photo credit: Hichako


What PR Pros Need to Know About Foursquare

Foursquare Pins and Tattoos - SXSW 2010

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

I’ve heard Foursquare referred to as the hottest new marketing tool.  But personally, I’m not a huge fan.  In fact, according to this Fast Company article, I’m in the apathy stage.  I just don’t feel the need to compete for badges and mayorships — and not enough contacts in my personal network use it to make it a useful communication tool.  However, I am intrigued by its marketing and PR potential.

Here’s why Foursquare matters to marketers:

Your audience is game. This CNN story on Foursquare creator Dennis Crowley illustrates the appeal of Foursquare to a certain type of consumer — someone such as Crowley — who enjoys playing virtual contests, or someone who loves the challenge of new e-games.  Foursquare can be a new way to connect with your target audience or even a way to reach a new audience.

Foursquare can reinforce your brand loyalty. Retailers like Starbucks and Dominos (in the UK) are testing Foursquare as a way to identify enthusiastic customers by rewarding them with coupons and discounts based on the number of times they “check in” using Foursquare.

Mobile and geo-location technologies are the future. According to Yankee Group president and author of the book, “Anywhere: How Global Connectivity Is Revolutionizing the Way We Do Business.’’ Emily Nagle Green says that Google’s decision to put mobile first in their business is a telling indicator.  Yahoo! also seems to be throwing its hat into the geo-location ring with its recent purchase of Kropol.  A recent report from Juniperstates that all mobile location-based services may contribute a total revenue of $12.7 billion by 2014.

Location-based services are a natural fit for tourism and travel related brands. More than ever people are turning to the Web to plan their travel itineraries, find recommendations and map their trips.  Foursquare can be a fun way to engage travelers and tourists during the process.  The city of Chicago’s tourism office is encouraging people to recreate a scene from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off using Foursquare.   The state of Pennsylvania is leveraging social media to promote tourism too and has created special Foursquare badges just for Pennsylvania sites and uses Foursquare to provide tips for visiting Pennsylvania destinations.

Content generators now have another medium to reach their audience. The NY Times has aggregated its content for a new free iPhone app for visitors to Manhattan and Brooklyn and also offers integration with Foursquare for convenient check ins, i.e. convenient links to NY Times content.

Event marketers use Foursquare to drive participation. In addition to allowing users to know who is nearby or attending the same event, Foursquare can help event marketers increase participation.  Last week fashion designer Cynthia Rowley launched the Cynthia Rowley Bridesmaids collection with the help of Foursquare and gave attendees at its launch unveiling a special gift if they checked in on Foursquare.  (Visitors who check in at the store Lovely Bride during the week after the launch also receive 15% off their bridesmaid dress order.)

Whether Foursquare is here to stay, or not, smart marketers and PR pros are considering location-based social media as part of their integrated marketing plan.  Are you?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Social Media Makes PR Collaboration Easier and Cheaper

This is a post from PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

As a solo PR pro, I love any technology or technique that makes my work easier or more affordable. Those that make life both easier and affordable really take the prize!

Following are a few examples of services that are free and also leverage social media to help PR pros collaborate to make their work easier and more effective. Each of these examples replaces or competes with a service that either a) previously cost an arm and a leg or b) was something that every PR team did individually and then staunchly guarded.

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) – Founded in 2008 by serial entrepreneur Peter Shankman as a Facebook Groups page, HARO is one of the fastest-growing social media services in North America.

HARO enables journalists to connect with the right source and grants everyone – from home-based entrepreneurs to large businesses – access to reporters who may write about them. It’s comparable to PRNewswire’s Profnet but can be subscribed to for free versus Profnet’s $3,500 price tag.

PitchWithMe: a new concept from PR pro Heather Whaling that helps PR folks collaborate on pitches to discover potential resources and offer journalists more multiple resources. As Heather says on the PitchWithMe site, “within agencies, this kind of packaged pitching is already taking place; however, freelancers, boutique agencies and small businesses don’t always have these kinds of resources available. Until now.” Thanks Heather!

BloggerLinkUp: kind of like a HARO or Profnet for bloggers and those trying to reach bloggers, BloggerLinkUp was formed by Cathy Stucker as a free resource (via email subscription) for bloggers who are looking for expert sources, products to review or guest posts and for PR reps who have products they’d like reviewed or guest blog posts they’d like to see published. In addition to providing tactical solutions, what I think is so great about these services is that they are also shifting the emphasis in our daily PR jobs from process to content. Now that we all have access to reporters’s queries, bloggers requests and other PR reps to collaborate with, we can focus on creative strategies and hopefully improve the PR services we offer.

What do you think? What free collaborative social media tools do you recommend?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more about Alison Kenney.


How to Write Under Pressure


This is a post from guest columnist Alison Kenney.

Writing is an essential skill in a PR career.  Writing under pressure is an essential-er skill.

PR people do more writing each day than they may realize — from the expected stuff, like press releases, contributed articles, bios, speaker proposals, award submissions, case studies and pitch letters to other forms of communication like blog responses and emails offering client counsel.  Then there′s the way we represent ourselves with social media — the profile updates and community contributions or perhaps the blog posts we write.  While it′s important that all of these written communications be sharp, smart and clear, many are done on the fly or with an expected tight turnaround.

From my experience, here are a few tips for writing well under pressure:

  1. Get rid of distractions — close down a few Windows on your screen, close the door to your office or settle into someone else′s office or a conference room.  Tune out the buzz around you so that you can focus on getting the job done.
  2. Just do it — stuck on finding the perfect opening or headline?  Sometimes it′s best to just start writing and get the juices flowing, then go back to edit later.  One of my supervisors once told me that the key to writing in PR is to think about the news you are trying to communicate and imagine two old men sitting on a bench communicating it for you; the point was that if you could imagine their conversation you would have your headline, your sub-headline and your supporting arguments.
  3. Break it down — if the idea of writing an entire piece right now is overwhelming, create smaller, more do-able "homework" assignments.  When I′m really stuck and not motivated to write something that really needs to get done, I set a schedule for myself.  For instance, I′ll tell my lazy self that I must write for the next 30 minutes and then reward myself with another, more desirable activity.
  4. Start with the easy stuff —maybe thinking of a fresh way to write the CEO′s quote in a press release eludes you, but you can easily write the fact-filled introductory paragraph and company boilerplate paragraphs.  Doing so makes it look like you′ve written more than you have and could be the inspiration you need.
  5. Imagine what the reader will think — every piece of communication you write has an intended audience.  Put yourself in their shoes for a second and think about what they want to know, what their first question will be upon reading your headline or opening line or what their reaction will be to your news.
  6. Take a break — this kind of flies in the face of my first few tips where I suggest just focusing on the matter at hand, but honestly some of my best ideas come when I switch gears for a short time and get up from my desk to do something different.
  7. Keep a diary — a lot of writing experts recommend this because it gets you in the habit of writing, gets the ideas to appear on paper and is a fabulous way to get a sense of your writing style.
  8. Read — I recall a saying that good writers are good readers, probably because reading a variety of materials will expand your vocabulary, open you to new ideas and keep you current.

What are your tips for writing under pressure?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston′s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more her here.

Photo credit: Markus Rödder

Making Pro Bono PR Projects Successful

pick me!

Giving and receiving can both be pretty good!

Many of us in PR work, or have worked, pro bono, which is an abbreviated form of the Latin term pro bono publico that means "for the public good."  (When I looked up that definition, I also learned that the American Bar Association recommends that lawyers in the United States contribute at least fifty hours of pro bono service per year.)  While not mandatory in PR, pro bono work presents terrific career opportunities.

There are a lot of reasons to take on a pro bono PR assignment, such as:

  • Supporting a pet cause
  • Gaining professional experience
  • Balancing other work assignments and/or enjoying a change of pace
  • Networking and making connections
  • Exploring a new field
  • Giving back

It sounds pretty rosy and pro bono projects certainly can be.  But I′ve also talked to folks on the receiving end and heard about "good intentions gone wrong" or, if not completely wrong, just not ideal.  Consider the non-profit whose board member included the head of a national PR firm.  His agency provided PR counsel pro bono to the non-profit and its internal team on an ongoing basis.  That meant that the pro bono team varied according to agency member availability and the agency applied many of its standard PR campaign practices even when they weren′t the best fit for the non-profit′s target audience.  The pro bono recipients are grateful for the PR work they receive but ideally would have liked to have more of a say in the efforts and tactics.  At other times, pro bono PR relationships don′t work because the non-profit can′t support the donor — it may not have any internal staff or resources to keep momentum going.  And, in a frustrating example for both sides, sometimes the pro bono assignment goes south because of a lack of clear expectations.

I don′t think these examples are the norm, however; I only mention them to illustrate the importance of having a clear understanding of project scope when you take on a pro bono PR project.  Spend time understanding what type of PR assignment is needed, what the timeframe will be, who the supporting players are (and whether training them could be the most beneficial contribution you make) and what type of outcome is expected.  Careful planning and good communication in the beginning will make your pro bono PR experience a positive one.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston′s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more her here.

Photo credit: Gin Soak

5 Ways to Find Your Dream Job

This is a guest post by Nikki Ruth

Did you know?

Audrey Hepburn wanted to become a ballerina. She was considered too tall and was advised not to continue.

Tom Cruise joined a seminary to become a priest. He was also a paperboy for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Before Cameron Diaz made her acting debut in The Mask she toured the world as a model.Walt

Disney drove an ambulance for the Red Cross during World War I.

Johnny Depp worked as an over-the-phone pen salesman before he became an actor.

Celebrity careers rarely happen overnight and chances are your first job will not be your dream job, but one of many as you work your way to the top. It is possible to get your dream job. Here′s how.

1. Learn about yourself

Take time to do a self-assessment of your values and how you like to work. What′s most important to you? What do you want out of life and how do you want to be remembered? Then get specific. If you say you′re a good communicator, do you like talking informally to small groups of people or do you like making formal presentations? Now brainstorm around these findings and think about the different roles or activities you can use these skills in.

2. Do your research

Once you know the kind of career you′re looking for, start talking to people who have jobs in the industry you′re considering and find out what it′s really like. Ask them what they love and hate about their job. You might find that after these conversations, more careers will be crossed off your list and others might emerge.

3. Find a mentor

Find a mentor who has already succeeded at what you want to do and ask them how they achieved their dream job. A strong relationship with a mentor who is higher up in your company can open a lot of doors for you. You′ll learn a lot about the company and about the jobs you might want to get in the future. You'll also have an ally who will be willing recommend you when you do decide to apply for a new opportunity.

4. Create an action plan

An action plan should contain S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time framed) objectives and actions and resources. Plot a path between your current position and the dream. This might involve some training or you might need to get out of what you′re doing so that you can work in a job that is more connected with your dream? If you keep getting rejected from your dream job, you are not ready yet and might need to take a "˜stepping stone′ job before you can move onto the next level.

5. Speak to a career coach

Seek the sound advice of a career professional to help you get closer to landing the job of your dreams. Career coaches can help you plan a change of direction, get your career off the ground with job hunting tactics, identify your career options, provide recommendations for your career development and might have an "˜in′ that helps you through the door!

I hope you found my tips useful.

Guest post by Nikki Ruth, CV Writer and founder of My CV and Me. Nikki provides cv writing and career skills workshops services. Follow her on Twitter @mycvandme


I Work in PR and My Family Has No Idea What I Do

268/365 - Default State

I work in PR and my family has no idea what I do.

I′ve heard my parents accurately describe the company or clients I work for but they have a hard time articulating what I actually do for these organizations.

I used to joke about this when I started my career.  I was working for a high-tech PR agency and the trade jargon was difficult for even those in the know to follow.  It cracked me up to imagine my mom telling her friends that her daughter "announced the beta of version 8.0 of a front office software platform. She′s drafting the briefing books now for some desk-side media one-on-ones"¦"

The problem is that I can′t explain what I do either!  Fortunately I′m not alone.  Nearly 2,500 folks have proclaimed on Facebook that explaining what we do is tough for us PR people.

I can′t tell you how many holiday gatherings I′ve been to where different relatives have asked me if I′m still writing for the paper.  (I did have a college internship at a newspaper nearly 20 years ago.)  More often than not, I just say yes.

My elementary school aged kids are genuinely interested in learning what I do, and I′ve taken pains to explain my job accurately to them.  The jury is still out on how successful my explanations are, though.  I overheard my daughter′s friend say that her mom drew the picture in a particular magazine (the friend′s mother works for an ad agency) and my daughter replied that her mom knew the person who made the magazine.  Our conversations are similar to the one David Moye had with his daughter when she asked "Daddy what′s PR?" although they sometimes take a hysterical turn after we discuss how manipulative the media can be.

Usually I adapt my job description based on how interested the person I′m talking to seems to be and the types of questions they′re asking.  I don′t think I′ve ever described my job the same way.  When asked what I do for a living sometimes I talk about the purpose of my job, e.g. shaping a brand, influencing demand, generating leads, and sometimes I talk about the actual activities I did that day, e.g. writing a press release, calling the media, tweeting.   Of course, everyone tries to understand my work in terms they can relate to and sometimes the conversations end with "so could you help my Uncle Rick with PR for his auto body shop?"

I′m still looking for some new answers to give my mom.  How do you describe your work in PR?

Photo credit: Helgasms!

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston′s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more her here.


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