Company Tour 2012

PRSSA Members at Two Rivers MarketingBy: Kristie Chipera

Walking through show rooms, tasting some of the food featured in Better Homes and Gardens, touring agencies and sitting down with advertising and public relations professionals is an experience not granted to many preparing to enter into this industry.  However, the opportunity to do so was granted to the University of Iowa’s PRSSA members and was just one of the many advantages students from the organization were able to experience this past semester.

Sixteen PRSSA members seized the chance on November 9 and traveled to Des Moines to visit five of the top public relations agencies in the area.  These agencies included Innova Ideas and Services, Two Rivers Marketing, Flynn Wright, Hanser and Associates Public Relations, and The Meredith Corporation.

“You are all lucky to visit so many agencies.  I had no clue what an agency was when I started as an intern,” said Jessica Moffitt, account service representative at Two Rivers Marketing.

With bagels in hand, the day started out at Innova Ideas and Services.  The agency, whose portfolio includes the Fight Like a Girl brand, also specializes in crisis communication and issues management.

“Whether you’re in PR or marketing, you can no longer talk at your audience.  You have to talk with them,” said Nicole Torstenson, director of strategic marketing and public relations at Innova Ideas and Services.

PRSSA members saw a presentation that tackled topics such as the ways Innova stays ahead of the game by preparing for a number of possible scenarios that their clients may encounter. Each situation is assigned a detailed strategy outlining the best response for crisis communication. The presentation was followed by a tour of the agency’s modern space before heading off to the next company.

Two Rivers Marketing makes its home in a 32,000 square foot industrial style building, originally constructed in 1935 as a General Motors parts warehouse.  Many of their clients are largely industrial based and unlike many other agencies, Two Rivers Marketing has a space that offers a symbolic connection to their clients, such as John Deere and Vermeer.

Their workspaces group staff by the clients they work with, separating pods by distance, rather than walls.  The employees truly do immerse themselves into their clients’ businesses and their products.  They know the importance of being knowledgeable of their clients and are aware that while maintaining their clients’ social media accounts, they must become experts in the company and its products, as well as the industry.

PRSSA members learned just how dedicated the employees are to their clients, going as far as learning the trades first-hand by taking classes and even learning how to operate their clients’ machinery.

PRSSA stopped next at an agency whose large glass paneling overlooks Des Moines’ Sculpture Park.

Flynn Wright is a small agency.   Its size allows their employees, who all bring something different to the table, to grow individually while relying on each other’s strengths to move the company forward.  With clients, ranging from Dunkin Donuts to Mediacom, one of the agency’s primary objectives is to research the best ways to reach a client’s customers.

After a tour and overview of the modern and colorful agency, students were left with a bit of reassuring advice before heading to the next company.

“Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers,” said Mara White, director of public relations.

Members in the Flynn Wright boardroomFlynn Wright may qualify as a small agency, but across the city, Hanser and Associates took the prize for the smallest company of the day.  The family-run firm may have just six employees, but it is Iowa’s leading public relations firm and has taken the “Best” or “Runner-up” awards as “Best Public Relations Firm” in Central Iowa for 11 years standing.

They handle between six to 12 clients at a time and concentrates largely on healthcare and financial services, although Megabus is one of their largest clients.

Back across town at the last tour of the day, PRSSA members were able to get a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Meredith Corporation.  It is the leading media and marketing company serving American Women whose publications include Ladies’ Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens.

The tour included walking through halls covered with a timeline of the many magazines of Meredith Corporation, stepping into their model kitchen, peering into showrooms, and even sampling food baked and photographed for a magazine spread.  Students were in awe, not only of Meredith’s large building, but the vast number of props and sets within the facility to be used throughout the year for different photo shoots.

The experience was one not to be forgotten.  “Company Tour let me see how the integrated marketing industry truly works. Listening to speakers at chapter meetings can only get you so far. Sometimes, you have to go to where the action is to get the big picture,” said PRSSA member, Regina Volk.  It was a lot to take in for one day, but the madness was absolutely worth it.


Now Available: FOCUS Fall 2012

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FOCUS Fall 2012, Click to Download

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After an entire semester of writing, editing and designing, PRSSA’s James F. Fox Chapter is ready to release its semiannual newsletter for Fall 2012.  Inside, you will find useful information about the public relations industry, career advice, PR tips and tricks, and much more.

Much of the content that makes up this issue of FOCUS has never been released before.  We hope you will find it entertaining, instructive and captivating.  It has been our pleasure to prepare this issue and help develop the next generation of public relations professionals.

Ricky Brandt, FOCUS Editor

Special Thanks to our FOCUS Writers and Editors:

Erica Sturwold
Mark Hollander
Rachel Hewitt
Regina Volk
Adam Gromotka
Rob Johnson
Kristie Chipera
Alyssa Schaefer

Alexandria Cimino
Megan Yoder
Emily Messerly (Promotions)
Ricky Brandt (FOCUS Editor)
Peyta Eckler (Editor, Advisor)
Barb Kamer (Editor, Advisor)

The Power of Storytelling

By Rick Brandt, FOCUS Editor
Follow @RickBrandt18 on Twitter

Brian’s daughter, Brianna, was diagnosed with cancer at a young age.  Today, Brianna is cancer free and attending middle school, thanks to research funded by the American Cancer Society.  Her story is one of many providing hope in the struggle against cancer, but soon it will serve to help thousands more.

Later this year, Kathy Holdefer of the American Cancer Society will share Brianna’s story on the counter of every location of a major gas station chain in the Midwest using one of the public relations industry’s most powerful tactics – storytelling.

At a University of Iowa Public Relations Student Society of America meeting on January 30, Holdefer explained the importance of this gas station signing on to the American Cancer Society’s Charity of Choice campaign.

“If they said yes to us, we might be their charity of choice for a whole quarter and they usually have people donate between $115,000 to $180,000 during one of these promotions,” said Holdefer.  “We would like to have that money to continue to do the great work that we can do… we needed to knock their socks off.”

Representatives of the American Cancer Society proposed their storytelling campaign to 15 employees of this gas station chain.  Two variations of donation boxes would be placed in stores, each with a photograph and a quote representing the story of the person on the box.

Each variation of the box corresponds to a different component of the American Cancer Society’s boilerplate: “We save lives and create more birthdays by helping you stay well, helping you get well, finding cures, and by fighting back.”

Brianna’s story is all about finding cures.

While such a campaign can surely tug at the emotions of many potential donors, I asked Holdefer how she hopes to convey the full story of Brian’s daughter in just a few words and a picture.  What I didn’t realize was that telling the whole story was never the goal.

Holdefer explained that by framing the theme of each box around one relatable person, the campaign let people fill in what’s missing with their own experiences.

In other words, it does not matter if the audience knows the specifics of a subject’s story.  What matters is that each box reminds them that the American Cancer Society still has work to be done and these donations can help save countless lives.

Of course, when non-profit organizations such as the American Cancer Society engage in promotional work such as this, the Corporate Charity of Choice campaign does more than just raise money, it advertises their services.

“We consider the stories that will be on the donation buckets as ‘advertisements’ that let people know what we do, and then they can either support us or ask us to support them,” Holdefer said.

When customers see the story, they also see the call to action encouraging the audience to call their National Cancer Information Center or visit their website to make donations or get information.

The donation box for Steve, who received a routine colonoscopy, best exemplifies the effects that storytelling can have on a group of people.

When the American Cancer Society’s message influenced Steve to go through with his colonoscopy, doctors removed three polyps and a section of his colon to protect him from cancer.  Three of his friends followed his example and were also saved from cancer’s grasp.

“Here’s a story about a guy who hears a message from the American Cancer Society, gets his screening, and shares his story,” said Holdefer. “Look at all the lives saved, look at all the cancers that were avoided.”

And ultimately, that’s the goal of each campaign Holdefer works on ­­ ­– to save lives.

If You Build It

By: Regina Volk

Tadros at his office in Chicago

“If you don’t love what you’re doing, you are wasting your time.” This was the message of founder and CEO Phillip Tadros of DoeJo Design and Consulting Firm to all PRSSA members at their chapter meeting on October 24, 2012.

Tadros is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, and recipient of the 2012 Moxie award for best digital agency in the Chicago area. DoeJo does anything from brand development to sales and marketing to social media campaigns to video and photography and much more for all their clients.

While in college, Tadros realized that a degree wouldn’t get him where he wanted in life, so at age 19 he dropped out. He knew his vision was to open a bar or club, but being under the age of  21 made that impossible. Instead, Tadros opened up a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Though the business didn’t ever turn much of a profit, he said he had a blast running it and was eventually able to sell it for a profit.

Tadros really pushed the idea to PRSSA members that opening up your own PR agency isn’t only possible, but should be aimed for as an ultimate goal. He asked PRSSA members to raise their hands if they wanted to open their own firm someday and only one person raised her hand.

“I had never really thought about opening up my own public relations agency someday until he made it sound like that should be our ultimate goal. He made it sound so easy. It may be something I’ll consider in the future,” senior Sarah Larson said.

After opening a music venue, Tadros started working in web design—and it began from there. Tadros has never had to advertise his business; it has always gained clients by word of mouth. DoeJo has had many successful clients such as New World Ventures, Groupon, Sandbox Agencies, Umbra and many more. They have also had 12 bumps on Adult Swim Network; all clients who went and found his business.

They never had to hire anybody special for media or public relations because they found that the trick is to document everything that they did, and the work will speak for itself. “We are really good at media and public relations. It isn’t something we just learned how to do, it was how we documented things and how to maintain relationships we have built,” said Tadros.

He also voiced his opinion on all sorts of clients that well have to work with throughout our  professional lives . He spoke on the importance of client-business relationships.  He spoke of having clients that you either mesh with or you don’t. He said that you can’t force a relationship, and sometimes as a business owner, he has had to ‘fire’ a client. This is something that business owners should never worry about doing.  Tadros explained that some things just don’t work and sometimes when you let something go, something even better will come along. It’s all about balancing what works and what doesn’t.

As CEO of Chicago’s digital media agency of the year, what kind of advice did Phillip Tadros leave us with?

“Figure out where you want to work. Got it? Go there and get a job. It’s as simple as that.”

Bringing PR Home: Event Promotion on a Local Scale

By Rachel Hewitt

Vice President, University of Iowa PRSSA

Born and raised in small-town Iowa, I’ve seen people get excited for just about anything. Whether it’s an organized bicycle ride around the lake, a municipal band concert in the park, or an antiques show on Main Street, you can bet there will be a crowd and a good-sized article covering the “event” in our local newspaper. When Iowa City became my next educational destination post-boondock living, my eyes opened to a whole different kind of local event promotion. Massive chalk announcements camouflaging the walkways, university-wide mass e-mails, and even downtown posts bursting with neon flyers were novel to me.

I was fortunate enough last summer to land an internship with the Iowa City/Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau for planning one of the greatest events in Iowa City (fully biased): FRY fest, “A Celebration of All That is Hawkeye.” While I was initially overwhelmed with the 20,000+ members of Hawkeye Nation who would attend this event in September, I came to look forward to my days in the office where I had the chance to come up with new ideas for promoting FRY fest. First step, implement a street team. The closest thing I could think of in this area  was a flash mob I once saw in a movie. For this local event it was appropriate to start small with a public promotional team. Street Team appearances at parades, festivals, and University events initiated a buzz among area natives, and word spread from there.  The right mixture of grassroots and statewide promotion has put our local Hawkeye event on the map for four years in a row.

Most importantly, “FRY fest Baby” – our most popular product of the Street Team, a music video parody to “Call Me Maybe” – was created and went viral. Check it out if you call yourself a true Hawkeye.

Social media, a standard ingredient in any promotion of this scale, was also crucial in order to engage our followers and fans. We got people excited and involved by  using trivia prizes and event-day teasers among regularly scheduled blasts. . In this case, community relations was the key for the Bureau. Community event calendar submissions also allowed for maximum announcement awareness.

No matter how large, glamorous, or otherwise your event is, use these strategies to build your local event’s image and reputation. Take it from the small-town Iowa girl, local efforts and local people are the best foundation for any event to take off.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at @Rachel_Hewitt

Three Tips on Landing Your Dream Internship

By Megan Yoder

When it comes to landing a dream internship, most people think what they want is not within reach. Some feel they don’t have the skills needed or don’t fully understand the industry that they want to pursue. During my sophomore year, I knew that I wanted to gain experience in how to train marine mammals. Sounds crazy, right? Well, after numerous resumes, cover letters and interviews, I finally landed my dream internship working with marine mammals at Sea Life Park Hawaii.

My experience working with marine life was not only a dream come true, but gave me a strong skill set that was able to transfer over to my pursuit of public relations. I learned many skills that helped to prepare me for this industry, including: ways to be an effective communicator within a large team, how to produce and run a marine show with large audiences, how to multitask and prioritize, and lastly, that communication must always be clear and concise.

While your dream internship may seem out of reach, here are three tips to make your dreams a reality.

Do your research
Prior to applying to positions dealing with marine life, I spent countless hours researching to learn about each prospective employer’s culture, work environment and expectations of their interns. Understanding the specifics behind the industry allows you to gain insights about the position and helps you to discover if the field is right for you.

Know what it takes to achieve success
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, many students don’t follow this pattern and are then discouraged when they don’t land their dream internship. In wanting to work with marine life, I discovered that experience working with animals and excellent communication skills are crucial. To achieve my goal, I constantly volunteered at the local animal shelter and took many communication courses.

I will say it again, Network! Connections are essential in landing your dream internship. I spent a lot of time networking with marine mammal trainers and experienced interns in order to understand the field. Having these connections became extremely advantageous for me, as they gave me insights into the application process, interview tips and, ultimately, helped me land the position I wanted.

No matter what industry you decide to pursue, these tips can help you to achieve your goals to make your dream internship a reality.

Follow Megan Yoder on Twitter @MeganKYoder

4 Steps You Can Take in College To Become a PR Professional

By Megan Yoder

College—the days of sleeping-in, pulling “all-nighters” for exams, and cheering on your school teams. While the college years can be some of the best years of your life, they also are the most vital. Before you know it, graduation is around the corner and your career is your main focus. After completing a public relations internship with the Iowa City Community School District, I found that PR is a fast-paced industry with an ever-changing landscape. If you are choosing to do it, here are four steps that you can take to become a PR professional while in college.

Build a Brand
Use your insights or classroom experience in PR to build a brand. Branding helps you to stand out from the competition. Brand yourself so that employers can understand who you are and what type of public relations work you want to pursue. In branding yourself, consistency is key. Make sure that your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blog profile photos are all the same. This way, it is easier for an employer to recognize and remember you when it comes to hiring for a position.

Another way to build your brand is to create a professional website or blog. Your page should include your writing samples or other class projects, your resume, and contact information. This helps employers to have direct access to your work and will show them that you want to be taken seriously in the pursuit of this industry

Dress Professionally, Even to Class
While college students love sweatpants, and they are comfortable, they don’t look professional. Unless you are sleeping, lounging around your apartment or working-out at the gym, sweatpants should be tucked away in your closet.

Choose items such as a blazer and skinny jeans (for women) and a nice button down shirt and khakis (for men).

I know this may sound a bit extreme, but it’s important. Research by, states that people make a first impression within seven seconds! Knowing this, it is vital to dress professionally as you never know what connections you might make with professors, students or university staff. Connections are vital and looking your best will help you to be taken seriously in your pursuit of a job in any industry.

Use Social Media
If you don’t have a Twitter or LinkedIn account, get one ASAP. These social networks may seem like another thing to add to the list along with Facebook, but they can be vital in staying up-to-date on the PR industry and creating professional connections.  Additionally, make sure that you keep these accounts set to “open” instead of “private,” as it can show employers that you know how to use these tools and are up-to-date on topics in your industry.

Have a Professional Email
This may seem like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at how many students’ email addresses are unprofessional. While, was a great account for you back in the junior high days, as a young college professional it’s unacceptable. Whether you use your university email address or one of your own, make sure it clearly states some version of your first and last name (, is a great example).  Your email address not only makes an impression, but also shows potential PR employers that you want to be taken seriously in the industry. For more email tips, check out the Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog.

For additional resources, check out the article in PR Daily here.

Follow Megan Yoder on Twitter @MeganKYoder

Opportunities in Disguise

By: Erica Sturwold
UI PRSSA President

You need to jump.  No, you need to leap. Yes, leap, at any, and every, internship opening that presents itself on your path through college.  Experience, even if unrelated, uninteresting and unpaid, is still experience; even when a prospect seems to have very little to do with your desired field, it doesn’t mean it should be ruled out.

If your chosen path is in public relations and something like an opportunity to do design work for a university magazine may not seem to have much relevance, does that mean you turn it down? The answer is definitely, “no”.

In the past I’ve sold advertising for two different radio stations, and though I was apprehensive to be involved in sales (for fear I did not possess the skills to smooth-talk), I found the jobs were nothing short of confidence and character builders. Not to mention, they were actually more about listening, than speaking.  When I bring up these experiences in interviews, I find employers are pleasantly surprised with my willingness to work a job where rejection is around every corner and perseverance is key—this somehow has a way of proving my work ethic.

These types of experiences are the ones that set you apart, and, more importantly, mold you into your own brand. Though your past jobs and internships may not all have been for major marketing agencies and professional event planning firms, the other portion, made up of somewhat out-of-the-ordinary experiences, is a very important piece of your background—what makes you “well-rounded” and “cultured”.

Though I can gladly say I have now had two very multidimensional strategic-communication internships, I know I got there by my ability to be open for whatever comes my way. Before these, and aside from the radio stations, I have written for a magazine, done publication design work, organized and programmed an entire office’s files and recently wrote for and edited a summer newsletter.

One good thing to keep in mind is that while certain positions you pick up may not be exactly what you want to be doing now, they can lead you to something, or someone, who can take you where you want to go.

A simple trick I have learned to find new opportunities is to take the initiative to be friendlier with teachers, and more importantly, internship advisors.  These are the people who, if they know you, will set aside prospects they know you will be perfect for you when those prospects come along.

Aside from this, open every email, read every University posting and keep your eyes peeled for any job-opening posters in your class buildings—even if the extra work feels hard to squeeze in your schedule, it usually has a way of fitting itself in and paying off big time in the long run.

Maybe the chance to lead freshmen on tours around campus is what you consider to be a resume-filler, but, to right employer it could prove both your leadership abilities, and, your inclination to leap into any possible role.

Lava Row Revamps Social Media

Adam Gromotka,
PRSSA Focus Writer

Lava Row is a company that shares digital and social media expertise with corporations and small businesses looking to expand their reach through today’s technology. The Des Moines based firm offers consulting, training, and education, as well as strategy planning to its clients. At the PRSSA chapter meeting on September 26, founder of Lava Row, Nathan T. Wright, stopped by to share two examples of how his company used (and is using) social media and outside-the-box thinking to promote Veridian Credit Union.

Before founding Lava Row, Wright became a global phenomenon as the man who sold his soul on eBay. The glass jar,originally a prank, drew attention from news sources around the world before selling for $46. More importantly, as Wright explained, it opened his eyes to the power of social technology and the internet to spread messages, even as early as 2002.

The first case study Wright discussed was a campaign for a new Veridian Credit Union branch in Corralville. Veridian sought to enter the marketplace with a bang.

“They wanted to enter with a big splash, and there were two strong competitors there with big footprints, and who had a lot of loyalty there as well,” said Wright. The plan was to use social media to leverage Veridian above its competition. The concept began with the introduction of the “Surprise Squad,” in Corralville. Anonymity was the name of the game, as a group of disguised Veridian branch members went around Corralville, doing good deeds for what seemed to be no reason.

“They would pay for your gas, they would sort of ‘ambush you,’ right? And do something nice for you,” said Wright. Another company had tried this, but according to Wright, did not use technology to properly document its efforts. Every Surprise Squad deed had a media component – being YouTube videos, tweets, Facebook posts or blogging, to prolong the reach of each deed. Public awareness was also made with leave-behind pamphlets and direct mailing as well.

“People just naturally come in if they’ve been surprised, and they tag themselves in their photos. That really extends the reach…the deed took place, but then it had this afterlife online,” said Wright. Within a month, the “Surprise Squad” Facebook page jumped to 3,000 fans. Wright made it clear that multi-platform campaigns really are where companies are going.

The second effort analyzed again involves Veridian Credit Union. This new campaign invokes participation from University of Northern Iowa students in a challenge based “quest” leading up to a grand prize. This campaign makes use of media outlets like Twitter and YouTube, as well as real-world touch points-requiring students to stop in to the UNI Veridian branch. The quest culminates in a massive real-life scavenger hunt around the time of the UNI homecoming game in late October.

Nathan finished his presentation by reminding students of the importance of social media, and how creative uses of such technology are a necessity to drive a business forward. It seems that the internet has the power to offer a creative mind any business venture it can imagine.

The Hunger Games: “The Whole World Will Be Watching”

By: Kristina Gonzalez

Yes, the whole world was watching. The Hunger Games’ opening weekend broke box office records, totaling to 155 million dollars. Internationally, it made a whopping 59.3 million dollars.

The Hunger Games ranked as the third best opening weekend, after The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It had the fifth best opening day in history, making 68 million dollars. And of course, beating out the Twilight series completely (though there’s hope for Breaking Dawn Part 2).

While the Hunger Games book series captivated readers, the record-breaking premiere is no coincidence. Lions Gate, who acquired the movie rights in 2009, spent 45 million dollars on marketing.

The strategy was simple: engage the fans. Lions Gate used creative methods to generate a following, including:

Tumblr— Lions Gate created a tumblr,, featuring The Capitol of Panem. The blog uses interactive and enticing articles on “citizens they follow” and different fashion designers who are quirky enough to almost replicate the Capitol fashions.

Interactive websites—Lions Gate used The Official Government of Panem, to put fans into the storyline. The site allows fans to register and become an official citizen of Panem.

Public Appearances—The leading actors and actresses traveled around the country for Q&A to help market the movie.

Sneak previews—With the trilogy featuring a strong female lead, they cleverly partnered with Pretty Little Liars, a TV show with a largely female audience, ages 12 to 34. Pretty Little Liars had their big finale, which revealed a major plot twist. During the finale, the Hunger Games was featured in every commercial break, and a trailer debuted during the episode.

Lions Gate also used social networks, such as Twitter and YouTube. The Hunger Games Twitter account has almost 400,000 followers.

Traditional public relations tactics were also used. Lions Gate passed out 80,000 posters, and the movies’ actors and actresses were featured in 50 magazines, billboards, and advertisements.

The mixture of “old school” marketing tactics with a creative, social media approach worked.  Americans everywhere are saying the movies’ catchphrase: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”