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.”

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

Spotlight: Inspire’s Regina Volk

By: Ellen Havey

With a knack for persuasion and great communication skills, Regina Volk is meant for public relations.

While working 25 hours a week driving a Cambus and participating in the University Dance Club, Volk is also the account executive for two Inspire Public Relations accounts.

Volk is currently the account executive for SureSteps and the Cambus 40 Year Reunion. She says the hardest part of being on two accounts is dividing up the time equally during meetings. The diversity between the two accounts provides challenges as well.

“SureSteps is raising PR for a new company and getting it off the ground, while the Cambus 40 year reunion is completely new and entails a lot of brainstorming and research,” Volk said.

Despite Volk’s dedication to her PR work, she didn’t always have a passion for the profession.

“I had an Internet marketing internship prior to college, but once I got here I realized I didn’t have a connection with the business school. I decided to focus on a strength I already had – communication,” she said.

Volk continues to grow her experience in PR outside of Inspire as well.  Her dad is running for the Iowa State Senate, and she is serving as the Communications Director and Public Relations Specialist for his campaign.

Volk has been a PRSSA member since August of 2011 and is currently a junior studying Communication Studies with a minor in English. She enjoys the hands-on practice she receives from PRSSA and Inspire.

Volk also stressed the importance of getting involved to gain real experience. She encouraged students to be ambitious and to jump into any activity possible in the PR field.

“It’s all about getting the experience that helps you jump up the ladder of publics relations,” she said.

Volk’s advice for other students pursuing PR is to get over the fear of meeting new people. If you feel comfortable, so will your client.

Selling Summer Movies

By Sarah Larson

Superheroes and irreverent comedies seem to be dominating the multiplex this summer. Every weekend a major film is released with hopes of box office success. As a cinema major interested in public relations, I wondered what these films do to stand out against the competition. Here is what I found…

Films are marketed by what are known as distribution companies. These companies distribute the film to theaters and also dispense marketing materials to advertise the film.

A big part of a firm’s marketing occurs when the company identifies the genre. This genre will determine how the film is packaged when appealing to various audiences. You wouldn’t want to go see The Expendables 2 expecting a romantic comedy and likewise this would not be a profitable tool for the company. This is not to say that some films don’t play on this notion of genre for comedic gains. The restricted trailer for Ted, an upcoming comedy about a foul-mouthed teddy bear, began by making fun of romantic comedies.

In a season full of sequels and long running franchises, it can be hard to make a new film stand out. The Avengers owes a lot of its success to the origin story films of some of its main characters. Likewise The Dark Knight Rises is a highly anticipated film and the end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. So how does a movie stand out against all these superhero juggernauts?

Great trailers. Trailers are the reasons people decide to go to a particular film over another. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had an amazing trailer that Hollywood buzzed about and likewise grossed close to $233 million worldwide according to

Here are two films I’m looking forward to seeing this summer because of stand out trailers. Note the different devices companies use to differentiate between genres. For example, the science fiction film Prometheus uses dramatic music and quick cuts of alien planets to draw viewers while the That’s My Boy comedy shows quick clips of partying and funny scenes.

As you can see, when trying to sell a product that costs millions to make, every detail of its marketing plan is going to be thought out. This is the case for films in an extremely high stakes industry.

Readability: Deliver a Clearer Message


Readability Statistics for this Post

By Ricky Brandt

In the public relations industry, we’re always trying to target our message—which necessarily implies that some messages will be written with complex wording, while others will have a very laid back feel.  Sometimes our writing requires the use of sophisticated vocabulary, while others should be as simple as possible.  In 1948, Rudolph Flesch developed the Flesch Reading Ease Scale, which made it possible for writers to take an objective look at their writing and judge its complexity.  The U.S. Navy has been using it since 1975 to deliver clearer written commands.  Further research created the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Scale, which allows writers to see the grade level that corresponds with their Reading Ease score.  Today, these scales have even been integrated into Microsoft Word, which is why I am only focusing on these measures as opposed to other readability tests.  These measurement systems can be invaluable to PR professionals, but, like all things, they have their flaws.


The Math Behind Readability

While we could brainstorm a number of objective measures related to words or sentence structure, when it comes to readability, less is more.  Instead of laboriously calculating a number of statistics, Flesch only measures the average sentence length (ASL) and average number of syllables per word (ASW).  The formula will give you a score from 0 to 100.  One hundred is considered to be very easy, while zero is very complex.  Anything from 60-70 is written in “plain English.”  Most college students are expected to read below 40.


Making Readability Work For You

Measuring readability is not a replacement for abiding to important writing conventions.  Therefore, you should only use it in combination with your other proof reading tactics, for feedback, and to track your progress.  For example, the Flesch scale can be a great way to measure if your writing is getting way over the head of your intended audience, or is coming off more simplistic than you intended.  Imagine writing a business letter that scored 26, or a Facebook description that scored an 83!  No one would take you seriously because your writing would not be appropriate to the medium.  Facebook posts should be easier to understand than business letters, because they are read differently.  Additionally, using readability scores to measure your writing will show your improvement over time and give you the confidence you need in order to write.   

The Pitfalls of Readability


At its core, readability measurements are exactly what they sound like: measures of how readable your content is.  It cannot tell you anything about your content.  For example, the sentence “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” will score the exact same as the sentence “the dog brown lazy jumped fox over the quick“.  Further, you could score an easy 80, which would be understood by an average 11 year-old, while your paper discusses the intricacies of nuclear physics- it just depends on the words you used. In short, readability is not a replacement for proofreading. Like most things in life, the system can be beaten. But despite these shortcomings, readability tests can still improve the effectiveness of your writing. 


 Follow Ricky Brandt on Twitter- @RickBrandt18

7 Reasons a Journalism Major Will Make You Successful in PR

By Colleen Kennedy

When I started college, I knew journalism was the major for me – I wanted to work at a newspaper. However, after taking one of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s public relations courses, I quickly changed my career path.

Since then, I’ve often debated the pros and cons of being a journalism major with students who attend universities that offer a public relations major. When they talked about their various PR courses, I was jealous. But now, four years later, I’m happy for the solid foundation my journalism major gave me as I embark on my post-grad internship at a public relations agency.

Here are 7 ways being a journalist has benefited me as a young PR professional:

Writing concisely and factually—When reporters read media pitches, they want the facts written in an interesting, yet factual way. A background in journalism teaches you how to place important and compelling information in your lead. Additionally, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter—and they don’t want to read lengthy pieces.

Learning how to edit copy and use AP Style—Employers constantly discuss how many candidates’ resumes are not given a second look due to typos or grammatical errors. The same is true for public relations writing: Why would a customer trust your company or brand when your writing has errors? Also, being familiar with AP Style will help you write press releases that reporters want to use.

•  Knowing the importance of accuracy and ethics—During my reporting classes, we learned the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. With public relations scandals hitting the news frequently, defining the ethics of PR is an important issue facing the industry. Thanks to a familiarity with journalism ethics and media law, you will be one step ahead of your peers.

Being observant and knowing what makes a good story—Good journalists know the elements of a compelling story. This skill will help in public relations, because your media pitches and your news releases must be compelling. Being observant and able to gather facts to make a good story will help you write on topics that will interest reporters.

Learning how the media operates and what reporters’ needs are—After taking several journalism classes, I decided to spend a summer working at a newspaper, The Daily Iowan. While working in the newsroom, I learned the process of generating story ideas, and what information reporters need before agreeing to write a story. Now, as a PR professional, I can use my understanding of the reporting process to pitch to reporters effectively. I know that reporters need sources and are looking for different, creative stories.

Gaining the habit of reading global, national and local news—In my first SJMC class, Reporting and Writing, we had weekly quizzes on the New York Times and our local newspaper, The Daily Iowan. After the quizzes, I quickly got into the habit of reading both news outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal. If you work in public relations, knowing what news is happening – and how you can use the news to help your client or company – is essential.

Writing in different formats and styles—In public relations, you can go from pitching media to writing a white paper to creating a media kit. Your writing must be adaptable.  First semester of my senior year, I took a course about blogging. I’ve also taken classes on reporting, writing for PR, and many others. The variety has helped strengthen my writing and made it adaptable – a skill that will help me greatly when I write for different clients at a PR agency.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

Seem Smarter on an Interview

By Alex Zaprdusky, PRSSA Communications Director

Ragan’s PR Daily recently posted a blog about the top ten tips for landing a dream PR job.  That list can be found here:  I agree with all of the items on that list, follow them.

The items Ragan’s PR Daily prescribed inspired me to create a list of: “Colloquialisms and Commonly Mispronounced Words to Avoid to Seem Smarter at an Interview!*” 

  •  Anyways: Drop the S!  “Anyways” is an incorrect Midwestern colloquialism.
  • Supposably/Supposively: Neither of those are words.  If you want to refer to something that is generally assumed, the word is supposedly (with a D).
  • Can-uh-date: If you are competing for a position you want to tell your employer that you are the best Can-da-date (candidate) for the job.
  • Ath-a-leet: If you plan to work in the sports industry, you are promoting ath-leets (athletes).
  • Off-ten: If something happens frequently, it happens “off-en” (often).

*Some of these were incorporated from: