Feb 18 2015

5 Ways to Survive Your First Year as a PR Pro

Published by under Public Relations

By Alyssa Bedrosian

Graduating from college and diving headfirst into the world of public relations can be scary. No matter how many internships you had or how great your professors were, you will never be fully prepared for your first full-time position at an agency or an in-house communications department. Managing client relationships, mastering the pitch, and working effectively in a team are skills that you learn on the job – not in a classroom.

However, there are some concrete ways you can prepare for your first year in PR. As a young professional myself, I’ve learned how to navigate the industry and come out successful, even when that meant getting a few bumps and bruises along the way. Here are some of my tips for those entering the field:

Write as much as you can

No matter how the industry evolves, writing will always be at the center of what we do. In your first year, jump on every opportunity you can to write. If you have some down time, volunteer to write a post for your organization’s blog. If the account lead asks if you have time to write a pitch, make time. When you’re not at work, write on your own – journal entries, song lyrics, personal blog posts, etc. When it comes to writing, practice really does help make perfect.

Remain a student

The key to life after college is continuous learning. Take some time to read books by industry leaders and attend webinars or other conferences. PR is an ever-changing industry, and we need to read, learn and engage as much as we can in order to keep up. Even if your focus is media relations, spend time learning the ins and outs of advertising and digital marketing—all areas of communications are becoming more and more integrated, so your expertise should not be limited to just one area.

In addition, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Many senior team members would be happy to guide you and serve as a mentor during your first year.

Learn to prioritize

Most PR professionals bounce back and forth between multiple projects on tight deadlines, and knowing what to work on and when can be a tough lesson to learn. During your first year, it’s important to identify which projects need to be completed ASAP and which projects can wait until tomorrow. If you struggle with time management, talk to your supervisor to get some tips and tricks on how to prioritize your work and better manage your time. 

Welcome constructive criticism

As much as we dislike hearing negative feedback, constructive criticism is key to growth. Instead of dwelling on your shortcomings, view your mistakes as learning opportunities. This can be hard (and humbling) to do, but it’s key to success in this industry. Ask your senior team members for feedback and make sure they know that you want and respect their opinions.

Take risks

Throughout my career, there have been many times when I played it too conservative or cautious. While it’s especially critical to ask questions and look for feedback early in your career, it’s also important to be confident in your ability and be willing to take risks. Share your out-of-the-box ideas, take charge (within reason) on the projects you’re working on, and don’t be afraid to set BIG goals. Demonstrating confidence and taking initiative will help you grow in the first few years.

Your first year in the industry will be challenging. It will take time to feel completely comfortable speaking with reporters, sharing your ideas in a brainstorming session, and approaching your boss when something goes wrong. However, if you take into consideration the tips I’ve outlined above, you will be on your way to a long, successful career in PR. Enjoy the ride!

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Feb 13 2015

3 Valentine’s Day Campaigns Spread The Love This Season

By Marina Panagopulos

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, companies are finding unique ways to spread the love. Whether it’s through fun in-store challenges or more serious matchmaking efforts, brands are successfully (and sometimes not so successfully) getting in the Valentine’s Day spirit.

Here’s a review of three impressive campaigns that are bound to spark conversation this year:

World’s Largest #StarbucksDate

Starbucks and Match.com are pairing up on Feb. 13 to host what is expected to be the “world’s largest Starbucks date.” Single Match users will get access to a special “Meet at Starbucks” feature to send out invites and arrange first dates. Starbucks will offer $5 pairings of coffee and bakery treats for two.

What is most remarkable about the upcoming #StarbucksDate is the focus it places on customer experience. Starbucks acts as a Cupid character, promoting its coffee shops as places where lasting memories can be made. Through emotional branding, Starbucks simultaneously forms close bonds with its customers, as well as between its customers.

Pay With Lovin’ at McDonald’s

This Valentine’s Day, McDonald’s will be accepting a new form of payment: love. From Feb. 2-14, the fast-food chain will nominate customers to perform a “random act of lovin’” as payment for their meal. So far, customers have shown their spirit through dancing, hugging and a spontaneous “I love you” to family members.

Although the campaign has potential to create awkward scenarios for McDonald’s customers, the feel-good intentions make it unique to any other brand’s Valentine’s Day promotions. McDonald’s has posted videos of customers’ candid reactions online, showing that random acts of kindness can brighten anyone’s day.

Dunkin’ Donuts Getaway

Many of us are familiar with Dunkin’ Donuts’ seasonal menus, which include pumpkin spice lattes in October, and red and green sprinkled doughnuts during the Christmas season. This year, alongside its heart-shaped pastries, Dunkin’ Donuts is celebrating Valentine’s Day with an exciting social media promotion. From Feb. 11-13, Dunkin’ asks followers to tweet at a loved one using the hashtags #DDHearts and #Sweeps. On Feb. 13, 10 people will receive $100 gifts and have their personal tweet turned into a “donut dedication” video with the name of their sweetheart personalized on a heart-shaped donut. The best part: one lucky participant will win a trip for two on JetBlue.

With close to one million followers on Twitter, Dunkin’ Donuts’ social media presence is impressive. The company takes advantage of unique hashtags as a way to encourage customer engagement and the sharing of user-generated content. It will be interesting to see how Dunkin’ fans engage with this year’s Valentine’s Day promotion.

More and more brands are using holidays as a way to connect and engage with their target audiences in quirky, heartwarming ways. Whether your Valentine’s Day plans involve a romantic dinner for two or a casual trip to the movies with friends, these brands want to be a part of your day, and I for one am looking forward to feeling the love.


Photo courtesy of FieryDragonLord’s Flickr photostream.

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Feb 06 2015

New Client Spotlight: Unity FI Solutions

By Adam Bowers

RLF has extensive experience designing eye-catching websites and creating compelling content to populate them. We recently partnered with Unity FI Solutions to redesign its website, which launched earlier this year.

Unity FI Solutions is a Charlotte, North Carolina-based provider of electronic payment solutions to financial institutions and other corporate clients. Within the industry, Unity FI Solutions is well known for its ability to tailor solutions to meet very specific and complex client needs. This client-centric approach reflects RLF’s own commitment to service and has made for a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

Now that Unity FI Solutions’ new website is live, we will continue our partnership by providing media relations support, advertising and other external marketing efforts. Unity FI Solutions is truly innovative in both its products and service, and we look forward to helping it meet its business goals through strategic communications in the coming year.

Please feel free to take a moment to explore Unity FI Solutions’ new website.

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Feb 04 2015

Super Bowl Ads Draw on Our Emotions

Published by under Advertising,Branding

While several of this year’s Super Bowl ads tended to the more serious or focused on generating a laugh, there were also several that seemed designed to draw on our sentimentality and emotions, such as Nissan’s “With Dad” commercial.

In our final review of the best 2015 Super Bowl commercials, we will focus on these more heartwarming, and often tear-evoking, ads.

Steffany Reeve, director of consumer & lifestyle brands

Favorite commercial: “Real Strength” by Dove

Thoughts: This emotional and very touching ad showcased the caring sides of dads spending quality time with their kids during pivotal moments in their lives. Not only did this ad tug at my heart strings, but it also made my husband’s eyes get a little teary and even motivated him to reach out to our three-and-a-half-year-old son Benjamin and give him a big hug. Dove first won me over with its well–branded “Real Women” campaign, and this new campaign for men is a fitting, natural extension of the brand. When so much of the news lately has featured negative stories about “supposedly strong” celebrity male athletes caught beating their girlfriends, cheating, doping, and deflating balls, it’s important and refreshing to have campaigns like this one to help remind us all to celebrate the “true strong” men in our lives who do care, who try to be good, and who are wonderful dads.

Marina Panagopulos, intern

Favorite commercial: “Lost Dog” by Budweiser

Thoughts: Budweiser certainly knew how to tug on America’s heart strings in its recent Super Bowl commercial. This is the brand’s second advertisement starring the “Budweiser puppy” and spotlights the concept that a dog is a man’s (and apparently a horse’s) best friend with the trending hashtag #BestBuds. I thought the ad did a great job taking a simple idea and running with it. The storyline is incredibly heartwarming, which makes the audience feel closer to the brand. Budweiser reminds us all that the cuteness factor can never get old.

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Feb 03 2015

Super Bowl Ads Continue to Generate Laughs

Published by under Advertising,Branding

While many of this year’s Super Bowl ads seemed to take a much more serious tone, there were also several lighthearted commercials in the bunch. Here is a look at some of our favorite of the funny.

David French, vice president, client strategy & service

Favorite commercial: Brady Bunch “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” by Snickers

Thoughts: Snickers still satisfies with “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” Anyone who’s a Brady Bunch fan will remember the Marcia-gets-hit-in-the-nose episode, but a Son of Anarchy is totally over the top! And Steve Buscemi giving us poor, middle child Jan was priceless.

Michelle Rash, vice president, financial & professional services brands

Favorite commercial: “First Draft Ever” by Avocados from Mexico

Thoughts: There were 15 first-time advertisers in the 2015 Super Bowl, including Avocados from Mexico, an organization promoting the sale of – you guessed it – avocados from Mexico. The ad depicts countries having a draft about 4 billion years ago to see where the various plants and animals would live. Despite the polar bear’s best hopes, Mexico chooses the avocado as its first pick.

I thought this ad was creative and applied some out-of-the-box thinking to something that most of us don’t give a lot of thought to – where our avocados come from. It was also very entertaining to see the animals react to where they were assigned. But I think the reason I most liked this ad was because it is from an organization that you don’t typically expect to see advertising in the Super Bowl and it really showed a big (and costly – an estimated $4.5 million for a 30 second ad) leap of faith for Avocados from Mexico to use this platform to reach its audience. While not an avocado fan myself, I hope they reap the rewards of taking this risk.

Carolyn Kuzmin, intern

Favorite commercial: “The Perfect Getaway” by Kia

Thoughts: Car commercials are often unmemorable and overdone with excessive speed and stunts. This one, though, takes on a new approach to poke fun at this excess. It is a spoof, not only of action movies, but also of the typical over-the-top Super Bowl commercial. I thought it was a fun and different idea that brought a dose of reality to contrast Kia’s past outlandish hamster commercials. It also didn’t hurt to have Pierce Brosnan as the commercial’s celebrity face!

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Feb 02 2015

2015 Super Bowl Commercials Take a More Serious Tone

Published by under Advertising,Branding

Super Bowl ads have historically been funny and clever, focused more on selling beer, junk food and cars than creating serious dialogue about societal issues. However, many of this year’s Super Bowl ads varied from that course and instead focused on a wide range of serious issues, starting with a highly controversial commercial by Nationwide looking at accidental deaths among children, and also including ads discussing cyberbullying, domestic violence and gender stereotypes.

Tomorrow we will look at some of the more humorous ads from this year’s Super Bowl, but today a few RLF employees will share their insights into some of the more serious ads from yesterday’s big game.

Jennie Klahre, senior communications manager

Favorite commercial: PSA for domestic violence by NoMore.org

Thoughts: Apparently gone are the days of watching cute polar bears frolic through the snow and talking M&M’s embark on hilarious adventures. The spots this year were much more serious, broaching sensitive topics.

For me, the most chilling ad was NoMore.org’s PSA for domestic violence. It took me a few moments to catch on that the woman calling 911 was placing a fake pizza order because she couldn’t explain her real reason for distress. By the end of the commercial, I was in awe of the extremely effective and well-executed spot. The images alone were enough to turn my stomach.

Although I suspect one of the main reasons the NFL backed this ad has to do with recent domestic violence accusations against numerous players and the crisis that has created for the league, I still praise the commercial itself. If nothing else, it’s a conversation starter. And one that definitely needs to be had.

Alyssa Bedrosian, communications manager

Favorite commercial: #LikeAGirl by Always

Thoughts: This year’s Super Bowl ads were all about tugging on our heartstrings, and the Always #LikeAGirl ad was one that topped the list for me. In the ad, a producer asked men and women to do various activities “like a girl.” The adults responded by running or fighting in ways that demonstrate the often-insulting stereotypes associated with the phrase “like a girl.” However, when young girls were asked the same questions, their responses were completely void of the negative connotations associated with the phrase; for example, when a young girl was asked to run like a girl, she ran as fast as she could. The ad went on to say that girls’ confidence plummets during puberty, and invited viewers to make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things.

I was watching the Super Bowl with 10 other people, both men and women, and everyone fell silent during this commercial. The ad was so powerful because it highlighted a stereotype that everyone can relate to, using a phrase that most of us have heard and/or used in our lifetime. The ad was also extremely relevant, coming at a time when many high-profile feminists have been speaking out for gender equality (think Emma Watson and Taylor Swift). Always also took full advantage of social media throughout the Super Bowl, retweeting and responding to Julianne Hough, Sara Bareilles, Demi Lovato and a slew of female celebrities who expressed their support on Twitter. While the ad stirred up some controversy (as most equality issues do), I think the brand did a great job of reaching its target audience by using an inspiring, memorable ad to take a strong stance on an issue that is near and dear to its consumers.

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Jan 28 2015

Spring Intern Spotlight: Erica Martin

Published by under RLF news,RLF Spotlight

While most of RLF’s interns join our team for one semester, some are extended an offer to stay with us for another term as a part-time communications specialist. We are committed to recognizing and rewarding top talent with this opportunity to further students’ learning experiences and hone their skills.

In addition, when we hire entry-level employees, we often look to our intern pool. Students who are engaged and hard working, with the ability to juggle multiple projects at the same time, are among the ones who stand out as strong full-time candidates.

Our final spring intern spotlight is on Erica.

Erica Martin

I am a senior at Elon University majoring in marketing with a minor in communications. I am from the small beach town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I enjoy spending time near the ocean, but I also love big cities. I spent the past two summers interning in New York City where I learned the ins and outs of two PR/marketing jobs. My hobbies involve doing anything outdoors – particularly running and skiing.

What is something new you have recently tried or experienced?

I have recently tried watching scary movies. I find them thrilling and spontaneous. However, I am a very jumpy person and get startled easily, so I am usually the one who screams during the movie.

Do you have any hidden talents?

My friends and close family members think I am good at voice impersonations. I sometimes quote movies or YouTube videos for a good laugh.

What food could you eat everyday and never get sick of?

I could probably eat tacos every day. I am a big fan of spicy foods and I tend to order tacos almost every time I see them on a menu. There is a taco truck in my town that I usually track down for lunch when I am home.

Tell us two things most people don’t know about you.

When I was little, my dream job was to be an archeologist. I really liked watching archeological movies in science class. I also used to bury my toys at the beach and pretend I was uncovering them for the first time.

I am also really frightened by thunderstorms and it is embarrassing to be around me if it starts to storm. I refuse to go outside even if the storm is still really far away.

What is your favorite thing about living in North Carolina?

My favorite thing about North Carolina is the weather. It stays warm during the fall and gets even warmer in the spring. I like how there are still seasons – without the drastically cold temperatures that Delaware has. It’s great to occasionally have 60 degree weather in January!

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Jan 26 2015

Spring Intern Spotlight: Marina Panagopulos

Published by under RLF news,RLF Spotlight

At RLF, a large part of our culture revolves around our open door policy. Not only does it foster teamwork and collaboration, but it gives our interns a great opportunity to learn from our senior team.

If interns are curious about the process for developing a billboard ad, they can head over to our creative director’s office. Or if they want to hear all about B2B communications, they can pick the brain of our director of financial & professional services brands. We always strive to be welcoming and open to any questions our interns may have.

Today, our spring intern spotlight is on Marina.

Marina Panagopulos

I’m a senior at Elon University majoring in strategic communications with a minor in professional sales. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is right outside of New York City. I love to travel and hope to soon venture back to Florence where I studied abroad last year. After graduating this May, I hope to pursue a career in marketing, advertising or PR.

What is something new you have recently tried or experienced?

Last month I tried artichoke pizza from Artichoke Basille’s Pizza in New York City. It’s essentially spinach artichoke dip baked inside a pizza. The line of customers wrapping around the city block is proof of its deliciousness.

Do you have any hidden talents?

This isn’t much of a hidden talent, but I’m a pretty strategic bargain shopper. I somehow always find amazing stuff at TJ Maxx and Marshalls, either for my closet or home.

What food could you eat everyday and never get sick of?

Brie cheese. It’s been my favorite food for as long as I can remember. This includes, but is not limited to, baked brie, brie grilled cheese, brie and baguette, etc. I think brie could go with any kind of food and still taste amazing. My mom is from the south of France and got me hooked when we bought some from a small farmer’s market in my grandparents’ village. Since then, my love for brie has become so well-known that my college friends stuck a candle in a block of it and served it as my 21st birthday cake this past year.

Tell us two things most people don’t know about you.

I’m terrified of the ocean. Large bodies of water where I can’t see the bottom scare me more than finding a tarantula in my bed would. When I go to the beach, I’ll dip my toes in, and if I’m really feeling adventurous, I’ll go in up to my waist (and that’s on a good day).

I’m also half-French, half-Greek – making me a “Freak.”

What is your favorite thing about living in North Carolina?

Southern hospitality and the North Carolina State Fair. I’m from the North and it happens to lack both of these things. I love that people are friendly and wave at you even if you’ve never seen them before in your life. There’s a very positive vibe down here that I find to be contagious. In regards to the State Fair, my friends and I made the last-minute decision to check it out one Sunday afternoon in the fall and we had a blast. In fact, my one regret is not having heard about it sooner. Never in my life had I seen such a variety of fried foods – and I’m not ashamed to say that I loved every minute of my fried pickles and funnel cake.

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Jan 22 2015

Spring Intern Spotlight: Carolyn Kuzmin

Published by under RLF news,RLF Spotlight

One of the goals of RLF’s internship program is to offer students unique opportunities that are beneficial to their professional development. Since networking can be a great asset to young professionals, we recently developed a new program called “Mentoring with Monty.”

During each semester, our interns get the chance to have a one-on-one lunch with RLF’s CEO Monty Hagler and pick his brain about anything from current industry trends to skills valued by employers. Building connections and learning from seasoned professionals can help students tremendously as they begin their job search.

This spring, we are welcoming back former intern Amanda Limoges as a communications specialist, and introducing three new interns to the team: Carolyn Kuzmin, Marina Panagopulos and Erica Martin.

Let’s first meet Carolyn.

Carolyn Kuzmin

I am a senior marketing major and communications minor at Elon University. I am originally from a small town in Connecticut where I have lived the majority of my life. After I graduate in May, I hope to work for an integrated marketing communications agency, although my desired location is still TBD. In my free time I enjoy spending time with friends, riding horses and trying new things!

What is something new you have recently tried or experienced?

Elon offers winter term classes during January where students take one class every day for three weeks. It’s a great opportunity to explore something new, so I am currently taking “Dance in Worship.” I have no prior experience dancing, especially in a religious setting, so this has been totally outside my comfort zone. The class has focused on the history of dance in worship and the way it is used today. We dance every day and even have to choreograph some of our own dances. It has been a really interesting and eye-opening experience!

Do you have any hidden talents?

Although not hidden to those who know me well, I have been competitively horseback riding since I was six years old. I basically grew up in the barn around horses, and I have continued my passion into college where I am the captain of Elon’s equestrian team.

What food could you eat everyday and never get sick of?

I could eat breakfast sandwiches for almost every meal. There is something so satisfying to me about a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel.

Tell us two things most people don’t know about you.

Most people don’t know that I played the clarinet through my senior year in high school. I was in my high school’s wind ensemble, state honor bands and I took private lessons for a while. The few friends that do know about this like to tease me about my “band geek” days.

Most people also don’t know that I hate soup. I always have and I’m not sure why. Even when my mom makes homemade chicken noodle soup, I refuse to eat it. I always have to remind her that it’s not personal!

What is your favorite thing about living in North Carolina?

My favorite thing about living in North Carolina is probably the people. Coming from Connecticut and previously interning in New York City have made me appreciate the friendliness and welcoming attitudes most southerners have. Southern hospitality is not a myth!

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Jan 12 2015

Fewer Numbers, Bigger Goals

By Monty Hagler

We’re two weeks into 2015, and I’m proud to say I’m right on track with my New Year’s resolutions. Cynics might say it’s because I set them too low, but I have a different point of view. Rather than focusing on daily numbers and measurements, I’ve instead decided to concentrate on the ultimate objectives. Fewer numbers, yet bigger goals.

In my personal life, I’m not going to chart my weight, count my calories or clock my times in the pool this year. My goal is to be fitter, leaner and healthier. A dual-edged strategy should get me there – work out with more intensity and more often, and eat less and more infrequently.

I carried that approach over to setting my 2015 goals for RLF Communications. For the first time since joining the agency world nearly 20 years ago (with five years of experience in corporate America prior to that), I did not set a top-line or bottom-line growth number. I didn’t plan out a budget, neatly divided into four quarters, or set revenue predictions for clients who may still be unknown.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe this will be the biggest and best year in RLF’s still relatively young life. But I’m going to measure success by assessing how we did on metrics that are often hard to define. To that end, we’ll:

  • Generate ideas and strategies that amaze our clients and energize our team
  • Build partnerships with clients that expand into friendships
  • Grow a smart, engaged team of individuals who could have gone many other places, but believe in what we are building together
  • Laugh a lot and celebrate milestones with our clients and team

In the end, I know it will be numbers and metrics that define success. Our efforts will help our clients make their sales and financial goals. Our team members will have more opportunities to do exciting work, learn new skills and grow professionally. Our partners who support us with legal, accounting and other services will prosper from their relationship with RLF.

I think 2015 will be a big and exciting year for RLF and for our clients. I plan to take advantage of every opportunity I can, both personally and professionally. But I’m going to enjoy not calculating revenue – or counting calories – on an obsessive basis.


Photo courtesy of Carol VanHook’s Flickr photostream.

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