2013 New Year’s Resolutions for PR Pros

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

By: Casey Schaak

Vollrath Associates is ringing in the New Year as any PR agency should – with some New Year’s resolutions. As we venture into 2013, having survived both the busy holiday season and the supposed Mayan apocalypse, it’s important to look ahead and set both personal goals and professional goals. Keep your career aspirations on track and improve your skills with these four PR resolutions for 2013:

Hone Your Writing Skills

Whether it’s informal employee newsletters, informative customer e-blasts or professional corporate releases, every PR pro knows the importance of developing content and tone to effectively reach the target audience. Don’t lose sight of your audience and don’t get caught up in the monotony of writing projects – develop fresh and unique angles to keep readers interested and informed.daily-writing

Most of us have areas that could be improved – writing style, grammar and spelling, proof reading, you name it! Now is the time to improve weak spots and enhance strengths. Make a list of goals to kick off 2013 as a writing wiz.

Wow with Social Media

Don’t let social media fall flat. Spice up posts with photos, videos, links, and relevant and interesting information that followers will want to see. It’s all about visuals, so start a Pinterest or Instagram account (if you haven’t already) to upload and share photos that will intrigue fans. Above all, keep followers engaged through questions, contests and polls. Social Media followers are your brand advocates – give them something to talk about!

Social Media Logotype Background

Keep Up with Networking

While PR pros are no stranger to networking events, it’s easy to fall into the comfort zone of talking with friends and co-workers instead of branching out. Make it a priority to meet new people when enjoying a lunch, dinner or presentation. Not only can you pick up some interesting tips for the trade, but you will enhance your own speaking skills and meet some interesting people along the way… and you never know when a new business or networking opportunity is around the corner.


Stay on Top of Industry Happenings

We all know the feeling of juggling multiple clients in completely different industries. It isn’t always easy to stack-newspapers-magazineskeep up with everything from food and beverages to technology, transportation, manufacturing and beyond. Kick-off the New Year by refreshing your reading list, daily newsletters and Google alerts. Make sure you have the right clients and the right industries covered – you’re subscribed to the appropriate industry trade magazines and newsletters, the correct daily and weekly papers for your areas and that your Google alerts cover both industry and client keywords. That way you’ll know exactly what is happening when.

With these PR resolutions in mind, along with any additional goals of your own, 2013 is sure to be a success!


Creating an Effective PowerPoint Presentation

October 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By: Casey Schaak

PowerPoint has become a staple in the presentation world. PowerPoints are easy to create, update and transport. Not to mention they can be found on almost every computer. But with the regularity of use of these computer-based slides, it’s easy to fall into bad habits and thus, create a less-than-ideal presentation.

Don’t fall into a PowerPoint slump – make the best of this extremely useful presentation tool by following these important content and design tips to keep your presentation clear and effective.


The most important part of a PowerPoint presentation is content. Follow the steps below to make sure you are presenting the right content in a concise way:

  1. Before deciding on the design of the PowerPoint, first define your objective and the key points you want to get across. Also, keep your audience in mind and remember that your presentation must be geared to them – their familiarity with the topic and what is of interest to them.
  2. Create an outline to ensure the messages are consistent and the structure of the presentation is solid.
  3. Limit the content. Follow the rule of six: six words per line and six lines per slide.
    −  Go through your information and narrow down the points so only the
    most important information is on the slides.
    −  Avoid using complete sentences on slides. Cut paragraphs down to
    sentences, sentences into phrases and phrases   into key words.
    −  You can fill in any details during your presentation, but every word you
    say should not also be on the slides.
  4. Keep wording clear and simple, use active visual language and cut any unnecessary words.


Slides are meant to support the speaker, but aren’t supposed to be the main focus of the presentation. When designing a presentation, avoid clutter and establish a professional and consistent layout. Follow the design tips below to create an effective look and feel for your PowerPoint presentation:

Basic Design

  • Create a clear and consistent theme and color scheme throughout the presentation by using a template within PowerPoint, creating your own or using a company template provided for this purpose.
  • Use high-contrast fonts and backgrounds to make text stand out.
  • Keep the background consistent. Complicated backgrounds make it difficult to read the text.
  • Avoid flashy, distracting animation or sound effects. The focus should be on the presenter, not animation on the screen.
    −  If text moves, keep it simple and consistent throughout the
    −  Avoid using movement transitions between slides, or keep it consistent.
  • Always practice your presentation on a large screen, one similar to what you will be presenting on, to make sure all fonts, graphs and images are clear.


  • Use a font that is big enough for the audience to easily read.
    −  Font should be 24-32 point size, with titles 36-44 point size.
  • At most, use only two fonts per slide. One for the title and one for the other text.
    −  Sans serif fonts (Arial or Helvetica) are generally easier to read than
    serif fonts (Times New Roman).
  • Don’t use too many different colors in the text – two or three at most.
  • Avoid all upper-case letters. Upper and lowercase letters are easier to read.
  • Use left or right text alignment – centered text is difficult to read.
  • Use bullets to present information clearly.

Graphics and Charts

  • Graphics should balance the slide, be easily understood and complement the text without overwhelming.
    −   Avoid using more than two graphics per slide.
  • Visuals, such as graphs, diagrams, photos and media clips, can be used to engage the audience in place of text. In this case, use only enough text to label the graphic.
  • Use the same style graphics throughout (cartoon, photographs, etc.).
  • Use clip art sparingly and if possible, avoid using PowerPoint clip art, as this is commonly used and the audience has most likely seen these images before.
  • Charts are a great tool to visually present information.
    −   Pie charts should be used to show percentages.
    −  Vertical bar charts should be used to show changes in quantity over
    −  Horizontal bar charts should be used to compare quantities.
    −  Line charts should be used to demonstrate trends.

Once you’ve established the content, designed the slides and finalized your PowerPoint, make sure to proof read your slides for potential errors and practice giving your presentation.

By following these tips, you are now ready to give an effective PowerPoint presentation – good luck!

Write a Better Feature Article

July 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Written By: Julie Caan

Writing a feature story is one thing, but writing a feature story that people will actually want to read is another.

Creating a great feature story isn’t easy; in fact, it’s really tough.

Every day, we’re entrusted with telling our clients’ stories through articles, blogs, newsletters and other communication. It can be easy to slip into bad writing habits when writing for a company’s internal audience: enter clichés, corporate-speak, abstract concepts and the like.

My fellow VA team member, Casey, and I recently attended a presentation about how to write stronger feature articles. The talk left Casey and I feeling inspired, refreshed and ready to write. Throughout the talk, we were reminded that it’s all about the little things when it comes to writing interesting feature copy.

Avoid Boring Writing:

This probably won’t come as a surprise to most, but corporate writing can be really boring. Next time you sit down to write think about WHY you’re writing, WHO you’re writing for and WHY they should care. I know this all sounds basic, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to forget about your audience and most importantly, the PEOPLE behind the story.

Think of it this way: you’re the messenger and what you’re writing (whether you think so or not) is important to someone, somewhere. Don’t abuse this privilege; make sure you’re writing something people can relate to and draw meaning from—and try to have a little fun along the way.

Next time you write a feature, keep these building blocks in mind:

Elements of a Great Feature Story:

1. Attention grabbing, non-newsy lead (take a step back and reflect on the news)
2. Color (pay attention to detail—inject life into your writing!)
3. Narrative writing style (set the scene)
4. Include point of view
5. People (human beings doing things to influence a story)

Now, I realize that not every feature story you write is going to be “dramatic” or even all that interesting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write a quality piece that will resonate with your audience.

The talk we attended also emphasized being specific, focusing on people and writing with clarity. How many times have you buried a complicated acronym in the lead, or used jargon your audience might not understand? Instead of describing a new initiative using obscure, abstract language, use specific words that will paint a picture in the readers’ minds. Rather than writing about a new policy or procedure, try SHOWING your audience the change using people and actions they can relate to.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway I learned from this presentation was the importance of using people to tell stories (after all, this is feature writing we’re talking about). It’s simple really. When you’re writing about people, make sure to inject all the qualities (when appropriate) that make them who they are into your story. For example, if you’re interviewing someone for a corporate profile, pay attention to what’s on his or her desk, photos or even that obscure collection of piggy banks hiding in the corner. This is the stuff your readers care about. Rather than resume-dumping right off the bat, why not try leading with some ‘color?’ Pay attention to detail. Humanize the piece.

To close, I’d like to share some general tips that apply to all types of writing:

• Set a timer for one hour and write without looking back (good old school tip that really works!)
• All great writing lies in great editing: it will take time to carve the perfect masterpiece
• Have fun with your writing!

Nobody’s a perfect writer and while some assignments may seem destined to be boring, it’s your job to turn them around. Cut to the heart of the story, create images and include PEOPLE. Set the scene for something your audience will want to read and something you will want to write!

What do you think goes into writing a great feature story? Any tips?

An Inside Look at the Vollrath Associates PR Approach

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Written By: Casey Schaak

When it comes to public relations, a reliable and successful process can go a long way. A good process helps us serve our clients to the best of our abilities while meeting their PR needs. Our approach combines our strengths and expertise into organized steps, allowing us to effectively tackle any project, from investor relations and public relations, to social media and marketing communications.

Our VA team not only brings years of experience and an array of individual talents to our clients, but an effective PR approach that works. Our four-step process starts with an initial evaluation, dives into planning and execution and wraps up with a review. Here’s an inside look at how our approach remains successful:

The Vollrath Approach

1.    EvaluateImage

Before we get too far, we first need to understand the ins and outs of our client’s current and past programs. We begin our process with evaluating communications programs and messaging. Through effective communication and audit research, we assess the brand messaging and define potential opportunities.

2.    Plan

After we have done our homework, we establish goals, objectives and target audiences. We find the right fit to successfully tell our client’s story and set realistic goals that will result in a measurable return on investment.

3.    Activate

Once we agree on a plan, we put it in motion and refine the details as needed. This is the point in the process when we use our expertise and proven abilities to tell the right story that resonates with the right audiences.

4.    Review

Now that our plan has been put into action, we monitor and evaluate the results. We measure the outcome against the goals and objectives to determine the next steps for ongoing, consistent communication.

While these four steps certainly don’t encompass every element of a PR plan and the work that goes into it, they give a condensed overview of our approach. The VA approach is built around our continuous commitment to helping our clients. We use our resources, experience and knowledge to build a plan that’s tailored to fit the needs and goals of our clients, and adjust as needed along the way. This is how we help our clients tell their story!

Learn more about The Vollrath Approach and check out the Vollrath Services.

What’s in a Name?

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written By Jessica Vollrath

Often we have the challenge – and the opportunity – to name something.  An unborn child, a new car, a pet or a recreational sports team.  In the marketing industry, we have numerous naming opportunities – a client’s blog, an ongoing e-newsletter, a theme for an annual report, an event, an HR video or simply headlines in a client’s guest article.  You might think it’s easy to think of a name – but what you don’t realize is the impact that name can have.  That name will become a brand.  And as a brand, it will resonate with customers and live not only on a page, but in people’s minds.  Therefore, before just throwing out any old name –it’s important to consider a few helpful tips to make sure that name has what it takes to become an effective brand.

Lately at VA, we have been busy creatively thinking of names for various projects.  When I am brainstorming different names, I think of the following:

  • What is the communication objective?  What purpose does it serve?  If it is a serious piece, such as an annual report, you want to develop a name that represents shareholder value, performance and a message for the future.  If you are naming a new blog from the CEO, you have more flexibility to be creative and out-of-the-box to reflect the CEO’s personality.
  •  Who is the target audience?  For example, if you are naming a monthly e-newsletter from the CEO, the purpose is to inform his/her associates about company news, fun facts, growth initiatives and HR-related matters.  For this product, a name should represent the personality of the CEO while still aligning with the company’s communication objectives.  The name can be creative and welcoming while still sharing important information.
  •  What is the context of the product?  Will this name live forever on a website or will it be changed every month, or year?  If you know this name will live for a longer period of time, you need to research potential trademark infringement, how it fits with the overall marketing strategy and objectives and how it fits with other communication vehicles under the same marketing umbrella.  If it is a name that could be changed every month, you need to be more general with the name – research ways it can still be changed while communicating the same message. 
  •  Appropriateness.  If you are naming a communication piece from the CEO, there’s a fine line between being creative and being appropriate.  You want the name to represent the CEO while also catering to associates in a suitable manner.  If you are creating headlines for a new website that is fun, sexy and intriguing – you have the ability to be dangerous but keep your ideas in line with the product – in other words, don’t push it.
  •  Have some fun.  Sometimes I am the most creative while driving in my car (even though I should be paying attention to the road) or on a long walk.  For my fellow colleagues in the communications industry, we all know creativity takes time.  If you think of the perfect name in five minutes – that is great, but most of us know it takes some deep thinking and lots of brainstorming.  This can also be fun – sometimes the names you least expect to work will come together to form your brand.

                In closing, I have to admit, naming can be a challenge.  It is a lot easier said than done.  I hope  some of these tips will help you with your naming duty.  Remember – your name will live on, so make sure it has the power to flourish and not be forgotten.

The WHO Has To Precede The WHAT

February 21, 2011 § Leave a comment


And I’m not talking about rock bands here.  What I am talking about is WHO do you want to receive your brand content, which has to precede the WHAT, or messages and tactics you choose to communicate with them.  I fear that so much of the discussion today centers on the tools in the toolbox, including social networking, rather than if the toolbox even contains precisely what we need for our public relations, marketing and lead development campaigns.

Who are Your Stakeholders?

The goal of campaigns must be based upon understanding and deepening relationships with one’s stakeholders.  To do this, one has to research and identify the lives of these stakeholders by interviewing them, and come up with profiles, or personas, of each..  We are already familiar with famous political personas as in Soccer Moms and Joe The Plumber.  And in president Obama’s State of the Union Address, the person in attendance who has cancer but cannot get treatment because his cancer is a pre-existing condition. These are not market or job descriptions, but rather descriptions of persons, or again, personas.

At Marquette University, where I teach part-time as an Instructor, our senior advertising and public relations campaigns all begin with profiling the personas of customers.  For example, a typical campaign approach begins with, “ Meet Lauren, an account executive for a Chicago public relations firm, whose day begins at 6:30 a.m. as she checks her competitors’ blogs and her client’s Facebook page…..,” then goes on to describe in detail, hour by hour,  the rest of Lauren’s day. Ad agencies do this routinely, and so should everyone else seeking solid results from their marketing content.

Meet Your Persona 

Wikipedia defines marketing personas as “fictional characters created to represent different  user  types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way…..they are a tool or method of market segmentation.”   It goes on to describe these personas as, “useful in considering the goals, desires and limitations of brand buyers and users in order to help guide decisions about a service, brand, product or interaction space….”   The Council of Public Relations Firms has issued a White Paper, Stakeholders 2.0, How to Build Better Social Media Campaigns (www.prfirms.org.), which describes consumer stakeholder personas based upon their online activity.  The White Paper cites Forrester’s Groundswell methodology which identifies seven distinct social media personas including “creators,” “critics,” “collectors,” “joiners, “ and “spectators.”

Personas profile real people, and what they do between when they get up and go back to bed. This includes what they do and who they meet with during the day, the problems and challenges they encounter and how they solve them, the leisure or recreational activities they perform and when, which movies they see and restaurants they choose, what turns them on or off, how they relate to friends and family and much more.  Do they vote on products they like or dislike, engage in causes or campaigns and connect regularly with others such as in Facebook or Foursquare, or in blogs? All of these are vital in shaping persona – based customer profiles.

Thinking and Acting like Them

By building personas, you begin to think and act like the people you are studying.. You will talk and write in their language and offer ideas they can relate to, like curiosity, security, relaxation, or having cake and eating it too.  And when you do this, you will improve the precision and efficiency of your message content. You will also create campaigns that resonate with and connect with real people who also are your customers.  If people see themselves in your products or services, you will greatly improve your ability to reach them with your marketing or brand messages, tactics and media (social and traditional), and achieve positive results at the bottom line.

Persona-based marketing can also be utilized to improve message content so vital in connecting with any other stakeholder–based group including employees, investors and shareholders, government officials, educators and the media, for example.  In every case, the WHAT will do what you want it to, only if it connects to, you guessed it, the WHO, which is YOU!

Latest AP Style guide is Open for Business

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment


The 2010 Associated Press Style guide is a must reading for business executives and their communication professionals.  I am referring especially to the new “Business Guidelines” section.  Far from providing just symbols and tips on word, sentence and punctuation usage, the new edition provides extensive counsel on: “Covering Corporate Earnings Reports” complete with conference calls and “wrap stories;”Bankruptcy;” “Guidelines for Interpreting Proxy Statements” including “new ways to calculate pay;” “Mergers and Acquisitions” and financial releases. The section is very informational for those engaged in investor relations and financial public relations, as Vollrath Associates is. 

Also included in the 2010 stylebook is an excellent section on “Social Media Guidelines,” which counsels reporters to “ knock on the door or pick up the phone” whenever they can as opposed to relying solely on tweets, and definitions of all the latest social networking words, tactics and topics.  “Sports Guidelines and Style,” (timely as the Green Bay Packers head for the Super Bowl and the Milwaukee Brewers begin a new season with an awesome pitching crew) and “Media Law” are also covered in considerable detail…  Yes, it’s all there, and AP is keeping up with the rapidly changing writing and reporting landscape as best it, or anyone, can for that matter.

Back to the business section, the style guide specifically informs reporters how to prepare for earnings stories, and specifically what to look for, such as management changes or issues. How to compare profits, losses and revenues and earnings-per-share are reviewed, counseling reporters to report these using “active verbs” versus “passive constructions.”  How to check for warnings of future earnings reductions and upward revisions of earnings forecasts are both explained, and much more.

The point is, by thoroughly reading this section of the style guide, business executives of public companies and their communicators will understand and anticipate what reporters will be looking for, and they can present their information in a manner that will anticipate and help them out.  This is likely to be appreciated by the reporter and support a strong business relationship with the public employer.

Having the all new Associated Press Style guide at one’s side at all times is a good idea and strongly recommended.  You can go wrong without it!

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