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!

The Importance of Visuals in PR

July 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Written By John Grossman, Summer Public Relations Intern

With more sensory stimuli present in everyday society, the battle for your audience’s attention is more challenging than ever. Because of this, simple text-only releases just don’t cut it anymore. Your releases need a spark that will captivate your audience’s attention, and nothing works better for this than images and other multimedia. The power of visuals and imagery can be seen by Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram, a social media image hosting site, for a cool $1 billion. However, despite the attention and precedence of visuals in society, the majority of public relations content remains plain text on a plain background distributed through the same channels. The monotony of it all not only bores eyes, but also readers. The simple reliance on words to convey a story and paint a picture in the audience’s mind is currently the method of choice, and drastically inefficient compared to some of the newer trends in PR. Here’s why you should get ahead of the game and start making your PR tactics a multifaceted approach:

  • Multimedia content creates more results. In a recent analytic study, PR Newswire looked in-depth at what differentiates regular plain-text news releases with those that contain images, videos and other media sources. The results they found make it hard to believe that many PR professionals haven’t made a visual switch yet. Their analysis showed that the inclusion of many media types in press releases garnished 77% more views than releases with just text. If you aren’t sure if visuals are right for you, this should help persuade you in the right direction. In order for your content to stay at the top it doesn’t just need to sound good, it needs to look good too.
  • Social media loves visuals. By including visuals in your releases, you are creating more shareable elements than a simple text release would have. These shareable images make their way onto different social media networks, driving traffic to your releases from more than one place. In the past, most traffic is gained through search engines. Now that each media source is different, the audience can be reached without detailed searching, once again driving up views and the total reach by your work. With a share rate of three times that of text-only releases, multimedia should be a mainstay in your future work.

Now, you may be thinking that this all sounds great, but you have no idea how to implement visuals into your daily work. It’s not just you thinking this. Multimedia costs more, and as budgets for PR work remain tight, it’s hard to convince clients to spend more on what still is considered an unproven element. With the right tactics, however, you can show multimedia’s effectiveness and why it deserves funding. Utilize a few key elements in order to see such results:

  • Simplify information. One of the biggest trends right now in visual PR are infographics. These visually appealing, simple to read displays convert raw data into something the audience wants to see. Infographics are able to convert complex information into simple bite-sized pieces that the audience can understand and share with their networks.
  • Spice it up. It may not be the most exciting thing, but things like lists and basic information are needed. Rather than simply typing these details, turn your text visual. Replacing a basic list with a colorful display will add some life to your release. The reader will be drawn to it, and will view it further in-depth than just plain text buried within the release.
  • Take advantage of social media releases. To help with the changing times, more tools are becoming available for PR professionals that make it easier and more effective than ever to include multimedia content in releases. Pitch Engine is a service that turns a traditional press release into a multifaceted approach that benefits both you and your client. This easy-to-use program creates a social media release that allows for embedded pictures, videos and other content. Since they are linked through social media, the releases are easy to share via Twitter and Facebook, widening your audience even further. Not only is it effective and easier to distribute than traditional release styles, Pitch Engine also helps boost your SEO, an important statistic that helps drive web traffic to your site. Most wire services also have templates for more multimedia options, so make sure to utilize these as well.

As the saying goes, pictures are worth a thousand words. An effective implementation of imagery and visuals can be worth even more than that to your clients by reaching larger audiences and multiple channels of distribution compared to simple text releases. By linking content creation, your business needs and your data, you can achieve a significant improvement in your releases and their reception.

How are you incorporating visuals into your PR plan?

Top 11 VA Moments of 2011

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written By: Casey Schaak

With the ringing in of a new year comes reflection on the past year’s accomplishments within public relations, marketing communications, investor relations, events and beyond. While each month comes with its fair share of ups and downs, I’d like to highlight the top 11 Vollrath Associates moments of 2011:

  1.  Winning Awards. Vollrath Associates won an Award of Excellence in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Paragon Awards competition for the U.S. Bank Milwaukee Air & Water Show PR Program.

    Marilyn and Jessica at the Paragon Awards.

  2. Welcoming New Clients. We are excited and honored to have McCloud Services, BizStarts Milwaukee and SPSI as our newest clients in 2011.
  3. Adding to the Team. Within the past year I was lucky enough to join the VA team, starting in February as assistant account executive, and we also welcomed Liz Grams as account coordinator in June.
  4. Celebrating Promotions. In October, Jessica’s hard work and dedication paid off when she was promoted to vice president.
  5. Working with Enthusiastic Interns. Laura Horan, Jon Mattrisch, Whitney Sleiter, Julie Caan and Maura Phares each spent a semester or summer gaining hands-on experience in our PR agency and devoting much appreciated time and effort towards our various projects and activities.
  6. Keeping Busy with Events. The Milwaukee Air and Water Show and Festa Italiana were two of the exciting events we took part in over the summer. We met some great people, tried some delicious food and watched dozens of planes fly through the air, all while helping promote awareness of these events throughout Milwaukee and surrounding areas.
  7. Bringing Hollywood to Milwaukee. This fall, the VA team, in conjunction with Marcus Theatres, assisted famous film director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World) and actor Matthew Felker (Brookfield-native) in debuting their comedy “Balls to the Wall” in the Milwaukee area.

    Penelope Spheeris and Matt Felker promoting "Balls to the Wall."

  8. Spicing Up our Social Media. With Bastille Days right outside our window, we took the opportunity to have a “Where in the world is Phil?” contest on Facebook. Those who guessed his location were put into a drawing and one lucky winner won tickets to Festa Italiana. Phil did a great job hiding!

    Phil at Bastille Days.

  9. Spreading our Knowledge. Phil taught classes during both spring and fall semesters at Marquette University, Marilyn and Jessica presented on investor relations for a class at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Liz and I hosted a group of 10 from the UWM PRSSA chapter. It’s rewarding to get to know students in the area and share our PR knowledge and experiences with them.
  10. Popping Up in the News. Phil provided his insights on persona-based marketing in the BizTimes Milwaukee’s Marketing PR last February. While we are usually pitching our clients’ latest happenings, it’s always nice to see one of our own in the news as well!
  11. Sharing Every Day Successes. From press releases to earnings conference calls, research to writing, newsletters to social media and beyond, each day we experience our own accomplishments and share in the successes of our team and those of our clients.

The VA team celebrating the holidays in our ugly sweaters!

As you can see, it’s been a busy and exciting year for Vollrath Associates and we look forward to what’s ahead for us in 2012! Thank you to all of our clients who continue on this journey with us!

Intern Insights: Summer Reading Guide

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

By: Julie Caan

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for something new to read. Whether it’s a book for pleasure or one that will help me get ahead in the public relations or marketing communications industry, there’s nothing quite like reading—especially under the sun! That’s why I’ve decided to compile a Summer Reading Guide made up of books I’ve read, books I’d like to read and books other PR pros are reading (via PR Daily’s LinkedIn Group and VA office chatter).

Usually I opt for “fun” books and now that summer’s finally here, now’s the perfect time to reward yourself with that beach read you’ve been eyeing for months.  But let’s be honest—the inner PR-geek in me enjoys reading industry books too, so they’ve snuck their way onto this list as well. After all, you never know when someone you respect is going to ask you, “So, what are you reading these days?” And no, US Weekly magazine does not count!

Industry-related titles:

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss—a must read for anyone seeking to get the most out of life…if you want to live life on your own terms and not be chained to your office chair, this is your blueprint!

Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel—“Me 2.0 is an instruction manual for developing your personal brand and then leveraging that brand to command your career.”-The New York Post

• Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion & Purpose by Tony Hsieh— the visionary Zappos CEO explains how an emphasis on corporate culture can lead to unprecedented success

Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. by Scott Strattenunlearn the old ways and start attracting and engaging the right customers

• Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink—citing examples from Google and Best Buy, Pink argues that we can only be motivated by the hope of gain and the fear of loss

On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser—this book changed the way I approach writing—I think it should be read by everyone at least once!

PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences by Deirdre Breakenridge—an easy read filled with expert advice, real world examples and practical guidance for professionals looking to navigate their way through new media

For fun books:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett—a new classic is born when a southern town’s unspoken code of rules and behavior is shattered (read the book before you see the movie!)

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein—narrated by a dog (yes—the four legged kind!), this amazing story will tug at your heart-strings. You will laugh, you will cry and you will never forget The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger—from the author of The Devil Wears Prada, comes a fresh and fabulous look into the glamorous side of PR

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin—An enlightening, laugh-out-loud read about a woman on a quest to reinvent her whole life. Take heart, this is no ordinary self-help book!

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult—the celebrated author’s latest novel touches on controversial issues, but at its heart, presents a powerful story about what really constitutes a family

• Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—set in Ethiopia, this powerful novel revolves around what is broken—limbs, family ties, trust—and the process of repairing them

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay—I had to include this amazing book, I cannot recommend it enough. A fast and powerful read about the little known horrors of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, a mass arrest of Paris Jews by French police in 1942

This summer, put down your Blackberry, get off Twitter and unwind with a good book. Just think how accomplished you’ll feel coming back to work after that week of vacation, having insightful tips to share from your latest read…or beach read!

Share with us! What’s on your summer reading list?

Whatever Happened to Grammar?

January 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Written By Marilyn Vollrath

I don’t mean Kelsey Grammer.  Everybody knows he’s alive and well, and planning his fourth wedding.

I’m talking about grammar, as in punctuation, language pattern, modifying phrases, syntax and all of the other elements that make a sentence make sense.  It’s the difference between getting the point and being lost in a twisted maze of words with no comprehension in sight. 

Speaking of “it’s,” no one seems to know the rules on that so they just guess and it’s (as in “it is”) usually wrong. The time to learn spelling and grammar is in grade school, but unfortunately many times the excitement of ideas and creativity are more important than the mundane details of punctuation.

I’m in the public relations business and my clients expect us to proofread news releases, annual reports and other communications going out under their name to thousands and thousands of readers. Proofread? Without a spell check? Just by looking at it? Yes, imagine that!  Every job has a challenge, and in the world of PR, this is a big one.

My point is that ideas and punctuation go hand in hand.  You can’t write a best-selling novel without a great story line.  But if you can’t spell and construct a sentence, no one will understand what you’re trying to say and there goes your chance to be number-one on The New York Times list.

How many resumes have you received with misspelled words, poor grammar and bad punctuation? Or emails with equally bad mistakes, from people who should know better?  All too many, I bet.  And what impression does that leave?  Not a good one, because strong, effective communications skills are what set successful leaders apart from the pack. 

So if grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suit, I encourage you to learn on your own.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Have you had your VA today?

November 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

Do you find yourself running out of interesting things to say at the water cooler?  Have you fallen off of the social media bandwagon? Do you crave the latest industry data and market trends?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then congratulations, you’ve come to the right place! 

At Vollrath Associates, it’s our job to stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest in the world of investor relations, public relations and marketing communications.  We even know a thing or two about the environment.

And then an idea came to us…why not create a place where we can share our expertise and experiences with you?  Since we’re still learning, we invite you to share your comments and give us plenty of feedback—the good, the bad and the ugly.  As communications professionals, we love to give and take; it’s what we do best!

Check back early and often for best results.  Continued reading of this blog may even cause you to learn something new.  The Vollrath Associates company blog: finally, something worthy to tweet about.

Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly a public relations professional does in a typical day.  We’ve got the inside scoop:

What is a Typical Day Like at a Public Relations Firm?

Busy! We are actively serving our clients and making sure they are getting the best possible exposure for all the meaningful things they are doing. Here is what a typical day can consist of for an account executive at VA:

8 a.m. Make coffee, check and answer emails, review the calendar and read the news. Tip: Caffeine helps – really helps. We have a saying around here: “I caffeinate, therefore I am.”

8:30 a.m.  Coordinate any number of projects, including print quotes, photo shoots, mailings, events, design projects, etc. Tip: Working with the printer is sometimes like solving an SAT question. If you received a print quote for four different postcards at a quantity of 5,000 for each version at a total quantity of 20,000 for $1,775, why would five different postcards at a quantity of 5,000 for each version at a total quantity of 25,000 not be $2,218? I’ll let you mull that one over. 

9 a.m. Attend staff meeting to discuss the status of client projects and brainstorm. Now after solving the math problem with the printer – more coffee is needed. Tip: It also helps to have a treat!

9:30 a.m. Research new technologies and social media platforms and update social media for our firm and clients. Yes, we get to be on Facebook and Twitter at work. Tip: Make sure you are not on a client’s Facebook page when you decide to update your Facebook friends about the really cool tattoo you got of your cat. Scratch that! That would never happen anyway because you are not on your personal Facebook page during work hours. Moving on… 

10 a.m. Attend a photo shoot for an article we’ve secured for a client in a local publication. Tip: Ask the photographer to see the photos on her camera before she leaves. You may want her to take more photos at different angles. Try not to tackle the photographer in order to delete the photos you don’t like. 

11:30 a.m. Meet with a client for lunch to discuss new opportunities such as speaking events, award nominations, newsletters, press releases, etc. Tip: Don’t speak with your mouth full – you might have a really good idea that gets lost somewhere between the bread and the ham.

1 p.m. Pitch reporters on potential ideas for stories and placements. Tip: Three emails and two phone calls in one hour to one reporter may classify you as a stalker.

2 p.m. Create media lists and issue relevant news. Tip: Target your audience. Your client who sells model trains is not going to be of interest to Shape magazine, unless there is a feature article geared toward women who build model trains for fun and exercise. Really?

3 p.m. Meet with the designer to review marketing materials for a client.  Tip: Be really nice to your designers. If we’ve learned anything from Disney and their cartoon animations – it’s to always stay on your designer’s good side. 

5 p.m. Write and edit a really cool blog. Tip: Be human (as opposed to the monster that comes out in all of us).

And once a quarter:

6 p.m. – 10 p.m.  Write, edit and obtain approval for client earnings release.  Tip: Bring a pillow for short naps between edits and final approval.

5 a.m. (next day)  Make sure earnings release is distributed through the wire service and loaded to the client’s website. Tip: Definitely drink strong coffee to get through the rest of the day!

So what is the best thing about a typical day at a PR firm? Every day is different. Each day presents itself with new opportunities to multi-task and execute and develop our clients’ stories.

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