Client work

Business Needs Newspapers Too

The media’s been buzzing about John Oliver’s recent Last Week Tonight segment on modern journalism. You really ought to watch it yourself (beware a healthy dose of profanity), but the gist is not exactly breaking news: traditional newspapers are in big trouble. Faced with plummeting ad revenue and a public increasingly used to free, 24-hour news, papers are cutting qualified, capable journalists, and in exchange for clickbait. As Oliver quipped, “All the puppy news that’s fit to print and maybe some Iraq news, too, if we can afford it”

Why newspapers matter

But Oliver also emphasizes how dependent he and other online and TV reporters are on the legwork of journalists. And he explains that investigative journalists provide a valuable public service by keeping corruption in check and policing the powerful. Dropping readership or not, they can still have enormous impact. Last year we saw it in our own backyard: Though allegations of corruption in the office of Governor John Kitzhaber had been spreading for months, he only stepped down once The Oregonian, Portland’s leading paper, called for his departure.

Why newspapers matter to business

Oliver’s segment emphasized the value that newspaper journalism has for society and the general public, but he could have also discussed its importance for the business world. The A.wordsmith team turns to a range of outlets, but working with print media is an essential part of the PR toolbox. A.wordsmith clients, whether they realize it or not, benefit from local newspapers as individual citizens and as members of the business world.

It’s hard to say whether this will do anything to steer the newspaper industry in a new direction. Regardless, Oliver’s message is loud and clear: “A big part of the blame for this industry’s dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.”

How are you a thought leader? Answer these 6 questions to find out.

If you are reading this you likely already understand the value of thought leadership products. A thought leadership product is anything – written, video, multi-media – produced to help inform an audience on something you do really well. These products are especially critical for service organizations that rely on the smarts and unique capabilities of its people to distinguish itself from the competition. And these are the kinds of products that A.wordsmith is really, really good at creating.

As developers of thought leadership content for our clients we are often faced with the daunting task of distilling the fragmented, but brilliant, thinking of our clients into easy-to-read, easy-to-understand thought leadership content.

To do that, we get on the phone or sit down with our subject matter expert, the SME. We typically have an hour or less. The SME is a senior-level, sometimes C-suite level, individual, with limited time and patience. Add to that the fact that we often come into these discovery sessions with only a rudimentary understanding of the topic – often just enough to be dangerous.

So how do we approach a critical SME interview given these challenges? We formulate really smart questions.

To get there, let’s go back to the importance of story.


This week my colleague Allison and I attended PRSA’s annual Communicators Conference in Portland. The speakers were excellent – everyone from Mike Riley Research to representatives from Edelman breaking down this year’s Trust Barometer – but my favorite session came from consultant Andrew Robinson of Eugene, Oregon. He advocated for the power of a single story in employee engagement, and outlined the basic elements of a captivating company story.

Andrew’s story elements interestingly aligned almost directly with the initial questions we ask during a thought leadership discovery session. The output of these discovery sessions are ultimately stories, powerfully effective in everything from driving sales to employee engagement. And powerfully relevant — just as Lemonade is to the Beyhive and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” is to my kindergartener — in sparking a conversation and prompting action from the audience you most want to engage.

Beyoncé's latest thought leadership product was a multi-media blend of poetry, music and photography. (source:

As developers of thought leadership content these questions guide our process. For organizations struggling with what their thought leadership focus should be, these questions can help pinpoint your greatest opportunities to share and engage.

6 Thought Leadership Questions

Story Element: Villain

Interview Question #1: What are your client’s pain points?

Story Element: Hero

Interview Question #2: How are you specially equipped to solve those problems?

Story Element: Backstory

Interview Question #3: What are the external – market, industry, etc. – exacerbating this problem?

Story Element: Plot

Interview Question #4: What is the common turning point for your clients, the moment that they decide to turn to you for help?

Story Element: Crisis

Interview Question #5: What does it look like when you attack this problem? What is your unique process?

Story Element: Resolution

Interview Question #6: What are the proof points that what you do works?

For more information check out some of our thought leadership work.

A Day in the Life of a PR Practitioner

Christy flying at iFLY Portland

One of our clients, iFLY, Oregon’s only Indoor Skydiving operation, opened a few weeks ago, and I had the opportunity to fly in the tunnel this past Friday for the first time. As a PR practitioner I was nervous at first but the experience was life changing. I’ve been pitching the grand opening for weeks, and now I have the perspective of a first time flier. They now have a strong testimonial from a PR practitionar that can be used across their social channels.

Why are these first-hand experiences worth their weight in gold?

Testimonials are the difference between a sale and a bounce, according to Business 2 Community.

  • If the customer can visualize the experience, the pitch is more compelling – which is why I posted the above pic to all my social channels and tagged iFLY in all the appropriate hashtags.
  • Videos take all the speculation out of the equation and tell the story in just a few seconds.
  • Testimonials need the right tone, the thoughts should be genuine and not canned- let the person write the testimonial themselves.

Testimonials humanize a brand, so remember the importance these have when you’re selling a new concept or product offering. It could make all the difference.

A tale of two cities: ACME shows how good employee relations made good business sense

In addition to being an incredible A. Wordsmith client and a brilliant business partner to some of Portland, Seattle and San Diego’s biggest and best companies, ACME Business Consulting is a really great place to work. Sara Fritsch, ACME’s marketing team lead, has worked with ACME for nine years in a variety of roles. Today her life is based in Amsterdam, and her beautiful, colorful life was recently featured on the blog Design Mom in it’s “Call It A Day” section.

ACME Business Consulting has three offices -- Portland, Seattle and San Diego -- and experienced a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent, with the addition of 20 new clients in the last three years alone.

ACME Business Consulting has three offices — Portland, Seattle and San Diego — and experienced a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent, with the addition of 20 new clients in the last three years alone.


Sara is a working mom, telecommuting from Europe to Oregon, making her way through her expat life on a Dutch cargo bike that can haul as many as five kids at a time. The Design Mom feature is a great peak inside her life, but it also highlights yet another great example of non-traditional professional positions — outside the 9-to-5 office grind — working to add dimension to a company’s brand.

What would your dream working situation be? Do you imagine a day when you could work from a beach in Thailand? Or if you could, would you split your time between a paid job and a passion project? Sara and ACME are living proof that the nontraditional is not only possible, it can be a dream come true.

For a fun look inside Sara’s life, check out the Design Mom feature here:

Sara lives in Amsterdam with her husband and two kids.

Sara lives in Amsterdam with her husband and two kids.

Unleashing My Inner Talent Scout

country music

Those who know me well have likely heard about my pipedream to live in Nashville and work in the country music business. This stems from my deep love of music that took old when my mom brought home a Reba McEntire greatest hits album when I was 8 years old. Since that day I have made it my business to know and love music – especially country.

Unfortunately I don’t currently know how I can make a move to Nashville a reality, but in the meantime I have had the awesome opportunity to book and promote some local acts at my parents’ guest ranch in Southern Oregon. On Saturday we welcomed Cloverdayle to the resort and had an absolutely incredible time. If you live in the Northwest and love country music, make it a point to see them perform this summer, because this fall they move to Nashville and there’s no telling when they’ll be back. I have gotten a total rush out of identifying great talent in the region, booking them, leveraging some good ol’ PR skills to promote the show and then getting to partake in the fun on event night.

For hard-working ranching families who live in that part of the state, taking a break from reality and enjoying a great meal followed by a fun performance is a special way to spend a summer evening. And for me, getting to meet these up-and-coming artists and pick their brains about Nashville and any inside scoop they can share about business allows me a brief window into this world I’ve watched from afar for so many years. So while I’m not working on Music Row, this is a pretty fun next-best-thing. Thanks again to Chad and Rachel Hamar for the amazing performance and for my parents for being willing to put on these annual concert series, and indulge my inner music producer.