Posts Taged portland

A.wordsmith Continues to Grow

Portland A.wordsmith

June was a big month for A.wordsmith.

Last month, A.wordsmith saw a surge in new projects for our copywriting and content development team, as well as expanded marketing, media and publicity demands from established clients.  All told, we shattered a record in terms of client and firm productivity.

Since opening in 2009, the agency has grown from a one-woman operation to a dynamic business with a local, national and international footprint. The growing number of clients and projects have allowed the firm to fine tune and develop its offerings with new team members. Since June, A.wordsmith has made new hires at the director and manager levels, increased the involvement of our writing support team, and resumed the internship program. Roles and opportunities at the associate level have also expanded. These additions have contributed new skills and areas of expertise – all part of our growing capacity and knowledgebase.

Street Roots, a Portland media outlet making a difference

Street Roots

Every morning I walk past a man selling newspapers. Every morning, he’s wearing the same worn sneakers, unkempt beard, and woven poncho. The man is homeless, and the paper he’s peddling is Street Roots, a weekly focusing on issues facing the growing number of homeless Portlanders.

Street Roots has been a small but dauntless asset to the city’s media landscape for nearly two decades. Thought the paper was once bimonthly, in recent years it has switched to a weekly publication schedule and boasts a readership of 15,000. That’s a tall feat given the increasing troubles facing traditional regional newspapers like The Oregonian.

This alternative publication doesn’t make many A.wordsmith media lists, and we don’t generally pitch stories to them; SEO and management consulting aren’t really key topics in their editorial calendar. The content is contributed by local journalists, social activists, and members of the homeless community itself.

“Street Roots is a platform for people on the streets to have a voice in the political and social dialogue, bridging cultural and class divides with a greater understanding on social matters that affect us all,” explains the paper’s website.

In addition to providing valuable news, the distributions team is made up entirely of street vendors, homeless or transitioning Portlanders who make 75 cents off every one-dollar paper sold.

We live in a city where housing is in short supply, rents are skyrocketing, and record-breaking numbers of men, women, and children are spending their nights in shelters, camps, and on the sidewalks. Last year, Multnomah County’s homeless population surpassed 3,000.

A.wordsmith is proud to support local non-profits across the region and most recently has contributed pro bono work to Girls, Inc., Parenting with Intent, and Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. From a boutique PR agency to an alternate media outlet, props for thinking outside the box – and making a difference.

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.

Public Relations in the age of the Internet of Things

internet of things

When I was finishing my undergraduate degree program several years ago, one of my communications professors introduced the class to something called “The Internet of Things.” He explained that in the not-so-distant future, we’d be living in what basically amounted to the home in that Disney Channel classic movie, Smart House – refrigerators that could order eggs and milk for us when we run out, kitchen counters that could access the latest blood work from our doctor and prep meals for any nutrient deficiencies, and plants that could send a text to remind us that it was watering time. He noted that this world would mean big changes for the public relations industry. At the time, it seemed little more than Jetsons-esque dreaming to me, and really not all that relevant – what would I ever need a texting plant for, and why would I ever need to think about that in my career?

College me was naïve.

Not even a decade after that class, the Internet of Things (IoT) is here. I don’t currently have a plant that tweets at techme, but my dad does have the ability to unlock his front door remotely from his phone. I wear a FitBit on my wrist every day that communicates with three separate apps on my phone andprovides information my doctor has me  tracking as part of my health plan. The Philae Rover, currently on comet 67P, is able to tweet from space to its handlers on Earth about its activities. And – I have, and continue to think about how IoT plays into my career. The public relations field will be changed in clientele, crisis management, and engagement.

Client Base

As an agency in the Silicon Forest, A.wordsmith has the opportunity to work with an interesting mix of tech clients. Startups and technology organizations will likely continue to come here, and many non-tech organizations will increasingly need technical knowledge as they incorporate the IoT’s connectivity into their business. Social media, already a vital part of any business’ communication plan, will continue to grow and change. More IoT-capable devices mean more avenues connect with your audience. PR agencies will likely see a demand for tech knowledge and experience grow no matter what industries they specialize in.

Crisis Management

With any new technology, one of the first things someone will figure out how to do is hack into it. At DEFCON 23 in Las Vegas last year, the Internet of Things Village presented a particularly scary talk on hacking into IoT baby monitors and retrieving sound clips and videos from the cloud storage the devices upload to. More connectivity means more avenues to hack into and more potential crises for our clients. Many businesses incorrectly believe they don’t have any information worth hacking, but given society’s habit of using the same password for everything, there’s potential for a hacker to access multiple consumer accounts based on passwords they gather at a single business. As part of a crisis management program, public relations pros need to stress the importance of security to their clients in addition to planning for a strategic response in the event of an attack.


We already know that consumers hate being sold to on social media, and this will only increase as the IoT grows. They won’t want an ad on their internet-enabled fridge. What they will want is authentic communication in their increasingly connected world. Social media managers will need to hone their soft-sell skills, and take advantage of the “social” part of social media. The platforms are a conversation, not a brand megaphone, and consumers increasingly expect quick, genuine response from brands they reach out to. If we’re going to send a message to them via Twitter on their smart watch, it better be worth their time.

Though technology and security issues can sometimes induce fear, this is a very exciting time to work in PR. IoT offers plenty of opportunity to flex your creative side and use your imagination. Though some argue technology has distanced us (and there are discussions to be had here), it has also connected us to people around the globe more than ever before. The future of tech communications is bright – and my not-so-green thumb could probably use a tweeting plant.

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.

Design Week Portland

by Lettie Jane Rennekamp

by Lettie Jane Rennekamp

Are you ready for Design Week Portland? It’s coming, and it has something to offer everyone, designer or not.

From October 4-11, a series of events, open houses, installations, talks, and parties will take over spaces throughout Portland, all in celebration of design. As the website states, “Design Week Portland is a weeklong series of interactive events, installations and conversations showcasing the evolving state of design in our city. Do your part to shape our future by engaging with some of today’s brightest creative minds. To achieve full enjoyment, we recommend jumping in headfirst.”

Check out all the offerings at the Design Week Portland website

Check out all the offerings at DWP’s website

With 157 open houses and 193 events, you are sure to find something fun to check out. But sign up soon—lots of the events (including those that are free) are filling up fast.

I never have the time to explore all I want to, but this year I’m excited to attend AIGA’s big event: a talk by Stefan Sagmeister: Design and Happiness. I look forward to reporting on the experience.

Now go—explore Portland’s design climate and be inspired!

Once The Dust Settles, Will The Moda Center Be Worth It?

identity transformation

It’s a dark day in the Rose City.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the home of the Portland Trail Blazers will no longer be called the Rose Garden. In an attempt to bring in more funding, the president of the Blazers announced last week that their home, deemed the Rose Garden in 1995 when the arena opened, has been renamed the Moda Center. The name change comes as a result of a corporate sponsorship with Moda Health (formally ODS), the local insurance company headquartered in Portland.

As you can imagine, this hasn’t set well with Portlanders. Not only have there been social media rants and petitions swirling around the internet, but from a PR perspective, I don’t think it was a great tactic in keeping the community’s support.

An identity transformation

A year ago, the Trail Blazers began their identity transformation with a new president, new general manager and a new point guard. So why not throw in a new name for the arena? This 10-year partnership with provide the Blazers with $40 million, which is apparently significantly larger than multiple naming-rights deals in some mid-sized NBA markets. And after watching a successful sponsorship/name change with PGE Park to Jeld-Wen Field, I can understand why the Blazers thought this could be seamless.

Is money the answer?

But it wasn’t for the Blazers, and it won’t be for a while. So, I have to ask – once the dust settles, will the Moda Center’s money be the right answer for the Blazers? And not just for the Blazers, but for Moda Health and the Rose City? A decade ago, I think the Blazers could have made the change with limited backlash. But in today’s era of social media with instant, overly-vocalized opinions, I think the repercussions may be too large. While it is evident the Blazers need a corporate sponsor, it may not have been necessary to have a complete renaming. This move may go down in Portland’s history as one of those bad decisions we never let them forget.

How to Get Away with Cheating: Does The Right PR Save Our Country’s Elite from Their Lying, Cheating Ways?

cheating scandals

From politicians, to athletes, to celebrities, our country is fascinated by the downside of being in the public eye – the skeletons in their closet. I will admit that I, too, am drawn in to breaking news about celebrity affairs! One of the most infamous cheating scandals of our generation is none other than Tiger Woods. We all remember that Thanksgiving his wife chased him down the street with a golf club, uncovering what is now one of the most talked about and expensive divorces ever. Tiger was not only drug through the mud and sold out by more than a dozen women, but professional sponsors pulled out losing a reported $22 million in endorsement deals. Four years ago, PR maven Howard Rubenstein even said that “[Tiger] is beyond PR redemption. He is in public relations hell right now. There is not a PR man on Earth who can restore his image.”

Cheating scandals

Howard may know PR, but he certainly didn’t have a crystal ball. Fast forward to 2013 and it’s time to re-evaluate. Has his image finally recovered from the infidelity scandal? I’d say yes! Not only is he back on top of Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid athletes, he’s returned to the top of the World Golf Rankings with a lovely lady by his side.

Tiger was certainly not the first to be scrutinized by the masses, and he is definitely not the last. In the last couple of years, cheating scandals have been thrust into the public eye, often leaving the one at fault to be judged under a microscope. Let me just preface the term ‘cheating’ doesn’t necessary mean infidelity; I am clumping professional cheating and irresponsibility as well. For instance, Lance Armstrong’s public outing for doping, Paula Deen’s reckless words, A-Rod’s suspension for performance enhancement abuse, Anthony Weiner’s multiple (multiple!) indiscretions with women, and most recently, Portland’s own Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen’s highly exposed affair with another woman. In a day and age where public figures’ private lives are no longer private, how do they successfully come out the other side?

cheating scandals

Cheating the system?

As someone in the industry, I can guarantee the image refresh people like Tiger receive is all due to careful planning by a team of highly skilled public relations professionals. Good PR is what saved Tiger Woods. And it’s what can either save or destroy all of the other cheaters mentioned. Look at Paula Deen at her time on the Today Show – either she rejected her counsel’s suggestions or she needed to find a new PR team. So the question I must ask is: What does it take to erase your cheating scandal when you’re in the public eye? Is it timing, the type of scandal or is it simply the skill set of your PR team?

Party on the River

human access project

The Human Access Project wants to change the way Portland thinks about the Willamette.

Ah, the mighty Willamette. It’s a beautiful river that serves as a landmark, an industrial thoroughfare and an integral part of Portland life. And, if you’re like most people who’ve spent some time in the Portland area, you’re as likely to dip a toe in the river as you are to head down to the sewage treatment plant for a lap swim. We all know that you just don’t swim in the river.

But what would you say if I told you the Willamette River, in Portland, is approved for summer swimming? Officially. I mean, approved by reputable sources like the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and the City of Portland’s Office of Healthy Working Rivers. With the 20-year-long Big Pipe project completed in 2011 (the largest public works project in Portland’s history), the frequency of what is politely called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is expected to drop to almost zero. When CSO is not in action, the river’s approved for swimming and other recreational opportunities. That’s fine and great, but what about public perception? We all know the river is filthy. Ask anyone.

It’s an upstream PR battle, but the Human Access Project is doing what they can to change public opinion and they’re doing it Portland-style. Yes, they’re throwing a party. The Big Float takes place on Sunday, July 28th, and it’s dedicated to floating down the Willamette en masse, to end up at a beach (yes, Portland has a beach now) where bands, food and drink, massage chairs, and possibly a bounce castle will be waiting to entertain the masses and remind them that touching the Willamette, with both feet, isn’t so bad.

See you there?

The End of the Print Era: Where Do We Go from Here?

shake up at the Oregonian

Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian

In 2013, it is no surprise to see a publication move away from print to focus more heavily on online content, but it still stings each time I see it happen. Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian is a good reminder of the ever evolving ways we receive news and as a PR professional, how it’s even more important to define the story we are telling.

For anyone who may not be following the recent news (or are living under a rock), the Oregonian announced it will scale back its printed paper delivery service to just a few days a week and cut more than 100 of the 650 jobs at the publication. While this is a shock to the system, it is a good opportunity for us to step back and reevaluate how we be innovative in this new landscape.

shake up at the Oregonian

The Oregonian Building, which houses the newspaper.

A wake-up call for Oregon?

There’s no question that getting cover in print newspapers is a lot harder than it used to be. With fewer reporters, most don’t even cover a single beat anymore. Also, most newspapers have a much smaller news hole – even when pitching a decent story to a reporter, sometimes there just isn’t enough room. The latest cuts out of the Oregonian is a wake-up call. As the media continues to evolve, I think the PR industry has a good opportunity to be the one innovating and steering the conversation with reporters. Whether this comes in the form of selecting just a few reporters to build strong relationships with, tapping into social media to showcase your news or going down the avenue of contributing articles, it is our job to be influential. If content is king, then PR is queen. What do you do to stay relevant in your relationships with the media?