My Experience Being a Part (and Learning the Ropes) of a Small Business: A Journey Full of Surprises, Nerf Guns, and Plenty of Chocolate

When I first joined Ketner Group in 2007, I knew very little about running a business, and just enough about PR to convince them I was the best candidate for the entry-level position. I was given a gigantic desk in a room all to myself (one of the “perks” of small business I am glad we grew out of – it was so lonely!) and thrown into client work 8-5, 5 days a week, while all my friends were still off procrastinating away senior year. (I was the dork that graduated early.)

The past three and a half years have taught me more than I could have imagined, and one of the best parts of it has been learning bit by bit about how a small business is run and the secret ingredients to doing it right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no financial expert, and my favorite parts of the job will always be client work and scheming with my co-workers, but an incredibly valuable part of working for Ketner Group has been learning much more than just PR: I’ve watched a small business grow, gain and lose clients (AKA revenue), and adapt to survive in a time when our entire industry was changing beneath our feet.

In order to avoid writing a novel, I thought I’d pick just a few things that make me proud to be part of this team:

Creating the kind of atmosphere you want to work in

I will be the first to admit our office didn’t always have the greatest atmosphere. Sure, it was a positive environment, but – being a small business – we just didn’t splurge on things like new furniture or décor. With clients that were mostly out of town at the time, we didn’t have many unexpected visitors, either, so the “image” of our physical office wasn’t terribly important. Then, 2 things happened. We got more local clients, and we hired more women. Continue reading

NRF 2011: Let the Countdown Begin


For all our non-retail clients and friends who may not be familiar, NRF – the National Retail Federation – hosts its annual conference and expo the second week of every January. The Javits Center bustles with two jam-packed days of exhibit halls that seem to go on for miles, keynotes from some of the world’s preeminent retail executives, live demos of all the latest and greatest retail technology, and of course, lots of parties. And this time, it all seems just a little more significant – the show coming up in January will mark the 100th year of the NRF conference.

For many of our clients, NRF is the most exciting time of the year – and even though it can be chaotic with last-minute prep during the holidays, we love attending NRF each year. Not only is it a blast, but it’s the only time we get to see many of our non-local clients face-to-face all year.

As of this writing, there are just under 100 days left until Christmas. And if you work in retail technology, you know what that means – once the last presents are unwrapped on Christmas Day, you’ll have 15 days until NRF begins. The race is on.

If you think consumers have it bad seeing holiday décor pop up in stores earlier and earlier every year, just imagine how soon retailers have to start thinking about the holidays – basically, as soon as the last gift is unwrapped, planning for next year’s peak holiday season begins. Similarly, each year the preparations for retail technology’s biggest show start a little earlier. We’ve seen NRF-related emails for several months now, and our clients have been actively working on NRF strategies for months, and marketing is kicking into high gear. Chances are, your planning is well underway by now ­– but here are a few PR tips to keep in mind in the run-up to NRF.

Don’t save your announcements until January. Most vendors spend months planning their NRF announcements. But why cram all your news into a three-day period? We counsel our clients not to save everything until NRF but rather to adopt a release strategy for before, during and after the Big Show.

Announcing significant customer wins and new technology in the months leading up to NRF is a great way to build momentum going into the show and to trumpet your successes to prospects. During the show, your news faces stiff competition from hundreds of other press releases, yet one or two newsworthy announcements can help drive booth traffic and create a buzz during NRF. After the show is a good time for announcements, too; editors’ inboxes will be a lot less crowded, many of your competitors will have emptied their arsenal of news at NRF, and your news will have room to breathe.

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The Family Business

By Andrew Ketner, Intern

When I was growing up, I had no idea what my Dad did for a living. I knew that he went to work every morning with a briefcase and came home every evening in time for dinner. I distinctly remember an episode from my sixth grade Spanish class in which our teacher asked each student to state the occupation of his or her Dad. When it was my turn to speak, I frantically flipped through the pages of my mind’s Spanish-English dictionary and stumbled upon what I thought at the time was a suitable if somewhat incorrect answer: “A businessman.”

Fast-forward ten years, and I am now a proud employee of my Dad’s formerly unknown business. I never thought I would work for my Dad, much less for a PR firm, but I guess you could say that I didn’t have a choice. I was about to embark on a 7-week study abroad program last summer and was trying to find a job under the broad heading of “prelaw” that I could hold down for the remaining five weeks until the start of the fall semester. Turns out that no one wanted to hire me just for five weeks (surprise). So, whether it was because he didn’t want a jobless son or because he simply wanted to increase the male quotient at the office (see this former blog post), Dad hired me.

Fortunately for the both of us, I ended up really liking the short-lived gig and have been working at the Ketner Group since I graduated from The University of Texas this past May. I still plan on going to law school next fall, but decided very quickly after college Continue reading

Nightmare and Dream PR Clients

Ever since I started my career in public relations, friends and family members will often ask me, “Wouldn’t it be neat to do PR for XYZ company or person?”  Heck, I even choose the path of PR when I was a sophomore in college because of a dream job – PR for Sea World.

As PR representatives, we are tasked with working with all sorts of clients.  It is our job to make the best out of every situation, to deal with the good as well as the bad, and to never back away from a challenge. But there is also that fine line of whether or not to keep your own morals and beliefs on the “DL” at the risk of offending or losing your job or client.  During my eight-year tenure at Ketner Group, we’ve only had to officially “let go” of two clients.  The first was due to a lack of budget coming our way and because their competitor had actually offered to hire us and pay us more. Not exactly a bad situation. The second, well, let’s just say that we flat out kicked these guys to the curb due to very unprofessional, uncalled for behavior and treatment toward the agency team  — AKA a nightmare client.

So, who would you or wouldn’t you add to your client roster?  Of course, this is all in fun and jest, but nonetheless, very interesting to think about. So goes my list of the top three “nightmare” companies or persons that I would never do PR for, and my list of top three “dream” companies and persons that I would jump at the chance to represent. Drum roll, please!

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Ketner Group is hiring an Account Executive in Austin!

The time has come for us to expand our team — we’re so excited, and we can’t wait to find just the right person. If you know anyone in Austin looking for a PR job that fits the below requirements, please pass this along!  To apply for the position, please email resume and portfolio or writing samples to [email protected], and please read the requirements thoroughly before applying. We look forward to meeting some of you.

Open Position: Account Executive
Start Date: Mid-June
Type of Job: Full-time, salaried
Salary: Based upon experience, please include requirements

Job Requirements

This position requires three to five years full-time agency experience and extremely strong technology and marketing writing skills. As a public relations and marketing communications agency specializing in high-tech clients (as well as other industries), the ability to distill technical jargon into a compelling message is absolutely essential. The ideal candidate must have strong experience in account management and media and analyst relations, including excellent pitching skills and the ability to build strong relationships with media and analysts. The position is ideal for a self-starter who can successfully multi-task, who possesses excellent interpersonal skills and is fluent in AP style. Candidates must have project coordination experience and the ability to work well with all levels of staff, as well as outside clients and vendors. Consumer and/or high tech PR experience is a plus. We are looking for someone with a passion for organization, detail and planning – and strengths in both strategy and execution.

This position will be probationary for 90 days, at which point, upon satisfactory review, a permanent offer will be made.

We are a tight-knit office with an upbeat, fun, and friendly culture and are seeking someone like-minded.

Primary Responsibilities for Account Executive:

  • Team and project management:
    —maintaining client communication
    —media pitching, as well as handling any incoming media inquiries
    —preparing regular client reports and attending client meetings
  • Heavy copywriting and marketing communications
    —researching, writing and distributing press releases to targeted media
    —researching, writing and placing white papers and other technical collateral
    —developing and writing promotional collateral and web copy
  • Development of creative tactical ideas and strategic planning, from traditional components to new media and social media
  • New business development, specifically undertaking research for new business proposals and presenting to potential new clients


  • Medical/Health Insurance
  • IRA program with employer matching
  • Paid vacation
  • Competitive salary
  • Wonderful work environment with a true emphasis on an enjoyable work/life balance

Where did all the men go?

Some questions have no easy answer. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop?

Add another question to that list: What happened to all of the men in PR?

It wasn’t all that long ago that a bunch of men established the public relations industry as we know it today. Innovative businessmen like P.T. Barnum first pushed the limits of publicity, and were followed by enterprising young men like Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee, who met a need that executives all over the world didn’t know they had yet.

The world’s largest and most successful PR agencies were, not surprisingly, founded by men. Still today, the executive leadership of global media conglomerates and smaller, privately held PR firms alike is largely male. But one look around the office, and it’s obvious things have changed in the last fifty years. Our own Ketner Group office is a microcosm of this gender imbalance, with our lone male, our agency principal, outnumbered five to one. Continue reading

Psychology of the User Experience

Right after SXSW Interactive, I promised a comprehensive recap, and I have a confession to make – this  Word document has been sitting here in blog post purgatory for over a week (literally!) now, because I’ve realized that: A) I’m not an authority on this event, since it was my first time going, B) there are tons of great posts out there recapping the event as a whole (check out see Omar Gallaga, Jay Baer, and Chris Brogan’s helpful and thoughtful posts), and C) while SXSW was incredibly valuable to me overall for reasons I mentioned in the previous short post, there are only a few things that I took away as total “a ha!” moments in terms of bringing new ideas and practices to Ketner Group and our clients. One of those was definitely Brian Solis’ session on How Your Brand Can Succeed in the New Web, but I’d much rather speak about that after I’ve read his new book, Engage! – and how handy that I asked a question during the Q&A portion of the talk and scored a crisp hardback copy! Be on the lookout for my review on that book soon.

For now, I’d like to dedicate this post to the other session I felt most interesting and pertinent to the work we do here at KG, Stephen Anderson’s talk on the Art & Science of Seductive Interactions – basically, how we can apply the principles of human psychology to creating a better User Experience (which can apply to developing products, websites, etc.)  I love the study of psychology, and in fact I also recently discovered a great lecture series on the Mind & Brain from the University of Arizona available for free download from iTunes U – I highly recommend checking that out. Anyway, Stephen Anderson’s main point in his SXSW panel was that, when we are creating something for other people, we need to get back to the basics. What makes successful experiments, products, and campaigns work? Generally, at the root of it is human psychology. Are you building your product or website or campaign by starting with a basic assessment of what you want people to do and how you can incent them to do so?

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Ketner Group is a proud sponsor of Austin Twestival! (3/25)

In case you haven’t heard, TOMORROW (3/25) is the big day for the Global Twestival! Caitlin and I (Valerie) will be there to show our support of the great cause  this Twestival benefits (details on that below) — and also to represent Ketner Group, since we signed on as a sponsor of the event.

We really hope you can make it out, too! Mark your calendars for 7pm tomorrow, Thursday, March 25 for Twestival Austin at Molotov downtown! RSVP here now.

About the Twestival (from the website):

On Thursday, March 25, people in hundreds of cities around the world will come together offline to rally around the important cause of Education by hosting local events to have fun and create awareness.  Twestival™ (or Twitter Festival) uses social media for social good.  All of the local events are organized 100% by volunteers (in Austin, this Twestival effort is being led by the awesome @michaelpearsun) and 100% of all ticket sales and donations go direct to projects.  If you would like to get involved, please Register your City, Register your School, or Volunteer  and we will get in touch.  Organizers will be given a handbook and invitation to our collaboration workspace.  Follow @twestival for updates.

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Ketner Group at SXSW Interactive

From Valerie Caseys keynote on the Designers Accord - it was great!Hey everyone! I had a great time at SXSW Interactive and all the corresponding awesome events like Lani & Benn’s kick-off #BATHH (badass Twitter Happy Hour, for all of you non-Austinites) and Pinqued‘s #TechKaraoke.

Though they were certainly hit or miss, I learned a lot at some of the panel sessions (look for a full blog on the highlights next Monday), but the greatest part was getting to meet tons of new people in technology, social media, design, etc. — and seeing tons of my favorite smart people in Austin that I wish I could see way more often. (@MeanRachel, @elisewho, @chelseabot, @omarg, @daveiam, etc., etc. — I’m looking at you.)

Anyway, in case you missed my tweets representing Ketner Group at SXSW Interactive, please check them out, and look for my full wrap-up post on Monday. I know I’m a bit behind, but hey — you can’t fault me for taking a few days to focus on clients, can you?

Hope everyone has a great weekend — and for those in Austin, good luck with the music crowds!


Public Relations, the wild child: Commonly misunderstood and wrongfully stereotyped

Public relations may be one of the most widely misunderstood professions. SXSW® Interactive is taking place here in Austin this week and I’ve been hearing chatter about “those PR types” that are annoying to who exactly, I’m not sure. During inevitable polite small talk babble, when I get asked the “What do you do” question, I typically respond, “I do PR for high tech companies.” More often than not, my inquisitor will look at me in one of two ways:

  1. As if I just told them I worked in quantum mechanics (they have no idea what PR is), or
  2. As if I just told them I’m an evil advertiser who sucks up all of your money, sends you mail you hate to receive and interrupts your Sunday evening showing of Desperate Housewives once every 15-20 minutes with those darn commercials.

I must say that I am neither one of those. I am also not at all like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, I do not throw parties and plan events all day long, and – much to the dismay of a BCBG sales associate a few weeks ago – I could never get away with wearing a slinky, tight skirt suit that distracts from my awesome personality while I’m representing a client.

Because that’s what we do. We represent – we ARE – our clients. Everything we say and do reflects upon our clients. Perhaps the reason why PR is so widely misunderstood is because we work hard to remain invisible to those on the outside. We are essentially our clients’ eyes, ears and mouths. “What are people saying about X?” “What do we see X’s competitors doing?” and “What does X need to say to effectively and positively communicate with their audience?” Continue reading