Agency vs. In-House Comms: One Career, Two Different Worlds

By Bridgette Borst Ombres

People always ask me, “Which do you like best – agency or in-house?” Or, I find myself in talks with a recent graduate who will be on the fence and wants help weighing the pros and cons of each. No one wants to potentially miss anything happening on “the other side.”

As someone who has worked in the agency sector, done a fair amount of independent consulting and has also worked in corporate communications – I can say, you gain rich experience in each and both can be equally rewarding.

In my experience, below are some of the contrasts.

Breadth vs. depth of work

In the agency and consulting world, you get a wide range of experience working with different clients who make up different sizes and industries. While you may not become an expert in any one industry, this side of the business allows you to explore a breadth of PR, cultivate media relationships across a variety of beats and discover what you enjoy most. On the other hand, corporate communications offers PR pros a deep understanding of one brand and its assets. The good news? These folks become brand and industry experts. The bad news? You could get pigeon-holed in an industry that you don’t want to work in forever.

Doing what you love

Unfortunately, not all clients (and industries) are created the same. You may be extremely passionate about telling one brand’s story and fired up about advocating for a specific issue or cause, while you’re not so jazzed about another client’s work. A benefit in corporate communications is you have the opportunity to seek out an industry or issue that you’re passionate about and put all of your energy into it every day.

The “team” can look very different

One of the great advantages to working at an agency is being able to bounce ideas off of fellow creatives who understand what you do. Whether you’re testing different messaging, thinking through a crisis response or vetting a media pitch, you have a team of communications professionals you can learn from and who can offer valuable feedback. Often times, collaboration with other seasoned PR pros is harder to come by in-house. Your colleagues might be all very great at their jobs, but when it comes to marketing communications, they just don’t get it – and that can be frustrating at times. The product itself can also be less quality, not having the benefit of collaborating with other, like-minded professionals. As the old saying goes, ‘two heads are better than one!’

Getting the green-light

Waiting to get client approval on every single landing page, ad, story angle, speech, op-ed, etc. can mean deadlines getting pushed back. Based on my experience working in-house, getting sign off from legal, execs and IT is easier and much quicker.


To sum it up from my point of view – if you like specializing in something and prefer more structure, in-house communications may be the best option. On the other hand – if you dig more variety in your work, then agency is the way to go!


Bridgette Borst Ombres is a former television news reporter turned PR and marketing professional with a decade of experience working in the communications field across agency, corporate and nonprofit sectors. Bridgette is the director of marketing and communications at a tech company in Pittsburgh and also consults for a variety of businesses.

She is a member of PRSA Pittsburgh, serves on the TEDxPittsburgh committee, the co-founder of Not Your Mama’s Book Club and volunteers as a mentor at both of her alma maters.

A Job Description for the CMO of Tomorrow

 [ This article originally appeared on The Way, Sprinklr’s content hub. As one of PRSA Pittsburgh’s sponsors, each month Sprinklr will be delivering you with some insights into how you can use technology to make your marketing more efficient and effective. ]

Marketing is going through an unprecedented shift. Customers have more power than ever before, and brands can’t rely on traditional methods to reach them.

As a result, CMOs are under immense pressure to lead their teams through this uncharted landscape. According to a survey by Deloitte, 80% of CMOs are sensing increased expectations and 82% believe they need to personally acquire new skills.

That’s why – in a new whitepaper about the future of marketing – Mohanbir Sawhney, Clinical Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, outlined a brand-new job description for the CMO of tomorrow.

Sawhney wrote that CMOs have to master these six key roles to survive this marketing transformation.

1. The Customer Experience Conductor

Eighty-nine percent of companies now compete primarily on the bases of customer experience. And yet, according to a new study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, less than half of today’s companies have an executive dedicated to this task.

That’s where the CMO comes in. The CMO needs to develop programs that will measure, monitor, and improve customer experience management across the company.

As Sawhney wrote, “By wholeheartedly taking ownership of customer experience, CMOs can position themselves to spur alignment among all of their organization’s customer-facing functions – including sales, research, commerce, and customer care.”

2. The Insights Generator

As the customer experience leader, the CMO will have access to a wealth of data from multiple touchpoints. They need to mine this data for insights about consumer needs and behaviors, and use those findings to fuel innovation.

“When these insights are fed to other functions,” Sawhney wrote, “customer feedback can dramatically improve products, qualify leads, target ad spending, and elevate customer service.”

3. The Growth Catalyzer

Smart CMOs don’t just identify great ideas; they own them and act on them.

McDonald’s, for example, used social listening to see that customers wanted breakfast sandwiches to be available all day. Marketers then worked with supply chains to build a new customer-driven menu: “All Day Breakfast.” This prompted significant revenue growth after 14 consecutive quarters of decline.

To drive similar success, marketing leaders must break down silos between teams. Those who gather social data and those who interact with customers must be able to communicate and collaborate in real-time.

4. The Brand Steward

All companies are vulnerable to public criticism and negative reviews online. That’s why CMOs must identify brand advocates and empower them to share their positive experiences. With advocates on their side, CMOs can help create engaged communities of new and loyal customers.

“By embracing the ‘brand steward’ role and committing to rank and file Advocates,” Sawhney wrote, “CMOs can not only guard against detractors, they can build and sustain brand affinity.”

5. The Marketing Communicator

Marketing leaders have to keep up with a growing number of digital platforms. This makes it tough to collect and coordinate data in real-time. CMOs can solve this issue by using an integrated platform that lets them collect data from multiple channels, build audience segments, and deliver personalized messages all in a single framework.

This communication tool will also allow the CMO to connect legacy systems like email and CRM, so all teams can have a unified view of the customer.

6. The Talent Incubator

CMOs aren’t the only ones affected by this digital transformation. Content directors, data scientists, and managers will need to be trained or re-hired to help the CMO fulfill these new responsibilities.

Marketing leaders must take a hard look at their current teams and find opportunities to expand digital and technical expertise. If current employees aren’t up to the job, CMOs need to find candidates with the right skill sets. After all, the CMO of tomorrow needs the team of tomorrow in order to succeed.

The Customer-First CMO Profile

The rules of marketing have changed. The role of the CMO must change with them.

As IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso wrote in the whitepaper, “20 years ago, the CMO was essentially the broadcast arm of a company in charge of taking the company’s messages and distributing them through advertising, PR, etc. But that is changing dramatically now.”

It’s up to CMOs to lead their companies through this new world of marketing. And that starts with mastering the six competencies outlined above. It’s not just critical if they want to keep their job; it’s also absolutely necessary if they want their company to survive.


The author, Ben Waldron, is a former journalist and PR professional, who joined the Content Marketing team in 2016 as Associate Editor.

What the 2016 Election Teaches Us About Digital Advocacy and the Future of Grassroots Campaigns

By Erin O’Connor, Account Supervisor at WordWrite Communications

[ This is a post from WordWrite Communications, a strategic communications consulting firm based in downtown Pittsburgh. ]

On November 9, 2016, millions of Americans tuned in to the morning news with a general sense of wonder. A business mogul, turned reality TV star, turned political candidate had been elected president of the United States, and every campaign analyst and statistician in the country crawled back into their foxholes to burn their Excel spreadsheets.

Though, despite the widespread shock and awe that ensued after the votes were tallied, one man who had been hired by the Trump campaign remained unsurprised by the results. Not because he was privy to some sort of foreign espionage or because he had savant-like tendencies, but because he knew he and his team had achieved something that no one had done before.

Flash back to summer 2016. Candidate Donald Trump engages data-analytics company Cambridge Analytica to aid his social media efforts. Unlike much of Trump’s decision-making during his campaign, the choice to bring on the company and its British CEO, Alexander Nix, went relatively unnoticed. After all, Hilary Clinton had relied heavily on social media throughout her campaign, and worked with big names like Google and Dreamworks. Why was this selection any different?

But it was. Nix’s strategy was complex, built around the idea that by cross-referencing people’s behavior on social media with their inherent psychological traits he and his team would be able to predict with incredible accuracy what message would attract particular voters. This was unique – in the past, political campaigns relied primarily on broad demographic data to drive decision-making. Trump was now using targeted psychographics. According to comments Nix made in a speech last fall, his team was “able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.”

Pretty soon, every message candidate Trump shared was driven by some sort of data point. Canvassers were provided with an app with which they could identify the political views and personality types of every household, so they could tailor their conversations. Before the third presidential debate, Trump’s team tested more than 150,000 variations of social media ads to find the right wording for his arguments.

Flash forward to now. What Alexander Nix and Cambridge Analytica achieved is noteworthy, not just because they helped Donald Trump defy conventional wisdom, but because they’ve taught the marketing world something very important about how to use social media for grassroots campaigns: Find the cross-section of people that align with your cause, and tailor your messaging as intricately as possible based on their beliefs, not simply their broad demographic profile.

For the past several years, our firm has worked with a number of non-profits and advocacy organizations to help them utilize social media as a tool to enhance their outreach efforts. We call it digital advocacy, the process of using technology to mobilize advocates around a particular cause. Think of it as a fancy term for the 21st-century method of walking around neighborhoods asking people to sign a petition. We take a host of digital tactics – blogging, social media, email, data analytics – and create a program that reaches the right audience in the right place at the right time.

This is more of an evolution than a revolution – marketers have been using digital strategy for years to help encourage users to buy a certain product or service. But what makes digital advocacy unique is the revolutionary role it plays in the nonprofit and political sectors.

Gone are the days of spending months soliciting volunteers to canvass local neighborhoods in hopes of adding a handful of names to your constituency. Never again will it take years to rally together a group of people who will stand ready and willing to advocate for your cause at a moment’s notice. And enticing people to donate can be achieved with the click of a button.

While we understand nonprofits and advocacy groups don’t always have access to funding that rivals that of a gargantuan U.S. presidential campaign, the beauty of the internet is that the tactics and methodology used by Alexander Nix and Cambridge Analytica can be evaluated and appropriately implemented on a much smaller scale, for much less money, with much less time. And because a blog would be nothing without some sort of list, we’ve put together a few tips for organizations looking to implement the latest digital advocacy techniques:

Create a game plan based on your audience’s behaviors

Learn as much as you can about your target audience and paint a picture of your ideal advocate. Use that as a baseline for determining your tactics. For instance, if you learn that because of the nature of your cause, most of your advocates likely live on Facebook, but not on Twitter or LinkedIn, focus your efforts accordingly.

When building advertising audiences, start with demographics and build with psychographics

Per Nix’s findings, when building your target audience for your advertising efforts, consider people’s attitudes vs. simply who they are and build from there. If your audience is primarily comprised of females in their 20s, what does that person look like? What is their behavior, and how does that behavior translate to their activity on and off social media?

Stay in touch

Once you’ve attracted supporters for your cause, don’t go silent until you need them for something. Keep in touch with that audience by sending them email updates, or continuously updating your website and social platforms with new information.

Use the best tools

Now that digital advocacy has taken off, there are hundreds of tools to help groups expand their campaigns. Take for instance Pittsburgh-based influencer company The Motherhood. They’ve built a platform that can track down almost any type of blogger influencer out there with unprecedented precision – from environmental enthusiasts to moms who are concerned with the future of education.

Regardless of your budget, targeting to engage the right audience, at the right time, and in the right place, has become much easier with the advent of internet tools. Start with a cause, learn more about your audience and create a program that speaks uniquely to them.


This year, PRSA Pittsburgh has partnered with locally based breast cancer foundation, A Glimmer of Hope, to help raise awareness for their cause. For more information on the organization, please visit


Erin O’Connor is an account supervisor at WordWrite Communications. She can be reached at

FAQ: Is the APR Credential Good for Life?

By Ben Butler, APR

[ This is the fifth post in the APR Journey Series exploring the Accreditation in Public Relations credential and the journey to getting it. Check out the introductory post here. ]

The APR journey requires an intensive amount of front-end work. Naturally, you may be asking the question, “Is the credential good for life?”

Yes, and no.

The Low-Down: As Long As You Maintain, You Won’t Have to Go Through the Formal Process Again

The bottom line is once you successfully complete the examination process, you won’t need to go through it verbatim again. This is, of course, as long as you participate in maintenance. More on that in a moment.

So, that hard work you front-ended will be well worth it. In my opinion, maintenance is in the natural flow of any APR professional’s journey and doesn’t compare to the rigor of securing the credential.

All About APR Maintenance

To maintain the Accreditation, you will have to gather a minimum of 10 maintenance points over a three-year period.

The point breakdown includes:

  • Five points in “Continuing Education and Professional Development”
  • Five combined points across “Professionalism” or “Public Service.” It can be all Professionalism, all Public Service or a mix.

Maintenance Category: “Continuing Education and Professional Development”

“Continuing Education and Professional Development” refers to formal study in a college/university setting or time spent in communications subject matter.

Points within this category come from some familiar sources:

  • Online seminars
  • National conferences
  • Chapter programming
  • Completing the APR study course (as an Accredited Member)
  • Advanced College/University Degrees (automatic reaccreditation)
  • Serving as a panelist or instructor
  • Publishing a book (automatic reaccreditation)

Maintenance Category: “Professionalism”

“Professionalism” is reflected in your service to public relations organizations.

Once again, some familiar point sources here:

  • Serving as a National officer or board member
  • Chair of national committee or district chair
  • Serving as a local Chapter officer
  • Scoring a regional award from PRSA Chapters
  • Receiving a national award
  • Receiving a Silver Anvil Award

Maintenance Category: “Public Services”

These points are gained through volunteer or pro-bono work within the field.


The APR journey is all about showcasing not just your tangible skills and experience, but a life-long commitment to growth. That journey doesn’t stop whether you’re a young or retired professional.

Also as you can see from the actual categories, and their content, the points represent things that (in my opinion) an active communications professional should be doing anyway. If you’re not, you may be inactive in the industry, which doesn’t merit the retention of the credential.

All it takes is some documentation of your annual activities along the way.

The above-points are a high-level view. If you’d like to take a deeper dive, check out some additional resources here.

Need help? Get in touch with me — I’m happy to be your sherpa.


Ben Butler, APR, is the client services director for Top Hat, an award-winning marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, and the Accreditation Director for PRSA Pittsburgh. In his past life he served as a public relations guy for a motorsports complex, director of inbound partnerships for an inbound marketing agency and head of communications for a software startup. He’s been named a Top Under 40 Communicator and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR)—a distinction held by less than 20-percent of all practitioners.

Digital and Social: Tactics July Issue Recap

By Bre Stephens

As PR professionals, we live and breathe anything and everything digital.

In the latest issue of Tactics, you’ll find tips and tricks for communicating a brand’s voice and purpose through a variety of digital channels—from traditional social media to emerging technologies.

PRSA Survey: Communicators Are Slow to Embrace New Technologies

  • A recent survey conducted by PRSA and theEMPLOYEEapp by APPrise mobile revealed that even in an age of emerging social and digital platforms, many companies still turn to older, conventional forms of communication, such as email.

Reality Check: Why VR Should Be Part of Your PR Portfolio

  • Kate Ryan, U.S. managing director of Diffusion PR, explains how her company used virtual reality to take its clients’ content to the next level.

The Dos and Don’ts of Influencer Marketing

  • As more and more PR teams tap into the power of influencer marketing, it’s important to know how to best utilize this strategy. Kamiu Lee, vice president of business development and finance for Activate by Bloglovin’, lays out the dos and don’ts of influencer marketing to set you up for success.

7 Ways to Make Social Media Work for Your Campaign

  • With so many social media channels out there, a multitude of companies miss the mark on which are most effective for their campaigns. Ozzie Godinez, co-founder and CEO of PACO Collective, shares seven tips for making sure your brand’s voice is heard in the digital realm.

‘The Race for Relevance’: Social Media Demands New PR Competencies

Read the latest issue of Tactics here.


Bre is an assistant account executive at Havas PR. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.


Why Should a Man Attend a Women in Business Event?

Unfortunately Carving Your Niche has been cancelled.  We look forward to meeting you at a future PRSA Pittsburgh event.

Thank you for your understanding!


By Steve Radick, PRSA Pittsburgh President

Maybe you marched, helped someone lean in, or realized how important she was when she left for the day. Maybe you voted for a woman to become President. Or maybe you’ve liked a few Facebook posts. Whatever you have or haven’t personally done, it’s clear men must take on a much more visible role in gender equality issues. And while these public displays of support are great, it’s the everyday moments where we can really start to make a difference.

After 15 years in an industry dominated by women, and having three daughters of my own, I feel uniquely qualified to share some of the things I’ve learned, not from hashtags, conferences, or books, but from honest, candid conversations with dozens of brilliant women over the years. Lest you fear putting your foot in your mouth, sounding completely ignorant, or straight up offending your female colleagues, I’ve gone ahead and done all these things many times.  Here’s what I’ve learned that I’d recommend to men who wish to do more for gender equality:

  1. Develop true relationships with women at your workplace where you can have frank conversations without fear of offending.
  2. What may be a small thing to you may be a huge thing to her. You’ll never know, though, if you don’t pay attention or ask.
  3. Don’t be so afraid to sound stupid that you stop asking questions.
  4. Be especially cognizant of assigning her typical gender roles (don’t always ask the woman to take notes, don’t ask her to get office supplies for a meeting, etc.). You may not think anything of it, but believe me, she does.
  5. Even if you don’t feel comfortable participating in conversations about women’s issues, at least be adjacent to them. Believe it or not, there is a bit of an osmosis effect that occurs just by being around strong women and listening to what they’re talking about.

On Thursday, July 27, you’ll have a great opportunity to put #5 into action. PRSA Pittsburgh is hosting its second annual women in business event, Carving Your Niche at SLATE in the Strip District. You’ll get to hear from amazing women from the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions and a former Partner at Ketchum, and a reporter turned publisher for one of Pittsburgh’s top magazines, but more importantly, you’ll learn by being there and listening.

I was one of the very few men to attend last year’s event and I can’t tell you how much these types of events have helped me in my career. I wouldn’t miss this year’s event for anything. And whether you’re a man, woman, senior executive or intern, I hope you’ll join me there.

You can RSVP for Carving Your Niche here.


Steve Radick is the Vice President, Director of Public Relations at BRUNNER in Pittsburgh. Find out more about Steve here.

Meet the Speakers for Our Second Annual Women in Business Event, Carving Your Niche

Unfortunately Carving Your Niche has been cancelled.  We look forward to meeting you at a future PRSA Pittsburgh event.

Thank you for your understanding!


PRSA Pittsburgh’s first annual women in business event, A Toast to Us, was a sold-out success.  With dozens of businesswomen discussing entrepreneurship, leadership and the business landscape, the dialogue was dynamic and the enthusiasm was palpable.  We hosted an incredible slate of speakers including Cooper Munroe, founder and CEO of The Motherhood, Laura Zorch and Sarah Sudar, co-founders of EatPGH, Kyshira Moffett, founder of the KSM Group and Laura Maxwell of Carnegie Mellon’s Women Leadership and Negotiation Academy.

Leveraging the knowledge and motivation gleaned from last year, we’re looking forward to hosting our 2017 event, Carving Your Niche, on Thursday, July 27 presented by WordWrite Communications.  Interested in attending?  RSVP here.  And then read on to hear more about this year’s top-tier speakers:

Andi Perelman, Manager of New Media, Pittsburgh Penguins

Andi is preparing to start her fifth season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. She began as the team’s New Media Coordinator and has since moved up to manage a five-person team as the Manager of New Media. Andi oversees the Penguins’ social media accounts, website, and sections of the team app and has grown the Penguins social accounts to boast over 4.5 million followers collectively. Andi joined the Penguins after earning her Master’s degree in Sports Industry Management at Georgetown University.



Kelley Skoloda, Chief InfluencHer and Angel Investor, KS Consulting and Capital

Kelley is a global trend spotter and recognized authority on consumer marketing to women and moms. Hergroundbreaking research and initiatives for PR firm, Ketchum, helped it become a top consumer agency worldwide while positioning her as a leading spokesperson on this topic. Her business book, Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women, was named a “must read” by Publishers Weekly. Kelley is a founding member of and investor in the Next Act Fund, an angel funding group focused on female-led, early-stage businesses.

Betsy Benson, Publisher, Pittsburgh Magazine

Betsy has nearly 30 years of experience in journalism and media, serving as publisher of Pittsburgh Magazine since 2002. Founded in 1969, Pittsburgh Magazine is one of the market’s leading multi-platform media brands with a growing audience for its publications, e-media and events. Betsy graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and spent the first 15 years of her career as a reporter and editor at the Pittsburgh Business Times.






Each of these women has carved her niche and is championing the next generation of leaders.  Hear their stories and more at Carving Your Niche, presented by WordWrite Communications, on Thursday, July 27 beginning at 5:30 p.m.  The event will be held at SLATE, a newly opened event space produced by Shayla Hawkins Events.  We’re also hosting a raffle benefitting Glimmer of Hope, a woman-owned breast cancer awareness non-profit.

PRSA Pittsburgh member tickets are $45 and non-member tickets are $60 – you can purchase yours here.  See you on the 27th!

The PR Debate: Old School vs. New School PR

By Hollie Geitner, Vice President, Client Services at WordWrite Communications

[ This is a post from WordWrite Communications, a strategic communications consulting firm based in downtown Pittsburgh. This article originally appeared on WordWrite’s blog. ]

Until social media came along, the public relations field had remained relatively unchanged, save for the technology used to identify reporters and distribute press releases. Now, a debate seems to have divided the industry into two segments—old school vs. new school public relations. Is it time for industry veterans to accept that it’s all digital, all the time? Or, should millennial PR pros take a pause from social posting to grab coffee with a journalist?

When I began my career in corporate and media relations, I would spend countless hours standing by the fax machine sending my press release and waiting for the confirmation report indicating it went through successfully. I would often follow up with a phone call to key reporters—sometimes I’d even visit them and hand them the release inside a press kit I’d carefully put together.

Over time, email became the preferred method for delivering information, saving me from dozens of paper cuts. No matter how I shared my news, one thing remained a constant—my relationships. I made it a point to personally visit the key reporters in my region who wrote about the company for which I worked. I found out what interested them, learned a bit about them on a personal level and tailored my story pitches so no one received a blast email from me—or worse yet, a pitch that had nothing to do with their beat.

As social media has continued to evolve from the once music-focused MySpace into a complex universe of channels and segmented audiences, it has become another tool in the PR toolbox. I’ve happily hopped onto the bandwagon and embraced it as a necessity in today’s information-packed world. Ignoring it is not an option because the conversations are happening whether you are a participant or not.

While most of us PR veterans agree this is an exciting time for our industry, we remain true to the fundamental tenet of building relationships first. More tools to deliver a message are great, however relationships have always been the foundation of any successful media relations strategy.

According to Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report, journalists are still looking for credible industry experts for their stories, however they prefer to be contacted by email. In fact, 90 percent prefer this tried and true method over phone calls or pitches via social media platforms. This is true despite the fact just about every journalist uses multiple social channels to stay abreast of breaking news, be informed about industry updates for their beat and to share their own stories. As for what actually drives their coverage, journalists have indicated exclusivity and an existing relationship with a PR agency or a representative are their top considerations.

What does this mean for PR professionals? Truthfully, not a whole lot. Experienced PR practitioners have always focused on relationships and always will. A media placement from a press release isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it’s good. However, what happens after that news is old? Will that reporter ever call you or consider you/your client for future articles? If you haven’t developed a relationship with that person, it’s highly unlikely. And, the quality of your placement can certainly be called into question. A story with interviews and photos is worth much more than a small blurb pulled directly from a press release.

While the public relations field has evolved with new technology, the fundamentals remain the same—relationships trump all else. Used wisely for research, sharing information and engaging with influencers/customers, social media is a fantastic tool for anyone working in public relations. Conversely, when used solely as a bullhorn to blast out information or to annoy reporters, it is a waste of time and could be detrimental to any future outreach efforts. A one-way communication channel does not build relationships so why bother? You’d be better off standing by the fax machine.


Hollie Geitner is vice president, client services for WordWrite Communications.You can find her on Twitter @JustHollieG

5 Steps to Take Before Your CEO Goes on Camera

By Bridgette Borst Ombres

Note: Before you commit to any media interview, make sure you’ve researched the outlet and reporter and have decided it’s a good idea to take the interview in the first place. In a crisis, refer to your crisis communications plan for more detailed guidance around engaging with media.

Need a toolkit for getting your executive camera-ready? You’ve come to the right place – this post is jam-packed with tips, a “cheat sheet” you can download and additional resources that will ensure your CEO aces his or her next interview and lands killer soundbites.

Develop 3-4 key points

The soundbite has been shrinking for years so with limited time to get the main point(s) across in an interview, make every second count.

Honing in on a few key points will keep your spokesperson focused. If he or she shows up for an interview with a laundry list of things to say, this waters down the message and may come at the cost of getting attention around the most important things your brand wants to get in front of stakeholders.

Role play

Interview scenarios allow the CEO to apply communications skills/techniques in real time and provides the executive with an opportunity to practice the toughest questions.

If time allows, always record the role play takes and critique them afterwards.

Review bridging, bump-and-run, commenting without commenting and turn table techniques.

The CEO should build a verbal “bridge” from the reporter’s question to his or her answer (referring back to tip #1).

If a reporter fires off a tricky question, make sure the executive understands how to “bump” the question with a quick answer (yes or no) and “run” back to the 3-4 key points.

Commenting without commenting: In straightforward terms, the executive should explain why they can’t say more (i.e., the interviewee should stay in his or her lane and shouldn’t weigh in on an issue or subject that isn’t related to his or her duties).

It’s perfectly OK for the CEO to pose a question and quickly “turn the table” to answer it. For example, “The real question here is: ‘how are we responding to the cyberattack?’ We have a plan…”

As a former television reporter, I can tell you there’s no phrase more damning to a spokesperson than “no comment.” The reporter (and viewers) hear, “I’m guilty!”

Straight from Mr. Media Training himself, here’s a great read on how to answer tough questions.

Eliminate umm’s, like’s, uh’s and so’s.

Get rid of the verbal litter – it doesn’t add anything. In fact, it takes away substance, can become distracting and makes the interviewee appear less intelligent and polished. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to recognize this bad habit themselves initially, so the spokesperson must train his or her ear to listen for it. That’s why recording role plays is so helpful.

During media training clients, here’s a short exercise I use to help people become aware of using filler words:

Ask them to pick any object in the room (i.e., printer, television, filing cabinet, etc.) and talk about it for 30 seconds. Make note of how many times they use a verbal filler and point it out to them afterwards. This helps the person be more attune to when they’re using fillers since most people don’t even realize they do it.

Practice positive body language

Since most communication is nonverbal, be sure not to overlook this step. Positive body language isn’t limited to remembering to smile and not shifting your weight. It’s important to run through energy, tone, eye contact, gestures and posture with your CEO (another reason why recording role plays is critical in preparing for a media interview – so you and the CEO can see any negative body language issues that should be addressed).

Forgive the cliché, but practice makes (almost) perfect. Repetition helps to internalize the key message points and reduces the risk of going off-message or completely bombing the interview. No matter how seasoned the spokesperson, being prepared is the best recipe for a successful interview. If you can, try to pre-interview the reporter to get a better sense of the story’s focus and questions.

Whether you’re preparing for your next media interview or prepping the CEO (or another spokesperson) for one – click here to reference this quick “cheat sheet.”

Interested in learning more about how to land a successful media interview? Check out this blog post on what not to do – “Media Interviews: The 7 Deadly Sins.”


Bridgette Borst Ombres is a former television news reporter turned PR and marketing professional with a decade of experience working in the communications field across agency, corporate and nonprofit sectors. Bridgette is the director of marketing and communications at a tech company in Pittsburgh and also consults for a variety of businesses.

She is a member of PRSA Pittsburgh, serves on the TEDxPittsburgh committee, the co-founder of Not Your Mama’s Book Club and volunteers as a mentor at both of her alma maters.



5 Secrets to Outrageous Success in the APR Process

By Ben Butler, APR

[ This is the fourth post in the APR Journey Series exploring the Accreditation in Public Relations credential and the journey to getting it. Check out the introductory post here. ]

So, by now you understand the process, you’ve checked your qualifications and you’re rip-roaring, ready to go. You’re probably wondering, “What’s the best plan of attack to momentously completing and succeeding at getting your APR credential?”

Here are 5 secrets to help you achieve success:

Secret 1: Set a Steady Pace

Just like a run, pace is the most important aspect at achieving success. In the APR process, you’ll need to set a pace that’s repeatable for the duration and gets you across the finish line.

Your first step is to submit an application. Once you receive approval to engage the process, you’ll have exactly one year to complete the journey. That may sound like a long time, but it’ll go far quicker than you think.

You’ll need to maintain a disciplined routine and high-tempo pace if you hope to finish. I’d recommend trying to complete this as soon as your schedule allows. If you happen to have the time available, this is especially relevant. Use availability to its maximum potential because you never know when a work or life event will disrupt your flow.

Secret 2: Start Studying for the Exam before You Present Your Panel Review Presentation

This piece of advice — given to me by former PRSA Pittsburgh Accreditation Chair Jeff Worden, APR — was a game-changer for my APR journey.

When given approval to start the APR process (Step 1), dive into the recommended texts and the official study guide. Be well-versed in that content before you even prepare for your Panel Review Presentation (Step 2).

The study process takes the longest to do, so it’s best to begin early and not save it for last (exam is Step 3). More than that, however, it’s a great refresher on the full scope of the practice of public relations. Shaking the dust off the full range of considerations for public relations will help frame your mentality through the rest of the process.

You’ll also be able to move from successful completion of your Panel Review right into the examination with serious momentum. That will pay dividends in the end.

Secret 3: Get a Study Buddy or Study Group

Entering the process with a buddy is worth considering. Together, you can study and hold each other accountable through the process.

Secret 4: Book Time Weekly for APR Activities

Doing APR activities on a “whenever” basis won’t work, especially with what needs completed. I recommend allotting one day a week to hunker down on the studying and preparation. Evenings and weekends seem to work best with most schedules.

Secret 5: Lean into Your Accreditation Chair

Leaning into your Accreditation Chair is the best decision you can make. Yes, you’re going to have a lot of questions, but I’d take things a step deeper.

  • Before you begin, consider having them review your application.
  • Ask them to review your materials and preparation work through the process.
  • Ask them for feedback on your Panel Review Presentation before setting it up. They’ve been there, they know the grading code and they can help make sure you’re successful.
  • Ask them for study tips and connections with relevant professionals who can help mentor you in expertise areas you’re curious about.


Need help making this a success? Get in touch with me — I’m happy to be your sherpa.


Ben Butler, APR, is the client services director for Top Hat, an award-winning marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, and the Accreditation Director for PRSA Pittsburgh. In his past life he served as a public relations guy for a motorsports complex, director of inbound partnerships for an inbound marketing agency and head of communications for a software startup. He’s been named a Top Under 40 Communicator and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR)—a distinction held by less than 20-percent of all practitioners.