Apr 10 2014

New Team Member Spotlight: Ross Pfenning

Published by under RLF Spotlight

RLF welcomes Ross Pfenning to the team as a communications specialist. Ross recently worked as a corporate marketing associate for CSOFT International in Beijing, China. He graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies.

To get to know Ross better, we asked him a few questions:

Tell us a little about your work experience and what attracted you to RLF.

After graduating from Davidson College, I decided to pack my bags and head east – well, west technically, but it’s all relative – to search for opportunities in China. Initially performing business development and marketing duties for an international consulting startup, I moved on to a large international translation and localization company headquartered in Beijing. There I performed a range of marketing and communications tasks, but was relied upon primarily for my writing and creative abilities, producing everything from white papers to blog posts to magazine ads. To be part of such a small marketing team for such a large company afforded me many opportunities to expand and further my skills, more so than a person of my age or experience level could expect to find in the U.S. at the time. Ultimately, living in China provided me a host of unique and eye-opening experiences, but the one I am most thankful for is the discovery of my passion for marketing-related work.

And that brings me to RLF. Upon returning to the U.S., I knew I wanted to be in an agency setting. RLF embodies precisely the type of organization I want to be a part of. With such experienced and knowledgeable people on staff, it is a place where I can both learn new skills and contribute my existing abilities to enhance the success of not only RLF, but also its clients. I am excited to be onboard and look forward to the opportunities ahead.

What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?

Breathing fresh air! Yes, after spending three years of my life coating my lungs in particulate matter and smog, I am incredibly grateful for North Carolina’s blue skies and clean air. I enjoy running, hiking up the Appalachian Trail, or just lazing on the beach. Give me a good book and a well-designed playlist and I’ll be happy for hours, though I might take periodic breaks to jump in the pool/lake/ocean – whichever body of water I happen to be near at the time.

What is the last book you read?

I am currently working on several books, one of which is “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising” by Luke Sullivan. As an aspiring copywriter with a passion for bringing creative ideas to life, I am very much enjoying the comical prose, peppered with cynicism. It is both enlightening and somewhat humbling to learn what masterpieces some of the earlier advertising minds were able to produce. However, finding original and compelling ways to reach my audience is a challenge I am delighted to take on.

If you had a theme song, what would it be?

“Kaleidoscope” by Tiësto, featuring Jónsi. If you haven’t heard it, you should. Okay, the song takes some patience as it has a pretty slow build, but the wait is entirely worth it and the anticipation only makes the ‘drop’ more spectacular. Jónsi, responsible for the vocals in the song, is also the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Sigur Rós. Hearing him sing in English is a bit of a treat because most of his stuff is either in Icelandic or some made-up, incoherent babble that simply sounds nice (but isn’t the kind of thing you can really sing along to). Tiësto’s contribution of cool synths and a steady dance beat takes the song to another level, delivering a unique combination of sounds both soothing and electrifying that packs everything I want into a single song.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Nelson Mandela. As a South African citizen and resident for 10 years, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for all that Madiba did for the country in his lifetime. I am inspired by his determination to unite a nation and awed by his ability to forgive those who treated him so poorly. I would have loved the opportunity to sit with him for even a couple of hours just to get a sense of what such a selfless person must be like. He contributed to not only the development of South Africa, but that of the world as well.

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Apr 08 2014

New Client Spotlight: Camp Corral

Published by under RLF news

By Alyssa Bedrosian

At RLF we have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients—from law firms to restaurants to financial services companies, we get a taste of just about every industry.

While we enjoy working with all of our clients, we are excited to begin working with an organization that provides a unique and important service to military families across the United States.

Camp Corral is a one-of-a-kind camp for children of military service members. This summer, Camp Corral will send approximately 3,000 children from military families to a fun-filled, week-long camp at no cost to the families. Camp Corral partners with YMCA and 4-H organizations to host 20 camps in 16 states spanning from Florida to California. Boys and girls ages 8 to 15 participate in traditional outdoor camp activities and have the opportunity to simply enjoy being kids, away from the stresses of military life. While all children from military families are invited to register, children with a wounded, disabled or fallen military parent are given priority.

Camp Corral is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation and relies on donations from individuals, as well as support from corporate donors to fund its programs and operational costs. Each spring, the restaurant company Golden Corral supports Camp Corral by setting up contribution stations inside its restaurants and encouraging customers to make individual contributions. In 2013, Golden Corral guests contributed more than $1.6 million to meet the needs of campers.

RLF is honored to be working with Camp Corral, and we look forward to helping the organization continue to grow and achieve its vision.

For more information about this amazing organization, visit www.campcorral.org.

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Apr 04 2014

March Madness: 3 Lessons for PR and Marketing Professionals Straight from the Court

By Victoria Dolan 

Most basketball fans can sum up this year’s NCAA basketball tournament in one word: surprising. Losses by Duke University and Ohio State University in the first round resulted in real “March Madness” and broken brackets for many avid basketball fans. Whether you researched team histories, banked on expert opinions or viewed every game personally, there were not many advantages to be had building your brackets this season.

Depending on current standings, predictions and status quos can hurt PR and marketing strategies too. Here are some lessons that translate from the basketball court to the communications world:

Leverage your victories.

Relish in the glory but don’t let your winner’s high distract from building relationships or converting customers. Awards, media mentions and successful rankings are the perfect time to reach out to nonbelievers and show them why your product or service beats the competition. After UCONN’s victory over Michigan State, the team President Obama had picked to win the national title, @UCONNHuskies tweeted: “Sorry about busting your bracket @BarackObama… We have room on our bandwagon if you’re interested.” A little humor never hurt anyone, right? Engaging with them then might not convert them right away, but it can help build a better relationship in the long run.

Just because you are seeded #1 does not guarantee winning the title.

Michigan State was seeded #4 and was defeated by UCONN who was seeded #7. Kentucky was seeded #8 in the Midwest Region and has made it to the Final Four. Your product or service may be accredited “the best” in the industry today, but tomorrow is another day and there’s a good chance that the competition is trying to show that they are just as good, if not better, than you. Continuously innovate and challenge yourself to exceed your customers’ expectations because being too comfortable with your current bragging rights can lead to failure in the end.  

Be aware of ALL your competition.

Know, observe and track all of the teams you’re playing against. Today’s underdog could be tomorrow’s fiercest rival. Follow their marketing campaigns, new product releases and developments, news coverage and social media interactions. Keeping tabs on their strategies will not only show you what works and doesn’t work, but will also keep you a step ahead of the game.


Photo courtesy of Luis Blanco’s Flickr photostream.

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Apr 01 2014

Happy 7th Birthday to RLF!

Published by under RLF news

By Monty Hagler

The phrase “seven year itch” is commonly used to refer to the decline of happiness in a marriage, but it also applies to the desire to either revamp other aspects of your life or move on to perceived greener pastures. As RLF Communications celebrates its seventh anniversary on April 1, I’m experiencing the complete opposite effect. We’re just getting started on what we set out to accomplish.

I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on our first seven years and the things that I would do differently if given the opportunity. I recognize that I cannot, as the Greek philosopher Heraclites observed, “step into the same river twice.” Nor do I want to. But I have better learned how to identify the stepping stones that provide safe passage and spot the deep pools that could plunge us to the bottom.

The world has shifted and changed more than I ever imagined when we launched RLF, and as a result, the fundamental purpose for starting our agency has never been more urgent. Our mission is to help clients tell their stories in clear, consistent and compelling ways to the audiences who matter most to them. We work as a partner, taking pride in every success and feeling the sting of every setback. And while we know that tangible results need to be generated every day, we measure our progress against long-term metrics and outcomes.

I have never seen clients working harder than they are right now. Opportunities abound in virtually every industry sector, but communications and marketing professionals are doing more with less – dwindling staff, fewer resources, tighter budgets, compressed time. It makes the role of an external partner such as RLF even more critical.

Looking ahead to the next seven years we will continue to expand the scope of our work on national and international campaigns with clients who are, or aspire to be, leaders in their respective industries. Living up to that goal will require continued discipline and focus. It will require us to strengthen our expertise and depth in areas such as digital and mobile communication platforms, and necessitate the hiring of individuals who can expertly manage technologies and applications that didn’t even exist seven years ago!

From the clients who have been with RLF since the very beginning to the new clients that brought us on board in the first quarter of 2014, thank you for the trust you have placed in our team and our abilities to help you achieve your objectives. I hope you will continue to support our journey by recommending and referring us to companies that need a strong agency partner to achieve their aspirations. I look forward to the opportunities ahead.

Photo courtesy of Santa’s Village Family Entertainment Park.

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Mar 25 2014

RLF Internship Program Gives Students Tangible, Hands-on PR Experience

By Alyssa Bedrosian

Just a few decades ago, attending college and having a decent GPA were enough to begin a career at a solid company. Fast forward to 2014, and the world of entry-level positions is more competitive than ever before, with companies seeking out college graduates who have significant, real-life work experience.

For public relations and communications majors, this means finding internships that allow students to do more than just pick up coffee and make copies. Public relations agencies, nonprofits and corporate communications departments are looking for individuals who know how to write, pitch, think strategically, manage social media, maintain a brand’s reputation and work collaboratively within a team. At RLF, we understand the importance of providing students with a quality, hands-on internship that prepares them to enter the ever-changing world of PR.

RLF is a small, full-service strategic communications agency, and because of the size and scope of our work, interns have the opportunity to experience the day-to-day activities of client account teams (starting with the signing of a confidentiality agreement). Under the close supervision and mentorship of RLF staff, our interns have the opportunity to write press releases, create ad copy, compile media lists, pitch reporters, attend brainstorming sessions, manage social media accounts, conduct client research and assist with the implementation of special events. Interns are also compensated for their work upon successful completion of the program.

We are proud to say that many of our former interns are already excelling in the industry. One former intern recently had an article featured in PR Daily, a leading public relations outlet, while another is working for a top public relations agency in New York City.

Finding the right job requires an intricate balancing act of maintaining a high GPA, gaining quality leadership and career experience, preparing for interviews, and knowing the right people. Yet in the end, hands-on experience in the industry trumps all. Our goal is to transform classroom lessons into tangible work for our interns – and ultimately lead them down a successful career path.

To apply for an internship at RLF, send a resume, cover letter and writing samples to interns@rlfcommunications.com.

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Feb 20 2014

Going for the Gold: The Four Skills PR Pros and Olympic Athletes Have in Common

By Allison Andrews and Alexandra Obradovich 

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has provided the world with exciting sports, entertainment and drama over the past several weeks. We’ve seen the U.S. Men’s Hockey team beat Russia, Shaun White walk away without a medal and plenty of stray dogs.

While great preparation, dedication and execution are all required of Olympic athletes, these skills are also important in the world of PR. Here is a look at how events like figure skating, ice hockey and ski jumping utilize tactics similar to those of PR efforts.

Maintaining endurance

Cross-country skiing demands persistence, energy and strength, and requires endurance from each athlete to cross different levels of snow-covered terrain. The endurance needed for success in cross-country skiing is the same skill that is essential for planning and implementing long-term projects for clients in the world of PR. Staying on track is the key to meeting goals on a deadline and executing successful campaigns. Having the focus and determination to stick with a plan leads both cross-country skiers and PR professionals to victory in the long run.

Adapting to new situations

Hockey is a high-intensity sport and every second on the clock is important, with players anticipating where the puck will go and what their next move will be. Like a hockey team, a PR team must be able to navigate the high-tempo environment of the industry. The nature of public relations is fast-moving, and at times unpredictable. While a strategy is always in place, it is important to be able to adapt to one’s environment. A hockey player must always be on his or her toes and have the ability to go with the flow, just like a PR pro.

Demonstrating precision

Whether executed in pairs or individually, figure skating is always a crowd pleaser. Precision is key, in both figure skating and PR – from landing a triple axel to implementing a crisis communication plan, accuracy is a necessary ingredient to compete on the ice or in the industry. To score high in the PR world, competitors must deliver business-specific solutions with poise and grace. This choreographed dance of leaps, spins, twists and turns performed in the PR world is a necessary maneuver to successfully meet client needs.

Reaching the right target

From the audience’s point of view, ski jumping looks like one of the most terrifying events in the Winter Olympics. These athletes jump off a ramp and fly through the air, eventually landing some 360 feet from where they started. Competitors are awarded points based on style and distance, also known as their reach. In PR, it is essential that businesses reach consumers in multiple ways – be it through a print advertisement or social media posts. The importance of reaching a key audience for PR pros is just as essential as ski jumpers reaching their target distance.

The 2014 Winter Olympics and the PR world have many fundamental elements in common, including the importance of adapting to changing situations, maintaining endurance and precision, and reaching a key target. Although PR pros aren’t literally flying through the air or racing down the side of a mountain like Olympic athletes, their goal is the same: go for the gold.

Photo courtesy of Atos International’s Flickr photostream.

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Feb 13 2014

Five Tips for Effective Communication in a Crisis

By Michelle Rash

At RLF, one of our core strengths is crisis communications. We have several professionals skilled at advising clients on what – and what not – to say in the event of a crisis to help communicate to key audiences, and address any issues and concerns in the most effective way possible.

Crisis communications takes skill – say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and you can make a situation worse. You also need to be able to reach your audience quickly, yet calmly, under pressure.

While we have experience in drafting crisis communications plans and on coaching clients through tricky situations, it’s always good to have a refresher on the dos and don’ts of good crisis communications. Such a reminder was provided earlier this week at the PRSA Tar Heel Chapter monthly meeting where Nora Carr, chief of staff for Guilford County Schools, spoke on the subject. Carr has a deep background in communications and has worked with several school districts in times of crises, including Columbine, Colo., after the 1999 shootings and Moore, Okla., after a 2013 tornado destroyed an elementary school.

Among Carr’s tips for good crisis communications:

  • Most people are not prepared for the crisis that actually comes. While companies plan for natural disasters and physical tragedies, the vast majority of crises (82 percent according to the Institute for Crisis Management) are the result of bad employee or management decisions.
  • Expect the unexpected. While having a crisis plan is important, and one that is reviewed and discussed regularly, a crisis will not unfold in real life the way it does on paper. However, planning and preparing are still important because it will help you more instinctively make the best decisions under pressure.
  • Communicate clearly, quickly and frequently. Carr says whoever gets the message out first will shape the agenda, and in the age of social media, getting the message out first can mean sharing information in a matter of seconds. She advises that facts are shared early and often, updating key audiences regularly as needed. If misinformation is shared, by you or someone else, be sure to correct and clarify as quickly as possible.
  • Know your key audiences and how to reach them in advance. During a time of crisis is not the best time to create a media list or find the mayor’s phone number. Compile all the key contact information you need and keep it in a safe place. Update it regularly so it will be current if you need it in a crisis.
  • Communicate internally first. Carr says that so often in a crisis, organizations are worried about talking to reporters or external audiences that they often forget to keep their employees and other key internal audiences informed about what is happening. These individuals can be key advocates for you, and have a vested interest in helping you through a bad situation, so make sure they know everything they need to know.

Good communication is key and can make a significant difference in how a crisis is handled internally and how it is perceived externally. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, having a good plan in place and trusted partners in advance of a situation can make all the difference.

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Feb 05 2014

From Creepy Pups to Talking Candy – RLF’s Comical Picks from the Ad Bowl

Published by under Advertising,Branding

Over the past few years, the Ad Bowl has given us some true treasures: the E-Trade babies, Free Doritos in the office and Best Buy’s “Ozzy and Bieber” ad. Although this year’s commercials weren’t the funniest we’ve seen, they still gave the RLF team some good laughs.

Name: Jennie Klahre, communications manager

Favorite Commercials: “Time Machine” from Doritos and “Delivery” from M&M’s

Why I Liked Them: 

It’s no secret that I love food. A lot. So it’s only fitting that my favorite Super Bowl commercials revolve around sweet and salty snacks.

Every year I eagerly await and anticipate the Doritos commercials. They are always unique and witty – and most of all, memorable. I am most pleased with the time machine commercial this year because it highlights the upbeat and fun nature of the brand. It also demonstrates the appeal of the chips across all age groups – from a little boy to a grown man, and even to a dog. The point? Everyone likes Doritos.

M&M’s spot is more dramatic, starting out like a movie trailer for a new thriller. Then a Russian mobster reveals he’s holding Yellow, the peanut M&M, captive in his trunk. While the commercial is cute, it’s not nearly as memorable as some of the other humorous food ads. But it’s impossible to dislike adorable, talking candy, right?


Name: Alyssa Bedrosian, communications specialist

Favorite Commercial: “Doberhuahua” from Audi

Why I Liked It:

You know a commercial is good when everyone in the room suddenly gets really, really quiet. I was enjoying a conversation with friends and family, when all of a sudden a hush fell over the crowd. I glanced over at the television screen, and saw a bizarre-looking dog barking at a pedestrian on the street. I was hooked.

Audi’s “doberhuahua” commercial was hilarious, clever and tied in perfectly with the tagline for Audi’s new A3 model: designed without compromise. My favorite part of the ad was the scene with Sara McLachlan, who parodies herself in the commercial. I have always disliked Sara McLachlan’s depressing PSAs, so it was nice to see her poking fun at herself.

I thought Audi did a great job of using humor and suspense to hook its audience. However, the brand isn’t revealed until the end of the 1-minute spot. How successful are brands that wait to introduce themselves until the very end of commercials? Will viewers remember Audi, or will they only remember the funny-looking dog with a huge head? Even if viewers are able to recall the brand, it may not lead to increased sales for the new A3. Plus, the commercial doesn’t describe any of the car’s new features — it simply states that “compromise scares us too.”

Overall, I thought the ad was great, but it will be interesting to see if it ultimately results in more cars sold. It will also be interesting to see if dog aficionados start breeding “doberhuahuas.” Only time will tell.


Name: Kim Sink, director of projects and production

Favorite Commercial: “No Contract” from T-Mobile

Why I Liked It:

On Aug. 31, 2013, all I knew about life, football and good quarterbacks came crashing down right before my eyes. As a devoted Tim Tebow fan, it was hard for me to swallow that his NFL career was potentially over. Fortunately, we learned Sunday night that Tebow is saving face – and apparently saving the world.

The T-Mobile commercial is spot on because it appeals to football fans, as well as mobile users. Everyone can relate to selling his or her soul for a two-year (or more) wireless contract. On top of that, Tebow is able to poke fun at himself in an extremely entertaining way. The delivery was perfect. And the messages will always be remembered – contracts are limiting, and karma is a … well, you know.

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Feb 04 2014

Super Bowl Commercials Stirred Our Emotions

A good Super Bowl commercial (or really any commercial) will make the viewer feel something – it will make us laugh, it will make us cry, but it will find something to help us make an emotional connection with both the commercial and the product that it is selling. This year’s Super Bowl commercials were no different.

Name:  Steffany Reeve, director of consumer and lifestyle brands

My Favorite Commercial: “Empowering” from Microsoft

Why I Liked It: Since the actual game was depressing to watch with my husband who is a big Broncos fan, I was drawn to commercials that made me laugh, inspired me and tugged on my heart strings in a positive way. One ad that nearly brought me to tears was Microsoft’s “Empowering” spot. The commercial was narrated by former NFL player Steve Gleason, who uses voice recognition software to communicate with his son and shares the message that technology can improve our lives and can help create miracles. The compilation of scenes that included a young boy walking and playing baseball with artificial legs, a soldier using Skype to watch the birth of his baby, a blind man using technology to paint, and a women hearing herself for the first time, was captivating and powerful. To provoke emotion and capture the audience’s hearts is an ad style that I believe will prove effective and memorable for Microsoft.


Name:  Emily Luciano, communications manager

My Favorite Commercial: “A Hero’s Welcome” from Budweiser

Why I Liked It: This commercial resonated with me on so many levels. Let’s start with the professional level. As a communications professional, it’s my opinion that good communication — whether it a pitch to a writer, a story in a magazine or a television commercial — should illicit some kind of emotion from the person on the receiving end. “A Hero’s Welcome” did that. With its cast of real people and idyllic Main Street, flag-waving parade, I feel that it captured the essence of America. I imagine that millions of viewers felt nostalgic and proud, and for a mere moment, forgot about the travesty of a game.

On a personal level, this commercial had me in tears. All the leading men in my life — my husband, father, brother, grandfather, stepfather and father-in-law — are either active Army or Army vets. I am unable to put into words the amount of respect I have for our servicemen and women, and I’m elated that Budweiser chose to honor a real life solider so publicly. Not only did they honor him, but I felt like they also perfectly captured the wide range of emotion wrapped up in homecomings. From the nervousness and anticipation to happiness and elation, I felt like I was welcoming my soldier home as I watched!

Of course, after the commercial my husband turned to me and joked, “That’s what I expect for my next homecoming.” Any chance for a round two, Budweiser?


Name:  April McGibbony, office manager

My Favorite Commercial: “Puppy Love” from Budweiser

Why I Liked It: As the owner of a Lab and a lover of the breed, I thought this was the sweetest commercial and truly captured both the loyalty and playfulness of the breed. The commercial brought a tear to my eye.

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Feb 03 2014

The Best of the So-So: RLF Reviews This Year’s Super Bowl Commercials

Published by under Advertising

By now everyone knows that last night’s Super Bowl featured a blowout game and very few truly memorable commercials. As RLF’s Creative Director Ron Irons put it: “The game was sad. The commercials a tragedy. What few commercials I watched were boring and full of borrowed interest. The good ones are rare these days.”

However, there were a few bright spots among the mostly unremarkable Super Bowl commercials, and for the next few days, we will be highlighting some of the commercials that captured our attention.

Name:  Monty Hagler, CEO

Favorite Commercial: “America The Beautiful” from Coca-Cola

Why I Liked It: In an evening that featured a disappointing football match-up and an even more dismal array of commercials, Coca-Cola demonstrated why it’s one of the most popular brands on earth. What started as another ad featuring a tried-and-true patriotic song morphed into a beautiful, moving and unexpected visual and auditory feast. Seven languages from diverse cultures, blended together to celebrate our country’s rich tapestry. The fact that the ad ignited immediate criticism and controversy were proof that it touched people and stirred their emotions. America is a country that still inspires the world to treasure our freedoms and simple joys. That’s worth a Coke and a smile.


Name:  Michelle Rash, director of financial and professional services brands

Favorite Commercials: “The Phone Call” from Radio Shack and “Wings” from Volkswagen

Why I Liked Them: While on the surface, these commercials may seem very different, I see a common thread running through them – brands accepting, and poking fun at, the reality of how they are perceived in the marketplace.

While I am certainly not an electronics genius, or even a likely Radio Shack customer, my perception of the store is that is has become out-of-date and irrelevant with the rise of other electronics stores and the ability to order anything you need online. I think this commercial did a great job of embracing that “stuck in the 80s” reputation, using it to announce a new, updated Radio Shack. Based on the commercial, my guess is the key demographic for the “new” Radio Shack will be people in their 30s and 40s, and showcasing so many icons of the 80s in the commercial successfully grabbed their attention, created a sense of nostalgia and got them talking – at least if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication.

Likewise, Volkswagen embraces the car company’s reputation for making very reliable, dependable cars and uses it to create an entertaining, and slightly unexpected, commercial, as the company’s engineers are rewarded with wings for each car that reaches 100,000 miles. Today, so many companies take themselves too seriously, so it was refreshing to see Volkswagen find a creative approach to discussing, and enhancing, its reputation in the market.

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