RLF Communications Hires New Vice President

Experienced strategic communicator Donnie Turlington joins RLF as Vice President

RLF Communications (RLF) has hired Donnie Turlington as a vice president, where he will be responsible for providing client services and support. Turlington is the former director of communications and marketing for the City of Greensboro, where he guided the formation of the city’s first-ever communications and marketing department.

Turlington brings over two decades of experience in public relations and strategic communications to RLF. He joins the agency after helping to launch and lead Community Catalyst Partners, a national nonprofit focused on enhancing educational outcomes for young people and economic growth for communities. Prior to his work at Community Catalyst Partners, he helped lead national communications efforts, strategic communications and issue management for Say Yes to Education.

“We are thrilled to have Donnie join our agency. His communication skills and strategic planning experience will benefit our clients and bring greater depth to our team,” said Monty Hagler, president and CEO of RLF. “Donnie and I worked together in several of his past positions, including when he led communications and marketing for the City of Greensboro, and I have a deep respect for what he has accomplished in his career to date.”

“I have long admired the expertise and guidance that RLF Communications provides to its clients and I’m excited to be joining this team,” says Turlington. “One of RLF’s greatest attributes is the way the agency embraces its clients as true partners in helping them achieve their business results. I’m excited to be a part of that effort and look forward to providing strategic and critical thinking to help our partners succeed.”

Changing Seasons

My parents recently moved to a continuing care community in Salisbury (which they LOVE). For my father, the hardest part of this transition was leaving the garden that he had cultivated and nurtured for decades. As a closing note, he wrote this column for the regional daylily association magazine. I’m sharing it because it is perfect. It captures his dedication, admiration and commitment for not only the beautiful flowers that grew in his yard, but the friendships and memories he formed by engaging with others who shared his passion. And I continue to marvel at his abilities with both the spade and the pen.

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Inspiration from the road

By Monty Hagler


I found it on a recent trip to Canada for the Worldcom Public Relations Group global meeting.  A flicker came from the meeting itself, which was chock full of information, wisdom and best practices from leading public relations agencies throughout the world. A spark was generated from my final meeting as a Worldcom Global Board member, a responsibility that I greatly enjoyed and learned from. There was a glow during 2,500 miles of driving (with my fiancée Jane Nickles as my co-pilot) through gorgeous countryside along the old Canadian highway to explore Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. 

But the inspiration flame was lit while reading a book on the journey up and watching a band in an empty hotel bar on the way home. 

Flying Colors is a novel by my friend Chris Laney. He worked on it for years and years, rewriting and refining it amid rejections from publishers who all wanted something different. Something this. Something that. It is so easy for people to say no. It is so easy to give up. Chris never did. He took the feedback that made sense and he incorporated it, but he never lost sight of his vision for what he wanted his story to bring to readers. He pushed it forward and he got it published. 

When it debuted, Flying Colors was the #1 new release on Amazon in the Philosophy & Metaphysical category. It ranked among bestsellers like Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven. 

It’s an easy, fast read that will make you think about life’s possibilities and perhaps change how you view the world. I encourage everyone to buy a copy.

On our way home from Canada, we reentered the United States via Vermont. It was the final state I had not visited. Like the other 49, it did not disappoint. Expanses of green, rugged terrain, delicious local restaurants, a Great Lake and historic town squares. 

On a hot Friday night, The Chris Lyon Band set up to play in our hotel bar. Jane and I wandered in, ordered some drinks and sat down to listen. The band kicked in, playing mostly original songs rather than covers. They radiated passion and joy. We clapped, cheered and danced. We asked for more. For 2 hours, they played for us (literally, no one else showed up except for hotel staff). While I know the band would have loved a packed house, we could tell they were playing because they love music. Chris Lyon writes music because he has stories to tell, and emotions to capture. And he is going to get them out there. Find him on your favorite streaming music channel.  

Since our return to Greensboro, I’ve reflected on the commitment and focus that both Chris Laney and Chris Lyon have to pursue their passions. They’ve inspired me to recommit to my own professional and personal goals. I’m fortunate that I have a clear vision of what is important to me, the path I want to follow and what makes me happy. I may or may not be successful in all that I want to achieve. I know it will require hundreds (thousands) of hours, with two steps forward and hopefully only one step back along the way. It is better than sitting still.

I’ve been whirligigged!

That may not be an actual expression, but it accurately captures the joy and whimsy of visiting the City of Wilson’s downtown park filled with enormous, artistic windmills. Created by Vollis Simpson, whirligigs are the official folk art of North Carolina and are at the heart of a transformation taking place in Wilson as abandoned tobacco warehouses, empty mills and vacant lots are redeveloped into housing, retail and offices. RLF is working with a development firm that is participating in public private partnerships in Wilson and other communities. A field trip to see the sites first-hand was overdue. 

As part of the 36-hour trip, I visited East Carolina University for the first time in nearly 3 decades. While I have read about the remarkable growth and reinvention of ECU, it does not do justice to how this school has grown to meet the needs of North Carolinians. With a student body of more than 28,000 (and nearly half of those undergraduate and graduate students focused on STEM and Healthcare careers), ECU is a powerhouse. 

Dr. Jin-Ae Kang hosted me and Jane Nickles to dinner the night before I met with her students in the Department of Communication. We met Dr. Kang last summer at an event in Charlotte hosted by my Worldcom partner Bill Imada out of Los Angeles. She graciously invited us to visit ECU, tour the campus and speak with some of the more than 700 students in the School of Communication.  

As we had dinner at the Dickinson Avenue Public House, Dr. Kang told the story of how she had come to the United States. She was born and raised in South Korea. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Seoul. And then, without ever having visited the United States and knowing no one here, she applied for a doctoral program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. How brave! How committed! I used to think I was being bold when I traveled from North Carolina to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at Temple University, but Dr. Kang’s story puts me to shame!

The drive back from Greenville is smooth and fast, with Highway 264 a paved testament to the vision of 4-term governor Jim Hunt and our unofficial slogan of “the good roads state.” But even from the highway it is impossible to ignore the sweeping landscape of farms and open spaces. I have often said that people who live in the I-85\I-40 crescent that spans from Charlotte to Raleigh have little concept of the rural power that has defined our state for more than 300 years. 

The next time you take a trip to the North Carolina Coast, get off the interstates and highways to take the back roads. Let the history, beauty and significance of our state sink in. 

Commit To Be Great

By Monty Hagler

I recently traveled to Lambertville, New Jersey, for a two-day intensive presentation training workshop. When I first learned about the Heroic Public Speaking program, I was reluctant to commit to the class. After all, public speaking and presentations are a core component of my skill set. I competed in speech and debate competitions across the country in high school and college, have spoken at hundreds of conferences, seminars and college campuses and regularly present ideas for public relations campaigns.

But a good friend – whom I competed against more than 30 years ago in forensics – told me that I needed to make the time. “You’re very good,” she said. “But you can be great.”

Her comments reminded me of the seminal business book Good to Great. It takes vision, commitment and hard work to take performance to the next level. In my case, that started with acknowledging that my presentation skills can and should get better. So, I swallowed my pride and was richly rewarded for it.

Heroic Public Speaking was founded by Michael and Amy Port, who lead all of the sessions. They intensely believe a speech has the power to change the world and the people in it. The only other professional training I have done that compares to their level of excellence is the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) week-long seminar for managing agencies. Michael and Amy are a dynamic duo who run a tight ship, impart valuable strategies and tips in every part of the program and challenge you to be great.

In addition to wanting to improve my skills for my role as CEO of RLF Communications, I am also working on an outline for a keynote speech. I’m interested in how we move forward as a society in which there is constant disagreement and disbelief over the most basic facts, statistics, data and science. My thesis is that we will be better served – as individuals and communities – if we focus less on getting people to agree with us and spend more time on awareness and acceptance of what motivates our actions and those of others. I call my keynote “Positive Friction,” and I now have a better sense of structure and techniques to move forward with it. I hope to find some conferences and venues to test it out in the second half of 2023 and 2024.

All of us have things at which we are good. Figure out what is important to you, what makes a difference in your life and the world, and then make a commitment to get better. Make a commitment to be great.

RLF Communications Expands North Carolina Footprint With Acquisition of BAERING Group Public Relations

RLF Communications, a full-service public relations agency headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, acquired BAERING Group, a Raleigh-based public relations agency on Jan. 31.

The acquisition furthers RLF’s strategy to strengthen its footprint across North Carolina, with professional staff in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte, to serve clients conducting business statewide, nationally and internationally. Seven team members join RLF, strengthening the firm’s depth in industries such as agriculture and chemicals.

“Like RLF, BAERING worked with a wide range of industry-leading clients to provide strategic communications counsel, message development, media relations, internal communications, crisis communications, branding and other public relations services,” said Monty Hagler, CEO of RLF Communications. “The experience and knowledge of BAERING’s talented staff are a tremendous asset for our already strong team, and they will bring new perspectives and ideas to our clients.”

Founded in 2004, BAERING Group’s clients included agricultural companies, national trade associations, nonprofits and educational institutions. The firm also had a strong footprint in eastern North Carolina, adding to RLF’s capabilities in that part of the state.

“RLF Communications has an outstanding reputation as one of the premier public relations agencies in North Carolina,” said Robert Buhler, former chairman and owner of BAERING Group. “Once I made the decision to sell BAERING to pursue other business opportunities, I knew RLF would be the perfect partner for our clients and our team as their culture and dedication to strategy and service align so closely with ours.”


It seems like a lifetime ago, but I was recently reminded that it has only been 11 years since I was deeply embedded in leadership positions with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I was invited to attend the 2022 year-end meeting of the NC PRSA chapter in Raleigh, where I was recognized as a past president of the chapter. There were only a few familiar faces, and I definitely felt like one of the oldest rats in the barn.

When I started my career at First Union Corporation fresh out of graduate school, I joined the Charlotte PRSA chapter. I immediately got to know a wide range of public relations professionals and was exposed to the myriad ways I could build a career. I served on committees to get experience outside of my comfort zone, and I continued to grow in the organization when I moved to Raleigh to learn the agency side of PR with Capital Strategies. Over the next few years, I served as chapter president, Southeast district chair, a member of the National Board Nominating Committee and National Bylaws Task Force and as a National Assembly Delegate. I made great friends across the country, earned my Accredited in Public Relations certification, traveled extensively for conferences and meetings and deepened my expertise in this profession. And then I quit PRSA.

The reason was simple. I had started my own agency and had the opportunity for RLF Communications to join Worldcom Public Relations Group, the oldest and largest partnership of independent public relations agencies in the world. We needed to focus our time, energy and money on getting all the value we could out of this organization, so I dove in headfirst. Doing that has paid enormous benefits for my own professional development and the growth of RLF Communications. I have made great friends around the world, traveled globally, deepened my expertise and served in leadership roles on the North America Region and Global boards.

As I drove back to Greensboro from the NC PRSA meeting last week, I thought about the different chapters we all have in our lives both personally and professionally. How we can be deeply embedded in projects and people, and then, as those experiences run their course, we take on new challenges and opportunities. The key is to respect and remember what was once important in our lives and helped shape who we have become. PRSA played that role for me. Worldcom continues to play that role for me.

Now it comes full circle. While I am not going to dive back into the PRSA deep-end, I do want RLF team members to get involved for the professional development and networking opportunities that exist. We’re also going to explore ways our agency can help the NC PRSA chapter extend its programming to the Triad region of North Carolina.

Many people know that my favorite novel is “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. It has been more than 40 years since I first read “how life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.”


Colors Fonts and Change

1984 was a great year. I graduated from high school and entered UNC Chapel Hill. The summer Olympic games were held in Los Angeles. “We Are the World” ruled the radio to help ease hunger in Ethiopia. Apple released the first MacIntosh personal computer with a legendary Super Bowl commercial. And with far less fanfare, Adobe Creative introduced its PostScript Type 1 fonts to support the brand-new professions of digital design and desktop publishing.

Nearly 40 years later, Adobe is still going strong. So is the Pantone color system developed long before that in 1962. Virtually every creative agency and corporation depends on Adobe fonts and Pantone colors through every stage of the creative workflow. That is why I took the news very seriously when changes were announced by both services in 2023.

Let’s start with Adobe fonts used in graphic design, video editing, web development and photography. When Adobe makes any sort of change to its suite of applications, it affects not only future work but the ability to edit past files. The original Type 1 fonts introduced in 1984 were supplanted by OpenType fonts at the turn of the 21st century. For 20 years, Abode has encouraged developers to convert Type 1 fonts to OpenType. Now they are pulling the plug and ending support for these legacy fonts across all platforms and apps in 2023.

That means the thousands of PDF or EPS files in your system with Type 1 fonts can still be displayed digitally and printed but can no longer be edited. It also means that your company, or your creative agency partner, needs to purchase an OpenType format to create new materials.

Pantone Color Systems will also make changes in 2023, including charging a subscription fee for the use of Pantone colors in Adobe Creative Cloud applications. In the past, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign came pre-loaded with Pantone Color Books; this will be phased out in all future software updates. Creative professionals, agencies and companies will now need to pay for a premium license or subscription to access the complete set of Pantone Color Books.

The trend toward subscription services for software is not a new development, but few tools or applications have the pervasive reach of Adobe or Pantone. RLF has already moved forward with purchasing the subscriptions we need to ensure the creative process is not interrupted for any clients. We’re also prepared to support clients who need materials updated or revised.

If it would be helpful to talk with RLF Creative Director Greg Monroy to understand what implications might arise with these and other changes, please let me know. Our mission is to support clients with ideas, strategy and service that advance their business objectives, and we don’t want a straight-forward software policy change to create chaos down the road.

Graysen Shirley, Communications Specialist at RLF Communications for Fall 2022

Introduce yourself!

My name is Graysen Shirley, and I am interning with RLF Communications this fall. I am currently a junior at Elon University studying Strategic Communications and Media Analytics and minoring in Business Administration. Some student organizations I am involved with are my sorority Kappa Delta, Elon News Network, the Public Relations Student Society of America and the American Marketing Association. I am a North Carolina native and love going to the beach!


What made you decide to pursue a degree in communications?

I have loved writing and storytelling since I was young. In elementary school, I spent much of my free time drawing and creating my own stories. I loved the feeling of being creative and imaginative. In middle and high school, I took classes like Yearbook, Media Studies and Creative Writing where I was able to better my writing skills and grow my interest in communications. While looking at colleges during my sophomore and junior years of high school, one of my teachers recommended I look into communications because of my love of writing and longing to be creative. Touring Elon University’s School of Communications and meeting some of the faculty during a Fellows Weekend event at the university further excited me to want to pursue a career in communications.


What is your favorite part about the internship program at RLF Communications?

One of my favorite parts has been the company’s creative and collaborative environment. I constantly feel challenged to improve my skills in public relations and marketing through different projects and tasks for client accounts — I love getting to be a part of the process and getting to see projects from start to finish! Many of my coworkers are also kind and talented and offer me advice and guidance when needed!


What is a cool place you have traveled to recently?

In January, I studied abroad in Germany for three weeks with other students from Elon University. During the three weeks I spent abroad, I was able to try schnitzel, which is a famous German dish, visit castles, and learn about the unique history of Germany. I especially fell in love with the cities of Munich and Berlin and hope someday to visit Europe again!


What is your favorite food?

I have always been very fond of Italian food. My love of Italian food began when I was in high school — I often had pasta dinners with teammates and friends from my high school’s cross-country team. My go-to order at an Italian restaurant is chicken alfredo pasta.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I would love to have a full-time job at a medium-to-large public relations and marketing agency or in corporate communications in the Boston or D.C. area. Throughout my internship experience with RLF Communications, I have been able to work with a variety of clients across different industries and hope to do this in the future!



“Come over and listen to this band from Ireland.”

Those words reshaped my life in February 1983. A high school friend invited me over to hear War, the third album from U2. Every song captivated me. The energy, the lyrics, the emotion, the passion. Until that night, I had never been a huge music fan. I immediately bought U2’s first two albums Boy & October (on cassette tape!) before launching out to explore different genres and sounds from a broader spectrum of artists. It was my gateway to appreciating, if not always embracing, new artists.

I frequently listen to XM satellite radio’s dedicated U2 channel, particularly the “Desire” program. Fans  play their top five U2 songs and explain what the songs and the band have meant to them. Every episode is compelling. People recount how specific songs and concert experiences shaped relationships with friends, families and lovers; how lyrics and videos got them through heartbreak, sickness and tragedy; how the band’s activism, resilience and commitment to reinventing themselves over the past four decades has inspired people to make difficult decisions and positive life changes.

U2 is not alone in creating passionate connections with fans. Bruce Springsteen is preparing to launch a global tour that is instantly selling out despite insanely high “dynamic pricing.” The Rolling Stones still sell out the largest stadiums. I was never a big Grateful Dead fan but was fortunate to attend a few shows in the early 90s and was always amazed at the commitment and passion of Deadheads traveling from show to show across the country. I do confess to being a member of The Herd for Donna The Buffalo.

Brands need to act and think more like this. Make fantastic products that tap into perhaps unexpressed but deeply felt emotions. Deliver in an amazing and memorable fashion. Stand up for what they believe and give customers a reason to be passionate about them. Some brands have figured that out and taken their companies to the next level – Trader Joe’s (grocery) and Buc-ee’s (convenience store), Warby Parker (eyewear) and the stalwart, Apple.

At a recent Worldcom meeting, a guest speaker talked about a holy grail of finding positioning for your company that enrages 49 percent of your potential audience but thrills 51 percent. Leave no one in the middle. That’s not generally advice I would provide clients, but I strongly believe that consumers value authenticity. And when they believe in a company, they’ll brag about them, buy from them and return over and over again. The same is true for employees.

This Labor Day weekend, put on music from your favorite band (it does not have to be U2!) and take a few minutes to reflect on the core mission of your organization or company, why you do what you do and what you can do even better. When you have clarity on that, the odds are good you’ll generate more passion, loyalty and connection with the audiences that matter most. You’ll earn their loyalty… and their desire.