We recently sat down with Charlotte guru Alicia Thomas! She shared with us how her creative process works, and we ended with her thoughts on self-care. Read on to be inspired and to know who to ask about next weekend’s plans.
Tell us what you do:
By night, I am the co-founder of Work For Your Beer (WFYB) with Melanie Fox (who we recently interviewed too, here) and by day I am the Sponsored Content Editor for the Charlotte Observer and its subsidiaries – CharlotteFive, Carolina Bride, and South Park Magazine. As the Sponsored Content Editor, I take a company’s business objectives and turn them into original and engaging content that get their message across without looking like a traditional ads, and still providing value to the reader.
Sounds very creative! How do you tap into those ideas?
At Penn State I studied journalism, and since I graduated I’ve primarily worked in marketing roles — and my day job with The Observer is a perfect blend of the two. I get to write, but I also get to be creative about marketing other businesses to our readers.
The same is true of my side hustle. I’m responsible for all of our content on social media, in our Brewsletter, on our blog and on our website — but beyond that I’m also heading up our partnership efforts so we can work with other cool businesses and get our company in front of an audience that likes what we do and wants to know more.
Luckily, in both my roles, I am surrounded by supportive teams that are very collaborative. When I am stuck or searching for new ideas, they are always willing to help me work through it.
I think it is essential to surround yourself with people who have different skill sets than you, and not to worry about being the smartest person in the room. On both of my teams, we are about collaboration over competition and believe you can learn so much from others’ perspectives, talents and experiences. Learning from others has helped me grow immensely in my career.
When you are working with so many different companies and outlets, how do you collaborate?
We have learned we don’t need to recreate the wheel. Early on, right after Mel and I launched WFYB, we were hosting our own classes — but we soon realized that there were already so many great organizations out there teaching these classes that we didn’t need to add to that. We just needed to be a resource to educate people on their options, so they could get out to all the awesome events that already exist.
And then at CharlotteFive, we’ve occasionally worked with Offline who provides excellent content about events happening in Charlotte. We didn’t feel the need to duplicate their calendar, so a partnership was formed instead.
That’s awesome! What recommendations do you have for companies who want to use sponsored content?
I think one important thing people often forget about is high-quality photography. People are so visual these days, and we are sharing a lot of what we do on Instagram where a great picture can make or break it.
But my biggest recommendation is not to be spammy. The point of using sponsored content over an ad is to engage the customer in an engaging story that they’re going to want to read regardless of whether it is sponsored or not. For example, you’d be much more likely to open an article titled “10 Items Under $50 to Spruce Up Your Home at Target” than something that just says “Spend All Your Money at Target,” right?
When I meet with companies to develop their content, I challenge us to figure out what our readers actually care about, rather than focusing on getting their company’s name in the article a certain amount of times. The goal of the sponsored content pieces I write is to sound like you’re having a conversation with a friend, not like you’re listening to a TV commercial. A lot of times, I think about what I would care about if I were engaging with that company, and I start there.
With two full-time jobs and working around 90 hours a week, what keeps you going and how do you make time for yourself?
At WFYB, one major thing that keeps me going is the feedback we get from our audience. When I get an email saying that someone started working out again because we made it accessible for them or that they were new to the city and found their friend group through the classes, that is really inspiring and heartwarming. It makes us want to keep going knowing we are positively impacting people’s lives.
In general, I always recommend finding an organization system that works for you and sticking to it. I live and breathe by my color-coded calendars (both my Google Calendar and my paper planner). Not only do I keep all my meetings and work reminders on there, but I also schedule time with my fiancé, my friends and for myself to recharge. And most importantly, I honor my personal appointments the same way I would a work meeting. (And here comes her quote to remember…) Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities.
And lastly, (most of us) aren’t brain surgeons. So, if a meeting falls through or something gets done later, the world is not going to end, and people are going to understand; don’t get overwhelmed. Take it one task at a time.
From your experience of starting WFYB to growing in your career, what is your advice to others?
If you have an idea in your head, just go for it. Try it and figure out what you need to fix as you go. With WFYB, we didn’t realize that we were a directory until a year and a half in! If we had known that at the beginning, some things might have been easier, but we wouldn’t have learned as much as we did have gone through that process.
And just talk to people! When creating anything, you want feedback from your audience to understand what they truly want and what you can do better. Also, don’t limit it to just your industry. What has been wildly helpful to me and our business is talking to people in all sectors and learning what their goals are and figuring out how we can work together in a mutually beneficial way. As I said earlier, it’s not always the best to be the smartest person in the room — keep learning from those around you.
Crisis often presents itself in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places.
Before joining the team here at PivotPR, I had the opportunity to serve as Brand Communications Manager for the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC). In addition to being an incredible place to call my office, the USNWC provided many opportunities to put my PR and communications skills into practice. One day I would be pitching story ideas to outdoor industry publications, and the next I would be giving media interviews to promote an upcoming trail race or climbing competition.
It also presented a swift and unexpected entry into the world of crisis communications. During the summer of 2016, we received notice of a young lady who had passed away from a rare form of meningitis contracted by a waterborne pathogen known as Naegleria fowleri. The young lady had recently visited the USNWC where she participated in water-based activities, which is how we became associated with the unfolding story. It did not take long for media interest to develop, considering this waterborne pathogen is colloquially referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba”. Whether or not her visit to the USNWC was ultimately connected to her passing, we found ourselves at the center of a media firestorm on a local, national, and international level virtually overnight.
Information began surfacing quickly from various sources including the Centers for Disease Control, the Mecklenburg County Health Department, and others. While we were in constant contact with these organizations, media outlets were eager to acquire and disseminate as much information as quickly as possible. Our goal was always to maintain the public’s trust through open dialogue and clear communication. We leveraged a straightforward communications approach which, in hindsight, can be summarized in one very simple word: ACT.
Authenticity – Every brand has its own voice, and we were no exception. We knew how we had created our voice through public dialogue over the years, and we felt it was essential to maintain that amid these circumstances. This was no conversation about one of our races or festivals, but it was a conversation between the same organization and many of the same audiences. We were not interested in shifting our voice to meet the scenario, but instead addressing the scenario with the authentic voice our community had already come to recognize.
Consistency – In the midst of receiving pressure from various media outlets to provide rapid and immediate responses, we felt the best way to maintain a consistent dialogue was through written statements that we would publish promptly on our website, then distribute through the appropriate channels. This meant the concerned community member would have the same access, at the same time, to the same updates as the national media outlets.
Transparency – We continually received updated facts and information, and we were eager to provide them to the people they would impact: our guests and our community. We were intentional about taking the necessary time to collect the most complete and accurate details before drafting a public statement, while remaining transparent with the public by addressing their questions and concerns with the most pertinent information.
No company or organization can predict every possible crisis they may encounter. Unexpected circumstances can always arise, but having a clearly defined voice and strategic communications approach can provide an essential foundation when it’s time to act.
Pivot PR, a dynamic and rapidly growing public relations agency in Charlotte, N.C., is seeking a highly motivated public relations professional to serve as its Vice President. This role requires deep communication acumen, leadership, project management skills and creativity. As a virtual agency, the Vice President will have the freedom and new-age mentality to thrive with top-tier brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, AvidXchange, MillBridge, Getzner, SMD, Parry’s Pizzeria and Mercedes Cotchery, all within a traditional agency framework.
- Serve as the main point-of-contact for all major accounts
- Manage and develop the Pivot PR team to ensure client success and professional growth by employees
- Create customized and strategic public relations plans
- Execute communication tactics including:
- Content Creation: media materials, blogs, social media, web copy, white papers, case studies, technical articles and award nominations
- Media/Influencer Relations: build lists, develop creative pitches, outreach, coordinate and monitor
- Community Relations: identify and develop synergistic partnerships that create community-based programs which serve both parties
- Events: coordinate and execute client events such as grand openings, press conferences, ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings, etc.
- Social Media: develop social media strategies and oversee team execution
- Crisis Communications: develop crisis communication plans and execute should a situation occur
- Project manage and organize campaigns by setting agendas, timelines, following-up, recording billable hours, and creating detailed monthly reports
- Assist with new business meetings and proposals
- A bachelor’s degree in journalism, public relations, mass communications or marketing
- At least eight years of relevant marketing or public relations experience including
- At least three years of agency experience
- Strong AP-style writing skills; must provide writing samples and perform writing test
This is a six-figure opportunity dependent upon experience and profit sharing. 15-days PTO.
We often interview traditional media folks or even social media influencers, but for this Q&A we wanted to demonstrate how a partnership with a local “beer fitness” group can be beneficial to an organization’s PR efforts too. Community relations at its best! I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Work For Your Beer co-founder Melanie Fox. Take a look…
Q: Good morning, Melanie! Can you tell us a little about what your group does?
A: Of course! Work For Your Beer is the directory for all beer fitness events, which means we provide information about beer yoga classes, run clubs, bootcamps, bike-and-brew events, and all other exercise-related beer activities going on around Charlotte. Our goal is to grow the “beer fitness” community by providing people with a resource to help them work out, drink beer, and make friends!
Q: That’s brilliant! How did you come up with the idea?
A: My co-founder, Alicia Thomas, and I saw the need for this resource after going to a couple of beer yoga classes in town. We loved the concept but found it very difficult to keep track of the new breweries, what type of events they hosted, and when the events took place. Alicia even started an Excel spreadsheet to keep them all straight! Then I shot her a text one day exclaiming, “Business idea! Why don’t we create our own community where people who want this information can easily access it?!” We launched back in December of 2016, and the community has been growing like crazy ever since.
Q: Can you tell our readers how you execute these events?
A: Most people think that we organize the events, but that’s not entirely how we work. A brewery will approach us with a new class they are running, and then we list the class on our website and help promote it to our audience of active beer-lovers. We also help connect local fitness instructors into breweries to start teaching more classes. When we launched there were only about 40 events happening each week in Charlotte, and now there are now over 100 classes every week!
Q: You’ve created a business out of this, right? Through your partnerships?
A: Absolutely! We partner with local breweries, gyms, and other companies we adore. For example, we’re working closely with Skipper, which is an on-demand dog walking service in both Charlotte and Austin. In partnership with them, we introduced dog walks into the beer fitness scene. People love it, and so do the dogs! We also work with OrthoCarolina, who provides a health-authoritative voice to help educate our audience. We love partnering with brands that we are passionate about because it gives an additional layer of authenticity when we share that content with our audience.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I’m pumped about our new technology and expansion plans! Pretty soon you’ll be able to filter classes, not only by location and date, but also by cost, parking, beverage type, and more. We’ll also have different tiers of partnerships for our hosts with a backend system for them to update their own content to make sure everything is as up-to-date as possible. We are planning to expand into the other major markets in the Carolinas very soon!
A huge thank you to Melanie for sitting down with me. I hope you learned something from this post, whether you’d like to participate in an upcoming class or even partner with Work For Your Beer for your business.
We recently interviewed the founder of one of our city’s newest publications, Charlotte Lately. Take a look at what Courtney Schramm had to say about what makes her publication so different and how YOU can work with her.
What brought you to Charlotte and inspired you to start Charlotte Lately?
My husband and I moved out here with a job offer straight out of college. I quickly fell in love with the area but saw a need for a quality platform showcasing Charlotte. I wasn’t looking to compete with having the latest news story or restaurant opening but wanted to learn more about the businesses and people that already make up the city.
How did you decide on your platform?
I had been working in commercial photography and quickly saw how positively people were responding to well thought out imagery. My goal was to use photography to share the mission of good people and businesses, allowing them to be competitive on virtual outlets. Instagram was a natural place to start building the brand. In the last two years, it has grown to have a 30,000-person local reach, of what I think is the cream of the crop in Charlotte. People then go to our website to sign up for our community networking events or to subscribe to our new print publication.
What types of stories can we expect to see with your print publication?
Our audience responds very well to what we do and has solidified my drive to want to be a little bit better at showcasing stories that aren’t well represented now. I really enjoy uncovering people who might be unextraordinary to other news stations or outlets but have a great lesson to share to connect our community.
We are not limiting the content of our print publication. When you are trying to create a publication of the city, you must be okay having a medley of stories. Our city has so many different types of people, businesses, experiences and passions so we’re trying to do a bit of everything. Our biggest audience is in the 25-34 age range, with 45-56 being a close second, so you will see a wide variety of stories that allow people of all ages and demographics to connect. It is a very exciting time to get involved with Charlotte Lately.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I have found that the higher I reach for advice the more I get it. I am thankful for all the connections I’ve made through Charlotte Lately. A byproduct for me of meeting so many people is feeling compassion for all the doers in our city. People work so hard. I believe your network and relationships with people are your biggest assets.
Something I keep in mind that a mentor recently told me is, “You ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get money,” — now that’s not always the case but it sure keeps my “why” in check.
How do you handle advertisers and pitched stories?
We love receiving stories and ideas from readers, PR firms or anyone when they know what we are looking for and have a good story. We sift through and take the best fit.
As for advertisers and partnerships, we turned down a lot in the first two years because we wanted to build trust in our audience so that when we did make the choice to partner, our audience knew it was a brand that we believed in.
When we do allow advertisers, we go so far as to take all the imagery for their media. Showcasing businesses with quality imagery should be a bare minimum for advertising campaigns. Be careful where you are putting your money. Looking good should be a standard for the virtual world we live in.
I feel that any time I partner with someone, paid or not, I’m giving that business or person an opportunity to invest in a platform more focused on people in Charlotte that isn’t just about what is next. It is rewarding to see and I’m happy to play even just a small part in connecting our community. Just since the beginning of 2018, we have seen more traction and growth then all of 2017. We’re excited for what is ahead.
A huge thank you to Courtney for sharing her story and giving us such useful insight. You can check out the first issue of Charlotte Lately here.
I recently had coffee with WBTV’s local content producer, Maggie Solomon, to discuss her brainchild, Queen City Weekend.
Q: Queen City Weekend is refreshingly different. How did it come about?
A: I was a television reporter in Panama City, Fla., and realized that I really valued storytelling as opposed to breaking news. I happened to run across this opportunity, applied, and the next thing you know I got the job and was heading to Charlotte!
Q: For those who don’t know, tell us a little about what Queen City Weekend really is.
A: All our stories are very video-driven. We value telling the story from the Queen City’s perspective, not the reporters’. You’ll notice everything we do is more documentary style.
Our goal is for you to be able to go and find something you can do on any given weekend, whether you’re new to Charlotte or have been here for several years. It’s unique. It has been quite a ride and I’ve had a blast building it.
Q: What’s one of your favorite stories you’ve covered so far?
A: Southern Grace Distillery in Mount Pleasant. The facility itself is actually an old prison! I enjoy finding unique things within driving distance of Charlotte, not just within the city limits.
Q: Is Queen City Weekend just about the weekend?
A: Every day is someone’s weekend, but we do post a rundown of what’s going on each weekend. We have a calendar of events for folks to post to as well.
Q: Are your stories sponsored or do they go through “editorial?”
A: We have a good mix. It really depends on the story and how much exposure our clients are looking for. Your readers are welcome to ping me for a media kit if they’d like. There are some additional options like WBTV’s Morning Break, depending on how the story is structured.
Q: Do you have any advice for PR or marketing folks that would like to work with you?
A: Don’t be afraid to pitch me! What’s the worst that can happen, right? We love how-tos and upcoming events and attractions.
You can connect with Maggie and Queen City Weekend through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or email Maggie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to use our hashtag #queencitywknd!