SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

29 Aug 2014

What is investor relations?

What is investor relations?
How does investor relations tie into public relations?

These are questions we’ve often received at SHIFT, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to address them.

Nasdaq Take 5
Photo credit: Julien Min

Briefly, investor relations (or IR) is a specific sub-discipline of public relations that revolves around how a company communicates with investors, shareholders, government authorities, and the financial community. Unlike standard public relations practices, investor relations practices have to be tightly integrated with a corporation’s accounting department, legal department, and top executives such as the CEO, CFO, and COO.

The purpose of investor relations is ultimately to ensure that a company’s stock is being traded fairly through disclosure of key facts that allow investors to assess whether a company is a good investment or not.

Investor relations as a formal discipline has been around as long as publicly traded companies, but became much more important in the United States in 2002. In that year, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (also known as the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act) which drastically increased the reporting requirements of any company that was publicly traded on a stock market exchange. This occurred in response to a number of serious corporate scandals with shadowy accounting, shell companies, and a variety of other practices, most notably by the Enron Corporation.

What does investor relations do? Public relations teams and agencies that handle investor relations typically do tasks like coordinating shareholder meetings and press conferences, release financial information (one of the most common uses of the press release today) to the investor community, conduct financial analyst briefings, publish quarterly and annual reports, and handle any crises that arise as a result of financial disclosure. Investor relations teams and firms also need to be well-versed in different regulatory requirements such as quiet periods, when you cannot talk about certain aspects of the company, and advise internal and external marketing and PR partners about what they can and cannot do.

When does a company need investor relations? The best time to engage an investor relations firm and start to build out your investor relations team is the moment you start thinking about going public as a corporation with an initial public offering, or IPO. You can’t wait until you’ve filed an S-1 form (to register your intent to go public) to start thinking about investor relations; an investor relations program should be built in lockstep with the IPO process from the very beginning. As you establish formal corporate governance, investor relations teams should be codifying them and preparing them for eventual release. As you conduct internal financial audits, investor relations teams should be involved in the discovery process so that any unpleasant findings can be handled and disclosed both within the bounds of law and with care.

Ultimately, investor relations is a vitally important part of a publicly-traded company’s communications program, both for compliance and relationship-building purposes with the investment community. If it’s well-run, not only do you meet all regulatory requirements, you also have great relationships with key financial and investment analysts.

Disclaimer: this article was written in the context of United States financial law, as regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). If you’re a friend of SHIFT in a different nation, your financial laws are almost certainly different.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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28 Aug 2014

Another Facebook Algorithm Change: Click-Baiting Bites the Dust

452213629Another day, another Facebook algorithm change to spice up the lives of marketers, PR professionals, and social media managers everywhere.

On Monday, Facebook announced a few News Feed “improvements,” including an algorithmic penalty intended for click-bait headlines and photos with links shared in status updates or photo captions versus in Facebook’s native link preview format.

Click-baiting has recently become a popular tactic for writing headlines on Facebook, using catchy copy to entice users to click on the link without telling them a whole lot about the actual contents of the website or article. You’ve seen these go by… “and you won’t believe what happened next!” The more people who click on the link, whether they like or want to engage with the article itself or not, the more frequent and prominent the post appears on friends’ feeds.

How will Facebook identify a click-bait headline? According to Facebook, “one way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable.” That, along with the overall user engagement with the post, will factor into how many users see your content.

But Facebook can’t see everything I do on my computer… right?

No, not everything. But it can track an awful lot. Listen as SHIFT VP of Marketing Technology explains just how Facebook tracks you so closely:

What can marketers do?

  1. Optimize posts for high engagement. When you share a new piece of content, engage with users by posing questions and providing. High engagement will increase your post’s reach.
  2. Make your website “sticky.” Once users click on your website from Facebook, you want them to stay on the site as long as possible. Attract attention with insightful information, eye-catching graphics or an easy-to-navigate design. The longer they stay, the better off you’ll be.
  3. Get users to engage with Facebook from your website. Not all visitors to your website are coming from social media. Use Facebook sharing buttons to your advantage to encourage new visitors to share your resources or Like your brand page from your website.
  4. Share your content from brand and personal pages alike. When it comes to organic search, brand pages have been getting the short end of the stick from Facebook for a while now. Share content on both your personal account and brand page, while also encouraging employees and your network to do the same. Your employees can be your best advocates.
  5. Use detailed descriptions when posting links. Avoid click-baiting techniques by clearly summarizing the content you are sharing with users. You can still ask questions and engage users, but do so while remaining informative and insightful.

Facebook, love it or hate it, is the dominant social network. Adapt your strategy to their latest changes, and stay tuned to the SHIFT blog!

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Coordinator

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27 Aug 2014

Your First 365 Days in PR, Part 3 of 6: Do

Excelling during your first year in PR is all about setting yourself up for success with basic best practices. In this six-part series, we’ll dive into the anatomy of the first 365 days of agency life and share methods for success for each stage.

Days 90-180: Do – Channel Your Inner Jedi Heed Master Yoda's words

Once you hit the 3-month mark at your first PR agency, you probably have a pretty clear sense of whether agency life is for you or not. So if you’re still here, congratulations! Now embrace your fate: things are going to get crazy. But thanks to the killer organizational skills and good work habits you developed in your first 90 days, you’re more than ready for it. You’ll probably even love it.

Just do it.

Dedication and perseverance aren’t just for Jedi. In PR, you’ll never see any results if you don’t take action and doggedly follow through. Pitch or don’t pitch. There is no “try.”

It can be hard to put yourself out there when you’re not 100% confident. Of course, it’s crucial that your pitches are well crafted and tailored, but at some point you have to throw caution to the wind and hit “send.” Even great pitches don’t always get bites. That just means timing or the topic didn’t quite match up for the reporter. It’s not a reason to give up – it’s a reason to approach the pitch from a different angle next time.

Prioritize, with a healthy dose of realism.

The “do or do not” mentality works for more than just pitching. It’s a great way to motivate yourself to crank out high-quality deliverables under impending deadlines. That being said, it’s also important to remember that you can’t “do” everything at once. Attempting to do so is a set-up for failure that usually results in accomplishing little work, or a lot of low-quality work.

The key is to find a balance between what’s urgent and what’s realistic. If you don’t know where to start first or are simply feeling overwhelmed, it’s never a bad idea to ask a manager to help you rank your assignments in order of priority. Keep in mind that “not urgent” doesn’t mean “not important” – you will get it done, just not all at the same time.

It’s okay to say “I don’t know.

“I know that I know nothing” makes you sound very wise and cool (thanks, Socrates). But no, really! There’s nothing unprofessional about admitting you don’t know something to a boss, a client, or a media contact.

There will be plenty of times when you don’t have all the answers, because you’re not omniscient. It would be unprofessional to bluff your way through and potentially give out incorrect information. On the other hand, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out for you right away,” is not only honest, it shows that you care about providing accurate info. The best part: most people will respond positively to your admission. After all, they don’t know everything either!

Challenge yourself, but understand your limits.

Yes, you want to impress your team by showing how much weight you can pull. But regularly biting off more than you can chew does the opposite: it shows that you’re not reliable. Rushed, sloppy work and missed deadlines don’t inspire much confidence.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself to take on challenges. A week of crunch-time during a push for a client or a late night to beat a deadline is part of being a dedicated PR pro. But those times should be the exception, not the norm. Repeatedly exceeding your personal bandwidth puts you on a fast track to burnout – so don’t do it! In fact, there is so much to say about burnout that we’re dedicating the entire next post in this blog series to it.

For now, I leave you with this: you’re on the way becoming an agency Jedi, young Padawan. But like the path of a true Jedi, it’s not always going to be easy. There will be trials you must overcome…and thankfully, we can offer you advice that’s less cryptic than Yoda’s (and hopefully a fraction as wise).

JJ Samp
Marketing Analyst

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26 Aug 2014

Hashtagging 101: Guidelines for #Winning on Social Media


#TBT. #selfie. #NSFW. And my personal favorite: #susanalbumparty. I’ll explain that one here in a minute.

Hashtags are everywhere these days. They’re on TV shows, T-shirts and even football fields. They’re also engrained in our everyday vocabulary, which is clear if you spend any time around teenagers (or my sisters).

Hashtags have come a long way since they first appeared on Twitter in 2007 and are now widely used across a range of social networks. As many companies have discovered, hashtags can be extremely effective – they’ve proven to double engagement rates on Twitter – and allow brands to start, follow and track a conversation across a unified social media marketing campaign.

But hashtags are also commonly misused and can often be confusing, crass and just plain obnoxious (the ingenious Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake sketch immediately comes to mind). If used improperly, they can easily prove ineffective and just as easily get your brand into trouble or make it look clueless in the social space.

So, while the hashtag has become so synonymous with social media that it’s essentially now a punctuation mark, unlike the Oxford Comma there aren’t necessarily strict rules for using them. Nevertheless, there are a number of important guidelines to follow in order to ensure your brand is effectively using them across your social channels.

Know your objective. Before hashtagging on social media, define your objective and let that drive the hashtag you choose. Hashtags have very different functions – Are you looking to boost your company’s searchability? Add humor? Build a conversation around your company’s news, events and contests? Having this knowledge in hand will add to the value of your hashtag.

Know the basics. There are several basic keys to creating a clickable hashtag. Punctuation marks will break the link if used inside the hashtag itself, but they can follow a hashtag and remain clickable. And while hashtags are often used to end a tweet or post, they can also be featured within them (beginning, middle). This can help the post flow more naturally, too.

Don’t overdo it. Regardless of the platform, don’t get too carried away when it comes to the number of hashtags you use. Research has shown that one or two hashtags is much more effective on Twitter – you only have 140 characters anyway, so conserve them – and no more than five is optimal on Facebook. Instagram allows users up to 30 hashtags. But again, quality most definitely beats quantity.

Be specific. While a broader hashtag may result in more eyeballs on your post, being more specific is likely to drive greater engagement given the more targeted audience. For example, if you’re discussing #contentcreation, using that hashtag versus #marketing might be more effective. If you’re not battling the character limit, though, go with both!

Make it memorable. Creating a unique hashtag strengthens your branding, especially if you’re using it for a specific event or campaign. When customizing your hashtag, it can be a simple acronym like Netflix’s #OITNB, straightforward as with Make-A-Wish Foundation’s #SFBatKid or just plain clever like Kmart’s #shipmypants campaign.

Keep it short and sweet. Not only do you have character limits on channels like Twitter, but a hashtag containing too many words makes it long and far less readable. Capitalizing each word in the hashtag allows for greater readability, too. And yes, this even applies to prepositions – believe me, as a grammar snob it was hard to let it go.

Make It Relevant. Hashtags should always relate back to your content. Be purposeful and don’t include irrelevant hashtags that can land your brand in trouble, as with users who are searching for something and come across a company’s post or tweet that has nothing to do with their search. Users will not only become frustrated, but may also view your brand as self-serving spammers and turn against you – the goal is to gain brand advocates not detractors!

Check it. Check the hashtag before using it to ensure it’s a proper fit. What you think is a relevant hashtag may already be in use and potentially in a very different context than what your brand intends. The last thing you want is to create confusion or associate your brand with something inappropriate. After brainstorming a number of hashtags for your campaign, share them with others in your company to see if there’s something about the hashtag and the way it can be used that you didn’t spot.

Proof it. Speaking of confusing and inappropriate, it’s always wise to seek a second set of eyes to proof your hashtag. Susan Boyle’s publicity team found this out the hard way with #susanalbumparty (again, please capitalize, folks!). Simple spelling and grammatical errors aren’t a good look for your brand either. Hashtags are often only a word or two long, but getting feedback can clearly go a long way.

Be consistent. There’s no need to hashtag in every tweet, but make sure you’re regularly using them across social channels when it comes to campaigns, contests and events. This is also true for newly developed hashtags. Your audience won’t remember a hashtag if you’re not consistently using it. If you’re having trouble deciding when to hashtag, refer to this helpful flow chart on the Twitter Blog.

Be visual. Not only should your hashtag give your audience a certain visual of your brand, but consider incorporating your hashtag into an image, if appropriate. Branded hashtags are more successful when you utilize photos, infographics and videos. Plus, visuals in posts are shown to be more effective.

Always measure. Don’t forget to measure the effectiveness of your hashtags. Keyhole and Sysomos MAP are highly useful (paid) tools, but a simple Google search will identify others. In addition to these tools, some quick performance indicators are link visits (if the post includes a link), hashtag volume (number of times the hashtag occurs) and replies and shares (of your and other users’ posts on the subject).

Now that you’ve read this, be sure to keep these guidelines in mind as you go #FTW with your brand’s social media accounts.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

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25 Aug 2014

Social Media Quiz: The Hard Answers


I assume by now that you’ve had a chance to take our quiz, “So you’re a social media guru, right?“. We’ve covered the answers to the easy questions. We’ve covered the answers to the medium difficulty questions. Now let’s dig our teeth into the hardest questions and answers.

1. What protocols does Twitter accept data from?

  • JSON
  • XML
  • Both

This is an API developer question. In API 1.0, the answer was both – Twitter could accept and return data in XML or JSON. In API 1.1, Twitter now handles and returns data in JSON – Javascript Object Notation. As an aside, to be a social media guru legitimately today means having an understanding of the technology that powers the social networks. You don’t necessarily need to be able to code, but you do need to know what’s under the hood so that you understand what the true capabilities of your tools are.

2. What are the metrics for an individual post on Google+?

  • Waves
  • Ripples
  • Tsunamis
  • Trickles

The individual post metrics in Google+ are called Ripples. Pull down the chevron on any individual Google+ post and you can see how widely it has been shared, and by whom. If your audience is active on Google+, it’s a wonderful way to identify your true influencers.

3. What is the maximum number of people you can follow on a new Twitter account?

  • 2,000
  • 5,000
  • 1,000
  • There is no limit.

You can follow a maximum of 2,000 people on Twitter before you hit a limit. Once your account has been around for a while, the cap dynamically grows to a 1:1 relationship, where you can follow as many people as follow you.

4. Which social networks offer analytics?

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Foursquare

At the time of the quiz’s publication, the answer was every network except Instagram. With an announcement in mid-August, the correct answer would now be all of the networks. (we’ve updated the quiz accordingly)

5. What is the name of the protocol that handles authentication for social networks?

  • OAuth
  • SSL
  • TLS
  • XPath

This is a bit of a trick question. The correct answer is OAuth; however, if you’re really security-minded, you might have also included SSL, which is technically the authentication and encryption for the connection between your browser and the web servers of Facebook and Twitter.

6. What mathematical equation describes the amplification you get on social media?

  • Maxwell’s equation
  • The Schrödinger equation
  • The origin of complex numbers
  • Metcalfe’s Law
  • The wave equation

The correct answer is Metcalfe’s Law. To get deep into social media guru territory, it’s Metcalfe’s Law with recursion.

7. Which of the following can you not target in LinkedIn advertising?

  • Job Titles
  • Skills
  • Age
  • Years of Experience

You can target everything except years of experience using LinkedIn’s paid media options. If you’re in social media guru territory, it’s incumbent upon you to be able to use paid media options to reinforce and amplify the earned and owned media work you do on social media.

Thanks for participating in our social media quiz – we hope you’ve learned a few things and given you additional areas to learn and research, no matter what level you are. As Master Yoda said to Count Dooku…


Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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22 Aug 2014

Best Practices for B2B Social Media

B2B brands: Don’t let anyone say you aren’t important. Or that people don’t care about what you have to say. Or that the last thing anyone would want to do is tweet with you or like one of your posts on Facebook. Because you even though your focus is businesses, you still market and sell to people. And guess what? Those people are on social media too.

B2B Social MediaIt is true that social media presents a different challenge to B2B businesses than consumer-focused companies who can easily bring fun to the table. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work or be successful. If you’re a B2B brand looking to dive deeper into the socialsphere, here are a few best practices to follow. (If you’re just getting started, you may want to give this a read too.)

Find Your Audience. One of the biggest keys to social media success is knowing your audience. This means knowing who they are, where they live, what they read, etc. If you exist as a business, you should already know who your core audiences are – at least from a marketing and PR perspective. This will inform your social strategy and the influencers who you will want to be engaging with on social media. Not only should you follow current and potential customers, but find those who are influencers in your industry and engage with them as well. Tools like Followerwonk, SocMetrics and WeFollow can help pinpoint influencers around particular subjects. Whether you’re in the marketing technology space or selling enterprise security, there will be always influencers in that niche to follow. These people can be fundamental in helping spread awareness of your brand. It’s important to create a true partnerships and provide value to make building those partnerships successful.

Another way to discover people to follow is by checking out hashtags related to your company’s industry, including those tied to events. In most cases, the people who are using these hashtags feel passionate about the subject and are involved in conversation around the problems your business is looking to solve.

Don’t be vain. Social media has often times been used as a broadcast outlet for brands to push their products and announcements. Don’t be that guy. Yes, social media is a great place to share news, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you share. A one-way, push relationship provides little value to your followers. Instead, try the 80/20 rule. 20% of your daily content should be related to your business while the other 80% should be broader industry news and engagement. If you know your audience, you should also know what they want to read on a daily basis. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would like to see from a social account in that industry. By doing this and sharing content other than your own, your followers will know they can rely on you to be a resource for the latest in the industry.

Tools like Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights can help point out what interests your followers have, what times they’re engaging and what channels they favor and more. This will help build out your social media schedule each day so that you’re reaching the right people at the right times with the right content.

Engage. This step is big. It might feel strange at first to be a brand interacting with others, but it’s totally normal and doable. Remember, though you’re representing a brand, you’re still a person. In fact, people actually like interacting with brands on social – as long as you don’t constantly interrupt and insert yourself in conversations.

The most obvious way to engage on social is to respond to questions and comments directed toward you — @ replies, comments, etc. Again, social is a two-way street; talk to people! Hashtags are another great way to be a part of the conversation; they enable you to track topic-specific discussions. Whether it’s #marketing or #infosec, they’ll give you a sense of what people are talking about and reveal questions you may be able to answer. Hashtags are used across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+, so there is plenty of opportunity to find relevant conversations. Twitter chats are an additional way to get involved. These chats often occur on a weekly or monthly basis and use hashtags to guide the conversation. They can be a great way to get in front of potential customers.

Social media can also be – and should be – a customer service tool. Don’t be surprised when a customer voices a concern on Twitter or Facebook. Take advantage of the opportunity to connect with them directly and address their concerns. They’ll know they can count on you to help resolve their issue. Ignoring a customer complaint or question on social media will only land you in hot water.

Analyze and audit. It’s important to regularly analyze your social media efforts to figure out what’s working and what’s not. While initial research will help serve as an early guideline, analyzing your activity will help you continuously refresh your program and stay relevant. Tools like Buffer and Followerwonk will let you know what content is doing particular well or how engaging you’ve been. From there, you can tweak your program as needed. Social media is always changing; don’t risk becoming stale.

More importantly, you should analyze how social is contributing to your bottom line. Make sure you have your Google Analytics set up to evaluate the effect of social on your website traffic – and even sales. When sharing links that direct followers to your website content, tag them; this will enable you to see what channels and social campaigns are getting people to click. So, for example, when an executive steps in and questions the ROI of social media, you can give him the proof he’s looking for by pointing out where social media helped lead to a conversion. Not to mention you’ll also start to see what social channels are most important for your business.

Those are four fundamental best practices you can implement to your social media program. If you’re looking for a bonus practice: consider adding paid promotion. Things like Promoted Tweets and Sponsored Posts can help extend the reach of your content and catch more eyeballs.

Go get ‘em!

Amanda Grinavich
Senior Marketing Analyst

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21 Aug 2014

Social Media Quiz – The Intermediate Answers


A few weeks ago we created a quiz to help separate the true social media masterminds from, well, the not-so-masterminds: So You’re a Social Media Guru, Right? Ring a bell? If you didn’t get a chance to take the quiz, try it now! It was a lot of fun for us to create, and wanted to continue sharing the answers with you.

Here are our intermediate questions, the answers, and a briefing on those answers so you can brush up on your knowledge:

1. Which social network does not allow you to post photos directly from your desktop computer?

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Flickr

Early last year, Instagram released a desktop version of the mobile app. What the now Facebook-owned company did not do, however, was enable desktop uploads. The web version only allows users to view and interact with their Feed (think Like, comment, etc.).

2. What social networks display GIFs?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Pinterest

Facebook is currently the only social media network to not display our favorite moving images, GIFs. In June, Twitter became the latest site to support GIFs, announcing the news with none other than an animated GIF and a Tweet. (Bonus tip of interest: How to pronounce GIF is up for debate.)

3. Which of the below can you do with a Twitter card?

  • Lead Generation
  • Showcase product information
  • Automatically follow people

Twitter Cards have become a useful tool in many marketing professionals’ toolkits. The cards enable advertisers to share photos, videos and other media directly within their audience’s Twitter Feeds without having to go to another website. From collecting leads to driving app downloads, Twitter has expanded its Twitter Card offering, giving advertisers the opportunity to showcase just about anything. Twitter Cards can not, however, automatically follow people from your handle.

4. Which networks support sponsored posts?

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Both Facebook and LinkedIn

Both Facebook and LinkedIn support their own versions of sponsored posts. LinkedIn dubs them “Sponsored Updates,” while Facebook calls them “Promoted Posts” or “boosting” a post. Both networks allow users to increase the number of people seeing and interacting with the post with advanced targeting options. Tactics like these work well, especially in light of Facebook’s ongoing algorithm changes that limit brand page visibility on the popular social network.

5. Which social network does not allow you to share directly through Instagram?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Google+

Instagram does not allow you to share photos directly to Google+. Does this come as a surprise to you since Facebook (who purchased Instagram for a record $1Billion) considers Google a large competitor? Not quite… Google+ may not be taking over the social network scene any time soon, but Facebook is inching closer and closer to Google’s search and other applications’ capabilities.

6. Which of these is not a social network?

  • Weibo
  • Vkontakte
  • Ektorp
  • Renren

Ektorp’s not a social network. In fact, it’s a piece of Ikea furniture. Weibo is the microblogging site of choice for most people in China. Vkontakte is the second largest social networking site in Europe, most popular in Russia. Renren is another Chinese network, very similar to Facebook.

7. When is the best time to tweet?

  • 12:00pm ET/9:00am PT
  • 1:00pm ET/10:00am PT
  • 4:0pm ET/1:00pm PT
  • There is no one standard for the best time to tweet. It depends on your audience.

There is a plethora of articles and blog posts out there today claiming to have the secret to the best time to tweet. We hate to break it to you,but there is no single “best time to tweet”. Your target audience should dictate when the best time to tweet is. Tools, like Twitter Analytics or FollowerWonk, can help you see when your tweets are getting the most engagement. The best thing for you to do is experiment and see what strategy works best for you and your audience.

8. What is the average cost per like for a sponsored post on Facebook?

  • $0.02
  • $5
  • $1
  • $0.25

When one of Facebook’s algorithm changes disrupted the way brand pages and updates are seen in fan’s news feeds, SHIFT took notice. We did a little research of our own and found that the average cost per like for a sponsored post on Facebook was $0.02. If you want to know exactly how much your brand would have to pay to have updates seen by all existing fans, check out our Facebook Page Cost Calculator.

If you have any questions about any of our Intermediate answers, leave us a comment below! Stay tuned for the Hard answers.

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Coordinator

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20 Aug 2014

Coming Home to SHIFT: Part 2 of 2

account directors

At this point, I think we’ve all heard about LeBron James’ recent decision to rejoin his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. While his homecoming is a relatively rare move in sports, it’s beginning to happen more and more often in the professional world.

Here at SHIFT, we place a high value on employees returning to the Agency. This boomerang hiring, as it’s more commonly referred to, is something we actively encourage and promote to all of our SHIFTers. It’s become a unique part of our agency culture and a definite pride point for us across our three offices.

To give you a better idea of boomerang hiring and its role here at SHIFT, we’re presenting a two-part Q&A series featuring our HR Director, Leah Ciappenelli, and one of our account directors, Katie McGraw, who boomeranged back to SHIFT in January.

After Leah offered insights from the employer’s perspective in her Q&A last week, Katie now gives us her take on returning to SHIFT and everything she’s learned along the way. 

What initially brought you to SHIFT?

When I first moved to Boston, I worked at a very small agency on projects with big box stores and was focused on grassroots coalition building. I remember seeing an ad for SHIFT and started reading up on the company. I was really impressed with the culture. You could see it seeping through, even on the website. It looked like a fun place to work, and a place where opportunities to learn and grow were plentiful.

Talk about your first stint here at the Agency.

I was originally hired on a B2B tech team and eventually ended up working for Cathy Allen, which was one of the biggest blessings that I’ve had in my professional career. Over those first few years working with her, I helped start SHIFT’s healthcare practice.

When I first came here, I’ll admit that I wasn’t super passionate about healthcare. It’s something that came to the surface after a couple years here working with our clients, some of which were in the healthcare space. And, with the transformative changes taking place in the healthcare industry – both then and now – it was evident to me that we were about to see a seismic shift in how care was provided, which presented an opportunity for the agency as well.

SHIFT has helped shape my focus and practice area from a professional standpoint. It’s been invaluable to focus on something that I’m so passionate about and become an expert in this particular area.

Where did you go after SHIFT?

I went to Nuance, which is actually a former client that I worked on with our healthcare team. Working as part of their communications team was a great opportunity to go in-house and gain experience understanding what agency clients are dealing with as they interface with their internal marketing teams and business units. It allowed me to better understand the pressures and demands faced by the clients I now service again at SHIFT– and, overall, helped me empathize and more fully grasp their point of view.

What prompted thoughts of you returning to SHIFT?

Annie Perkins was my mentor during my first stint at SHIFT, and the two of us kept in touch over email and coffee after I left. We met for coffee one day and she shared her thoughts about the growth trajectory of the healthcare practice and what she would need to make that happen. She said that if I was interested, then there could potentially be a role for me here.

It ended up being the perfect time for me to move. I was looking forward to the opportunity to be part of a growing practice and team again. Going in-house to a sizable corporation and understanding how difficult it is to even slightly move the needle made me excited to come back to a smaller, more nimble agency environment where there would be more opportunities to drive change.

What was it like when you came back after those two years?

In many ways, it did feel like a new experience when I came back in January, even in terms of the office layout. When I was first here in the Boston office, we were only on the South Side of the office. There was no North Side.

There had also been a number of notable changes on the personnel front. Leah had come on as our HR Director, and there was a new look to the healthcare team as well. There were still a good number of people here who I already knew and could continue to grow my relationships with, but there were so many new hires with the growth of our agency that I felt green to a certain extent.

The Agency itself had also changed a lot in two years. The healthcare practice had expanded, and they added the Marketing Technology team and Creative team, too. Before we had been more of a straight-up PR and social media shop, but we’ve expanded so much since then. There are now so many more opportunities from a services standpoint, which allow us to do more integrated, creative campaigns that help amplify our efforts for clients.

How do you feel you grew during your time away from SHIFT?

I think the biggest thing for me was getting experience managing relationships with an agency. We worked with a variety of PR firms over my two years at Nuance. It helped me understand how you motivate an agency and truly partner and collaborate with them to get the most out of that relationship. It gave me a better idea of the challenges of working with an agency when you’re in-house – the pressures you feel that the agency may not see and understand.

So part of it was flipping the coin and being on the other side. It’s helped me understand that when clients are pushing us for things and may be unhappy about something, it isn’t personal. Rather, it’s usually about the pressures that they’re feeling internally to deliver on specific results.

As a whole, the experience gave me a more holistic understanding of the relationship between an agency and the clients that we serve and how these two worlds work so we can improve communication and provide better service.

Looking back, what benefits do you see in boomerang hiring and returning?

Being able to go from crawl to run was probably the biggest benefit in coming back for both me and the Agency. It was easy to hit the ground running because I didn’t need weeks of training. It was more of a two-week process learning what’s new at the agency, such as the Marketing and Creative teams, and getting acclimated with the healthcare team again.

I didn’t have to take a lot of time trying to understand everything from top to bottom. Some of the clients that I had worked with were still here, too, which was helpful.

What other advantages are there for employers hiring former employees?

I think it’s nice because you know that they’re a cultural fit, unless the culture has for some reason drastically changed. This was certainly not the case here at SHIFT, where the culture has been strong and largely the same for so long.

There’s less involved in getting that new hire to understand the company’s expectations and what it’s all about. And, like I said, the employee can hit the ground running and put the added time and resources to use with their team.

Do you have any advice for LeBron?

It’s important to not try to run too fast to get back to where you were. Take the time to understand the landscape and how it’s changed so you can focus on what you need to know to become successful versus trying to pick up exactly where you left off.

I would also say to stay humble and grounded. Not having an ego or a chip on your shoulder goes a long way. You’re starting over, so you have to be cognizant of getting to know the team and what’s changed with the ins and outs of the company.

For me, this was a fresh start. While there were some of the same people and practices in place, I thought it was important to come back with the mindset that it was a clean slate and I had to prove myself.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

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19 Aug 2014

The Balancing “Act”: Finding a Culture That Fits Work-Life Balance

You don't *have* to dress alike in a good culture but sometimes it happens.You hear these terms all the time: “corporate culture” and “work-life balance.” But, what is “corporate culture” exactly, and is there really such a thing as “work-life balance”?

I remember coming in for my SHIFTern interview a few months ago and hearing a fellow SHIFTer comment that she hates the term “work-life balance.” As she put it, “Work is your life.” But oddly enough, after she said it, she smiled.

And then it occurred to me: she didn’t mean that work takes over your life, or that it has to or should. She meant that work is a hugely important part of your life and you need to work somewhere that recognizes that.

In my experience, work is a part of my life at SHIFT – a part that I have come to thoroughly enjoy. During my time here, I’ve found there are a few key things that anyone can do if they wish to stay happy at their job.

Engage with your coworkers. 

SHIFT goes beyond the cliché happy hours and office activities that you hear about from just about everybody before you actually start your first job.

There might be a great event that your office puts on, but what was it like the next morning? Were people still smiling when they walked through the door? Did they chat with you in the elevator? Because at SHIFT this is what happens daily.

You need to find a workplace where good relationships are made in the office during the workday as well as outside of it. Then you will be able to apply yourself to your job the same way that you would with your friends or your family: with passion.

Be yourself.

This is the agency where people remember the names of the interns who sit at the front desk and want to chat with them about what’s going on outside the office. And I’m not just talking about cliché weather conversations (okay, we do live in Boston, so there is some of that), but they’re the types of conversations that both sides are actually interested in having.

There are visits to the front desk and email chains that have made me laugh out loud until I have tears streaming down my face. Honestly.  When you work for people who make you laugh, it feels right — plain and simple.

If you take yourself too seriously, it makes it harder to put your best foot forward with the task at hand. Taking a minute to tap into another part of your brain makes it easier to get creative. You have to surround yourself with coworkers who encourage you to loosen up at times so when it’s time to get down to it, you are relaxed, focused and ready to bring your best to the table.

Be inclusive.

During a recent Lunch ‘n’ Learn, our newest SHIFTer, Scott Monty, talked about how we all want to be a part of something larger — something greater than ourselves. SHIFT makes you feel that you are a part of that “something.”

I get to learn in a place that is challenging, supportive and realistic about what the industry expects. And the snacks are nothing to scoff at either.

“Office culture” is not a science, and it definitely isn’t just a series of hackneyed team-building activities. It is about great people with a sense of humor appreciating each other, telling stories, learning from successes and mistakes, acknowledging one another when we do things that are great and working together to determine why something went wrong.

You need to be able to use your coworkers for support so you can all grow from one another. If you don’t have that in the workplace, then you can’t completely apply yourself.

Look for a place that acknowledges that work is a part of your life, but respects you enough to not make it your entire life. When you feel rewarded in the workplace, you will carry that feeling of satisfaction and well-being out of the office and into other aspects of your life.

Maysie Childs

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

18 Aug 2014

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging 4/10: The Lilypad


Blogging isn’t going out of style any time soon; with the ascent of content marketing, blogging, podcasting and video are on the minds of marketers and PR professionals all the time. In this 10-part Beginner’s Guide to Blogging series, we’re going to explore what makes a blog great and give you some structures and frameworks to help make blogging easier. Take from it what works and leave behind what doesn’t work!

The Lilypad

The Lilypad is a blog post framework named after how frogs jump from lilypad to lilypad in a pond. I first learned this particular storytelling structure from Tamsen Webster of Oratium, and adapted it to blogging.


In the beginning of the lilypad, you set the stage. This can be the positioning of a problem, a question, a thought – anything that creates a starting context for your readers. Once you’ve started the journey, write out a transition for the most natural question that’s likely to come to mind to your readers, which bridges into the next lilypad.

As with real lilypads on ponds, each pad can only be a certain “distance” from the next one without losing your readers. Having written transitions between the lilypads allows your readers to make the intellectual jumps, rather than abrupt topic changes or perspectives.

Finish off the lilypad with a satisfying conclusion that echoes the problem you started out with.


Let’s say you sell roasted coffee, as an example for a lilypad post:

Context-setter: Nothing quite beats starting your day with a brewed cup of coffee from freshly roasted beans. There’s just something magical about the aroma when you open your roast and smell the coffee, a savory and earthy scent that promises energy, vitality, and happiness.

Lilypad 1: What is it about freshly roasted coffee that makes us feel this way? Part of it may be memory and association – we know from experience how coffee makes us feel. Part of it is also chemical; when coffee is roasted, it unlocks hundreds of different volatile organic compounds that deepen our sensory experience. The catch with coffee is that those volatile organic compounds break down very quickly.

Lilypad 2: You might ask yourself, just how quickly can they break down? The answer can be disheartening: freshly-roasted, freshly-ground coffee loses its aromatic powers in just a few days, even under the best-stored conditions. The compounds, many of which are oils, either evaporate or turn rancid.

Lilypad 3: So how do you preserve the wonderful coffee experience for as long as possible? First, never grind beans until you absolutely need them. Grind them at the last minute so that the flavor inside the bean isn’t exposed to air. Second, buy the freshest beans possible. Coffee beans that are freshly roasted often have a sheen on them from some of the oils expressed in the roasting process. If you’re looking at beans that are dull and matte in their appearance, they’ve not been roasted in the last few days. Third, buy only as much as you need in the next month, and store them in an airtight container, not the bag they ship in. Finally, store your coffee beans in a cool, dry place. A freezer isn’t a good choice because the moment you open the beans, they will condense moisture out of the air onto their surface and accelerate the aging process. Better to put them in an airtight container in a basement or at the back of a closet.

Conclusion: If you follow all the right steps with your coffee beans, you’ll wake up every morning to that magical cup of coffee that makes every day a great one.

If the lilypad did its job, you should be wanting a cup of coffee right now.

Use Cases

The lilypad structure works best for any kind of storytelling or journey, especially if there isn’t always an overarching logical focus. Compare this to the Kennedy or the Franklin where there’s an explicit sales pitch built into the structure. The lilypad leads your readers on a journey that can wander through different sub-topics and focus points without losing readers, as long as your transitions are strong and sound.

In the next post, we’ll look at wagon wheels and how we can blog with them.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!