On Our Mind:

Communication Perspectives from MSL Atlanta

“On our Mind” is MSL Atlanta’s point of view on today's top communications topics and issues. Our passion for the always-on conversation between brands and consumers drives us to find ideas to better engage and inspire new discussions.

December 16th, 2011Comments (0)

Meet a new member of the MSL Atlanta family: Brett Willi by Sarah Woodward

Brett Willi

Account Supervisor

Primary accounts:
Central Garden & Pet Company, DAP

Family life/Living situation:
Engaged to be married at Montaluce Winery in Dahlonega, Ga., on June 2, 2012. We’re in the process of finding a community in Atlanta to call home.

What are you passionate about?
Running. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to run cross country in college. In post-college life, I’ve shifted to marathons. Next year, I’m planning to participate in the Georgia and New York City Marathons. Other passions: Social impact, be it through faith- or community-based outreach or corporate-driven engagement.

Little known fact about yourself:
In the fall semester of my junior year, I studied abroad at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The trip was unlike any other in my life, with travel throughout Scotland, England, Ireland, northern Italy, Paris and Barcelona mixed in.

Favorite sports team:
Born and raised Ohio State.

Favorite music artist/band:
Somewhat eclectic. Anything from Zac Brown Band and Incubus to Hootie & The Blowfish and Seven Nations.

Favorite food:
All of them. I don’t always have time to cook but enjoy testing new recipes. In my head, I recall most of the big events in my life based on what food was served. One of the best parts of living in Washington, D.C., was the variety of incredible ethnic options. To Atlanta’s credit, the city is full of amazing chefs and exciting restaurant concepts. My recommendation: Go explore.

Favorite place you’ve ever been and why:
LeCinque Terre, which is located on the coast of the Italian Riviera and is composed of five villages, or “The Five Lands” (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore). I traveled alone to this beautiful part of the world to hike the trail that connects the villages. Inspiring sunsets, amazing people.

Charitable affiliations:
I recently became a volunteer with the Atlanta team of Back on My Feet (BoMF), a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. To learn more, visit www.backonmyfeet.org.

Professional affiliations:

Elon University Alumni Association

How long have you been in communications?/How did you get into the field?
Nearly seven years. I’ve always been on the agency side, first sinking my PR teeth into consumer marketing that spanned the construction, woodworking and home improvement industries. I eventually transferred to Washington. While there, I helped manage a number of high-profile programs as part of my company’s Social Impact Team (cause marketing, CSR, philanthropy), with additional emphasis in crisis/issues/corporate reputation and digital. It was a great growth period. I’m excited to bring those learnings to MSL Atlanta.

What about the work keeps you engaged?
The complexity and variety of the work. PR spans industries, sectors, practice areas, disciplines, platforms and people. There isn’t any profession like it.

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the MSL Atlanta family?
It all boils down to opportunity—to teach and share what I’ve learned with others, to learn from the talented staff here and to inspire/challenge our clients in new ways.

December 6th, 2011Comments (0)

Meet a new member of the MSL Atlanta Family: Jennifer Jones by Sarah Woodward

Jennifer Jones

SVP, Consumer

Primary accounts:
The Home Depot and Coca-Cola

Family life/Living situation:
I am single. However, as the youngest of four, I have lots of nieces and nephews I get to spoil rotten … and then hand them back to my brother and sisters filled to the brim with sugar and self.

What are you passionate about?
My friends and family, of course. But, also music, movies, food, wine, art, painting, writing and traveling this big blue marble of ours.

Little known fact about yourself:
I was expelled from charm school. I got in trouble a lot while there because, well, I lack grace. So, after many failed attempts to descend the staircase with a book on my head, I finally decided the best way to get the instructor off my back was to tie the book onto my head with fishing line knotted under my chin. The book stayed put. But, line was clearly visible as it pierced into my cheeks and I was politely asked never to return to Mt. Vernon Finishing School.

Favorite sports team:
Atlanta Braves

Favorite music artist/band:
There are far too many to mention. But, I can say that growing up, there were two men who could get us kids out of trouble: Ray Charles and Michael Jackson. It didn’t matter what you did or how grounded you were, if Ray or “THE Michael” as my mom calls him, were in town or on TV you had a temporary reprieve to enjoy the show. And, they remain among my favorites to this day.

Favorite food:
I love spicy foods like Thai and Indian. But, of course, growing up in the south, nothing … and I mean nothing … beats my mom’s biscuits and gravy with hot grits.

Favorite place you’ve ever been and why:
Vienna. It truly is the city of light. Walking the streets of Vienna is like being in a fairy tale. Music, art, food, wine and amazing architecture surround you with beautiful twinkle lights strung in the air year round. The people are phenomenal and eager to share stories and tell tall tales. And, of course, I can’t help but sing “oooo Rock me Amadeus” whenever I walk past Mozart’s house.

Charitable affiliations:
I teach creative writing to the children who reside in the Carrie-Steele-Pitts Home, the South’s oldest orphanage. I also read to kids at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta every other Sunday.

Professional affiliations:
AiMA, PRSA, WiC, AMA, BMA, Rotary Decatur and the Writer’s Guild of America.

How long have you been in communications?/How did you get into the field?
17 years. When I was a kid, my parents’ friends used to say I should go into PR. I had no idea what it was and I pretty much wanted to do whatever career was just featured in the last movie I saw (i.e. After seeing All The President’s Men, I wanted to be a reporter so I, too, could bring down corrupt politicians; then I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and wanted to be a swashbuckling archaeologist who took on hoards of Nazis and ghosts.) But, during my first term in college, remembering what my parents’ friends said, I took a PR class and fell in love with it instantly.

What about the work keeps you engaged?
I love the story-telling, especially when you nail that hard-to-find super creative hook that perfectly embodies the brand. I love how it changes every day; the work, the tools, the targets, the angles and the audience – they all change as the story does. But, above all, I love the “hunt and the kill” so to speak. Whether it’s identifying and persuading the right reporter to tell your story or signing that new business, we have the chance to celebrate those little wins every day and that constantly gives you something new to strive for … and a reason to do that “happy dance” around the office.

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the MSL Atlanta family?
Getting to know everyone more and creating lots of new wins together!

December 1st, 2011Comments (0)

Meet a New Member of the MSL Atlanta Family: Patrick Smith by Sarah Woodward

Patrick Smith

Senior Account Supervisor   

Primary accounts:
Sealed Air Cryovac and Protective Packaging

Family life/Living situation:
4-year-old daughter, Callan

What are you passionate about?
Golf, fishing, Gamecock sports, travel, wetlands and wildlife habitat conservation, spreading the word that Charleston, SC is the greatest city in the U.S. and one of the best in the world, public education

Little known fact about yourself:
I am deathly afraid of two things: 1) any mode of transportation that involves being suspended from a cable (cable cars, ski lifts, etc.); 2) porch swings – one crashed through my bedroom window during a midnight thunderstorm when I was 3 years old and I’ve never shaken the traumatic experience. Even typing this makes me shudder.

Favorite sports team:
College: South Carolina Gamecocks; Pro: Atlanta Braves, Carolina Panthers and the U.S. Ryder Cup team

Favorite music:
Mainstream: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band; I saw the last five shows the band ever played at the old Giants Stadium at the NJ Meadowlands in 2009. Lesser-known: Michael McCloud, singer/songwriter who plays six days a week pretty much year round at the outdoor patio of The Schooner Wharf Bar in old town Key West. McCloud wrote the “Conch Republic National Anthem,” and his song “Tourist Town Bar” was stolen by Toby Keith who recorded the almost identical “I love this bar” more than 20 years after McCloud’s song made its Key West debut.

Favorite food: Medium rare Kansas City strip with a really good Cabernet, preferably at the Golden Ox in the Livestock Exchange building in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. Close second: beef brisket sandwich with a side of “crack fries” and a Boulevard Wheat at Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ (yes, one of my favorite restaurants is in a gas station).

Favorite place you’ve ever been and why:
Key West, but not the Duval Street party; I love Old Town, where the locals drink, play music and tell stories all day and night. The food is good, the drinks refreshing, the attitude carefree, the music unique, the weather perfect, the fishing second-to-none…

Charitable affiliations:
Marketing/PR contributor to East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Professional affiliations:
National Sports Marketing Network

How long have you been in communications?
Fifteen years. My parents were both high school English teachers, so the genetics would’ve been questionable had I shown an aptitude for math/engineering. Then, like a lot of successful high school athletes not good enough to keep playing after college I wanted to be a sportswriter, so I majored in journalism. After hearing horror stories of the newspaper business and realizing print reporting wasn’t the fast track to boat ownership and Key West vacations, I switched my concentration to PR. Turns out that was a great move, though I’m still waiting on that boat and I go to Key West far too infrequently.

What about the work keeps you engaged?
Every situation is different. Even for the same clients, practicing the same category of work, there are nuances to navigate and new ideas to bring to the table. To me that’s why we do what we do, and being able to bring new perspective and challenge clients to stretch their imaginations of what PR is and what it can do for their brands is what sets apart the good from the average and the great from the good.

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the MSL Atlanta family?
I hear the annual office Halloween costume contest is most memorable.

November 29th, 2011Comments (0)

Every Crisis is Global, Social and Viral by Sarah Woodward

Over at MSLGROUP’s blog Critical Conversations, Pascal Beucler, SVP and Chief Strategy Officer, MSLGROUP and Gaurav Mishra, Asia Director of Social Media, MSLGROUP talk about the profound erosion of trust in all types of institutions, including governments and corporations.

“All over the world, “the other 99%” are protesting against greedy corporations, short-sighted politicians and corrupt dictators. We are also seeing anger against the inability of governments and corporations to show the will to work together solve our most pressing problems.”

To view the post, please click here.

To view a roadmap on the interconnections between trust, power, risk and crisis from our experts at the MSLGROUP Crisis Network, click here.

October 20th, 2011Comments (0)

MSL Atlanta Participates in PRSSA Shadow Day 2011 by Claire Duplantier


We all remember the first time we stepped foot into an office. It was intimidating and real, but mostly exciting and fascinating. From observing how people dressed to wondering is a company really going to trust me to do this one day, it marked a moment in our careers.

This month via PRSSA’s Shadow Day, we helped PR students learn more about communications, how agencies work and where their career could start or take them. Instead of only taking a sit ‘n’ listen approach, we mixed activities up and turned the floor to students – allowing them to ask questions and explore this diverse field.

The day started with an icebreaker, which led into a session hosted by five MSLers from each of our sectors (i.e. consumer, brand & talent, corporate, digital and creative studios). After that, our brand & talent team held an interactive brainstorm and we ended the day with our managing director, Kyle Farnham, sharing his unique and compelling career path.

Everyone here really enjoyed the day. We took a moment to remember that we were all once students and a person or company opened a door for us, and now, it’s our turn to return the favor.

From the students’ perspective, here is how one student summed the day:

I left MSL Atlanta with a great deal of insight and I cannot wait to share everything I learned and experienced with my fellow PRSSA members…I attended the event in past years and have never been presented with such a unique and inspiring experience as I was given on Thursday. Meeting and interacting with so many of your colleagues showed the type of company MSL Atlanta is.


October 19th, 2011Comments (0)

7 Essential Tips for PR Newbies by Jason Rollins

One of the many wonderful things about our culture at MSL Atlanta is the ongoing commitment to the next generation of marketing and PR practitioners. After having an informational interview this week with a recent grad wanting to break into PR, it seems as good of a time as any to share an article with some helpful advice for newbies in the industry.

Here are a few snippets that I particularly enjoyed:

“There’s nothing sadder than seeing someone lose the edge that they once had—that inner fire to want to do as well as humanly possible regardless of the task at hand. Whether you just secured a huge media placement for a client or you led the effort to build up a brand’s Facebook community, you can still do better the next time around.”

“The learning in PR never stops, and you’ll always meet someone who knows just a little more about something than you do. Take that as a challenge. Strive to exceed previous milestones.”

September 15th, 2011Comments (0)

Schwartz Communications Joins MSLGROUP by Kyle Farnham

Today, we are proud to announce that Schwartz Communications, one of the world’s top independent tech and healthcare agencies, has joined MSLGROUP as result of its acquisition by the Publicis Groupe. Details of the acquisition can be found in the full release here.

Renamed Schwartz MSL, the firm, which has nearly 200 employees, brings with it its roster of over 200 clients and a deep expertise in the healthcare sector as well as the enterprise, emerging, clean and bio technology spaces. The shop also has substantial service offerings in consumer, social media and financial services.

This acquisition is MSLGROUP’s sixth globally and second in the Americas in the last year. And it not only increases the service offerings we can provide our current and potential clients, but it will significantly increase our scale globally allowing us to provide more efficient and effective service to marketers around the world. MSLGROUP now has over 800 employees in the Americas and more than 3,000 people in 83 countries across the globe. And coupled with the recent global acquisition of 20:20 MSL in India, this acquisition provides MSLGROUP with global and formidable technology capabilities equipped with best-in-class talent that can service your technology and healthcare communications needs around the globe.

Schwartz’s Boston operation will merge with MSL Boston to form Schwartz MSL Boston, now the largest PR agency in the New England market with nearly 110 employees. Its San Francisco office will join with MSL San Francisco to become Schwartz MSL San Francisco, the second biggest tech agency in the market with nearly 70 people. MSLGROUP now also becomes a major presence on the West Coast with over 160 employees in four offices—SF, LA, and Seattle.

In Europe, close to 30 Schwartz employees will be integrated into the MSL London and MSL Nordic operations.

We look forward to the opportunities this will bring.

August 25th, 2011Comments (1)

Getting Settled in Our New Space by Sarah Woodward

As you may know, MSL Atlanta recently left its digs on the 4th floor of midtown Atlanta’s Proscenium Building for newly renovated offices on the 16th floor. Take a look!

A view of our lobby

The Main Hall

A Cube with a View

August 23rd, 2011Comments (0)

PR hiring trend: Employers want media producers by Jason Rollins

Interesting article from Ragan’s PR Daily that speculates hiring trends of PR professionals. To get the most bang for their buck, employers are now seeking PR pros who are true “media producers,” equipped to produce content themselves via text, photo, video, audio and all of the above.



An excerpt:  “What’s the one thing most companies will need in mass amounts in the months and years ahead? That’s right, content. And, when it comes to content, the demands are increasing—every day—as companies look for text, audio, video, and photo content, and many combinations of the four.”

The author provides these specific skills and how they are applicable:

“Producing stories via photo. The ideal candidate knows how to frame a photo—and I’m not talking about taking pictures at your nephew’s T-ball game. The candidate will be comfortable with many forms of technologies, including camera phones and editing tools. And they’ll know the basics about photography including lighting, framing, and filters. Think Instagram, not Canon.

Producing stories via text. It’s an obvious skill that all PR pros need. But consider that you’ll be competing against former journalists more—people who know how to put a story together. To be the media producer of the next generation, you need to understand how to write a headline that will draw clicks. At the same time, you need to write a compelling lead while using bullets and other devices to make the article/post easier to scan. Think WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr, and Google+, not news releases.

Producing stories via video. Know how to shoot video using basic tools, how to conduct an interview, and how to set up a shoot. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert—the demands on video quality have softened over the years (although not as much as predicted by the Flip-cam rush). Now, it’s easier than ever to record video on the go with smartphones that have pretty solid cameras built in. (I’ve shot a number of client videos with my iPhone camera. Just look what Tom Martin is doing with his Talking with Tom series; it’s shot and produced entirely with his iPhone.) Learn how to use editing software like iMovie (easier than you’d think). Learning these video production skills will make you more marketable because if PR pros want this kind of work done, we currently need to outsource it. Being able handle this in house means less outsourcing and less cost, which usually leads to happier bosses and clients. In this case, think iPhone and iMovie, not TV-style production.

Producing stories via audio. This one’s probably not as important as the previous three because audio is more of a niche approach, though it is a skill worth exploring. You should understand how to run an audio interview, including how to set up a podcast and conduct an interview, and know some of the basic technical aspects of audio production. Familiarize yourself with tools like Garageband and Audacity, although there are many different tools. (Take a look at this list.) The first step may be subscribing to a few podcasts and hearing how the experts do it. I suggest my long-time favorite For Immediate Release. Again, think Garageband, not radio studios.”

Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications in Minnesota. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story first appeared.

To read the full article, visit: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/8944.aspx


July 26th, 2011Comments (1)

Everything I need to know about client service, I learned waitressing by Sarah Woodward

Denise Vitola, Deputy Director of Personal Care, writes about her education in client service gathered from waitressing while in college for PRWeek.

I learned the most valuable lessons about client service during my college years, but not in the classroom. I was a waitress during summers at the Jersey Shore, and that experience provided me with the most useful knowledge I could apply throughout my PR career.

Listen First
Something I learned from waiting tables was how to listen. I would never walk over to customers and begin a discussion without asking them how they were doing. I allowed them to tell me their needs and I gathered that information by asking questions. Think about the last time a client called you with a problem. As he or she began to explain, you may have quickly cut him or her off because you anticipated what the needs were, and it’s likely that you realized you got it all wrong. Imagine how that could have been avoided if you took few minutes to listen. Spend the first 30 seconds of an interaction listening to the other person and you’ll gain a better understanding of their needs and hopefully spare yourself any embarrassment.

Provide Recommendations
Get to know everything you need about your industry. When I was waitressing, my industry was food. I knew every item on the menu so I was able to provide recommendations to my customers (after listening to them, of course). Having worked in many industries during my PR tenure, I have always trained to become an expert in those fields. When working on a consumer packaged goods product, I bought it and used it. When working with retailers, I shopped at their stores. I become my clients’ biggest fan and was able to make smart and useful recommendations, while also telling their stories to others, including the media.

Write Things Down
Let me guess…you hate it when a waiter or waitress comes to your table and does not write down what you’ve ordered, don’t you? There is a sense that they will forget what you’ve said or inadvertently mess things up. I quickly learned that no one was impressed with my superhero-like memory. Write things down. It is as simple as that. When people speak, they want to know others consider their words important. It makes them feel comfortable to know that two days later you can recall the conversation.

Be Attentive
When waitressing, there were always the little things that made my customers know I cared about their needs. If they ordered ribs, I made sure they had extra napkins. If they ordered appetizers, I brought small plates. When their glasses were empty, I filled them without being asked. They appreciated my attention to detail, which today translates into good client relations. I also learned that being attentive requires good listening skills (going back to the first lesson I learned). If my client asks for something formatted or styled in a certain way, I make sure all documents are delivered in that format. I also pay attention to my clients’ habits. Do they like to work early morning hours or do they stay late at night? Do they prefer PowerPoint or Word? If you are able to anticipate needs, clients will value your relationship more.

As I grow older and more experienced, I begin to realize more how my life’s lessons make me a better business person. This is not to discredit what I learned in school, which I also find very valuable; it just proves that the world is also your classroom. Don’t take any experience, conversation or interaction for granted.

Denise Vitola is SVP and deputy director of Personal Care at MSLGroup New York.