Inside Out: Kelly Womer on Employee Communications and the Silver Anvil Awards

June 1, 2016

Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA
Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA, is a vice president and partner at Linhart Public Relations. With 26 years of experience with major corporations, PR agencies and news organizations, she helps companies strengthen their business from the inside out through effective employee and leadership communications. She also counsels leaders and uses research to analyze what’s working and what could be better when it comes to communications.

She is a former PRSA Chicago Chapter president and former chair of the national PRSA Honors & Awards Committee, which oversees the Anvil programs, and a longtime Anvil judge. She joined PRSA in 1995.

Womer is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She thrives on global travel to experience new cultures and places (the more off-the-beaten path, the better). In her spare time, she enjoys watching football, doing crossword puzzles and volunteering at a local animal shelter.

What was your dream job as a child?

I wanted to be a librarian, flight attendant, sports writer or McDonald’s restaurant employee. I achieved the last goal, albeit in a different way than I envisioned! I worked on the global internal communications team at McDonald’s Corp.

And, I enjoy reading, world travel and watching sports — so I guess I accomplished the other goals in different ways, too.

How did you first become interested in public relations and get your start?

I never took any PR classes in college, nor considered it as a career option. I’m a journalist by training. After my first job out of college as an Associated Press reporter, I started considering how I might use my writing and reporting skills in a setting other than a newsroom. I decided a good transition might be corporate media relations — being on the other side to help shape and share stories for reporters.

My first PR position was media relations manager for an international giftware company, where I also wrote marketing materials and consumer newsletters. Of course, I couldn’t give up journalism since I loved writing, so I concurrently freelanced for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and various trade magazines for the first 10 years of my PR career.

What are some challenges, and exciting things, you face in your day-to-day role at Linhart Public Relations?

It’s trite but true: No day is ever the same. Flexibility is key. There’s tackling daily client requests, questions and deliverables, along with helping teams do their best work, staying on top of industry news, addressing various client challenges and providing solutions, and supporting my other partners in running the firm. Like a growing number of employees nationwide, I also telecommute, so it’s important to proactively stay connected with others.

What is the best way to align, inspire and connect today’s employees?

Help answer their three burning questions: Where is the company going and why? How does my team fit in? How do I contribute in my job?

Be consistent in words and actions. Listen. Give them the support to grow, succeed and learn from mistakes. Be human. Be kind.

What do you think are some of the keys to implementing strong, strategic storytelling?

I believe good writing and storytelling start with good thinking. You need to understand your audience and what motivates them, why they should care about what you’re going to tell them and what you’re trying to achieve with the story. Basically, what you want your audience to think, feel and do. You need to be able to articulate your story with the right words, tone and style.

You’re a longtime Silver Anvil judge. How have you seen the entries change with the continuing evolution of the PR profession?

Campaigns are much more integrated now. It’s less about relying on traditional media relations and more about reaching target audiences directly and in more compelling ways — e.g., online, experiential events, influencers and paid media. Silver Anvil judges have always said “clips alone don’t win.” This is truer than ever.

What role is social media playing in the programming with Anvil entries?

The best programs incorporate social media with a true purpose — real engagement, real conversations and real outcomes — not just for the sake of getting Likes or checking the box that you did something online as part of your campaign. Social media efforts within successful Anvil campaigns encourage conversations, action and sharing that support a business goal or some greater good.

What are some common mistakes that people make when submitting their entries, and what advice would you share with them?

The most common shortcoming is a lack of measurable goals and results. Whether or not you’re entering the Anvils, campaigns need to have defined, upfront goals of what success will look like, and then they need to demonstrate how the campaign did against those metrics or meaningful outcomes.

Many goals are still ambiguous like “raise awareness” or output-based like how many events you conducted. Business leaders, as well as judges, need to know what you were trying to achieve, why and by how much in order to assess what worked. It’s certainly a challenge and work in progress for all of us to show the value of public relations.

Why do you think it’s important to be involved in organizations that focus on networking and continuing education?

One of my favorite quotes is: “We are all in the process of becoming.” We need to be curious and continuously learning at any stage of our career and life. That’s why organizations like PRSA, Counselors Academy and the College of Fellows are important to me. Each day, I try to learn something new, do something positive or make something better.

What advice do you have for new professionals looking to break into employee communications?

If you’re already working at an organization or PR firm, and you want to transition to an employee communications role, you can gain added skills, increase your visibility and make yourself valuable by volunteering to be on an employee committee, raising your hand to work on a client with internal communications needs, or suggesting how your department may improve employee communications or morale. In short, look for ways to make employee communications part of, or an extension of, your current job in order to learn and better position yourself.

Plus, keep reading and learning about internal communications best practices or get together informally with someone who focuses on internal communications for a company you admire. Any external communications skills and experiences are certainly transferrable to internal communications, such as good writing, good thinking, teamwork, forging relationships, listening and measuring success.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your 26-year career?

No matter your position or role, seek and ask how you can help others. In supporting your team and colleagues, you’re also helping yourself learn, grow and succeed.

Getting to Know…Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

Any three dinner guests — past or present?  Legendary Everest explorers and mountaineers George Mallory, Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner

Best advice ever received? “Be here now.”

Favorite movie? “Schindler’s List”

Best place to travel? Nepal — my husband and I trekked to Everest Base Camp. The beauty and sheer scale of the Himalayas are breathtaking!

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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