Giving Back: The Joys of Pro Bono Work

Photo Credit: Master Isolated Images at

Photo Credit: Master Isolated Images at

By Karen Hendricks

During the holiday season, I think there’s a natural tendency to evaluate all forms of giving, including the gifts you can share with pro bono clients.  Many clients in need of pro bono services have profound PR or marketing needs with a driving sense of mission or cause, and I’ve found that working with such clients can deliver invaluable benefits.  There is definitely a rewarding satisfaction, sometime life-changing, when a successful campaign awakens the public to their causes.

Additional benefits, beyond the feel-good, spiritual satisfaction, include:

  • Working with pro bono clients, many of which are non-profits, puts you in touch with new community contacts.  They are often community leaders, and excellent word-of-mouth recommendations for additional business may come your way as a result.
  • Your name and/or business name becomes affiliated with a worthwhile cause within the community and elevates your presence.
  • Working with pro bono clients, many of which do not have large amounts of money for PR and marketing campaigns (you’re working for them pro bono after all) stretches your talents in new, innovative ways.  Seeking free or low-cost services for them, or establishing cost-savings partnerships, helps you flex your creative muscles.
  • You may also be able to “play” with marketing tools that you normally don’t touch during your regular business days.  You may enjoy the creative freedom of developing a blog/website for a pro bono client, for example, and therefore develop new skill sets.
  • There are also tax deductible benefits!

Of course, sharing your talents and gifts are one thing; running a business is another.  Your pro bono work needs to mesh with your (paid) client workload.  Here are a few tips to avoiding pitfalls:

  • While it’s common business practice to make sure every client feels as if they are your only client, your pro bono clients sometimes need to know there are limits to your generosity.  Set defined limits, whether in hours per week or meetings per month, etc.
  • Create PR and marketing goals for your pro bono clients just as you would for paying clients.  This will help you define expectations and specific tasks which you will perform.
  • Evaluate your pro bono work on a regular basis such as annually.  Are you still enjoying the work?  Does the organization still need you?  Is there another organization with which you’d rather be donating your time and expertise?

I’ve had the pleasure of donating my time to several organizations through the years.  The one that I’ve worked for the longest has been my church, one of the largest congregations in Gettysburg, which means there is always something happening!  I enjoy the challenge of using my public relations and marketing skills to deliver Christian messages.  Personally, I have enjoyed getting to know partners throughout the community such as the heads of area non-profits who gathered recently for my publicity shot.  They were the recipients of nearly $50,000 in combined donations from our church—what an amazing message to share with the community.  I’ve also had the privilege of visiting with the talented ladies of our church quilting bee, as they worked on their 700th quilt to be donated to victims of world disasters.  It was a joy to see more than 30 youth gathered on the steps of our church for a publicity photo, as they prepared for a mission trip to New Orleans. There are many additional memorable “stories” that I treasure.

I am also thrilled to begin a new pro bono endeavor:  Handling PR duties as a board member with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  Habitat’s vision, “a world where everyone has a decent place to live” is a mission with which I strongly identify.  I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, but also enjoying getting to know a dynamic set of leaders and publicizing the many positive stories they are sure to generate in 2013.

During this holiday season, I encourage you to consider “giving” in a new light:  Giving of your talents and skills to make a difference in your community.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  -Abraham Lincoln

4 PR Lessons from “the Last Day of School”

By Karen Hendricks

Early June never fails to bring a contrasting mixture of sweet, as well as bittersweet, days.  My children are celebrating every moment that brings then closer to the last day of school.  As a Mom, I find myself celebrating as well, but also savoring those fleeting final milestones (i.e. final spring concert, last soccer game, etc.).

I think there are four basic, fun and useful lessons that can be learned, by looking at the public relations, marketing or writing world through a “last day of school” lens.

1.  Take time to celebrate.

Think back upon your childhood and try to remember that euphoric “last day of school,” when the entire summer beckoned to you, filled with the promise of sun-drenched adventures.   Pure bliss.  How often do you take the time to truly celebrate marketing or PR milestones, or look forward to new ones, with a similar spirit?  So often, we’re on to the next writing assignment, or caught up in the building blocks of a marketing campaign. This is the perfect time of year to be in touch with your “inner child” and allow yourself to celebrate your accomplishments.  Be reinvigorated by looking forward to new challenges.

2.  Reflect on how far you’ve come.

Depending on the age(s) of your children, they may or may not be in a reflecting mood at the end of the school year.  My children accumulate school papers, projects and other paraphernalia in large baskets throughout the school year.  At some point early in the summer season, they each go through his/her basket, deciding which items are truly worth saving, incorporating into scrapbooks, or tossing.  But it’s always a great exercise that results in several exclamations of “Wow, I forgot about this project,” or “Can you believe algebra (or fill in the blank) used to be hard for me?”  So too, should we as writers, marketing and PR practitioners, evaluate our work periodically and take stock of where we’ve been, noting which projects caused us angst but allowed us to grow.

3.  Are your goals within sight?

As the school year winds down, my children are simultaneously planning next year’s schedules, making sure they’re meeting school and graduation requirements, being mindful of their goals.  During this season of final endings and new beginnings, it’s the perfect time to evaluate our clients, our work and our future goals.  Are you accomplishing everything you set out to do?  If not, make adjustments that allow you to stay in focus and on track.

3.  Remember that summer is a season of growth.

I treasure summers for the time they allow me to spend with my children, so I’m not a fan of year-round school, however I do agree with the experts that summer presents some of the best opportunities for learning.  Studies show that children are healthier during the summer season, growing more during this season than any other–physically, emotionally and mentally.  We too, as writers, marketers and PR practitioners, should tap into the unbridled, wide-open skies of summer to find inspiration and new approaches to our projects (I was trying to avoid the cliché “think outside the box” here!).  Allow summer’s green horizons, blue skies and golden sunshine to work its magic on you.

Diagnosis; Sharing the Story

By Karen Hendricks

If you would have told me last week that being a doctor was a lot like being a PR practitioner, I would have laughed.

But this week I learned that it’s actually the truth, because it all comes down to “the story.”

Former CBS News Producer-turned-MD Lisa Sanders helped me arrive at this revelation, as I had the pleasure of hearing her speak earlier this week.  Author of the New York Times Magazine “Diagnosis” column, Sanders provided the inspiration for the wildly popular and offbeat TV show House.  Dr. Gregory House, aka Hugh Laurie, solves medical mysteries by using his instincts and clues, often gathered through unconventional means.  His demeanor doesn’t exactly encourage his patients to talk to him and tell their “stories.”

As a former journalist, “stories” have always been at the heart of Sanders’ work, even when she made the transition to the medical field.  One of three Technical Advisors to House, Sanders dreams up the shows’ fascinating medical storylines.  Her latest book Every Patient Tells a Story describes “Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis.”  It all comes down to patients who communicate their stories accurately and doctors truly taking the time to listen to their patients’ stories.  Between 70 to 90 percent of all medical diagnoses are made, not based upon physical exams or specialized tests, but upon patients’ stories.But Sanders’ use of “the story” doesn’t end there.  She contends, one of the most powerful gifts a doctor can give to his/her patient, is the communication of a diagnosis.  How the doctor relays this information, explains a disease or shares information, is the first step to helping a patient heal.  Sanders writes, “A story that can help a patient make sense of even a devastating illness is a story that can heal.”

Ok so what does this have to do with PR and marketing?

Just as doctors search for diagnoses, PR and marketing professionals seek “diagnoses” for their clients.  The messages and stories that form the backbone of a PR or marketing campaign are often found, not by examining the number of website page views or other diagnostic numbers, but simply by listening to clients’ stories and employing them directly into the heart of the campaign.  Compelling, stories, emotional, human and fascinating, translate into a more effective PR or marketing campaign.  Take the time to find out why or how your client is unique (I know—over-used word but it fits) through their stories.

I once interviewed an artist who had an unusual, but beautiful, perspective on landscapes that seemed to stretch on and on in layers.  As one of dozens of artists I interviewed for an arts festival’s PR campaign, he explained that he preferred painting from high mountaintops, as high an elevation as he could reach, for a birds-eye perspective.   I asked a series of questions about his background and it turned out that his early artistic ambitions had been put on hold for a stint in the U.S. Air Force.  Perhaps that experience provided the training ground for his unique approach to landscape painting?  What an interesting twist to “his story” that provided a “diagnosis” of sorts.

While I’m listening and focused on a client’s stories, I always take the time to capture quotes.  They inject color and emotion into press releases or marketing materials!  I recently worked with a young political candidate who projected such enthusiasm and passion through his quotes and interviews, while demonstrating a firm grasp of issues at hand, that he attracted attention and was elected to office.  He communicated his story and connected to his constituency well!

Everyone has a story to tell, medically or otherwise.  Are you taking the time to listen?  And are you retelling the story and sharing it?

House: often closes the door on communication

P.S. Many thanks to Lisa Sanders for the great book inscription!

Communicate in 8

By Karen Hendricks

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds long, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press in 2012.  Compare that to the average attention span in 2000 which was a whopping 12 seconds.  Or better yet, compare that to the average attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds.  (How is that determined?!)

The simple truth is that communicating is more challenging today than ever before.  So what does it take, to capture someone’s attention span for 8 seconds or more and convey a compelling message?  Here are a few tips, gleaned from 20+ years in the communications field, used regularly at Hendricks Communications:

1.  Tell Personal Stories:  Good public relations and marketing campaigns are transformed into great campaigns when they’re based upon captivating, real-life experiences.  People are fascinating!  Taking the time to understand and tell a client’s story, highlighted with anecdotes or quotes, injects an element of emotion.

2.  Use A Hook:  Think of a hook as something that draws you in and compels you to read further, listen longer, click on a link or turn a page.  The hook can take any number of angles–clever writing, an attention-grabbing quote or a shocking statistic but it grabs your attention instantly and piques your curiousity.

3.  Know the Facts and Stats:  Don’t overwhelm your reader, but strengthen your writing with a handful of carefully-researched and selected facts and figures.  Statistics add a powerful punch.

4.  Use Words that Wow:  Using a rich variety of language, including attention-grabbing vocabulary, engages a reader or listener.  Ten dollar words aren’t necessarily needed; quick and clever words with zing are just as effective, if not more so.  Spice up your vocabulary with playful prose or strong speech to suit the tone and subject.

5.  Be Brief:  Stick to the point, weave the story with colorful quotes, lanuage or facts where needed and come to a compelling conclusion.  Remember your audience has an average attention span of 8 seconds; if you hold their attention any longer, it can be considered a victory.

6.  Remember Appearance Counts:  Good design, clean fonts and a touch of color encourage the reader to actually read your text.  Make it easy to read; not complicated or requiring a road map.  A similar piece of advice works for the spoken word:  make your presentation easy to understand so that main points are clearly defined.

7.  Feature Photos:  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so use one (or more!) to enhance your writing.  Photographs convey mood, tone and expression so much more effectively, and quickly, than text.

8. Check the 5 Ws and 1 H:  The foundation of good journalism depends on asking the right questions and then making sure you’ve “covered all the bases” in your writing.  Who, what, where, when, why and how:  All of these questions should be answered or you’re bound to have gaps in your writing.  Once a reader discovers a gap, he or she tunes your message out.

Remember your audience may only be with you for 8 seconds–coincidentally the same amount of time that a rodeo rider must stay atop a bull in order to be awarded a score and win.