We recently cornered the newest member of Well Done’s public relations team and demanded she answer some hard-hitting questions like the ones she’ll be fielding from reporters on behalf of our clients. An agency veteran who recently finished a stint with a national nonprofit, Marissa Smith-Kenny explained what drew her back to life at an agency, what it’s like to grow up in a small town, and why good PR is really about building trust.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a tiny town called Losantville —population 258—at the intersection of two highways in East Central Indiana. I like to say it was the kind of place with one stoplight and zero diversity. Going to a school as small as mine resulted in some unique experiences, though.
Do you care to elaborate on a unique experience or two??
With a typical class size around 35 kids, extracurriculars were not competitive, so you could try anything the school had to offer. For me, that meant student council, basketball, academic team, golf, pep band, and the archery team (yes, archery). More bizarre, our school grounds were home to the Marjorie Luellen Memorial Log Cabin, a legitimate 1800s-era log cabin.
In elementary school, it was tradition for each class to take turns in the cabin, making Christmas tree decorations and icing gingerbread cookies, which we washed down with milk that was often chilled by being left on the cabin’s porch overnight. I recognize saying this makes it sound like I’m a ghost from two centuries ago, but I swear this was the mid-aughts.
Tell us a little bit about your career and what led you to Well Done Marketing.
Throughout my college career at IUPUI (RIP to that campus name), I pursued a variety of internships with local community organizations. I was always on the lookout for opportunities that would enable me to use my strategic mindset and writing skills to advance social causes. I eventually landed at a local agency, where I stayed for nearly three years. I was one of the many who participated in the great pandemic career shuffle, leaving the agency world to do in-house communications for a national nonprofit, Avodah. The diversity of projects available through agencies called me back, though!
Welcome back! How did you become interested in public relations in the first place?
As a kid, I wanted to be an author. When the reality of picking a career path came around, I did some research and decided that marketing was a way to keep writing with less risk. Public relations became my area of concentration, because it meant I didn’t have to take nearly as many math classes in college—liberal arts for the win.
You’ll find yourself at home with math-averse writers at Well Done. Some of us won’t even touch the Sudoku. Any other subjects you try to avoid?
Glad to know I’m not alone! I’m willing to attempt to learn any subject, which is part of what makes working in a full-service agency both exciting and challenging. You’re constantly surrounded by folks who are experts in their own areas, and I strive to absorb as much knowledge as I have the capacity to take in.
How does an effective PR strategy fit within an organization’s overall marketing efforts?
There is a common misconception that successful public relations means your name is in the news. While media relations can certainly be a component, a well-designed PR approach might include many touchpoints with a client’s target audiences (community partnerships, special events, or social media campaigns, just to name a few). Health care, which Well Done does a lot of work in, is a great example of the need for PR. You can serve a potential patient a digital ad promising great health care 100 times, but it won’t be effective if they don’t trust the health system on a relational level.
That’s an interesting thought. How does a PR pro like you go about helping a client cultivate trust with their audience?
Strong PR is about understanding the different audiences involved in a project and how to build a relationship with each of them. This could require a unique suite of tactics for each group—and that starts with a solid foundation of research. What communities are we aiming to engage? Why haven’t they been engaging with our client up to this point? Where do those communities currently get their information? Who do they trust? An “influencer” isn’t always a personality on social media; it could be a local faith leader.
Are there any Well Done clients you’re particularly excited to work with?
There are several clients I’m excited to dig into. So far, I’ve been working with Employers’ Forum of Indiana (EFI), an organization that’s driving conversations around hospital price transparency. As one of the 10% of Americans with medical debt, the work EFI is doing is personally meaningful to me, and I’m grateful to support its amplification.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Does it sound bad if this is one of my least favorite questions? It makes me overly aware that I should be doing cooler stuff in my free time. If I’m not working, you can often find me treating myself to an iced latte, road-tripping to woodsy areas, testing baking recipes, or—most commonly—talking to my cats.
Given how many of us are pet owners, we think talking to cats is a perfectly good thing to do. We also have several bakers on staff. If Well Done has a bake off, what recipe will help you blow away the competition?
First, if we did have a bake off, it would need to have more Great British Bake Off vibes than any of the cutthroat American cooking shows. Can we actually make that happen, please? Second, I’ve found that homemade yeast bread recipes can be the most finicky of anything I’ve tried, which means they have the greatest payoff. My in-laws are huge fans of my cinnamon rolls, and I also enjoy the messy task of braiding a babka.
We’re going to take you up on a babka and those famous cinnamon rolls. Welcome to the team, Marissa! We’re excited to see you help our clients build trust with their audiences.