Meet Our Staff: Katie Sells

Meet Our Staff: Katie Sells

We’re proud to have a ton of talented employees at Access Emanate and we’d love for you to get to know them. Here’s a quick Q&A with Senior Account Executive Katie Sells from our San Francisco office.

Where are you from and what brought you to Access Emanate?

I am from Bellevue, Washington and I went to college at Santa Clara University. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco and was quickly caught up in the crazy world of tech PR. I joined Access Emanate just over a year and a half ago and I haven’t looked back since.

Your role at Access Emanate includes:

I am a Senior Account Executive at AEC. I support the media relations and account management for three of our tech accounts. What I love about my role at AEC is that every day is different! I also place executives as speakers at top-tier conferences, submit my clients for awards, facilitate byline development and placement, and execute thought leadership campaigns around client surveys and reports.

What inspires you throughout the day?
I am constantly inspired by what I see on social media. Whether that inspiration is for a pitch, a vacation destination to add to my bucket list, home décor, or an outfit for our holiday party. I love to follow the trends on Twitter or scroll through Instagram for ideas.

What brand do you think gets PR right and why?

I think IBM Watson does an amazing job at PR and I would love to be a fly on the wall during one of their brainstorms. From creating the perfect BBQ sauce to dressing Karolina Kurkova at the Met Gala, I think their campaigns are creative and consumer-friendly, while also showcasing IBM’s innovation and tech prowess.

If you could grab a drink with anyone from any point in history, who would it be and what would you talk about?

I would love to grab a drink with Isadora Duncan, the woman who founded modern dance. I would like to hear about her experience as a dancer in the early 1900s and to discuss dance as a form of self-expression and therapy.

What’s one thing about you that might surprise people?

My family raises oysters in Hood Canal, Washington.

What are you passionate about pursuing outside of work?

I am passionate about supporting the arts. I trained in classical ballet at the Pacific Northwest Ballet while I was growing up and was a dance major in college. I don’t get to dance as often as I would like to but I love to attend dance and theatre performances of any kind. Fortunately there are so many good ones here in San Francisco!

Top Social Media Trends for 2017

Top Social Media Trends for 2017

The end of the year brings us a few things: the holidays, time to reminisce and reflect on the past 12 months, and the opportunity to look forward to what the next year will bring.  

We recently reviewed our predictions for the consumer trends of 2016, and it got us thinking about how they affect social media consumption. One trend that stood out in particular is the idea of regular people being the new celebs. A trend that is fueling a shift in how you and I use social media platforms to represent ourselves, consume news, review products, and keep up-to-date with friends and family.  

Beyond everyday people being the new celebs, there are several additional trends that are influencing how we consume and use social media. Knowing this, we pulled together a few predictions from our Access Emanate digital experts on the hottest social media trends we expect to see take shape in 2017.


What social media trends are you eager to see come to life in 2017? Tell us using #AEShares.

Thankful for Giving

Thankful for Giving

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season, the team at Access Emanate is grateful for the good we’ve done over the past year. From coast-to-coast, the AE Cares team has supported various causes in each local market, and helped a lot of different people and organizations along the way — from the hungry, to homeless animals, veterans, the planet and those in need of books, toys or clothes — we’re proud and grateful to say that AE Cares found a way to lend a helping hand. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve done throughout 2016 and our plans to finish the year strong.

Bicoastal Book Drive

During #NationalReadingMonth in March, the New York and San Francisco offices of Access Emanate hosted book drives to benefit the Friends of the SF Public Library and Reading Reflections respectively. More than 120 books were donated, helping these organizations to better serve our respective local communities.

Skipping Lunch to Fight Hunger

In May, Access Emanate supported City Harvest’s Skip Lunch Fight Hunger program for the fifth consecutive year. The campaign encouraged AE staff to skip buying their lunch for the month, and instead donate the “lunch money” they would have spent on salads, sandwiches and burritos to City Harvest, a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to food rescue, distribution and education. This effort is so important because one in four NYC children face hunger. Shockingly, just $15 – the approximate cost of one NYC or SF lunch out – can help City Harvest to feed 57 children for a full day. By the end of the month, Access Emanate had raised a whopping $1,141 to donate to City Harvest – enough money to feed 4,336 kids.

NYC Vietnam Veterans of America Clothing Drive

Throughout the summer, the New York team collected clothing, shoes and other goods, eventually donating the items to Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization committed to serving the needs of all veterans.

Furry Friends

In July the San Francisco team supported the San Francisco SPCA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding all animals in the Bay Area a loving home. The team donated gently used towels, blankets, sheets and/or bedding to the shelter’s dogs, cats and bunnies. These supplies truly make the animals waiting to find their forever home more comfortable during their time at the shelter. We also collected monetary donations, and to cap off the week the team hosted a celebration including two special guests – former shelter dogs Bailey and Finn who belong to staff members Carolyn Linck and Melinda Hickman respectively. In total, Access Emanate raised nearly $300 and collected several bags of blankets and supplies to support the shelter animals and the great work that the SF SPCA does every day.

Sustainable Service

As a part of Ketchum’s Global Month of Service in September, the New York AE Cares team ventured to Long Island City to volunteer with Big Reuse, one of New York’s nonprofit composting projects. At the compost site, the team learned about the importance of composting for reducing pollution levels, what can be composted and how to compost effectively. They also helped with preparing various materials for the Big Reuse crew and general site preservation.

 Food Bank Field Trip

In San Francisco, the team participated in Ketchum’s Global Month of Service by volunteering at the San Francisco/Marin Food Bank in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. During their shift, the team helped bag more than 3,150 pounds of rice so it could be shared with the 450 organizations the Food Bank partners with including: community pantries, religious centers and schools across San Francisco and Marin counties. Thanks to the help of volunteers like those from Access Emanate, every year the SF/Marin Food Bank distributes 46 million pounds of food to those in need in the Bay Area.

San Francisco’s St. Anthony’s Clothing Drive

Starting in November, the San Francisco team began collecting clothing donations, particularly warmer winter clothes, for SF-based charity, St. Anthony’s, which supports the city’s Tenderloin community. While this clothing drive is ongoing, several bags have already been collected and we expect more to come following the Thanksgiving holiday.

 Winter Wishes

In New York, the team will again participate in NY Cares’ annual Winter Wishes program – raising money to grant “wishes” for folks living in each of the boroughs who often go without over the holidays. From toddler toys to slippers for senior citizens, over the years we’ve granted more than 20 wishes – bringing what we hope is a little piece of joy to all. This year, the team is granting wishes by buying gifts, hosting a wrapping party and shipping them out to those in need by mid-December.

Raphael House Adopt-A-Family

San Francisco is again participating in Raphael House’s Adopt-A-Family program this year, adopting two families – one with two boys (ages 5 and 3) and one with three girls (ages 10, 7 and 3). The team will be buying gifts for each child and the family as a whole and delivering them in early December to spread some joy these San Francisco families.

Macy’s Holiday Windows for the SPCA

This holiday season, several members of the San Francisco team will be volunteering for the San Francisco SPCA at the Macy’s Union Square Holiday Windows program. Now in its 30th year, the Macy’s holiday window displays feature adoptable cats and dogs from the SPCA who need loving homes. The AE Cares SF volunteers will be stationed outside the windows, sharing information with those about the pets available for adoption, assisting those interested in adopting and collecting donations for the SPCA.

Our Access Founder Looks Back at 25 Years

Our Access Founder Looks Back at 25 Years

SAN FRANCISCO – What does 25 years in PR time look like? What are the challenges facing the industry? I recently sat down with Access Emanate’s CEO Susan Butenhoff to get her take on starting an agency, the importance of culture and what she has learned since her founding of Access Communications that long ago.

Q: You started the agency in 1991 after a seven-year stint with Ketchum. Was there ever a really scary moment or critical turning point in terms of the agency’s future?

A: There was a moment during the dotcom bubble that really changed our agency, and our survival.  It was seismic in that we survived at a time when so many other agencies had to shutter.

We were benefitting like everybody else from the froth and enthusiasm. There was so much money in the market. Even as a small agency, you were used to saying, ‘our minimum is $50,000 a month.’ Prospective clients walked in that had only been in business for six months, telling you they needed to go IPO. And they didn’t even have a year of revenue to show.

One day a VC who referred a lot of startups to us walked in and said one of them had just gotten $50 million in funding. I said, ‘great, let me see your business plan.’ He said, ‘I don’t have one’.

I declined the business and told my senior team we needed to diversify into consumer accounts, which was my background and so an easy way to transition. That gave us a protective Teflon that others didn’t have during what turned out to be a point of insanity in the tech market.

Q: What was that spark that led you to start the agency? Can you unpack that a little bit?

A:  Why did I walk out of a seven-year career? I learned a lot at Ketchum, and I always say I never left Ketchum, I went to a new opportunity. And it was an opportunity that I wanted to create.

It comes down to two things. I wanted to start a business where I could create my own culture that was not hierarchical, and fearless. That had a little bit of swagger to it.

And the only rules I wanted were that we needed to be good people who relish taking creative risks. And stay true to ourselves.

Ultimately, when you’re in the service industry, you are exposed to a lot of other people’s emotional, political, social dynamics. But my belief was that as long as we were strong at the core by being good people, we could navigate all of that.

So that was one thing, I wanted to create that world. The other thing is, I saw how technology was beginning to transform things like video games. And I could see how we were starting to use language in consumer environments like ‘rendering’ and ‘software.’ Those were not things that you would typically associate with something that was a consumer product.

I realized that there was really something interesting in bringing an intense understanding of consumer marketing to what was then a niche market that had typically been focused on speeds and feeds.

It was the whole idea that technology could be more than a product, it could be a lifestyle, that really drove me to start the agency.

I was probably the least qualified person to start a tech agency ever in the entire universe. My tech background was limited to talking dolls and video games. But I just knew there was something there. The other thing I knew was really important was that women were going to be an important part of this adoption cycle. And that women typically had been left out of the technology conversations.

I had grown up on brands that really sought to target women. So I do feel like I had a secret weapon, which was that laser-like understanding of how to communicate with women and understand how to position things so they were meaningful for them, and personally relevant. And it wasn’t just another thing to buy, or another thing to be patronized about.

Q: What advice would you have for PR startups today?

A: I think in many ways, it’s easier to start an agency now. It’s more of an approved professional career track – to get experience and chops at an agency and then go out on your own for a variety of reasons. Either because you want to be an entrepreneur, or because you want to set up a certain work-life balance, which is not a dirty concept anymore.

When I started Access, the reality is that boutique agencies were really considered sort of second tier, especially ones headed by women. They were really unusual. And there were concerns by brass about whether you could scale the way they needed.

But now in the age of the lean enterprise, and the cloud, and a more extensive understanding beyond Silicon Valley about how the entrepreneurial ecosystem can operate, I think there are great opportunities for startup agencies.

And a piece of advice for any agency is to be creative, be passionate, but understand the fundamentals of a business.

I think extreme optimism is a common – not just trait, but requirement of an entrepreneur. But it can be the downfall of a business.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about the culture? What has stayed the same here over the last 25 years?

A: I think you can’t have an agency stay the same if you don’t have people who are staying in for the long haul. Although it sounds really trite to say, the reality is that when you’re in a people business, you have to put your people first. That’s so predictable, right? But there are many people on our senior team who have been with Access for 20 years.

These are people who have had plenty of opportunities through lots of economic cycles to either start their own agencies or go in-house, and they stayed because what they found is a common philosophy. We really do feel that however tough the world is out there, whether it be economics, or whether it just be an individual struggle on a personal or a professional front, that we always have each other’s back.

And I think that’s rare to find in life generally, and in work, specifically.

Now with the new combined Access Emanate agency, I see people coming together and I see that it’s getting re-infused with that sense of doing the best for ourselves and each other.

As long as that’s our common compass, then we can navigate through all the other corporate America challenges that we’re all facing at an increasing rate.

Q:  That’s a perfect lead-in to my next question. What is the biggest change you’ve observed in PR and communications over the last 25 years?

A: That is such an easy one for me. This is an industry that I think is struggling to keep it about relationships and not become just transactional.

When I started, it was really a time when reporters picked up their phone. If they answered, they listened to the pitch. They gave you feedback. You know, there was a little bit of an understanding that you had your job to do, they had their job to do, and there was a mutual respect.

Many reporters didn’t even have answering machines. They had to answer the phones. And you knew when to ring them.

Technology has shifted the realities of that. Now you are relying on making a connection with a reporter based on following their Twitter handle, or sending them an email that can go in to a big, black void.

I feel like there’s a distance that’s being created between the editorial world, and the communications agency world.  And I think this is exacerbated, frankly, by two things. One is the reality of the intense business challenges of the media environment. You have fewer people having to do more. And when people are under those constraints, they don’t have the time for relationships. It does become transactional on their end, as well.

And I think the second component is in the world of social media. Everyone’s been destabilized in the process. There used to be a period where it was PR by the pound that was focused on press releases by the pound, and to a certain extent, I sadly see a correlative with social media where it’s shifting to social chatter by the pound.

You’re losing a little sense of what it was supposed to be about, which was true engagement and activation. And it’s really become very much about how many social channels you can cover with so many posts under so many dollars. And that worries me.

Q: What do you think it will take to get it back to a more authentic place?

A: I think it will take people understanding what the social environment, what the social channels are really about. I think we’re in early stages where we’ve gone from enthusiasm to evangelism, to confusion.

We have too many people who feel like they’re pressured to get just junk out of the pipe. I think when everyone becomes more educated, and I mean everywhere – on the brand side, on the agency side – that people may become more selective in terms of how they actually target their social dialogue with their target audiences.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

Q: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in starting the agency?

In giving this some thought, what I realize is that what I would have done then – which I encourage all startup agencies to do now – is make an effort to get to know the larger agencies and make an effort to get them to get to know me.

Getting larger firms to refer business because they know they are not right for a particular prospect would have been a really helpful business development pipeline that I never took advantage of.

Someone once said to me that the hardest thing to do is ask for help, and yet the hardest thing to refuse is someone’s request for help. So the advice I would have given to myself 25 years ago is don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Particularly for women entrepreneurs, we may think that asking for help is a sign of weakness but I think it plays to our strengths. We tend to be masterful social networkers, and what we need to do is just step beyond that crisis of confidence and recognize that ultimately, we all want to see that startup succeed.

Making Diversity a Creative Imperative

Making Diversity a Creative Imperative

LONDON — We at Access Emanate London embrace diversity. After all, the capital is a true crossroads of colours, creeds, beliefs, shapes, sizes, salaries and mindsets — and importantly for this crew, cuisines! Diversity energises us and it makes us stronger. The more inclusive we are, the broader we are in our thinking, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the broader are our commercial opportunities.

We’ve all been there: a brainstorm that’s popping with ideas and builds and chatter. It seems we’re brimming with content. But on further interrogation, the content doesn’t meet the target audience in the brief, but it sure does satisfy ‘people like us.’

And numerous articles tell us that our industry is brimming with people like us. Advertising, marketing and public relations is the perfect example of birds of a feather flocking together. In PR, in particular, 2013 stats show that 82% of people who work in PR define themselves as ‘White Caucasian’ with a further 9% calling themselves ‘Other White’. We look the same, we dress the same, and many of us are even named the same.  It’s no wonder, then, that our ideation features the channels we use, the venues we frequent and the influencers that influence us.

But obviously, not all people are like us.

There are a variety of systems that require real change for our teams to better mirror society around us. We need to recruit in new places, hire without bias (conscious or otherwise) and think differently about how atypical candidates can suit various, and potentially redefined, roles. And while those are big issues that we’re working on, we can make an important change in the things we do daily: ideation and programming. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve that we’re happy to share for the greater good — of the industry and the people it serves.

  • Use new techniques – We’ve all brainstormed as someone else, be it a celebrity, a different industry or a different profession. What about drawing a new card? If it’s appropriate to the brief, brainstorm as someone who ticks a different box on a survey form. Obese. Disabled. Transgendered. Different religion. There are many possibilities. While we can’t always truly walk in someone’s shoes, it’s helpful to try – and doing so will open up whole new trains of thought.
  • Use new faces – It’s not unusual to use a focus group for brainstorming. If, for example, you’re representing athletic wear, you want a room full of athletic people. Same goes for diverse audiences. If your brand reaches into a different socioeconomic demographic, get that demographic in the room. If you’re targeting the elderly, make sure the conference room table isn’t filled with Millennial account execs. It seems so obvious, but it’s a trick we miss time and time again.
  • Use new stimuli – Setting the scene is meant to make us go outside of ourselves, but we often dress a room with cues that are already known to us. Let’s take our above example of urban youth. Get people in their head space with Grime artists like Skepta, Jme or Section Boyz. Use photographic mood boards that go beyond Shoreditch’s #streetart into the real life of a counsel estate. Get interviews from people on the street if you can’t have them in the room. And never go in unarmed without real data about channel and media preferences (or lack thereof).

None of this, is of course, rocket science. We do it daily and often — but all too often with and for people like us. This shortchanges the brands we represent, who could reach farther and wider. This shortchanges consumers, who can forge new loyalties if they are spoken to in their language. But most of all, it shortchanges our industry, because we can grow and develop and thrive in a world where we think differently. As marketers, we have enormous power to create change because we have access to so many of the lenses through which we all view the world. That power reaps so many rewards — creative, personal and commercial — so let’s embrace it.