Home Blog Uncategorized PR Rock Stars: A conversation with LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder


My first two conversations in the “PR Rock Star” series have been with fairly seasoned PR pros–David Mullen and Lee Aase. Today, I’d like to highlight two younger pros and a couple of the real up-and-coming PR stars in the Twin Cities community–LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder.

If you’re on Twitter, you may know them as @uptowngirlmpls and @sleepnumbersara. Together, they make up a formidable social media and PR duo at Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. They’re also both past Dr. Willard Thompson scholarship winners (through PRSSA), by the way, so we know they’re smart, driven and ethical practitioners at their core.

OK, enough set up–let’s get on with the conversation! Hope you enjoy this installment of the PR Rock Star Conversation series.

You’re both active on Twitter professionally with Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. You share information, promotions and sleep tips through your accounts. What was your strategy as you started to use this new tool in your marketing mix? And what’s the one thing you’ve learned about your community through using Twitter?

LeeAnn/Sarah: As a communications team, we’ve adapted social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook to reach our customers and consumers interested in getting a good night’s sleep. By providing followers and fans with sleep tips, sleep/health news and Sleep Number promotions, we’ve become a resource to help them achieve the best sleep possible. Fortunately, the Sleep Number brand meets two essential social media criteria a brand needs to have in order to be successful:

• The Sleep Number brand has a solid awareness among online consumers.
• We have a large group of satisfied owners, who are already highly engaged with the brand and online talking about it. Social media is another way to support a mutually beneficial relationship.

Sarah: As “SleepNumberSara” I’ve learned there are a lot of owners actively talking about and promoting the Sleep Number bed on Twitter, and the recommendation by a community or network carries a lot of weight in the consideration and purchase process. I’ve enjoyed connecting with consumers to gather testimonials, answer questions from potential buyers, troubleshoot issues, and ensure they have a quality experience with our product.

LeeAnn: From a personal perspective, I’ve become a Tweeter because it’s a tool to help me connect with other communications professionals, colleagues, friends and news resources every minute of the day. And, I do mean every minute! While external social media does not fall into my day-to-day Select Comfort responsibilities, I have an overwhelming interest and need to share my knowledge and serve on the “truth squad.” We have great products and I want to help people understand how each of the personalized products work.

Sarah: Through my personal Twitter account, I’ve learned that Twitter is a great resource to stay-up-to-date on news, trends and to maintain relationships. But it still doesn’t beat reading the Wall Street Journal or talking face-to-face with friends and colleagues. I love the ability to read my feed between meetings and conference calls, but no form of technology will replace the importance of face-to-face communication. On that note, happy hour anyone?

LeeAnn: I’ve learned many things about my community through Twitter but so far the most important lesson is to provide worthwhile content. My tweets reach beyond sleep and Sleep Number products. I speak to my personal life as UptownGirlMpls – sharing how to maintain a great quality of life within the Twin Cities as a single, 20-something who is active in her community. And as an Uptown community advocate, I’m always game for happy hour. 😉

Unfortunately, like many companies, Select Comfort has had to layoff staff recently. From some of our previous discussions, I know you have used social media tools internally as part of your strategy to communicate with staff and open up two-way dialogues. What tools did you use and what kind of response did you hear from employees?

LeeAnn/Sarah: We have many internal communication vehicles including a weekly e-newsletter, regular voicemail and e-mail communications, and an internal blog. One of the company’s goals is to foster true engagement. To help us reach this goal, it’s important that employees feel real ownership of the company. So, we created a company blog.

Our internal blog is a place where all employees have a voice. It helps to foster communication not only across the company, but across the country. New, relevant and important information is posted by contributors from all areas and levels within the company. And, we encourage all employees to comment, share ideas and engage in conversation. Ultimately, the blog is an importance resource for employees. A place where they can give and receive information that will help everyone feel true ownership.
Sarah: As a side note to our answer, I’d like to add that as a fairly new Select Comfort employee, I really appreciated the open communication and dialogue – especially during the past two months. The communication has truly helped foster great conversations, and has increased employee confidence and morale via our internal blog, brown bags and other employee engagement activities.

Staying on that topic for a minute. There are plenty of case studies online featuring companies that are using social media tools with external audiences. However, there aren’t nearly as many when it comes to internal audiences. In your experience, what’s the biggest challenge in using these tools to foster productive conversations and build community with employees vs. customers and external stakeholders?

LeeAnn/Sarah: In our experience, the biggest challenge to foster productive conversations is getting ALL employees to comment and engage in dialogue. We know there are many readers of the blog and the next step is to activate more voices. Our employees are passionate about the product, company’s success and display a personal commitment each and every day. The conversations are always productive and honest. We are working to bridge the gap between retail field and home office participation. While the retail employee base is larger than corporate employees, it’s a goal of ours in 2009 to evolve it to be more tailored. We have such different internal audiences that one tool is never absolutely perfect for everyone.

I know you’re both big supporters of PRSA and professional development. What have you found to be the biggest benefits of your involvement with the Minnesota chapter? And what is the one thing you learned this past year as a result of your involvement with this organization?

LeeAnn/Sarah: We both agree that we wouldn’t be where we are today without PRSSA and PRSA.

LeeAnn: The bigg
est benefit I’ve found in our local Chapter is overwhelming support. We have a great community of public relations professionals who take care of each other. My mentors are PRSA professionals who have connected me with many opportunities and helped develop my career path. In the last year as co-chair of the Student Relations committee, I’ve learned how to be a better leader by managing through change – listening to my committee, balancing workload and making decisions together.

Sarah: As a relatively new PR professional, it’s been wonderful and beneficial to have a nurturing community and a network of great professionals to learn from. I feel very fortunate to have great PRSA mentors and friends who have supported and shaped my career.

During the past year I’ve been a PRSSA president and a Classics committee member. Although both positions are very different, I’ve learned a similar theme; volunteering my time to help others is the best way to give back to the PR community that gave me so much. As there is constant change and learning opportunities associated with being an active PRSA member, I’ve also learned to become more adaptable to change.

You both played lead roles in your respective PRSSA chapters (Sarah at the University of Minnesota and LeeAnn at the University of St. Thomas—both
Dr. Willard Thompson Scholarship award winners, by the way) so you understand the value of effective leadership. As we continue to struggle in this rough-and-tumble economy, what are three characteristics you believe every leader should possess?

Sarah: I think a leader should posses 1) a genuine passion and excitement for the team members and the team’s goals, 2) good listening skills for open two-way communication, to identify emerging ideas/trends and gauge group morale and 3) have an overall vision for the group and the confidence to make quality decisions.

LeeAnn: Adaptability – not just during difficult economic conditions but always. As communications professionals there is constant change and without becoming adaptable to change, it’s difficult to grow and succeed. Social media is a prime example. So many professionals have tried to ignore it — but think of your audience; what are their needs and how can you help meet them? Be present in front of them; stop standing in the back waving your hand hoping they’ll see you.

Humor – without it, we’re toast. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the positive within a situation. But to operate without warmth or a way to connect to others does not help. Commit to optimism and focus on what you can control.

Keen listening skills – when things are tough all you hear is noise. The buzz about what to do next, questions to establish accountability and determining what the solve is. Now more than ever it’s important to use your listening skills. To hear the real question and concern, and tune into what your constituents are asking of you. To be an effective communications leader, you need to listen before establishing the course.

As companies think about integrating social media into their marketing and PR mix, some believe these tools are just for high-tech or high-profile consumer companies. You convinced a bedding retailer and mattress manufacturer to give it a try. How did you do it?

LeeAnn/Sarah: Select Comfort uses Twitter and other social media to not only spread the word about the benefits of the Sleep Number bed, but we also create genuine relationships with our owners while providing them with value.

We provide metrics that define our success with every communications tactic used. The same goes for social media. If we can measure what we implement, generate positive results and be cost efficient, it makes for a winning case with our senior leaders.

As technologies evolve, what remains the same is our great product and our owners genuine excitement to talk about it. Whether offline or online, we enjoy being involved in that conversation. Technology is one communications vehicle; it’s the connection that’s important.



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