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PR Rock Stars: Bridget Nelson Monroe

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I met Bridget Monroe this summer for the first time at a coffee shop near my home. I had known “of” Bridget through my friends at Beehive PR (a firm I’ve worked for in the past), where she had worked for a spell in 2010-2011. Bridget was working for herself when I met her and in chatting, seemed to have a unique skill set of part PR professional, part publisher/writer and part digital consultant. It’s a pretty rare skill set–and let me tel you, as someone who’s constantly looking for talent locally here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, there’s not a lot of Bridgets walking around (not at that level of experience, at least). And that’s what impressed me most about Bridget–her blend of skills. In fact, I was so impressed, I hired her (kind of). Bridget’s now working with me as a contractor, and as a full-time employee with a key partner of mine, Bellmont Partners. But, I’ll let her tell you more of her story…

You recently accepted a new role working with Bellmont Partners (Disclosure: Bellmont Partners is a key partner of ACH Communications) and my firm, ACH Communications. You’re a couple weeks in—what have you enjoyed about working for and with two very small firms so far?

Being part of small agencies is fabulous. What I like most – besides the people, of course – is how truly integrated the work is at all levels. With a small team, it’s easy to switch seamlessly from media relations mode to social media mode to blogging mode and keep the client’s strategy and messaging consistent across platforms. There are no silos to break down or unnecessary processes to hurdle, which frees up everyone to work quickly and creatively.

You started your career on the publishing side of the house, and then moved over to the PR/marketing side. What inspired that transition? And what do you miss most about the publishing business?

Digital, digital, digital. I had been a research editor at Reader’s Digest for about a year when I became fascinated with what was happening in digital publishing and social media (this was just as brands were beginning to use Facebook and Twitter in a structured way). I did everything I could to learn more. Outside of work, I volunteered for a nonprofit, running its website and social media, teaching myself HTML, content management systems and social media best practices along the way. At work, I stepped way outside my job description and sought out the web editors and interactive marketing team to see how we could collaborate on things like the magazine’s Facebook and Twitter presence and its first iPhone app. At the time, many magazines still kept print and web operations very separate, but luckily my boss was always supportive of what I did.

After three years at Reader’s Digest, I was ready to jump into digital 100 percent and made the move to Digitas Health, which was looking for people with publishing backgrounds to manage content-rich lifestyle websites for pharmaceutical clients. From there, I shifted into PR, and now, the lines between publishing, marketing and PR are so wonderfully blurred that I get to do it all every day.

What I do miss about working in journalism is the unpredictability and carte blanche to call up virtually anyone and – depending who they were – grill them, sweet talk them, pick their brains, get hung up on or listen to them cry over a lost loved one…all of which could and did happen within the same day or hour when I worked at Reader’s Digest. I had so many random, mind-blowing conversations that ran the gamut from a NASA scientist to a Kennedy to best-selling authors to small-town sheriffs to survivors of war and natural disasters. Once, I was interviewing a woman who ran a safe house for victims of human trafficking (mainly former teen prostitutes) when there was suddenly a commotion and she said, “I’m going to have to call you back, there’s a pimp here who’s trying to kidnap one of my girls who used to work for him.” I can’t say anything like that has happened in the time I’ve been working in marketing and PR.

You’re pretty active in your professional development. You volunteer for MIMA. You’re a co-organizer of the Minneapolis Content Strategy Meet-Up. And you were on the planning committee for the 2011 MN Blogger Conference. Why do you choose to spend so much of your “free time” volunteering for these organizations and events?

In this industry, there’s always something to learn. That’s one reason I’m pretty involved in industry organizations. The other reason is that when I moved back to the Twin Cities last year, I needed a way to meet people in marketing and communications. What better way than to join committees and attend events? As I quickly discovered, the Minnesota communications community is quite fond of throwing conferences, happy hours, meetups, tweetups, panels, breakfasts and anything else that gets two or more people in a room talking. I knew a lot of people in no time, thanks to the hyper-active community here!

As a blogger, you use the Tumblr platform. Overall, I see so many more advertising folks using Tumblr vs. PR folks (interesting development, by the way). Why did you choose that platform over WordPress, Typepad, SquareSpace and other platforms? What do you see as Tumblr’s biggest advantages over those other tools?

Back when I was at Reader’s Digest and trying to learn as much as I could about digital publishing, I took a class on digital media at NYU. My instructor was Mark Coatney, who started the Newsweek Tumblr account and now works for Tumblr. He had everyone in the class start a Tumblr. At the time, I had never heard of it and didn’t know anyone else who was on it.

Now that I’ve used Tumblr for a few years, there are a couple of things about it that keep me hooked. The first is that it blends elements of blogging and Twitter – there’s a feed, so you can follow and reblog others’ posts – it’s a fantastic curation tool. (I use it to capture content that reflects the changing communications field.) The second is that I love to see what media entities are doing with Tumblr. It’s very experimental right now, which is exciting. And sometimes it seems like the staff of these outlets have gone rogue, or no higher-ups are watching what they’re posting. Traditionally old-school, serious publications post surprisingly tongue-in-cheek content – stuff you won’t see on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. It can get very “overheard in the newsroom.”

You’ve also founded a small business, Mediamazing, with your husband that focuses on video and digital marketing services. How has that experience prepared and helped you in our roles with Beehive PR and now, Bellmont Partners, locally?

Not surprisingly, owning a business has made me more business-minded in everything that I do. Having that business-owner perspective gives me another lens to view strategies and tactics through at the agencies that have employed me. It’s made me even more mindful of how time and money are spent and how efficiently outcomes can be reached for clients. It’s also helped me think at a big-picture level more and ensure that every tactic aligns to a larger client goal. In short, I ask (even) more “Why?” questions now.

Mediamazing’s services span a few mediums – video, websites and social media – so it’s also strengthened my integrated approach to client work. In particular, I think video is going to become increasingly important in the PR world, so I’m stoked that I have that in my toolkit. Brian Bellmont, the president of Bellmont Partners, is a former TV news reporter and producer and has always included video production in the agency’s services – pretty unique in the PR industry. I can’t wait to collaborate on video projects.

You’re a Drake graduate (December 2006 grad). For such a small school, we certainly have a lot of folks working in the digital realm here in Minneapolis (Greg Swan, Kasey Skala and Melissa Berggren come to mind). What is it about Drake that’s producing these high-caliber digital PR/marketing pros?

It could be something in the Hubbell Dining Hall food or the Relays Street Painting fumes. In all seriousness, I don’t know if it’s the type of people Drake attracts, or the Drake experience, or a combination of the two, but the Drake alums I’ve met in the Twin Cities are without exception sharp, kind people at the top of their games. When I moved back to the Twin Cities and cold-tweeted a few them, every single one of them went out of their way to meet with me and offer advice.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience at Drake, but my professors in the journalism school were amazing. They were sought-after professionals in their field, forward-thinking (always important during a time of major transformation in an industry) and really, really cared about their students. I still email with them and follow what they’re doing on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s clear they get the changing world of communications and are upending their curriculum every year to keep pace. I mean, the magazine students created an iPad app last year instead of a print magazine. How many other colleges are doing that?

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PR Rock Stars: Bridget Nelson Monroe

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