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PR Rock Stars: Mike Keliher

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Mike Keliher’s one of those guys I wish I could spend more time with. But, I own a small business. He works for a very busy agency. We both have young families. He lives in Stillwater. I live in Minneapolis (for those not in MN, we’re about 45 minutes apart). You get the idea–we’re both very busy, and just don’t have a lot of wiggle room in our schedules (in fact, we’ve had to reschedule coffee now two weeks in a row–I’m mostly to blame here). But, I need to find more time to spend with Mike. Why? Because he’s one of the sharper digital minds in our community. After cutting his teeth with Albert Maruggi in St. Paul, Mike made the leap to Fast Horse a number of years ago where he’s excelled and completely embraced the agency’s unique culture. I’ve been following Mike’s work for a while now–I check in with him every so often. And, every time we chat, his work–and attitude–speaks volumes about the counselor he’s become. I’m going to let him tell you the rest of the story…

You’re currently a client relationship director (i.e., account director) at Fast Horse, a boutique agency in Minneapolis. Can you talk a bit about the clients you work with and the kind of work you’re focused on in your role?

Outside of our creative staff – designers, video and the like – Fast Horse doesn’t have formal departments, but we all have our relative areas of expertise. In my case, I tend to be one of the folks who work on a lot of online or digital projects, everything from social media strategies to website development to email marketing. But I also really enjoy working on branding and positioning projects and other work that doesn’t fall into that broad “digital” realm.

As for my clients, I’m part of a team that does loads of work with Marvin Windows and Doors. I’ve contributed to several projects for The Coca-Cola Company, and I led our work on the big Expedition 206 program, which was a blast. I lead our work with OptiMine Software, a start-up for which we’ve done everything from branding and positioning to media relations to a building new website. I’m also leading our work on a great new project for UnitedHealth Group, but it’s not really live yet, so we’ll save that for another blog post.

Fast Horse isn’t your typical PR agency. In fact, you guys shirk that label completely. And, you have a pretty unique culture and office environment (open—very little office space). Can you talk a little about how you adjusted to the unique FH culture initially and now, after almost 3 years, how that culture has changed the way you think, learn and serve your clients?

This open and flexible workplace was built specifically for me. I think Jorg had me in mind 10 years ago when he founded Fast Horse. It took no adjusting. Working in a more traditional place would require some adjusting.

We don’t have assigned desks or offices. Nobody has a land-line phone. I work from home one day a week on average. Our schedules are flexible. It’s wonderful. We essentially work wherever, whenever we want to or need to, and we’re good about communicating with each other to avoid any problems that might arise from not always being in the same building.

As for how that arrangement changes how we serve our clients, I’m pretty sure it’s all up-side. At the least, we all seem to be happier and to work more effectively, so that’s great. But this sort of work space also encourages more spontaneous and more frequent collaboration and brainstorming – even if it’s just quick, informal stuff. Again, all up-side.

You also spent time early in your career working for and with Albert Maruggi—a guy many in town know in terms of new media. How did your time working with Albert shape who you are today at Fast Horse?

Albert is smart as hell and one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. Constantly busting ass to take care of his wife and 47 children (he actually only has five kids, but once you get beyond three, what’s the difference?) while also giving his clients everything they need and more. He taught me a lot about that thing people call “work-life balance.”

I started working with Albert the summer before my senior year of college, and I spent the next five years working with him. Provident Partners is a small shop, and I had more opportunities to learn and do more cool stuff in a month than most of my peers had in a year. Perhaps the best part was that, when we wanted to try something new or something crazy – like podcasting almost a decade ago – there was no “approval process.” It was a “that sounds awesome – how the hell can we pull it off? process.”

Albert is like an extra father to me. He’s one hell of a guy, and I’m grateful to him for helping me get to where I am today.

I’ve known you known you for a number of years and it’s been great to watch you really grow into one of the smarter, young digital marketers in town (in my view). And, you’ve done that in pretty short amount of time. What tips would you have for younger folks right now trying to break into the digital communications/marketing field?

Thanks for the kind words. If I were to give one piece of advice to the up-and-comers, it’d be to find a way to stand out. To make yourself different. Make yourself something special.

In terms of writing a cover letter to accompany your résumé, that means ditch the awkwardly formal non-sense and have a little fun. Show some personality.

In terms of professional development, get out of your chair and go meet people. Go to Social Media Breakfast events and MIMA monthly meetings and the like. Meet people like Jorg Pierach and Albert Maruggi and Arik Hanson. Learn stuff. Have fun.

In terms of your skill set, that means finding something you’re interested in, can be passionate about, and can get good at. Find something that can help you stand out from the dozens of other job applicants who also studied what you studied and who also want the job you want.

In terms of your job interviews, give the person you’re speaking with a reason to believe you want to work there. People who are hiring want to know they’re hiring someone who knows what they want beyond just “I want a job!”

Make yourself stand out.

You’re also a guy with a young family at home. With a stressful, and often demanding agency job, how do you balance the wife and kids and your client workload?

See above about the flexible workplace. That’s really all there is to it. My paying clients are important clients. Fast Horse and its agency marketing and business development needs are important clients. And my wife and kids are, in a way, important “clients.” That sounds atrociously cold, doesn’t it? But you know what I mean. They’re important to me, so I make it work. I get up early, I work hard and I head home to spend time with my wife and kid. Sometimes it’s difficult, but my wife Ania works at least as hard as I do – probably more – and she’s understanding and flexible.

One of the many things I find fascinating about Fast Horse is that you use your company blog as your de facto Web site. And, you’re contributing content to it regularly. It might be the best agency blog in town, in fact. I know you’ve played a big role in that—talk about how the Fast Horse blog/site has evolved the last few years and how you personally manage your blog duties with all the “billable” (read: client work) demands you have on your time?

Again, thanks for the kind words. As I mentioned before, Fast Horse is treated like one of our clients, so agency marketing efforts – the Idea Peepshow blog included – are a priority, not an afterthought. It’s made easier by the fact that we spread the work around – everybody contributes. The blog is constantly evolving, but there hasn’t been any specific direction like “Our approach for this year is X.” It’s just a constant process of trying to find and write about things that are interesting to us and to other people and balancing that with trying to give people a glimpse of what it’s like to work at or with Fast Horse.

Fact is, you’ve been blogging longer than many folks in the Twin Cities. You’ve been a regular contributor to the Same Rowdy Crowd for years, and you started with your Unjournalism blog way back when. Why did you start blogging in the first place? And why do you continue to invest time in blogging?

I started blogging back in the day because it seemed like fun. I love writing, I love technology, and I love doing something my own way. Building and maintaining a blog is a great marriage of those three things. Plus, when you have a chance to share a masthead with the big shots who write for the Same Rowdy Crowd, you just don’t pass that up. I guess it’s part of what I was referring to above about finding things you enjoy and finding ways to stand out. And in fact, one of my Rowdy colleagues, Bruce Benidt, introduced me to Jorg, which led to my gig at Fast Horse. So there’s that.

You’re also a HUGE Twins rube and fan. What’s your favorite Twins memory? And, how do we solve our pitching problems in 2012?

I just barely remember nodding in and out of sleep as the boys were winning the ’91 World Series, so that sort of counts. I also fondly recall being in the Dome for the wildly dramatic game 163 tie-breaker against Detroit with my wife, 8-week-old son and a group of friends. The kid slept through most of the game, and we were rubbing his fuzzy little head for good luck between pitches for the last two innings. (I’m not superstitious, but when it comes to baseball, the word “not” is quickly introduced to my backspace key, if you know what I mean.)

As for our 2012 pitching problems, we should start by not resigning Matt Capps (oops, too late!) and giving Glen Perkins permission to pitch every inning of every gam

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PR Rock Stars: Mike Keliher

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