A new generation is calling, and two impressive young and gifted Colorado PR ladies – Rhiannon Hendrickson and Michele Ellis - are representing their age group well. In their early 30’s, they work beautifully as a team and are very connected to the community and to each other.
The scope of their nonprofit work (collectively) includes their involvement with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (providing pro bono PR services for their annual Man & Woman of The Year campaign which takes place this year on May 19th, and the 2012 Rocky Mountain Blood Cancer Conference), Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado, Inc., Young Professionals Advisory Council, Rocky Mountain Chapter of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), AWANA Clubs International, and Semester at Sea – among others.
Aside from Michelle and Rhiannon both growing up in Colorado, they went to the same college (CSU) at different times - each achieving degrees in the same field; and they connected while they both worked as publicists at Starz Entertainment. They have been best friends ever since, and both started their own PR/marketing companies specializing in helping the community with such services as strategic public relations and marketing communications planning, media and community relations/publicity, social media campaigns, web management, media training and event planning and promotion.
After college, Michelle Ellis started out as a news anchor/reporter for KCBY-TV and had a special interest in communicating important messages to her viewers. Michelle went on to become a publicist and then opened her own PR firm – High Altitude Public Relations.
Michelle says she likes to be embedded with an organization and use her expertise to help them bring in more dollars. Here’s what Andrea Steffes-Tuttle, who worked directly with Michelle at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, had to say about Michelle’s star qualities: “She is detail-oriented and extremely knowledgeable about marketing practices. She is always willing to help, whether it be writing a release, pitching the media, or sitting down with staff to brainstorm. She is on the forefront of new marketing and PR techniques such as social media and is always looking to improve. Michelle is wonderful to work with, not only because her work is impeccable, but because she is warm and friendly, and serves as a fantastic advocate for the organization.”
Rhiannon Hendrickson went from college to becoming a director of public relations, a publicist, a senior account manager and a communications manager before starting her own PR firm – Orapin Marketing.
Rhiannon encourages people to help their favorite charitable organizations by buying tickets to their fundraisers or even to just make a small donation if that’s all you can do. Michelle feels it’s important for younger professionals to know they can help create awareness for their favorite causes with their time and talent - and by just helping to get the word out.
Perhaps Amanda Bennett, marketing director at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, described Hendrickson best: “Rhiannon is a breath of fresh air and a ray of sunshine. She is determined, resolute and fearlessly optimistic. She is passionate about her work and combines professional excellence with a focus on seeing an organization succeed and helping the individuals within an organization to grow. She is a joy to work with and adds value to any team. She's a rare person of smarts, focus and good humor.”
Why are we interviewing Rhiannon Hendrickson and Michelle Ellis together? Aside from looking like they could have been separated at birth, they have similar values and philosophies of life; and they have made a commitment to connect others to the world of giving back. They have an enviable friendship and rely on each other for support and balance. With not much down time right now for these extraordinary fresh-faced, high-energy, young talents, we expect nothing less than bigger, better, and brighter in the future!
In your field, what does it take to be competitive these days? At High Altitude Public Relations we specialize in working with small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. You need to be creative in order to stay competitive in these markets. We help navigate the full spectrum of public relations tools available, from traditional and social media to paid advertising campaigns, in an effort to implement aggressive plans on the appropriate platforms.
What projects have the two of you been working on lately? I am working with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter providing pro bono PR services for its annual Man & Woman of the Year. The event is on Saturday, May 21st, and anyone interested in tickets or making a donation can call: 1-800-286-8159. I lead all communications efforts for the popular online art gallery overstockArt.com and am also handling publicity for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center via Orapin Marketing + Public Relations.
Do you have a favorite philosophy or words of wisdom that guide you? “It’s PR, not ER.”
With so many nonprofits in town, how do you decide what to personally support? I tend to get involved with nonprofits that I have a personal connection to. Either I know someone already affiliated with the cause or the cause is near and dear to me. I got involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter six years ago when my colleague Rhiannon Hendrickson invited me to join her in managing PR for LLS’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign. I also volunteer my time and resources to several nonprofit organizations I participate in through my church, Cherry Hills Community Church. These organizations include MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), AWANA Clubs International, Joshua Station and Operation Christmas Child, among others.
What helps you de-stress when needed? Hiking, boating, running, attending church and spending time my friends and family. Laughing with my husband and kids is one of the best de-stressors in the world!
What would be a dream come true for you, and what adventures are you looking forward to in the future? A dream come true would be to find a few extra hours in the day! Seriously though, my goal is to work hard and play hard. I love going on adventures with my family and look forward to hitting the road and introducing my boys to southwestern Colorado this summer – the Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, the Four Corners, etc. I started climbing 14ers a few years ago and try to ascend one a summer. I have made it up three and hope to reach the summit of at least one this summer. I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to hike to the top of a 14er with me!
How did you get started in Public Relations? After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in Journalism and Technical Communications, with an emphasis on Broadcast Journalism, I worked in the public relations department at Starz while I was seeking a job in television broadcasting. After two years in broadcasting I decided to pursue another career path and transitioning to public relations was a very natural move for me.
What made you leave the corporate world to start your own companies? I left corporate America to be a stay-at-home mom. Being the workaholic that I am, I only lasted one year without working. Corporate America doesn’t really allow for a woman to work and be at-home with her kids, so I decided to start my own company. I really have the best of both worlds now. I am able to be at home with kids and pursue my career.
How have you changed in the last 10 years? I have grown immensely both professionally and personally in the past 10 years. When I first left broadcasting for public relations I honestly felt a bit lost, without a clear career path. Since then I have found my niche and get to do what I love every day. Personally, I have now been in a loving and successful marriage for ten years and have had two more children. I am extremely secure in who I am as a person and have a lot of people supporting and encouraging me in all that I do. I also have a reason to do what I do. I want to set a good example for my kids and show them that you can do anything you set your mind to.
What was one of the toughest decisions you’ve ever had to make? Leaving broadcasting and pursuing another career path. My dream had always been to work my way up to a major market in broadcast news. It was hard for me to realize that dreams sometimes don’t come true.
What would be a dream come true for you? To take my kids on a summer long road trip through the Northwest and Canada.
In such a serious world, what never fails to make you laugh? My kids, it is amazing what comes out of the mouths of babes!
What do you look for in a friend? Honesty, loyalty and a sense of humor
What advice do you wish you were given when you were in high school or college that you would like to give to a young person today? You can’t be all things to all people. You can’t make everybody happy.
What magazine or publication can’t you live without? 5280 and my guilty pleasure US Weekly.
What’s your favorite junk food – or are you a total health nut? Reese’s Pieces are a ridiculous weakness of mine!
What non-profits are you involved with at this time? The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and AWANA Clubs International.
What events do you look forward to attending each year? The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter’s annual Man & Woman of the Year Gala – of course!
Is there any particular activity you try to make time for every day? Reading with my boys.
What do you do to find balance in your life? Balance, what balance?! This is honestly a constant struggle for me. Working for myself means that I’m always on call, so in order to find better balance with my personal life I try very hard to take myself away from work when I’m with my family – I put my phone out of reach and try to live in the moment and give my family my full attention.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? My marriage and kids are my greatest accomplishment.
What do you love most about Denver? Everything – the direct access to the out-of-doors in particular!
What gave you the strength and determination to go out on your own? My husband and my good friend Rhiannon Hendrickson.
When do you feel you are most in your element? When I am with my family in the out-of-doors.
What do you feel most dedicated to at this point in your life? My kids and family.
What do you want to make your mark doing? I love my work and I feel that it is extremely important to use your skills for the betterment of our community, but I’m not caught up with the idea of leaving my mark on the world in a grandiose way. I want to leave my mark by being a good philanthropist and by raising my children to have a strong work ethic and the hearts of servants.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now - 10 years from now? Working with nonprofits, small business and entrepreneurs is extremely professionally satisfying for me, so I plan on continuing this course of action. I am surrounded by people who love what they do and are intimately committed to their cause. Their enthusiasm and drive keeps me motivated and constantly striving for success. As my children get more involved in school and extracurricular activities I plan on taking on more clients and getting more involved in the nonprofits that I am affiliated with.
How do you want to be remembered? As a wonderful mother, wife, sister and daughter.
In your field, what does it take to be competitive these days? Finding a niche and a way to differentiate yourself. Ex. At Orapin Marketing + Public Relations, we focus on working with small-to-mid sized businesses and nonprofit organizations. Our team is made up of a group of talented and respected freelance publicists, marketing gurus, project managers and designers with diverse skills in print and web design. By bringing together freelancers rather than hiring a full-time staff, we are able to minimize our overhead and offer our clients a broader range of experience and more flexibility in their budgets.
What projects have the two of you been working on lately? I am working with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Rocky Mountain Chapter providing pro bono PR services for its annual Man & Woman of the Year campaign and the 2012 Rocky Mountain Blood Cancer Conference. I am also working with the Rocky Mountain ADA Center and The Original Pancake House Denver locations.
With so many nonprofits in town, how do you decide what to personally support? I used to work with Rebecca Russell, the ED at LLS, years ago at another nonprofit. When she assumed her position at LLS, she recruited me to volunteer and I’ve been hooked ever since. I offer my pro bono PR services for LLS’s annual Man & Woman of the Year campaign (this is my 6th year) and am serving as communications lead for the 2012 Rocky Mountain Blood Cancer Conference. In addition, I am a member of the chapter’s Board of Trustees and will assume the role of VP of the board this summer.
What helps you de-stress when needed? Working out, cooking, drinking wine, spending time with my husband and friends.
What would be a dream come true for you, and what adventures are you looking forward to in the future? I would love to be able to sell everything, travel the world and live out of a suitcase (I currently have friends who have taken a year-long sabbatical and I’m living vicariously through them). For the future? I’m looking forward to starting a family.
How did you get started in Public Relations? I graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Journalism & Technical Communication. I started my career doing communications and fundraising for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado.
What made you leave the corporate world to start your own companies? I found myself unemployed and had former clients ask if I was considering going out on my own. One thing lead to another and Orapin Marketing + Public Relations was born shortly thereafter.
How have you changed in the last 10 years? I’ve realized that I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. I’ve come to the conclusion that my relationships with my family and friends and my quality of life are more important to me than getting a corner office or extra zeroes on my paycheck. My most important mission is finding a way to be fulfilled both personally and professionally. Finding a balance so that my lifestyle dictates my career, and not where my career dictates my lifestyle, is my priority.
In such a serious world, what never fails to make you laugh? My guilty pleasure is watching “The Soup” on E! I think Joel McHale is hilarious.
What do you look for in a friend? Honesty, loyalty, respect.
What advice do you wish you were given when you were in high school or college that you would like to give to a young person today? Figure out what kind of life you want (personally) and then find a career that will cater to that. You can be tremendously successful without being a CEO or having a six-figure salary. Your salary is not a direct indication of your success/professional worth.
What magazine or publication can’t you live without? Budget Travel and Cooking Light.
What’s your favorite junk food – or are you a total health nut? I try my best to eat as healthy as possible. Cheetos are a total weakness of mine though. I don’t buy them because I can eat an entire bag in one sitting!
What non-profits are you involved with at this time? LLS. Recently involved with Denver Museum of Nature & Science (no projects at this time, but I’m on-call for when stuff comes up).
Is there any particular activity you try to make time for every day? Exercise, spending quality time with my husband.
What do you do to find balance in your life? Exercise, travel, cooking, spending time with friends and family.
How have you and your companies evolved? I’ve focused on exactly what kind of clients I want to work with (small businesses and nonprofits). The best part of working for yourself is getting to chose who you want to work with.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Having a successful and happy marriage.
What do you love most about Denver? All our friends and family are here, there is a very connected group of PR/marketing pros in the area with an amazing camaraderie, the weather (most days) is wonderful and there’s so much to do – from outdoor activities to cultural events, etc.
What gave you the strength and determination to go out on your own? Encouragement and support from my husband.
When do you feel you are most in your element? Personally: on my patio with a glass of wine, and a table of food surrounded by friends and/or at the airport with a packed suitcase and passport in hand. Professionally: sitting at a table with a client and helping them identify what makes them unique and offering ways to help them tell their stories and get the attention of their stakeholders.
What do you feel most dedicated to at this point in your life? #1. My family, #2. My career.
What do you want to make your mark doing? Helping small businesses and nonprofit orgs succeed through the use of strategic marketing/PR efforts. Helping nonprofits get the word out about the great work they are doing in the community.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now - 10 years from now? I hope to be fulfilled both personally and professionally – whatever that may look like.
What is your most treasured personal possession? My passport.
How do you want to be remembered? As a good wife, a good friend, and a good philanthropist.