PR Pros: Catherine Seeds Of Ketner Group Communications On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

An Interview With Michelle Tennant Nicholson

Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine
Published in
16 min readMay 25


PR professionals, like journalists, need to have the passion to be avid learners. Afterall, as I’ve said several times, we are all storytellers and need to understand and be curious about how the stories we tell tie into the bigger picture.

Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Catherine Seeds.

Catherine Seeds is president and CEO of Ketner Group Communications, the go-to PR agency for retail tech companies. In her role, she oversees the agency’s business development, partnerships, HR/operations, client success, and agency culture initiatives in collaboration with the agency’s top-notch senior leadership team. During her tenure, she has played a crucial role in every phase of the agency’s success, including overseeing two rebrands, ensuring steady year-over-year revenue growth and team expansion, opening the agency’s office in New York, and growing the company’s remote team.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a senior PR major at Texas Tech, I really had no idea what kind of job I wanted after graduation. Thankfully, one of my friends who graduated before I did sent me a lead for a job at a tech PR agency based in Dallas.

I was very hesitant at first, as technology had never been a strong passion for me, but after going through the interview process, I knew that this was something I could really be successful at!

It was clear right away that even though I didn’t have any tech experience, the fundamentals of PR and storytelling that I had learned in college could be easily applied to our clients. That was 24 years ago, and I’m still doing tech PR!

Beyond the job itself, I love the team collaboration and support working at an agency. It is why I am still doing it today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

About 12 years ago, we were hired by a client to write an eBook based on a focus group event with select students at the Fashion Institute of Technology and curated retailers. Of course, I was thrilled to take on this project, but we had never written an eBook for any of our clients. That, however, didn’t stop me from rising to the occasion! During the event, I was tasked with taking notes and conducting ad hoc interviews with the retailers and students.

Once the event was over and I was back home, I set out to create a rough outline of the eBook in collaboration with our client contact. My first draft was way too long with too many words.

As we continued to refine the content, I learned from my client that the key to a successful eBook is more white space and more graphics or pictures. I also the learned the art of less is more and how to make each word in the piece count.

What started out as a very daunting project turned out to be one of the best experiences I had as a PR content writer! I used the lessons from this project to teach the rest of my team the best practices in writing an eBook.

From then on, our agency has become committed to including long-form writing as a part of our core services. It was a huge accomplishment for me personally, and something that we implemented across the agency.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

After more than 24 years working in the PR industry, I have certainly had my fair share of mistakes.

In my very first PR job, we were due to meet with a venture capital client. I knew it was an important meeting and wanted to dress accordingly. However, given that I was only a few months out of college and did not have a ton of “business attire” outfits or the money to spend on a new ensemble, I put something together that I thought would work, but with a bit of my own flare. Oh, to be 23 and clueless!

When I arrived at our office, my manager took one look at me, à la the Miranda Priestly up and down glare, and I knew that I was in trouble! I quickly made my way over to the nearest apparel store in North Austin and purchased an outfit that I’m sure I could not afford. I was able to make it to the meeting, but it was a very embarrassing ordeal at the time. I am glad that I can laugh about it now!

The lesson I learned was that our job is not only about the work we do for clients, but the overall presentation we bring to the table. This may sound like a story about an outfit gone wrong, but it is more than that. After talking to my parents about what had happened, my dad said to me, “Remember that you should always work, and even dress, for the job you want.” That advice has stayed with me throughout the years.

This may just be the Southerner in me, but if you present yourself in a professional manner on the outside, you are more likely to be more organized and mentally prepared to take on new challenges on the inside.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I am working on creating a new training tool for our employees. We are calling it “Ketner Group Ways of Working” and it mostly centered around our agency’s approach to client relationships and communication.

As a PR agency, it is critical that our team feels comfortable in any situation with a client and knows exactly how to handle it. Our training will incorporate interactive portions, where we will put the trainees in specific scenarios that they would likely find themselves in with a client.

It is our goal with this training to give them the tools and best practices they need to navigate through a variety of client scenarios successfully.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’d like to first acknowledge my parents for teaching me how important it is to have a strong work ethic. I learned that very early on, whether it was for school, extracurricular activities or even my first job in high school. The lessons I learned from them have helped me to succeed in places I never thought I could. There are several character traits that I think have been a huge part of my success:

Empathetic: I have always been an empathetic person and I truly feel that is why I have been successful in client and media relationships.

Over the years, I have learned the importance of not only providing consistent value for our clients and the media, but to also treat them as friends. They are human just like us! If they are in a bad mood, it is likely because something has gone wrong at their office or at home.

With some clients, we’ll often spend the first 5–10 minutes on a call just catching up or commiserating with each other on things. One client we work with now is a working mom, like me, and we always end up talking about what is going on with our children.

Taking the time to really get to know people builds trust and provides a comfort level that will help the partnership in the long run.

Creative: In PR, you must be creative on some level! Afterall, we are part storytellers and part strategic thinkers. To be successful, we should always be thinking outside the box to tell a client’s audience something they have never heard before. As a PR professional, we often don’t have access to great PR stories, so we create our own news!

An ESL (electronic shelf label) client we worked several years back was going through a slow news period, so we came up with an idea for a pitch about how shopping malls are repurposing empty spaces and included ways that retailers could use ESLs to improve overall efficiencies in these new retail settings. We were able to generate several pieces of media coverage in key retail trade publications, and the client was happy with our creative thinking!

Brave: Over the years working in PR, I have learned that being brave pays back in spades. To be successful, you have to be willing to take a chance on something you may have never done before.

In my earlier story about writing my first eBook, to say that I was scared was an understatement! How would I even start? What should the writing style be for an eBook? What if the client hated it? After the initial fear, I literally just jumped into the deep end of the pool and pushed through the fear. I made some missteps, of course, but I was able to learn from those and be successful.

By the time our next eBook project was assigned, I had the experience and confidence to make that project even more successful. Being brave in this example lead to a long-term partnership with the client where we were responsible for a significant portion of their marketing content.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?

PR encompasses a wide variety of activities. To start (and we tell this to all our clients), companies should use PR to build brand, drive demand and increase shareholder value. Although this is not an exhaustive list, the areas of PR that we focus on include:

Media Relations: A strong media relations strategy can demonstrate market acceptance, boost a company’s market profile, support fundraising/exist strategies, and influence lead generation and sales. A good media relations program must be believable and persuasive. We always recommend that our clients evaluate their messaging and value proposition before engaging in media relations.

Analyst Relations: Large retailers and brands frequently turn to analysts for advice when evaluating technology vendors, so we always recommend a regular cadence of briefings with key analysts. Afterall, it’s an analyst’s job to understand the industry, challenges, and solutions, and then share their findings in reports. As well, analysts can provide unique perspective to our technology clients that impacts strategies such as: company go-to-market plan, sales strategy, marketing plan, investor pitch deck, and product positioning and roadmap.

Content Development: A memorable voice is essential for ensuring stories rise above the noise. Content has always played a key role in supporting the sales funnel: increasing overall awareness, generating prospects, and nurturing leads through close. On average, conversion rates are six times higher for companies using content marketing. Communications content includes press releases, bylined articles, eBooks and whitepapers, blog posts, and more.

Brand Reputation Management: Industry awards and speaking engagements are another effective tool for establishing a positive brand reputation. When a client wins an award or an executive is selected to speak at a conference, they earn instant credibility with customers, prospects, investors, and future employees. In addition, awards and speaking opportunities are a sure-fire way to improve link-building and overall SEO for a brand.

Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?

Writing is at the heart of what we do as PR professionals, so I always tell students or those young professionals just starting out to hone their skills as a writer and storyteller.

I majored in PR while at Texas Tech, and while that education gave me the building blocks I needed to enter the workforce, I didn’t have near the amount of writing experience I needed to succeed.

Personally, I do not feel like a young person needs to get a degree in communications or journalism. One of our most talented employees we’ve ever had was a radio, TV, and film major with little background in traditional PR. But she was an amazing writer and everything else about working in PR could be taught.

Students or young professionals do need to have a passion for writing and the ability to take complex subject matter and boil it down to a persuasive and informative piece of content.

The other advice I would give is to take as many internships in PR as possible. This gives students an opportunity to learn what it is like working in different PR environments. For example, working at a PR agency is a completely different experience from working in-house. The sooner they know what they like, the easier it will be to succeed.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

I have found, especially in recent years, that LinkedIn has been a great resource for networking and staying in touch with people! As well, there are some added LinkedIn tools, such as Crystal Knows, that are especially helpful in preparing for a new business pitch or intro meeting with prospects.

Otherwise, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting. When I’m attending an industry event, I try and schedule as many in-person meetings with prospects, colleagues, and industry friends as I can. The more that I am up to date on what is going on within the retail industry, the more I can connect people.

I would say that is the best part of my job: introducing good people to each other! It is fun and it reinforces the value that I bring to our clients and industry peers. Goodness knows I have been on the receiving end of many introductions, and I really enjoy paying it forward to help other people succeed!

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

We are lucky to have an amazing VP of marketing on our senior leadership team who develops a marketing strategy that supports our lead gen efforts.

Once a month, we send out a newsletter to our database. The newsletter includes our featured blog and other relevant agency news. The consistency of our newsletter plays a big part in driving not only website traffic, but it also allows us to see which prospects are engaging with our content the most.

In addition, every other month I create audio blogs, which have helped generate strong leads for our agency. These audio blogs are mainly focused on retail technology trends that we find exciting, and I include my own personal experience with those trends.

Because we are in such a niche industry, many of our leads come from personal recommendations. Over the years, because of our diligent networking, former/current clients, editors, analysts, and other industry influencers have all sent us references to prospects. These connections mean so much to us. PR is not always an easy sell, but if a prospective client wants to work with us based on a strong reference from someone they trust, it makes the process of closing the deal much easier.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why.

1. Curiosity

PR professionals, like journalists, need to have the passion to be avid learners. Afterall, as I’ve said several times, we are all storytellers and need to understand and be curious about how the stories we tell tie into the bigger picture.

For example, we always encourage our team to spend time each week reading industry news. This is something I learned the first day on the job at my first PR agency — read, read, and read! The more you are familiar with the industry you serve, the easier it will be for you to create a pitch or content strategy for a client. Just because we have finished with school does not mean the learning is over!

2. Empathy

Although this is an overlap from a previous question, this skill is so critical to being successful in PR, especially when dealing with the media.

So many of our journalist friends are being asked to create large volumes of content while carrying the weight and responsibility of a slimmed down newsroom. So, it is no wonder when they receive a pitch that is irrelevant to them, they get rightfully annoyed with PR professionals in general. It is important to remember that journalists are human too, and we may not understand what all is happening behind the scenes.

For example, one of the publications we have worked with over the years had to let several of their reporters go. We were aware of this, so we adjusted on our side to make sure that we were not inundating the remainder of the staff during their time of transition.

As another example, when there are things happening in the national news that might affect people on a personal level, we hold off on sending pitches or making any major announcements to give reporters the space and time they need to process what is happening.

3. Strength

I have found that being strong is especially important with client relationships. It took me several years to become thick-skinned as a PR pro, but once I had that, it really helped with managing client relationships.

It’s hard to say, “No” to the people who are paying you, but it is critical to stand your ground. This is especially true if what is being asked does not follow the guidelines of ethics for our profession.

As an example, we’ve had several clients of the years who have asked us to ask a reporter if they could view an article before it was published. This is a big no-no in PR and journalism. While there have been some journalists who have let us review one-off quotes, asking to review an entire piece violates the ethics that journalists and media organizations have to protect their freedom in writing and editing stories.

4. Creativity

This skill is certainly worth repeating! So often in the life of a PR person, we don’t have a lot to work with for clients. But this is exactly why they hire us in the first place — our creative thinking!

One area where we can get extremely creative is with data. We always encourage our clients to pull their own proprietary data or to invest in a third-party research firm to execute original survey data to be used for PR purposes.

We worked with one of our clients on a consumer survey research project focused on convenience store buying behaviors. On the surface, the data was good, but once we dug deeper into the demographics of the respondents, we were able to create some unique and creative storylines that generated significant coverage for the client! As well, we created an eBook based on the results, which was a great lead gen and sales tool for this client.

5. Adaptability

As much as we try to plan and strategize with our clients, there are always going to be bumps in the road. As PR professionals, we do have to learn to roll with the punches and be able to regroup quickly when a plan needs to be adjusted. This is also where creativity and curiosity come in! Things are not always going to be perfect and seamless, but if you are adaptable in a challenging situation, it will be less stressful for you and the client.

One of our clients recently had some turnover in the marketing team, which created challenges when it came to task processes and client communication. As expected, our team was able to be very adaptable during the transition and work collaboratively with the new client contact to establish new protocols and processes. As a result, things are running like a well-oiled machine.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have always enjoyed volunteering, but as a working mom, I never had the time I needed to dedicate being of service as much as I would have liked.

Four years ago, however, my daughter was going to start high school at a school where neither she nor I knew a ton of people. I decided it was time for me to volunteer for the Parent Teacher Student Association or PTSA. Four years later, I can honestly say it was the best decision I ever made. I am now wrapping up my second year of being president of the board and it has been a wonderful experience for me personally. I have gotten to know some amazing people and have been able to help create and oversee some wonderful programs for our campus make a difference for our students and teachers.

My idea or movement would be to ensure that any person in the workforce would be able to take time each week or month for volunteering. I didn’t do it for so many years because I didn’t want to worry about taking time away from my job.

If everyone in the job workforce was given the time and permission during the day to volunteer, think about what that would do for our world? Think about the impact it would make on each of us individually. There are so many organizations, schools, non-profits, clubs, etc. that are desperate for help, and we have the ability to help — just not the time.

A volunteer is a precious thing and I believe we should encourage everyone to have a volunteer’s heart.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

About the Interviewer: Inspired by the father of PR, Edward Bernays (who was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew), Michelle Tennant Nicholson researches marketing, mental injury, and what it takes for optimal human development. An award-winning writer and publicist, she’s seen PR transition from typewriters to Twitter. Michelle co-founded



Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

A “Givefluencer,” Chief Creative Officer of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., Creator of