Challenge, strategy, results: Problem-solving in a digital environment

Abby podcastBy Abby Hassler, Content Creation Manager

Problem-Solving: At Piper Communications, we’re not afraid of a challenge. We’re diligent, action-oriented and committed to solving your problems by executing well-planned strategies that deliver results

Call it first-child syndrome or an innate desire to fix things, but I have never been one to back down from a professional challenge. Problem-solving is a major element of our work at Piper Communications, especially within my area of expertise: content creation and management.

Challenge: Translating ideas into action online

I don’t believe problem-solving always necessitates that there is a significant “problem” that must be “solved.” Instead, it can be a strategic process of finding solutions to particular challenges or presenting or conveying information in a different way. 

Take, for example, my work with the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) and Innov865 Alliance. I manage these two organization’s digital media presence – everything from social media to articles to email marketing. 

Neither of these organizations had overt problems within their digital work that needed to be addressed. Rather, I saw potential in their existing digital presence and wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to create something even better than before. To be more specific, I wanted to take each of their promotional efforts geared toward spreading awareness and building engagement and turn it up a notch. 

TAEBC’s mission centers around the economic and environmental benefits of the advanced energy industry. From getting more electric vehicles on the road to deploying more renewable solutions, advanced energy creates jobs, betters the world around us and offers opportunities for growth in our rapidly changing world. I believe more people should know about this.

Then with the Innov865, I think it’s essential for Knoxville to develop, support and promote the region’s entrepreneurial endeavors. Supporting local startups and coming together as a community to help advance innovative technologies are two key ways to do this. But we need more buy-in at a local and national level to make this a possibility.

Strategy: Thought leadership in a digital environment

At first glance, the term thought leadership might appear to be nothing more than an industry buzzword. But at its core, it is just putting a name to the action of expressing unique guidance or insight into a particular topic or industry. 

For TAEBC and Innov865, I knew that in order to translate their expertise into results online, they needed to be thought leaders in a digital environment. After all, so much of what people respond to is storytelling and vivid imagery. For instance, in my own experience, I don’t remain on websites long if they are difficult to navigate, nor will I follow an organization on social media if they don’t post regularly or share interesting content. 

For both clients, I advocated for redesigned websites, updated branding, revamped content strategies, streamlined digital communications, strategic social media approaches and other digital improvements.

Some examples included inviting key partners of TAEBC to pen compelling guest articles on an array of topics relevant in the advanced energy space and launching an Innov865 Instagram account. There is so much more still to come – stay tuned for the TAEBC podcast launching this fall along with various guest posts from Innov865 members and advanced energy stakeholders throughout the year! 

Results: Increased brand awareness and engagement 

It’s truly amazing what small, intentional changes can do for an organization online. Within a few short months, both TAEBC and Innov865 saw increased engagement, more member buy-in and greater awareness of each organization’s missions. 

From gaining hundreds of new followers in a short period of time to getting more people interested in attending events, I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish with a few action-oriented changes.

At Piper Communications, it’s essential that our problem-solving strategies are not only well executed but that they provide our clients with meaningful results. Whether we’re solving complicated client messaging challenges or working to create new or compelling Instagram graphics, we always keep our clients’ end goals in mind. 

Learn more about Abby Hassler, Content Creation Manager at Piper Communications, or read one of her other articles

Breadth and depth of expertise in the clean energy and technology sectors

Elena on CSPANBy Elena Brennan, Media and Stakeholder Relations Manager

Expertise: The Piper Communications team constantly tracks the latest energy and technology trends. Our credibility among media outlets, business leaders, and government officials gives your company the connections you need to succeed.

I’ve held many different roles during my career in both the public and private sectors, but my interest in the energy and technology sectors has remained constant.

An early fascination

In high school, I interned for my local Michigan Congressman, who happened to be the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee – one of the largest and most powerful Committees in Congress. I worked on several of his re-election campaigns, and upon graduation from college, accepted a job with the E&C Committee in Washington, DC. During my three years as a staff assistant and legislative clerk, I tried my hand in several policy areas: healthcare, oversight and investigations, energy, environment, consumer protection, commerce, and tech/telecom. None of them fascinated me more than energy policy.

After about three years at E&C, I had the opportunity to work for a Tennessee Member of Congress who served as the Vice Chair of the E&C Committee. She made me her Legislative Assistant for energy and tech policy, further ingraining my focus areas. After, I had the opportunity to work for her in the U.S. Senate, representing her policy interests on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

More opportunities came along when I joined a global law firm as a registered lobbyist, representing large energy and telecom firms before the federal government for about a year before returning to the House to work on energy and tech issues for another Michigan Congressman on the E&C Committee. 

When the time came to transition out of DC and make a move to East Tennessee, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine there would be a female-founded public relations firm focused specifically on energy and tech. I lucked out! 

Industry connections

As I continue to acclimate myself to my role, my ability to understand and see our clients’ markets and industries from different angles has been extremely valuable when promoting or pitching their developments. 

With years of experience studying energy and tech policy, drafting and editing legislation and working with DOE, the FCC and FTC, I can clearly communicate the value our clients are bringing to their customers, industries and communities to the media or other stakeholders. 

Maintaining relationships 

Aside from being somewhat addicted to reading news and headlines in the major energy and tech trade publications, the most valuable way I stay up to date is through the networks I built in Washington and Tennessee. 

Relationships matter and information is a commodity – that’s as true in the political world as it is in the business world, and I learned that one of the most valuable ways to be successful is by connecting and engaging with people who know more than you do. I make it a point to stay in touch with my contacts in the energy and tech worlds no matter where I go or what job title I currently hold. 

I also learn through hands-on experiences with others. There is nothing more educational than visiting a facility like Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in person and hearing from employees and experts what technologies power providers like the Tennessee Valley Authority are using to increase energy efficiency or reduce cyber threats to the grid. I’ve had the opportunity to visit dozens of energy and technology facilities throughout the U.S. – from coal mines and wind farms in Wyoming to oil and gas fields in Texas to the 5G towers in Montana to the research labs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

Lending Expertise

My hands-on experience has allowed me to participate in energy and technology policies that are still relevant in the Senate today. I helped draft and introduce bipartisan legislation, H.R. 3538, Coordinated Action to Capture Harmful (CATCH) Emissions Act, which would boost carbon capture tax credits for industrial facilities and power plants, resulting in less greenhouse gasses and spurring additional innovation in clean energy technologies. The legislation has not yet passed, but significant portions have been enacted as part of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package.

Additionally, I helped draft and introduce bipartisan legislation, H.R. 3119, Energy Emergency Leadership Act, to help protect critical energy infrastructure from cyberattacks following the Colonial pipeline attack and shutdown. 

My experience in the private and public sectors allows me to provide valuable insight to our clients. Both my depth of experience and personal interest in the clean energy and technology industry serve to provide credibility among media outlets, business leaders and government officials to give clients the connections they need to succeed.

Learn more about Elena Brennan, the Media and Stakeholder Relations Manager at Piper Communications, here.

Women’s History Month: My approach to running Piper Communications

Cortney headshotBy Cortney Piper, President

It’s Women’s History Month. As the founder of an SBA certified Woman-Owned Small Business, I want to use this time to pause and reflect on my career and approach to running my strategic communications firm.

Times like these put a spotlight on the countless accomplishments of women throughout history and the sacrifices they made to get us to where we are today. We fought for the right to vote, more equality in the workplace and up until the 1970s, even the right to have a credit card in our own name. The more we celebrate the achievements of women and the progress we have made, the easier it will be for future generations.

Like other women in leadership positions, I have faced some degree of adversity. But I have been lucky to have mostly worked for women and been surrounded by strong examples of female leadership. Being in a female-dominated field of public relations, I also have not had to face many of the daily difficulties some women face in more male-dominated industries. 

I believe seeing so many women in positions of power has unconsciously shaped the way I view myself and my business. Even more, I think my experience as a young professional woman in the workforce had a major impact on the way I run this company – I learned what I wanted and didn’t want for my business. From the beginning of Piper Communications, I was determined to run this company the way I wanted to be treated – as a professional, woman and mother.

When I was looking for jobs before founding Piper Communications, I grew discouraged that so many employers – even the progressive ones – didn’t seem to trust their employees, as was reflected in their benefits and policies. Little paid time off, hardly any sick leave and rigorous attention schedules seemed to be the norm. You can’t make someone good at their job by enacting strict parameters. If people aren’t passionate about what they do, inflexible rules won’t help them stick around. I didn’t want that for Piper Communications. 

At Piper Communications, we offer unlimited paid time off (PTO), paid maternity leave, flexible work-from-home arrangements and other opportunities that reflect the everyday realities of a modern office. I believe these policies make it easier for everyone to work hard and still feel supported in their personal lives.

I experienced this personal-professional struggle firsthand when I was pregnant. Interestingly, during this time, I felt that as a professional woman, I was perceived as both stronger and weaker for being pregnant. Stronger in the sense that I was carrying triplets and worked up until the day I delivered, but weaker due to the prevailing belief that once women have children, they don’t remain in the workforce. 

This experience made me realize that we still have a long way to go in terms of normalizing maternity leave. It’s a part of life and something else that needs to be managed in a working environment, just like vacation time, sick leave and schedules. After all, sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and work a bit harder to get to where you need to be. 

Whether it’s unlimited PTO or maternity leave, ensuring true equity in the workplace begins with empathy, a recognition that we still have a lot to learn and a drive to make the workplace more accessible to all.

Learn more about Cortney Piper here! Want to work with us? Give us a call or send us a message.

International Women’s Day: Voices from a woman-owned and operated business

PC Women's DayCortney Piper founded Piper Communications in 2008 at the height of the recession – setting the company’s tone as a tenacious, result-driven firm. Fourteen years later, Piper Communications continues to serve the clean energy and technology industry as an SBA certified Woman-Owned Small Business. The internal culture at Piper stems from a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise in all facets of public relations to offer a dynamic skill set that drives results for our clients.

For International Women’s Day, the Piper team responded to the question, “What does International Women’s Day mean to you?”

Cortney Piper, President

For most of history, women’s ambition and accomplishments were hidden or overlooked. Days like International Women’s Day and months like Women’s History Month are intentional moments for us to pause and celebrate the contributions women have made in the past and continue to make today. The more we recognize and value women and their victories, especially in the workplace, the more we break down barriers and biases that keep other women from achieving their goals and dreams. 

Abby Hassler, Content Creation Manager

International Women’s Day is so important because it is a dedicated time each year to not only drawing attention to the amazing contributions women have made around the world – and often when facing insurmountable odds – but also to indicating how much farther we need to go as a society to ensure true equality across the board. The theme for this year’s campaign, #BreakTheBias, is a great message for pushing for a truly gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.  

As a woman, there have certainly been times that I have been made to feel less-than or unsafe because of my gender. But thankfully, I have been lucky enough to work in offices and surround myself with individuals who value and love women and all that we can do. I see this holiday as a chance to reflect on the women who have made it possible for me to pursue a career, vote and live my life freely. Additionally, it serves as a reminder that there is still more work to be done to bring equality for all.

Allie Mobley, Project Coordinator

International Women’s Day is important to me because every year I am blown away by the support women have for each other. We understand the career field for women is different for us than it is for men, so always having that support from each other is so important. It means we are being recognized for our importance in the world and we bring just as much to the table professionally as men do.

Tonja Burk, Strategic Communications Director

I’m not one that sits around and dwells on the fact that men, historically, have gotten more opportunities, respect, and bigger paychecks. But I do notice a changing world where more women are in great positions of leadership in both government and industry and aren’t afraid of speaking up for themselves and others. It makes me proud every time another glass ceiling is shattered and I know that there are no more limits – my nieces can do anything or be anything they want!

Mallory Jenkins, Project Specialist

A common stereotype for women is that we are far too quick to compare ourselves. Yet for me, International Women’s Day signifies an opportunity to take that label and utilize the holiday as a chance to reflect on the women who have come before me, alongside me, and one day – after me. What contributions have women made before me that inspire me to continue to sharpen my own character and skill set – and what goals can I actively challenge myself towards in order to leave a similar legacy? 

Hannah Whitson, Media Relations Manager

International Women’s Day serves as a wonderful reminder of the massive strides women before me took to reach even greater heights socially, economically, politically and culturally than I could have imagined. Likewise, it signifies a day of celebration for the achievements of dreams and aspirations women have thanks to the generational cohesion of men and women around the globe.

Elena Brennan, Media and Stakeholder Relations Manager

International Women’s Day, to me, is a unique moment where we can celebrate and unite women from all over the world who have made the world a better place because of their legacy and work. Whether it’s a suffragist from the 1920’s who fought for the 19th amendment, a scientist who is helping come up with breakthrough innovations, or a mom hustling day and night to give her children more opportunities in life than she had. There is no one prototype for a successful woman, and International Women’s Day is about celebrating all of the different ways in which women contribute to making their families, workplaces, communities, and the world better, more equitable, just, and peaceful places. 

Allie Eskew, Director of Operations and Events

In my opinion we should be recognized all year long!

Learn more about the Piper Communications team here! Want to work with us? Give us a call or send us a message.

Sharing space and expertise: Lessons learned from my attorney

Tammy and CortneyBy Cortney Piper, President 

I would imagine it’s quite rare for a small business owner to share office space with her attorney. But for Tammy Kaousias and me, it works.  

In 2008, I met Tammy, the owner of Kaousias Law Firm and Inner Space Yoga & Meditation Supplies, when I was running for the Knox County Commission. We lived in the same neighborhood and got to know each other through my campaign and our local neighborhood association. A short time later, I wanted to grow my business and hire someone, but I needed my own office space. Thankfully, Tammy had room available, and we have been sharing an office and working together ever since.

Our relationship has been instrumental to my professional and personal development. It is also incredibly unique – I see her both as a close friend and trusted advisor. Not every small business owner is privileged with easy access and a baseline of trust with their business lawyer. 

As my lawyer, Tammy has been a strategic asset in advancing Piper Communications. I firmly believe that for a small business, legal professionals can help you understand your business, start a business, grow your business and advocate for your business. 

But Tammy has also taught me so much more that isn’t just focused on the nitty-gritty of contract negotiations. Over the years, she has taught me several lessons and “soft skills” that may be beneficial for other small business owners.

Effective communication is key

One of the best parts of my relationship with Tammy is our direct communication style. We’re not afraid to get straight to the point. We don’t worry about hurting each other’s feelings or tiptoeing around sensitive subjects – I find this incredibly refreshing.

Put simply, in any professional relationship, effective communication is key. If you cannot get your point across to your lawyer, accountant or your own team, how do you expect to thrive? Or, if the advisors you surround yourself with aren’t listening to you or focusing on your best interests, how can they help you? Good communication is essential. Don’t overlook it.

Surround yourself with experts you can trust

One lesson I learned early on was the importance of understanding my working style. I am someone who gets in, gets the job done and gets out. Yet, I realize that not everyone operates this way. As a result, I surround myself with experts like Tammy who help me see things differently and explore new possibilities.

Don’t be afraid to bring in experts when you need them – I know Tammy’s advice has helped me evolve as a business owner and appreciate new ways of thinking or operating. However, with any professional situation, it’s equally important to make sure these experts are people who you can build a firm foundation of trust and respect with. 

Everything is negotiable: Advocate for yourself

Like I mentioned, I’m very much a “roll your sleeves up and get the job done” kind of person. This determination has served me well as an athlete, small-business business owner and mother. But at times, it has tempted me to move through a contract negotiation process too quickly, so I am thankful for Tammy who will step in and remind me to slow down, identify potential risks and advocate for myself.

Put simply: Tammy taught me that everything is negotiable. Though it depends on how you frame any request or change, I know it’s essential for small business owners to push back and position themselves for success, not merely get to work and sign a contract that could hinder you down the line. 

So many new businesses and startups don’t feel like they have the agency to push back, especially when interacting with major corporations or agencies. But in a business context, embracing that discomfort is critical to growing your company. Tammy taught me to advocate for myself and Piper Communications – a lesson that I could not be more grateful for.

Find out more about Cortney Piper, Piper Communications’ President, here.

The value in results: Championing the client’s mission

By Hannah Whitson: Media Relations Manager

Results: We get you the results you want. Period. We embrace your business’ mission as our own. Your company goals and objectives are our top priority.

I previously envisioned results as a figure – a number that I had to hit, a top outlet or an exceptionally high metric of media coverage. As my career in media relations has evolved, I’ve started appreciating the seemingly small wins that contribute to my primary goal of illuminating our client’s developments and achievements. 

Effective results do not solely take form in numerically impressive metrics or my personal perception of a top-tier outlet. I measure my successes by my ability to effectively highlight my client’s advancements in their specific industry – capitalizing on the strategic leads and platforms for results that serve the client’s values. 

Driving results internally

In order to help our clients achieve their goals, I start by developing my relationships within the Piper Communication’s team. I build up my team by celebrating their individual results and accomplishments inside and outside of work. That way, when we are tasked with delivering results for our client, our team is ready to perform to the best of our abilities as a supportive, strategic unit. 

The collaborative nature and our internal support structure at Piper has served to boost our results. When I celebrate each of our client’s wins internally, the recognition of each team member’s contribution helps the team remain motivated to achieve future exceptional outcomes. An additional element that has benefited Piper is our balanced team. Cortney has always recruited people who contribute to the cohesion of our team, and deepen the skillset of our roster. When new projects come my way, I have every confidence in my team’s ability to drive results. This network of trust our team shares has been a crucial element in driving results for our clients. 

Prioritizing the client’s goals

With every pitch I craft, I aim high. I do everything in my power to exceed my client’s expectations of a project’s media coverage, and I gauge the success of my results around what ultimately serves the client’s objectives. I am invested in each of my client’s missions, and as I work alongside the Piper team to drive media traction, I’m naturally motivated by every lead and opportunity to illuminate each company’s story.

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside SkyNano, a Knoxville startup that developed an innovative manufacturing technique to make carbon-based nanomaterials from carbon dioxide and electricity. Most recently, they completed the first-ever production of carbon nanotubes from flue gas at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant. Naturally, this advanced manufacturing innovation presents a massive opportunity to drive awareness to their innovation and highlight the client’s technology on a national scale. My strategy to drive results for their team stems from a desire to bring their advancements to the forefront of both industry and national news. 

By utilizing all of the components of SkyNano’s organization and technology, my team has been able to maximize media placements that address mass audiences as well as target SkyNano’s potential customers, investors and partners. Through this strategy, I’ve brought layered results that go beyond a generic media approach and contribute to SkyNano’s long-term vision. In any media campaign, results can be measured in number of placements, but with Piper’s media campaigns, we create action-oriented exposure that identifies key stakeholders to illuminate each development.

Results are a crucial element to the service we provide at Piper Communications, and I fully embrace the value of celebrating each win: both internally and externally to drive effective results. ​​Our results-based approach enables us to deliver more efficient, effective and strategic solutions to our clients. No longer do I equate results with an exceptional figure, but rather, the depth and breadth to which I help champion my client’s mission.

This blog is the first in an ongoing series about each of our six Values at Piper Communications. Learn more about our Values here

A knock on the door: Reflecting on Piper Communications in 2021

By Cortney Piper, President 

I’m so glad to be back in the office again.

The Piper Communications team returned to the office this summer, and I could not be happier. We still work from home and enjoy flexible work schedules, but overall, it’s so easy to foster an engaging atmosphere and collaborate when we’re all in the same space.

The pandemic has taught me that the future of work will look quite different and that hybrid environments and approaches should be welcome. But I also learned a new appreciation for a simple knock on the door. 

Some of the best ideas and innovative ways of thinking don’t result from scheduled meetings or lengthy discussions – they can happen when you allow yourself to be open or spontaneous. Sometimes, they start with a knock at the door from someone with a comment or question that turns into something truly wonderful. 

From reimagining the way our team approaches content development to solving intricate client puzzles, Piper Communications has thrived this year not only because of our subject-matter expertise, results-driven work ethic and problem-solving skills, but because we allow for adaptability so we can take those comments, questions and ideas – big or small – and transform them into something truly meaningful for our clients.

From a client perspective, there have been so many exciting developments and wins over that past year that I cannot possibly cover them all. But we are thankful for each client and every chance to help them succeed. For instance, it has been so gratifying to watch the Innov865 Alliance welcome the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator and come together to address the gaps identified by Techstars that were keeping Knoxville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem from accelerating forward at a more rapid pace. As a small business owner, I believe that Knoxville IS a wonderful place to start and grow a business and enjoy watching the Innov865 Alliance advance this mission.

Three Roots Capital celebrated five years of providing access to capital and business coaching for underserved and underrepresented communities, helping them grow and flourish. They continue to prove that while access to capital is vital, it’s the support, guidance and coaching that helps organizations maximize those funds and make the biggest impact.

Meanwhile, as the global pandemic prompted society to rethink the way we work, live and play, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation and its inventors were recognized for outstanding contributions in the continued fight against COVID-19 by AUTM. As a UT graduate, it’s an honor to witness University of Tennessee innovators across the state develop and deploy technology that solves problems and makes our lives better.

With Wärtsilä and the Path to 100% initiative, it has been a privilege to watch a company that began in a traditional industry become so innovative and forward-thinking about how to adapt business practices in a new-energy marketplace. The Path to 100% community is working hard to find a practical, affordable and fast way to get to 100% renewable energy – it’s a privilege to support them in this endeavor.

Then we have our newer clients, Atom Power and SkyNano Technologies, who have technologies and products that will accelerate the transition into a new energy economy. We are not only helping them show potential consumers how radical their technology or product may be, but we are helping them find the best way to tell their audience how the market is shifting dramatically and how their innovations will make that shift easier or better. I love working with clients who have or will have a lasting impact on their community, whether that be on a local, state, national or global scale.

With this orientation toward impact in mind, I must mention the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and its 2021 Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report, which validates the very reason Piper Communications exists. I launched Piper Communications because I was passionate about clean energy and technology communication and wanted to help these industries succeed in our state. 

Like our work with TAEBC’s report, Piper Communications was also proud to support the release of the Department of Energy’s FY2020 economic impact report. The report emphasized how DOE missions in Oak Ridge directly benefit Tennessee’s  economy and drive innovations in the global advanced energy economy, resulting in over $7 billion in economic benefits and nearly 43,000 full-time jobs.

Nearly everything we have done at Piper Communications – from the clients we serve to our unique approach to communications – has been to increase the profile of clean energy and advanced technologies and demonstrate how they can positively impact our lives and futures. Both TAEBC and DOE’s reports indicate that Tennessee’s advanced energy economy is growing dramatically, and I’m proud to say we are helping play a role in this expansion. 

Like the advanced energy economy, Piper Communications has also been growing and scaling up. We have added several new team members this year and have expanded our client portfolio. But as we have grown, I have challenged myself to create and maintain a work environment where people want to come to work. One thing the past two years has made immensely clear is that people don’t want to just be an employee. They want to work toward something bigger than themselves and still have time for passions, pursuits and everyday life outside of the office.

As an NCAA Division I athlete, I am results-driven and have high expectations of myself and those around me – this will never change. But I believe it’s essential to marry excellence with a flexible and supportive work environment. People will be their best if they are part of a culture and in an atmosphere where they can thrive.

Looking ahead into 2022, I am excited about continuing the great work we have been doing this year. I am also ready for whatever new ideas and strategies may come from future knocks at my door.

Find out more about Cortney Piper, Piper Communications’ President, here.

A new era of event planning: Reflecting on the evolution of Startup Day

By Allie Eskew, Project and Events Director

It might seem obvious, but event planning has taken on an entirely new dimension within the last two years as the pandemic has shifted how, when and where we can connect. I’ve been planning and managing events at Piper Communications for several years, but like so many other event planners around the world, I had to rethink my process and find innovative new ways to help people connect. One of the most challenging and rewarding experiences during this time has been helping the Innov865 Alliance reimagine the way it approaches events through a mix of in-person and virtual options.

The Innov865 Alliance exists to develop, support and promote the Knoxville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This collaborative effort celebrates how Knoxville is a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. Since its launch in 2013, the collaboration has grown and evolved and now puts on a week-long event series called Innov865 Week, with Startup Day serving as the week’s signature event. It has been my pleasure to plan and execute this annual event each year. In 2020, we held Startup Day virtually, while this year, we were able to merge in-person and virtual offerings for our guests. Virtual and in-person formats have their obvious differences, yet I was surprised to find there was some familiar common ground between them.

With in-person events, the biggest challenge is usually prepping and planning for any technical issues that may arise. Over the years we have found that doing a dress rehearsal the day prior to the event is the best way to work through any of those issues so we are prepared the day of – I have also found it also helps companies and presenters feel more comfortable and confident on stage. 

Coincidentally, for virtual events, the most pressing concern is also tech issues. Managing a presenter’s internet connections and visual aids during a pitch competition is daunting for parties on both sides. However, as many of us have experienced, a new problem brought up with virtual events is keeping the audience engaged – the pandemic caused a major influx of online events, so we found that adjusting our event lengths and formats kept them engaging for our audience. 

When comparing the two, you just can’t beat the tangible experience of an in-person event. The excitement generated from face-to-face interaction allows for engaging, lasting partnerships. I love the networking aspect of in-person events that you just don’t experience with the virtual ones. But I found that virtual options also offer a new level of accessibility, allowing even more attendees to benefit from topics discussed at the Innov865 Alliance’s events. 

This year, I was happy to see that people really showed up – and showed up big – for Startup Day 2021, which was held in-person with masks and a virtual streaming option. You could feel the excitement in the room and the energy was incredibly contagious. Collectively, we were able to share and savor the pride that the Knoxville community shares of our entrepreneurs and the companies and technologies that are coming out of our city. Being able to celebrate that with one another in the heart of the city makes the event planning process so worth it. We also benefited from guests tuning in for our live stream from the comfort of their homes and offices, broadening our reach to many who may have never been able to attend before.

The event planning process has drastically evolved since my first event for the Innov865 Alliance. Today, we are able to merge in-person and virtual options to continue the celebration of Knoxville’s rich tradition of innovation. In my opinion, this dynamic event option is here to stay – it gives event managers a broader reach for their audiences as there are no geographical limitations and it allows for more connectivity across the state, regional and nation. 

Right now, I am looking forward to Startup Day 2022. The past two years have taught me the value in flexibility when managing any event, recognizing I can’t control the conditions in which this event is held. But whether we gather together in person or virtually (or a mix of both), what I can always count on, year after year, is many of the city’s brightest innovators gathering together to illuminate and celebrate our thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Find out more about Allie Eskew, Piper Communications’ Project and Events Director, here.

Classroom to client: Stay dynamic, remain approachable, and keep motivating

Mallory's graduation photoBy Mallory Jenkins, Project Specialist

During my graduate school orientation, a former professor approached me to offer a full-ride assistantship while I earned my master’s in public relations. The catch – I would need to teach Introduction to Public Speaking for undergraduate students at The University of Tennessee. A mere 45- second conversation later, and I eagerly committed to the role. Ironically, my senior year at UTK, I was awarded the Peyton Manning Public Speaking Award – an achievement I assumed would rest as a certificate in my memory box. Fast-forward three years later, I would put that accolade to the test.

Glancing at a collage of my graduate school experience, you would observe a pile of crisis communication case studies alongside lesson plans for managing speaking anxiety. My theoretical research was paired with the vocational experience of building and maintaining relationships in my classroom. Out of the nearly 50 students I taught during my time at UTK, each walked through the door with their own set of expectations and needs. 

I should also note, my teaching experience took place during 2020. Public speaking with a mask on, not to mention teaching with a mask on, is quite a feat. I was not only helping  students combat their public speaking skills but was also dealing with situational trepidation caused by a global pandemic. Despite added challenges, my classroom culture revolved around three main principles: stay dynamic, remain approachable and keep motivating. 

Teaching at the university resulted in a need for flexibility and adaptability, both for myself and my students. A willingness to persist amidst the health crisis was crucial for the success of each individual. Additionally, my students often remarked on my approachability – whether it was offering empathy as a fellow student or answering their frantic emails in a timely fashion – they noticed my accessibility. Ultimately, I found that the motivational culture I instilled in the classroom outranked any of my innovative curriculum design. Reminding each student of their resilience and innately unique life-narrative often made for the most effective speeches. Teaching brought out a tenacity for combatting challenges, and a fervor for aiding my students in exceeding their expectations.

After transitioning out of academia, it turns out that my three classroom principles transition well when working with Piper Communications’ clients. Three months after graduation, I joined the Piper team as Project Specialist, and I’ve been struck with the similarities between fine-tuning my teaching style to efficiently support each student and catering to the different values of each client. 

Our clients in the energy and technology spaces bring their own unique set of goals and expectations – to which we provide a tailored approach to deliver effective results. Though I’m no longer working off of an A-F grading scale, I have yet to shake my intent to measure my clients progress. I’ve transitioned from office hours with college students to Zoom webinars with the leading voices in the advanced energy agenda in Tennessee, but the same intent remains: developing objectives to produce effective communication strategies, regardless of the external hindrances they may face. 

My job has shifted from managing a classroom to mastering the client’s objectives, yet my transition to Piper has been bolstered by my unwavering intent to stay dynamic, remain approachable and motivate each client – once again aiming to exceed expectations.

Find out more about Mallory Jenkins, Piper Communications’ Project Specialist, here.

In-house to agency PR: Diving into a new challenge

By Hannah Whitson, Media Relations Manager 

I’ve always aimed to be an expert in my field. Whether within the wedding industry, social influencer media, or the entertainment field – I want to illuminate amazing stories and newsworthy content through the lens of a specialist.

My gravitation towards timely, exciting content has shaped my career evolution from in-house public relations to the agency world with my new role at Piper Communications. 

I originally began my career at Regal Entertainment Group in the PR department and community outreach. That role launched me into the news sphere, where I began to work events around the nation – heavily involved with the traction of media at events. As I developed my expertise in media relations, I began to expand towards earned-media campaigns. From the rollout of a new logo to relaunching an entire brand, I began to decipher the development from strategy to tactics in my job role. 

The entertainment industry was inevitably changed by COVID in 2020, so I set out to find a field where I could strategically illuminate the timely advances in a company’s story. When I came across an  opportunity to join the team at  Piper, I was honestly hesitant. My career thus far had allowed me to build upon my expertise for one specific brand, and I had become an expert!

There was naturally a healthy amount of fear switching to the agency realm. Piper Communications prides itself on their results-oriented culture, which felt intimidating. Yet I’ve found that Piper is a gem of agency work. Acclimating to this pace has been like dipping a toe in the first week, diving head first the second week, and swimming in open uncharted waters ever since. 

My evolution from in-house public relations to agency work brought me back my passion – becoming an expert to showcase a newsworthy narrative. I’m constantly searching for that specific factor that makes the clients tick. Once I discover the solution or accomplish one of my goals,  I unlock this new level of satisfaction in my role as media relations manager.

Every day I’m learning how to grow as an expert in my new, expanded field of advanced energy. The heartbeat of Piper is truly, “How can we best fit our clients needs?” We’re forever changing and altering according to what’s truly best for the client. That’s a huge key to success in our plight of championing innovation in advanced energy. When I worked in-house, I was expected to hit similar markers with each project, but at Piper, those markers are always challenging you and pushing you to meet the next level. There is no room for complacency.

Piper is so obviously committed to both their clients and employees. I continue to see how that applies to our work. Everyone is appreciated, so we are able to succeed in an organic way that promotes an innovative approach to our results. The level of expertise in our work allows for a trusted team to launch dynamic ideas and plans. I’m constantly energized by our ability to take everything to the next level due to the pace at which Piper functions. 

I’m beginning to fully digest how advanced energy is meaningful to the future of this entire global community, and my previous experiences have allowed me to bring a sense of excitement with every individual project and client. I look forward to fine-tuning my expertise for each client I have the pleasure of working with, because with each new client comes a new challenge – and I’m always ready to dive in!

Find out more about Hannah Whitson, Piper Communications’ Media Relations Manager, here.

What would Tom Ballard do?

By: Cortney Piper, President

Good mentors don’t need to look or operate within traditional, one-on-one mentoring structures. In my experience, some of the best mentoring relationships are observational. 

These mentors don’t have to actively teach and coach you. You can witness how they work and approach challenges and successes. For me, one of the most significant influences on my career has been Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer of PYA.

Connected through a mutual colleague, I first met Tom when I was 28-years-old and looking to grow my newly launched strategic communications firm. At the time, he was the Director of Partnerships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, after already having a successful 35-year career at the University of Tennessee.

Despite his level of expertise, importance to the community and not knowing me from Adam, he was more than willing to block off an hour of time in his busy day to answer my questions, offer suggestions and start connecting me with key stakeholders in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region. 

That’s the thing about Tom. He doesn’t underestimate or dismiss people. He’s brilliant and genuine and takes the time to forge meaningful connections and relationships with people, whoever they are. As a young professional, I believe his kindness and attentiveness set me up for success, imparting crucial knowledge and connections I needed to grow my business and knowledge base. 

Over the years, he’s always been willing to pick up the phone and meet with me to hash out problems and come up with new ideas. But it is the important life lessons he has taught me since our first meeting that have been even more valuable. As a result, when faced with any seemingly insurmountable challenge, I often ask myself, “What would Tom Ballard do?” Two of the most influential Tom Ballard lessons for me have been the importance of socializing ideas and a unique approach to networking and relationship building. 

First, I have learned that when making decisions – big or small – the process is more of an art than a science. There is immense value in a group of people coming together in a room to brainstorm, strategize and imagine multiple possible outcomes. Bold ideas don’t typically emerge in silos. It has been the times that I have met with others or brought people together to hear what we have to say, share our expertise and really socialize emerging ideas that I have come up with some of the best solutions or ways forward in my career.

Next, Tom taught me how to form meaningful and lasting networks and relationships in this industry. It’s not just about having good people skills. Tom has a genuine drive to learn more about those around him and then put ideas into action, which is evident through his writing at and being involved with numerous nonprofit boards across the state.

Essentially, Tom sees potential in people and partnerships where others might not. In attempting to apply this same approach, I try to keep an open mind when meeting with anyone new and focus on what they may have to bring to the table without any preconceived notions. You never know what kind of work or lasting partnership could come from a simple meeting. After all, he took a chance on me several years ago not knowing  what we would accomplish in the years since. 

From helping in the early days of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council to fostering the Innov865 Alliance, I and so many others in this community could not be more grateful for Tom Ballard. If there was a way to capture and replicate Tom’s approach to making things happen and forging and fostering relationships in this city, our community would be set for life. Instead, I’m trying to follow his lead and embody his best characteristics to help move our community forward alongside so many others who are equally honored to know and work with Tom.  

I think most would agree that “the Tom Ballard experience” is incredibly memorable. My own life has become even more full because of this unexpected, unintentional mentorship. For all that you do, have done and will do, thank you, Tom. 

Additionally, so many other people have coached me along my unexpected business journey, and I am extremely grateful for all the coaching I have received along the way. There might even be future posts about others who have shaped my professional growth – so stay tuned! 

Back in the office: Part two

The Piper Communications staff is excited to be back in the office once again. We asked each of our staff members what life was like during the pandemic and what they are looking forward to now that they are vaccinated. Check out part one of our “Back in the office” series here

Here are our answers for part-two of this two-part series: 

What is something you wish you could tell yourself a year ago?

Cortney Piper: Honestly, nothing. Everything was so uncertain, surreal and different last year. We didn’t have a frame of reference for what things would look like, so I don’t think I would have believed anything I told myself. None of us could have imagined what life would be like a year later. 

Gerald Witt: Don’t worry, there will be plenty of toilet paper. Support those around you, try to be healthy, and talk about what you’re going through. You’ll try a few face masks before you find one that works. Instead of overbuying hand sanitizer, stock up on ice cream.

Abby Hassler: Stock up on hand sanitizer and sweatpants. Kidding. Honestly, at the beginning of the pandemic, I found it very difficult to wrap my brain around what was happening. Once I allowed myself to accept the new reality and the changes we were all facing, my transition into the “new normal” was much easier. So, I would probably tell myself to take a deep breath, face the scariness and uncertainty, and turn to my loved ones for support and connection. 

Allie Mobley: Everything happens for a reason. I was very distraught in the beginning of the pandemic, it completely changed my career path and life plan after being a recent college graduate and my plans to move to New York City had obviously fallen through. I had to start from scratch and create a new plan. I wish I could tell myself that everything happens for a reason and it’s okay that plans change, you might like where you end up!

Yvette Martinez: I am a hugger and it is extremely strange not to hug people when I see them. I would prepare myself for this adjustment and remind myself that hugs will be back someday. 

How have you grown or changed in a positive way during the pandemic?

Cortney Piper: The pandemic brought out my introverted nature in full force because there was no external pressure to go to meetings or meet up with people. If left unchecked, I am completely happy to roll up my sleeves, put my head down and get work done. However freeing this experience has been for me, I realize that this wasn’t the ideal choice long term, especially when running a public relations business. So, I have made a conscious decision to pull myself out of it and start embracing a return to normalcy. 

Gerald Witt: There’s been a lot of challenging growth for everyone. Fear, loss, anger and ennui were common emotions among my friends. So, in my better moments, I tried to “be present” with friends and family – whether we were in-person, texting or talking on the phone. The pandemic has also highlighted how important it is to relax and recharge. Even if you have to schedule it, you gotta find time to unwind.

Abby Hassler: Strangely enough, this past year has made me more confident and sure about myself. Working remotely gave me the time and freedom to be more creative and believe in the quality of work I was putting out into the world. I would attribute this change and growth to a year of self reflection and valuing a healthy work-life balance. 

Allie Mobley: It made me look at life as not a straight line but more of a rollercoaster. Things are going to change, you are going to have some lows but also many highs. I also learned not to plan so much, before I got so caught up in the future and the pandemic has taught me to enjoy the present more. 

Yvette Martinez: It was extremely difficult to understand how a virus, mask and a vaccine could become political. In the beginning, this was extremely aggravating to me and would dominate much of my thoughts and create an emotional roller-coaster for me. However, due to the duration of this crisis, I have been able to come to a place of understanding that I cannot understand the politicization of this tragedy and that is not a good use of my energy. My energy is better utilized in adjusting to what is next!

Remember to read part-one here. Or, find out more about our team members here!