Words From PR Execs: Walker Sands’ Annie Gudorf on the Shifting Earned Media Landscape

Over the last few months, PR Club members have spoken with industry leaders to get their tips and takes on the evolving industry landscape. For the latest edition of “Words from PR Execs,” PR Club board member Hailey Driscoll sat down with Annie Gudorf, EVP of PR at Walker Sands, to discuss how the media is changing and how agency teams can more strategically support clients in light of these shifts.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting out in communications?

Consume all the news you can and be curious. 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the news and do so frequently. Immerse yourself in news that pertains not only to your clients and their fields, but also to your personal passions and the happenings in your local community. Stay attuned to the latest headlines of the week as well. By doing this, you’ll be better equipped to connect the dots faster and to tell more compelling stories, master various writing styles, ensure the ongoing relevance of your brand or client, and continuously enrich your understanding of the industry / business world you work in. 

Being curious is also critical when working in PR. Curiosity fuels a constant hunger for new info, a willingness to dive into different viewpoints, and courage to ask questions that can unearth innovative narratives and solutions. These qualities are all critical in the dynamic and constantly evolving landscape of PR, where adaptability is key to success.

What is your go-to news source?

I’m constantly reading the news and kick start my mornings by spending 30 minutes catching up on the top stories of the day. While I aim for variety in my news consumption across topic areas and formats, some of my go-tos are Axios for tech updates and industry-specific insights, Politico for my political news (I’m a political junkie at heart), and NPR for general business news. Another standout is Axios Communicators’ newsletter written by Eleanor Hawkins. It’s a must-read for all PR pros, offering quality coverage on where PR is going and the trends impacting our profession.

What is your number one piece of pitching advice?

Find your own voice and don’t try to conform to a template. One thing I’ve always loved about pitching media is that you can actually get creative and doing so often works in your favor. Infusing your pitch with your personal tone, voice and writing style while aligning it with the essence of the client you’re pitching adds an authentic touch. Your genuine excitement and interest/knowledge in a topic or story will shine through more clearly and resonate with the reporter. This approach also allows you to more naturally tailor your pitches to specific reporters, fostering connections and rapport along the way.

Given your PR experience, what emerging trends or shifts in the industry do you find most noteworthy currently? Are there any specific areas where you anticipate clients will be focusing their PR efforts in the coming months?

From widespread reporter layoffs, publications shutting down, and the digital landscape becoming more fragmented, the media industry has experienced rapid change over the last 18 months. This means we as communicators need to think beyond more traditional PR channels like earned media and take a more integrated approach to storytelling. To do so, though, you must first identify what your north star objectives are. Once those guiding principles are in place, you can strategically evaluate and leverage the most effective and efficient communication channels to achieve those goals.

At Walker Sands, we developed a framework called Outcome-based Marketing (OBM) that puts the client’s desired outcome — whether it’s growth, positioning, reputation or engagement — at the center of their marketing strategy rather than the channel itself. We leverage this framework with our clients to help pinpoint the underlying reasons driving their need for a PR program or campaign because, in some instances, relying solely on earned media may not align with achieving their ultimate objectives. 

Channels still matter — and so does channel expertise. But in this evolving landscape, the media mix should be fluid and more agile. In practice, communications teams will need to explore how complementary channels like paid media, influencer partnerships, and social media can amplify their narrative beyond earned media. This entails leveraging audience and channel insights to inform strategic decisions and ensure a cohesive, impactful storytelling approach.

With so much noise and content out there, how do brands stand out?

Brands must ensure their narratives are relevant to what is happening in the broader business and consumer environment. Simply promoting your brand and products will no longer cut it in today’s media climate, especially when establishing brand awareness and recognition. Instead, it’s crucial to define a distinct perspective on hot-button, critical industry issues and align your brand with prevalent trends capturing attention and shaping decision-making processes. Contextualizing your brand within these larger conversations will help drive relevance with your end users and the media. 



About Annie:
As Executive Vice President, PR and Managing Director at Walker Sands, Annie divides her time between a diverse range of innovative B2B PR programs and Walker Sands’ growing West Coast team. Annie’s decade-long journey with Walker Sands began after she earned dual degrees in marketing and public relations from Loyola University Chicago. In 2016, her move to Seattle expanded her role from PR leader and strategist to agency builder, as she began to establish and nurture Walker Sands’ West Coast presence. Now, Annie spends her days on the pulse of evolving industries like clean technology, retail technology and AI, alongside budding PR pros to share guidance and mentorship. In Walker Sands’ Seattle office, Annie works to grow the agency’s business and foster a supportive, authentic culture. In her free time, you’ll find Annie hiking, skiing, or on an adventure with her pups.