Getting To Know Annie Gudorf: EVP, PR and Managing Director, Seattle

Andrew Cross headshot

PR and strategic communications continue to underpin many of our client programs at Walker Sands, supporting clients to drive awareness, de-position competitors, create new categories and drive growth. 

I’m excited to share that Annie Gudorf is now leading our PR function as Executive Vice President, PR. Over her 10+ year career at Walker Sands, Annie has earned respect from her clients and colleagues alike. She is a role model, a strategist and a big thinker. In addition to her new role as EVP, PR, Annie will continue to serve as Managing Director, Seattle, where she has overseen strong organic growth since standing up the office in 2018.

I caught up with Annie to chat about her new role, her vision for PR at Walker Sands, and her insights on the evolving media landscape.

Annie Gudorf headshot

You’ve been with Walker Sands since 2013. Take us down memory lane. What are some pivotal moments or milestones that stand out for you?

“While I’ve been here for over 10 years, because of the trusting nature and rapid growth of the agency, I’ve had the opportunity to have multiple career chapters at Walker Sands all with their own unique opportunity and learnings, which ultimately led me to my current role, and are also why I’ve stayed here for so long.

Chapter one was simply learning how to do the job of a PR professional and learning the ins and outs of the media landscape. I didn’t have a PR background nor exposure to the tech industry prior to joining the agency, so I spent the first part of my career gaining experience and building my skill set in the field.

When Walker Sands had an opportunity for me to move to San Francisco to help open our first office outside of our Chicago headquarters, it started a whole new chapter for me. In San Francisco, I had the opportunity to manage a remote team which was a new concept at the time, while focusing the bulk of my time building our presence in the Bay Area. I was able to help start something new and build something from the ground up, while also having the support of Walker Sands. This continued when I relocated to Seattle and opened our Seattle office. From building our presence along the West Coast to growing our Seattle team from 1 to 20, this period helped me learn what it takes to run a business, build a client base, and establish a strong team and culture.

In my current role as EVP, PR, I’m able to leverage the toolkit I’ve built throughout my careers in terms of leveraging strong PR practitioner skills to advise some of our biggest clients, managing a large team and department to make sure our people are engaged and view Walker Sands as a destination employer while also running the business and helping the agency navigate today’s dynamic market.”

As the media landscape continues to evolve, where are you focusing as a PR department? Are there any specific areas where you anticipate clients will focus their efforts in the coming months?

“The PR industry is one of constant change, and right now, the industry is undergoing its fair share of evolution. From widespread media layoffs to a growing emergence of new channels to unpredictable market conditions, communicators have a lot to navigate.

And while the fundamentals of strong storytelling don’t change, how we think about telling that story does need to change. Integrated marketing isn’t new, but B2B brands need to start taking a more integrated approach to their storytelling and consider how other channels can complement their earned media efforts. Earned media is often considered the only place to tell a company’s story, and that will continue to be a primary channel, but it can’t be the sole strategy. In this challenging media landscape, brands and executives need to think about how they’re showing up on LinkedIn for thought leadership or even consider paid media opportunities, for instance. 

While some B2B brands have been doing this for years, many are just starting to expand their thinking beyond traditional media. And as a strategic partner to our clients, it’s our job to deeply understand the media landscape and how different tactics and channels like podcasts, influencers, social media, etc. can successfully enhance a brand’s storytelling efforts. Our focus as a PR department right now is continuing to deepen our media relations experience, while also collaborating with teams across Walker Sands to develop expertise in other channels so we can effectively work with our clients to tell more impactful stories.”

Leading both the PR department and the Seattle office requires a balance of strategic vision and people management skills. What strategies or initiatives have you undertaken to foster a supportive work environment in Seattle?

“Over the last several years, I’ve gotten comfortable with being myself as a leader. Early in my career, I felt like I had to mold my leadership style to what I thought a leader was. In my eyes, this meant being more formal, buttoned up and rather emotionless. Eventually, I realized that trying to fit into that mold wasn’t me. So while I adopted some leadership best practices primarily from leaders I admired, I needed to lead, manage and coach my teams in my own way.

As Managing Director of Seattle in particular, I’ve really leaned into being myself and knowing that sometimes I’ll make mistakes, but that’s helped to create a more open, vulnerable and supportive team here. We’re not trying to force anything — we’re all about embodying who we are and empowering one another to succeed. I’m especially focused on making sure the culture isn’t top-down driven and instead has inputs from everyone in the office. That’s something I emphasize in the hiring process — I’m looking for people who want to contribute to and build the culture because a strong culture needs to come from within.  

As EVP, PR, I carry this leadership strategy over to my account teams and the PR department as a whole. Even though I’m leading our biggest department, I’m going to continue to be myself and lead it in my own way while staying true to what the department and its people need to be successful.”

Reflecting on your time at Walker Sands, what’s one particularly impactful PR campaign or project you were involved in, and what made it stand out to you?

“Whenever I’m asked this question I always go back to the CompTIA #MakeTechHerStory creative campaign. It was one of the agency’s first integrated communications campaigns, so we felt like we were on the new frontier of B2B marketing, which was really exciting. The story and narrative behind the campaign of getting young girls involved in tech was also really motivating. Empowering women and young girls is very important to me so the campaign married a strong personal cause with an exciting professional opportunity. We learned a lot from this campaign, and I still find myself drawing from the learnings today.”

What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring PR professionals?

“As the media climate continues to evolve, my biggest piece of advice has always been to read the news. Be obsessed with the news and don’t limit yourself to one industry. Even if you’re not in PR it’s so important to know what’s going on in the world because it will help you connect dots for your clients, it will help you learn different writing styles and it will help you be better at your job. Just read the news!”

Congratulations to Annie on her new role! Learn more about our PR function at Walker Sands here.


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