Spool Marketing’s Katie Kierna on the importance of ‘playing the long game’

The veteran comms pro shares her secrets for navigating a demanding, boundaries-challenging profession.


How do you protect yourself for the demands of the job?

PR and comms can be unforgiving disciplines as busy schedules and relentless pace can lead to exhaustion and burnout. That’s why, according to PR pro Katie Kierna, it’s essential to take the long view.


Kierna is a senior vice president at Spool Marketing and Communications in Chicago, and recently shared with us about her work for our ongoing “Day in the Life” series. Here’s what she had to say about finding balance in 2022:

1. What’s your favorite part of your morning routine?

Kierna: I recently changed up my morning routine once I gave up coffee (which sounds like an insane thing to do, especially for a former coffee addict like myself!). I’ve started drinking a brand called MUD/WTR, a coffee alternative made with organic ingredients and adaptogenic mushrooms, and I’ve found that it gives me more consistent energy without the afternoon crash that I’d get with coffee.

I give myself time in the morning to enjoy the ritual of making and drinking a nice, hot beverage, while I plan out my schedule and review my meetings for the day, go through my inbox, prioritize hot items and just take a moment before jumping straight into everything.

I’ve felt that this routine change has made me more productive throughout the day and helps me start my morning in a “zen” state of mind.

2. Who’s the most important person you talk to every day?

Kierna: I’d have to say my husband and my kids. With everyone’s busy schedules, we’ve found that dinner is the time where we all come together and are able to talk about our days without distraction.

My husband and I like to stay at the table once the kids are done eating and take some time to reflect on our days. It’s nice to have that time to share things we are excited about, challenges we’ve been facing and anything else that we have been experiencing with an outside perspective and someone who has your full support in all areas of your life.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Kierna: I’ve been in the PR industry for 17 years. I think one challenge that is specific to our industry is the fast-paced and intense nature of our jobs, and people tend to get burned out.

Something I’ve learned with time is the importance of being able to play the long game and ride out the waves that come with our jobs. It is critical to master this if you want to stay in the field for a long time. This means being able to manage stress, being solution-oriented and learning how to prioritize tasks.

One trick that has worked for me is putting things into perspective and assessing the seriousness of the issue you are facing. There’s always a solution and there’s always another way to solve a problem. Learning how to face and overcome these challenges by looking at the bigger picture and prioritizing tasks one step at a time has really equipped me to play the long game in this industry. It also gives you the halo effect of becoming a trusted partner with clients and internal teams.

4. What’s your best book or podcast recommendation for PR colleagues?

Kierna: “Sacred Hoops” by Phil Jackson, former Chicago Bulls coach. Our CEO of Spool, Catherine Merritt, recently sent it to me and I’m in the middle of reading it right now. I’ve really enjoyed it so far — not just because I grew up in Chicago in the 90s — but because his approach to leadership and building amazing teams is one I strongly resonate with.

Phil reflects on how he was able to foster such a strong group mentality when working with incredible individual athletes such as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He made every person from the No. 12 seated player on the bench to the  No. 1 star athlete understand their role and importance they played on the team. He taught the importance of having presence and building a team with community, love and support vs. ego, fear and doing anything it takes to be at the top.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for perspective and inspiration when it comes to team-building.

5. What’s your favorite tool you use regularly for your work?

Kierna:  I’d have to go old-school and say the tried-and-true Cision tool. It’s the bread and butter of what we do, and it still comes in handy years later. I still find myself going down rabbit holes in Cision and spending hours researching the perfect contacts to pitch.

I don’t always have time to do so and I’m not on the frontlines with pitching as much as I used to be, but when I do I really enjoy it and it almost always delivers great results. I think it’s still so important for everyone at every level in PR to understand how to find the right contacts in Cision, and then to take that research directly to the media outlet to mine for specific insights and patterns of what that reporter is covering.

No matter how our industry evolves, this will always be critical.

6. Are you in an office/remote or both? What do you like (or dislike) about your current setup?

Kierna: Since the onset of COVID-19, we have been mainly remote with the option to work from the office if we choose. However, we will be going back into the office one-three days a week this spring.

While being fully remote, I’ve felt really fortunate that most of my coworkers have opted to keep their camera on. I love seeing other people’s faces and it makes me feel more connected even when we aren’t physically together. However, nothing can replace being in person and I am so excited to be back.

I consider myself a very social person and really thrive when collaborating with others, especially in-person. There is also so much mentorship and collaboration that comes from side conversations that aren’t formally scheduled meetings. Nothing can beat brainstorming, bouncing ideas off one another or just overall spending time with coworkers, so I’m really looking forward to that.

7. What’s one trick you use to promote well-being, make yourself feel good at work?

Kierna: When I first started off in the field, I remember admiring how well the more senior team members did their job or counseled clients on the fly. I quickly realized that if they were able to do it with time and experience, I would be able to as well. Just being able to work alongside my more experienced coworkers and learning from them gave me the confidence that I would one day be at their level of expertise with hard work and time.

Outside of that, a no-fail trick to promote instant well-being is to find a way to go outside and get some fresh air. We should all be taking advantage of our more hybrid culture that we are living in. When the weather was nice, there were times I’d take certain calls outside in my yard, and it’s an instant mood boost. I suggest that if you have any regular, standing internal meetings (like a 1:1 supervisor check-in, for example), it would be a good opportunity to suggest that those become outdoor walking meetings, either together in person or if you are remote near your own home while you chat on the phone.

We often feel like we need to be chained to our desks, and it’s important to try and sneak that in when you can, as it makes a huge difference in your day.

8. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in your career?

Kierna: My mom did it all: worked full time while raising me and my brother and still somehow maintained a balanced life as a wife, present mom — and an amazing, good and great friend. Something she said to me that has always stuck with me is to be present in the moment and focus on the task at hand. This means when I’m in my work-mode, I am entirely focused on my job and doing the best I can. When I am on mom-duty, I make sure to be present for my kids and focus on being a parent.

I think it’s important to realize that as a parent with a full-time job, we are often pulled in many different directions. I have found that giving all of my attention to whatever “hat” I’m wearing at the moment and ignoring outside distractions has helped me thrive in all different areas of my life, and it’s a constant work in progress!



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