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Perspectives Blog: Leadership profiles

Member Profile: Holly Donato, APR

Thursday, June 14, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Eva Keiser
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Holly Donato, APR: The Places a PR Career Can Take You  


by Brooke Eshleman


Holly Donato, APR serves on the board of directors for Minnesota PRSA, advocating for chapter membership, for APR accreditation, and for the numerous other benefits of involvement. She speaks from wide-ranging experience.


Donato’s career in began in journalism, which she fell in love with during high school in a small North Dakota farm community. Later graduating from Bethel University, her career goal was to work in media for faith-based organizations. But she got an opportunity to start her career in radio and then TV news, which she thought would be great preparation to serve in any organization or role.


“News, especially broadcast news, is a terrific foundation for becoming an advocate,” says Donato. “With hourly newscasts, writing quickly and concisely became second-nature, as did mastering new topics and making them understandable. It also taught me to research, synthesize information, and interview--skills I tap every day working with PR clients.”


But Donato soon learned that it takes more than a news background to thrive in PR. It takes business sense and a knowledge of best practices. So when she started her PR roles at a health plan and then Colle+McVoy agency (now Exponent), she joined Minnesota PRSA to learn more classic principles and skills of the practice. During agency years, she served on the Program Committee and won numerous Classics awards, including runner up for Best of Show for a 3M Health Care campaign.


But when she did finally move into ministry organizations--at her alma mater Bethel University, then Feed My Starving Children--she thought her life was too busy to be active in PRSA and dropped out for a decade.


“My ‘missing years’ are a regret, because I know now that staying connected feeds your soul and gives you back-up support when you’re on a small or start-up communications team,” she says. “Rejoining Minnesota PRSA to get mentored for my APR accreditation in 2015 was one of the best moves of my career.”  


Donato says the APR training taught her strategic principles that would have actually saved her time and trouble in previous positions. Because of this value, she joined the APR Committee to recruit other practitioners to earn their credential, and gratified that several of them now serve with her on the board as a result.


At times, Donato’s career has narrowed into a specialty such as magazine editing, (as Bethel’s director of publications); while at others, it’s expanded into broader marketing leadership, including three action-packed years building the national marketing and communications function at Feed My Starving Children. There, she helped grow donations 20 percent a year while also handling response to global disasters in Haiti, the Philippines, and East Africa. At FMSC, she was able to draw on her news experience to produce video story-telling, attract coverage by CNN and Christianity Today, train and equip speakers, and craft important positioning on sustainability.


Throughout her career, Donato has also had her own consultancy, Donato Group, LLC, where she’s served clients in industries ranging from IT security and financial services to health care and agribusiness. Practicing PR in so many environments, she says, has been an exciting lifelong adventure.


Ironically, Donato said during the years when she felt she didn’t have enough time for PRSA, she would benefited the most from the skills and connections. Guidance in PR ethics has also been a key benefit.


“I’ve come to appreciate how PR professionals need to be the conscience of an organization, but do so tactfully,” she says, “We don’t just get the message out; we bring the voice of the public in, advocating for transparency and mutually beneficial relationships.”


In her current role, Donato is again pioneering the PR function--this time as director of content and public relations at DKY, a Minneapolis marketing agency that she connected with as an independent contractor. Her work focuses on trade media in industrial filtration, blogging in outdoor recreation, and most recently, hosting a podcast for grain farmers for an agribusiness client. Drawing on what she’s learned in PRSA, she’s able to help her marketing coworkers tap the scope of PR disciplines beyond media relations.


“Public relations is always at the center of the action in any organization—and it belongs there as a function that serves all constituents and internal departments,” says Donato. “The variety of adventures I’ve had in my career vividly demonstrates the opportunities open to PR professionals. And PRSA membership is an indispensable part of thriving in this profession.”

Minnesota PRSA 1660 Highway 100 South, Suite 500-309 Minneapolis MN 55416 Phone: 952-237-9258 Email:

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