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Katelyn and Avery

Out of all the employee spotlights I’ve written thus far, I figured that my interview with PR Specialist Katelyn Wyss would be the easiest. After all, we already meet every day during our marketing meetings, and she and I work closely on content and link building.

As Red Nova Labs’ spokesperson, Katelyn is never short on compliments about her co-workers and her company. Though she has an edge that allows her to keep up with just about anyone and anything, she’s by and large one of the nicest people you could ever meet.

Marketing Director Megan Garden notices this feature. She commented, “Katelyn knows no strangers, which makes her a great fit for any PR and client-facing role.” Megan added, “She is one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. Whatever she’s doing, she’s giving her heart and soul. Whether it’s how we’re advertising our services, competitively attacking awards, or planning a holiday party – she’s all in.”

Meagn's quote about Katelyn

After returning to Red Nova Labs in December, Katelyn has already proven that she’s bright, quick to learn, and an absolute go-getter. How could your interview be boring with someone like that?

Katelyn: Okay, so, I don’t like to talk about myself at all. I get really nervous, I ramble, and I sound like a moron. So what I’m going to have you do is take whatever I say and make it sound good. Cool? Great? Good. This will probably be the hardest piece you’ve ever written.

Amy: Don’t sweat it! You’re just talking to me. See? I’m not even taking notes or anything. Well, the easiest place to start is your background. You got your major in marketing and leadership studies. Why?

K: I like to talk. Shocker. Even growing up, my mom said I didn’t talk until I was two. She took me to the doctor because she thought I’d be a mute, and then on the way home from the doctor I started talking and I haven’t stopped talking since. That’s what she tells everyone. Really, though, I like to meet people and find new ways to relate to them, whether it’s a preschool student or a business professional.

I really liked the leadership studies because it was centered on the real world. You can take a lot of classes in college, go through the motions, and then get to the real world and realize that you don’t know what you’re doing. With our program, we taught different classes and had to think of lesson plans. We had to learn how to get people engaged and excited. That’s what really made me go toward marketing. That and talking. Constantly talking.

A: That was a perfect, well-rounded answer.

K: Thank you!

A: It’s almost as if you gave a presentation over it at some point.

K: I probably have!

A: That sounds like a really interesting major. It reminds me of an education degree.

K: It kind of was. We would go into the classroom and have no idea what we’d be learning that day. A lot of times we’d talk about current events, talk about a problem, and discuss how we’re going to solve it. Then, the next class, we’d have to execute. It taught us how to be more than just “the idea person.” It taught us how to have the idea, think of the plan, and follow through with it.

Katelyn at K-State

I never felt like I was this person or that person like you do in a typical project management cycle. That was really good because I could find out what I was good at and what I excel at, and then shift my focus toward that. By the end of the year, we all knew what kind of person we were in a project. You were an idea person or the execution or the QA who made sure it all went okay. We all took on a certain role because it was a small class. It was really cool.

A: Did all the presentations and quick thinking intimidate you?

K: No, because high school prepared me for that. My first big speaking engagement was in the third grade. It was mortifying. I think I still have nightmares about it. We had a thing called the Hero’s Assembly, and we had to write a speech about our heroes. Mine was Babe Didrikson Zaharias because she was the first professional women’s golfer. I ended up winning, and so I had to give a speech in front of the whole Shawnee Mission district fifth grade class.

Well, that was during my awkward phase. I’ll give you a picture. I had a purple plaid jumpsuit with the felt collar and cuffs with those huge brass glasses. And a mullet. No joke. But don’t worry: my mom curled the back to make it look feminine. So not only did I have to give a speech in front of all my peers, but I also had to do it looking like somebody straight out of Freaks and Geeks. After knowing that I could accomplish that, I knew I could do anything. That was my first public speaking opportunity, which could not have been worse.

A: Oh, you have to send me a picture of that.

K: Oh my god! The only thing I didn’t have at that time was chicken pox. It was awful! But it was a foundation for high school, where I was responsible for event planning and promoting community service. All of that combined pushed me toward marketing.

A: Have you always been so ambitious?

K: Yeah. It started in sports. I’m a very competitive person.

A: Sports will do it.

K: I got in very early. I’m very competitive, if you haven’t figured that one out. I did pretty much everything: football, soccer, basketball, softball, volleyball.

Katelyn's quote about competition

I wasn’t the teacher’s pet, but I definitely was the one who always wanted to prove something to myself. Obviously to the teachers and my parents, too, but I always had that competitive things with myself. I think that’s why I like golf – I know what I shot last time and what I need to shoot to do better this time. It’s an internal thing, even when my job is completely new to me.

A: So you’ve never done… Wait, what’s your job title?

K: I’m… a jack of all trades. I do PR, which I think is a really good role for me in retrospect. I have that mind-set of how special RNL is. So for me to tell everyone how great it is, it doesn’t even feel like a job. But, with RNL, there’s never smooth sailing. You need to learn something new. For me, that’s link building. I never fully understood what it was, and I never understood the time commitment. With link building, everything you do is affected by someone else’s job. I never realized how much content and design went into it. Or even just the URL structures, which I’m learning more about from Beth Cain. I’m fortunate to be able to take all these other people’s specialties and work with them. I’m still learning – always learning.

Katelyn and husband Todd

A: On my end, I know we’ve always said that you and I are best friends. With each other’s help, our own jobs become that much better.

K: I think that shows how unique RNL is. Everyone knows how everybody else affects their job. It’s not “me, me, me.” I rely on other people just like they rely on me. That’s an amount of respect between us that makes us efficient and supportive. I think that gets lost in some of the bigger companies.

A: Do you think that helps foster the tight knit culture here?

K: Absolutely. Everyone leans on each other.

A: For sure. In completely unrelated news, you have a puppy.

K: I do. I’m a huge puppy person. Todd and I ended up getting a dog because I sent him a picture of a puppy every day for four months until he finally said okay. It was more of like, “Okay, fine, just stop emailing me!” I was really persistent. I think that helps with link building: stalking to a fault.

Avery

We ended up getting my dog Avery. I liked the name and he liked the brew. It worked. I’m a little bit obsessed with my dog. It helps me know what kind of parent I’m going to be. I’m going to be the crazy obsessed, can’t-sleep-because-I’m-wondering-where-the-kids-are kind of mom. I wake up and think, “Oh my god, we forgot to feed Avery!” I’ll get up in the middle of the night and make sure she has food and make sure she’s okay.

A: At least you won’t be a distant parent.

K: I won’t be. I will not be a distant parent. I’m a little obsessed with my dog.

A: What kind of dog is she?

K: We don’t know. I really liked Gordon Setters. My grandpa had some at the farm, and I loved them. They were the sweetest. Basically we found a miniature version of that breed. We drove way out to pick up Avery. She was still on her medication from getting her surgery, so we thought she was a really calm dog. Apparently she was just drugged up, so by the time we got halfway back with her, she woke up and it turned into crazy town. We got a DNA test and it came back inconclusive. They ran it three times and they still have no idea. Apparently, she’s been a mutt through many generations. So no one knows.

A: She’s a full-bred mutt.

K: We never know what to expect with her because we don’t know what she is, which is kinda fun. But she’s my baby.

A: She’s your baby number one. Your baby number two goes by Todd.

K: Yeah. She’s more self sufficient, but it’s okay. Kidding.

A: You and Todd. How long have you been married?

K: We’ve been married for about a year and a half. Our one-year anniversary was in March.

Katelyn and Todd

A: Oh, really? I thought you guys were married for much longer than that.

K: It feels like it! It’s good. He’s a very driven person. I think that’s what originally attracted me to him. He pushes me in work and in trying new things, with travel, with food, with music, with just about anything. I think it’s a good complement. He makes me try new things, and I make him try new things. He doesn’t know anything about the web or technology, so sometimes explaining what I do on a day-to-day basis is just a foreign language to him. But he does senior insurance, and that sounds like a foreign language to me.

A: Oh, wow. So combined you two have the most interesting jobs. It’d be so funny to meet you two at a party. What do you do? Senior insurance. What do you do? Self storage.

K: We are the party couple, I’ll put it that way. But so long as Todd brings some of his barbecue, no one really cares.

A: Yeah! I was gonna ask about the ridiculous food he makes. You post it on Facebook and it looks insanely good.

K: He originally just liked to go to sports events, so this all started because of tailgating. Then it grew and grew to where he just loves to cook. I say that I’m in the kitchen maybe once a month, and he does laundry maybe once a month. Those are our little domains, even though I think he wins because I hate laundry. It works out really well.

Todd's food

He’ll try new things and get experimental. It’s always really funny when you’re at work and you get a phone call. “Hey, I got some beef… for this year.” “How much did you buy?” “Oh, you know, half a cow. It was 800 pounds.” “Where are we going to put that?” So that year I bought him a deep freezer. Very romantic first gift to each other. But he loves it. He doesn’t cook in moderation either. We love to have people over and cook for them. We can never cook for two – it’s impossible. We cook for more like 20.

A: You two seem very community and family oriented.

K: We are. My family’s huge. I’m related to someone here at RNL. There are less than 40 employees here, and of course I’m related to one of them. I have a huge, huge family. At our wedding, Todd and I had about 180 people come, and roughly 150 of them were my family. He handles it really well, though. He loves to hang out with them, and we have family functions all the time. Just ask Peter: we’re a fun family. An eclectic family with a wide variety.

A: Yes. Peter.

K: Peter. I love that little kid. He’s never short on energy. If you need a pick-me-up, Peter’s your guy.

Katelyn and cousin Peter

A: How are you two related?

K: Our moms are cousins.

A: And you’ve known him pretty much forever?

K: Forever. We’ve both lived in Kansas City our whole lives. I would love to find a picture of when we were little, but unfortunately our families didn’t get together a whole lot. I don’t know, though, I’ll dig through some when I go to my parents’ house.

A: Oh, that would blow up instantly.

K: I should. I won’t go home this weekend, but maybe next weekend. I can try to find something for Peter’s spotlight next month. You can have a good time with it.

A: Sweet. We need that.

K: Yep, homework!

A: Gosh. We’re just blowing through this. Hmm… Who’s your favorite person at RNL and why?

K: I don’t know! I think everybody brings something different. Depending on what you need to talk about, there’s a different person.

You bring a lot of structure to what can be a chaotic amount of requests from content. You know where everything is and we can count on you.

I love Ashley B. because, no matter how much is thrown at her, she just takes a deep breath and smiles. Plus, she loves her clients so much. If I got as many phone calls as she did, I’d go crazy. But she just loves to be there for them and be that nurturing “I will explain technology to you, it’s okay” presence.

Katelyn and Megan Garden

I love Matt Freiderich because there’s nothing that kid wouldn’t do for anybody. When he was my next-door neighbor, he was just the greatest. It’s nice walking out of your house and your car is all shovelled off. I love him.

I think somebody that never ceases to amaze me is Sara Heins. She went, “Okay, I’m a content writer. I want to code, I want to be a developer. I want to do it.” And she just did it. And now she’s so happy. I think that shows what RNL is. We’ll put you in a position that you love to do if you work to get there. She’s a poster child of that process.

Obviously, you can’t get nicer people in the office than Megan and Rachael. It’d be utterly impossible. And you can always count on Chris Klein to say something crazy. Every person just brings a different dynamic. Peter brings the loud bursts of energy at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. It’s just fun. I think the engineers bring a level of passion over games that I’ve never heard before. But they make them sound like something I really want to try playing now. Tim Banks makes me feel really bad about myself that I hate exercise. There’s always that. Then Alyssa. In the face of anything, she cannot be more calm and level headed. I don’t know how she does it.

A: She found her zen.

K: She is the most centered person I’ve met in my entire life – and organized, too. This place would crumble without her, and I think everyone agrees with that. Then there’s Dan and Bob. You never know what they’re thinking, which always makes you want to do better. And I think that’s on purpose. They’re always supportive, but they always play a little bit of cat and mouse. That pushes the employees to do better, because we all want to do better with each project. That’s how I’ve always felt at RNL, especially working with those two. It’s like, “They have the faith in me to do this. I want to make them proud.” That’s something that’s resonated throughout the whole company.

A: They’re the RNL dads.

K: They’re adorable. Everyone’s adorable. It’s fun seeing how everybody interacts and how, when there’s an issue, everybody steps up in their own way.

Katelyn's quote about RNL culture

That’s a horrible, horrible answer to that. It’s very diplomatic, but…

A: No, it’s not. Not if it’s honest.

K: I honestly thought about that question reading a couple of your employee spotlights. You even realize more about your colleagues when you go to Vegas and stay in the same room together.

A: That’s more than I would ever want to know about my co-workers.

K: But the things you know about each other after that, it’s solid. Oh, and Joe Istas. I respect the crap out of Joe Istas. I just realized that. Let’s put him number one. While we were curling our hair, talking about nails and make-up, he hung in there with us and never complained. He is a team player.

Katelyn and Joe Istas

A: Yes. Joe Istas. That’s your official answer!

K: I didn’t realize that when we were talking about stepping up for the team. Okay, so what’s next?

A: That’s it. This was good. It was so efficient.

K: Oh, I’m glad to help and happy to talk.