I’ve been trying to write this post since I got to Dubai two days ago but words keep failing me. I fancy myself a sophisticated traveler but nothing prepared me for this place. It’s not just the opulence (which is outrageous), it’s more the sheer FOREIGNESS of it. There are only a few places on this planet I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, and the Middle East is one of them. Moreso in a post-9/11 world. And yet — here I am. I awoke at one point during the 12 hour flight over here and saw on the on-screen flight tracker that we were flying right over Baghdad. That’s when it hit me. I was really on my way to the United Arab Emirates. I’ve been farther away from home before (my husband’s home city of Chelyabinsk, Russia) — but nothing has felt as far away from home as Dubai.
As part of yesterday’s itinerary (I’m here in meetings with my Olay client) we venture into a residential neighborhood to spend time with a Dubai local woman to discuss her skin care routine. Her name is Rasheed and she isn’t much older than I am. She welcomes us into her beautiful home, introduces us to her dimpled 12-year old daughter, serves us juice and coffee. And then we talk through a translator for an hour. About skin care, of course, but also about feeling beautiful, about husbands and kids, about keeping house, about working and getting to the gym. Rasheed is eager to show us her yard, the pheasants and chickens she keeps, her lime and mango trees, the patio that’s under renovation.
I notice tall pots of alyssium, a sweetly-fragrant flower I plant along my borders each spring many, many miles away in New Jersey. It’s the sight of those flowers in their carefully tended pots that gets me. Rasheed and I love the same flowers.
Same way we love our kids and our husbands, and playing with beauty products, and enjoying a chat over coffee.
Maybe not so foreign after all. Imagine that.
Ugh, I am the world’s laziest blogger. I didn’t manage to hit any of the usual bloggy post milestones — no “Happy holidays to my readers,” no “Year in Review,” no “Predictions for the Year Ahead…” I’ve been too busy this holiday season shredding my carpal tunnels playing Guitar Hero and poisoning the Russian with turkey tetrazzini I made with, uh, slightly aged turkey leftovers.
HOWEVER. I do want to take this occasion to wish you a very heartfelt and belated Happy New Year. I can also say to all my Russian friends (and those who love them) — Merry Russian Christmas. I wish everyone who comes in contact with this blog all the best for a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for reading my scribbles. It means a lot to me, it really does.
To make myself feel a little less slackerific and prove that I have actually thought recently about this industry of mine (not just turkey salmonella and Guitar Hero), I am sharing a video interview I did before Christmas with the one and only Owen J.J. Stone a.k.a. “OhDoctah.” For those of you who don’t know, Owen is a brilliant vlogger and social media consultant who actually knows his stuff and doesn’t spout jargon at you all day. No snake oil, just smarts and a WHOLE lotta charisma. To know him is to love him, which I learned the moment I met him at the 140 Character Conference in LA last fall. You can find him here and here on Twitter or at his company website (IQMZ).
Anyhowdy, we sat down to jaw about public relations and social media; check out our conversation here.
The wall behind Patti’s desk was covered floor-to-ceiling with Donna’s press hits. For all I know Patti started tacking them up there when Donna first started the company and never stopped — by the early 90s, when I was there, several layers of magazine articles and photos and newspaper clippings had already accumulated. It was a gorgeous pastiche, and I’d pore over it whenever Patti got wrapped up in a call and forgot I was sitting in front of her. One day I asked Patti why she wasn’t in any of the photos to which she replied, “A good publicist is never in the picture.”
That stayed with me for years. Not only did I put it into practice, sidestepping photos with clients at public events whenever I could, I also passed it along to the many young publicists I went on the manage at other companies. Somewhere along the line, Patti’s advice morphed into this:
“A good publicist is never part of the story.”
Except now…we are. Or at least, we can be. Sarah Evans talked about this during a panel discussion I moderated recently on how Twitter has changed journalism and PR, and one of the points she made was how boundaries have blurred among PR, journalist and blogger roles. There are journalists who blog, bloggers who do PR consulting, PR people who blog… It is in fact quite possible for PR people to participate in on-line conversations about their client through blogging, micro-blogging, status updates, photo sharing, and so on.
So all due respect to Patti, I believe it’s okay for the publicist to be part of the story, or at least the conversation. I do it, but only with disclosure. I’ll tell you if I’m blogging or tweeting about a client, and it’ll be an honest reflection of my feelings. For example:
I started taking pictures recently at the client events I attend. I’ve got the Droid megapixels, why not? There was a time when those pictures would only have been shared internally at the agency but now, why not share publicly? Especially when apps like Whrrl make it so easy. Here’s how I captured the action at a client’s launch event last week:
So what do you think? I’d love to hear from other communications professionals on how they’re handling the transition from being behind the conversation to participating in the conversation about their clients and brands.
I found this tweet from my colleague @TorontoLouise this morning:
Yes, @TorontoLouise, a thousand times yes. What better time to practice good hygiene than the onset of flu season. Especially since H1N1 vaccines are so hard to find, at least in the U.S. (I bet they have loads of them in Canada, they probably even come with a little quilted bag for your hand sanitizer and chapstick.)
Then I got to thinking, let’s go one step further. Let’s just do away with kissing in the workplace altogether. (Kissing as in air kissing clients, not getting busy on the xerox machine with hot co-worker.) Because you know what? KISSING AT WORK IS AWKWARD.
Awkward. (image via)
Canadian and awkward. (image via)
Middle Eastern and awkward. (image via)
I hate kissing at work. My mom always said etiquette was created so people know how to behave and can feel comfortable in any setting. The problem is – there is no etiquette for work kissing. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it –do you pull an air kiss or do you make lip-to-skin contact? If you kiss one person in the meeting, do you have to kiss all of them? What if you’re in town seeing clients and it’s your second day of meetings? Kiss on the second day?
And the cultural differences, oy. One cheek? Two cheeks? The Swiss do it three times for chrissake, what if you forget the third kiss? Ever pull away from a Swiss colleague after only two cheeks? Not pretty. They’re leaning in all puckered up and you’ve moved on, any attempt to complete the transaction at that point will probably result in injury. And the Swiss may be neutral but they can be grudge-y if you embarrass them. (People of the Russian Orthodox faith do the triple-kiss too. I’m married to one, it makes kissing very confusing.)
Oh, I’ve heard nightmare stories. One of my colleagues tells of a work kiss gone horribly wrong, with a male client no less. She’s greeting him at an event, she initiates the Single Cheek Manouver, he turns his head ever so slightly and whammo. LIP KISS.
People, he had a mustache. The humanity.
I have my own inappropriate work kiss story. I was kissed by a colleague on the top of my head once. I realize I am not the most presidential of agency presidents but nevertheless – the top of my head? A little respect here, people. I kiss my 6 year old son on the top of his head for crying out loud. It was a year ago, and as you might have guessed, I still haven’t recovered.
Did you know there’s a WikiHow entry on how to air kiss? We shouldn’t need wikis to tell us how to kiss. Clearly the world’s gone mad. Look, I’ve got enough stress in my life. Oprah and @marielhemingway are telling me to simplify so here’s one thing I am forthwith no longer doing.
I’m done kissing at work. I realize this might leave colleagues and clients bereft for the moment but I am quite sure they will thank me one day. And so will you.
I like this guest posting thing and am officially on the hunt for other mothers working in PR, especially those who work in offices. Is it me, or are we underrepresented in the blogosphere? We don’t even have a proper acronym. There are SAHMs, WAHMs…what’s the label for broads who squeeze into Spanx and schlep to offices every day? WOOHMs (moms who work out-of-home)? Maybe WIOMs (for moms who work in-offices)?
I prefer WOOHM (rhymes with womb).
So while I’m off scouring the internets for PR-focused WOOHMs to guest post here (’cause they’re my tribe and I learned at BlogHer that I gotta find my tribe) I thought you might enjoy a little gender-bending diversion. That’s right: a guest post from a PR Papa.
As PR guys go, it doesn’t get much better than PR Cog. As many of my social media pals know, “PR Cog” is the pseudonym for a PR practioner here in NYC who chooses to blog anonymously about our industry because, as he’s said, “someone’s got to.” Cog is smart, funny, accomplished (I think…if only I knew where he actually works) and always there to lend a digital helping hand to a colleague in need. And he’s a dad, father to two young “coglings.” So without further ado, I give you this view from the other side, that of a working PR dad:
Same Conversations, Different Audiences
I’m relatively new to the world of PR. Most anyone who follows me knows I basically came into it because I previously worked in my area of PR specialty — the clients feel comfortable talking to me and I did a significant amount of writing in college for an extra-curricular project, so I’ve got most of the necessary tools in my toolbox.
Needless to say, it was trial by fire — learning as I went along. I still do, in fact. Some from my colleagues and more recently, the wonderful group of people on Twitter and (specifically) my cohorts at [shameless plug] PRBreakfastClub.com .
As my responsibilities grew over time at my agency, I found it increasingly difficult to balance the time at home with the Coglings (an hour or so in the morning and another in the evening before bedtime) and work.Inevitably as soon as I’d arrive home, there was some sort of crisis — a lost briefing book for a client on the west coast, the limo service for the desksides has to cancel because of Fashion Week and I need to track down a Town Car to play driver, or (one of my favorites) Client A sues Client B and both call us for the work.
Recently, based on a tweet from the exceptional Heather Silverberg I’ve realized the balance problem isn’t caused by the schedule, but because I’m having the same conversations at work as I am at home. You doubt it? Try this conversation on for size:
Cog [to child]: Cogling, do you want to wear your red shirt or green shirt today?
And now this:
Cog [to client]: Did you want to start the meetings at 10 or 11 during your visit?
Same conversation, different audiences. Same result, too. Unanswered calls (one across the room, one across the country) seeking an actual answer and a look (or sound in the case of the client) of confusion that the question was an ‘or’ proposition and that both can’t be done simultaneously (ok, I guess Cogling could’ve worn two shirts, but we’re not letting him know that’s an option).
Think this is only a one time problem? How’s this?
Cogling [playing next to Cog while he reviews some emails]: Daddy, can I have your little thing? [He was referring to the iPhone, people....the perverted jokes are my territory.]
Cog: Sure [handing over phone after loading one of the games].
Cogling [after Cog moves to the laptop to continue reading emails]: Daddy, can you show me Moon pictures on that?
Cog: Sure [loading up some moon videos on YouTube]. Can I have the phone back?
Cogling: I want them both.
Cog: Client, great news, the Wall Street Journal loves your story. They want it as an exclusive.
Client: Great. What about the Times?
Cog: Well, if we give it to the Journal [with emphasis] as an exclusive, we can’t leak it to the Times.
Client: Why not? I want them both.
So, for all the other PR Daddies out there, consider all the frustrating calls you’ve had with clients lately. If they feel oddly familiar, it might just be because you’ve had the conversation with your own very special (and short) live-in client.
PR Cog is a PR Pro at a mid-size Manhattan PR agency, and father of two Coglings. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and at two blogs: PR Cog’s Gear Grindings and PRBreakfastclub (of which he is editor).
I credit the fabulous Liz Strauss with the title of this post. As she tweeted yesterday, “Swag is the new black in broadcasting a message.” There is ample commentary in the blogosphere today on the deluge of product samples and other “gifts” given away at BlogHer this weekend. Most of what I’ve seen is critical — of the marketers, the bloggers who made the pursuit of free stuff their priority, or both (see suggested reading, below).
Yes, there was an insane amount of product given away. The photo above, taken by Laura Mayes of Kirtsy.com, tells you all you need to know. (Full disclosure: some of my clients were there a-swagging, too). This is what happens when marketers discover an influential community: they want to give you stuff. People — or consumers, as we marketing/PR types call them — listen to women who blog. Corporate America knows it, don’t resent them for wanting to get their wares in your hands. Laura’s photo is not a sign of End Times; it is recognition of your incredible power. That’s a good thing.
(By the way, swag at professional conferences is not a new phenomenon. I nearly exfoliated my own hands off 15 years ago at the American Academy of Dermatologists convention, demonstrating a new anti-aging enzyme for 12 hours straight for the beauty company I worked for to hordes of sample-ravenous doctors and their wives. )
As Kristen Chase wisely tweeted today, “We’ve got to find more creative ways to start conversations between sponsored bloggers and attendees.” She was referring specifically to bloggers individually underwritten by marketers to distribute their samples at the conference, but I think the statement is true for any brand trying to make connections at BlogHer. I will absolutely advise my clients to repeat their involvement at BlogHer 2010, but will also make sure we all learn from what went on this year.
And with that, I offer this mini-PSA for marketers contemplating a BlogHer sponsorship.
PR Mama’s Advice for Marketers at BlogHer
Lesson #1: Be creative (to Kristen’s point.) Swag is not currency. What do you have of value that is wholly brand-ownable and will actually bring some value to the bloggers you meet?
Lesson #2: Go big or go home. You don’t have to be the biggest sponsor, but you should do/bring something (or someone) that gets every single blogger there buzzing. You’ll get lost othewise, you just will.
Lesson #3: Speaking of bloggers buzzing — if you have an off-site event, do make sure it’s baby-friendly. Trust me. If you don’t believe me, talk to the Nikon PR team.
There’s more but if I share it, my clients will accuse me of educating the competition and I’ll get in big trouble. And possibly lose my job and believe me, this blog is hardly a fall-back source of income (bizarrely, Sharpie and HP have not deemed me worthy of paid ambassadorship despite my vast readership. I was pondering that last night while I was typing on my thin, light and enticingly affordable HP Pavillion DV2 laptop with one hand and writing out loud with my teal Ultra Fine Retractable Sharpie with the other.)
Wait. What was I just saying about brands finding ways other than giving away free stuff to connect with bloggers…?
* * * * *
Alma Klein laments the increasing presence of marketers over the history of the conference here.
Kristen Chase weighs in on the darker side of blogger behavior at BlogHer, also discusses the Nikon party controversy. (Note that Esther Brady Crawford, the mom who found herself at the center of the “Nikon Hates Babies” controversy, comments on the post. Do read it for a first-hand account of what actually happened.)
There were some recaps NOT focused on swag. Kevin Pang from the Chicago Tribune captures more general soundbites and vignettes here. Jennifer Howze recaps one of the conference sessions (“How to Find Your Blogging Tribe”) here.
And finally — and refreshingly — some recaps were just absurd. Brilliantly so. See Adam Heath Avitable’s insightful interview with the, uh, BlogHer09 hashtag here. And this photo recap from Neil Kramer which speaks for itself.
So I bought my way into the United Red Carpet Club at O’Hare for the free wi-fi. That $50 is more than justified by the 20 minutes or so I’m going to spend here in this T-mobile Hot Spot, right? Good thing I think through my purchases. There’s a recession on, you know.
I needed to spend this money because I can’t cope with Concourse C right now. After three days in the womb-like embrace of the BlogHer conference, I emerged from the Sheraton like a mole, squinting and fumbling my way back out into reality (there are men here, lots of them. I had forgotten what they look like. And smell like. Girls smell better.) So the first class lounge is a necessary refuge.
I can’t tell you much about BlogHer right now because there’s too damned much to process. I tweeted from a couple of the sessions (when the Sheraton wi-fi cooperated) so there’s a digital trail of some of my thoughts, but that’s only the half of it. There are Smart Client Memos to write recapping conference highlights, tons of business cards to dump into Outlook, a million more new friends to follow on Twitter, still more blogs to feed into Google Reader….business connections to be optimized, blossoming friendships (I hope) to be nurtured.
My brain in mush. I am wrinkled (the linen Michael Kors tunic seemed like a good idea 12 hours ago). I am missing the Russian and son like crazy. I am hoping this flight back to Newark isn’t delayed. But I also feel — hmmm. Like a raw nerve, but in a good way. Being cooped up with that much estrogen does that to a gal. Nothing I could write would capture the energy, creativity, beauty, strength, charisma, humor, generosity, sweetness, snarkiness, wit, sexiness, confidence, vulnerability and (in some cases) insanity at that conference. Those women were electrifying.
So more to come on BlogHer. Just let me take a nap first. Meanwhile, I do want to let you know that — as at BlogHer — beauty abounds if you’re open and looking for it. Even in airports. There is a tunnel at O’Hare that leads from security in Terminal One to the gates and honestly — it’s spectacular. It looks like something out of “Logan’s Run.” It’s a series of neon light sculptures that move to music. You stand on the people mover and look at yourself reflected in the mirrored walls and ceilings, and watch the lights dance above your head.
I had a great time attending the first-ever 140 Characters Twitter conference here in New York last week. It’s been recapped comprehensively elsewhere, so rather than lending my voice to that crowded chorus, I thought I’d hone in on two sections of the agenda which are particularly relevant to the work we do here at the agency. This is the first of a two-part post.
First up, my favorite speaker of the conference: Mike Koehler (@mkokc). Mike is an unassuming guy from Oklahoma, former multi-media editor at the Oklahoman and now a social media consultant at a Tulsa-based PR firm. He spoke about using Twitter for public safety, something he’s quite well-versed in. Mike learned first-hand the power of Twitter to connect people and provide real-time help in times of community crisis earlier this year, when Oklahoma City was beset with not one but three major disasters. In a freakish sequence of events, Mother Nature walloped Mike’s community with ice storms, tornadoes, then wildfires. By creating tailored Twitter hashtags (#OKice, #OKstorms, #OKfires) and housing the conversation streams alongside raw video from reporters in the field, Mike and his colleagues transformed the newspaper site into a one-stop safety resource for the community. It became a virtual town hall where a non-stop exchange between journalists and citizens helped keep neighbors informed and safe.
It was only a 10 minute talk but it was profound. Mike spoke from the heart, allowing himself to be moved before a sleepy digerati audience (it was 8 am on Day #2 of the conference, after all) about the power of a digital tool to unleash the best in all of us. Listening to Mike, I felt a surge of new energy to help clients understand all Twitter is capable of. I have to think that even the ones who’ve laughed it off as a flash in the pan or scoffed at its validity as a news-gathering tool would be willing to give Twitter a second look after listening to a guy like Mike Koehler talk. I was also inspired, not for the first time, at the vital role Twitter can play in cause marketing campaigns. This has been discussed in lots of other places; Beth Kanter and Scott Henderson are just two of the many people doing great work at the intersection of cause and social media. Suffice it to say that Twitter can be a powerful accelerant when put in service to the goal most cause marketers share: rallying and empowering people to make a difference. As Mike says, Twitter is a part of the toolbox that makes our world smaller. It’s Mayberry. It lets us swap information “over the fence” – whether we’re in Tehran or Oklahoma City — and in doing so, express our care and concern for one another.
I suppose it’s an overstatement to say that a micro-sharing tool could help unlock our inner angels. Or is it? Not a single fatality was reported in any of the three disasters that hit Oklahoma City earlier this year. Mike is cautious not to attribute that to Twitter but really – don’t you kind of wonder?
See Mike’s talk in its entirety here.
A quick follow-up to last week’s Lizard Queen post to calm the nerves of those co-workers who are now convinced that I’m a) in deep psychic pain or b) on a crazed blogger tear that will destroy my/our agency’s reputation or c) both.
Here’s what I would like you to know: lizards can be tamed. The beauty of giving your dark side a voice is that it eventually pipes down and lets you get back to the business of living your life — no matter what your gig. My mom used to tell me this great thing about what to do with negative thoughts — imagine that each one is a piece of tissue floating by, then choose either to grab it or not. The power in that image is that it separates the person from the thought.
Kind of like personifying one’s evil inner monologue as a bitchy lizard. People, please. If the Lizard Queen had taken up permanent residence in my brain, trust me — you’d know. Right now she looks like this:
Here’s the other thing I’d like you to know, especially those of you who are young women on the rise in your careers and wondering what to make of this whole “having it all” discussion. The last thing I want to do is discourage you from pursuing both your career and motherhood. As much as I rant, I can’t imagine my life without this job. It’s as much a part of my identity as being a mom. I would be a horrible, horrible stay at home mom. I have infinite depths of respect for the women I know who tackle that challenge every single day. But doing both is not easy and I will continue to speak out honestly about the choices and yes, the trade-offs, doing both requires.
Look, there are days I leave this office feeling like a goddess! A striding gigantrix of the PR industry! After we win new business, or kill with a client presentation, or say that one right thing to a client that helps them tackle a business challenge differently. I love, love, love those moments. There are also stretches when I don’t see my son for three days because I get home after bedtime and am up and commuting the next day before he wakes up. That stinks, why sugar-coat it? I read a beautiful comment at Jessica Gottlieb’s blog this morning that compared missing your kids to feeling phantom pain in a missing limb. I get it. And I know I’m not alone. The ties that bind us to our kids are visceral as well as emotional and sometimes it physically hurts not to be with them.
So there it is. The agony and the ecstasy of the working mom. The day the agony outweighs the ecstasy, time to reassess. But for now, the lizard and me — we’re good.
If you dropped by for insight on blogger relations, or the art and science of public relations, you might want to check back later. I’m in Personal Me mode at the moment and it’s not pretty. Before I tell you why, let me splash a big fat caveat across this post stating that I love my life, my job, my family and am grateful for all of it. I know I’m blessed, in a cerebral, enlightened kind of way. However. The reptilian part of my brain, the part no amount of pharmacology or Oprah can reach, feels differently. The Lizard Queen is cranky, hates everyone and everything, here’s why.
She hates that I had to leave my house at 9 am last Sunday to catch a plane for a cross-country business trip that may or may not have been worth the effort. She hates that the day prior I was short and snappish with my sweet son who just wanted me to help him build his new Lego Star Wars MagnaGuard Starfighter for crying out loud. She hates that I chose to put more energy into my stupid powerpoint presentation and what shoes to pack than being with my kid. She hates that I felt the need to assuage my maternal guilt by buying the kid off with ice cream at Dunkin’ Donuts, which would maybe have been okay except that I optimized the moment by diving head-first into a “31 Below” shake with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (kinda like a DQ Blizzard, pretty awesome and no, that wasn’t a paid endorsement.) She hates that I sat on the stupid tarmac at stupid Newark “At Liberty to Delay You” Airport for an hour for mysterious reasons handed down from on high by Air Traffic Control. Screw you, Newark Air Traffic Control. She hated the seatmate whose furiously self-important texting with her stubby french manicure digits made me want to throw my own Blackberry out the window and never use it again, and who informed me I needed to power down my iPod because the cabin door had closed which *phew* was fortunate because gee I’ve NEVER FLOWN BEFORE. She hates that I’m genetically unable to pace myself at work so that I’m not constantly facing last minute deadlines and insanity. She hates that my best writing can only get done after 5:30 PM which is great for my concentration (no pesky colleagues or phones) but sucky for the husband and kid waiting patiently at home. She hates that I don’t have time like the other moms in my town to get more involved in school activities and make it to daytime spinning and yoga classes every single day and while I’m on that topic, boy does she hate that I seem to be one of two moms in my town who hasn’t managed to LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT and yes, my “baby” is six years old. She hates that I pour more passion into my job than caring for my family my husband.
*sigh.* She obviously is me, which I guess makes this a kinda self-loathing post. This blog really isn’t THAT kind of blog – i.e. soul-baring, self-flagellating, warts-exposing. I mean, I’ve got bosses and clients and co-workers reading this stuff. But plenty of those people are working moms too and I guess I’m just in a mood – or at least, the Lizard Queen is in a mood – to pull back the curtain for a second on this whole “having it all” thing. Because the truth my truth is – you can’t have it all. What you CAN have are the choices you make – good, bad, smart, stupid, reptilian or enlightened. You make ‘em, and you live with ‘em. Powerpoint versus Legos. Fat versus skinny. Job versus husband.
I tweeted recently (ironically) about being a woman of many facets. Nice image. Suggests a sparkly diamond. I may have many facets, I just don’t like all of them at the moment. This too shall pass, of course. I’ll find my way back to “loving the flawed diamond that I am” or some other Oprah-y, Paxil-y hoo-ha. But for the moment, the Lizard Queen has control over the keyboard which may, now that I think about it, be the best way to deal with her. Give her air time, let her vent, and hope the bitch goes slithering back into her lair.
Could I be alone in this? What do you do when your reptilian brain starts getting feisty?