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I Can’t Believe I’m in Dubai

January 20, 2010 10 comments

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.

And yet.

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.

 

I created a Whrrl story about my visit here.

Categories: Clients, Culture, Work Tags: , , , ,

No More Kissing at Work

November 5, 2009 2 comments

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.

 

 

 kiss1

 

 

 

 

 

Awkward. (image via)

 

Kiss 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian and awkward. (image via)

 

kiss3

 

 

 

 

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.

True Hollywood Story: DeVries PR at the 140 Characters Conference/LA

November 4, 2009 8 comments

  screen 

Image via Jon Cronin and Whrrl)

Our agency sponsored the “140 Characters” Conference in Los Angeles last week, supporting a two-day exploration of what conference organizer Jeff Pulver calls “The State of Now” and the effect of the real-time internet on culture. We created a DeVries PR Buzz Lounge in the lobby of the Kodak Theater, a place for everyone at the conference to recharge and connect. We kept them stoked with free caffeine, cupcakes and ethernet connections. We also thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if we could capture video sound bites from conference speakers and in something close to real time, send those sound bite packages out across the interwebz to give people at home a taste of what was happening at the conference. You can view and share these segments at our DeVries YouTube channel; meanwhile, this is a bit of what went on behind the scenes as we worked to bring our Buzz Lounge concept to life.

Sunday, October 26th

8 PM: Heading for LA tomorrow. I have convinced my boss that it is a good idea for DeVries to sponsor the LA edition of the “140 Characters” conference. I tell him it will demonstrate our commitment to and understanding of the cutting edge of social media. I also tell him it will enable me to stalk Jeffrey Hayzlett of Kodak, my current CMO crush. Hayzlett doesn’t know it yet, but he really wants to work with DeVries.

9:55 PM: Packing on hold. Time for me to live-tweet this week’s episode of “Mad Men.” Evidence of how cutting edge and Twitter-savvy I am.

11:00 PM: Back to packing. Based on the NYC 140conf dress code, I am going casual. I tell my team to wear jeans and heavy black-rimmed eyeglasses so they fit in with all the geeks digital influencers. I also suggest they don’t shave but am shot down since most of them are women.

Monday, October 27th

7 AM: Airport. Never have I seen a security line this long. I ask airport worker lady where the Elite Access line is. She points to a queue of people that snakes around itself and out of sight like a coiled serpent of unhappiness and misery.

7:40 AM: My line has moved forward three inches. I feel very Elite.

12:00 PM: West coast time! Hollywood here we come! Meet driver at baggage claim. Tell him I’m waiting to meet my colleague Danielle who’s flying in on a different airline. Realize that airline is two terminals away. It seems driving two terminals away to fetch Danielle will inconvenience him. I’m confused because I’m pretty sure I’m paying him.

12:02 PM: Try to reach Danielle on her cell to get her to take a tram to our terminal. I worry driver will do me bodily harm if I can’t make this happen STAT. Try to explain why it’s important we find Danielle because she’s my awesome video blogger correspondent but driver doesn’t seem to care.

1:00 PM: Danielle located and secured in SUV. Relief. I have my video blogger, without whom our whole sponsorship concept falls apart.

1:30 PM: Check in at Roosevelt. Rooms not ready.

2:00 PM: Rooms still not ready.

3:00 PM: Rooms still not ready. Resolve for the 800th time never to stay in a boutique hotel again.

4:00 PM: Head over to Kodak Theater to meet Thom, our brilliant event designer. Jeff Pulver himself lets us in so we can check out our space in the main Lobby.  I’m pretty sure Pulver can tell by looking at me how cutting-edge and Twitter-savvy I am. Meanwhile, Thom has outdone himself and other than the fact that in-house caterers are not allowing us to bring in our special cupcakes, things are looking great for tomorrow.

5:00 PM: Cupcake-gate resolved. We pay extra money so that we may offer red velvet goodness to conference attendees. This turns out to be a very good investment.

cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The photo is blurry because we had to refill the cupcake trays at warp speed to keep up with consumption. I’m not kidding. Image via Heather Meeker and Whrrl)

8:00 PM: Pre-conference-party sponsored by RealPlayer. Connect with beloved Twitter friends Jessica Gottlieb, Heather Meeker and Shelly Kramer, meet many amazing new people with whom I exchange cards, and watch in amazement as Owen JJ Stone aka “Oh Doctah” downs five Long Island Iced Teas without breaking a sweat.  

 

me and owen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and the man they call “Oh Doctah” (image via askohdoctah)

10:00 PM: Realize I’ve offered four people jobs and proposed marriage to three others.  Time to call it a night.

 

VIP party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(That’s the DeVries crew in foreground, slightly out of focus at the end of a long day. Back of my head and Kathy’s reveal impeccable highlighting upkeep. Danielle is making shadow puppets while Jon mimes the use of a handheld electronic device. Image via RealPlayer)

Tuesday, October 27th

8:00 AM: Showtime!

pulver and danielle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Danielle and cameraman extraordinaire A.J. making it happen in the DeVries Buzz Lounge, interviewing Jeff Pulver on the State of Now. Image via Jon Cronin and Whrrl)

The next two days pass in a blur. Because one of our Twitter Critters falls ill, we end up short-handed which means less time for all of us in the auditorium watching speakers, more time hustling in the Buzz Lounge. But that’s fine, since much of the conference action is taking place right here on and around our white lounging sofas and lucite bar stools. We are packed from the time the conference doors open till they close at night. I go home at the end of Day One covered in cupcake icing. Danielle and our crew from Pack Media Online  are tireless, wrangling speakers for interviews (including my CMO soulmate Jeff Hayzlett) and turning around beautifully edited packages on impossibly fast timing. Jon and Kathy are working the keyboards, tweeting and retweeting our video content along with all the other amazing insight coming from the Kodak Theater stage.

It is a glorious experience. Oh Doctah recaps it beautifully (as only he can) here. And this is our final highlight reel in which Jeff Pulver offers  what may be my all-time favorite quote about Twitter: “At the end of every tweet, there is a person.”

Update: While we were grabbing footage in the Buzz Lounge, fellow sponsors RealPlayer were doing a great job documenting what was going on inside the theater. Check out their videos here.  Oh, and here’s footage of my CMO boyfriend Hayzlett doing a striptease and definitely not pitching his brand *at all.* 

Posted via email from Stephanie Smirnov’s Posterous

My Call with Uma Thurman

October 14, 2009 6 comments

Motherhood2I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.

So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.

Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

*Swoon*

Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.

So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:

Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.

She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.

My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said: 

Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.

I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.

Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.

Image via.

Check out Eliza’s blog here.

Riding through Hell: 2009 World Business Forum Recap

October 11, 2009 1 comment
Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

Blogging live at the WBF. See the back of my head in the front row?

It’s Day 1 of the World Business Forum. I’m tucked comfortably into my puffy velvet seat on Radio City Music Hall’s third mezzanine. Despite some wi-fi challenges (what conference is complete without them?) it’s been smooth sailing for the 50 or so of us who are here as part of the official Blogger Hub. Two levels below, the orchestra seats are steadily filling to the accompaniment of the Lite FM-ish smooth jazz flowing through the sound system (you were expecting Lady GaGa?)  Despite the stated “business casual” dress code, it’s a sea of gray suits down there. I’m in standard issue PR girl black head-to-toe, with gold flats and crystal drop earrings. (This is my business casual.)

Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton takes the stage to open the conference, and something he says sets the tone for all the speakers who follow:  “When you ride through hell, you don’t stop.”  It’s an old cowboy saying, but pretty apt right now. No denying things have been pretty hellish for the past 12 months. It’s a common refrain with nearly every speaker – unemployment up, GDP down. American small business dying on the vine. We may technically be out of the recession, but the hard work of recovery has just begun. And there’s the question of sustainability and whether economic recovery will happen at the expense of a planet which, as speaker Jeffrey Sachs reminds us, “is bursting at the seams.”  

How appropriate that climate-related disaster metaphors are a recurring conference theme: it’s Katrina, a cyclone, a tsunami. Cataclysmic. The eye of the hurricane is past but the challenges left in the aftermath are monumental. Hellish indeed. But as Hinton says, this is no time to stop riding. It’s simple in business: Grow. Do. Wherever the market goes next, we must focus on growing. Innovation brings good fortune. It’s always time for ideas. 

There is no shortage of ideas coming from the Radio City Music Hall stage. My head and laptop are swimming with them. I look down at my notes in between speakers and am amazed I can keep up at all (Thank you 10th grade typing teacher. Name: forgotten. Impact on my professional life: priceless.) Themes emerge from speaker to speaker and begin to coalesce on my monitor; here are the two that resonate most powerfully for me:

Truth: Saatchi and Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts tells us the truth is ugly. Don’t be afraid to face it. Bill Conaty, former HR chief of GE, describes “truth and candor” as pillars of a performance culture. Management guru Bill George cautions against denial, says leaders willing to face organizational and personal realities free up their companies to move forward. Or make tough but crucial decisions like, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld suggests, killing your company’s sacred cows in times of crisis.

Creativity:  Needless to say, there is much to absorb from the event’s most high profile speakers George Lucas and Bill Clinton. In both cases it takes me a minute to get my star-struck fingers typing, once I do I find my notes coming back consistently to creativity. The Lucas Q&A with film critic Ben Mankiewicz is billed as “The Future of Cinema” but feels more to me like a blast from the past. In a good way, considering how forward-looking Lucas’ past actually was. It’s easy to get so caught up in his role of father of the “Star Wars” mythos that I forget the boldness of Lucas’ business innovations. Small action figure movie tie-ins didn’t exist before Lucas pioneered the model with Kenner and forever altered the movie merchandising landscape.  And when he couldn’t find a production shop able to make the visual effects needed for “Star Wars,” he created Industrial Light and Magic.  I have no idea what enables a human being to have the courage and means to look into a void and simply invent what’s needed. Where others would see a yawning chasm, Lucas saw opportunity.

As for Clinton, creativity as well as collaboration are recurring themes in his speech. He cites interdependence – not globalism – as the word he believes best describes the century we live in.  According to Clinton, it is not just about the movement of money around the world, but the flow of diverse people and ideas. And in his view, there is no such thing as a personal rainstorm. The problems of the 21st century – terrorism, poverty, famine, diseases – will be solved only by cross-border creativity and collaboration. And while there is hope embedded in that message – of people and organizations putting aside individual agendas for a common good – there is a grave warning, too:  “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.”

Go here for more blog coverage of the World Business Forum.  

(image via)

On the Agenda: World Business Forum ’09

October 4, 2009 1 comment

 

The scene at Radio City Music Hall last year

The scene at Radio City Music Hall last year

I am over the moon that I get to attend the World Business Forum as a featured blogger alongside an extremely serious group of digital big kids. Liz Strauss is among this crew; I’m trying to figure out a way to sling Liz over my shoulder like a backpack so she can murmur smart things in my ear as I go about my day. This isn’t practical since a) Liz is about six feet tall and b) humans don’t make great backpacks. So I’ll have to settle for tweeting alongside her on October 6th and 7th — meet me over at the forum twitter hashtag (#wbf09) if you want to find out what George Lucas, T. Boone Pickens and Bill Clinton are up to these days.

(Image via.)

Mom Blogging Goes Hollywood

September 17, 2009 4 comments


I’ve always liked Uma Thurman, but when she emerged as the central muse in the twisted world of Quentin Tarantino she stole my heart once and for all. Mrs. Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction? Swoon.

When I heard Uma was starring as a mom blogger in her next film, it was hard to shake the image of her as The Bride in the Kill Bill flicks – kick ass yellow jumpsuit, bloody sword, fiercely beautiful and totally lethal. Then I remembered that it was the ferocious drive to reclaim her lost daughter that drove her through the second film — so in addition to being a real-life mother, Uma knows how to play motherhood and then some.

Motherhood was written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann, who I got to  spend some time with this afternoon on a conference call with a handful of other NYC-area  bloggers. Couple of things you might want to know about Katherine and Motherhood:

The movie was made almost entirely by women. That rocks.

Katherine drew from her own life in creating it; in fact, the film was shot in the building where she lives. She said she awoke each morning to the sound of the crew setting up, got her kids fed and off to school, and went to work. Downstairs. Which also rocks.

Katherine’s kids loved the craft services. Anyone who’s been on a TV or film set knows what this is. It’s food, and lots of it. The kids called it “crafty” and apparently got obsessed with it because Katherine is not a “big snack giver.”

One of the reasons Katherine was inspired to make the movie is that she couldn’t find any authentic representations of motherhood on the big screen. She cites Baby Boom (Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, amazing) as one of the last movies to treat motherhood as the complex juggling act it really is. (That was 22 years ago, by the way.)

I can’t wait to see this movie. I love Uma playing disheveled. She’s incredibly endearing, and with Minnie Driver as her BFF and Anthony Edwards as her hub, what’s not to love. I also love movies shot on location in this city. I can’t help but wonder if Motherhood won’t be just a little bit of a love letter to the West Village, since it’s where Katherine makes her home.

Finally, I love that blogging — mom blogging, specifically — is in the spotlight with nary a mention of FTC guidlines or brand shilling controversies. Maybe this film will put the focus back on what’s been true about mom bloggers from the beginning: they tell it like it is about motherhood. Authentically, unfiltered, with some of the most beautiful writing on the internet. They are raw, passionate, angry, joyful, supportive, frantic, serene, hilarious, loving. Some times all at once. I am not surprised — and eternally grateful — that it’s a woman bringing this glorious cacaphony to the silver screen.

Motherhood opens in select markets October 23rd. Get more info here.

[Disclosure: There are no material connections between the makers of Motherhood and me. All they did was invite me to participate in a conference call. I realize I've just set a dangerous precedent as a cheap date. What I really want but am too shy to request is to go on a playdate with Uma, Katherine and their kids. I might even remember to bring my kid. Katherine says it's okay to drink wine during playdates, provided the children are not put in harm's way. So clearly we were meant to be best friends.]

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