PR Mama is Moving!

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a great run over here at wordpress.com but it’s time to put on my big girl britches and hike it on over to my VERY OWN self-hosted site heretofore known as prmama.com. Please reset your feeds and blogrolls to http://prmama.com (if you don’t mind) and come visit soon!

xoxoxoxo Stephanie

Categories: Uncategorized

We’re Through, Toyota

March 10, 2010 4 comments

My love affair with Toyota was as old as this ad, but no more.

I’ve been a Toyota fangirl for as long as I can remember. My eco- and budget-aware parents always owned Toyotas; in fact, I learned to drive stick in a ’78 Corolla (that’s it in the picture). That was the start of my love affair with this brand: I graduated from the Corolla to a swank ’85 Cressida, snagged the Matrix the year it came out, succumbed to the suburban siren call of the SUV and picked up a 4Runner along the way, had two torrid affairs with Lexus (that counts) and finally saw the eco light of day with the Prius in which I currently trundle to work daily with fingers crossed that my floor mats won’t bite off my feet or otherwise cause me bodily harm.

I’ve only owned ten cars over the course of my adult life. SEVEN were made by Toyota. Please keep this in mind.

One recent Saturday the Russian tells me we’ve received a “VIP invitation” from our local Toyota dealer to thank us for our support during Toyota’s current difficulties (by “difficulties” they meant this) and offer a SPECIAL ONLY FOR US zero-percent down/zero-percent financing deal on the 2010 Prius.

The Russian has been known to fall prey to “too good to be true” offers before (though I probably would too if I were flooded with junk mail daily in a language not my own) – so to be on the safe side I scrutinize this letter within an inch of its life. I’m looking for the fine print and the disclaimers and I can’t find any so off we go to Toyota! We’re gonna buy a new Prius! And we’re gonna save LOTS OF MONEY!

Forget that we have to wait 30 minutes for our “VIP appointment” because our salesman (who we’ve known since my son was in diapers and from whom we’ve bought three cars) decided to meet with some walk-ins first. We finally sit down and with that VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer in my hand, I tell him we’re keen to get our mitts on that sparkly new 2010 Prius.

Will you be surprised to learn there were strings attached to this deal? Will you be shocked to hear the VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer was only good if the dealer deemed our current car worthy of trade-in? Will you be amazed to know the salesman from whom we’ve bought three cars delivered this news casually and without apology? And despite the “I want to buy a new Prius let’s talk” tattoo on my forehead, that he made no effort to engage us in any kind of negotiation?

The Russian was mute through all this, probably hoping that if he got very quiet it would offset whatever rage I was about to vomit all over this salesguy.  I knew we were about to truck out of there in the same car we’d come in with no VIP SPECIAL OFFER FOR US and no sparkly new Prius, so why not let ‘er rip?

What I wanted to say:

Really, Toyota Salesguy? REALLY? Do you think this is a good time to be hoodwinking loyal customers with bogus offers? Do you think at a time when NO ONE wants to buy your death trap Prius that maybe you’d want to treat those who do with a little more courtesy and consideration? Do you think maybe, just maybe, you should get your manager down here to your cubicle and make him apologize for inconveniencing us with his slimy sales tactics and taking up the better part of our Saturday morning with this goose chase? I am a trained public relations professional, Toyota salesguy, and I know a communications crisis when I see it and believe you me, you guys are in the MOTHER of all crisis situations and companies in crisis should not PISS OFF THEIR LOYAL CUSTOMERS.

What I actually said:

Gosh, Toyota Salesguy, this is really disappointing. I guess there’s nothing to talk about so we’ll be going now.

 Because I’m tough like that.

Look,  I realize the boneheaded sales ploy of a manager desperate to drive showroom traffic is not the fault of the corporate overlords – after all, they’re too busy cranking out all those TV spots that “put a face” on the hardworking technicians of Toyota who believe in these cars and “drive them too!” – what do they know about what happens on the front lines?  But the combination of seemingly endless recalls with false advertising/crappy service at the local level – well, there are plenty of auto makers who’d be thrilled to take my money (and my loyalty) right about now. (Oh, and whose cars don’t accelerate uncontrollably and kill families in fiery crashes.)

We had a good run, Toyota. 26 years and seven cars, to be specific. But no more. A girl can only take so much heartbreak.

Image via.

The Day I Lost my Pet Name

March 6, 2010 1 comment
From the cartoon: Mama Bear and Baby Umka

 

My husband’s pet name for me used to be “Umka.”  If you’re Russian, you know that Umka is a cartoon polar bear cub popular in the early 70s.

Let’s ask the Russian what the similarities are between his wife and a cartoon polar bear:

“You are white and you like the cold when you sleep.”

(ed. note: White as in blonde, not honkey. If you were wondering.)

Let’s ask him if there’s anything else about the cartoon bear that reminds him of his wife, say, being cute and cuddly:

 “Sure. You are cute and cuddly.”

OK.

But here’s the thing.  This stopped after our son was born because really, he was Baby Umka now. I was now Umka’s mother. And that’s fine. I think mother bears are awesome — they’re fiercely protective and loving and strong. And polar bear mothers are just amazing. I love their black eyes and lovely long noses and beautiful fur. One of the first pieces of art I bought when we were getting the nursery ready was an illustration of a mama and baby polar bear gazing at the moon together.

Can you believe after ten years of marriage and having this Umka be a part of our lives, I only just now watched one of the cartoons? It’s on YouTube (of course) and even comes in a subtitled version. Please take a few minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully drawn and utterly charming. And totally makes me want to talk like the mama bear, who for a bear has a very sexy voice. (Is that wrong?)  Also, check out the lullabye she sings to baby Umka. You will want to rush out and learn Russian immediately so you can sing it to your little ones.

How about you? Any pet names you care to reveal? And like me, did your pet name mysteriously disappear or change after your children came along?
 

Categories: Family, Parenting, Russians Tags: , , ,

A Tribe of One’s Own

March 2, 2010 18 comments

If the white dude with the mullet can find his tribe, why can't I?

Newbie bloggers are often given this advice: Find your tribe. There was even a terrific panel dedicated to this at BlogHer last year. The blogosphere is all about niches and community-building after all, so seek like-minded bloggers and band together. Maybe you do this for personal satisfaction, maybe in hopes of creating the critical mass attractive to advertisers. Maybe both. Maybe neither! Maybe you start looking for kindred bloggy spirits just for the fun of seeing whether there even IS a tribe out there that would have you as a member.    

I would like to announce publically that I am seeking a blogging tribe. I am as naked in my need to belong as Kevin Costner’s ass cheeks in Dances with Wolves. He found a tribe and he can’t even act, surely it’s not that hard.

Maybe I’m too schizophrenic. I kind of want to be all things to all people. This is a good skill to have in PR as you are constantly required to straddle the needs of clients, media influencers and parent company overlords. But maybe it’s not helping me in the blogosphere. I probably need to focus a little. And since I can’t expect my tribe – whoever and wherever they may be – to show up on my doorstep bearing flowers and vodka, I am going to be proactive.  I am going to grease the skids, as they say.

I submit to you my Top Ten List of Blogging Tribes I Feel Qualified to Join to help you, the reader, better assess whether or not we are destined to be tribal soul mates. All you need do is see if you fit into any of these categories:

  1. PR people who secretly want to be full-time bloggers earning Dooce-like coin
  2. PR people who do way more than just plan events and do publicity (pffft)
  3. PR people who swear on their children’s lives that PR is totally not likeKell on Earth
  4. Moms still losing the baby weight (even though the baby is in elementary school)
  5. Moms of boys who (literally) climb walls (Audrey McClelland, that one’s for you)
  6. Moms who can recite entire episodes of “iCarly” word-for-word and think Spencer’s hot
  7. Moms referred to by their offspring as “Dude” or “Devil Woman”
  8. American women married to Russian men who argue regularly about parenting tactics
  9. Droid owners married to iPhone owners who argue daily about those Luke Wilson AT&T ads
  10. People who are on Facebook because they feel they have to but secretly wish they could shut the account down and just hang out on Twitter

Leave me a smoke signal in the comments if you want to be in one or more of my tribes. Or if you’d like to publically declare your own tribal aspirations.

Image via.

And the Snow Glows Blue

February 28, 2010 7 comments

We drive up to the country house Friday afternoon in the midst of yet another late-winter snow storm. Mother Nature has dumped about 18 inches on New Jersey but when you’re married to a Russian, this is not an obstacle. Our road hasn’t even been plowed thanks to a downed power line, but no big deal. The Russian powers through in the SUV and charges ahead towards a nearly-deserted NY State Thruway, lecturing me loudly about sissy Americans and our fear of snow.

In Russia we have snow every fricking day, okeh? And no food in the stores. My pop and me, we was walking thirty minutes each way to market and when we get there? Is nothing. No meat, maybe just potato, maybe sunflower seeds. Sometimes not meat there. We take the bucket, we fill with potato, we pull back home on children’s — what is this, sleigh? No? Sled. We pull home on sled. But here! Ooooooo, it’s snowing. Oooooo, better run to grocery store. In Russia, what is snow? You have to just go! You just go to survive! I got the huge, made-of-wool veil, you put on your head and wrap around your body because it is so cold. JUST TO GET THE POTATO.

It’s like this pretty much all the way to Kingston.

We finally arrive at the house and even the Russian has to admit — this is serious snow. About four feet, judging from the tips of fence I see poking up through the sea of white that is our backyard.

You know what else? It glows blue.

We jab holes in the snow to see how deep it is and an unearthly blue light glows back. It’s eerie and lovely, a light created by some weird alchemy as light particles bounce from ice crystal to ice crystal — smarter people than me explain it here, it only happens in icebergs or when snow is very clean and very deep. It’s as beautiful and mysterious as I imagine the aurora borealis to be. We ski the next day and see blue everywhere, emanating from the tracks made by skiiers who’ve left ghostly trails in the ungroomed snow beneath the lifts.

Upon our arrival...

...I had to climb through the snow to find the shovel. Which btw a certain Russian had left under the porch (and four feet of snow.)

...I had to climb thru snow to find the shovel. Good times.

Not your ordinary shoveling job.

Even the Russian was impressed.

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,

How to Moderate a VIP Panel

February 24, 2010 11 comments

Heather & me (see my listening face?)

I had a ball at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston last week. The highlight? Moderating  a VIP panel – or perhaps I should say VIB (Very Important Blogger) – and living to tell the tale.  Did I mention Heather (aka Dooce) Armstrong was one of those panelists? More on that in a minute.

Here’s how it went down. I had submitted a panel idea to the conference organizers about “Bloggers, Brands and the New Publishing Paradigm.” The topic sprang from a post I wrote last year about how marketers and PR people need to rethink how they approach bloggers; it got nice response and you can read it here.  I was jazzed when the idea was accepted and designated the closing keynote panel.  I figured I’d be one of the panelist and that was great.

Several weeks later I got a note from Laura Mayes (one of the Mom 2.0 organizers and a thoroughly spectacular human being) that I’m actually going to be the moderator and the other panelists will be announced shortly.  I’m excited and just a teeny bit anxious because good moderating takes some prep and I now need to work this into my hot mess of a schedule.

Another couple of days goes by and then I see this In Laura’s Twitter stream:

 

Zoink. I’m moderating three of the most popular bloggers known to man including Heather Armstrong who (for those of you who don’t know) is arguably one of the most famous (and often controversial) bloggers in the galaxy?

My moderator prep anxiety has now gone defcon level 5. And here’s where I must make a confession. I’m a pretty cool cucumber when it comes to professional stuff but you know who gives me the willies? Male CEOs and Very Important Lady Bloggers. Don’t ask me to explain, it’s complicated and for all I know rooted in Freudian issues. Suffice it to say I was nervous about reaching out to Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle to get the ball rolling on panel prep.

But I did and in my neurotic  hyper-organized way — as if preparing an important client for a presentation — start hurling emails into the ether with suggestions about discussion topics and Q & A and conference calls…want to guess how well that went?

Right. Not terribly. 

Very Important Lady Bloggers are important for a reason. They are busy. They are focused on their blogs (which are their businesses) and their families. With three weeks to go before the conference my anal-retentive discussion guides were not yet a priority in their minds.

Well, they were MY priority and there’s the problem. I was not reading my audience. I was prepping on my terms, not theirs. Which leads me to the most important advice I can offer to anyone preparing to moderate a VIP panel:

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

I don’t care how fancy-pants you are, if you’re moderating a big-deal panel you will be eclipsed. As it should be. You are not the headliner, you are the facilitator who if you’re smart will make the headliners look great.

Cutting to the chase, I will tell you the panel went off really well. It all came together perfectly (if not a little last-minute.) Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle were lovely, created content that made the presentation visual and dynamic, and generally rocked the dais.

Moderating a panel of this stature is kind of like being a jockey – or maybe a rodeo rider is a better analogy (we were in Texas, after all). You climb onboard that filly and do your best to stay on. You listen, you listen some more, you roll with the punches and adjust the questions based on the flow of the discussion. You take the mike only to ask the next question or to clarify a point.

You are not the show. Did I mention already that it’s about them, not you?

I’ve been in the audience for panels where the moderator hogged the spotlight. I’ve been on the panel when the moderator ceded control of the discussion to unruly audiences. My goal was to make sure neither of those things happened and based on the crowd reaction, I think we just may have accomplished it.

Fiona Bryan live-blogged the panel here if you want to check it out.

[Image via Sarah Hubbell]

UPDATE:  More great posts about Mom 2.0 from women a) I want to be when I grow up except that I’m older than all of them; b) should come to my house for a slumber party so I can braid their hair and c) I am inspired by constantly…

Gabrielle “Design Mom” Blair (from the aforementioned panel) here

Maggie “Mighty Girl” Mason (also from aforementioned panel) here  

Liz “Mom 101” Gumbiner here

Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson (who my god I love so much it makes my eyeballs hurt) posted not once but twice

In Praise of Mouthy Housewives

February 12, 2010 1 comment

How come when I’m asked to post at someone else’s blog the words flow freely from my fingers? It’s kind of like how I don’t mind doing the Thanksgiving dishes when it’s someone else’s house. Everyday tasks are more enjoyable when I’m doing them on someone else’s turf.

The Mouthy Housewives hang out on pretty awesome turf. Their advice site is hilarious and smart and kind of like having your best (funniest) girlfriend sitting on your shoulder 24/7 whispering encouragement and wisdom in your ear. I first encountered Wendi and Kelcey, two of the four Mouthy Housewives, at the BlogHer Humor panel last year. I was struck dumb by their brilliance, or maybe by the sauna-like heat in the panel room. I’m not sure which. It’s a quick hop and a skip from Wendi and Kelcey to Marinka who not only is wicked funny but is Russian. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a soft spot for Russians. Though Russian women scare the s*** out of me so maybe Marinka was sent my way to help me sort through my issues.  As for Heather, I have not yet connected with her personally but she quotes Nietzche and Jung on her home page. And says bad words. Which makes her a well-read badass, so naturally I want to be her best friend. 

You can imagine my delight The Mouthy Housewives invited me to guest advise because while I am not a housewife I am seriously mouthy. And I have been known to wear curlers though mine are velcro not foam because I’m quite modern that way. Here’s the post. I enjoyed doing it though I’m still afraid of lady bloggers who quote Nietzche, Russian women and people who appear on fancy BlogHer panels. I think the Housewives owe it to me to let me hang out with them more so I can sort out these issues, don’t you?

Categories: Blogging, Russians Tags: , , , ,

David Allen is NOT Helping my Insomnia

February 2, 2010 5 comments
Note to self: when it’s 3:45 am and work anxiety wakes (and keeps) you up, do not think reading David Allen will lull you back to sleep. For those of you unfamiliar, David Allen is the Getting Things Done guru (or “GTD,” as we personal management geeks call it). I read David Allen the way non-cooks watch the Food Network: it’s a spectactor sport. Because you see, while I can get things done in my life, I don’t Get Things Done. Which means I don’t get my inbox to zero each week, I lurch through the work day with a brain so full of “uncaptured” tasks and to-dos my head threatens to explode, I am chronically unable to “process” a certain pile of magazine clippings in my inbox that outlived their timeliness and usefulness somewhere around 2006…nevertheless, I am addicted to the literature of personal management and in particular the cult of GTD.

 

Back to my insomnia. I’m reading David Allen’s latest Making it All Work and come across this chart mapping what he calls a “matrix of self-management.” There it is up above. Poses a simple model based on axes of perspective and control. Too much of either = bad. A balance of both = good.

 

My mind whirls to life and so much for sleep. I start cataloging colleagues along these axes. Illuminating! Genius! So easy to peg management outages when you’re looking at someone else!

 

I aspire to be a “Captain and Commander,” of course I do. Wouldn’t you? I think I’m usually pretty good at the Visionary stuff but oh lord…do I slip into Crazy-Maker territory more than I’m willing to admit? What about Crazy-Makers I might encounter on the job? How to manage those relationships? And the Micro-Managers, can they be helped? What can a mentor do to pull them up out of the weeds and get them to focus on the bigger picture? And more importantly, will I ever fall back asleep??

 

Gah. Food for thought. How about you? Where do you fall along these axes? Please share. My insomnia and I are all ears.

 

(Image from Making it All Work)
Categories: Work Tags: ,

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: , , , ,

Outgrowing Star Wars

January 14, 2010 9 comments
This image is known in Star Wars movie poster geek circles (not that I’d know anything about that) as “US One Sheet Original Movie Poster Style C.” It’s awesome and old school and at the height of my 7-year old’s Star Wars frenzy, I found a decent reproduction and had it lovingly framed for his bedroom.

 

Did I mention it’s awesome?

 

Tonight getting ready for bed the 7-year old gives the poster a sidelong glance and says casually, “You know I’m not into Star Wars anymore, right?”

 

And a little piece of my heart dies a quiet death, kind of the way Yoda finally became one with the Force in Episode VI except that had hung around for 900 years and the damned poster only survived my son’s fickle taste for one.

 

Only consolation is he got Beatles Rock Band at Christmas so now he wants a Beatles poster. Could be worse.

 

Image via.