The wild ride that was 2012

I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t imagine how we could cram anything else into this year. I feel like we were all looking at the calendar like it was the trunk of a Honda Civic, packing every minute with major events and life changes.

Here’s a quick recap of my year:

  • Became a member of the student Ad & PR agency at UNT
  • Got engaged
  • Started planning a wedding
  • Made the Dean’s list
  • Got laid off
  • Started freelancing
  • Celebrated Gemma’s wedding
  • Celebrated the birth of Matt & Paige’s first baby
  • Started working at an advertising agency
  • Started working at a magazine
  • Started working at a PR firm
  • Got a promotion at the PR firm
  • Celebrated Ceylan’s wedding
  • Celebrated Valerie’s wedding
  • Ran my first 5K
  • Married the love of my life
  • 6 days later, celebrated Christina’s wedding
  • Graduated from college
  • Started my career
  • Started this blog (which I think I might keep)
  • Stepped up my Pinterest addiction
  • Identified the type of person I want to be
  • Identified the type of person I do NOT want to be
  • Realized how much I love and appreciate every single person in my life
  • Discovered Dog-Shaming.com
  • Became a better dog owner
  • Became a better cook
  • Became a better sister
  • Became a better friend
  • Became a better wife
  • Realized I might actually be insane.
  • Attempted to get better at Twitter

Nuts. Just nuts.

A few of my favorite things

One of my favorite holiday songs, which may or may not actually be a holiday song, is “My Favorite Things.” Which is appropriately named because it is, in fact, one of my favorite things. I was singing this to myself in the car while I sat in two hours of traffic. The fact that this is one of my last trips home from UNT is another one of my favorite things. Anyway, it got me thinking about some of my other favorite things. So here are some of them (in no particular order).

  1. Cookies – I pretty much love all cookies, particularly Oreos, Thin Mints and slightly undercooked chocolate chip. Although, I hold a personal grudge against oatmeal raisin cookies because they always trick me into thinking they’re chocolate chip. Then, upon realizing that it is NOT chocolate chip, I promptly spit out that fruity crap and hurl that lying SOB in the garbage.
  2. Aqua – The color, not the 90s band responsible for “Barbie Girl.” Although I did own that CD, it is not on this list.
  3. Dogs – I didn’t always think I was a dog person, but now that I have my own spoiled rotten canine companion I see what all the fuss is about. He can definitely be a pain, but he’s also a superb snuggler. And he’s super cute.
  4. My husband – Definitely my favorite person in the world. People ask if married life is any different, and really the only difference is how weird it feels to call him my husband. But it’s shorter than “permanent boyfriend” and less confusing than “life partner.”
  5. Guitars – I love the way they sound and how versatile they are. I’ve been playing since I was 16. There’s nothing like going into Guitar Center and playing the guitars that I know I’ll never be able to afford. They’re like butter. Speaking of which…
  6. Butter – You know what pre-diabetic Paula Dean says: “Butter makes it better!” And she’s absolutely right. Plus, you never heard anyone say, “Margarine makes it better.” That’s just stupid.. and false.
  7. Friday night – What is it about Friday night that makes it feel so magical and full of promise? Well, that is until Katy Perry made that awful song about having three-ways and getting kicked out of bars. Seriously, if anyone actually partied that hard then made an entire song about it, people would be like, “You maxed out your credit card? And went skinny dipping in… who knows what. You were in the middle of a city. Whatever it was, it was probably full of parasites and hepatitis. I hope no one else knows about this. Oh, you made a top 40 hit about it? So you’re broke and everyone knows you’re a drunken trollop? That’s cool.”

If this blog reads like I just looked around the room and wrote stuff down, it’s because I did. Now I’m off to go enjoy my Friday night… hopefully in a more dignified and sanitary manner than Katy Perry.

Sincerely,

H

 

Trusting your personal GPS

While I have a lot of trust issues with the GPS on my phone, my personal GPS (Goal Pursuing Strategy) has never let me down. (OK, I know that sounds cheesy, but stick with me here. I’m making a point.)

Sure, my GPS has taken me on some wild detours; but in hindsight, it’s always put me exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Just like the Global Positioning System, your personal GPS works much like a map. There’s a starting point, a destination, and directions for getting from point A to point B. Occasionally, your GPS will change your course due to external factors like traffic or construction. You’ll have to make pitstops along the way for the necessities, like a bathroom or sustenance. Sometimes, you might just pull over to stretch your legs or to take in the scenery. Maybe you’ll stop to help a stranded motorist. Maybe you’ll change your destination altogether. Lots of things can happen on the way to achieving your goals. My point is that no matter how many times your route changes or your ETA gets delayed, you have to stay on the ride.

For me, my goal of graduating from college has been filled with detours. I’ve even arrived at a few dead ends. When it was overwhelming and heartbreaking and felt like more than I could manage, I stayed the course. I trusted my GPS, and it never let me down. When I was truly lost, it brought me to my husband. When I was laid off, it guided me to my dream job with an amazing family of coworkers. Every time tragedy struck, my GPS was there with an alternate route to my goals. It wasn’t the route I planned, and most of the time it took a lot longer than I expected (like, a few years longer), but I’ve realized that the scenic route has way better perks.

A few tips for the road:

  • Be courteous and considerate of your fellow travelers. You never know who is sharing the road with you, what challenges they’ve faced or where their travels are taking them. Be kind, but do not let people mistake that kindness for weakness. Be classy, whether you’re nurturing a positive relationship or severing a toxic one.
  • One thing you will not usually find in your personal GPS is shortcuts (a.k.a. cheating). Just as the scenic route has its perks, shortcuts have their penalties. And the more desperate you are, the more tempting the shortcuts will be. Just remember that if you are not proud of the path you took, you cannot truly be proud of the destination you’ve reached.

So, my fellow travelers (especially my fellow graduates!), as you embark on your journey to greatness, I hope the driving conditions are always pleasant. I hope your traffic delays are minimal and the cops always let you off with a warning. I hope you embrace the alternative route and find wonderful surprises along the way. Most of all, no matter how impossible your dreams may seem, I hope you stay on the ride.

Sincerely,

Heather

Goin’ down to Chinatown

Dallas has noSapporo Ramen & Sushi shortage of fabulous restaurants, especially in East Dallas where we live. But when our friends from Austin came in town for the holiday, we promptly drove north to Chinatown.

Dallas’ Chinatown is not a huge community like those found in other major cities. This small retail area is located at 400 North Greenville Ave. where Dallas meets Richardson. It has a spectacular variety of Asian restaurants, including Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Korean, in addition to salons, a bookstore, a gift shop and an Asian grocery store.

Chinatown is home to my very favorite restaurant, Sapporo Ramen & Sushi. I always intend to order something new when we come here, but the ramen is just too delicious for deviation. I highly recommend the Chicken Katsu, Chung Hua and Chiang Pon. No matter which flavor I get, I always order the udon noodles; I just love the texture. And the owner/manager/sushi expert, Sean, is one of the coolest guys you will ever meet.Once, a group walked into the restaurant with a whole fresh fish, handed it off to the staff and waited patiently as Sean worked his magic. He later delivered the artfully carved fish along with an elaborate seafood display complete with sushi, caviar, ground ginger and all sorts of other goodies. Apparently Sean has quite a following among foodies, and other people who really know their stuff about Asian food consistently praise Sean for his knowledge and skill. Tonight I watched him work over a fish with a blow torch. It was mesmerizing. You gotta respect a man who has mad food skills, runs a top-notch restaurant and wears T-shirts from some of the best rock bands in history. Also, he gave us the most delicious melon-flavored ice cream bars the last time we had dinner there. Two other big pluses: Sapporo is BYOB, and the prices are insanely reasonable. The total bill for our party of four was $31. Yeah.

Another notable restaurant in this area is Jeng Chi, which serves traditional, authentic Chinese fare. Their dumplings are wonderful! They also have a display case near the entrance with tons of tempting pastries. Tonight we stopped in before dinner just to get one of their rolled cakes that looks like a ginormous Swiss cake roll. The cake is so light and fluffy; it’s almost like eating a sweet, creamy memory foam mattress. They come in vanilla, chocolate and coffee. The boys wanted chocolate. I did not protest.

Delivering the PR goods with HARO

In the PR world, we’re constantly working to score press coverage for our clients. This doesn’t exclusively mean articles about a client, but also having clients featured in articles as a source.

Help A Reporter Out, or HARO, delivers more than 100,000 sources with nearly 30,000 reporters and bloggers. It is currently one of the fastest-growing social media services in North America, attracting thousands of new members each week.

Since the website’s creation in 2008, HARO has facilitated more than 7 million media pitches, marketing and promoting nearly 1,500 brands to the media, small businesses and consumers.

Not only is HARO an effective way to pitch stories and promote businesses, the service is offered at a great value. Basic memberships are free for reporters and sources, and include media opportunities delivered to a source’s email three times a day. Standard, advanced and premium memberships are also available and offer additional features, like alerts for opportunities that meet a subscriber’s keyword preferences and profiles to help journalists identify a subscriber as a source for their story.

For PR professionals, HARO presents our clients with a golden opportunity to gain added visibility and exposure across multiple industries. HARO’s tagline, “Everyone is an expert at something,” also describes how clients (or “sources”) can build reputations as respected thought leaders in their fields.

HARO creator Peter Shankman is recognized for developing new ways of thinking about strategic communications. The former Senior News Editor for America Online knows a thing or two about the stress of being a reporter. As newsrooms shrink and reporters’ jobs become increasingly demanding, HARO has now become the go-to resource for reporters who are looking for sources on deadline.

Predictions for PR of the Future

Crystal ball

One of the scariest and most exciting things for any professional to consider is where their industry is going. For PR professionals, the answer will always involve a razor-sharp focus on developing technology and audiences.

According to Jim Weiss, PR of the future will shift its focus from earned and unpaid media to a variety of digital and mobile vehicles that will offer incredibly precise information about the target audiences. Additionally, these audiences will not be segmented by demographics as much as they will be targeted by conversation topic.

In the age of new media and big data, analytical information for audiences will become increasingly precise and multi-dimensional, allowing professionals to not only target audiences but also those who are driving conversations. PR professionals of the future will also have the ability to determine what information these conversation drivers are seeking and deliver this information with unprecedented speed, accuracy and agility.

Michael Sebastian’s report from South by Southwest in 2011 mirrored many of Weiss’ major points, indicating that PR will occur on a smaller, more focused scale with an increased emphasis on conversation topics and a decreased emphasis on demographics. Additionally, the report states that the customer service element, which has always been related to PR efforts, will become increasingly important. This is especially true as the industry becomes more proactive in shaping the perception of brands.

Another point shared by both articles is the necessity of social media training for organizations as well as individuals. Successful organizations will have social media guidelines that are flexible enough to adapt to the ever-changing best practices for the medium. These guidelines should allow professionals to exercise sound judgment while adapting to new and rapidly-changing technology.

Some criticism of these ideas claims that although these are sound predictions for consumer brands, B2B public relations has not been as quick to evolve and may be behind the curve. If this is true, PR professionals should be observant of changes throughout the industry to apply as B2B communications play catch up.

Fake business reviews: the bad boob jobs of social media

mannequinWhat do strippers and online reviews have in common?

Answer: they both use “enhancements” to create a fake image and dupe people out of money.

Businesses are getting wise to power of online reviews in consumers’ purchasing decisions. In an effort to add to their bottom lines, some businesses have adopted the practice of posting fake reviews for themselves and their competitors.

Technology-research company Gartner reports that the number of fake reviews will rise to roughly 10 to 15 percent over the next two years.

Not only is the deceptive nature of this practice unethical, but it also undermines the influence that social media has as whole. Once consumers realize that the “word-of-mouth” referrals are more like paid advertisements, the medium loses its credibility and power.

There appear to be degrees of false online reviews. Instead of fabricating online reviews, some companies offer incentives for positive feedback. By bribing customers with discounts or other rewards, companies are able to inflate positive reviews and drown out negative reviews.

It’s also important to note that not all fake reviews are positive. Some companies create negative reviews for their competitors in hopes of stealing business away from them.

Hurtzler 571B banana slicerReviews for Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some fake reviews are even humorous. For example, the reviews for the Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer on Amazon.com are meant to poke fun at an innocent kitchen gadget designed to create perfectly even banana slices. The reviews appear to be positive even though they are completely sarcastic. It doesn’t appear that the company is behind these (especially since they are thinly veiled jabs at the product and the company), but, just as in cosmetic procedures, even the best fakes can’t beat the real thing.

In the case of the Hutzler Banana Slicer, the humorous fake reviews probably do more good for the company than harm. But for companies who are victims of fake negative reviews, what action can be taken to clear their names?

According to Greg Beaubien’s article for PRSA, some companies are playing defense by seeking out fake negative reviews and taking legal steps to remove them.

Gartner reports that some companies will likely face litigation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Furthermore, Beaubien’s article states that the FTC determined in 2009 that “paying for positive reviews without disclosure equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such.”

In addition to fines and legal fees, companies that are busted posting fake reviews will also face hefty public condemnation that will likely result in reduced profitability.

Long story short: honesty is the best policy, especially when it comes to online reviews.

Blogs: cure for the common press release


blog wordcloud

Journalistics co-founder and editor Jeremy Porter recently posed the question, “Are blog posts better than press releases?” He argues that press releases take more time and effort to produce and distribute. He also challenges the return on investment from press releases and social media releases. Porter proposes that a company news blog is a more manageable, controlled and effective way to create buzz and communicate with a business’ audiences, including the media.

But this is not an entirely new concept. Professionals began predicting the extinction of press releases as early as 2005. Many have denounced press releases for the tremendous amount of time, effort and expense they demand and the questionable amount of benefit they actually deliver.

A company news blog, on the other hand, replaces the archive of press releases in a company’s online pressroom with timely, easily distributed posts with the same relevant information presented in a more engaging and concise way.

The other major benefit to this approach is how the distribution of a company’s news is seamlessly intertwined with social media. News can be shared through a Tweet, a Facebook post or instantly delivered to a subscriber’s email address the moment it’s published. Not only can the company share its latest headlines with its audiences, but audience members can quickly and easily share this information with others.

Porter suggests that one of the most important things for a company to do before making the switch is to alert all of its media contacts to the changes.

Since blog posts are easier to create and are updated more frequently than press releases, planning news content ahead of time is crucial. Instead of forcing news, Porter urges companies to get creative. News shared on a company’s blog can include hard-hitting news stories or a monthly post from the CEO; as long as the post contains information that is relevant and beneficial to the company’s key audiences.

Consolidating the archive of press releases with the new platform is also crucial. This will help make older information easier to find and boost the blog’s search engine rankings.

Many B2B communication professionals argue that press releases are as effective today as they have ever been. The idea of replacing news releases with a company blog has also drawn criticism from those who consider this to be a shortcut or “magic pill” for getting good publicity.

The digital age may not put the press release out to pasture any time soon, but as time and financial constraints get tighter and integration with social media becomes more necessary, an increasing number of professionals are using blogs as a viable predecessor to the old PR staple.

Which clients would you recommend use a news blog instead of press releases? Do you think this is a viable option for businesses and PR professionals? How else might this affect the communication field as we know it?

Fifty Shades of Grey Poupon

With all the scandalous behavior occurring on Facebook these days, it’s nice to see one company is working to preserve good taste.

Grey Poupon, the company behind those delightful commercials in the 80s finally launched its Facebook page on Sept. 12. While most brands are scrambling to engage with as many people as possible (and not even using a condiment!), Grey Poupon is taking an refreshingly elitist approach to social networking with The Society of Good Taste.

This app on the company’s Facebook page actually screens an “applicant’s” account for signs of good taste and a “discerning palate.” Any applicants who are turned down will have their “like” rescinded (and may consider deleting all those awful cell-phone-mirror pictures).

Once you begin the application process, the app collects information about your friends, where you live, activities and interests, education and what you share on Facebook. There’s even an adorable Flash presentation that shows the judging process and the applicant’s fate.

In the name of research (and a natural desire to know if I cut the mustard), I submitted my application to the Society of Good Taste. Thanks to my busy social life (i.e. blogging on a Friday night) and many well-to-do friends (most of whom should have been screened this rigorously), I scored in the 66th percentile. Yes, I’m basically a Facebook aristocrat now.

As an acknowledgment of my social status, Grey Poupon already hooked me up with a free reusable shopping bag. Sure, I had to give all my contact information and give the Society of Good Taste free reign of my account, but I feel like that’s a fair trade. I mean, it’s a really cute reusable shopping bag.

Some have criticized this campaign, but that’s probably because they didn’t make the cut. The company’s Facebook page is lousy with jaded commenters and pledges to switch to “that other Dijon mustard.” However, in just two days the page has received more than 30,000 likes and press coverage from nearly every major news outlet, including trade publications like AdAge and Marketing Week.

All joking (and puns) aside, this campaign has everyone talking. And, pardon me, but isn’t that really what counts?

But, of course.

Older vs. Younger

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I haven’t dwelled much upon what my entering the workforce means for those already established in the field. A PR and communication professional group on LinkedIn recently posted the question, “Would you hire someone over 45?”

AP Style violation aside (“older than” not “over”), this post brought up a lot of interesting points. With the economy still not fully recovered, some companies are cutting staff, salaries and benefits to replace older employees with college graduates. Their logic is that the younger generation is cheaper to hire but has the same or more relevant and valuable skills.

Naturally, those who have been in the field for a long time are very critical of this approach. One group member criticized that while the youngsters may have mastered communicating via computers, they lack the “experience, talent, fortitude, common sense and basic skills” that an employer expects.

I find this criticism especially harsh (obviously, this person hasn’t worked with any UNT alumnae), but I think the underlying argument has some merit. No amount of classroom training can replace years of real-world experience.

I also feel that this statement is incredibly hypocritical. This person criticizes companies for assuming that older PR professionals have become obsolete, yet she assumes that all budding professionals are incompetent and incapable.

In our defense, what my generation lacks in real-world experience, we make up for with a strong understanding of emerging technology and textbook PR. We also offer a fresh, new perspective on a company’s existing processes and challenges. And as for real-word experience, most graduates have completed internships.

It’s unfortunate that any company would compromise their public perception just to save money. I certainly agree that someone with limited professional experience is unlikely to completely replace a seasoned veteran. Ironically, I think a company that uses this approach as a cost-saving measure will ultimately see their bottom lines suffer.