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Managing Non-Profits Through Pandemic Times

I’ve had the honor to serve on several non-profit boards for causes I care deeply about, but it has been during this pandemic that I have found myself more deeply connected to the cause of the YWCA. I’ve been a board member of YWCA Greater Austin since 2018. At our board planning retreat last year, my colleagues elected me to chair the Fund Development Committee. Not so sure anyone else wanted it – but I was genuinely honored and up for accepting the challenge. The timing felt right as I had wanted to amplify my non-profit work with hands on fund development experience. 

Who could have foreseen that in less than three months we would be here? Fund development during a global pandemic? As the saying goes, timing is everything… 

Three months into flatten the curve, shelter in place, here’s what I am seeing so far. Because of the volatility, our priority path has been to take a short-term view of the organization’s funding needs and to focus on best case outcome opportunities. Fund development for a non-profit entity in normal times is critical to the livelihood of any organization. We are responsible for ensuring the organization has the financial resources to realize the mission and enact the vision. Layer on a global pandemic, even for someone hardwired to take on challenges, it has been a continuum of exhilarating highs and exhausting lows. 

The challenges have forced me to jump in and to problem solve in creative ways that have somewhat upended what I considered traditional lines between staff and board member roles. Not to mislead, ours has always been a working board – no posturing, no VIP lane – we have always been a working board, but this pandemic has forced all of us out of our comfort. Board work during pandemic times is not for everyone.  

However, it has not been all stress and panic. The surprising, positive outcome?  Bearing witness to the quite literal heroic efforts of the staff making sure Austin’s longest and inarguably most impactful social services agency, continues to deliver on its mission to empower women and girls and to fight for equal rights and social justice. In a perverse way Covid-19 has validated the very existence of social services organizations such as the YWCA by laying bare and exposing even more clearly the social and economic inequities in our system that have always existed. “Covid-19 represents a new and additional disparity that sits atop the already existing mental health and social justice issues that have been at the heart of our (YWCA) organizational mission for over 100 years,” stated CEO, Executive Director YWCA Greater Austin, Naya Diaz. See the full story behind this quote at the organization’s official Covid-19 response, “An Update From Your Greater Austin YWCA.”

When we talk about “additional disparity” we are looking at a complex web of societal and institutional inequities that are so baked into our institutions and societal norms that many of us may not even question their very existence. Shortly after doing the fact finding needed to communicate the agency’s initial Covid-19 response, I came upon this New York Times article, “A Terrible Price: The Deadly Racial Disparities of Covid-19 in America.” When I read this comment from the current president of the United States, “Why is it that the African American community is so much, you know, numerous times more than everybody else?” I paused. Well, at least he asked the question. 

According to this story, the reasons are complex and deeply multi-faceted: “The conditions in the social and physical environment where people live, work, attend school, play and pray have an outsize influence on health outcomes. Those in the public-health field call these conditions social determinants of health.” This is exactly why non-profits exist – to meet the tremendous gaps in our social construct wherein the private sector cannot adequately address these disparities. 

Social determinants are not a new concept for the team at the YWCA. Deploying culturally and linguistically sensitive therapies and trainings is the hallmark of the YWCA Greater Austin’s approach to healing the most vulnerable in our community. In fact, they have been recognized nationally by YWCA USA as leaders in the field.  According to YWCA Director of Clinical Services,  Laura Gomez-Horton, LCSW, “We view all of the women and families we serve through a lens of oppression.  What does that mean? Rather than seeing the person as the problem, we ask: What have they experienced?  What social determinants need to be considered with regards to this person’s mental health?”

Very few organizations can claim the deep historical footprint of progressive social change of the YWCA, an organization  with over 200 affiliates deeply embedded in communities all over the country. This model makes their reach and impact possibly unparalleled in the world of economic empowerment for women and girls, social justice and elimination of racism. Here in the Southwest region alone there are nine (9) YWCA affiliates which includes Greater Austin. All affiliates share the same mission – empowering women and eliminating racism – with each location developing their programmatic strategies and priorities based on the needs of their community. 

YWCA Greater Austin has been an integral part of the fabric of Austin’s community, leading at the forefront of the most pressing societal issues since the early 1900’s. Being ready and able to address the many impacts in our community from this global pandemic is why this organization exists.

When the city wide shelter in place mandate was instituted in early March 2020, YWCA very quickly made the difficult transition to all-remote work. Easy enough for a high-tech company, but for a social service agency that serves the community primarily via face to face counseling, care coordination and training services? The logistical and operational challenges were intense, while at same time having to “answer the phones” to ensure they remained responsive to the many needs of the community they have always served. 

While the agency has been on the front lines of this pandemic, providing mental health services and support to already marginalized communities throughout the eight (8) counties in and around Austin, their financial health has been at times in jeopardy as they are largely reliant on Travis County, City of Austin and Office of the Governor contracts. Technically these are termed awarded “grants” but they are in essence contracts for services with very specific guidelines and benchmarks to meet. As the state and the city have struggled to enact emergency measures, agencies with contracts have been living a day to day game of Whack-A-Mole securing one essential source of grant funding then learning another grant renewal is in jeopardy.

During the past three months I have become more integrated with the agency’s day to day operations in addition to the short and long-term finances and fund development pipeline.  Working alongside our incredible CEO, Executive Director, Naya Diaz and key members of her staff that oversee fund development, government contracts, and the clinical team. I have learned the importance of really listening, asking the right questions and conducting timely next steps with the right subject matter experts. I have loved learning the language of equity, justice and equal rights from these incredible women with deep expertise in social justice work. 

Over a recent Zoom, I asked Naya Diaz to take a moment to share her experience as the executive director overseeing the organization’s transition.

When did you know this crisis was real? “Within a week of shutting down our physical office and everyone working from home we saw a dramatic spike in calls from our current clients as well as lots of new people seeking help. We began hearing from families and their children about what was happening to them.”

What was one of the first needs that you identified as a result of the coronavirus? “We learned that several agencies here in town had shuttered their services completely and / or eliminated their help/crisis lines. As a result, many of those calls started coming into us. Because of the dramatic increase in calls and the broader range of needs of those callers, I quickly saw the need for us to develop a centralized warm line. A warm line is an alternative to a crisis line that is run by trained and experienced peersUnlike a crisis line, a warm line operator is there to hold space for those going through a crisis such as suicidal or self-harming thoughts or behaviors. Trained peer support specialists can get them to someone who can handle this level of crisis.”

What is one surprising and positive impact as a result of this? “Even though I had to focus very quickly on the operational challenges of getting our telemedicine and training services running at full capacity, the one thing that stood out was that everyone on our staff just understood that we all had to step up and be problem solvers in a way that we had never had to be. Our team already worked very well together – but this situation made me really see everyone’s strengths very quickly. Each person took on an even higher level of ownership and accountability. As mental health providers, we don’t have the Hippocratic oath, but we don’t need one. We instinctively understand what we signed up for. Many of us are women, women of color. We are the lived experience of women supporting women.”

As the mother of three teenage daughters, I am feeling right at home living this language of inclusion and empowerment. It’s a scary time thinking about the world my children will inherit. But knowing that there are incredibly smart, dedicated and passionate women working together to make our communities stronger and more inclusive, gives me hope. As a member of a non-profit working board, we get to do more than just hope. I know that collectively, we are all making a difference.

Learning to Shelter-in-Place

I have often felt a sense of disconnect with my inner sense of self and reconciling the obvious reality of being a suburban mom. In my mind, I’m still a somewhat cool wife and mom, juggling  a career, living and working in a bustling, crowded and chaotic city. My reality – I am a wife and a mother to three daughters, living in the rolling suburbs of Austin, Texas. 

Although it has been 13 years since my husband and I moved our young family from San Francisco to Austin – it has taken a protracted global pandemic, shelter-in-place mandate – for me to fully appreciate the true beauty and value of being right where I am. 

We are now four months into Austin’s city-wide shelter-in-place, which for our family officially began on March 19, 2020 when we all returned from our shortened spring break travels. Time has taken on the quality of an endless summer day.Thinking back to the beginning when we made the decision on March 11th to move forward with our family’s spring break travel plans feels akin to a lifetime ago. We could not have forseen that within days of making that decision – with all three of my children in different cities across the country –  we would be cringing with literal embarrassment over our parental decision-making. Despite our school district making an 11th hour decision to cancel all school sanctioned group travel, we still sent our oldest daughter to Florida’s Disney World with many of the members of her high school dance team; we sent our middle daughter halfway across the country on a ski trip to Colorado with friends; and my husband and I flew with our youngest daughter to Florida to enjoy the beautiful coastal communities and most importantly to meet our new baby nephew. 

As the realities of this worldwide pandemic, Covid-19, shelter-in-place magnified, I found myself ruefully laughing at the thought that this is possibly the only time suburban living may possibly elicit a sense of envy from my urban friends. The “bubble” literally and figuratively of living in the suburbs has felt like + positive for the first time. The wide-open spaces, relative lack of congestion of people and space makes this an almost perfect shelter from a deadly, quickly spreading, highly contagious viral infection that is at its most lethal when introduced into densely populated environments. 

The irony of course is that what I miss most about living in a big city is that feeling of being most at home when lost in a crowd. Even if I didn’t interact or make eye contact, just being a part of the bustle, shoulder to shoulder among so many people, from all walks of life, backgrounds and ethnicities and where being Asian, being Korean, did not make me at all special – is exactly what I loved most about living in San Francisco and before that Seattle. 

Now that we have mostly settled into what feels like our new normal, notwithstanding an underlying layer of persistent privileged survivor’s guilt, I finally feel able to acknowledge and to appreciate just how thick the insulation has been and how much protection it has provided for my family as the worst ravages and impacts of Covid-19 have caused barely a ripple in our day to day existence. 

It is not until I read the news, watch endless videos, live updates and talk to our friends living in the densely populated big cities, that I am reminded how precipitous life is and how uncertain our world has become. 

While I will never, ever drive a minivan, I appreciate the comfort and camaraderie of our sweet suburban community and I am deeply grateful that my family has been spared the ravages of Covid-19, and for now, we are safely riding out this exceptional and unprecedented time in the safety and security of our home.

Shelter-in-Place Positives: reading books, listening to audiobooks, cooking with new recipes, diy ginger lemon cayenne shots, economy of grocery shopping, using what we have, morning yoga, baking, family dinners, sister bonding, renewal of friendships past and present, more conversations, and deeper mindfulness.

 

Show Me the Money

With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I want to share my decision to transition my professional career to the non-profit world. This represents a seminal moment as I am the product of the go big or go home 80’s and 90’s. For me, career success defined me as a person. In the spirit of being real, my success was narrowly defined by title and salary. While I had friends that chose to pursue careers in social work or teaching, I admired them but at the same time I could not fathom making that same choice. Late to the game, but I’m now understanding that a professional life can mean real world impact that measures more than profit and loss. While I come to this with some insights and transferable skills, I also know I have much to learn, and that’s honestly the best part.

Perseverance, luck and some skills enabled me to enjoy an incredible and rewarding career as a communications/ PR professional in the private sector. I am now ready to use my ‘powers’ for the social good focused on broader issues around empowerment of women and girls and within that framework, social justice. 

Although a career in retail PR doesn’t necessarily translate into big salary, it was my entry point for falling in love with the profession. Retail is an ever-changing landscape of consumer sentiment, new seasons, new products, and multiple influencer audiences. By 2001 during the dot-com days in the Bay Area, when I switched over to technology, I was earning a three-figure salary, bonus, and stock options. After the bubble burst, I returned to retail PR. By that time, I had enough gravitas and experience to land a coveted executive level, director role at Williams Sonoma, Inc. overseeing a PR team for several of the company’s younger brands. After a decade in the city, a marriage and a third baby on the way, we moved to family friendly Austin, Texas. I then switched gears from being a PR insider to a consultant. 

Dial forward today. A lot has happened. On a national scale, #MeToo has disrupted our sense of institutional power structures and the people, primarily men who are the collective gatekeepers when women have tried to come forward. It has done much to evolve my own thinking in terms of speaking out and being less willing to be complacent. On a personal level, the tipping point for this seismic shift was actually three concurrent, but unrelated events. 

The first, as a mother of three school age daughters, over the years I have lobbied our local public school district on issues ranging from anachronistic and gender shaming dress codes to equitable funding for boys’ and girls’ programs. With each of these inquiries, the outcome has quite literally been in the hands of a man. After one particularity frustrating exchange of mansplaining and quite literal obfuscation after months of lobbying, hearings, and a letter campaign with zero impact – I felt unheard and unable to affect positive change. It’s telling that even in the public education space, that is dominated by WOMEN at every level except the executive suite – when it comes to leadership positions they are invariably held by men. Why is that? With each query on behalf of issues of equity and fairness for girls, once I made it through the first levels of contact, the highest level of decision making power was always held by a man. Seeing that men hold the seat of power in this arena came as news to me. However, I sense the majority of women in public education would not find this to be a newsworthy fact. 

At the same time, Melinda Gates made a significant announcement, Melinda Gates 1Billion fund to promote gender equality. The goal of this new fund is to make financial investments in innovative impact making, non-profit organizations working to elevate women and women’s causes specific to leadership. This quote from Gates struck me as so timely and salient, “For most of our history, women’s absence from positions of power and influence wasn’t newsworthy; it was normal. The fact we’re now talking about these inequities is itself a sign of progress.” Reading about this effort to start putting real money behind women’s empowerment made me realize that as a PR professional, I have been connecting my clients / companies to their most important stakeholders my entire career. Who better to prospect, identify and close a deal than a PR veteran? We’re like salespeople, but with better communication skills. PR pros that survive in the business long term, naturally develop a thick skin. We rarely hear a no that can’t become a yes. Natural optimism? Not really. We’re just determined. Often we win over our audiences by both educating and romancing the multiple third party influencers to convince them that our story/product/issue is worth paying attention to.

The third event was a keynote at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. YWCA USA CEO, Alejandra Castillo was the speaker. In her speech she talked about the critical need to raise money, not just a few thousand or even hundred thousand but real money, in the millions from large tech companies and private foundations. The decision makers at these corporate and private foundations? Yup, men. Castillo spoke of the need for us, for women to learn to speak the language of big money and to effectively make these large asks by getting women into these historically all men’s clubs of big money and making those connections and speaking the language of these large patron donors.

As an active board member for YWCA Greater Austin (current), Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation (former VP Marketing), and others, the common thread across all sectors and all organizations is the need for long term, strategic, fund development. Often in even the larger, well-known non-profits, fund development gets short shrift and yet it is the single most critical piece of the puzzle

With all of the skills honed from a career in the private sector in consulting and in-house for large corporate entities to start-ups, targeted, relevant story-telling, building relationships, identifying key decision makers and closing deals that enables everyone to walk away with a win – who better than me to connect the money to the causes that need them?  

Wish me luck as I will be actively seeking Fund Development opportunities with large national or even global non-profit organizations i.e. non-profits that have the scale to invest in me. I will continue my volunteer work as a board member, but our family of five still needs my W2, even if it will no longer define me as a person nor be reflective of my whole value.

Applause Applause Applause

Well, it’s been four years since my last blog. Not for a lack of life moments worthy of sharing, said the mother of three. Rather than try and play catch-up, I will just share my latest with a small slice of perspective.

I recently completed my third half marathon when I ran the 3M Half on January 20, 2019. Even if you are a seasoned athlete or a weekend runner, it is significant and worthy each time you put yourselves out there to compete in public, in front of family, friends and strangers.

For me, the first year I ran the 3M Half in 2017, I had never run a race, ever, not even a 5k. To finish that race was truly a highlight moment in my life. I remember being so nervous before the race. The second year, I was nervous too but I had some confidence as I had proven to myself that I could in fact run 13.1 miles, in a row, without stopping.

This year, I had some injuries leading up to the race (plantar fasciitis) but overall healthy and strong. My training run times were slower than the previous year’s. I knew I would finish, but kind of assumed my overall time would be slower. But when I finished the race with a PR (personal record) of 1:53:55 I felt really good.

Even before I looked up my official race time, I said to myself, “I can do better.” Universe willing, I will run this race every January, even though the sense of accomplishment changes and maybe diminishes somewhat with each completion. I will run this race because my daughters are watching. As the grateful but really busy parent of three wonderfully achieving student athletes – my ‘little’ race is the one time a year when my husband and my daughters stand on the sidelines and cheer me on. “Go mommy” has never sounded so good.

This was probably taken just before I crossed the finish.
Post-race brunch with my crew at one of our faves – Elizabeth Street Cafe.

Made in Austin

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When we were thinking about what kind of opening party we wanted, the idea to make it a Made In Austin themed event was an easy one. Five Two SQ Integrated PR was born in Austin (New Integrated PR Agency, Five Two SQ Opens its Doors in Austin, Texas). Not by birthright, but I have grown into my Austin-ness over the past eight years. Our community of business partners, clients, influencers and most importantly, our friends represent the core of what makes this town great: people who work smart and also know when to chill, we enjoy the culinary and music scene and then we walk, run, hike it off and get ready to do it all again another day. We like to meet, in person, face to face. We like to share resources and ideas. We root for each other. We celebrate each of our successes. And, we say “welcome to Austin” when we meet newcomers. Toto, we are not in San Francisco anymore. I was excited to finally host my official opening party in our beautiful space in downtown Austin. I knew it was the ‘home’ for Five Two the moment I walked in. I have enjoyed the proverbial corner office, as well as the corporate cubicle – I was done with all forms of traditional office space. So the minute I walked into the warm natural light and Edwardian style architecture, of what was surely someone’s private residence before it became a part of the downtown office space, I knew I was “home.” For Five Two, I wanted a space that I could re-imagine as my own, modern elements and contemporary style, but with functional office needs in mind. While the decision to move in was very quick, the settling into and actual “move in” took much longer. But after six plus months, we were ready to officially open our doors and share the space we created. Before we get into the party details, what’s an opening party without a branded swag bag? So, we reached out to our same Austin friends, colleagues, past and current clients and asked them if they wanted to participate in our gift bag.

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As you can see, the who’s who and what’s what of the best media, the best in beauty, spa, eco lifestyle and specialty foods – all Made in Austin brands were present. We love you – BlueAvocado, Eliza Page, Kohana Coffee, Milk + Honey, Oatmega Bars, RAE Cosmetics, Sikara & Co, Society Diaries, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Tiny Taiga. And the party? With local hot spot Contigo Catering providing the nibbles and Daily Juice Austin‘s addictive Mr. Resistor super energizing organic shot of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and ginger – this was not going to be your ordinary get out the Titos party. Last but not least, our former client and now friend, Paige Davis of Soul Sparks was on hand to ground us with a thoughtful and spot on mini mediation to mark the evening’s intent and to capture all of the positive energy in the room. And that, my friend, was our Made in Austin opening party for Five Two SQ.

PR Lessons Translated For Product Marketers

Know Your Audience and Tailor the Offering

Just read a great story “Biting Off the High End of the Market,” an interview with the founder of Jax & Bones, a made in the USA manufacturer of high-end pet products (Disclaimer, I am also a customer of their tres chic doggy beds courtesy of our nap-loving little Doxie, Stella!).

Having been on the inside at some of the coveted retailers that many of these brands are vying to get in front of, I can tell you that founder and CEO Nguyen’s insights ring true. These retailers understand that part of their allure and longevity rest with their ability to constantly delight and offer new “finds” along with the tried and true quality products their loyal customers expect. But at the same time, these retailers don’t want to offer up the same packaged consumer products that can be found at competing retailers.

What’s a young consumer brand to do? To begin the conversation, you must have a great quality product – period. If you control the manufacturing, even better. You are the master of your domain; you can more easily customize the offering, control the quality, and move quickly to meet changes in the market.

Leverage your strengths and market to each retailer in a unique way that speaks to their brand and to their customer. It’s a premium to these top-tier retail brand’s customers to “discover” new brands from their favorite stores versus an offering that is generic, “XYZ” retailer brand.

I am not just the founder of a premium brand building PR agency; I am also a shopper. I joke that I’m a ‘marketer’s dream.’ I’m very loyal, but always happy to try something new. I’m discerning and demanding but I always spread the word when I find something truly good. Love my fave retail brands from Neiman’s to Williams Sonoma and online, everyone from Amazon (Prime – hello!) to One Kings Lane to Minted, but I am loyal and shop these brands because I trust they curate the best in their respective categories. There ‘s a trust and implicit endorsement with every product they offer. “If a retailer I love offers a new product brand, I know that it’s good unless proven otherwise.”

Back to why I liked this Inc. Insights story. Founder and CEO Nguyen’s advice gleaned from working with the likes of Pottery Barn and Barney’s New York rings true for those of us in the retail, brand-building PR world, “We pay attention to their brand and match our design to their aesthetics.” Amen. Know your target (audience) and tailor your message. Could not have said it better myself.

Here’s to another year of growth, discovery and fun!

xo,

Kimberly

What Makes You Smile?

Imagine asking this question to some of the most iconic, celebrated, and successful names in NFL history: Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott, Roy Green, Jonathan Ogden, Eric Dickerson and Greg Lloyd. Well, I recently sat down and interviewed them for the making of a launch video. Be jealous, it was a surreal, pinch me moment. These amazing professional athletes were all charming, gracious and perfectly willing to help us film the story. Um, Mr. Marcus Allen can you repeat that line, but this time, with more of a smile?

How did this happen? Our client, Smile Brands Group, a national dental services organization has a wonderful foundation, Smiles For Everyone, a 501C3 charitable organization that has been giving free dental care to those in need, living in the most impoverished countries all over the world. The foundation had set a goal to deliver the same FREE dental care to underprivileged youth right here at home.

With the help of Monarch Dental offices in Dallas, and the individual members of the NFLPA Dallas chapter, a completely new project to address this need was born, Healthy Huddle Community Smile Project.

Why youth?

In the process of researching the dental care space and youth health, we were surprised to learn that 25 percent of the nation’s children have nearly 80 percent of the cavities (aapd.org/FastFacts). Clearly self esteem, good health and ability to smile go hand in hand.

And football is as American as, well, apple pie. Who better to deliver the message about good dental care than these sports heroes?

Check out the video and let me know what you think. When I watch this, seeing these football greats smiling, I know they’re smiling at me 🙂 .

Interview with Roy Green
Interview with Roy Green

We showed it for the first time to Dallas area media and the members of the Dallas chapter of the NFLPA at a recent launch event.

I’ll post a VLOG later that will show you some of the back story in the making of this video. Enjoy!

Press Tour Secrets

I’ve booked, staffed and supported media desk sides, also known as press tours throughout my PR career which has included many big, well known brands such as Williams Sonoma and west elm and many small companies who enjoy a national market presence and have a distribution strategy in place but they lack broad based, national consumer awareness as a brand.

So, for the larger, well known brands, media desk provide an ongoing platform for them to tell they’re seasonal and product story with the goal of maintaining a presence, relevance among top consumer media. For the smaller, lesser known companies, media desk side tours provide an opportunity to introduce an unknown company, to tell their story and to show their most interesting and newsworthy products and services in the hopes of garnering awareness, influencers among the top tier media leading to coveted third party media endorsements.

In this first video blog post of what I hope to be a series of ongoing video shorts, I am going to share with you my top insights and key tips to help you maximize your investment of time and money when considering a NYC media desk side tour!

Video Blog Post:

Press Tour Secrets (video transcript)

  1. Book meetings in clusters by publisher. Most of the top publishers, Conde Nast, Time, Inc. Hearst, Meredith Corporation, have their world Headquarters in New York City where the majority of their media titles editorial staff sit under one roof. Knowing this and booking accordingly will save you time and stress. Trust me.
  2. Two words: Car Service. Build this into the budget when building out costs. Your stiletto loving feet will thank you.
  3. Desk side does not have to be at a desk. Lunch and HH meetings are a great way to meet with the many freelance writers and bloggers that do not work in a traditional office. Everyone needs to eat and seriously who doesn’t like happy hour?
  4. This is your 15 minutes. These folks are popular. Against many odds, you won this meeting against hundreds, possibly thousands of other companies. You have 15 minutes (actually more like 12, to tell your story). Be prepared and go for it. But keep it short and to the point.
  5. Designate a note taker. Not super sexy but this is key. During your 15 minutes, there should be a lot of engagement, information, ideas, and opportunities happening. Have one person who is clearly not the spokesperson or CEO, take copious notes at each and every meeting. That way when you get back to your hotel you can review and priorities all the next steps. This is what you came here for. Do not miss out because you forgot an important detail or failed to follow-up on a key question or deliverable.

PR is not rocket science but the results can be magical. Thanks for watching.

Milestones in Parenting, Part One

Nothing like a hard deadline to kill lingering, steadfast procrastination. In advance of next week’s showing of the health video, “introduction to puberty” to the 4th grade student body, I had “the talk” with my ten-year old daughter. Spoiler alert – mission accomplished. We have enjoyed the successful launch, Introduction to Puberty to our firstborn, eldest of three daughters. Even if you are not a parent of pre-teens, we can all remember the confusing and exciting transition from grade school child to awkward, pimple popping young adult. This is big.

Being a PR professional I had prepped my audience, aka my 4th grader by supplying her with key messages, enticingly delivered in bright colors and cute images of diverse looking girls as seen on the cover of The Care & Keeping of YOU, by American Girl. My original strategy was to enjoy mother daughter time reading the book together. However, my target audience rejected this outreach.

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I left the launch materials with the target and I circled back at a later time with follow-up. I was informed that the book had indeed been read with her best friend. Initial response to messaging? I was informed it was kind of gross and, well yucky and embarrassing. Key messages delivered and noted additional in-person pitching would be necessary to secure successful launch.

Next step was to create an attractive, can’t say no event opportunity for the target audience, a food loving, shopping obsessed, pre-teen girl. The event? Lunch and shopping at nearby shopping mall with a Nordstrom café and a kid’s Abercrombie. Event accepted.

During a lunch of lobster bisque (my daughter) and shrimp salad (me) we started the event with small talk, a few word games and some friendly tic tac toe found on the back of our Nordstrom kid’s menu. Once my target audience seemed at ease and enjoying her lunch, I began the “pitch” with a few easy questions designed to warm my target to the full launch. “Did she read the whole book, were there any chapters that she found particularity useful or interesting?” Not much response here. I needed to be more direct. I kept to the scripted key messages from the book. Why reinvent the wheel? I dove right into some of the physical changes that would happen.

Although my target had confirmed that she read all of the key messages enclosed in the book, experience has taught me to never assume that the messages are read and remembered.

Often when delivering a critical pitch, it’s difficult to tell if the target audience is engaging and buying into the story. As a communications professional, I’ve honed this skill over time and I have learned to ask questions and to listen for when the target seems responsive to any of the key points. In this case I had a winner with hormones.

The introduction of hormones was prefaced with the idea that while there are many obvious physical changes we can see during puberty, there are also changes that we cannot see, such as hormones. While we cannot see hormones, their presence is just as real and just as important to recognize. I mentioned that there would be times when emotions will be extreme. Laughing one moment and crying the next. Often without a reason. My target aka, my daughter responded to this by telling me about a recent episode during math class. She had a paper cut, it didn’t really hurt but suddenly she was sobbing over long division. At the time she dismissed this uncharacteristic outburst of emotion (Did I mention my ten year old daughter is not particularly expressive? Stoic and reserved come to mind). A connection was had. Recognition gleaned in her eyes. I felt like a rock star.

For long-term success of the launch of a new concept, my work is not done. The initial launch was a success. I will need to continue engaging with my target audience, providing updates to the information and repeating the key messages. My hope is that my target audience and I will enjoy a lifetime of engagement, experiencing each new milestone, together. Call me a happy mom. Big exhale and “phew!”

Why Hire an Agency… When You Already Know What to Do?

Whyhire

During one of several recent potential new client meetings, as I listened to a successful business owner tell me over and over again, “Yes, yes we already know what to do, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do it” I wanted to smile, but of course I didn’t.

It is true that bandwidth is always an issue, especially for start-ups or solo entrepreneurs feeding and fueling their vision. However I will argue that selecting an outside agency should amount to more than hiring “arms and legs.” If aligned, you are embarking on a relationship with a key stakeholder and business partner that will help you define and grow your business.

First of all let me dispel the notion that (the good) agencies or solo PR practitioners are in business to simply bill hours. This is not the case among successful people in our field.

We are vested in your growth and success. Your wins are a reflection and proof point of our success and our skill as PR professionals. In the consulting space, we cannot push a button; we cannot “increase production” of our services without increasing our hard costs and our investment into our business by hiring additional talented people. When the client falls short of success for whatever reasons, the agency partner is almost always the first to feel the bottom line impact.

So, agencies and practitioners cannot afford to make investments and enter into service for clients with whom we cannot envision succeeding.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, following are some tips for managing your relationship with your PR agency for maximum return on investment:

  1. Communicate + Be Honest

We know your days move at lightning speed. For most young companies, this is the norm. Take the time to share what’s happening with us. Knowledge is powerful in our hands. We know some things are not going to stick but be sure to tell us what’s confirmed and what’s in your pipeline going forward. We can continue our focused execution on what you have today but we can also start laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s success.

  1. Understand Roles

As our client contact, your day-to-day looks very different from ours. We know you need to focus on your business and continue making it happen. You have internal business partners that need you. Know that we are 100 percent focused on making sure that your most important influencers and customers know what you are doing and how your company is making an impact in your market space.

  1. Objectivity + Focus Are Your Friends

As an outside voice, we are by definition objective. This is key to achieving your business goals. Objectivity enables us to remain relentless and focused on results-based execution. Our job is to make you look good. We don’t know how to rest on our proverbial laurels of past success. We are always focused and looking at next.

  1. Knowing ≠ Execution

We know that you know what your business needs. Trust that we know how to execute a public relations strategy that compliments your company’s goals. We’ve done this before. We offer value in our ability to leverage our credibility, to craft your story, to deliver it to the right audience and to adjust as needed in order to continue to drive results.

  1. Relationships + Industry Expertise Matter

Beyond picking up the phone and pitching your story, we look at the industry and market space and we know how to make the connections for you. We have seen many of the situational challenges you face before with other clients in your space. Let us bring our relationships and our industry expertise into play to help you.

Helpful, interesting or entertaining? Feel free to comment or to share your experiences as either a client or service professional. In the end, remaining aligned on goals, defining success and most importantly, honest communication will inevitably translate into success for all.