Applause Applause Applause

Errant Musings

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

Projects + Events
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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

Errant Musings

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?

Projects + Events

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

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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

Errant Musings

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?

Errant Musings
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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.

Maximize Trade Shows for Media Success

Projects + Events

We recently attended 2014 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (see my story, Where the Brands Are the Stars from the 2013 show) and International Housewares in Chicago. Both shows were incredibly successful in terms of brand story telling to media, conversion into placement wins and overall relationship building for our client. After many years of attending trade shows such as Fancy Foods, Gourmet Housewares, Expo and now Housewares, we have developed a go-to trade show strategy that has proven to be successful time and time again.

From a branding and PR POV, every show offers very different opportunities, but following are some tips to maximize industry trade shows for PR success.

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Think Ahead. A three-month lead-time from the date of the show is ideal. This gives you enough time to research, plan, develop materials and conduct outreach and follow-ups.

Develop a Plan. What are you hoping to achieve from a PR perspective? Help your client define the show objectives and integrate PR planning into their overall trade show thinking. I present a creative brief for clients that drive the execution of all tactics. The brief begins with the objective(s) – what are we hoping to accomplish? This is not about # of impressions or placements, this is a bigger vision statement of what success looks like. What is the story we are telling, how does this particular trade show help to tell the story, what do we want to accomplish by telling the story to this audience and of course what does a media coverage win look like?

Be Creative. Don’t simply re-hash what worked last year. It’s about more than a press list and massive email campaign. It’s critical to come up with new and targeted strategies to win. How does the booth presence help us to tell the story? How can we use the assets created by the marketing team to engage with a media audience? What are the key materials needed to garner the right audience, engage, romance and win? The brief also contains a week-to-week timeline of PR action items and deliverables. This timeline keeps everyone on track and ensures that the big pieces are not forgotten in the race to get everything done. Details matter.

Stay Focused and Drive. For companies, trade shows are about driving sales, winning PO’s and if the company has been around a few years, shows also become a great way to engage with former and new business partners. The PR plan often becomes a last minute after thought. This has always seemed so crazy to me. The amount of cost and resources put into a trade show, from entry fee, booth production, signage, product displays etc., creates the PERFECT platform to tell the company brand and product story to a qualified media audience. As the PR partner, it is our responsibility to drive this vision and make sure the PR plan is in place and executed.

Everyone is a Spokesperson. Hopefully your client values PR enough to send you to the show. Even assuming you have a prepped and ready media spokesperson at the show, you still need to have everyone from the company trained and ready to engage with media attendees and key influencers. I like to hold a pre-show all hands meeting. Have your client walk through the product features and benefits one last time as well as the sales PO process. This grounds everyone on the sales priority. This is also the perfect time to share the key messages PR has been sharing with the media. Anyone walking into your client booth is important – a retailer, partner, or media prospect. Everyone from your company should be enthusiastic and ready to speak with the same voice.

Follow this as a guide to get you or your client started when thinking and planning for your next trade show. Trade shows are a perfect platform, especially for retail brands that are not multi-channel (i.e. do not have stores, catalogs or other channels for media to engage and to “see” the brand and product story in a meaningful and memorable way). A trade show booth can become the platform for communicating the best piece of the brand story. Plus, you get to see and to meet all the other wonderful products and brands that play in the same space! And, don’t forget to have FUN.

Tips for Managing Exceptional Employees

Errant Musings

During my corporate career at big name retail brands as well as start-ups, I had the opportunity to build my own teams and to manage some very talented people. I assumed that I was a good manager. Why not? My employees seemed happy, they were focused and they were productive.

After I left my last in house manager role, I was speaking to one of my former staffers, one that I had hired. I asked her how things were going at work and she enthusiastically recounted how great things were now and how her new manager did such a great job helping her to succeed. Ouch.

Some serious reflection ensued.

I had just launched my namesake PR firm and I was thinking about the culture and the environment I wanted to create. I knew that I only wanted to work with companies with passionate leadership and companies with products and services I personally believed in. Oh, and no ass holes, but that’s for another rant, I mean post.

Dial forward six years and I can say that I have learned through countless experiences, bad hires, good hires, and unexpected great hires how to somehow become a good manager. How do I know this? My former employees still reach out to me and tell me how much they learned, how much they appreciate the time with me. Oh and they are all successful, go getters in the PR field making it happen in NYC to Los Angeles and great cities in between.

How did I get from average and over confident to inspirational leader spawning and incubating PR superstars? Following are some tips gleaned from six years of managing young talent in the PR field:

Set the Bar High. When I was single (many years ago) I had very specific expectations about how I wanted to be treated. I really loved the experience of dating mainly because I was in charge and I set expectations right from the start. People I dated either met my expectations or I simply didn’t date them. Work relationships are similar – when you set clear expectations, employees (like potential boyfriends) will meet your high bar more often than not.

Don’t Over Praise. In the beginning I caught myself often over praising young staffers for doing good work. My thinking was that I was helping junior workers feel good and that I was helping them to build confidence. Wrong. I quickly learned that the folks that were praised for doing expected work actually did less. The confidence was adorned and the low bar of expectation had been set.

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Compliment and Move On. By the same token, when someone performs above and beyond in execution, creativity and exceptional thinking, do acknowledge with specificity and when truly exceptional, a bonus, gift, or special lunch is always a welcome expression of appreciation.

Inspire and Teach. I absolutely love what I do. Every day I get to be creative, to develop strategy and at the same time be hands on with the tactical execution. This passion and enthusiasm has helped to launch and to grow exceptional young brands. It is this genuine love for “building things” that has become a natural source of inspiration for my employees. PR is a tough profession. It is not for everyone. The highs, the lows, the rejections, the big wins that none of us get to savor and enjoy because we are already moving toward the next, next. But I would not change a thing. And it is this natural love for what I do that my employees see each and every day.

I did not set out to be a manager that leads by inspiration. I was focused on creating a business with a culture and an environment that I wanted to work in. It is in this genuine effort that a management style of inspiring employees to exceed their expectations was born.

Want more tips and anecdotes from a life lived in PR? Check out some of our clients at kimberlystrenkpr.com or Facebook.com/kimberlystrenkpr for the latest musings and rants.

Lean In is good advice, Ask For What You Want works too

Errant Musings
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photo: justinablakeney.com, Like She Said #6

I joke to my friends that I am practically illiterate since having kids. Sadly, it’s not really a joke. As a former English lit major and daughter of a published linguist, this is a pretty sad state. Recently I have been picking up the (dusty) books on my nightstand and trying to stay the course. Not declaring master literacy just yet, but I have enjoyed some progress with a few reads, including Sheryl Sandberg’s “you can have it all” manifesto, Lean In. It’s one of those books you can read in short spurts, put down and pick up again later.

This is simply preamble to a recent revelation: Ask For What You Want. Stick with me, this will make sense.

End of year, I’ve been doing a lot of plan writing and development of creative briefs for FY2014. As I am crafting the big visions, thinking about contingencies and making lists of things needed to make the execution of these big visions happen, I realize that I was not inputting what I really needed but rather what I thought would make it past approval process! Whoa. It seems I have at times, fallen into the habit of asking for “just enough’ versus what I really need and want.

I am mindful when developing plans and programs that resources are limited. The realization that I had fallen into a pattern of asking for ‘just enough’ versus the “big sky” wish list of what I want was sobering. Is this so wrong?

Not asking for what you want means you may not get what you set out to win, at least not in the long run. This is not good. Sure, sometimes, maybe often times, realities that we cannot control hit. But if we don’t lay out the big vision with the big ask, we are inevitably falling into a pattern of marginalizing what we need. I pride myself on being able to do a lot with minimal resources, time, etc., but when we are hitting refresh, dreaming big and starting anew, we need to go for it. Ask for what we know we really need. Hard line realities and the inevitable compromise will happen soon enough.

Back to reading books. A book is a commitment. Reading means diving in deeper, beyond the intro paragraph, the headlines and subheads. It means taking in information and processing, forming an opinion based on more than 140 characters or a snappy headline or a clever hashtag.

I credit my recent bedside reading with helping me to get to this moment. It’s simple, Ask For What You Want. And, honestly, how often do you find yourself asking for less, for just what you think someone will give you versus asking for what you really want?

Ask for what you want. This is going onto my New Year inspiration board. If I make one that is.