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.

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

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
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.

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.

Love Note to Austin

Errant Musings
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I was recently asked to share my perspective on being a mom in Austin for Elizabeth St., a site featuring “chic moms who know that life is best lived with style”. Their words not mine, but I was flattered and happy to share my opinions about fashion, food and culture. These are in many ways ‘the core’ that makes many big cities around the world iconic, perennial attractions. I am a West Coast gal through and through — born in Seoul, raised in Portland, college in Seattle, career + family in San Francisco. The move to Austin was a transition. A big one. But six-plus years in, I love this city and Austin is mine.

What do I love about my city? What makes it a great place for kids, for families, for someone used to a “big city”? Taking a moment to think about the places I love, the things we do as a family and the places we love as couple was a surprisingly easy and fun exercise. I couldn’t write my lists fast enough. I was surprised by how much I had to say.

Why do I love Austin? Austin is still a young city that embraces entrepreneurs and families. If you are willing to engage and put in the time, there are endless opportunities to grow your network professionally and personally. In just six years I have an amazing group of girlfriends and an integrated business network. I feel completely dialed in. The style vibe is casual; eclectic but there’s a growing appreciation for elevated, individual personal style makers.

We don’t do “date nights” as a couple. We like the spontaneity of going out when the mood hits, and we try to capitalize on opportunities to check out new restaurants, to see a show, listen to live music or attend an event or party when it strikes us as “babysitter-worthy”. Beyond the time and expense, the experience must be enticing enough to make us miss an evening with our daughters, who by the way we are crazy about spending time with.

Our dining hot spots when we are not with our kids? Here’s our current babysitter-worthy list of places: Uchi, best sushi spot – ever. Uchiko, an offshoot of Uchi but a little bit sexier. Clark’s Oyster Bar, amazing fresh seafood and amazing wine pairings. Second Bar + Kitchen, a breath of fresh air when it opened several years ago, as it was reminiscent of SF dining, and Austin’s first spot to offer seasonal, fresh staples with a bit of a fancy twist. La Condessa, fresh, modern and upscale Mexican food.  Lenoir, former chef from TRIO at Four Seasons opened this quaint, seasonal delight. Eden East Austin, is like crashing a country wedding, outdoors on group picnic tables under the trees with chickens and hens running nearby. And of course, Jeffrey’s luxe and fancy fare is on our list. We haven’t been to the “new” Jeffrey’s but it’s on our list for our next grown up, seriously fancy meal.

But what makes Austin a great city for our kids? The inherently casual vibe of a city known for musicians and artists translates its energy and attitude throughout. I can take my kids to the ballet at the gorgeous new Long Center for the Performing Arts, to ACL music fest in Zilker Park, and to the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. No matter where or when we go, access is easy and there are always parking spots and friendly faces greeting us. Coming from San Francisco, where two of my kiddos were born, a neighborly attitude and easy access are huge factors in making Austin a kid-friendly city.

Beyond the neighborly attitude and outdoor spaces, our family appreciates Austin’s fantastic breadth and depth of kid-friendly dining spots. Our favorite places to take our kids? So many to list, but these are our current faves: Asti, a quaint Hyde Park neighborhood Italian bistro, Lucy’s Fried Chicken, what’s there to say? Great beer, wine and everything fried! Elizabeth Street Café, indoor and outdoor seating with casual and spicy French Vietnamese  – yum! Perla’s, another casual indoors and outdoors option with fresh and seasonal seafood. Fonda San Miguel, classic interior Mexican fare done well every time. Did I mention the talking parrot? Crowd pleaser for the kids every time. The lovely ladies tossing fresh tortillas in the main dining room entertain our kiddos for at least 15 minutes, another big plus. Brunch at Jo’s on 2nd Street, basic brunch staples with Texas style options: breakfast tacos, Huevos Rancheros and Migas. Oh, and cannot forget Easy Tiger bakery and café – at long last good, fresh breads and baguettes.

Clearly our priorities are shopping for food, finding places to eat and planning great meals, but there are also wonderful places for our kids to learn, explore and grow in Austin. Top of our list includes the Zach Scott Theater for classes and theatrical performances, Zilker Park (music and festivals year-round) and the Art School at Laguna Gloria AMOA Art House – best art classes for kids (and adults, although I haven’t taken them, just my kids.).

I still think of myself as a West Coast gal but Austin has wedged its way into my heart. I love this city and it is mine. Thank you ATX. MWAH.

Qualifying New Media Sites and Blogs

Errant Musings

When working with non-traditional media sources – how do you separate the good from the bad?  In PR speak, how do you qualify a good source? Traditional media metrics don’t apply.

Since our clients play in the retail, consumer goods and services space, there really are no good Technorati type sources for us to reference. Over the years, we have come up with our own checklist of how to qualify the best new media sources and blogs for our clients.

Each and every time we reach out to or respond to a new online news site or blog, they are evaluated on our specific criterion. Are they a credible, worthwhile news site/blog for our clients?

1.  Subject Matter

Is primary subject matter a fit for our client? A fashion blog for a fashion story, a business blog for a business story, an eco blog for an eco pitch, etc. Although there are many blogs and news sites that cover a broader range of subjects – do they have content that makes sense for our specific client’s product or service. Is there a natural fit and mutual interest in the subject?

2.  Look and Feel

Just as important as subject matter fit – does the site have an overall above the norm, aesthetic that looks good? Is there a wow factor? Is the layout easy to follow? Can we “see” our client’s story here? Would our client feel positive, neutral or disappointed by a placement here?

3.  Quality Content

Is the copy well written? Does it follow basic AP Style? If no, is it well written, without being littered with obvious grammatical errors? Does the content reflect a specific POV without being overly controversial?

4.  By the Numbers

How many Subscribers / Facebook Likes / Twitter / Pinterest / Instagram / You Tube followers? Do they have presence on multiple channels?

5.  Influence

Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Does this site/individual have influence? How often do they post fresh, relevant content? Do they start new discussions that others pickup on and respond to and share? Do they get reposted/repined and liked? There’s no magical formula here, this is subjective but a good indicator of credibility and influence.

We subject blogs and online news sites to more scrutiny for three main reasons:

  • These opportunties can be just as time intensive and difficult to garner coverage as with traditional media. Input for output is always key. We never have all the time and budget to do it all – prioritizing is key.
  • We are responsible for the brand reputation of our clients –each new site or blog requires our due diligence to qualify.
  • We apply deeper level of scrutiny for blogs that request product in exchange for coverage and/or product reviews and giveaways.

Not all of these rules apply for every site or every blog, but stepping back and evaluating with thoughtful metrics has helped us to ensure that our clients are happy with the results and that we are able to deliver the right ones. Let us know if you have come up with other ways to evaluate and make sense of the new, new media landscape.

Lessons From Third Grade

Errant Musings
This is me with my daughters and the third graders.
This is me with my daughters and the third graders.

Recently my children’s grade school asked for parent volunteers to speak at Career Day. It wasn’t until my husband suggested that I should do it that I gave it a second look. As a “working mother” of three school age daughters I realized my responsibility to participate. Beyond the obvious reasons, my motivation was more personal and specific. I live in a really wonderful community (some might call it a bit of a ‘bubble’) with well educated, caring and very involved families. We moved to Austin to raise our kids in just this kind of atmosphere.  However, one interesting casualty is that my daughters have very few examples of career women.

In this community, the base line expectation of the families (primarily the moms) is to be present and available 24/7 for our kids, their activities and their schools. My girls often complain to me that “other moms” come to every school event, every performance, and every activity and even eat lunch with their kids at school on a regular basis. How can a ‘working mom’ ever compare to that? Do not get me wrong, I think it is an amazing choice to stay home and be a full-time mom. It’s not a choice I have made, but I totally respect that it is the right choice for many women (and a few men).

Back to motivation. As a minority, aka career mom, once I decided to commit the effort and time, I was looking forward to speaking up and showing my daughters and their classmates that women can be both – good moms and successful career people.

The presentation was for a couple classes of 3rd graders. All my girls were able to attend as well.  It was fun. I love presenting and the kids were very engaged. My biggest challenge was to tailor the information for a Minecraft-obsessed, eight and nine-year-old crowd.

Lessons From Third Grade is attached but here are the main talking points and slides from my presentation at Career Day:

“I have a PR agency here in town called Kimberly Strenk PR. But most of you here know me as Elke’s mom, Katha’s mom or Taschi’s mom – right? Well, outside the neighborhood, from as far away as London, England to California and New York, people know me as the owner of a PR agency.

What is Public Relations?

What is PR? PR is a profession that helps companies, organizations or individuals communicate with the outside world.  Now why would it be important to do this? (Use a retail store as an example)

  • Grow Brands

My company specializes in launching and growing brands. Does anyone know what a brand is? Show 4 brand images. What do you think of when you see this? What are some of your favorite brands? Why do you like them?

Examples of recognizable brand logos.

Blog Pics
  • Create Stories

Another thing we do is we create stories for our clients. Has anyone here written a story recently that got a great grade or that you are really proud of? When you wrote the story, did you think about who you were writing it for? What did you want to say? How were you able to communicate that message? We do the same things, we create stories that are relatable, and hopefully interesting so that lots of people will want to learn, buy or engage with our client’s brands.

  • Build Relationships

In PR, it’s also very important to build relationships. Does anyone know what a relationship is? How do you start a relationship? Well we do the same thing on behalf of our clients.

I chose PR because:

  • Career vs. job
  • Builder
  • Writer
  • Listener
  • Problem solver
  • Social
  • I always wanted to be the boss

Education and Training:

  1. BA in Literature and Language
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Critical Thinking
  • Imagination
  • Present your best self
  • Do great work
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Move on
  • A positive attitude

 Lessons from Third Grade:

  • To listen
  • To ask questions
  • It’s ok to make mistakes
  • Be a good friend

Important Skills to Develop as a Third Grader:

—  Grammar + Spelling

—  Reading + Analytics

—  Creativity + Building

—  Relationships + Reputation

—  Find a role model

How did it go? Could not have been better.  We actually took a video. One of these days when we have time to edit it down, will certainly share.  A library room full of kids, sitting crisscross applesauce for 30 minutes? They fully engaged, contributed and brought me tons of energy. Feedback from my kids? My first grader has already requested me for her class’ career day next year.

Are we all just modelizers?

Errant Musings

Recently one of my interns suggested that I should write a book to share some of the advice she had experienced during her tenure with me. Needless to say I was flattered and genuinely surprised by this suggestion. The idea of remembering what you learn from others brought back memories of my early role models, the people that shaped my worldview. I count a handful of executives, former managers and colleagues as inspirational to me during my career. Too many to list in one post, but my very first “role models” were the executives at Nordstrom.

When I was finishing school at the University of Washington, I worked in the corporate offices in Seattle. I found myself given the opportunity to work for, and to be exposed to, many of the executives from various departments at corporate, from real estate, PR, sales promotion and even to the Nordstrom family themselves (“Mr. Bruce, John, and Jim”). At the time, I didn’t truly appreciate the impact this experience would have on me throughout my entire career, and really my whole life.

Daily, I witnessed these incredibly creative and successful people with impressive titles, treating everyone with graciousness and unfeigned respect. Did I also mention their impressive style? My experience taught me that the retail world has its own unwritten rules when it comes to fashion and personal expression. As a young person, this ‘picture perfect’ world had quite the impact. I witnessed a genuine humility and respectful attitude for everyone; from the janitor that emptied wastebaskets to the most senior member of the board, I saw that regardless of hierarchy defined by job title and responsibility, that in the Nordstrom culture, everyone was treated as though they mattered.  Accomplished, gracious and humble, these were my early models.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with many incredible people, but my benchmark has always been that talent and hard work, married with a genuine graciousness and respect for others, was the high water mark. This is the standard that has guided me throughout. It is the standard I shoot for, though perhaps not one I’ve always achieved. It is a journey, not an end point.

In my current role running my lifestyle PR agency, I have modeled my company after my own hybrid version of work and life. With no feigned modesty, I am proud to have established an internship program that has become fairly well known and respected. It has evolved over time to become a launching pad for students to move into PR careers after graduation or it has helped them to get in the door at the top, most competitive agencies here in town.

Back to sharing learnings and advice worth remembering – while the idea of some sort of pamphlet or even a book of “PR and Life advice” is interesting, for now I will share the perspective of my former interns – what they learned from their time with me and how it has impacted them in their own career + life journey.

As I continue to get responses from my formers staffers who now live and work all over the country, I will update this post with their comments. These are un-edited responses to my query, “What advice or key learning stands out most from your time at KSPR”?

Mallory, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, spring 2009.

“It is hard to believe that I have been in New York almost three years. I am forever grateful for all your guidance and mentorship. My biggest takeaway from you is that you showed me that you can still have a career and a family.”

Jen, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, fall 2010.

“The thing that stands out the most for me from my time at KSPR is your steadfast devotion to only taking on clients whose vision/mission you feel passionately about or have a personal connection with. After leaving KSPR and working in the industry for the past few years, I couldn’t agree with you more on this principle. When you are working with brands that you’re passionate about, all messages come from a genuine place; the client becomes an extension of yourself. I truly believe that this foundation of trust between you and the client is where great things come to fruition.

On a more technical note, I also learned the power of having a well thought-out media list. If you put in the time and effort to research, create and qualify a good media list, your pitches are much more likely to stand out from the pack.”

Carissa, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. KSPR Intern, spring 2011.

“I think one of the most impactful lessons I learned while with you at KSPR, and something that I’ve come to appreciate much more since I have moved jobs is that having a good rapport with your supervisor/manager/CEO is critical to your work ethic. I really enjoyed getting to work with you daily, and you were such a fun person to be around. It made me want to work hard to do what I could to make the company successful. I appreciated that most about you. You made the relationships we had with you fun, engaging and mostly you were a friend, not only a boss.”

Katie, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, fall–winter 2011 and fall 2012.

“Your passion for not only your clients and their vision, but your family and friends has truly inspired me to work for clients and products that I can stand behind and be proud to represent.  The best career advice that you have ever given me is “Don’t Burn Bridges” and “Follow Up.”  I always knew that the first was important, but I didn’t truly understand its importance until leaving KSPR. Working in both an agency and client-side role showed me how small and tight-knit the PR community really is and I will never forget that advice.  The latter is also just as important.  PR is not advertising.  It isn’t a fiscal transaction for ad space.  Therefore, you have shown me how important it is to follow up.  If you ever do write a book, a chapter should be titled, “Follow Up.”

As far as life lessons, I believe that, while I don’t think that you ever specifically said this to me, you have taught me to go above and beyond in life and work and that anything is possible.  I know that the latter sounds extremely idealistic, but what I really mean is that someone doesn’t have just one set role in life.  You showed me how it is possible to have a strong career and be a super-mom.  As far as “go above and beyond” goes, I know many people say to do your best, but, to me, you must always be striving to do better.  I am never more confident at work then when I have added a bit extra to the original task.  The extra is what stands out and shows your passion and enthusiasm for your client and career.”

Sydney, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, summer 2011

“My experience at KSPR was incredibly valuable. You afforded me true to life experience in pitching, branding and networking. I left my internship every day in awe of how you were able to satisfy your passion for work, your husband and your children. For all these things and more, I am thankful.

Prior to my time with you, I was under the impression that my life would ultimately reach a crossroads of aspirations: career v. family. Being driven to the core, I was almost afraid of the route I might one day take.

You shattered this perception everyday.  The tenacity and dedication you showed towards clients could only be rivaled by the infectious love you showed toward family. It is through your example that I came to define “work/life balance,” a value I regard with the upmost importance, even more so now that I call the concrete jungle home.

That summer, you wore many hats: brilliant PR mind, loving wife, caring mother, sensational hostess and superwoman to anyone who crossed your path. I would not be where I am today without your example.”

Stephanie, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, summer 2012.

“I learned what PR looks like outside the classroom setting (very different) and most importantly I learned many life lessons. Two of your most memorable teachings:

1. To always try your very best and give it your greatest effort, no matter what task you are given. This is how you build your reputation. When people see your work ethic that is how they remember you. And your reputation is what you carry throughout your life. It is how you network and go places in the world.

2. The world will continue to change, problems will continue to occur, whether it’s a new president, a recession, societal shifts, etc., but life goes on. As long as you keep working, keep on trying, it all works out. That is why it is important to do something you love. So you can enjoy the little things, the things you are doing in your life with your family & friends.”