Where the Brands are the Stars

Projects + Events
expowest_brands

If you have never been to one of the big consumer trade shows, you are missing out on a great opportunity to really get to know an industry and marketplace from an on-the-ground perspective.

As a consumer, it is the one place you can learn, explore and experience hundreds, sometimes thousands of consumer products by industry (electronics, games, food, natural, housewares etc.) all in one place. If you work in a particular industry or you are interested in getting into a new one, I highly recommend the experience. It can be overwhelming — wear comfortable shoes and sport a positive, engaging attitude. Be prepared to absorb, listen and learn.

Our agency focuses on specialty, premium and natural brands, and clients often use trade shows such as Fancy Foods, International Housewares, and Natural Products Expo to introduce new products or to launch a new brand.  In fact, I just returned from Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. I was there to support two of our eco specialty brands – Tints of Nature and BlueAvocado. Tints of Nature no longer sets up a booth at the show (their sales distribution channel is pretty set). They now attend the show to see what is happening with other beauty brands and more importantly to meet with their regional field sales reps and acknowledge their success and hard work..

Our eco lifestyle essentials client, BlueAvocado, attended Expo West to preview their 2013 product collections for buyers and media. They had an amazing show.  The NPE is the show for specialty natural and organic products to showcase among their peers. The audience is educated and interested in all things eco + sustainable. Since BA has a great sustainable impact story on top of beautiful, chic and functional eco products, this was the perfect place to show their new collections.

I spent most of the show at the BlueAvocado booth. Because our clients are generally young brands, time at the booth provides a fantastic opportunity for face time with the founders and/or C level executives. Nothing beats listening and learning from the people whose vision and hard work created the company itself. I also learned a lot from the sales teams. While sales and PR are certainly different worlds, I have always understood the value of being engaged with the P&L folks. If these people can’t sell the product, the company will not survive. I love to listen and to learn from this core crew. What they say and do does not directly impact the creation of press materials and messaging, but they influence all. When creating press materials and key messages I always have an eye on the company’s direction and focus, this team has a large, if indirect, impact on how I tell their story.

For me the best part of this show was the opportunity to walk around and see all of the natural and organic products that I personally love and use every day — I was more than a little giddy. I was also able to meet a few aspiring eco entrepreneurs and to hear about and test their new products. Many of these impressive business people happened to be women: such a great reminder that we can all make our dreams happen. Many of the big “rock star” brands at the show all started with a single vision and a dream for a better, more sustainable future. I was more than just a little star struck at this amazing show where the brands really are the stars.

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.”