Author Archives: msoto

“I tried to control the internet and it worked.” Said no one. Ever.

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I, like many of you, my mind was blown watching Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime show. I was just in aw of the dancing, the hair flips, her amazing costume – it was an incredible performance. We all thought so – everyone I watched with agreed it was the best half time show in years.

On a related note, aren’t Mondays awful? I bet Beyonce’s publicist sure thought so the morning after the Super Bowl. Just doing her job, asking a pesky blog to remove unflattering stills of the jaw-dropping performance the day before. And wouldn’t you know it – the Internet got annoyed at her attempt to censor it, and bit back. Big time.

Don’t try to control the internet.

What could have been the stuff of halftime show legend, is now comic book legend. I mean, really great that champion body-builder Beyonce can share her other talents, like singing. And hair flipping.

[Image courtesy of]

Digital Dream Team – OFA 2012

No matter how good your job is — and, I mean, mine’s awesome — there are just some projects/initiatives/campaigns/movements you wish you were part of. For me, that’s the Obama for America digital team. Holy crap, they nailed it.

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I wish I could have been part of that, I’m sure, incredibly energized and obviously talented team.

The biggest thing that the OFA digital team did well was undersand the vital importance of having a presence across social channels. The opportunity to truly amplify the campaign would only come if they could reach audiences where they were at – not just Twitter and Facebook, but Instagam, Tumblr, Pinterest and Youtube.

This was important on two levels – 1) these are incredibly sharable forms of media, and 2) these are where people go to relax, waste a bit of time, and be entertained.  America doesn’t live in primetime tv slots, and now neither did this campaign. Being on these platforms effectively placed the campaign messages in a fun environment for voters. 

Really great insights here on PBS News Hour’s Daily Download interview with Harper Reed, former OFA CTO.

I, personally, loved the campaign’s Instagram. But the tumblr was also one cleverly curated ball of badassness. 

For example:

ofa tumblr 2 ofa tumblr Screen shot 2013-01-28 at 3.05.52 PM Screen shot 2013-01-28 at 3.05.16 PM

*Images via my own Instagram of Obama’s Instagram, and Barack Obama’s tumblr

The Art of Being Assertive

I got married in August – which is why all my dreams of reviving this blog were, yet again, pushed aside in favor of catering coordination, bridesmaid management, and marriage counseling. Sorry for that.

We were engaged for 9 months prior to the wedding, and it took almost as long for me to learn just how I should plan a wedding. You see, when you get engaged, everyone has ideas about how things should be done – everything from who should be in the wedding, what time the wedding should be, the kind of meat and beer served at the wedding, the easiest way to decorate tables, how long the waitstaff should be expected to stay. It’s endless. It’s awful.

I’m not a timid person, but throughout the wedding planning process, I have had THE WORST time filtering these outside opinions so that they make sense to me, and lead to decisions. Whether or not these people are important to me, their opinions have become expectations in my mind. Fearing an uncomfortable situation with future-in-laws or friends, I’ve enthused: “oh, wow, what an awesome idea!” when I’ve inwardly cringed at their suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong – most of the suggestions have been truly helpful, but the best advice I got came in a question posed by my mother: “Meg, what do you want?”

It occurred to me that what I’d always counted as one of the attributes of an outgoing person, is actually an acquired skill – assertiveness comes with practice. And since this epiphany, I’ve realized that my days are fraught with opportunities to sharpen this skill. And in working remotely, this skill couldn’t be more important. Making sure that you’re understood, informed and confident is elemental in telecommuting for two reasons:

  1. So the work gets done efficiently and correctly, and
  2. So you’re taken seriously and your ass is covered.

Details

In emails, it comes in the form of clarifying details and situations, and making sure that what you want or need from someone is always on the table at some point. In emails, you can finesse the language of the “ask” or “clarification.” On the phone, it gets a little harder.

Whether I’m on a call with a client or my team, or even a recent call working out the parameters of a campaign with a promotional partner, I need to speak up if I feel like there’s some confusion on my part or overall. You can look a little less poised if you’re asking for info you may have missed, but I’ve learned the hard way to get my questions addressed on the phone rather than “off-line” with a teammate (who 50% of the time also likely missed the detail I’m looking for).  It’s doesn’t look good if you get off the phone looking buttoned up, and then send a email illustrating the opposite.

Impressions

Besides details, being assertive gives teammates, clients and media an important impression of the remote worker. This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of it. I’m a relational person and need the people I work with to take me seriously. So I make it a goal to speak up, ask a question, chime in with an idea on every call I’m on (that isn’t a media briefing). It’s important because it communicates an element of control and let’s the other participants of the call know that you have some stake in the conversation.

Assertiveness = Balance

It’s a delicate balance to strike on the social spectrum between passive and aggressive. There’s always the temptation to be polite and refrain from voicing concerns, but this is a passive way to communicate, and people will walk all over you. On the other hand, an aggressive nature will give the call a tense dynamic and people won’t want to work with you – they’ll feel run over and defensive.

Here’s the bottom line: when you’re remote, your emails, voice and ideas are frame your colleagues’ impressions of you. It lets them know whether to trust you with a partnership negotiation, pitching a curmudgeon journalist, or presenting a plan to a client. Good work gets done when people can communicate openly with each other, and being assertive is your best shot at making sure that happens.

And making sure that there’s NO IVY in your wedding bouquet.

The Remote-Working Diaries: On working from home (or wherever)

While I’m back at LaunchSquad, I still am based out of Portland – which, more often than not, means working from my living room (or kitchen, or on particularly lazy mornings, my bed). Seemed like the ultimate office situation for me who, even with my best effort, always managed to get to the office 30 minutes later than I meant to. Now I can get to work right away, and still sleep till a reasonable time! That’s the dream, right?

Honestly, it’s been pretty great. It’s flexible – I can run to the store if I need to (as long as I don’t have a call I need to be on), and I can work at any place that has wifi, as long as I have my laptop. Also, the company supports me completely, and that extends to my account teams, who make the extra effort to make sure I’m looped in. Plus, technology these days totally facilitates remote working – the ability to make free calls from Google keeps phone bills down. We’ve used Yammer, and now Tibbr (client) to share information (interesting links, media contact info, talk about trends, etc.) between offices and it’s been great for unifying the company.

Further, we just started using Skype for our weekly company meetings. That has been… an adjustment. I’m not used to people seeing me during the workday.

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Top-left is the SF office, top-right is New York, and bottom-center is Boston. That’s me on the bottom left. I look thrilled, right? But at least my hair looks semi-combed. Babysteps, people. Babysteps.

It’s odd, but though I’ve been doing this since August, it’s still challenging sometimes. I haven’t quite found the knack, and I still need to focus on being focused. Turns out there’s something oddly motivating about the morning ritual of getting dressed, and ready to do work. Maybe it’s that working from sweats is just demotivating.

That said, you adjust and do as much as you can. For me, it was all about breakfast. I needed to make coffee, and have a good breakfast before I could really dig in. Plus, that’s just good to do anyway, and it wasn’t always a priority when I had an office to get to. The next step was getting semi-dressed (jeans, non-sleep shirt), then productivity goals (pitch five people before 9AM (PT, of course)).

Well… my current office (Starbucks, which, by the way, has awesome, awesome, free internet. Always reliable.) is getting super crowded and loud, so I’m going to log off. Until next time…

Now, Where Were We?

I’m back. Back at blogging, back at tech PR with LaunchSquad

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I tried my hand at food and consumer PR, but I’m afraid I missed the constant conversation that is so unique to tech media. I missed the constant hum of news and announcements that surrounded my accounts, and being in-the-know on the newest innovation. 

Not to say that Food PR was a negative experience; it was quite good, actually. It was fun to be able to make a food editor’s day with the delivery of the newest flavor of potato chips or cheese. And I loved the creativity and conceptualizing that goes into consumer engagement campaigns. 

But in the end, I missed the scrappiness of the startup culture, and the do-or-die nature of the work – the constant challenge of “What can I do to help my client succeed today?” The thrill of spotting an in-depth story, the gratification of knowing you’ve added to the success of a small company with big dreams. 

J.R.R. Tolkien’s famed quote sums it up nicely; I wandered to give myself a broader scope of my profession, but was never too far from where I needed to be, and eventually made my way back. 

GHOSTWRITER!

There’s a good chance that many of you, as kids, were allowed to watch TV that wasn’t PBS, but here’s hoping that some of you will recognize the above  educational program.

I recently was asked to participate in a survey around ghostwriting for a blog, er… “ghost blogging.” It ultimately asked if it’s OK for blog posts to be written by a PR firm and whether or not companies should disclose it. At first I leaned toward answering ultra-ethically, like I know I’m supposed to (you know, the “strongly disagree that you should steal music on the internet” answers…).

But, who are we kidding? I’ve been a ghost blogger – meaning that (by their definition) I’ve drafted blog posts (then tweaked, revised, reworked) that were featured on the company’s “corporate blog” that were not attributed to me, and were instead attributed to the CEO.

Let me first say that I don’t believe it must be one way or the other. I think there are brands that are what they are because of the genuine charisma and accessibility to the leadership. PR people should take advantage of that. Likewise, there are others whose CEO/founder would be a disaster if given the login to the WordPress account.

What doesn’t sit well with me is that there’s even an ethical dilemma in ghost-writing a blog in the first place.

In this new world where the company blog is the new mission statement / “about us” section / conference keynote… unless you’re one of those charismatic CEOs above, if you’re employing a PR team, it’s simply silly not to have the PR folks write the damn post. After all, they write all of your other public-facing material – why wouldn’t they pen the blog content, which is much more  readable (consumer-friendly) than any press release. This is the team that handles (and likely came up with) all the messaging and positioning for the brand. Not to mention that they’re, you know, WRITERS who make words sound good.

In this way, a blog post is pretty comparable to a quote in a press release. You wouldn’t attribute a press release quote to the person who actually crafted it. It’s controlled messaging plain and simple.

Now that I think about it, when I did write a post for a client blog and later find it attributed to me, it made me very uncomfortable at first. My squeamishness stemmed the fact that I was afraid of representing the company as a non-expert and getting them the wrong kind of attention. The ultimate PR fail. It’s from that same nervousness that I aim to shield my clients when I ghost-write anything on their behalf, or conduct media training, or create any messaging – the list goes on. Crafting words to get the best message across is what I do. I don’t build the technology, or create the product, or design the hotel, but if you do, I want to help you talk about all of that in a meaningful way.

The transparency argument doesn’t hold much water when you can sort that out by collaborating with the “author” (CEO, chef, designer, developer, etc.) to create an editorial calendar, and incorporate the tone and voice into the writing, etc. And, now that I think about it, a blog isn’t really social media anymore (in the way that Twitter, Facebook are). It’s just another corporate comm channel. Let’s treat it as such.

It’s very possible that I’m missing some angle that could easily push me to either side of this, and one might easily assume that I’ve abandoned my social media idealistic ways of transparency and conversations, and listening and engagement, (etc.) and embraced some corporate agenda of people who don’t get PR or social media.  The truth is, if I believe there is any value in my work at all, this is a high horse that I can’t hop onto. I think I’ll stay on the fence for now.

Let me know if you’d like more metaphors.

{Photo credit}

SXSWi: Parts 2-5

I’ll begin by disclosing that I had no idea how much time I wouldn’t have at SXSWi for things like, oh I don’t know, blogging. Or sleep.

This is why you’re getting one lump summary of my ensuing experience, which might more appropriately serve as a sigh of relief that, yes, it was indeed a truly valuable experience.

When you’re tackling a conference that offers 15-20 sessions per 1.5-hour time slot, you have to commit to a strategy or random wandering. It’s just the way it is. I found that both strategies, employed as appropriate to my energy level, served me well.

SATURDAY: I tried to hit all the marketing sessions, since I’m so very marketer-y and branding-y these days.

My favorite: Client Knows Best? How to sell Unsolicited Ideas

  • This simulated every party that would be present at the table in a marketing effort: creative, digital, marketing, and client. The “client” was Verizon’s marketing VP, John Wimsatt, who did a fantastic job of representing a client juggling multiple ideas and the brand’s goals
  • Essentially the takeaway here was passion. I heard over and over that whoever had the idea should not only pitch it, but should they win the work, run with it as well.
  • The other thing I heard was that the pitch should always, always serve the brand needs, scope and goals. It should never be self-serving.

Honorable mentionDear Miss Manners: the Social Web, WTF?

  • This was a random choice after the session I’d hoped to attend was hopelessly full. But I’m glad I went because I’ve been very social-web-existential lately, and being very careful as I curate my social identity.
  • Anyway — the standout point for me was the question of whether or not there was a social contract for the social web, specifically pertaining to this anonymity that propels nasty comment threads. There is no etiquette or written rule-book on how to behave online.
  • What resonated with me was, how do I, as a “community manager” of sorts for my clients, explain or revise this social contract to the brand stakeholders?

Takeaway: Don’t go to the marketing sessions. They tend to be run by marketers who are marketing themselves.

SUNDAY: Got up a little late.

My favorite: Daily Deals: Where Ads Become Content

  • This panel was hugely interesting as a subscriber to deal sites (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.).
  • It was interesting to realize that this is a potentially very lucrative monetization tool for content creators, both new media (DailyCandy, who had a rep on the panel) and traditional (New York Times just launched theirs).
  • The “why” question came up when the panel brought up the NYT’s TimesLimited service. The answer is that publishers continue to influence spending, why not get a cut of it to save publishing?
  • *Of course, curating deals for your audience is key.

Honorable mention: Go Here, Do This: Location + Collective Action

  • The word “flash-mob” in the description is what got me to this panel. It was all about collective behavior transitioning from the web to physical action (including grassroots movements, group purchasing/payment, etc.). Had some great brands represented in this geo-centric panel, including Virgin America, Foursquare, Yelp, LivingSocial and was moderated by Clive Thompson.
  • Fascinating: Location has become one of the most important things about our online identity
  • Another thing I found was interesting was that while there’s a low barrier of entry to developing geo apps, the expense is making them interesting.

Takeaway: Whatever the session, there will be things you can takeaway and learn from.

MONDAY: Best day.

My favorite (of the whole damn conference): Bite Me—Are Ethics Gone in Food Criticism?

  • I knew this would be a great panel when Robert Sietsema (16-year Village Voice food critic) was wearing a mask to preserve his anonymity. Other panelists included Ben Leventhal from Eater/The Feast, restaurant ownerJames Holmes, Chow’s Jane Goldman, and TableHopper’s Marcia Gagliardi
  • This was a fascinating session because, while the idea of citizen journalism isn’t new, the thought that it seeps into such veins as food criticism was something I hadn’t pondered. In the wake of food blogs, Yelp reviews, etc, what happens to the sterling opinion of such heralded voices as Sietsema’s? The inner workings of the restaurant business were very interesting, especially to realize what a sad thing it is for a review to be “outed” (have their picture taken and circulated within restaurant staff, should they come to anonymously review).
  • I was particularly interested in a story about Time critic, Josh Ozersky, who wrote about Portland’s food scene last fall, and got caught in a “cluster” when he wrote a roundup review about the food at his wedding. Much of it was done by local NYC chefs he knew. His “fluff piece,” as Sietsema called it (and wrote an open letter about), triggered huge amounts of criticism from the food critic community who were angered that he didn’t disclose that he got hundreds of thousands of dollars of food for free. This brought on opinions about comped food and disclosure. On both sides of the table, both were argued as either necessary or not.
  • Chef James Holmes brought a great voice to the panel, giving insight on how Yelp messes with chef/restaurateurs’ minds and how paranoid it can make chefs to think about a reviewer stopping by (Sietsema surprised him by disclosing that he’d been to Holme’s restaurant earlier that week.)
  • *Food people hate Yelp. There’s no value in those reviews.
  • *There should have been a restaurant publicist at the table. Publicists know a great deal about inner workings and negotiating reviews.

Runner up: The Thank You Economy

  • This was a really inspiring session with Gary Vaynerchuk, and I’m ashamed to say that this is this first time I’ve heard him speak. He was not so much promoting his new book (The Thank You Economy) as he was promoting the ideas behind it — thanking your customers every day in every way.
  • He had a great story about a customer who’d bought copious amounts of wine and to thank him, they went to his Twitter account found out that he was an obsessive sports fan, and bought him a signed jersey from that team. Nothing to do with their brand, just a way to say thinks.
  • The best part of seeing him speak is seeing how the audience loves him and loves interacting with him (and how he interacts back). At the end of a session, people came up to the question mic to tell him, among legit questions, 1. Exactly how many times he’d cursed during his speech, 2. thank him for featuring the cover art they’d submitted in his book even though they didn’t make the winning cover.

Honorable mention: #Hashtag Takeovers and Successes in Innovative Virtual Activism

Image via Mashable

  • Another random panel that I attended because I didn’t want to leave the boonies Hyatt.
  • This featured really controversial brands (PETA and Greenpeace) and discussed the ways they’d successfully employed social media to spark activism.
  • The best part was when PETA’s community manager was describing a hashtag takeover she’d done at a recent TWTRCON session featuring NASA’s PR person, which called out NASA for its irradiation experiments on monkeys. Knowing that the conference projected hashtag conversations in the background of its sessions, PETA took over the conversation, calling NASA murderers. Well, after the conversation went on for a bit too long (aided by the PETA folks) and started to detract from the value of the conference, the TWTRCON organizers, who are still getting complaints about the disruption, came to the panel to confront PETA. It was angry. It was awesome.
  • The Greenpeace guy brought up something he called a “ladder of engagement” which illustrated how to wrangle volunteers based on  moving them through various levels of engagement. One guy said he thought it should be called an escalator of engagement since it’s the brand’s job to do all the moving for the user, rather than the user’s job.

Takeaway: Let the gravity do its job. The sessions that you’re drawn to, will likely be very useful.