SXSW: Part 1

As I draft this, I’m 30,000 ft in the air, on my way Austin for my first bout with SXSWi. I don’t believe much of the hype, and as I’m sitting on the plane perusing the schedules and recommended sessions (with my inflight wifi), I can’t help but feel a desperate need to make this as valuable an experience as possible.

Sitting between the window and a sleepy couple, purposefully dehydrated so I don’t have to use the plane restroom, I find myself haphazardly constructing a schedule of branding/marketing/food/social/mobile/innovation/entrepreneurship sessions that avoids the following scenarios over the next two days:

  • Burn-out (too many sessions, information overload)
  • “Spring Break 2011!” (too many meetups, happy hours, parties; too little learning)
  • Nomadic nonsense (no clue what to see, where to go)

While I’m hearing that the overall is increasingly trite and has lost touch with its indie/innovation roots, I feel almost paralyzed by the potential of this conference. The session schedule alone is a daunting vortex of… jeez, who even knows.

SXSW seems be like a trip to that amazing vintage store you keep hearing about. By the time you make it there, you just stand at the entrance, summoning the energy to dig through racks and racks of potentially amazing gems of awesomeness that will inspire months and months of creativity and ideas.

Maybe all three scenarios are inevitable, and really, the charm and POINT of SXSW… And that’s why creatives, designers, developers, entrepreneurs and generally interesting and interested people keep coming back.

I’m going to get back to planning my schedule. But here are the first few gems I’ve found:

 

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The Culinization of Megan Soto

Nothing inspires more trepidation in me than word combinations like braised arugula, caramelized onions and pan-seared scallops.  I’m a terrible grocery shopper, and in the four months since moving into my apartment, I’ve had to crack the window to clear my smoky kitchen about as many times as I’ve had to take out the recycling.

Immersion in San Francisco’s foodie culture and a gaggle of gourmet friends did nothing to build my confidence, or, frankly, capture my interest. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that some foods taste better or are better quality than others, I get that. And I’ll own up to some epicurean stirring in my heart when I watch Julie and Julia and Ratatouille.

Let’s just say that there is no farmers market magic for a girl who grew up in rural Oregon where there were fresh produce stands, rampant wild raspberries, and orchards lining every road. And honestly, ‘cooking for one’ for the last two-and-a-half  years always dampened those small sparks of inspiration.

But that’s a dish for another meal.

You can see why, then, it was such a “Wait, what?” moment for a few of my friends when we discussed my new career direction while they unloaded a massive, perfectly browned roast from the oven or whipped up fresh pesto in (what I’ve since learned is) a food processor. …  Just let that sink in.

The transition from tech PR to food PR seems about as stark a difference as you can get. Buzz words suddenly change from innovation, NextGen, solution, etc. to organic, grass-fed, GMO/hormone free, artisan, etc.

My resolve to acquaint myself with what so many of my friends have touted for years — the ability to cook — crystallized a few weeks ago with an article that was circulating our office here at Maxwell. When I read Josh Ozersky’s write-up on Portland in Time , which name-dropped such hallowed haunts as Beast and Bunk, I decided I have a rare opportunity to bolster research for my industry AND sharpen (er, learn) a skill in tandem. The following grounded that resolve:

  • I finally watched Food, Inc. which led me to promptly join my local food co-op.
  • I now have a fridge, oven and shelves that are completely my own, untainted by house-mates (and their ever-judging eyes), with which to furnish and cook ingredients, ingredients, ingredients.
  • The more I learn about my clients’ products, the more I want to give my body the wholesome and healthy — and learn to do it myself.

In truth, I feel a little cliché saying “I moved to Portland and now I’m into food!” But denying it would be nonsensical since it doesn’t so much make me a bandwagon foodie, but rather someone who can transition into a new industry, right?

Here’s the thing, maybe it’s not that new.

While SF offers an array of authentic ethnic and local food options, Portland is quickly solidifying its reputation as hub for innovative food solutions for the NextGen of American Epicureans — innovation that happens on the street, in restaurant kitchens, on our rural and urban farms. Innovation and shifts and trends that spring out of and  yet, pour into, an industry that’s constantly churning with novelty and development. When you look at it that way, you can’t tell that I left tech PR (or Silicon Valley) at all.

But I did. And that flag is staked, the culinization has begun.

Peace out, SF

I’d like to think I’ve been saving this post, waiting until I’d had the full experience required to really synthesize it for you. But the truth is, like a bald-faced confession, it’s just a tough thing to spit out.

I recently switched jobs.

Phew, you might be thinking, that actually looked quite easy to say. And, really, many of you who read this knew that anyway. But not many of you know the ensuing story of that announcement that halted my drafting and publishing of this post. You see, you can’t just switch jobs. In looking for a job (while still employed), there’s a dance and a game you end up playing and when reality sets in (when you get the job, that is) there’s an admittance to your current employer that you’re no longer happy in the position or workplace in which you’ve been, well, working.

In my case, that was not the problem. I loved my job. I am lucky, as I’ve stated many times on this blog, to have worked at LaunchSquad and to have loved every minute. It was a fantastic two years filled with growing pains and growth spurts, of trials and triumphs. Yes, I loved working. And that was the problem.

In a prior post, I defended my San Francisco workaholic lifestyle as a necessary evil in the development of this young professional. And while I still believe that to be true, I think I used work as a distraction from what I was missing. Home, friends and family. Top it off with day-to-day life in a city that didn’t fit.

Maybe those aren’t good enough reasons, but they were good enough for me. So I put my ear to the ground — and enlisted help here and there — to come back to Oregon.

I sent out resumes and cover letters to positions that seemed worth it. Even to some that didn’t. I felt like a college senior all over again: “My experience translates across industries…” Finally, the interviews came. I talked with so many companies in so many industries, half determined, half guilty for not allowing myself to just be in San Francisco, half dreading (for good reason) leaving my company, coworkers and clients (amazing all around).

Finally, in a strange plot twist (if you consider the current economy), I landed two consecutive interviews in Portland at two very astute companies. One offered me a job on the spot — the other made me work a little harder, but eventually offered the job. I accepted the latter offer on July 29th. And three weeks later, moved into a brand new Portland apartment and started a brand new job — in a brand new industry.

SUCCESS! I now have content for this blog!

My work no longer involves fantastic technology companies, but now, ladies and gents, I’m working with fantastic food companies at Maxwell PR. What an incredible and daunting road lies before me in my professional development. And since I’m sure you’re positively on-the-edge-of-your-seat with anticipation, I cannot wait to take you on this new adventure.

Why You’ll Fall In Love with Tech PR – And why it’ll love you back.

You’ve probably heard that from people who get into Tech PR with reluctance kind of end up loving it. You’ve probably been surprised to hear it. Well, you’re as surprised as I was. To address that skeptical look on your face, let’s liken it to, say, having your first geek post-high school crush. (editors note: Please continue to read after the below image. Unfortunately he is not the main point of this post.)

Sometimes technology is pretty attractive.

He’s witty and quirky and not at all like the high school soccer jock you always imagined yourself with back when prom was the big event in your life. When you’re first getting into PR, you think it’s going to be like Samantha on SATC or Lauren and Whitney on the Hills, taking orders from Kelly Cutrone while you sit at your desk with your iMac and perfect weave surrounded by hip couture as you, you know, do PR. And at first, that sounds pretty cool. OK, it will always sound cool, but after a few months in the industry it also sounds fictional. Oh, sure, there are those Oscar De La Renta PR girls out there, but there are so many other opportunities to do real PR. Without cat-fights.

When it comes to tech, at first it’s confusing and a little (a lot) over your head. But then it’s intriguing. You start to understand the ins and outs of the industry, your competition, why it really is competition (it’s a race for innovation!). How technology is changing and maturing faster than it ever has and how you, yes YOU, get to see it with your own eyes — all the behind the scenes stuff and you get to influence it. Wow, that’s kind of exciting. Think I’m developing a tiny crush, but I mean, I’m not going to be his girlfriend or anything. This is just harmless flirting…

You resist, and also don’t. He’s funny and sweet, and loves your attention because, well, he’s a nerd. And suddenly, you’re interested in the things that he finds interesting, and you now find that you want to support him in his endeavors. It’s OK, let yourself get excited about things like public APIs and SXSW INTERACTIVE. These are valuable things that matter and are the building blocks to the important and critical technology that will eventually be infused throughout business, lifestyle, culture – and the rest of The New York Time’s sections.

You bring something unique to the table, something the tech industry needs badly. An “everyman (woman)” perspective. How will this be received and by who? Where should we have an online presence? How do we explain this in simple language so that people will understand the story? How do we get past jargon and tell the story to anyone? They need you because you are good with people. You make them feel comfortable and can move easily in and out of social situations.

He teaches you things. Every day you’re launching stuff that eventually brands across every industry will want to be a part of. And you can help them get there. You learn the “next thing” and see trends before they break – Tech PR people were the first to see the branding potential in Twitter, Facebook and now Foursquare.

In Tech PR, your clients are often services or platforms being used for PR initiatives. Knowing the space around these companies gives you a good leg-up on how to leverage them.

He introduces you to his friends: Being able to find, access and leverage online communities is vital these days. Clients will want to know who is talking about their brand, what they’re saying and how to reach them. By working in tech PR, you’re already managing that, if not working to garner those communities and which platforms they’re on. Everyone is a publisher these days and knowing how to tell your story to all of those channels is hugely important.

He’s everything you never knew you were looking for. Tech PR gives you an incredible opportunity to practice traditional PR (press releases, media tours, press kits), while staying sharp as the media changes and the PR industry changes. So much of PR is about web content and content creation – blogging for clients, doing client videos, creating media properties (like external, loosely branded sites) – to engage with the community, and knowing these trends is half the battle. Tech PR will do that for you.
Almost every major (and successful) branding campaign has some kind of online component and social web presence – be it sports, fashion, food, travel, eCommerce, politics, non-profit, etc. You need to know how to lead the charge.

On that note, LaunchSquad is hiring at all levels in SF, NYC and Boston. Interested? http://launchsquad.com/about/join-the-team.php

On Being the Expert

One of the things I’ve really struggled with in my client relations development is being “the expert.” When you work for an outside consulting firm, as I do, you are basically the adviser to your client in all things media and publicity – you are the expert. It’s difficult, as you build rapport with your client, maybe even to the point that your team calls with them are friendly and collaborative, to assert yourself with authority, especially if you’re young. This can mean telling a client when one of their ideas sounds like a bad one – horror of horrors.

  • Speak with conviction. You can be unsure about something, without sounding like it. And you can say you don’t know without sounding incompetent. The more you express your ideas with conviction, the more confidence your client has in you, even if you’re wrong.
  • Be researched. It’s easier to speak with conviction if you know what you’re talking about. Be ready to address all the outcomes, all questions, all concerns with sound and knowledgeable advice.
  • Rehearse. Speaking confidently with clients comes with experience and a lot of practice – and even with critique. Ask for feedback from your teams and your coworkers and really work on areas where you falter.
  • Disagree with a client. Being upfront about bad and risky ideas tells the client that you’re forward thinking, not combative. This also means you’ll need to have an alternative direction or a new idea at the ready. When you’re able to be on-the-level with a client, you can get a lot more done.
  • Be firm. Part of this is the whole “speaking with authority/conviction/your heart” deal, but in the long run, it’ll let the client know that you’re not wishy-washy. But this also means being ready to hash out why it’s a bad idea.
  • Be flexible. Your client is paying you. At some point, they’re going to remember that too and you need to know that they’re going to make whatever decision they want to make. You need to be ready to go with it whole-heartedly and have a game-plan around it.
  • Have managers/coworkers read your client emails before sending. Feedback is important in your growth here. You may think your email conveys a lot of value and expertise, but your more experienced coworkers can help you spot weak and passive language and ultimately make you a stronger communicator.

The point here is that you never want the client to have to ask “Why didn’t you tell us this was a bad idea?” if you can avoid it. What they decide after you advise them is their own deal. And they’ll know “you told them so” without you having to say it. But this isn’t about being right – it’s about putting the client first and trying your hardest not to let “wrong” things happen. That’s what makes you the real deal and the expert.

In Defense of Being a Young Workaholic

The way I work has triggered such negative accusations as “Your job owns you!” and “You’re never not working” and “You have no life!” I’ll admit. Working throughout the morning of this last Christmas Eve did little to squelch these rumors.

LaunchSquad provided me a MacBook when I was hired and I was in nirvana. My crush on Apple’s beautiful white laptop lasted all through college and my lust was even worse for the iPhone. Both devices have become a source of acute irritation to my boyfriend because they mean one thing – I’m always connected, always able to work. Always.

Being thus equipped ends up meaning that I don’t quite have a work-life balance, adequately appropriating work to one location and time-frame and personal life to another. Work, for me, is – if I may call upon some industry jargon – cross-platform and happens in real-time. If’ I’m watching TV, I often have my computer open and on my lap, and while I’m likely not doing any writing-intensive projects, I’m still carrying out tasks, however miniscule – updating media lists, searching for coverage, maybe a bit of pitching. This can happen whenever and wherever. And it does. Here’s why it’s not bad:

  • AGILITY: I have no children and do not live with my significant other so I’m not sacrificing quality relationship time to work. I’m young enough that work doesn’t exhaust me enough yet to keep me from doing other things if they come up. When work emergencies come up, I can jump on them easily and as I am already so engaged in the accounts, I often know exactly what needs to be done.
  • RELOCATION FROM HOME: Let’s face it – after college you may have to move away to find a job. And a new city can (in my case, anyway) mean a staggered, at best, social life. Which also means I have more time to work. And I take advantage of that – it can help ease the loneliness.
  • ENERGY FOR THE WORK I DO: I love my job, my clients and my work. Not everyone is so lucky, but learning to engage in hard work, I mean HARD WORK – the kind that keeps you up and at the office at night, goes through hours and hours of revisions, endless thought-processing, and finely-tuned technical planning that strains your energy, social life, and sleep patterns – is an important lesson and career move that translates across jobs, whether they suck or shine in your life.
  • FUTURE IN MIND: I work like this so that one day I won’t have to. I work hard to eventually manage others to do the same. Look at the people who manage you – more likely than not, they’ve sacrificed a fun evening out for an all night project or two.

Again, I’ve got the idyllic situation for this kind of lifestyle and sometimes it can really suck to know that I could take a less stressful job and enjoy a much more socially-friendly personal life. I had to accept, though, that while I’m not in college anymore, I didn’t graduate to stop working hard. It’s a bit heart-stopping to realize that the morning and evening commutes and everything in between are your life now (and may bleed into other parts of your life), don’t let that stop you from tackling the challenge that our generation is so afraid to face these days – hard work.

We are so eager to be lazy, so eager to take advantage of lax work environments, to work till the bell rings – till quitting time. To leave work at work and invest in the fun life that a salary can buy. It’s an effect of an entitled generation who sees jobs and day-to-day work marginalized in the media and not worth the effort until we’re making six figures in a corner office. Sure, shoot for the stars. But understand that the groundwork for that life happens NOW because, while MTV and our culture will tell you differently, those perks are a direct result of hard work and your very best effort. The sooner the better.

Mike Rowe’s TED talk on Dirty Jobs and Work:

Web Savvy: Trend-spotting and the Network of Cool

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Maybe you Tweet it, maybe you put it on Facebook. Maybe you stick it in your Tumblr and tag it. These are our outlets for further publicizing cool websites, trends and, really, your own Web savvy. Did you know Twitter would blow up before Ashton joined? Have you casually mentioned the growing market around online video advertising in a recent conversation with a friend? Are you 18-24 years old?

LaunchSquad is looking the tuned-in, tech-savvy who can spot and speak to emerging Web trends. As the early-adopting generation, we’re more than equipped to not just to participate in the latest web offerings and also predict what’s huge, what’s next and mostly – what’s really COOL. If this interests you more than you think it should, you’re not alone – join the Network of Cool and get your voice and savvy heard: http://networkofcool.com/join/

See this post for more details – it’s by a web-savvy guy, much like yourselves, who is working with LaunchSquad to form this group of advisers to lend your expertise on what’s cool – plus you can win things.