The Art of Balance: Going Back to School in a Recession

June 30, 2009

Earlier this year, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions in my young professional career.  Upon being accepted to two programs, one a full-time PhD and one a part-time MBA, I  had to decide how to proceed.  The economy, having dove headfirst into a recession, didn’t offer me any comfort when considering the possibility of leaving my job to become a full time student.  However, the decision to take on both school and work full time seemed a bit daunting.  Both programs were distinct and unique and both offered me new opportunities and yet presented very different paths.  In the end, mine was a decision that many professionals, both early career and seasoned have found themselves considering in some capacity.  

Ultimately, I chose the MBA program with a concentration on sustainable business for a variety of reasons; but mainly because it offered me the opportunity to advance my degree and knowledge in a growing field while staying at my job.  It can be an overwhelming feeling, taking on more debt and going back to school, even after being out of college for less than five years.  I settled quickly into the pace of being a full-time professional and adding school into the mix has proven to be a juggling act. 

The recession has presented some unique challenges to our agency and our clients and we are working now more than ever to deliver results and display our talents.  Our expansion into new markets and building bridges across industries has everyone growing their knowledge base and discovering new fields of interests in order to evolve with our profession.  I find that working, now more than ever, is giving me a chance to truly grow as a professional.  But at the end of the day, I have to find time to focus on schoolwork – papers, studying, reading, researching – and it can be tricky.  Though I’ve only just begun my journey, I’ve already learned some key points that have made the transition that much easier.

  • Let your employer know you are going back to school.  It’s important to be upfront about your committments while still maintaining your workload and assuring your employer that you intend to utilize your new skills in your current job.
  • Set up a work space at home that allows you to concentrate and focus.  It is very easy to become unmotivated after work 9 hours in front of a computer to go home and continue work well into the evening.  Setting up a space allows you to separate relaxing at home from doing schoolwork.  The two should be separate entities.
  • Stay on top of your coursework and set aside certain days of the week to complete assignments.  I have found myself having to turn down social invitations in order to complete work – but I know on Sunday and Wednesday nights, I have to do school work and therefore no longer make plans for that timeframe. 
  • Research grant and fellowship opportunities – the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act provided a decent amount of funding to federal and state agencies for higher education initiatives, particularly in the green sector. 

Being back in school is certainly adding a new factor of business to my life but one that hopefully will payoff in the long term and increase my opportunities and skill set down the road.  Stay tuned for (many) more blog updates on my adventures as a grad student!

Posted by: Ashley /follow me on Twitter

Billy Mays: Pitchman or Genius?

June 29, 2009

225px-Billy_Mays_headshotIt has been a sad week with the passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and now Billy Mays. While Mays never had the celebrity status that the others did, he was a celebrity in his own right. 

Known for being the screaming face of “As Seen on TV” products like OxyClean, Orange Glo, and other cleaning, home-based, and maintenance products, Mays was a marketer’s best friend. The in-your-face approach worked so well that Mays has been able to move hundreds of thousands of units of product, regardless of whether or not they actually worked. Most recently, he had moved to prime-time with pitch jobs for ESPN 360 and even starred in his own show “Pitchmen” on the Discovery Channel.

Every marketer dreams of having a front man like Billy Mays. A person, whose approach to selling product resonates with the consumer, makes the product memorable and brings an extreme ROI to any campaign. Others have tried to match his success (think ShamWow), but none have come close. While many have though Mays’ abrasive, loud style was annoying, no one can dispute the sheer success he had seen over his career.

Around the world start-up, potential As Seen on TV manufacturers are mourning the loss of the man that could make them millions. I suspect that some will attempt to mimic his style, (but doubt that anyone will succeed) Mays provides us with a great case study on how personality and presentation can really sell any product, regardless of their effectiveness.

Posted by: Lauren

On behalf of the Pelton family I say farewell to the King of Pop

June 27, 2009

This post is aimed at honoring Michael Jackson the artist, not the man. There is no question his antics in later years leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but though it all, Michael Jackson’s music and artistry changed everything for performers all over the world.

Thriller was the first album I ever bought – I had a dance routine for every song on that album.  Bad was the first concert we went to as a family – and it is still, hands down, THE BEST concert I have ever seen (and that is competing with some big ones like Prince, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder!)  Music was big in my house and his music was always on – my dad loved all it – the old Jackson 5 stuff all the way to his last CD.  Man in the Mirror was one of my favorite songs  – so much so that I wrote a college entrance essay based on it (ha!).  Say what you will about him and his personal life – I am not denying (at all) that he got weird in his “later” years but as a music icon he was and always will be a legend – at least to me and the members of my family. 

Last night I was on the phone with my dad when he read from the muted TV  “Breaking News – Michael Jackson is in a coma at UCLA Medical building” and by the time I got back from my evening walk I heard a girl on the street telling one of her friends that he had died.  My dad put on some of his tunes and rocked out for the night, my mom texted me and watched the coverage with my grandparents and my brother is going to be blasting some of his best tunes at his gig on Saturday night.  Me – I will keep him on my i-pod and get some great work outs in and jam out to him on my car rides pretending that in another life I would have made a great backup singer. 

I would have liked to see him make a comeback and really rock it on his London tour but unfortunately for me and all of his other fans we won’t get that chance.  So, it is with a little lump in my throat that I say good bye to MJ and a little piece of my childhood.

Posted by: Becca

Grandma Short’s Rules of Email: Lessons in Communications

June 26, 2009

My 85-year old grandmother got an email account this week. That’s right! The mother of 11, grandmother of 40+ and great-grandmother of 20+ thought that her new Yahoo account would help her to keep in touch with her large family that  is now spread throughout the United States. She is officially on-line!

While I realize that she is by no means an early-adopter, I do give her credit for reminding me (and my family) of simple email etiquette guidelines that we, the tech-savvy, have lost somewhere within the wonders of the world-wide web. See Grandma Short’s rules below; these can certainly serve as a reminder in our daily communications with colleagues, associates, clients and friends.

Grandma Short’s Rules of Email:

1)      Don’t make me scroll.

If she has to scroll down, rest assured that she will not be reading it. It’s not that she doesn’t care, she has not gotten the hang of scrolling down the page. So, keep messages short and sweet. It does not have to be as brief as 140 characters, but get to the point.

2)      No forwards without explanation.

She does not understand why you have listed everyone’s emails at the top of your message and in such random patterns. If you want her to read it, remove superfluous information that clutters the message. Also, see Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

3)      Write in proper English.

She is not down with the lingo. “How r u?” and “BTW” does not mean anything to her. Gram has always been a stickler for enunciation, so speak and write clearly. (This is a good time to thank you, Gram, for badgering me so often to “enunciate” that I never did pick up that harsh RI accent.)

4)      Send a message, not a list of questions.

While she loves receiving emails, she does not type a response as quickly as we do and this list is highly-frustrating. If you need that many answers, pick up the phone and call. And, see Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

5)      One link and/or attachment only.

She can handle opening an attached photo and clicking on a direct link, but do not forward her to a website that requires her to sign in/up or download information.

6)      Please select a font I can read.

Cursive, really?! She cannot and hence will not read the message. I cannot agree more. (I will, however, save the 22-point font for messages to Gram as that may be a bit of an overkill for younger eyes.)   

7)      And, lastly… Stay in touch.

She appreciates the frequent communication. Though you may not visit as often as she’d like, she still  wants to know what is keeping you so busy. Keep the information and updates flowing… just make sure not to include too much at a given time.  See Rule #1 regarding scrolling.

Happy e-mailing (and 85th birthday), Gram! Watch out, Facebook!

Posted by: Katie | follow me on Twitter

PR Nightmare: Mark Sanford

June 25, 2009

Well. We see quite a few PR nightmares come and go in this country. But the saga of Mark Sanford, erstwhile governor of South Carolina, is going to stick with us for a while. In fact, let’s preemptively award Gov. Sanford with the distinction of PR Nightmare of the Year.

Where to begin? How about the beginning.

The governor disappears nearly without a trace about a week ago. He doesn’t tell his staff where he’s going. He doesn’t tell his wife or his four sons where he’s going. He doesn’t tell the lieutenant governor or any other state government officials where he’s going. If he did, and any of them publicly pled ignorance, then they’re complicit in this disaster too.

His wife says he had to get away from those pesky kids to write something. His staff subsequently says he was hiking the Appalachian Trail to recharge after a tough legislative session. But no one can say definitively where he is. If an emergency were to happen, no one knows where the state’s chief executive is.

The truth is that he is not writing, nor is he hiking. He’s in Argentina, cheating on his wife with a woman with whom he’s been having an illicit e-mail relationship for years. An intrepid reporter confronts him at the Atlanta airport yesterday morning, returning from Buenos Aires, and he lies to her, saying he was alone, driving the “coast” of Argentina. He returns to the Palmetto State and holds a disgusting mea culpa press conference later that day with constituents smirking and snickering behind him, in awe. He doesn’t resign his office. Later in the day, embarrassing and sappy e-mails between Sanford and his Argentine lover emerge.

Now… just how big of a PR nightmare is this?

His PR guy, Joel Sawyer, looks like an uninformed idiot, of course. He came off like a sucker for a week, and I can’t imagine this stint will be the proudest item on his resume.

Just in case you think I'm being glib, here is the family that the governor abandoned for a week.

Just in case you think I'm being glib, here is the family that the governor abandoned for a week.

But more importantly, and quite impressively in a sense, Sanford managed to undermine nearly every element of his branding and messaging in one fell swoop.

Consider: Sanford is a small-government, conservative, family-values, “take responsibility for yourself,” “America first” Republican with presidential ambitions who cheated on his wife with a foreigner, walked away from his extremely important job without taking personal responsibility to get his work-related affairs in order, ditched his four sons on Father’s Day, and possibly used public money and property to travel to an airport and fly to a foreign country. Besides the fact that he didn’t seem to care if the government could function (many hardcore conservatives have been very upfront about how they would like to destroy many functions of government from the inside and transfer that power to the private sector), he spit in the face of every conservative ideal for which his wing of the Republican party stands.

Effectively, Sanford has not only embarrassed himself, his family and his state, not only has he completely undermined his PR team, but he has also delivered a huge blow to the national Republican party and the conservative movement in general with the latest and possibly greatest example of mindboggling hypocrisy that can very conveniently and effectively be used against it.

Who knew that Rod Blagojevich and Jim McGreevey could actually be eclipsed. Well maybe not, but it’s definitely a tight three-way competition now.

So…Bravo, Mark Sanford! P.S., you need to resign because you have no credibility. Probably should have consulted your PR guy before you left on your exotic romantic getaway.

Posted by Joe Paone

When Social Media and Self-absorption Trump Common Sense

June 24, 2009

From the Austria Times (via Gizmodo), a story that is sure to inspire a Darwin Award.

17 year-old Maria Rusco of Romania was  electrocuted to death while she was bathing and tweeting in her home. According to the Austria Times, “Police said they believed Maria Barbu, 17, had tried to plug in her laptop with wet hands after the battery died during a long session on social networking site Twitter as she took a soak at her home in Brasov, central Romania.”

While the jokes you can make about this story practically write themselves, the fact is a teenage girl lost her life most likely tweeting about something inane and trivial to her friends. I like to think that anyone who can figure out how to sign-up for and maintain a social media account has the base-level knowledge of electricity+water+your body=bad, but perhaps it’s not about base knowledge.

My colleague recently wrote a post called It’s a Millenial Thing, You Just Couldn’t Understand detailing the exploits of a young, aspiring PR jobseeker who basically went nutty on the person who DIDN’T hire her, just because she was given some constructive criticism about her writing sample and experience. While I’m not comparing the Romanian girl’s accidental death to a self-inflated college grad’s tirade, both cases  offer social commentary on common sense vs. egocentricity.

Social media saturation and the ability to be a center of attention 24/7 is like a drug. You can snort blog comments, mainline re-tweets, huff SEO and inhale the chatter of friends and strangers alike with no real personal gain. While this is practical for inflating self-esteem balloons, our Romanian friend proves that it can also be deadly when abused at the expense of common sense.

Assuming Maria knew that electricity + water + her was bad, she clearly thought the benefits of tweeting about loofahs and conditioner outweighed the deadly hazards presented by bringing a laptop into the tub. And while our PR gal could’ve taken the constructive criticism, improved her weaknesses and done better in the next interview, she chose to go on the attack and most likely got herself blacklisted from any future PR jobs in the area. While this doesn’t make our two anti-heros full blown narcassists, it does speak to their self-serving priorities, priorities which ultimately led to death and failure.

Yet, even by writing write this I am feeding my own sense of self-importance as if my thoughts on this topic are relevant to some grand audience. I don’t plan on assailing a senior member of my profession or introducing electronics to tubby time so why pontificate at all?

Speaking of electronics, need some audio gear or a universal remote? Visit our website for the finest the world has to offer. 

Posted by: Nick


How to Find Innovative, Smart People (hint: be innovative and smart)

June 23, 2009

It takes a lot to impress me when it comes to marketing and social media campaigns.  I think a lot of it has to do with the level of ingenuity and creativity on the backend; and most importantly, what you’re selling matters.  A lot.  That’s why when Murphy Goode, a Sonoma(west of the Russian River, to be exact) area winemaker went on the hunt for a new “Lifestyle Wine Country Correspondent” (what a job title), they decided to take a very nontraditional approach to their search.  Launching “A Really Goode Job,” Murphy Goode invited applicants from around the country to submit video diary-style job applications as to why they would make the perfect candidate for what they deemed “The Wine Country Dream Job.” 

But along with the request for videos, they launched a social media campaign of epic proportions.  A Really Goode Job news was tweeted, retweeted, blogged, posted on Facebook, Wine 2.0 – and a few ambitious applicants created blogs to showcase their effort to try to land the gig.   To top it all off, they allowed everyone to view the video applications (currently over 500) and vote on who they liked.

So yes – they marketed the hell out of this thing and it certainly paid off.  But the key here is that the job?  Well, it really is a dream job for anyone who is passionate about wine and social media.   Among other things, one of the job responsibilities includes “Exploring the vineyards of Murphy-Goode and surrounding areas and discovering what the Sonoma County Wine Country has to offer, from well-known destinations to off-the-beaten-path spots.”  So….drinking wine?  Hmm.  They go onto to detail the compensation –

If you are chosen, you will be housed in a deluxe private home in the heart of Wine Country, within walking distance to our tasting room on Healdsburg Square. In addition, you’ll be paid a salary of $10,000 a month (U.S.) for the six-month contract. You’ll receive return airfare to your hometown, accommodations and transport in Sonoma County, travel insurance for the contract period, computer, internet, PDA, and digital and still camera access.

Sure it’s a temporary job – but WOW. 

The last day to throw your hat in was Friday but kudos to Murphy Goode on pulling out all the stops, getting some great publicity and hopefully hiring an extremely qualified candiate.  They certainly deserve it.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter