Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking back on my year as Minnesota PRSA president

Now that the end of 2012 is upon us, I'm taking a moment to reflect on my year as the president of the Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Probably the best way to sum up the year is with the speech that I gave at the chapter's annual meeting/holiday party on Dec. 6 at Pinstripes:

Welcome! I’m Brant Skogrand, president of Minnesota PRSA. I’d like to call the 2012 Minnesota PRSA annual meeting to order. Thank you all for being here tonight.

          I would like to hit on some quick highlights of the year.

          First, we updated our website. now is a lot more interactive and engaging. Be sure to check out the Perspectives Blog for public relations insight, event recaps and more.

          We have visited in person all of the PRSSA chapters. This has strengthened our bond with future public relations professionals. I have enjoyed getting to know the students and seeing them become involved in PRSA upon graduation.

          We hosted some very compelling Programming, including a visit by the editor-in-chief of PRWeek, a creativity workshop that was featured in PRSA Issues & Trends, and events that connected our members with the media and with each other.

          At the Classics, we announced the winner of our first Young Professional Award. Congratulations again to Marnie Kopischke.

          In April, Minnesota hosted its first PRSA National APR Boot Camp. This brought professionals from San Diego, South Carolina and places in between to achieve their APR and APR+M.

          Our National membership numbers were up this year, putting us at more than 400 and giving us five Assembly delegates to represent our chapter nationally.

          After going through a review process, Minnesota PRSA has switched to a new association management company. Our new firm is called Creating Order, and representatives from Creating Order are here tonight. As such, Minnesota PRSA’s mailing address and phone number have changed. The new contact information is on our website.

          Thanks to our board members this year. Please raise your hand when I mention your name:
·       Theresa Skillrud, APR – Director of Business Community Outreach
·       Susan Buckles, APR – Director of Classics
·       Susan Beatty, APR – Director of Accreditation and Career Center
·       Heather Cmiel, APR – Director of Professional Development and Networking
·       Jason Sprenger, APR – Director of Internal and External Communication
·       Linda Kohl, APR – Director of Student Relations
·       Michael Porter, APR – Ethics Officer
·       Brooke Worden, APR – Immediate Past President
·       Joel Swanson, APR, MACT – Secretary and Director of Membership
·       Anna Long, APR – Treasurer
·       Tracy Carlson, APR – Vice President

Thanks to all of our volunteers for helping us accomplish these achievements. Now, on to some official business with the Secretary’s report, Treasurer’s report and election of the 2013 officers.

Here's to an excellent 2013 for Minnesota PRSA with Tracy Carlson as the chapter president!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Update on my LivingSocial complaint

livingsocial class action
In October, I wrote a post about LivingSocial, "How $700 got lifted from my wallet. . .my LivingSocial complaint."

I am pleased to report that my wife and I ended up getting a refund. It required working with the Better Business Bureau and some persistence, but we did end up getting our money back.

Interestingly enough, the provider now has changed its name from Maple Grove Wellness to Non-Surgical Clinic of the Twin Cities.

On a related note, I received information that LivingSocial recently settled a class action lawsuit. According to the filing, "The Action claims the Vouchers used to redeem LivingSocial Deals are 'gift certificates' and that expiration dates and other conditions applied to the Vouchers violate state and federal gift card and gift certificate regulations. The Action also asserts related claims for breach of contract, false advertising and unjust enrichment."

If you have a LivingSocial deal that has expired, has not been redeemed and has not been refunded, you might be able to be a member of the class action lawsuit.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winning the Minnesota PRSA Classics

The Minnesota Public Relations Society of America Classics Awards recognize the best campaigns and tactics in our state's public relations community. The winners are feted at a gala event each spring featuring celebrity emcees and a delicious dinner.

Behind the celebration, though, lies a lot of hard work. A tremendous amount of effort goes into implementing award-winning campaigns and tactics, and assembling an award-winning Classics entry is no small task.

Minnesota PRSA Classics
Cassie D'Kae, Christine Michaelis and Johnna Vogelbacher of Exponent PR
To help public relations practitioners prepare successful award entries, Minnesota PRSA recently held a workshop featuring this year's "Best of Show" team members (see photo on the right).

Exponent PR's Christine Michaelis, Johnna Vogelbacher and Cassie D'Kae won "Best of Show" for their firm's work with Caribou Coffee.

For their campaign promoting Caribou Coffee's Amy's Blend and Amy's Garden, the Exponent PR team focused on goals of increasing donations and improving customer engagement. While making the entries fun and telling a story is key, Michaelis also pointed out that all aspects of the four-step process (research, planning, execution and evaluation) need to be covered in a Classics entry.

"Writing an award entry reminds us of the fundamentals of the PR craft," said Kelly Puspoki, vice president of Consumer Marketing at Weber Shandwick. Puspoki's team won multiple PR awards for its integrated campaign on behalf of client American Girl.

Puspoki, in reflecting on her entries, also said to avoid buzzwords.

Tracy Carlson, APR, of Padilla Speer Beardsley, recommended keeping material in a folder throughout the year to make it easier to gather data for award entries. She also said that demonstrating the campaign's four-step process is important, particularly the research and evaluation steps.

Best of luck as you prepare your Classics entries! The due date is noon on Dec. 14.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Retailers and Black Friday 2012 sales

Target Black Friday
In a recent Business Pulse survey by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, readers were asked, "What do you think of Target and other retailers opening their stores at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night?"

The responses provide insight into readers' thoughts:
  • Seventy-seven percent chose "Hate it! American consumerism has run amok!"
  • Ten percent chose "Love it! No more sleep deprivation"
  • Eight percent chose "I prefer 5 a.m. — when the wimpy shoppers are sleeping"
  • Six percent chose "I'm shopping on Thanksgiving, but I'm doing it online"
While I understand that retailers want to get a jump-start on bringing in revenues for the all-important fourth quarter, they also need to be cautious about creeping into Thanksgiving. After all, there are reasons for national holidays, and giving people a break from work to spend time with their families is one of them. We don't want Thanksgiving to go away and become Black Thursday.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The end of monthly same-store sales?

Target logo
Each month, many retailers report same-store sales, which reveal the sales at stores open at least a year. The idea behind these statistics, according to Thomson Reuters (one of the compilers of the data), is "to examine underlying growth trends at a retailer, since it excludes store openings and closings. It also allows comparisons between retail chains that are aggressively expanding and those expanding at a slower pace."

In the last couple months, however, two notable retailers have decided to stop reporting monthly same-store sales:  Target and Kohl's. Both have decided to move to reporting quarterly same-store sales. They are in good company; Walmart doesn't report monthly same-store sales either.

In Target's case, the retailer said that reporting same-store sales quarterly "will create a longer-term focus and provide greater understanding of our sales results in the context of our overall financial performance."

Kohl's said that it will switch to reporting sales results quarterly "to align with the wishes of its investors and the practice of the majority of its retail peers."

Having worked seven years in the public relations department of a major retailer, I understand why it makes more sense for retailers to switch to reporting same-store sales on a quarterly basis. Each month, management at my retailer had to determine why the same-store sales changed. Sometimes it was because Easter had shifted a week. Other times it was because of El Niño or La Niña. Hopefully reporting same-store sales on a quarterly basis will be able to provide a truer comparison.

So, who does that leave as retailers reporting monthly same-store sales? Here's the list:
  1. The Buckle
  2. The Gap
  3. The Limited
  4. Ross Stores
  5. TJX Cos.
  6. Bon-Ton
  7. Costco
  8. Fred's
  9. Macy's Inc.
  10. Stage Stores
  11. SteinMart
  12. JW Nordstrom
  13. Cato Corp
  14. Wet Seal
  15. Zumiez
  16. Walgreen
  17. Rite Aid
While there are significant retailers on this list, there are many noteworthy ones not reporting as well. Take that into account when reading the headlines about monthly same-store sales. Perhaps eventually it just might shift to quarterly same-store sales altogether.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Meet the media

Bill Hudson, Stephanie March and Thomas Lee share media relations tips.
At an Oct. 31 Minnesota Public Relations Society of America breakfast event, attendees learned a few tricks about connecting with the media while enjoying treats.

Moderator Dr. Michael Porter of the University of St. Thomas started out the panel discussion with an appropriate Halloween question, "What is the worst PR nightmare pitch that you have received?"

While Bill Hudson of WCCO-TV and Stephanie March of Mpls. St. Paul Magazine refused to comment, Thomas Lee of the Star Tribune shared his interesting story.

"My worst public relations nightmare was getting a pitch from a company promoting a product called Flatulence-D, with deals with farting after gastric bypass surgery," said Lee. "The person really had no clue what I wrote about."

Among the tips offered by Hudson, March and Lee were:
  • Don't pitch more than one reporter at the same media outlet.
  • Read the reporter's stories and what they have written about before pitching.
  • Think in terms of both visuals and sound when pitching TV reporters.
  • Learn the reporter's preferences in terms of connecting via e-mail or phone call.
The panelists agreed that media relations is about relationships.

"The best time to get in touch with a reporter is when you have nothing to pitch," said Lee. "You're in it for the long haul." In the video above, Lee talks about how he uses ProfNet to find sources.

One attendee asked a question about connecting with reporters via social media. That turned out to be an individualized response. Lee primarily uses Twitter to find out about stories, while March is open to being pitched via Twitter. Hudson, however, isn't even on Twitter, so phone and e-mail are best for him.

How can public relations people stand out from the clutter? Attendees learned one trick:  send a handwritten note. It will get read.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How $700 got lifted from my wallet. . .my LivingSocial complaint

living social customer service
Caveat emptor. A few times I have purchased deals from sites like LivingSocial or Crowd Cut, such as a restaurant discount or money off at a bed and breakfast.

Deals on those sites worked out fine for me -- until now. This spring my wife bought six Zerona laser treatments for $699.00 from Maple Grove Wellness.

I personally would not have purchased something health-related from LivingSocial. My wife, however, had researched Zerona and was waiting for the appropriate time to purchase a deal.

She made an appointment with Maple Grove Wellness, but was not able to get in until after the LivingSocial refund time frame expired (five days).

The LivingSocial refund policy says:  "LivingSocial will provide a refund if you change your mind within five days after you've purchased your voucher and want to 'return' the unused voucher. After that, we do not provide refunds except that we will provide a refund if you are unable to redeem a voucher because the merchant has gone out of business."

My wife went to her initial consultation with Maple Grove Wellness and the "physician" was unable to and/or unwilling to answer some of her questions regarding the procedure (success rates, side effects, etc.). That made her uncomfortable with having it done at Maple Grove Wellness, so she sought a refund. After contacting LivingSocial consumer services, she was told that no refund would be available.

There's a lesson to be learned here -- don't buy health-related deals (LASIK, Zerona, body waxing, facials, etc.) on deal sites. You probably will not be able to get an appointment until you're outside of the LivingSocial refund time frame, and then you'll be out your money. In my case, it was $699.00 down the drain. Buyer beware.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creative inspiration

inspire creative
Panelists at the Minnesota PRSA event (l-r):  Brian Prentice, Scott Broberg, Bart Heird, Paul Maccabee
Create a joke about corn on the cob and thirst. Not the easiest thing to do, right? It was, in fact, the challenge that Bart Heird of Aimia gave my breakout group at a recent Minnesota Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) event recently. (You can read my fabulous joke at the end.)

Heird was one of the panelists for the "Infusing Creativity into Your Job" workshop held at Padilla Speer Beardsley on Sept. 27.

The event started out with a panel featuring Heird, Scott Broberg of Fast Horse, Paul Maccabee of Maccabee Public Relations, and Brian Prentice of Padilla Speer Beardsley.

Attendees learned many nuggets about how to inspire creativity such as:
  • Train yourself to remember your dreams to capture awesome creative ideas.
  • Unplugging is essential for inspiring creativity.
  • The solution is the least important part of creative thinking - set it aside and it will come.
The panelists each had unique takes on creativity. "What's original 20 years ago could be original today because of idea regeneration," said Heird.

Broberg pointed out that a simple twist on an idea can take it from good to great.

In regard to the "blue sky," Prentice said that it can be scary for creative people. "Sometimes it helps to have the box defined," he said.

Maccabee commented on the shifting expectations of clients as transitioning from "Get me on Oprah" to "Make my video go viral."

Breakout Sessions

After the panel discussion, attendees had the opportunity to get up close with each of the creative masterminds in breakout groups that rotated.

Maccabee presented groups with a situation involving Gold'n Plump chicken. Participants needed to collaborate on the launch of chicken called "Just Bare." Zero advertising was taking place, and Gold'n Plump needed to reach women who are "mindful eaters" ages 25 to 45 with one to three children. One caveat:  the company didn't want anyone playing off of the "Just Bare" name in the "au naturale" sense that immediately comes to mind.

Prentice provided an excellent way to break the ice:  Story Cubes. With Story Cubes, people simply rolled the dice and used the pictures on the dice to create stories on the spot.

Broberg reflected on brainstorms in his breakout group. Some tips that he had for effective brainstorms included:  removing distractions, asking "Why not?" and bringing in research and facts to help brainstorms stay on track.

Remember the challenge to create a joke about corn on the cob and thirst? Heird provided some guidelines to joke writing in his breakout session. He said that jokes need to be plausible and encouraged people to be curious and to find patterns and associations.

So, now as to my joke about corn on the cob and thirst:  The drought was so bad this year that even corn on the cob was drinking soda made with high fructose corn syrup.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to get a book published

Guest post by Lauren Martinez Catlin

It's all about who you know. No one wants to hear that, certainly not me. I've been trying to get published since I was 13 years old, when I had an award-winning short story in hand. Since that disappointing experience I have queried four different novels. I've purchased two copies of Writer's Market, and three copies of the equivalent book on literary agents. I'd read countless articles on how to get published, what agents are looking for, how to write a dynamite query letter, the importance of what font you use. Finding an agent seemed not so much like a business deal as a mystic pagan ritual; if you coughed at the wrong time the whole thing would be ruined. 
how to get published
One day the magic finally happened; my father gave a copy of my latest book to a friend, who then gave it to another friend who happened to be a literary agent. Several months later I got a call from my father (of all people!) saying that the literary agent loved my book and was dying to represent me. My husband and I called everyone we knew and threw a huge party at our house. My best friend brought me a bottle of champagne. People congratulated me on all my hard work and persistence. And then nothing happened. More than a year later on one of my routine “just calling to check in” calls, I learned that agent had left the company and they were dropping all her clients. I sat down and cried at my day job. 
Then there was the Amazon Breakout Novel Award (ABNA). It was a novel contest, and the prize was a $25,000 book deal with Penguin. I took my latest novel (a different book than the agent had), and submitted it. I did make the first cut, I was in the top 20 percent, but I didn't make the second cut. The next year I tried again, same result. I queried that second book to a few people, but I couldn't bring myself to do the mass mailings I'd grown too accustomed to. I kept writing, because I honestly don't know what else to do with myself. 
About a year later, a friend of my husband from his work started publishing travel guides on the Kindle. It was something he was doing on the side because he was being shipped off to Belgium for months at a time and he needed something to do on the plane. The travel guides were aggregated information he pulled off of the Internet, not original work, but they were making some money. He wanted to see if he could take on some authors with original work, and he knew that I wrote books. This wasn't how I was hoping it would happen, but this point, I had five books sitting on my hard drive, and I didn't want to die with them languishing there. So I said okay. A few months later, I held a proof copy of my book in my hands. It was solid and heavy and when I opened it, words I had written were there in print. 
Like most of the stories I've heard from published authors, this journey is completely impossible to duplicate. You can't marry my husband and hope he'd keep the same friends who'd decide to open a publishing house. I used to get very frustrated about this kind of story, because I am a very proactive and pragmatic person. Thus, I will break out the underlying principles that are duplicable. 
First, write every day. There is something very sad about having five complete novels sitting on my hard drive, but knowing a guy who's opening a publishing house does me no good if I don't have a novel to give him. I had a few, and chose my favorite. As frustrating as ABNA was, I wouldn't have been able to participate at all if I hadn't had a novel to submit. This may sound elemental, but the first step in publishing a book is writing a book. This is slightly different for non-fiction, where I've heard you can sometimes get away with a very detailed outline. Write every day anyway, you'll be better off.

Second, call yourself a writer. Knowing a guy who's opening a publishing house doesn't help me that much if he doesn't know I write books. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a novelist. I told them that when I was an administrative assistant, when I was a grunt at a software company, and when I was a nanny. Those are just jobs, what I do is write books. 
Third, make lots of friends. One of the smartest and most fun things I've done in the last few years is start performing spoken word poetry all around the metro. Performing has given me a chance to promote some causes I really believe in, to meet lots of other artists, and yes, to gain a tiny bit of name recognition. I'm pretty solidly introverted, so going to a big event to perform and then try to network is a big challenge for me. Here's how I do it. I pretend that I'm a confident and interesting person that people want to meet. I pretend that when I approach someone that I'm being very gracious and magnanimous. I hand out business cards and say, “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” like I'm doing them a big favor, and not like I'm putting feelers out for new gigs. 

I was invited to write this guest blog because I'm friends with the kind and generous man who runs this website, and he knows that I'm a writer. So there you go.

About the Author:

Martinez Catlin is an author and poet who is committed to inspiring compassion through the written word. Her work has enhanced the efforts of A Minnesota Without Poverty, Breaking Free, Source Ministries, Justice4All, and A Beautiful Rescue. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a degree in English Literature. The Other Side of Silence is her first novel. She currently lives in Minneapolis with a very cute husband and a German shepherd.

Check out her website, buy her now-published novel, and watch some of her performances.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lance Armstrong's reputation will survive

Lance Armstrong and Cancer
Even though the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has decided to strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France wins after he decided to stop fighting charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong's reputation still is intact.

Why? There are several factors. First, Armstrong always has maintained his innocence. He points to the hundreds of drug tests that he passed as proof.

Second, everyone loves an underdog. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. Three years later, he inspired people around the world by winning the Tour de France.

Finally, his Livestrong foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight cancer. His fundraising efforts have transformed his image from only a cyclist to a humanitarian as well.

Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Oakley all have said that they will continue to sponsor Armstrong. In the court of public opinion, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency loses.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Flinch by Julien Smith: a book review

The Flinch Book
"The Flinch" by Julien Smith is a book that pushes the edges. Smith offers it as a free e-book on Amazon, because he feels that the book can change people's lives so much that there shouldn't be a purchase price.

What's the flinch, you ask? According to Smith, "The flinch is why the lazy actor never gets discovered -- because she never really sweats to make it happen. It's why the monolithic company gets wiped out by a lean startup -- because the big company culture avoids the hard questions. It's the reason you make the wrong decision, even though you may know what the right one is."

We flinch to avoid pain. While the flinch can save our lives, Smith contends that facing the flinch can sometimes be the best way to get what we want.

To get readers to face the flinch, Smith has some unique homework:  take a cold shower, drop a mug, speak to a total stranger. Sounds easy -- until you put it into practice. Then it actually can be hard to face the flinch. By starting out with these exercises, we are able to start to retrain our brain to take on the challenges in our lives.

Smith's book is approximately 131 pages, but has the potential to change your life. So, what are you waiting for? Download it now and change your life for free.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making the most of Alphabet Bash

Networking at Alphabet Bash
This Thursday night is one of the best networking opportunities in Minneapolis/St. Paul for marketing, communications and creative professionals:  Alphabet Bash. Considering that more than 600 advertising, communications, direct marketing, marketing, design and public relations professionals are expected to attend, how does one make the most of the evening?

Here are some ideas:
  1. Know what you want to do. If you just want to mingle, that's cool -- there will be plenty of opportunities for that. However, if you want to talk about a more specific topic such as skills for new PR professionals, check out the table talks ahead of time and decide which one(s) you want to attend.
  2. Explore the entire venue. The table talks typically have been held upstairs at Epic Event Center. If you go upstairs, check out the patio to mingle more and get a breath of fresh air.
  3. Get to know the partners. You're going to meet many people from several organizations with acronyms (hence the name Alphabet Bash). It helps to know at least a little bit about the organizations beforehand.
  4. Pace yourself for the after-party. Even though Alphabet Bash wraps up at 10 p.m., that doesn't mean that the networking has to end. Several smaller groups typically have gone to bars after Alphabet Bash. It's a great opportunity to connect on a smaller scale.
As you're gearing up for Alphabet Bash, check out the Alphabet Bash content on social media. Good luck on possibly winning one of the door prizes at Thursday's event!

Monday, July 23, 2012

PRSA Midwest District shines in Chicago

For two days in July, more than 150 public relations professionals and educators from nine states gathered in the Windy City for the 2012 Midwest District Conference.

Digital Megaphone, ConAgra Foods, Edelman Digital Discuss Bloggers
Hope Bertram of Digital Megaphone, Dan Skinner of ConAgra Foods and Caleb Gardner of Edelman Digital discuss blogger relations at the 2012 PRSA Midwest District Conference.
The conference, which was held at the Water Tower Campus of Loyola University, started out with a talk by Al Golin, founder of GolinHarris. Golin shared stories from his career, including the key to long-term relationships (keeping them current and not taking them for granted), the three Cs that he looks for in job candidates (current, creative and curious), and ethics (“In the good old days, ethics wasn’t different – people just didn’t get caught.”)

Next, attendees learned from two crisis communications experts:  Jack Yeo of MSLGROUP Americas and John R. Brooks, APR, of North Park University. They focused on eight laws of crisis communications:
  1. Protecting reputation is not about the crisis, but rather how you handle it;
  2. Be aware of the world around you;
  3. There is no excuse for not planning;
  4. A swift response is required;
  5. Understand the impact of today’s digital democracy;
  6. Always operate with transparency;
  7. Never stand alone; and
  8. Never forget to rebuild.
Yeo and Brooks offered numerous case studies along the way, and encouraged attendees to be among the 54 percent of companies that are prepared for a crisis.

Several breakout sessions throughout the day provided attendees with plenty of choices. Topics for the breakouts ranged from community engagement to personal brands to mentoring, measurement and more.

The afternoon closed out with a talk on transparency from Andy Shaw, president and CEO of Better Government Association, and a media panel with three journalists from Chicago. The media panel included strong opinions from Robert Feder of Time Out Chicago, who said, “Because of social media, we don’t need you, and you don’t need us.”

On the second day, Mary Henige of General Motors started out the morning with an overview of her company’s approach to social media. Breakout sessions followed on a variety of topics including:  mobile communications, social media, ethics and transparency, employee engagement, media relations, and blogger relations.

The second day closed with a power-packed panel featuring representatives from Google, Twitter, and Facebook discussing what’s new at their networks.

The conference was preceded by a Midwest District Leadership QuickStart. QuickStart attendees were treated to an intimate session with Cheryl Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA, who shared her insights on leadership and innovation.

PRSA Midwest District Conference attendees raved about the conference and shared their excitement for what the 2013 conference will have in store.
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