Getting More Bang For Your Brand

Originally posted on LinkedIn

I ran across a promoted post on Facebook this morning from REI that got my attention. Like a growing number of companies, REI is opting to give their employees the Thanksgiving holiday off. But the company is among only a handful taking it a step further by not opening on Black Friday. 

Granted, Black Friday isn't what it used to be for retailers, with online and early-bird deals taking a bit of the wind out of the actual day's sales. Still, it's a big shopping day and one on which retailers can see a boost in transactions and move merchandise that may not have been selling at traditional "sale" prices.

So, while other companies planning to be closed on Black Friday are playing various versions of the "holiday/family/faith/we're-more-thankful-than-the-other-guys" card, REI's marketing team seems to have pulled more than a few all-nighters and found a way to satisfy employees, speak to its core customer base and root itself squarely in its brand with #OptOutside.

Instead of opening on Black Friday, REI is paying its employees to take the day off and do something outside (Note: I'm thinking they may have taken a page from the GoPro book, where employees are regularly encouraged to get out and use their GoPros and their post their videos online...another bit of marketing brilliance.)

But, REI isn't stopping there. It's doubling down and speaking to its core customers--you and me, or maybe just me. REI wants US to get outside too, because that's what the company is committed to:

"REI believes that being outside makes our lives better. That's why this Black Friday, we're closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside."

The campaign website features a page where you can share your plans to get outside on Black Friday, a tally page with pictures of people who've already shared their plans and even a zip code look-up to help you find places to get outside.

The simplicity of it is fantastic. Why try to come up with a reason for closing your doors that sounds like everyone else, when you can just go back to basics. Relate that decision to your brand--who you are as a company--and go from there. For REI, it wasn't a big leap, but too many companies forget that the best first place to start with any campaign is "How can we get more bang out of our brand?'

In this case, it should pay off for REI. I hope it does. I know I'm sold. 

All In Good Time

Originally posted on LinkedIn

It was 1999. I was on a plane headed for San Francisco, and we were sitting on the tarmac. Rain. My already long travel day had just gotten longer. I was hungry and not really in the mood to be in a confined space for an unknown period of time. 

It took a few minutes for me to notice that the attractive man sitting next to me was looking through a copy of Chicago Magazine. Not the latest issue. This was a marked up version with sticky notes and handwritten comments. My interest was piqued. In my usual, social butterfly fashion I started making conversation and quickly learned that he was an editor for the magazine. Whether or not it was actually Richard Babcock sitting next to me, I can't remember. What I do vividly recall was the overwhelming panic, fear, excitement, urge to find some way to ask this guy for a job. At that time, I was a road warrior for a software company, working with clients to formulate business processes and manage large-scale projects. Yet, in my fantasy life, I was a writer. I had always been a writer. And here sat the editor of Chicago Magazine.

We made conversation. Talked about Philadelphia--where I had lived before moving to Chicago--the weather, my current job, what to do in San Francisco and just about everything other than the prospect of me writing for him. I couldn't do it. Rather, I didn't know how. I was 30, still not clear who I was and if I was doing what I should be in work and life. I also hadn't yet learned to navigate that fine line between flirting and networking.

In short, I blew it. The captain came on the intercom and alerted us that we were taking off. My seat mate excused himself to work on the magazine draft and I put my headphones on to listen to grunge rock for the duration of the flight.

At the time, I had no idea the ripple effect that chance meeting would have on my career. I've sat on hundreds of planes, had conversations with 10 times as many people--each one having some sort of impact on me. This one lit a fire, sparked an idea, transformed my fantasy of being a writer into a real desire. 

It wasn't until six years later, after I met my husband, when I finally put a plan into action to make that desire a reality. I started simple, taking on a few writing clients while I was still working in the corporate world. Very quickly, those few clients turned into enough work and enough confidence for me to give notice at my "day job." I officially became a freelance writer.

In the 10 years since, I've written just about everything you can imagine across a variety of industries and my business has almost exclusively been referral-based. I've learned to turn everyday conversations into leads and writing gigs, without being pushy or sales-y. Experience has taught me that opportunities are constantly presenting themselves--in line at the grocery store, at dinner parties and even on airplanes. My good fortune has consistently placed me in the right place at the right time with the right people. The key has been to trust that the actual work may be weeks, months and even years away from materializing.

Case in point, when I found myself in the same circles as the publisher of a local magazine (Naperville Magazine), I mentioned to her in passing that I would love to write for her. She connected me with her editor and, within a few weeks, I started maintaining an occasional byline with the publication. Unlike my chance meeting more than a decade earlier, I was older, wiser and had developed the ability to "make the ask" with little attachment to the outcome.   

Ironically, it is that same publisher (and friend) who recently referred me to her colleagues at another magazine to write an advertorial about Chicago's Western Suburbs. The publication? You guessed it: Chicago Magazine.

Funny how things work out exactly when they should--all in good time.

Now to figure out where the editor of Wired is traveling this month...

You Got the Gig, Let the Networking Begin

Originally posted on 4/1/2011

Just because you got a creative gig doesn’t mean you are done networking. The real work happens once you start the project. In fact, your success and longevity with your client is very much dependent on how well you get along with three people. Without these relationships, your gig will likely be short-lived.

Office Administrator: Meet your new best friend. This is the person who facilitates the most important part of your gig – getting paid. S/he makes sure your invoices are approved and forwarded to the right person. In some cases, the office administrator is the person writing the check. There’s no need to butter him or her up, but under no circumstances should you ever get on his or her bad side.

In-House Creative Staff: The last thing you need is to be perceived as competition by the in-house creatives. Get to know these folks and how they work. Learn to appreciate their process and work to follow it as much as possible. These relationships will not only help to bolster the strength of your work, but they may also serve as great networking allies when you are looking for other projects, both in and outside of the company.

Marketing/PR Director: This may seem like a “no-duh” to some, but I have too often seen fellow freelancers be pretty disrespectful to the very people who approved their gig. Just like an employee on this person’s team, while you are working within the team your job is to make that Director look good. Not only will it increase your worth as a valued member of the team, but it also sets you up for a killer reference when the gig is over.

Yes, I'm a Book Snob

Originally posted on 3/30/2011

Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a book snob. I don't read chic lit. Ever. Not even in the bathroom. You can imagine what a pain I am to have in a book club. I think there's a law somewhere that requires book clubs (at least, those with all women) to read at least one Candace Bushnell book.

That's probably why I've only been in a few book clubs. I'm just so darn persnickety about the books I read. It could also be attributed to the fact that I own a business, run a household and drive all over creation with my kids on a weekly basis. I don't have time to waste, so the books I read have to be worth it.

So, when I recently decided that I wanted to try the book club “thing” again, I began looking around for one to join. The problem was twofold: either the ones I knew of weren’t taking new members or I didn’t want to join the ones that were.

This led me to the conclusion that I should just start a book club. But, if I was starting a book club, it should be completely devoid of all the things I don’t like about them. And so, here is this book snob’s guide to book clubbing:

1. By all means, be exclusive – Limit your membership in the very beginning to less than a handful and discuss with those few how many others you will invite. Limit that number to under 10. It’s nearly impossible to have a real discussion about a book with 15 people. For us book snobs, getting into the guts of a book is an intimate thing.

2. Friends only – As nice as it is to invite people you barely know or never met, under the pretense that that’s going to give you the different views for discussion, it’s just going to annoy you. You’ll spend the first several meetings trying to get acquainted and will probably not even talk about the books in any detail for fear of offending each other. The beauty of inviting people who already are your friends is that you will be comfortable from the beginning, and it will provide a level of depth that you may not have gotten to in your friendship.

3. Lock in your book list – This addresses my biggest pet peeve about book clubs—the book list. Ask all of your members (remember, there’s less than five of you) to come up with 5-10 books they would love to read or re-read. Use those lists to select your books for a year. You can assign them in order or give the option to select from the list each month. I prefer pre-assigning them so that there’s no temptation to go off the list.

4. Get out of the house – Many book clubs rotate between people’s houses, which has its advantages and can be cozy. But, it can also be a distraction and may prevent some members from attending meetings if anyone lives far enough away. Pick a coffeehouse, wine bar or restaurant where you can meet on a regular basis. Everyone will know where they are going and the distance to travel will always be the same. Plus a little coffee or wine never hurts a book discussion.

5. Start with the pleasantries – Make your first meeting a social gathering only. Use this as your opportunity to talk about the genres you enjoy reading and pick your book list. Set your meeting dates and times, and pick your meeting place. It’s kind of like a kick-off event for your book club to get everyone excited and make sure they really want to do it.

For the seriously snobby book snobs:
6. Blog or post your group’s reviews online – Using Bookreads or some other medium, you can put your book review out there for others to read. However, I think this might be a little too snobby. Even for me.

The Ultimate Mom-Job

Originally posted on 1/8/2010

As a mother of two young children, freelance writing really is a solid gig. I don't sit in a cubicle, no one checks the clock on me, and I often work in my pj's. I could easily be fully booked as the CEO, CFO and Social Secretary for The Stoller Household Corporation. But having worked in the corporate world long enough to be excited when I get my hands on a Crain's, I know that just staying home isn't enough. I need to talk to other adults about subjects other than diapers and the adorable things my kids say and do. I like the formality of a business meeting and working on a virtual team. And, most of all, I love to write. Helping a client who can't describe his business, let alone come up with the words for a web profile is a cool challenge. Finding another way to say "great" without using the words "very" or "good" is fun. I am one of those people who can say that my life and my work are both rewarding, in different ways, of course. Does that mean that there's a rainbow over my house? Nope. Is my life perfect? Not even close. Balancing work and home life is my biggest challenge and another good idea for a blog entry. But I can say that I do have the ultimate mom-job.