What to Be When You Grow up: A PR Commencement Speech



My undergrad commencement ceremony, as special and Carolina blue as it was, was missing one thing. A commencement speech (most southerners can’t handle a 55 degree, rainy day in May). And today, as I watch student after student in long black robes roam the Boston streets, I wonder…

What I would have liked to hear that day from our speaker? What would have made an actual impact in my life and my chosen career? The answer: a speech specifically aimed at bright-eyed journalism and communication grads, something like this:

Good morning Class of 2015! Congratulations!!

You’re all sitting here today because you’ve taken the past four years to get book smart. To do some hard work, get good grades (at least relatively), tighten up your grammar, attend a party or two, and maybe do some good for the world. Now you’re off to enter the world of communications; the always changing, always on, always whirling world of, professional, careful, decisive conversation.

That’s what it is at the end of the day, right? We’re all just talking to one another, (and hopefully, listening too). Now your job will be to learn (over time) how to do this in a way that is meaningful and engaging. And, maybe, just maybe, in 140 characters or less!

So, what I’d like to share with you, on one of the most defining days of your life (at least for your Klout score), are the things you won’t learn right away. They’re not things to do when you grow up. No. They’re things you should be. A list I’ve developed based on years of experience from advertising agency to PR agency and beyond, 8 things I try to be each and every day.

They’re also the things that likely won’t sink in until you actually experience them. And that’s okay. My hope is that you’ll recognize these defining ways of being, even more quickly because you were here today. If not, at least you can tell an amusing story about the lame speech you heard on commencement day, and how you really wish it had rained so you could have just fast-forwarded to grabbing your diploma.

So here goes:

1. Be Personal. The old saying “it’s not personal, it’s business,” well, it’s not true. It’s all personal. It has to be. If you want to have meaningful, wait for it, “engagement,” you have to get personal. You have to dig down into your work and look at your client’s needs and their customer’s needs and you have to make products, provide services, and develop content that will resonate with them, whether they’re cognizant about it or not. I recently worked on a new business pitch alongside some amazing teammates. We all researched and then brainstormed the growing pain points of our potential client’s customers. We talked ad nauseam about how annoying a lack of connectivity across enterprises was. And it got us energetic. It got us pumped up. Why? Because we’ve experienced these problems first hand. We found a way to relate to both the brand and its customer base. By making it personal we were able to communicate the brand’s solution to this problem and, simultaneously, forge relationships with their customers in the future. When you get personal, that’s when you dig deep and come up with the really successful campaigns. This leads me to my next point.

2. Be Intuitive. In communications, you need insights. You’ll never be relevant if you can’t determine what’s of value to the person on the other side of your ad, or piece of content, or tweet for that matter. How do you develop insights? It’s a two-fold process. First, draw from your intuitions and personal experiences. If you want to have real conversations with people that translate to sales (and, drum roll please, ROI for your clients), you have to trust that little gut of yours. One of my staple statements, “WWYS,” What Would You Share?, always comes in handy. Because it’s true. If it doesn’t make sense to you and you wouldn’t share it, who would? Second, allow your personal experiences to inspire research, so that your intuitions combined with data help you to create communications strategies, ideas and content that are grounded in reality. In the pitch I mentioned before, we drew from our own dis-connectivity troubles and let those intuitions guide our research. From there we discovered the macro level frustrations that a CIO or CTO experiences around the same topics.

3. Be a Partner. Always. To your coworkers, to your clients, to your customers, and beyond. Where ever you work, your time is money. But the way to create a trustworthy reputation is to be a partner at all costs. To walk across the lines of communication, across the digital world, and help your clients, your colleagues, your bosses, your coworkers out, even if it isn’t in your job description or SOW (statement of work). Oftentimes I have coworkers or clients who are just starting out in the digital world (my specialty), and have questions…some as simple as, “What’s a hashtag?” <long pause> and some are more in-depth questions around how to become more active in the social space. Yes, it takes time to help out. But in the long term, this investment pays back in dividends, when you can see your coworker learning and getting better. And, as happened to me recently, chiming one of your isms back in your face and reminding you to practice what you preach (thanks Anastasia!).

4. Be Decisive. Just as it’s important to trust your instincts, it’s as important to give those instincts a voice. Especially when you walk into a well-seasoned company with articulate, experienced people at the helm. In front of such senior leaders, it can be intimidating to share your idea or have faith in the direction you see a strategy or piece of content going.  But, trust me, you have to get in there and roll up your sleeves. I remember the first time I edited the President of an old company’s blog post. He was the owner of the agency, can I really edit his blog? The truth was I found many ways to edit it. So I sucked it up, went to his office and shared my feedback. He LOVED it! And it got to the point where we were both able to provide each other feedback in our own areas of expertise. Hello – that’s why he hired me! Ultimately, if you’ve chosen a company that values your unique POV, that places an importance on what makes you, you, they’ll appreciate your willingness to go against the grain or be bold. And, maybe, just maybe they’ll listen to what you have to say!

5. Be Creative. Take 10 minutes every day to write something. Something of your own. This is how you will begin (if you haven’t already) to form your own opinions. You’ll explore new topics, you’ll find you have something different to say. And it will help you to hone your ideas in a safe place. Eventually, inspiring a blog post, a book, a picture, a new campaign, a new strategy, a commencement speech even ;). I promise you the time is worth it. You can’t ever be too busy to take time out to plan long term, to let yourself think outside of the box and forgive your blabbering, forgive your unordered thought and just write. Don’t judge, don’t delete. Just write. I like to do this with a pen and paper, but you may very well like to dictate to your Apple Watch. Whatever the case, create, create every day. This is what will keep you in touch with the core of what makes you a communicator in the first place.

6. Be Proactive. Take every opportunity to grow and learn. Not just about other people, but about yourself. Learn how you work best. Learn what triggers your creativity. Reflect back on the most efficient times of the day and try to remember what you were doing before, what you were doing during. For instance, I wrote this speech late in the day. Why? Aside from the fact that I’m a night owl, I wanted to put my whole mind into this for you. I wanted to use my most creative time, and guess what? That happens to be later at night. We may find a shift in the coming future that accounts for these kinds of individual preferences in the work day, but until then, figure it out on your own and proactively incorporate these learnings into your everyday. It’s what will help you to not just to get by, but to also be successful.

7. Be Informed. I really can’t stress this enough. You need to keep up-to-date. You need to read, read, read. And I don’t mean just keeping up with the news or the Kardashians. I mean keeping up with your industry trends. Yes, while you need to do that, you also need to be informed about your client’s idiosyncrasies, what pressures they have. What they’re worrying about. What keeps them up at night. You need to learn the nuances of media relationships, client relationships, internal relationships, as all of these will affect your ultimate results and successes. Once one of my teams found ourselves interacting with a reporter on Twitter, on the behalf of a client. And not just any reporter, but one that would be characterized as “very opinionated” and “hard to reach.” Because we knew this about her and her reputation in the industry, we were much more confident about our approach and our conversation with her resulted in a great success for the client. There’s just no way to be decisive and a great partner without being informed. So dive into the nitty gritty, spend time daily to learn what separates your clients from the pack, learn the industry’s nuances, learn your target audience’s challenges. There will never be a new technology that allows you to skip over those steps, not even Hyperlapse.

8. Be Valued. There are way too many firms/agencies to count and as you continue your career in comms you’ll learn that there are significant differences between them. Some are team oriented.  Some foster a sense of individuality and difference of opinion. Some don’t. Some work with markets that stay pretty similar. Some work with companies with new innovations on a daily basis. And these are the things to think about when you think about your long-term fit. In tech PR and I’ve found that an “all hands on deck” mentality (as my colleague Zora says), plays to my strengths. But that might not be your style. Long story short, you need to be at an agency that values you and has clients that you’re passionate about, that you (as we like to say at LPP) “nerd out” on.

I could continue. But the reality is that you’ve probably only heard a small percentage of what I’ve said, and a fraction of that small percentage is what you’ll actually remember. And I’m not even going to get into recall – that’s something I can only hope for if you see this speech again on YouTube. This is the burden and the challenge to each communications professional each day; to create things, to enable and foster conversations that are memorable. So today, move that tassel over and start cranking those engines, because in order to make the connections and create the content that will one day fuel the most memorable conversations of our time, you have to be YOU. Don’t take that lightly.

Thanks, and so many congratulations to you all!

March Madness: Confessions of a Tar Heel and the LPP Way



Originally posted on LPP’s blog, Beyond The Hype.

Tonight, the UNC Tar Heels will take on the Wisconsin Badgers as a part of the Sweet 16. Now, I’ve been a Tar Heel for a long time (over 10 years) and have watched my team in many #MarchMadness battles. But this year is a tad different, it’s the first time I created a bracket that didn’t put UNC as the tourney winner.

Okay, okay – all you hardcore madness fans, I know the cardinal rule of bracketology is to complete with your brain, your research and not your heart. But how many Tar Heels out there can put our Carolina blue hearts aside this time of year? My assumption from my time there, not many.

I filled out my bracket with an empty soul, my eyes devoid of NC and somehow filled with ISU (and let’s not even talk about how that worked out for me). But tonight, UNC will face a #1 seed, rocking some awesome kicks and, hopefully, proving my bracket wrong.

So what does any of this have to do with PR? Aside from needing to get this off my chest, it reminded me of the importance of heart, of intuition, being unpredictable but also being stable. March Madness is, in fact, the opposite of mad, it’s a celebration of passion and heart and all the possibilities that come along with those things. And, for some reason, when I filled out my bracket this year, I did so with research and statistics and I forgot to create a bracket based on my gut, my emotion.

And I think that’s why it makes sense to talk about on a PR agency blog and, more specifically, the LPP blog. Now, don’t get me wrong. Statistics and well-developed content based on research and trends are the basis of most everything we develop. But, that bracket I filled in, NEVER would have left this agency. My coworkers would have looked at me, looked at it, and looked back at me asking, “Do you really believe in this?”

And my answer would have inevitably been, “No.”

This answer would then take us back to the drawing board. Why? Because we’re a team of people who make decisions based on energy, passion, what’s right, never what’s easiest and definitely not because everyone else is doing it.

We’re an agency filled with heart. An agency that’s never scared to trust our intuition, in fact, it’s that burning opinion that’s fostered here. And it’s what we hire for. People with opinions. With guts. With emotion. And, because it’s PR, people who can communicate all of those both internally and externally for our clients.

Quite honestly, it’s March Madness here all year round. And we’re looking for players who are ready to be a part of a sincere and passionate team. A team that’s not afraid to go up against a #1 seed, and certainly not scared of some little ol’ badgers.

A Decade of Facebook


In just a few weeks, Facebook will turn 10 years old.

To put it differently, I’ve been using Facebook for a decade.

Somehow it’s not even a teenager and it’s one of my best buds.

But it’s not just a reliable pal, it’s also revolutionized the way the world communicates.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook didn’t go it alone, but it did give social media the mass appeal it now enjoys, paving the way for some of our favorite networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram…Jelly?!) to thrive.

I remember when I built my original profile on thefacebook.com. I’d known about “the Facebook” for a little while, but I had to wait for my .edu email address to sign up. Yeah..remember that? When only college students could sign up??

Back then, I used it for the basics: posting pictures and finding out if my fellow classmates were single (I sort of don’t want to admit that). It became the first stage of profiling, even before the exchange of numbers for old-school texting.

Soon it was event central. If you were having a party at your dorm, you were definitely making a Facebook event and inviting all of your friends (well…maybe not all of them).

My first Facebook profile picture

My first Facebook profile picture

It wasn’t until my sophomore year that Facebook finally launched their Newsfeed. Yes, I’m serious…there was a Facebook without the feed…which I, at the time, checked probably 17 million times a day.

Fast-forward four years, and Facebook (& Twitter & YouTube & LinkedIn) had become a mainstay of my job, even though there were no classes about it in my undergrad advertising program. The marketing world was changing while I was in school, and by the time I had my first “real” job, social was the topic of conversation for CMOs across the country. Four years…that’s it.

By the time Timeline was introduced in 2011, small businesses and huge marketing companies alike knew that social media (not just Facebook), could not be ignored. And it’s not because it was another outlet to shout at consumers, it’s because consumers were now growing up, as I had, with social media. It was not only a part of our everyday, but Facebook was now a part of our story.

Sure, there are still significant negative associations with social networks (privacy risks and big data are a few), but I challenge you to consider the significant strides we’ve made since Facebook gave social media its popularity.

Family, friends and brands are able to connect and converse (like actually converse) with each other, while also communicating with an entire circle of people, so that it’s not just one conversation, but it’s one and many simultaneously. We’re able to remember the important things happening in each other’s lives and feel connected, even if we haven’t seen or heard from someone in years.

So I’m sappy. But Facebook is one of my oldest friends and I interact it every single day, multiple times a day. So, to me 10 years is a big deal. And I’m anxious to see what will happen in the next 10.

What’s your first memory of Facebook?

If you’re interested in a little more Facebook history, check out this infographic by Inside Facebook.

2012 Pantone color of the year: Tangerine Tango


I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t like the color orange. It’s bright. It’s cheerful. As my favorite color since  2000, it’s actually been the pantone of my century. And so, I can’t adequately express how thrilled I am that Pantone has chosen “Tangerine Tango” to be their color of choice to represent 2012.

My orange crush is unusually related to my passion for social media. Both have changed my life in such significant ways. For instance, once I realized that my love for orange was something that people recognized me by, almost like my “color mantra,” I made it a part of my identity. It’s a symbol of the positivity we should bring to every situation. And if ever, and these times do happen, I’m feeling frustrated or upset, it’s the honest truth that surrounding myself with orange (and now Pantone 17-1463) somehow gets me out of my funk. Orange has changed the way I approach my work, my friends, and my life.

Social media has done the same. It’s not just something I do or even something that I like. It’s a part of how I communicate. It’s a part of how I live. I can’t just read an article anymore and think quietly to myself about it. No, now I read an article and share it to my followers, or my friends automatically see that I’ve read it via Facebook. I don’t just cook food for those who are actually eating it anymore. I cook and share pictures of my delicious dishes with my family and my friends. I don’t save my thoughts about marketing for conversations over cups of coffee (or tea). Instead, I share my ideas with people like you via a blog, twitter, facebook etc.

But this isn’t where the similarities end. It’s the energy that our new pantone of the year emits, that makes it so special. A great social media strategy has this same type of energy. It’s a bright light, a great idea, a spot on, amped-with-caffeine approach that makes a social strategy successful. There’s research and thought and PASSION behind every strategic element and that gives a campaign staying power. It gives it that certain “mustafa-genius” that we all, as marketers, strive for.

With it’s rich color, the 2012 pantone has a little more depth than other colors. Something that is also especially helpful when implementing a social strategy is a great idea that has “legs.” If a concept has depth to it, a strategy goes beyond assumptions about people’s behaviors and is driven by real human insights, then there’s no limit its virality.

Happy Pantone 2012! How has your favorite color shaded your social media interactions? 

5 Similarities between chucks and social


While wearing my chucks this weekend I started to wonder why so many people own them – from tweens to moms to big whig art directors. It dawned on me that my love for chucks is very similar to my love for social media.

When converses were first introduced, some out there probably thought they were just a fad – shoes that had no real value for the masses. The same was true of social media. Marketers were hesitant to jump on board, fearful of what consumers might post on their walls or tweet about their brands. But as time went on, chucks became a sign of rebellion – a sign of creativity – and social networking became a way for brands to harness this creativity into engaging conversations and interactions with their consumers.

Clearly the similarities between chucks and social didn’t end there. Here are some of my top comparisons:

  1. They’re both kind of geeky. Don’t get me wrong, chucks are definitely cool, but who started wearing them (well aside from the basketball players in Flubber)? Nerds. The same is true for social media. It started with a bunch of nerds (no offense Harvard).
  2. Rise to stardom.  When celebrities start wearing or using something, somehow the whole world catches on. I’m not exactly sure what made rock stars like Kurt Cobain and actors like Michael J. Fox start wearing all-stars, but when they did, they started a chuck-olution. Now, the most popular celebs out there wear them from Miley Cyrus to Elton John.  When celebs like Ashton Kutcher started using Twitter, we started taking notice. Now that almost all stars (like Lady Gaga, Oprah, and Obama) are using this as a powerful way to project their brand, it’s obvious that twitter and social is going to be around for a while.
  3. Something for everyone. Alert: this might sound corny. But one of the reasons I love social media as a marketer, is because of the niche groups of people I’m able to reach in a short time period. There are social networking sites like Foodspotting, Instagram, Washington Post’s social reader, there are short form and long form blog sites, there are check-in services, sharing sites, even sites that allow you to swap homes…you get my point. No matter what your interests are, there’s a social network out there that suits you perfectly. The same is true with chucks. There are not only thousands of different colors, but chucks are also customizable. Celebrities and even charities have designed their own chucks. Not to mention, the new world converses that are made of leather etc. Basically there’s a network and a pair of chucks to fit everyone.
  4. Make a Statement. If you’re looking to make a statement about yourself, in either a subtle or, well, not-so-subtle way both chucks and social media are the ticket. Wearing chucks allows you to make a statement about your personality, just like using a social networking site allows you to check-in, update, send pics, or tweet to communicate more about who you are to the world.
  5. Simplicity. The aesthetic of your typical chuck is simple, yet authentic. People wear chucks, not the other way around. When you think about social media, the core of it is simple – people want to communicate…easily. In order to be successful, a social networking site needs to be simple to understand and easily usable. People use social media, social media does not use people.

Have an opinion about your chucks? Tell me in this super quick survey!