Category: Blog

Leadership Austin: 60 for life

Leadership Austin: 60 for life

We’ve entered graduation month from Leadership Austin’s Essential Class of 2019 (Best Class Ever). This is a group of 60 artfully assembled professionals from a w-i-d-e variety of fields and professions drawn together by a common interest in learning more about issues facing Austin & how to apply their talents to keep us moving forward. The program starts with the retreat where we took the photo above & lots of hyperbole – you’re in the class you’re meant to be in, you will make lifelong connections, yadda yadda. It seems insane for a group of full grown adults and then…

9 months, many classes, 1 retreat and 59 1x1s later, I can confirm the hype is true. On Monday I had my 59th 1×1 class conversation, completing my rounds of connecting with my classmates individually and I felt a little…sad. I started making myself feel better by saying that I finished the “first round” and could start over.  I also spent a little time thinking about why Leadership Austin is so unique & special:

  • At this time in my profession, I spend most of my days needing to have the answers instead of being in an environment where its cool to be a complete amateur – and that’s OK
  • I have lived in Austin on and off for 15 years and recognized…TWO of my fellow classmates. Everyone else moves in such different professional, personal & geographic circles (we’re intentionally assembled across the 10 City Council districts and the surrounding counties).
  • At 42, I have learned a vast amount about the city I live in that I have never understood before. From Central Health, to the dynamics of Travis & the surrounding counties, to how the Medical Examiner’s office works, it was shocking how little I knew. Building an engaged, educated electorate is a serious calorie burner and most of us are just acting off of advertisements & influencers.
  • I walked away from EVERY SINGLE 1×1 with a colleague inspired by something – what they do, how they do it, their personal passions – and have an even deeper appreciation for the the diversity of the city we are building together.

I am grateful to count these folks as my new Austin colleagues and look forward to staying in touch with and inspired by them. If a desire to learn & contribute more to our city resonates, applications for next year’s Essential Class are open until July 30. Additionally, there is also a way for the public to participate in the 2 day Beyond Diversity training that is being given as part of Mayor Adler’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities here. Personally, I have found time spent investing in myself and my city time well spent indeed.

Women Alone Together

Women Alone Together

Last week, I spent 5 days in southern Utah both doing and learning a lot. I have a lot of new data on how my body works (resting metabolic rate, V02, body composition), new skills from workshops (cooking, meditation and posture), and inspiration from new workouts (Drums Alive, MELT, Ultimate Barre, yoga). I also spent a lot of time walking, hiking and staring at my new desert animal friends. But that’s not what this is about.

This was my first solo vacation. I knew it would be a break from responsibilities. What I didn’t anticipate was the pleasure of being away from living my life like someone’s watching: always prepared to be “on”, setting an example by visibly making the right choices and striving to be a good role model. Austin still in some sense feels like a small town with lots of cross connections, but somehow in Utah I was no one’s mother, wife, friend, colleague or boss. Losing the need to define myself in any relative terms was a gift in itself and I spent 4 days trying to get in touch with what I wanted and doing that. On one morning included skipping planned hikes and all manner of intellectual enrichment in favor of drinking coffee in bed and watching Under the Tuscan Sun in all its cliched glory. I cried. No regrets.

Because the Red Mountain Resort is known for being super female solo traveler friendly, it was packed with a diverse group of other women who needed a break from playing their roles in life as well. Some had hard choices in front of them, some were recovering from physically or emotionally devastating occurrences, many were stressed by the daily demands of the “sandwich generation” – running their own families while now also being in charge of the care of their parents. Interestingly, quite a few shared secrets and intimacies me that that can’t or wont tell their friends in the real world. The break from being yourself also means that no one has the context with which to judge you or in any way change their opinion of you. WHAT A GIFT.

I highly recommend the programming at the Red Mountain Resort and have already attempted to incorporate some of what I learned there into my life at home. But, as I dive back into real life today, what I want to maintain is the ability to listen to what it is that I truly want, the courage to share more of what is actually going on in my head and the openness to try to grow – awkwardly – surrounded by people who actually know me.

 

 

Milestone Momentum

Milestone Momentum

The Miracle family atop the “Rocky Steps” in Philly  – May 30, 2018

If the current state of my Facebook is any indication, I am one of the masses of parents experiencing major changes at the end of May. Last week my children graduated from 5th grade (yes, there’s a ceremony) and kindergarten (also a ceremony) and this week I will mark the 20 year mark of my graduation from Princeton (marked with a parade and fireworks which beats any ceremony to death).

While most of this blog has to do with word of mouth, business or customer success advice, this one’s about me and 4 commitments I’m trying to hold myself to in this time of change:
Stay Present. My go-to activity in times of change is disappear through my phone, a TV screen, the door of a gym, you name it – anywhere but thinking about whatever is happening that is causing my emotions to brim. My emotional boxes overflow as much as my closet(s) and instead of re-stuffing, I’m committed to actually think, acknowledge and feel the feels this time. My babies are growing up and that is awesome. I don’t want to miss it.
Don’t Fall For It. Meanwhile, the cynic in me (you didn’t think someone broke into this site, did you?) is keeping me honest on whether I’m feeling MY feelings or what someone is trying to make me feel with manipulative music or because there is peer pressure as to how one is SUPPOSED to feel. I’m trying to be aware of my legitimate feelings and not get caught up in what normal people “should” be feeling. They rarely match.
Practice Gratitude. I have struggled staying consistent on this, but the practice of saying 3 things I am grateful for out loud every day has been a great brain-primer when I remember to do it. This is especially valuable to shift headspace and provide solid grounding on trying days – especially the days of gritting my teeth through kid stuff that is not in my wheelhouse (e.g. “ropes course” – the very mention of which used to strike fear in my heart). As a John Bell disciple, I believe all things can be solved by LifeHacker so here are 40 ideas on Gratitude Practices if you’re curious.
Expose My Own Journey. I want my kids to know that I’m not done learning and striving to accomplish more. I’m not ready to pass the baton on “my time” and live only through my kids – I fundamentally believe my most impactful years are ahead of me. Maybe its hereditary. My father was recently telling me about reading a short story out loud at a festival honoring a local writer and I realized he was sharing to expose the fact that at 80 he is still on HIS own journey of becoming. My husband is the grandson of a woman who won an Emmy in her 50s and became a published poet in her 90s. I can delight in supporting my children’s becoming AND not be done yet and I want them to see me reaching even when I fail (at tap dancing, restarting piano, applying for a community leadership program, etc) – I won’t stop and I don’t want them to either. Seeing me fail and prevail is strategic.
Good luck with the rest of May & see you on the path to the next milestone – I’ll be the one attempting to enjoy every step of the way even as I fall.
Elaine Welteroth: Storytelling for Change

Elaine Welteroth: Storytelling for Change

I recently interviewed Elaine Welteroth, known for leading the evolution of Teen Vogue from beauty and celeb news hub to diverse clubhouse for the Gen Z woman, for the Spredfast Smart Social New York event. My mission was to quickly share her backstory so that I could then ask questions to elicit her advice, experience and stories of particular interest to our social media strategist audience. She was an amazing conversation partner – watching a lot of tape (& Instagram stories!) provided helpful breadcrumbs and she took care of the rest. Truthfully, I could have spoken with Elaine Welteroth for hours, but in this fast-paced world, it was imperative to distill some of the big takeaways from the Teen Vogue relevance revolution and her own social media influence:

Don’t Underestimate Your Audience – It is tempting to simplify your customers into the characteristics that draw them to do business with you alone. But digging into and understanding their full lives and interests when you aren’t around could be the key to deepening your relationship with them. The Teen Vogue revolution really began with understanding that Gen Z’s interests included fashion, celebrity gossip beauty AND politics and the world around them. Removing the either/or proposition gave the Teen Vogue reader more to explore and more reasons to keep coming back. The content was key, but the recognition of the whole person is what drove Teen Vogue to host their first ever summit in 2017 (check out the killer speaker lineup for 2018). Wanting to become a change maker and simultaneously wanting to find the perfect sheet mask is now normalized and empowered.

Own Your Authority – Welteroth stated that brands have authority. Authority needs to be taken seriously – it comes with responsibility to strive for social good and the risk that cultural missteps will spark strong reactions as abuse of authority. Her sound advice here was for brands to be willing to share their platform – and thus authority – with new storytellers. Not only does this show great confidence as a brand, it lends your brand’s authority to the voices that you’d like to represent the future state of the brand. Welteroth actually handed over her Instagram to an attendee at the March for our Lives as she was there as a journalist for ABC. The updates from the first-time marcher would later serve as the perfect complement to her coverage on Nightline.

Insights Aren’t Enough – Every marketer is searching for insights about their “target audience.” If you are lucky enough to actually unearth something meaningful in this search, allow yourself to enjoy the Eureka moment, but recognize that insights get you less than halfway to a meaningful connection with your audience.  THIS is where brands get taken to task over their handling of issues that are admittedly important to modern audiences covering everything from body shape to inclusiveness. The dangers of getting it wrong harken every stock photography cliche known to man including the classic “women laughing alone with salad“. Cliches happen when marketers intellectualize insights they don’t understand and don’t include representative voices at the table. Far from watering down their point of view to appeal to the broadest audience, Teen Vogue dramatically diversified their team including a male beauty director in order to diversify their content and perspectives. In so doing, they increased followership by 600%.

Host the Controversial Conversation – While Teen Vogue may have crossed into the non-Gen Z zeitgeist with the famous Trump Gaslighting piece, that was far from the most controversial topic they tackled. And even when the publication came under fire for cultural appropriation, as they did in a famous cover story about braids, Welteroth leveraged that into a much larger conversation about race, beauty and the fluidity between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Being willing to wade into that and other topics including religion has provided a safe home for the type of conversations not only make the brand relevant, but help drive understanding of topics that may seem foreign or taboo.

Be Bold & Prove It – How do you get a publication at a 107-year-old institution to embrace change? You don’t. Elaine managed to make the first changes at Teen Vogue relatively under the radar and show results that emboldened her and Conde Nast to want to go further. I don’t know if something this stark would have been possible had she been timid and asked for permission – even with the most compelling pitch. Results were the pitch that got Conde Nast into the position of cheering for change.

While the world of publishing may seem a world away to you, the challenge of connecting with an audience you don’t fully represent is one presented to every marketer at some point in their career. Welteroth’s stories convinced me that building deeper audience connections requires, above all, confidence: the confidence to bring representative voices to the table, to share your brand’s natural authority and to go beyond the insights found in the market research room. Do all three, and your brand will see the kind of results that will get you a major following.

Unleashing Passive Advocacy at SX’18

Unleashing Passive Advocacy at SX’18

SXSW came and went with a flurry of crazy activations (real life Westworld and Spielberg’s first trip to Austin for Ready Player One being the buzziest), celebrity speakers and meaningful visitors. The last part of this is what keeps me excited for this 10 day marathon every year. This year and unlikely winner in the mindshare clubhouse came from an activation done by the fine folks at Wisconsin Cheese. If you had asked me a few weeks ago whether or not the “World’s Longest Cheese Board” would appeal to a techie/influence crowd looking for breakthrough tech and (perpetually) Elon Musk, I would have given you a lukewarm response at best. Turns out, I had no idea how much people like cheese – they just needed a reason to express it.

Loving you isn’t enough. Advocates need conversational capital and a reason to share their stories.

It is worth noting that this fantastic execution was a production of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board in conjunction with Brains on Fire. The individuals involved are the ones who gave me the opportunity to work on the Fiskateers many moons ago and have been collaborators in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (now part of ANA) ever since. With the core idea of creating the World’s Longest Cheeseboard, they executed to inspire the most sharing:

  • They transformed a “normal” conference room in a Marriott into a visually compelling barn complete with silo and lit up “CHEESE” sign that begged for photography
  • They filled the board with more than 100 tasty cheeses divided into categories with intentionally accessible, non-snobby names like “Party in the Pasture” or “Curdlandia”
  • The record itself is conversational capital (70ft vs. previous record of 60ft)
  • Super cute swag for days including a tiny backpack of Wisconsin cheese to go, cool laptop stickers and the world’s best button reading #CheesyAF.

This activation performed remarkably well, commanding a line for entrance for almost the entire time it was up, sparking sharing on social and making a shocking number of SX wrapup pieces. So in a world of voice control, privacy concerns and VR/AR obsession, why did cheese rise above the clutter? It was real, it was homey, it was nice (without feeling overly produced), it had oh-s0-many AWESOME shots for social baked into the activation – all great.

Most importantly, it gave people a reason to share their largely passive love of cheese. I consume a heavy meat & cheese diet, but don’t really post about or even discuss it very much. There’s no way to digitally ID me. The fine folks in Wisconsin would have no idea that I was a thirsty sponge crying out for a little mixed melt education or a new #SXSWisconsin experience. It took the presence of a compelling stimulus to give me something to learn, experiences and a reason to share. I reveled in seeing how many of my friends are also cheese-driven beings – many of whom came out to see the cheese board! Perhaps the gratest (sic) gift was giving me something to think about afterwards. Check out this video from Pete Blackshaw if you’d like to hear more straight from Suzanne! Bon Appecheese….