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Author archives: Karen Althen

    Karen’s latest article in the Business Journals touches on the personal impact of the recent round of major layoffs at Target Corporation. Join in the conversation by leaving us your comments.


    My phone was ringing off the hook Tuesday with news and updates from friends at Target, which had just laid off 1,700 corporate employees.

    All the messages brought me right back to my own experience in 2009 when I was part of the marketing layoffs at the Minneapolis-based retailer.

    That uneasy feeling, the pit in your stomach, the sadness of saying goodbye to colleagues, the reality of packing your office and walking out the door with the news media standing there taking video — UGH! It all came rushing back and felt very raw. I understand those going through the turmoil. You can never brace yourself for something like this even when you know its coming.

    When I got my news in 2009, I had just gotten married, moved into a new house, and found out I was laid off the day after arriving home from our honeymoon. Ouch. Talk about a tough re-entry! It took me a few hours to get my head around it enough to even call my newly-minted husband and tell him that the honeymoon really was over.

    But what ended up being a very difficult time was also rather liberating. I’m a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason,” but I understand not everyone subscribes to this philosophy.

    Six years later I can reflect and share a few of the lessons from my rearview mirror.

    It’s OK to take time for yourself

    This may seem like the furthest thing from your mind when you’ve lost a job, but it can be very therapeutic. In fact, I would argue that this time CAN be part of the job search process — if used effectively.

    I was able to take a couple months of downtime to get reorganized and refocused before I made decisions about what’s next. This time also allowed me to slow down and listen to what my instincts were telling me, rather than jumping into something I might have regretted later. I’ve spoken to others from my “Class of 2009” who also felt the same way and were glad they had some time to digest and recalibrate.

    If finances allow, it could mean taking a dream vacation that you’ve been thinking about but didn’t have the time off. It could also mean re-evaluating your passions and career — maybe making a change, going back to school, or moving to a different city.

    It became crystal clear to me after a couple months that I needed to open my own agency, which many people along the way had told me I should do, but now the choice became so much easier. It was something I never would have done if not given this “opportunity.” If you take time to really understand what you want to do and can clearly articulate it, this will also help others in your network be able to help you when the time is right.

    When there are peaks and valleys in my business, I try to come back to the value of taking some down time for reflection and repositioning my compass.

    Continue reading the rest of the story in the March Business Journal here.

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    Karen’s latest article in the Business Journals touches on the biggest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl. Join in the conversation by leaving us your comments!


    It’s always fun to play Monday morning quarterback when it comes to the Super Bowl ads. There are always some fan favorites and some duds.

    The tone and messaging this year was decidedly subdued and serious, attempting to create a brand connection through emotions and meaningful content told through the storytelling format.

    As I listened to the morning coverage and thought about the ads from Sunday night’s game, I wondered what ads I would do differently.

    What if any of these products were my clients — how would I have advised them? What may have turned an average ad into an outstanding one? What were the advertising and marketing principles at play?

    Here’s what I came up with:

    1. Turbo Tax and the Boston Tea Party

    The first ad I would want a “do over” for is the Turbo Tax spot that appeared early in the game. It featured a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party — but reimagined the outcome without paying to file the tax. It highlighted the company’s “Absolute Zero” free federal and state tax filing.

    There were a few reasons I didn’t like this ad, but first and foremost is the fact that they already have a successful campaign running called, “Taxes Are Your Life — Only Simpler.” The current campaign cleverly shows various life events that impact your taxes, and that doing your own taxes online should be easy, making it less intimidating to the general consumer. It’s the perfect combination of humor and product positioning. Turbo Tax also uses the tagline, ” It’s Amazing What You’re Capable Of,” which instills confidence and empowerment.

    The Super Bowl ad seemingly abandons the current campaign with this one-off historical piece. The ad is dark and heavy, leaving the consumer to either follow the ad until the end to understand the product or make a snack run.

    We are in prime tax-prep season, so the timing of the ad is perfect, but the execution was not. Not only was this an expensive spot to run –— at 60 seconds, it cost almost $9 million in media — it also looked like an incredibly expensive spot to produce with a large pool of talent, costumes, a set and props.


    If I were to advise this client, I would look for a way to expand and build on the current campaign — perhaps with more humor around the life events that impact our taxes. Think of the funny scenarios you could build around having a baby, moving, or even starting a business! The ads would always drive back to the message that doing your own taxes online is easier than you think. I think this is a strong and important message, coupled with the tagline, and they should continue to utilize the equity they’ve earned here.

    Marketing Lesson:

    Don’t change just for the sake of change (or the sake of the SuperBowl)

    Continue reading full article published in the Business Journals here…

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    mage provided by Getty Images (shutter_m)

    Despite its popularity, social media can still be intimidating and confusing, especially for small businesses. The most common reasons my clients aren’t doing social media are lack of time and resources or lack of understanding. Even marketing-savvy clients sometimes struggle with where to begin. Here are some key insights I regularly share with them:

    1. Do it right, or don’t do it at all

    If you’re not ready to commit to the best practices of social media engagement as part of a marketing strategy, consider skipping it completely. This just means starting small and doing a couple things really well rather than trying to do too much or not do a good job at anything.

    If you go too broad, lack valuable content or don’t maintain the channels, this will reflect poorly on the brand and could cause a negative customer interaction — the opposite of what you want. Even a small social media presence that’s done very well will still add value to your marketing portfolio.

    1. Always start with a plan

    If you don’t have a plan for using social media channels, you’re likely going to flounder or be quickly overwhelmed. A plan should include some goal setting, content ideation, media calendar, best practices for customer engagement and general posting practices. It should also include a budget to curate, collect, manage, write, review, post and manage information. he beautiful thing about social media is instantaneous feedback — you know what’s working and what’s not.

    You should have a plan and metrics in place to gather this information and make decisions from your findings. Knowing that plans may change and evolve throughout the year is an expected part of the process, but starting with a plan will give guidance and benchmarks to refer back to as you grow.

    1. Social media is an active relationship

    Along with creating the plan is managing the plan. Some clients don’t account for the time and resources it will take to manage their social media channels. Social media is not a “set it and forget it” tool like a print ad or TV commercial.

    It takes active, genuine engagement and interaction with customers to reap the benefits of the tool. Not only should social media be a dialogue with your consumers, it should also be an active dialogue within your company. Those who are managing social media channels should keep leadership updated on success stories, customer feedback, ideas and metrics of these tools.

    1. Start with leadership

    Gone are the days when you prepare a marketing plan in January and execute for the rest of the year. Things used to change on a monthly or weekly basis, based on sales, media metrics, online volume or consumer engagement data. Now they change on a daily, even hourly, basis. Leadership has to trust those people managing their social media channels to be engaged and responsive in a nanosecond, or the window of opportunity to be responsive will be closed.

    Red tape, executive reviews and long approval processes do not fit into the fast-moving world of social media, and most businesses have not adequately adopted new processes to accommodate the speed of execution. If your leadership team is still struggling to understand social media, how to use it, or why you should use it, then start small, share updates regularly and give your efforts time to prove their value.

    1. Know what you already have

    Understand your target customers and engage them in the right place at the right time with the right information. You cannot simply replicate what others are doing — not even your competitors. Social media content should be original, unique, relevant to the reader and align with your brand.

    Content can come in many forms, such as blog postings, articles, videos, photos, whitepapers, industry and company news, or exclusive content. You probably already have an arsenal of materials that you could post. They just need to be packaged properly for social media posts.

    1. Consider the channel

    When planning for social media content, think about what channel is being used and what message is being posted there. For example, Facebook may be a place where you post several times a week and could feature materials ranging from a newspaper article to team celebration photos.

    Don’t be afraid to get personal when appropriate since social media users expect a chance to see the human side of organizations. LinkedIn may be best suited for more credible content and thought leadership on various subjects related to your business or industry.

    1. Social media is evolving and nobody’s doing it perfectly

    Just when we think we understand social media channels and apps, a whole new breed of tools pops up overnight. The truth is, even the savviest firms feel the pressure to keep up and stay ahead. Even prominent companies that have been at the forefront of the social media movement have stubbed their toe a time or two — Apple, Kenneth Cole and even Facebook itself included among them. Learn from their mistakes and be willing to make a few of your own.

    Follow other companies that you like, both in your industry and outside, to see what they’re posting and to generate ideas for your own social media efforts. It’s never too late to get in the game!

    {This article was originally posted in the October 2014 Business Journals publication}

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    Get Your Wheels On: Your 2015 Plan To Stay On Track

    As most of you know, New Year’s resolutions dissipate about 30-45 days into the year. As such, I decided to take a different approach to my “resolutions” in an effort to make them less intimidating and more productive. As I began creating a list of goals for both my personal life and my business, I actually found the process to be refreshing and inspiring, so I thought I would share with other readers. Here’s how I prepared them:

    1. Start With The Name

    Mine are called “goals” this year – not “resolutions.” It’s a simple but significant detail. Goals are something we deal with in business all the time – something we strive for, something that makes us better, and something to accomplish. Not all goals are accomplished, but we can usually find a way to learn from that, adjust as necessary, and move on. The word “resolution” carries with it so much weight and priority that we can get lost in what we’re trying to accomplish when we mess up – we feel guilty and then give-up. “Goals” seems so much more manageable – call me crazy. Choose a title that speaks to you and will make you feel inspired and motivated when you refer back to your list.

    1. Keep Them Handy

    Part of making these goals “stick” is to keep them handy – the ability to refer back to them and track your progress. I wrote out all my personal and work goals and I’m keeping them in my favorite mini-binder that’s my roadmap for daily life. That way I know I will see these goals on a regular basis to review what I have signed up for. Visually seeing something you are committed to helps reinforce the path you’ve set – and also gives you a chance to actually cross stuff off the list that you may have completed – yay! Look for a high-visibility place to keep them – like your desk, bulletin board, refrigerator, or smart phone. Staying engaged and motivated = big win.

    1. Schedule Your Check-Ins

    I also added check-in dates to my calendar at the end of every quarter. I labeled them “Quarterly Goals Review” as a reminder to myself to take a peek and see how I’m doing. This is something I usually do for my business, but hadn’t thought about for personal goals. This will also be the time to update or modify goals as needed. It’s not a failure if the goal wasn’t accomplished – it’s a reminder that you’re on the right path and sometimes the path winds in different directions. You need to be open to such changes and adjust accordingly. If I was reviewing “resolutions” I think it’s more black and white, and likely listed as a success or failure. That motivates no one – and the momentum disappears along with it.

    1. Categorize

    I divided my personal goals into four categories that I found most relevant: Head, Heart, Health and Home. Each has 4-6 manageable goals and actionable tasks tied to it. I was very aware of not making the list too long and cumbersome – again the ability to manage and stay motivated is critical. This also helps you really focus and prioritize what you want to get done, which is important.

    Goals for my HEAD revolve around fueling my passions and feeding my intellectual curiosity – like being more disciplined about reading books. I made a plan with the books I’ve been meaning to get to, which also forced me be thoughtful about selecting books that will give me the most value and insight. It feels good to have a roadmap in front of me knowing that I will get to those books sometime this year and the schedule will keep me clipping along.

    Under my HEART section, I listed goals and actions that will make me a better human being, more compassionate and nurture my soul. One of my tasks is to work on being more patient – to be more accepting, forgiving and encouraging – especially of myself. My quarterly check-ins will be a good way to be honest about my progress.

    My goals in the HEALTH section need little explanation, but they are really important to all the other goals on my list – without a healthy body, the rest matter less. One of my goals is to go to bed earlier, which involves wrapping up work and home chores, allowing one hour of reading time before bed. It’s specific, actionable, and measurable. It also ties to one of my other goals, and has already been tremendously helpful – proof that good work and accomplishments are the biggest motivator!

    My final section is HOME which involves organizing papers and projects around the house. The goals I created are often in my head as “things to get around to,” but the new handwritten list is a regular reminder that I want to get these tasks completed and it provides a quick hit list of things to do with some extra time on a Saturday afternoon.

    I haven’t completed my business goal setting for the year, but I will be deploying the same process because it works for me and the manner in which I get things done. Please share ideas or feedback if you have something that works for you!

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    Image provided by Getty Images (fanat79)Most of you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Well, this ought to be interesting…” That’s exactly what I want you to think — because it proves my point that pageants and ambassador programs get a bad rap. I use the term loosely because some “pageants” deserve every ounce of criticism they receive — we have to look no further than some reality TV shows.

    That being said, I’m here to challenge your thinking on the quality and characteristics of young women who participate in such programs — on a local, regional or national level. In addition to these experiences providing lessons about the importance of community service, how to balance a busy schedule, being a positive role model, and the finer points of etiquette, I assert that there are valuable life lessons and business principles that can be garnered.

    I’ve been involved with an organization for more than 20 years because of an experience that changed my life when I was 18 years old. Here are few nuggets that I picked up along the way:

    1.  It’s OK if things don’t go as planned

    My experience has taught me that when things don’t happen according to your plan, there’s usually something better in store. Even with the best-laid plans, you have to be open to curve balls in life and accept them for what they are.

    My involvement with a local ambassador program required me to transfer colleges my sophomore year — just a few weeks before classes began. This was challenging and stressful, but it allowed me to graduate with a better degree and availed me of other opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at my original school. It also introduced me to some new lifelong friends, and I’ve been grateful for these things ever since.

    So if your plans take an unexpected turn — perhaps you didn’t land the job you wanted, or get that big promotion — take a moment to pause and reflect. Then make the best choices with what you’re given — trusting that the detour on your course arrived for a reason. Many times you may not even realize the value until you look back, but I guarantee you’ll learn something.

    1. The importance of a proper handshake

    This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who have a terrible handshake! Unfortunately, many of them are women.

    I credit my experience as an ambassador with learning how to make an effective and proper handshake — full contact, medium firmness and with direct eye contact. This also dispels the myth that a proper handshake has to be hard and masculine — it does not.

    Everyone needs to be confident when they make that critical first impression and introduction — no matter what industry you’re in, your job title or how old you are. A good, solid handshake is an invaluable gesture that garners immediate credibility.

    If I meet someone who gives me a lousy handshake, I call them on it and ask for another one. So, how’s your handshake?

    1. You never know when one decision will be a game-changer

    We make hundreds of decisions every day — some big, some small, some important, some mundane. But every once in a while you make a seemingly insignificant decision that rocks your world.

    My decision to participate in an ambassador program shortly after graduating high school was one of those decisions. It led me to another program later on that had a significant impact on me, including what I studied in college and my career in marketing. It led me to owning my own agency, and over 20 years of volunteer service and mentoring of young women.

    It provided a network of mentors and colleagues that I wouldn’t otherwise have the honor of knowing. Small decisions can deliver big impact!

    For every dozen risks you take a few may turn out to be winners, and if you’re really lucky, one might be a big winner. There’s no magic trick to knowing which ones will hit the jackpot, but some thoughtful reflection might lead you in the right direction.

    Questions you might ask yourself:

    What have I got to lose if I don’t try?

    What are the business, financial or emotional risks to myself, and those around me?

    Will I wonder “what if” later on? What’s the “Regret Factor?”

    Will I have the chance to do this again in the future?

    When was the last time I challenged myself to do something outside my comfort zone?

    Is someone else encouraging me to do this because they think I have the skills?

    You will learn to doubt yourself less if you understand how to take calculated risks. In the end you still have to take several risks to find that game changer, but the more you try, the quicker it will happen!

    1. The power of mentoring

    Lots of people have participated in mentoring programs, but for many professionals we can just add this to the list of “Things I Should Do Someday.”

    I’d probably be in this same camp if it weren’t for my experiences. As an ambassador, I was fortunate enough to make connections with wonderful coaches and mentors whom I still rely on to this day.

    I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t be where I am — either personally or professionally — without them. They were there to guide me, answer questions and encourage me during my crucial college and early career years. I’ve never forgotten how important this was, and have been steadfast and passionate about giving back and guiding other young women through similar circumstances.

    Once I mentored a freshman foreign exchange student at the University of Minnesota. I expected our conversations to be about college coursework, looking for internships in her field and networking strategies.

    To my surprise, this young student from Africa had arrived at one of the largest universities in the United States (60,000+ students) and had no idea how to use the transportation system to get to her classes! She didn’t know how to contact her advisor or even how to find a job through her work-study program.

    I put myself in her shoes and realized how scary it must have been for her. I realized quickly that my role was to guide her on the very basics of college life — things most students already know and can do without second thought. I also looked for and found the opportunity to learn from her.

    She spoke fluent French, so I insisted that when we met we tried to speak in French so I could brush-up on my skills there. She was ever so grateful and we had a fabulous experience. I will never forget her.

    If you’ve had a great mentor in your life, it’s important to do two things: Tell them “thank you,” and pay it forward and give back to future leaders. Many times, my mentors saw potential in me, or opportunities that I wouldn’t have recognized or taken advantage of on my own.

    The wisdom they shared with me came from their own experiences and insights, which are invaluable tools to those you mentor. The ability (and honor) to help guide and advise other young professionals is extremely rewarding and doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

    Even if they aren’t in the same profession as you, it’s about making a connection and listening and advising from someone they can trust. You may not even realize the impact you could have on another person with simple and small acts. It’s powerful and worthwhile — go do it!

    1. Strong public speaking skills will set you apart

    Public speaking – everyone’s worst nightmare, right? Well it doesn’t have to be, and you can really use this skill to your advantage in various situations.

    This is something I’ve grown to appreciate as I ventured into the workforce, but I wasn’t always comfortable with public speaking. I was actually quite shy growing up. However, I was forced to do this often as an ambassador — and many times without the advantage of advance preparation (a.k.a winging it) in front of hundreds of people.

    Being at ease in front of people will help differentiate you and advance your career in many different ways. Of course, it gives you the confidence and experience to make killer presentations, the ability to speak off-the- cuff, and maybe even stand up in a room of people and make a fool of yourself once in a while (when in doubt, use self-deprecating humor!). But these skills will pay off in other ways too. It also gives you the confidence to walk into a room of strangers and make conversation. It gives you the courage to extend your hand and introduce yourself. It helps you find a connection with someone you just met. Trust me – people take notice of others who demonstrate these skills and are at ease with public speaking! It could very well be that little extra polish between you and another candidate vying for a promotion.

    1. Grace never goes out of style

    I often say you can never be too polite or too dressed up. In one word: Grace. It’s a big word that encompasses many qualities and means something different to everyone.

    Grace can mean impeccable manners, using proper grammar, being charming or having a polished style. It can also be used to describe how you handle various situations: With professionalism, kindness and poise. Think “grace under pressure.”

    All of these traits involve paying attention to the details, and all of these traits are widely recognized and highly respected in professional environments. Grace is a key component of your own personal brand and a pillar of your character.

    Often times it’s someone’s first impression of you — and it may happen without you even speaking a word.

    {This article was originally posted in the October 2014 Business Journals publication}

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    Greek life at most college campuses conjures up images of all-night parties and rowdy fraternity guys. But there’s a side of fraternity and sorority life that most people don’t see unless they’ve been part of it. At its core, Greek life — specifically being in a leadership role in the chapter — is hands-on training for many essential life and business skills.

    Most fraternities and sororities have an executive council of leadership (“Exec”) that runs the chapter, spearheading things like budgets, rushing new members, and philanthropic activities. Each member of Exec is responsible for his or her elected office plus the house as a whole. As an active Exec member— and eventual president of my chapter at the University of Minnesota — here are some of the incredible lessons I learned that still apply to my career today.

    1. The art of diplomacy

    When you lead a group of more than 100 women, you’re going to experience tension, especially when you have to live with them while leading them. You can’t go home at night and tell your spouse about your crazy co-worker and come back the next day with a fresh start — you also have to eat dinner, participate in events, study, and maybe share a room with other members who may not like the decisions you make.

    The art of diplomacy helped me understand that:

    • What you say is just as important as how you say it. People usually give the benefit of the doubt, but only if leaders are honest and straightforward — especially when it comes to difficult decisions.
    • You need to be empathetic. As a house, we were wired to work as a team, so when one person was impacted by something, it impacted everyone. Listen to what’s being said (and what’s not being said) in any situation, and seek to understand first — deal with facts first and emotions next. Both play a role in leadership and decision making.
    • It’s important to maintain positive and constructive relationships with people, whether you live with them or not. Believe it or not, you can be civil even if you disagree with someone! I’ve found that using candor, humor and authenticity usually yields good results.

     2. The basics of running a business

    Just like any business, Exec makes difficult decisions regarding expenses, staffing and house rules. The committee is responsible for the full operations of the house year-round — things like feeding the chapter members, paying house bills, budgeting for activities, and dealing with unforeseen expenses. If you didn’t do your job, you were going to hear from 100 angry girls who had to take cold showers!

    3. The right thing to do might be against the rules

    One of the other responsibilities of the Exec team is establishing and enforcing house rules — including taking action if chapter members needed to go on probation for not following the rules or meeting the sorority’s mandatory GPA. You can imagine how sensitive and difficult this was.

    Once we had a member who had to go on probation because she was behind on paying her bill for two semesters. It’s not because she couldn’t or didn’t want to pay: Her parents were going through a divorce, which tied up the family’s finances and hindered her ability to make payments. That’s a legitimate reason for missing a bill — after all, it wasn’t her fault — but we had to look her in the eye and tell her she was on probation because she was technically in violation of the rules.

    Nobody can prepare you for life’s gray areas, but you do the best with what you know. Being a rule-follower, I enforced the probation, which eventually led to her leaving the house. We lost a great gal who was very smart, contributed to our chapter, and otherwise followed the rules. We lost her for something that could have been addressed with some creative problem solving.

    I try to learn from this experience, knowing that sometimes you have to do the right thing at the sacrifice of the rules.

    4. How to have a difficult conversation

    Nobody likes awkward conversations. Most of us avoid them, dancing around issues or make someone else do the deed. But if you can learn how to have difficult conversations effectively, it can be tremendously valuable both personally and professionally.

    Remember lesson No. 1: you need to be candid, authentic and caring when you do it. But if a conversation needs to happen, you’re better off looking the person in the eye and being honest about the situation. Most of the time the other party knows it’s coming, so you’re not fooling anyone by avoiding the topic.

    In my case, it happened during our spring formal the year I was president. I learned that a chapter member (and good friend) who was on probation was planning to attend the event — despite knowing that her probation rules excluded her from attending. I was forced to ask her to leave the formal at risk of an awkward “scene” in front of everyone. But if I didn’t take action, it would send a very public message to the other chapter members that the rules don’t mean anything.

    I quietly pulled her aside and reminded her that she was not permitted to attend. She ignored me and stayed — when our other officers got involved, they were ignored, too. In the end, I did the best I could even though I didn’t get the results I wanted.

    I addressed the situation at our next chapter meeting, and we dealt with the individual the following week. Some two years later, that same person sent me a handwritten letter apologizing for her behavior that night. Apparently it had weighed on her, and she realized it was unfair of her to put me in that situation. I’ll never forget this lesson and the bravery she demonstrated in offering a proper apology.

    5. Appreciating individual contributions

    Not everyone wants to be a commander — some just want to be soldiers. Often times in our chapter, several people would raise their hands to participate in an initiative, but it took longer to find a captain.

    While leadership skills are important, in reality, you need more worker bees than queen bees, and every volunteer can contribute.

    In business, if you can understand each person’s strengths, you’re more likely to use those strengths in a capacity that helps everyone win. This understanding also helps when managing expectations for team members and setting them up for success — either in their current role or in future roles where you can see they have potential for advancement based on their skills.

    {This article was originally posted in the July 2014 Business Journals publication}

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    The Paradox of Leading a Social Business, recently published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, struck me as a great article on the evolution of social media and integration into marketing efforts.  It reminds us that social media continues to change and many successful plans begin – as they should – as grassroots efforts.  The key is to regularly use the various platforms so you can engage and interpret how your users would like to have the conversation with you – then you adapt to their feedback.

    “The result of this approach to social business leadership yields a recursive feedback loop. Leaders set a vision for social business in their organization; employees execute that vision, with results that may differ somewhat from expectations. Grass-roots champions then provide feedback to leaders on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the initiatives. This feedback allows leaders to refine their vision and set the compass for the next stage of the journey.”

    An example of this from our agency:  When I opened SK&Co, my press kits were actually a leather luggage tag – a nod to our brand being synonymous with a train station.  Each tag contained agency information and my business card neatly folded into the luggage tag and packaged in clear, branded boxes that could be mailed.  Recipients loved the luggage tags and actually wanted to use them.  Pretty soon I was receiving pictures from destinations where my clients, friends and associates were traveling with their Station K & Co luggage tag!

    This inspired us to continue using luggage tags as a marketing tool, and we mail out new ones each year over the holidays to thank our clients and business partners.  We encourage them to shoot photos of their luggage tags during their journeys and post on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  We’ve seen them travel all over the world – from London to New Zealand, to Hawaii and Alaska, to New York, Arizona, LA and Florida.  This initiative became popular because it evolved organically – we listened to how people wanted to engage with us and made that exchange part of our campaigns.

    Your turn. Let us know how the evolution of social business has impacted you in the comments below.

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    Passion Broken Heart

    Last week I came across this article on LinkedIn, and the title grabbed my attention: “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice.  I’ve always been interested in the concept of passion as it contributes to business success, so I was intrigued by the concepts the author puts forth – even though I don’t agree with all of his ideas. I’ve pulled out some quotes from the article below and added some notes based on my experience building a marketing agency. You can read the article in it’s entirety here: “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice by Jeff Hade. I’d love if you’d share your thoughts as well.

    “Don’t focus on the value your work offers you…Instead focus on the value you produce through your work: how your actions are important, how you’re good at what you do, and how you’re connected to other people.”

    This is an interesting perspective on passion! I agree there’s a difference between “passion” and “hobby” – many people look to turn their hobbies into a job, thinking they’ll “never work a day in their life,” but this doesn’t mean it’s a viable business idea. Having value and being paid for your work is an important component of passion, but people generally don’t like to talk about money. We become disillusioned and think if we just follow our passions we will be successful. While passion is an important ingredient in your career, it’s not the only one to be considered. There are practicalities that have to be entered into the success equation.

    I disagree, however, with the author’s point that passion follows as you progress in your career, gain experience in your chosen field and receive positive feedback.

    Passion is not something you follow. Passion is something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world…Where business success is concerned, passion is almost always the result of time and effort. It’s not a prerequisite.”

    I think passion starts earlier than that. If you aren’t passionate about something in the first place – enough to keep learning about it and build your skill set – then it isn’t going to be a priority or career for you. Your level of interest and passion may build over time, but I believe there has to be a seed of this virtue that drives you along your path. Building your skills and gaining experience are the practical counterparts of passion.

    There’s an important and essential intersection between passion + skills + experience that leads to uniquely successful people and businesses – as is demonstrated by the likes of Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and even Henry Ford. This is a rare combination of exceptional skill and tenured experience, fueled by passion to do something ground-breaking. The book, “Entrepreneurial Genius: The Power of Passion” by Gene N Landum, tells the story of how each of these entrepreneurs had a passion in their given field and they set out to improve it and make their own mark.

    All three of these ingredients, passion, skills & experience, are imperative for success – no matter what stage of your career you’re in. You won’t get very far with any of these components on their own – all of them have a place in the mix. They may even have different roles at different times throughout a career. I’m thrilled that passion continues to be an important topic as it relates to business. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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    Service black bag imageWhen’s the last time you had really good service? An odd question you might think, but surprisingly most people are surprised by good service.  When did this cultural shift in expectations happen? I was thinking about this recently as I experienced three rather awful customer service engagements.

    I am certainly not the only person who has felt this, and I am certainly not the only person who has written about this. But something has to change, and if I can create some sort of dialogue around this, then my words aren’t for naught.  

    I’m passionate about this topic because I work in the service industry, and SERVICE is one of my agency tenets. Service, by definition, is a provision or amenity provided to the public. But I also submit that Service is a physical act or tangible demonstration of your brand. Service is an extension of Marketing. Marketing is the bringing of goods and services to the public.  Marketing is not merely an ad campaign, direct mail piece or promotion – it’s the gateway to the consumer and a touch point for them to experience your brand. And for many brands and companies, this all starts with service.

    If you choose to work in the service industry – retail stores and shops, delivery person, restaurants, or even the professional service industry, then you should be clear about what you’re signing up for – SERVICE. Serving others.  Others asking from you. Others expecting from you. Others taking from you with no obligation to give back. Service.  Get it? If you aren’t prepared for this, if you don’t have a thick skin, and if this makes your skin crawl – then don’t work in the SERVICE industry!  

    Since when is it OK to treat customers like you’re doing them a favor by helping them? Since when is it OK for the general public to accept this kind of treatment by those we are paying for goods and services – including retail merchants, physicians offices, and even bank tellers. And since when is it OK for those organizations to tolerate this behavior from their staff members? Is it because addressing the issue is awkward and uncomfortable? Is it because we are lazy? Is it because we don’t care anymore?

    So let’s talk ROI. Yes – things like service, quality and kindness have an ROI. If you provide good service to someone, is there any harm done? Does it cost extra? Does it take any extra time? At a very basic level, the answer to these questions is “no.” If you provide good service, you are likely bringing that customer back, creating discussion with their friends, family and colleagues, and perhaps even bringing in new customers. As a marketer, you cannot put a price tag on this.  Even if that person doesn’t mention the good service to another soul, you have upped the ante for them returning to your establishment by not giving them a reason NOT to return. Why would you want to do anything to risk their return to your place of business?  

    When a customer walks in your door, you usually start with an “A” grade. Each and every touch point with you and your service allows for points to be depleted and your overall grade to be reduced. Say you have a beautiful, impeccably clean restaurant with award winning food, but your hostess snubs a customer because they don’t have a reservation on a busy weekend night. Your A just dropped to a C in less than 10 minutes. Even if everything else goes well for the next hour, you still only get a C. And what do those customers tell their friends after that – I guarantee it’s not the food or the atmosphere or the server. Boom – your first customers walk away giving you a C, and your next potential customers (if they come) walk through the door and may only give you a B as a starting grade. The “domino effect” of bad service.  As a marketer, you also cannot put a price tag on this, but no doubt your ROI is declining.

    Even in bad or unusual circumstances, service can still win. Perhaps a staff person called in sick, so the whole team is short staffed during a busy time. Admittedly frustrating and we’ve all been there. Therefore, if you acknowledge the customer, greet them with kindness, and still manage to provide quality service, they will likely forgive you for waiting a few extra minutes or an error on your part. How do people not understand this concept??

    What’s shocking to me is that it’s shocking to most people when they do get good service. I’ve had this discussion with many friends over the past few weeks as I was writing this article. When you actually get good service, it’s treated as something out of the ordinary. People are shocked and surprised. People note the rarity that has occurred. This is appalling to me – a blatant example of how a simple concept like service has been eroded away.

    Service should be the new black. It never goes out of style, it makes you look good, and it works on everyone. Call me old-school if you want, but old-fashioned values like being nice to other human beings is “old-fashioned” for a reason – because it works.  

    Service is based on quality – just as black elevates anything you’re wearing. It’s the standard currency between humans as we co-exist. Its basic appeal appeals to everyone.  

    The definition of service may change and evolve over the years – just as black does in the fashion industry – but the common threads that weave them together are respect and kindness.


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    Harvey Mackay is a undoubtedly a master story teller – especially to illustrate business concepts. Here is a fable that we found entertaining, relevant, and so very true!

    Genie lampLesson: A sales rep, an assistant and their manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out. The Genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

    “Me first!” says the assistant. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.” Poof!  She’s gone.

    “Me next!” says the sales rep. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of piña coladas and the love of my life.” Poof! He’s gone.

    “OK, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager. The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

    Moral: Always let your boss have the first say.

    Read the rest of the lessons.


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    It’s impossible to miss Procter & Gamble’s presence at the Winter Games. What began in 2012 as a long-term relationship with the Olympics has been expertly executed as a fully integrated worldwide marketing campaign as the “Proud Sponsor Of Moms.” The global campaign brings together 34 brands under the P&G umbrella, and will feature sponsorship of 150 athletes. How did they pull this off? The outstanding execution of P&G’s marketing campaign is built on these key pillars:

    1. Expanded Sponsorship

    2. Tailored Messaging

    3. Staying True To Their Brand

    4. Bringing Content Marketing To Sports Marketing.


    Proctor and Gamble Because of Mom

    If you’ve been watching the Olympics at all, you’ve certainly seen the omnipresence of Procter & Gamble products and advertising. From razors to detergent to paper towels and skincare, you’ve seen it, heard it and read about it – all from P&G. What struck me as different this year is how cohesive and seamless the brands are integrated into your Olympics experience. Not only are the brands integrated into the viewer’s experience at home, they are very visible on-site in Sochi, Russia too. The P&G presence at the Olympics this year brings a new meaning to the marketing mix of sponsorship + advertising + experience.

    It began with P&G Sponsoring the TV Special “How To Raise An Olympian” watched by millions of viewers the night before opening ceremonies. It showcased a handful of athletes and their journey to the Olympics through the eyes of their parents. Heartwarming stories of common people with uncommon talent and how they overcame their individual set of challenges and tribulations to make their dreams come true.  The only advertising that ran during the program was for various P&G products. These brands being combined with the charismatic and hopeful stories created a feeling of happiness and gratitude for the viewers. A powerful alignment for any brand – and it was owned exclusively by P&G.

    The keynote P&G brands all have their own Olympic-themed ads that are running during the games as well – Pampers showcases how a good night sleep in their diapers could lead your toddler to Olympic greatness. Gillette cleverly plays on the word “hair” as they describe how something so small and insignificant to most of us can be the difference between a winning medal or not at the Olympics. No matter what event you were watching, at what time, or on what channel – you were likely to see any of these P&G commercials a number of times – again creating a positive association between your experience and their brands.

    P&G extended their brands and advertising to an on-site “P&G House” in the Athletes Olympic Village stocked with their products for athletes and their families to use. They successfully extended their brand to the grounds of the Olympics and allowed athletes to feel, touch and see the brands in action – at a time when the athletes are likely missing some of the comforts of home. P&G saw the value in having this experience because they are committed to fulfilling their sponsorship 360 degrees to those that they sponsor. Again, they’re not throwing a check at the sponsorship and just walking away – they are walking the walk by adding value and creating a relationship with the people they are there to support.

    Even with the new messages and experiences that P&G brought to the Olympics this year, their advertising was still solidly rooted in the foundation of their “Thanks Mom” campaign. They’ve used this campaign during the Olympics for years, so audiences have come to recognize the ads and the tagline. They keenly and skillfully reinvent how it’s being used and showcase different ways to pay homage to moms. This keeps the campaign from getting stale and outdated, and infuses a fresh voice into the advertising every two years.

    The brilliance of P&G’s advertising throughout the Olympics is the result of these key components:

    1. Extended Sponsorship – they are a key sponsor of the Olympics, which basically gives them the right to use the Olympic logo and name for a (not so small) fee. But they didn’t just throw money at a sponsorship and sit back. They took the sponsorship to the airwaves, to print, and to an on-site experience with meaningful messages that resonated with audiences.

    2. Tailored Messaging – each of the brands that advertised during the Olympics uncovered a unique and compelling message about how the product relates to the games or the athletes. They could choose to run their regular TV spots during the Olympics, but instead they created a series of spots to run specifically during this time that will reinforce their sponsorship and align their brands with the feel-good atmosphere of the Olympic events. This is no easy task – thinking of new ways that shampoo and diapers relate to athletics AND the general consumer in a meaningful way.  

    3. Staying True To The Brand – Building on their “Thanks Mom” campaign continues to build equity in that tagline, while maintaining consistent messaging and voice among the P&G brands during this special time when we rally around our athletes and our country. With each new Olympic season, P&G finds a way to infuse a new component into the campaign, while keeping the sentiment of thanking mom for all she has done. This year, they extended the “Thanks Mom” message with the TV special “How To Raise An Olympian” and with the on-site P&G house catering to athletes and their visiting families. They embraced social media by placing fan engagement front and center with the Twitter presence #thanksmom and #BecauseOfMom.

    4. Content Marketing Meets Sports Marketing – As content marketing continues to grow and we look for new ways to infuse brands and products into the social norm of everyday experiences, P&G has demonstrated how to do this with their sports marketing package. They holistically engaged the consumer with timely and compelling messages at different points along their Olympic experience. Sports marketing of yester-year would mean popping up a few banners along the ski slopes, putting a P&G patch on the athlete’s jackets, and maybe an ad or two. P&G has skillfully demonstrated how to include and engage both the athlete, the viewer, and the consumer with their brands in a way in which most people may not even know they’re doing it.  


    P&G Brand commercial “Pick Them Back Up”

    Bounty: U.S. Olympic Medalist Julie Chu 

    Gilette: “By A Hair”

    Pampers: “Winter Olympics”


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    Welcome Aboard the Station K & Company Blog and to our new website!!

    At some point in our lives, we all realize we have to take a bit of our own medicine. After counseling many clients and partners on the importance of keeping your website updated, your materials fresh, and your content relevant, I only had to look in the mirror to see that I, um, needed a little makeover.

    I’m thrilled to announce the launch of our new website that boldly showcases who we are as an agency, what we stand for, and the work we’ve been privileged to do for our clients.

    I’m even more excited about having my little corner of the world to blog about ideas, observations, and my otherwise two cents worth on a variety of topics. My very own Carrie Bradshaw moment when I get back to the roots of something I love to do – write.

    So join us in the conversation – I look forward to your ideas and feedback and dialogue along the way. Drop us a line or stop by for a cup of coffee.

    But “Get Your Wheels On” – it’s gonna be a wild ride! Here’s to new adventures.


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