Ignite Milwaukee

Five, twenty and fifteen. You are probably wondering what those numbers mean. No, they are not the number sequences from Lost or the SPF numbers on your sunscreen. They are, however, the numbers you need to learn if you want to give a presentation at Ignite. Ignite is an event where presenters can share what makes them tick. From graphic designers to English professors, people from all walks of life are coming together to educate the world on what they know best. Recent presenters spoke about how to be an expert witness, going global on a local scale and the three p’s of eLearning. With only five minutes, twenty slides and fifteen seconds to talk per slide, speakers are encouraged to enlighten but make it quick. Do you have what it takes? If interested in speaking, please email sdittloff@laughlin.com for more information. Want to be in the audience? Come out and see what you can burn into your mind or into others. Check out the details below! And click here for more info.

Who: There is an open call for presenters. Please email sdittloff@laughlin.com if you’re interested in speaking or attending.

When: August 22nd, 8pm

Where: The Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207

Evolution of Theory

I’ve noticed this photo making the rounds on my LinkedIn newsfeed.

I understand the message. I understand the channel and why it’s appropriate. But I also feel the need to hold up a yield sign when this photo is referred to as “the most brilliant photo I’ve ever seen” in the comment section.

I’d be willing to guess that most business-minded people would agree that agility and the ability to adapt are critical elements of any company’s success.

Case in point: Blockbuster Video.

But consider this: Just as important as the willingness to change is the willingness to be grounded in reality and not let philosophy and catchy – but at the end of the day empty – rhetoric dictate the direction of your company.

Change isn’t inherently good. Good is good.

Continuous improvement should always be an objective but it’s been my experience that change for the sake of change will seldom trump actionable strategies and quality process.

At the end of the day, while change and philosophy can inspire, they don’t necessarily yield tangible products or measurable results.

Sure, there’s often a need to use pathos in order to grab attention and make emotional connections with an audience – as is done in the picture above. But be careful not to let every clever phrase and trending philosophy replace the tried and true methods you’ve always used – unless the change is poised to result in a measurable improvement to process and/or final products.

The intent of this piece isn’t to dismiss change or high-level rhetoric.

Think of it more as a friendly suggestion to use those tools as a support piece to a foundation built on strategy and processes.


Creativity: Unplugged

Once upon a time, human beings existed without spending an average of 8-10 hours a day staring at screens. Behaviorists are learning that clutter is the enemy of cleverness. Sometimes our brains just need a bit of quiet time to sort things out. That’s why our “Aha!” moments usually occur when we’re not in front of a glowing rectangle. That very well might explain the cliché that it’s between rinsing and repeating when the big idea hits. So, I’m thinking, why not take a brief “tech timeout” and explore more opportunities to stay creative sans pixels?

Here’s my baker’s dozen to get started, but feel free to make your own:

  1. Write. With pen and paper. Buy the most durable notebook and longest lasting pen you can find. Bring them with you wherever you go. Jot down ideas, dreams, stories, or things you need to remember.
  2. Get up. Take a small walk around the office every hour or so. Better yet, venture outside. The fresh air and natural surroundings will reenergize your mind and body.
  3. Attend concerts. Fewer things are more invigorating than seeing a live show.
  4. Exercise. No excuses. Just do it.
  5. Drink. Lots. Of. H2O. Coffee is a miraculous pick-me-up, but water is the best thing you can feed your body.
  6. Take a 15-minute power nap to boost your memory, cognitive skills, and energy level.
  7. Strike up a conversation with a stranger: your cab driver, a tenant in the elevator, the person walking next to you on the sidewalk. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn.
  8. Travel. Expanding our knowledge of foreign places and cultures is one of the best ways to gain respect for the world in which we live.
  9. Wake up and smell the roses, literally. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence our mood, and even affect our work performance.
  10. Read a book. A wise man once said, “Reading is good. Can we start the story now?”
  11. Meditate. We all can feel overwhelmed by the stressors life throws our way every single day. Allow yourself to regain a sense of tranquility no matter what is happening around you.
  12. Dig through old artwork, projects, and photographs. Taking a walk down Memory Lane lets you to realize how far you’ve come over the years.
  13. Surround yourself with creative people. Hint: Look around.

When your brain switches gears, even just for a few minutes, it will feel refreshed as you return to the task at hand, and you will feel more productive, more inspired, and, yes, more creative. In the end, it seems the best app for that is no app at all.

How can you be a better predictor? Get foxy.

Nate Silver, statistician, first became noticed in the political world when he correctly guessed the outcome of 49 out of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election. This year, he topped his election record by predicting outcomes of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Needless to say, his book released in September 2012 about making predictions, The Signal and the Noise, shot up to the bestseller list for nonfiction and was named Amazon.com’s #1 best nonfiction book of 2012.

There are many different areas of life where accurate predictions come in handy: From the housing markets to political outcomes, from the weather to baseball, there are things that we want to be able to predict so we feel better equipped to handle the future.

When you’re listening to experts on the news, what should you be looking for to know for sure that they are a better predictor? How can you think to become a better predictor? Silver cites Philip Tetlock, a psychology professor in the 1980s, for the answer. Tetlock administered surveys asking experts to predict a variety of events between the 1980s and 1990s, and found he could divide these people into two distinct categories: hedgehogs and foxes.

Tetlock received this analogy from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who received the comparison from the poet Archilochus. The fragment of one of his poems says, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Hedgehogs are generally the experts you see when you turn on your television. In politics, they’re interesting to watch because they stick with one candidate, even when the polls appear to be saying something different. They believe in big ideas and governing principles, generally using one or a few of these to explain everything that happens in society. Silver uses the examples of “Karl Marx and class struggle, or Sigmund Freud and the unconscious. Or Malcolm Gladwell and the ‘tipping point’” (Silver, 53). While simplistic might not be the accurate term for them, hedgehogs do strive to tie in all of their guiding principles into one large idea, and reject any notion that doesn’t fit into their big idea of the universe. Because of their bias and mindset, they might ignore clues that would lead their predictions to become more accurate.

Foxes, in contrast, don’t get as much air time. They are more able to see complexities and nuances, and believe in a lot of little ideas and using as many approaches as necessary to solve a problem. Isaiah Berlin uses examples like Aristotle, Shakespeare, Balzac, and Joyce as thinkers that use their many and varied experiences to form conclusions, instead of focusing on one big idea. They are more comfortable adjusting their predictions if there is evidence that they should do so. Because of their thought process, they might raise doubt over political candidates and qualify their predictions with a degree of probability. In politics, this means they aren’t as interesting to watch.

Any time you are working to predict the success of something in your day-to-day work, think about how you’re approaching that forecast. Are you using one technique that you have used for years; one that doesn’t allow room for adjustments if it doesn’t work out as planned, or are you willing to try options, leave room for doubt, and adjust as necessary to more accurately foresee an outcome? If you are a fox, the latter will apply.

So, how should you think? Use information instead of ignoring what doesn’t fit into your main idea, change with that information, and make the best forecast you can today, every day. Just remember to stay foxy.

A More Important Rule Of Brainstorming

There is an oft-quoted “rule” of brainstorming. You’ve heard it. It is repeated at the beginning of many a brainstorming meeting. You know what it is. And it is just plain wrong.

Because there is a such thing as a bad idea. There. We said it.

And saying it leads to better ideas. Because dissent is a powerful tool.

Dissent creates more ideas. And more original ideas.

Dissent promotes new ways of looking at old problems.

Dissent can be the physics of progress.

In fact, dissent is essential to success. Not only because it kills bad ideas. But because it actually encourages the imagination.

[Important note: Dissent does not have to be off-putting. There are productive ways to disagree.]

So our proposed, new first rule of brainstorming? There are such things as bad ideas. And the much more important second rule? You can’t be afraid to have them.

Having the idea is just the beginning. What happens next is what’s important.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Social Media and Beer: 3 Lessons for the Beer Industry

Living in Milwaukee has its perks. One being the beer, they don’t call us brew city for nothing. Recently I attended the PR + Social Media Summit at Marquette University. Naturally one of the sessions revolved around how social media is being used in the craft beer industry.

Like all effective social media campaigns, everything comes back to strategy and authenticity. I think panelist Mike Thiel, marketer for Goose Island hit the nail on the head when he said “For every beer that we’ve sold, we don’t do it through big advertising budgets…Everything we’ve done is through one taste at a time. So the way that we view social media is that is an opportunity to reach every customer, one point at a time and help tell a story.”

With that in mind, below are three authentic social media lessons the beer industry could learn from:

Show Personality
Whether big or small, craft or domestic, local or import – beer companies need to determine what their story is and how they want to tell it. Putting a personality
to a brand is one of the easiest ways to build relationships with customers. Beer companies have an amazing opportunity to profile their brew masters and provide insight into why their employees have a passion for their job. If the story surrounds sustainability or other goodwill initiatives, tell consumers why your company cares about that specific cause by sharing a personal connection story. Whatever the story may be, showing personality develops trust with an audience,
online or off.

Infuse communication with packaging
Often times when we think of social, we assume Facebook, Twitter and email are the only ways we can communicate with our customers. We need to break that mold and think about how we can integrate our offline and online communication. For example, Milwaukee Brewing Co. is integrating QR codes on all of their packaging. Although the fad for QR codes may be dying, I still feel they can add value if used appropriately. I honestly can’t speak to where @MKEbrewco is directing user engagement, but for a company that has branded each product with a unique personality, this is a phenomenal opportunity to continue the story and track analytical data for each product.

A picture is worth a 1000 words
Let’s face it, we are a visual people. When we find something we like, we want to see more of it. Today we are seeing more and more companies including visual components to their social media posts. Our consumers expect us to be at the same level as they are, and with the emergence of tools such as Instagram, they have become amateur photographers. According to panelist Dan Murphy, Milwaukee Magazine Brew City writer, “A few bars around [Milwaukee] have done a nice job with Instagram….They’ll take a picture of a new barrel that comes in and post it. I mean, to the beer geeks, it’s beer porn.” Breweries have the opportunity of providing a “sneak peek” at a new products or packaging before hitting the market as well. Recently Blue Moon Brewing Company gave their Facebook fans the opportunity to help brew the newest seasonal beer: Caramel Apple Spiced Ale.

By the way, if you haven’t heard of Untappd yet – I suggest you check it out if you want to try new beers and bars near you.

The Social Bucket List

Applications and social startups are born at a faster rate than babies in the boomer generation by hopeful entrepreneurs anxious to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone. The majority of these startups never get off the ground, but a tiny fraction of them have the formidable combination of – a smart idea, unmet need, monetary support and most importantly, the agility and wherewithal to adapt and evolve – that ultimately launches them into the arms of Early Adopters.

One startup that’s caught my attention is the freshly released social start up, WhereBerry. The brainchild of Nick Baum and Bill Ferrell, former Google techies, seems like it could have a fighting chance.

Most social networks capitalize on what we’ve done in the past or what we’re doing now. The logical next step is for people to share what they want to do in the future. WhereBerry, which opened to the public last week, allows people to post activities they want to do… someday – from restaurants they want to eat at, to movies they want to see, to places they want to visit – people can organize and store their desires in one convenient place, turning the familiar “bucket list” virtual, and most importantly, social.

As a society of “dreamers” it is in our nature to make plans and set goals. As a rising society of “sharers” it is in our nature to broadcast these plans to friends. WhereBerry seems to have what it takes to capitalize on these popular behaviors. But it is at a fragile and vulnerable state in its growth, where important decisions can either make or break its success. I believe that if they can successfully accomplish the following, they could in fact be the next big thing:

  1. Community & Groups: With the rising popularity of social networks, we not only want to share, we want to be part of a community or group. What users of WhereBerry are going to want next is the ability to join together with others around entertaining, thrilling, educational and delicious activities. Providing users the ability to share plans with smaller, private groups will not only be a feature users are interested in using, but will allow the application to spread virally as friends plan together.
  2. Sharing on Steroids: The sharing is currently very straightforward: add to your list, post to your wall, see your friends’ to-dos in your feed, etc. WhereBerry should evolve the “share factor” by using a more complex formula – connecting people who have similar interests, presenting users with to-dos that seem to match with their trends (and location), suggesting plans their friends have, and more. The key is, users want the service to do the work for them and provide them with value they wouldn’t have on their own.
  3. Competition and Achievements: Based on your bucket list and the items you accomplish, users should be able to achieve recognition or status for their completed tasks (e.g. Advanced Foodie, Dare Devil, Movie Buff, etc.). This brings a level of competition to the utility and drives participation, stretching users to try more and more – and therefore use the social network more.
  4. Businesses & Brands: Selling this idea to brands by presenting the benefits to their business and getting them involved will provide substance to network by providing users with recommendations, deals and rewards, and will be the push to eventually turning this start-up into a money maker.
  5. Continuous Evolution: WhereBerry needs to pay close attention to analytics, use, feedback, and the industry as a whole to learn what users want. They need to quickly evolve, adapt, grow, simplify, and integrate in order to meet users’ rising expectations.

The tech world today is a rough one to survive in, and the get-rich-quick theory very rarely applies. In 3-5 years we may see WhereBerry checking “10 Million Users” off their bucket list. Or we may be asking, “What’s WhereBerry? A new BlackBerry device?”

PR 2.0: Working with the media

I recently attended a luncheon held by the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of PRSA. The event featured a panel discussion with Mark Kass, editor of The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, Jim Nelson, Politifact editor and deputy business editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Steve Jagler, executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

The well-respected trio participated in a great discussion on what lies ahead in 2011, how their respective publications are adjusting in an ever-changing media landscape and how PR professionals can more efficiently work with them.

This post will touch on a few highlights and how PR professionals can stay on the media’s radar.

My guess is the points below will ring true with a lot of you or serve as a reminder on how to conduct media relations 2.0, but it never hurts to have a quick refresher. They don’t cover the entire discussion but cover segments I found particularly interesting. Without further ado:

Embrace online exposure – The hard copies aren’t dead (publishers are nodding vigorously in agreement). But PR folks need to continue to counsel clients that online exposure is just as good as print coverage, if not better. Jim Nelson said the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gets as many as 2 million hits a day. That’s a big audience. Compare that to the print circulation of 183,636 during the week and 331,171 on Sundays. Between online stories, blogs, e-newsletters and live updates, there are plenty of opportunities to garner publicity.

Think like a reporter, better yet a TV reporter – Think visually and for ways your story can have legs itself. How can you make this story more appealing, even if it isn’t for a TV station? Utilize those Flip cams and iPhones, and edit footage back at the office. Offer the footage to compliment your pitch or news release. Steve Jagler said it a number of times, “We’re a multimedia company now.”

Have a spokesperson ready 24/7 – News moves fast these days. Really fast. The news media world is a competitive business and PR professionals need to be able to act quickly. Have a spokesperson always ready to speak on breaking news. Work with the media. Mark Kass said, “Our story will run whether you comment or not. You have to decide whether you have your say.”

Look for unconventional opportunitiesThe Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee’sForty Under 40” annually honors 40 up-and-comers in the community under 40. It’s a great way to see who the new leaders are in the area. Mark Kass mentioned that they receive close to 300 nominations for the program. Tough odds, to be sure. However, he said they don’t just toss the 260 or so nominees that don’t make the list (yes, I can do basic math). He hands them out to his staff and has them hold onto them for potential profile pieces or to use as experts/sources down the road. Unconventional opportunity but a good one.

Engage social media – All three editors couldn’t stress it enough. It’s happening and it’s here to stay. Get clients involved or be left behind.

So those are just a few of the nuggets I found interesting. Please share ideas and input below.

The Rule of Two: How to be a Dateable Brand

In a recent speech at the ME conference in New York, Dana Anderson (the senior VP of marketing strategy and communications at Kraft) discussed the Rule of Two. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this dating guideline, the Rule of Two states that you can only date someone who is two points above you or two points below you. So, for example, if Susie Smith is a 7 she can date anyone from a 5 to a 9. Anderson uses the Rule of Two and applies it to being a great client but I’m going to apply it to being a great brand.

Let’s say you’re a brand trying to win over the right consumer. If your brand is viewed as a 4 what are the odds that the 10 you’re aiming to attract will want to choose you?

The key is to start by thoroughly answering one question. Exactly who is it you want to attract? The best part of dating (in my opinion) is getting to know and love the person you’re with. In a brand/consumer relationship it’s no different.

As Rick Mathieson points out in his book The On-Demand Brand, “Success is not about understanding technology, it’s about understanding your customers – and then capitalizing on that insight across the digital platforms that make sense for your audience, in ways that will resonate most.” The same is true for any platform – not just digital. You need to know your audience in order to know how to attract them.

It’s important to get beyond the basics of key demographics. Get beyond the first date questions. On a real first date you may ask questions like: Where did you go to school? What was your major? Where did you grow up? On a first brand/consumer date, questions are likely to include: Are you male or female? What age range do you fall in? What’s you’re average income?

But you’ll need to know more than that before you get into a long-term relationship, right? So line up dates two, three…and fifteen. Dig deeper. Knowing your consumer inside and out will help you position your brand in a way that is attractive to them. As our website says, “Your brand is single. It walks into the marketplace. What does it do?” It’s time to go bag yourself a 10.

Are Millennials Really Slackers or Just Misunderstood?

Since I’ve graduated and entered the work force I have read and heard a plethora of negative things about millennials. They’re lazy. Distracted. They act entitled. Well as a millennial myself I would have to say that I, for one, do not feel that these are entirely accurate descriptors.

Just to give you an idea of the hostile, post-grad environment we millennials are entering, check out this Fortune blog post by Patricia Sellers entitled Who Cares about a Career? Not Gen Y. The article opens with this bold statement: “Any Baby Boomer who has worked alongside Millennials – Gen Yers born after 1978 – knows how differently they view work and career. While we Baby Boomers typically place high value on pay, benefits, stability and prestige, Gen Y cares most about fun, innovation, social responsibility, and time off.”

While the above statement may be true for some Millennials (every generation has its share of bad seeds i.e. Paris Hilton and this disgruntled internship applicant) I would argue that fun, innovation, and social responsibility are just some of the many aspects millennials looks for in a career – and maybe not even the most important ones at that. So let’s move away from the assumptions and negative statements and take a look at some of the positive traits millennials are bringing to the work force.

Millennials are eager and self-confident.
Millennials grew up being told that they could be whatever they wanted to be. That they would be successful. Special. Now as they launch their careers, they want to make sure that the above statements come true. Most millennials will walk into an organization self-assured, ready to learn, and aiming to climb to the top.

Millennials can multitask.
Millennials have been on sensory overload almost their whole lives. But most of them have learned to manage it effectively and have become efficient multi-taskers. You can likely give a millennial multiple projects without being met with a look of sheer panic.

Millennials live out loud.
Through social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, millennials are connecting and sharing more than ever before. Millennials are likely to post positive things your organization is doing or things they’ve achieved that they’re proud of. They can become some of your biggest supporters and advocates in the social networking world.

Millennials thrive off of positive reinforcement.
It’s fairly simple to keep a millennial happy. When appropriate, give them a good dose of recognition and positive reinforcement. If you’re good to them, they’ll want to work even harder for you.

Sure, I understand that some of you might already be construing ways in which the above positive traits could be turned into negative ones. But I want to challenge you to think a little differently. Perhaps optimistically. So the next time you’re assigning teams for a group project at work, don’t be too quick to rule out the millennial.

For more insights on millennials in the workplace check out this previous LaughlinOutLoud blog post.