Monday, January 27, 2014

This is what PR looks like in 2014 [Because basics]

On Friday, John Wheatley, co-founder of Need/Want, tweeted the link to a blog post he wrote about why he is moving his startup from San Francisco to St. Louis.

Madness ensued.

And by madness I mean a flurry of re-tweets, follows, shout outs, welcomes, recommendations and invitations for coffee. Many from some of the most influential in the St. Louis Twitter-sphere and startup scene.

Oh, right, and media coverage (so far) from KMOX, the St. Louis Fox station and the LA Times.

I knew the post was coming because I happened to run into Wheatley's co-founder Marshall Haas's girlfriend Tara Pham a week or so ago while at coffee with a mutual friend. She was putting together the recommendations for the post and the mutual friend is associated with the Contemporary Art Museum - one of the number of places listed as an example of why St. Louis is great - and she was checking on guidance for their preferred photo. Immediately I thought, "brilliant."

Here are some of the things that made this smart and successful:

  1. Knowledge of the existing conversation. St. Louis is obsessed with being awesome. Our tendency to need to play the comparison game sometimes feels too negative to me, but it's what we do. Baseball and beer and pointing out why we're awesome. The startup scene is getting a good deal of buzz, finally, after many years of some very passionate people putting a lot of effort behind its care and growth. 
  2. Distribution by inclusion. The act of including and checking with the locations, organizations and businesses mentioned in the post allowed them a genuine sense of ownership and buy-in before the post ever went live. It made them part of the story with a small stake in the outcome. It was a given that it would be shared and retweeted and cheered. 
  3. Making news not waiting for it. That it had a readymade and public set of distribution channels to land in made it an event independent of and consequently interesting to traditional news outlets. This kind of thing is on the list of things they are looking for. They want in on the conversation too. This scenario set up a situation where the news outlets were coming to them, not the other way around. 
  4. They mean it. This was not a fabricated high-production publicity stunt. This was a person, with an investment and passion for his work, sharing his genuine thoughts on where its headed next. This happened to intersect with a number of very active and very engaged ongoing conversations. Need/Want simply joined the conversation publicly and new how to simultaneously leverage that to serve their overall goals. No shame. A transparent exchange. 
I tweeted. I shared. The tone of the article and the way in which they offered an outside perspective on my city made me interested in learning more about these guys and their company. And in that process I found the iPhone case I've been looking for for two years (seriously, ask anyone who spends time with me about my ongoing dilemma about my "naked" iPhone). Which is the whole framing of their company ("making products that solve problems"). And because I signed up for their newsletter, I'll get 15% off when I buy it later today.

That, I believe, is the exact desired outcome of PR.

And that's how it works in 2014.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When your biracial 5-yr-old asks about MLK [How do you balance The Dream?]

So, this happened:

SCENE: Getting ready for bed. Post-bath. Long day, long week, everyone's exhausted.

Me: Guess what we get to do tomorrow?

Boys: What?

Me: Nothing! No school. We can sleep in and have some screen time. No school because it's Martin Luther King Day. Do you know who he is?

Boys: No.

[Really? We're having this conversation now? I guess I did do this to myself. How do I answer this question? My adult mind is conflicted about so many aspects of this whole thing but this 4 and 5 yr old don't care or need to know. How do I answer this question honestly and simultaneously not become a hypocrite to myself (that only I will really know about but that's enough)?]

Me: Well, he was a man who helped people come together to make sure everyone had equal rights. It used to be that there were things that white people could do that brown people couldn't do. MLK helped to change that.

[At this point my 4-yr-old is jumping on my lap, not really listening to any of this, just really concerned about whether or not the Roku will really pick up right where he paused Oscar's Oasis before coming to bed. My 5-yr-old on the other hand, my ever-pensive always shockingly deep when you never expect a 5-yr-old capable 5-yr-old is staring at me. He's mid-dressing, twirling his curls in his fingers like he does, looking at me. And his brain is working in that way it does when you know he's calculating things you think far beyond his grasp but he totally gets. He does this for about 90 seconds. No ruffled brow, no whine, but not moving, not distracted. Concentrating. And he says:]

5-yr-old: I can't understand that.

Me: [without missing a beat because how can I] Good answer. You shouldn't. Because it didn't make any sense.

And we proceed to continue with the bedtime ritual.

But when it's over, it kind of all hits me. He didn't say he didn't understand. He stood there, in front of me and he did a bunch of calculations and his answer to me was honest. He was unable to calculate what I'd just told him. "I can't understand that."

This is the child who has a white daddy and a brown mommy. Brown cousins and white cousins. White grandparents and brown grandparents. A white nanny and brown babysitters, mostly white teachers and family friends of all shades. He watches Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Doc McStuffins and Dora and the Power Rangers.

This is the child who, upon being read Ribsy last summer, declared that when he grew up he wanted to drive a bus that was solely for lost dogs looking for their owners because he felt it such an injustice that Ribsy was not allowed on the bus without a human in order to find Henry.

So I know he's capable of understanding the general concept of injustice. But the idea that his grandma and his other grandma wouldn't be allowed to do the same things? Can't compute.

And again, I say "good."

But at the same time that I say "good" (ok, no, really HALLELUJAH!), I get a few things:
  1. Reality exists, and "the world" will one day teach him this context
  2. Because of the way he looks, he may or may not have a choice as to how much of and at what level of personal depth he learns this context
  3. Many of the people he loves will not have this choice
  4. At some point, he will grapple with the nuances of all of the above
  5. I am in a position to help him be better prepared for #4
  6. I am in a position to totally screw him up re: #4
So I find myself, on this MLK Day (Observed) 2014 wondering about the balance of "the dream." My child is there. He has no context for racial inequality. So, dream realized? No, because he will go out into the world and someone will impose reality upon him. So, then what's my role? Literally break his brain in order to "prepare" him to face harsh reality? That seems wrong. Drown him in multi-culti bliss and pretend the rest of the world isn't institutionally imbalanced? That is delusional. 

After being so plainly and directly faced with where he is, I feel like my challenge is to support him in discovering his own context: the context of a biracial child growing up in the early part of the twenty-first century. Something that can't be "shown" or "taught" to him because his context is unfolding around us. How to do that? As with all things, the answer is in the gray. Until tonight, I thought I had a much better grasp on where to start. As with all things, it's a process. 

Because progress.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

KSDK causes Kirkwood High School lockdown [But we will be talking about so much more]

The story is still unfolding, but I can already hear the aftermath of today's Twitter-splosion surrounding KSDK Channel 5's "accidental" triggering of a complete lockdown at Kirkwood High School.

Here are 10 of the things I predict coming out of this:
  1. National attention. Again. 
  2. A meme of some sort (which may or may not be hilarious). [hilarious]
  3. A conversation about how the struggling news industry causes reporters to "go too far."
  4. Somehow, the blame will be on "The Social Media" or "The Internets"
  5. A marvel at the role "The Social Media" or "The Internets" played in the story
  6. The nonchalant behavior that went on during the lockdown - "As seen on Social Media"
  7. Glee from the other news stations in the form of endless coverage
  8. A call for the end of sweeps and the entire Nielson ratings system. Ok, that will never happen, but I can dream, can't I?
  9. #latergram-like missives from the news outlets that said nothing as it broke, and what that means in 2014.
  10. Some likely amazing fallout/reactions to however KSDK ultimately responds to this [first pass].
And I have to note, NONE of this is funny. I can't imagine thinking, for any amount of time, that my kids or anyone I cared about was in a building where there might be a bomb or a gunman. Regardless of blame or the real scenario, KSDK has now connected itself, solidly, with that feeling of fear for a countless number of people. Happy Sweeps. 

Non-local coverage