A Trip Down My Tech Memory Lane

It’s hard to remember a time where technology wasn’t a part of my day-to-day routine. I’m sure some of you read the This is Your Life in Silicon Valley posted on Medium a couple weeks ago. From the looks of my Facebook feed that day, the post struck a chord on so many levels with technology as the constant thread. Not surprisingly, if you live in a metropolis, chances are you wake up and go to sleep to technology. Even more likely if you live in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, it’s still connected to you in some shape or form even while you sleep. Crazy or not, no one can deny the tremendous progress we’ve seen, and been a part of, in technology.

I can still remember starting in PR, almost 13 years ago, and learning how to use technology specific to my field, things like Lexis Nexis and Bacon’s. “How cool,” I thought: vast databases that could search high and low for different reporters and news. It was magical! Fast forward to my first foray in high tech PR where Facebook was simultaneously becoming a personal and professional network. It was weird at first – I could see my friends goofing off in LA by the pool while reading posts from reporters about what they had to eat for breakfast that morning (btw, you’d be amazed at what you learn about a reporter through their eating + social media habits).

Then, there was Twitter – I really liked the idea of Twitter but I also felt at the time that it was just another hoop I needed to jump through to reach a reporter. Soon enough, Twitter became more than just another medium for me to do my job with. This “micro-blogging” platform became the biggest watercooler of ideas, voices, perspectives and news – it was unlike any other platform we’d seen. Let that sink in for a bit – I don’t care if they ever figure out their business model, their technology changed the world! Twitter made information and people’s voices more accessible than any other medium since the Internet.

As I reflect on these platforms, I realize that my behavior on and purpose for using each has evolved along with the technologies themselves. While I’m not as actively tweeting, I’m actively listening – and while I no longer post about every move I make on Facebook, it’s become one of my go-tos along with Instagram to connect with family and friends from afar.

Aside from technology itself, the evolution of how technology is covered by the media has changed dramatically. As an account coordinator, I recall researching technology beat reporters at publications like Martha Stewart Living – how could this one lone soul be in charge of reporting on ALL things technology?? Obviously, things have changed – with the proliferation and pervasiveness of technology, nearly everyone is a “tech” reporter. With so many facets – from semiconductors to apps to gadgets to machine learning – to cover, there’s no shortage of material. It was only a matter of time until tech pervaded mainstream media, editorial teams expanded their tech focus and dedicated publications on the topic of technology reigned supreme. Nowadays, open up any news site or paper, and I guarantee you will read about technology. It’s everywhere!

However, no matter how far we’ve come with technology, we find ourselves struggling. We debate about screen time or as NPR recently aired, millennials’ hands are overall becoming weaker (yet other appendages like their thumbs are stronger than any other generation) because of the extreme daily usage and reliance we have on these technological advancements. But, I’d argue that just like any application of knowledge, we’re bound to have a love/hate relationship with it. Ultimately, we need to keep ourselves accountable for how much we give in to technology and try to remember every once in a while that technology should help us be better humans.


Why Every PR Pro Needs to Take a Digital Cleanse

For my summer vacation this year, I opted to undertake a digital cleanse. Crazy fad diet you ask? Au contraire. On Friday, July 1st at 5:30 pm, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram, and proceeded to turn off my work email for the next seven days of rest and relaxation. The only approved usage would be a daily check of texts and occasional phone calls. Some of you out there might be thinking – how could she do that? She’s in PR – they’re always on?! I have to admit – it was not easy and it takes an incredible employer and team back at HQ to have your back, without a doubt. Over the course of the seven-day cleanse, I experienced a roller coaster of feelings – ranging from guilt to FOMO yet ultimately resulting in serenity and clarity of thoughts.

The first 72 hours were the most challenging – I caught myself wanting to check what my Facebook friends had to say about me announcing my digital cleanse!? I may have even snuck a peek or two or three at work emails (sigh). Hopeless, I enlisted my all-too-willing husband to help keep me off my smartphone. During that time, there were moments during which I lost track of my phone for hours – hours! Ordinarily, this would be cause for a freak out, getting agitated because I can’t find my phone and therefore couldn’t check in and know what’s going on. By this point in the story, I’m sure you’re seeing a pattern around this urge of “needing to know what’s going on,” right? That’s a whole other blog post. :)

On day four, my sense of time was starting to warp – what day is it? Have I really not been working for this long? This sense of distance was so foreign. These were the observations and thoughts going through my mind. I took this all to mean that I had reached a place of relaxation, a break in routine that was much needed. It certainly helped to be in a serene environment. I highly recommend you consider retreating to a location that is outside of your norm. Ideally, one where wifi connectivity is a challenge – it gives you the perfect excuse and literally disables your phone.

On day five, I was able to take care of tasks that I typically put off and don’t have time for during the folly of our day-to-day. I even got TSA pre-checked for traveling – that’s been on mine and my husband’s list forever! Score. I was also able to explore different creative ideas I’ve had, different projects I’d been meaning to tackle that required more of my complete attention: writing, organizing, planning ahead. It can be challenging amidst the fast-paced PR agency life to find extra time so if you’ve got some PTO time – USE IT! Create the time and make it a priority – your colleagues, clients, family, friends and employer will be better off for it.

On days six and seven, I had reached optimum relaxation. My neighbors remarked on my sun-kissed and relaxed look – commenting on how well-rested I appeared. You mean to tell me that my face didn’t look the same? Mind blown. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed being disconnected momentarily - my favorite part of the digital cleanse was being able to spend quality time with my husband, fur babies and friends, and most importantly with myself. Sometimes, you just need a moment to see things in slow mo.

What would you do as part of your digital cleanse?

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The Art of Hiring: Looking Beyond the Resume

Ever wonder what goes into hiring? Regardless of how big or small your company is, hiring is a big deal for everyone involved. Today, we’re lucky enough that the SF job market is the highest it’s been in five years. While good news for those seeking employment, hiring remains one of the most challenging endeavors for an organization – and even more so – in today’s market. Competition is fierce, and it’s not just the other agencies we’re fighting over talent for – these days, agencies like ours are competing with the likes of internal PR teams at some of the hottest startups and established global goliaths. In the spirit of sharing and giving you a peek into the inner workings of agency life – I’ve put together key hiring pillars that both job seekers and agencies should keep in mind when thinking about the hiring process.

Culture

  • The average American between the ages of 25-54 will spend more time working than anything else, including sleeping in a 24 hr day - so where you work, the people you work with & the values the company has are critical to evaluate as a job seeker. Get to know the company beyond the interview – curious what it’s really like working there? Ask one of the employees out to coffee to find out more. And, companies – show your pride, open up the kimono – use social channels like Instagram and Snapchat to show glimpses of the people and culture at work. One thing we’ve done at ICLabs is invite candidates to an office happy hour just to get to know each other better & to have them experience the environment and talk to other employees.

Smarts

  • Sure, we’re not curing cancer here but we’re talking about business and counseling on important decisions with investors, executives, technologists, scientists, analysts, and media who know their stuff – we need to be able to hold our own and show our smarts as communicators. When you’re interviewing for a position at a PR agency, keep that in mind and impress with your smarts – go beyond the typical interview questions and ask the tough questions, do your research and show how connected you are to the issues & trends that matter most. Employers – remember, you too need to do your part in demonstrating the company’s smarts – the interview is a critical touch point and first impression for many candidates, so you want them to walk away WANTING to work for you.

Opportunity

  • If you’re looking for the right place to start your career post-graduation – you’re going to want to find a place that fosters access to opportunities. Dig into what a company’s mission is – what are they trying to do that you can get behind? Keep in mind that opportunities are yours to make too  Employers - don’t be turned off by candidates who want to know what types of growth opportunities exist; rather, embrace that go-getter attitude and speak with excitement about the opportunity the company has, the employees have and the industry at large that your company plays in. Beyond touting self-serving opportunities, showcase how joining your company is an opportunity to make a larger impact on the world!

Skills & Resources

  • Tout your skills – each and every one of them. Ran your own crowdfunding campaign for a product you hacked together? Let ‘em know what you learned from it and how you could bring those learnings to the table. Find an organization that rewards its employees by continually investing in them beyond a paycheck – whether that is taking a public speaking class or helping you learn how to code. Companies, the more you invest in your employees by giving them access to resources like flex transit accounts or a stipend for a 4-week coding seminar – the more opportunities you create for your own company and brand.

Passion

  • This can be a loaded word – but it encompasses so much of what plays into your career and the workplace, such as ambition and positivity. When interviewing, tap into what drives you, what motivates you – whether it’s being a stickler for grammar or working out - PR/Comms. and marketing are fields that require passion to get the job done, and to be happy while doing it. Companies can keep their employees happy by rewarding them with either extra time to pursue the passions they have, and also channel that passion into new projects or new business lines for the organization.

ICLabs Out and About: The Bold Italic Shift Digital Media Conference

I had the opportunity to attend The Bold Italic Shift Digital Media Conference which was held at The Chapel in the Mission district of San Francisco last week.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll assume you all know about The Bold Italic – what started as an experiment from Gannett, has turned into a unique source of urban storytelling with now an online store and burgeoning events, much like the Shift Digital Media Conference. Here are just some of my favorite moments from the event – enjoy!

The afternoon kicked off with a conversation with Matt Galligan from Circa and Jeff Bercovici, Inc’s new SF Bureau Chief that focused on what challenges media and publishers face today, aka no reader loyalty and lack of comprehensive news cycles. Thought it was interesting/slash/scary to hear Matt share that there’s danger and fear in how little verification and fact-checking actually happens nowadays and how quickly it can get disseminated, shared and turn into a #wildfire.

Later on, Jessica Saia, The Bold Italic’s visual producer tantalized us with such an awesome presentation on how she approaches visual satire. She showed us some of her work – from the Corner Stourmet where she gave convenience-store classics a gourmet makeover, to a series of #foodporn photos where quite literally food items re-enacted classic porn scenarios … I kid you not. Google at your own risk :) Jessica’s advice stuck with me though: to truly be successful with visual satire, you take a cliché and add a new twist to it, which makes it just “new enough” to go viral.

Bold Italic

Image Credit: The Bold Italic

The rest of the afternoon focused on viral videos, native advertising, and one of my other fave panels of the day: reader research and behavior. A few quick reminders for folks and to answer the age-old: “how can I make my video go viral?” The CEO of 5BY, a video startup acquired by StumbleUpon shared:

  • Your video has to challenge the status quo
  • Don’t push your product, got it?
  • Keep it short, for the love of, keep it short
  • Make it spreadable, shareable, findable
  • Don’t forget to add lighter fluid: influencer marketing!

The last panel of the day was AWESOME. As I hinted earlier, this panel focused on reader behavior: motivations, trends & insight. Worth noting, the panel was made up of four phenomenal and inspirational women:

What I loved about this panel was first and foremost the format – Larkin kicked it off with a storyteller-approach from a Pinterest user’s perspective which really pulled you in and made you want to listen. She then proceeded to ask each of her fellow panelists a James Lipton, Inside the Actor’s Studio set of questions to help the audience get to know each panelist a bit better. (Insider tip: this is apparently a Pinterest tradition with interview candidates) Amazing what you can learn about someone when you ask them what their favorite word is :) The bulk of the panel focused on each researcher’s experience with understanding what readers want and how they behave with content. Truly fascinating to hear how some of this research is conducted – from thinking of analogies to posting up shop in a Starbucks and have the barista help you poll random customers.

So much more was covered, can’t wait for the next event!


Getting to know our ‘Starr’ Associate – Rachel Starr

We sat down with Rachel Starr to hear more about her day-to-day life as an associate at Inner Circle Labs. We’re actively hiring our next Rachel, so if you’re interested in a position at ICLabs, drop us a line!


Getting To Know Rachel from Inner Circle Labs on Vimeo.

Q: Tell us what a typical day looks like for you at Inner Circle Labs.
A: I like to consider myself the anchor of the team – I always know what’s happening on each of my accounts and I am constantly reading and staying on top of the news so I can be an industry guru. Typically, the first thing I do is browse my social media feeds and top-tier pubs (New York Times, TechCrunch, USA Today, etc.) for client coverage or industry news that our clients can speak to. I always try to make sure that any pending deadlines are being met by the team and emails are being responded to. Beyond that, my days are always different, which is why I love PR so much. Some days I’m pitching reporters, other days I’m developing ideas for infographics or visuals. There is some administrative work (updating media lists, tracking client coverage, etc.), but that comes with the territory and helps me build my base of PR knowledge.

Q: Why did you choose a career in PR and Marketing?
A: I always knew I wanted to go into a career in journalism. After writing for my high school newspaper, I knew that I wanted to do more than just write news stories – I wanted to help shape them and to build up a company’s brand. I feel PR allows for more creativity and, as I mentioned, each day is different and exciting – there’s no room for monotony.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?
A: There’s no bigger rush than when a reporter responds positively to your pitch and either wants to hear more from an exec or cover your news. Reporters receive hundreds of pitches a day, so knowing that you were one of the few they responded to (maybe one of the few they even read!) is so exciting. I love being able to help the overall team meet goals.

Q: Anything you can think of that would surprise or shock people about your job?
A: The idea of work hard, play hard really matters in PR. There’s a lot of work involved but it doesn’t have to be mundane. Work-life balance is especially important since PR is considered one of the most stressful jobs but we know how to take the edge off and we always make sure we make time for ourselves. I can always get to the gym after work or attend happy hours with friends.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
A: I like to stay fairly active and spend a lot of time at the gym and outside with my friends. I’m a huge sports fan and I love going to Giants games. I also love music and go to a lot of concerts and festivals. One of my favorite things to do is travel – I’ve spent time all over the world and plan on taking some big trips very soon!


Turns out taking risks pays off big time

Earlier this month, Inner Circle Labs participated in The Holmes Report’s inaugural In2 Innovation Summit held at the Four Seasons right here in our very own hub of innovation, San Francisco. During the two-day event, marketing and communications professionals from all over the map (agencies, in-house, public companies, startups) united to talk shop about the future of our industry. The Summit was kicked off with a roundtable chat led by our fearless leader, Julie Crabill where she entertained a conversation about what’s broken with today’s PR agency model. No small task, but Inner Circle Labs’ is always up for a challenge. With the help of a few smart minds – Cat Cook from Zappos, Mark Johnson from Zite, Nicole Jordan from Radix Collective and Chris Taylor from Mashable – the group riffed on issues like needing to be more human when pitching media (word of caution to all the PR robots out there, they’re on to you!) to acknowledging that PR folks need to think more like business folks (yup, turns out we CAN do math)

Photo Credit: Audrey Craipain, Inner Circle Labs
Photo Credit: Audrey Craipain, Inner Circle Labs

Later on in the day, we heard a very intriguing presentation from Twitter’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Gabriel Stricker. Gabriel walked us through his rules for success when it comes to PR which was helpful to hear from a communications veteran but the one tip that really stood out was the importance of a photo as part of helping tell the story. Case in point: Twitter’s IPO. Gabriel talked us through the thinking behind the famous photo that day, see below. The story wasn’t about the founders, that day. The story was about Twitter’s users – it’s because of these people that the company is where it is today, and more importantly, that day. Pro tip: visualize your news!

Photo Credit: The Independent, 2013
Photo Credit: The Independent, 2013

On Day 2, we heard from entertainment and music pros about Youth Culture and whether social media has replaced music as this group’s reflective voice. Turns out that social media has made music more personal, and more accessible. If you think about it, look at Macklemore (@macklemore) and Ryan Lewis (@RyanLewis) who swept the Grammys without the help of a record label, with nothing but their own funds and a YouTube account to start. #Hustle.

Before closing out the summit and celebrating our peers for their innovative work in communications – we were treated to a couple more panels where we heard from PR pros at Kaiser-Permanente and Dell, among others. It was fascinating to hear that what startups and smaller companies might take for granted: “Hey, let’s do a FunnyOrDie video!” can be a risk for larger companies like KP.org. Check out what @htpotter and her organization tried here. Pro tip from this session: take a risk, you won’t regret it.

With Day 2 a wrap, we move on to celebrate our peers with the In2 Sabre Award ceremony. Inner Circle Labs was nominated in three categories this year for our work on Glimpse, the social discovery conference, which we have produced since 2012. Categories included: Live Events, Best Agency Blog or Editorial Channel and lastly, Innovator of the Year – Agency. As we listened to all the various winners (shout out to our friends @text100 @ogilvypr) and cheered on for our peers, we really didn’t think we’d win – particularly when it came time for the most coveted award: Innovator of the Year – Agency. Let’s just say we’re glad we stayed until the very end …  Innovation happens in big and small sizes and we’re proud of what our small team has accomplished in such a short amount of time. This award win is dedicated to the bright, scrappy Inner Circle Labs #hustlers.

Photo Credit: Tom Foremski
Photo Credit: Tom Foremski

Inner Circle Labs Hits TechCrunch Disrupt SF

It’s a wrap! TechCrunch Disrupt SF has come to a close and Inner Circle Labs was there to hear, meet and find out what the latest movers and shakers in tech are up to. A few highlights from the three-day conference include:

  • Getting to hear Lyft’s founding story (born out of a hackathon!) & the background on the pink mustache – turns out, they just wanted to delight their customers in a fun way!
  • A guest appearance from Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom – Gavin was very animated about the importance of evolving the way we teach our students, and with good reason.
  • Hearing that Snapchat CEO snaps his mom on the regular & handles the company’s Twitter feed – too many things to say about these facts!
  • A lot of thoughts on bootstrapping and fundraising – awesome perspectives from Houzz CEO & founder, Adi Tatarko on why it’s best to bootstrap as long as you possibly can down to finding the perfect VC partner (it is possible!)
  • A very personal recollection of Steve Jobs from Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff – so touching it kept Mike Arrington from interrupting Marc for more than 10 mins!
  • So much yet so little about Bitcoin was learned – this panel went a little over our heads, but clearly Naval Ravikant knows his stuff when it comes to this puzzling currency
  • Listening to Don Valentine of Sequoia and Tom Perkins of Kleiner Perkins wax nostalgic on the start of Venture Capital in the Valley (and disagree between value and disdain for business degrees).
  • Marissa Mayer handling Mike Arrington well – even when answering pointed questions about the NSA (P.S. the media is now lambasting Mayer for her “treason” snafu – no wonder high profile people avoid live interviews, give her a break!).
  • The softer side of Mark Zuckerberg – teaching a junior high class, working on immigration reform, even sharing a personal story of his wife poking fun at him.
  • Wearables, wearables, wearables: from Google Glass to Samsung’s Gear to Pebble, they’re taking over and we can’t wait to see what happens!

Of course, TechCrunch Disrupt wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the startup battlefield – congrats to Layer on taking the Disrupt cup home!


Inner Circle Labs & Hot Trends

Inner Circle Labs’ Audrey Craipain ventured out to Palo Alto last night to get an up close & personal seat to hear and see Pinterest co-founder, Ben Silbermann, speak at a small tech startup gathering. Startup Grind graciously hosted the fireside chat with fellow startup community supporters like Booster Bing at AOL’s West Coast HQ. If you’ve been on Twitter lately, are part of the tech community or a marketer, then you’ve surely heard of Pinterest. What appears to have become an overnight sensation, actually didn’t happen overnight. During the hour-long chat, Ben shared how the idea for Pinterest came about along with a few insightful tips for other startups and entrepreneurs. Here are a few that resonated with me:

If you want to be a part of the action, you need to be where the action is

  • Ben left his consultant position in D.C. for a job at Google in California; shortly thereafter, he left Google to work on his own startup.

Listen to your significant other – they may not get what you’re doing, but they get you

  • Ben’s wife gave him the nudge he needed to stop talking about the idea of a startup and to just do it. Turns out, she also came up with the name for Pinterest!

The definition of “early adopters” is changing – we’re not talking about the Valley folks anymore

  • Case in point, when Pinterest launched, their early fans were in the Midwest & Utah

Focus on a key feature of your product and ITERATE!

  • The Pinterest team painstakingly iterated 40 – 50 versions of the infamous grid layout of the site … and keeps working at refining it.

Last but not least, and surely a fact that continues to amaze me is … that Pinterest did not use PR or media to get the word out

  • Ben stated matter-of-factly: “we don’t do press, we still don’t.”

PR is not for every company, perhaps … but I wonder if Pinterest will change their mind as they continue to grow and face the inevitable challenges as a startup-darling under the microscope. What do you think?