Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new.

There are only a few days left in 2010, which means it's time for the infamous "New Year's Resolution." While spending time with my family over Christmas, we went around the dinner table and each said what our resolutions were. Most were typical: to be a calmer, nicer, more patient person; to work out more/lose weight, etc. (Mine, in case you're wondering? I'm keeping it simple this year and have set a very concrete goal: I will continue going to yoga at least once a week. That covers the calmer/nicer/more patient category, and also covers "work out more." Two birds, one stone.)

My sister, however, declared that she was going to make an effort to call us all on a more regular basis. This brought out catcalls, hoots of laughter, and lots of snorting from everyone around the table. Why? My sister is notoriously awful at keeping in touch. It often takes multiple phone calls before she'll bother calling anyone back, unless there is a Crisis of Mass Proportion at stake. My mom will sometimes call me and lament that she fears that my sister has fallen into a ditch somewhere, and why oh why does she insist on living in NYC where there is (supposedly) harm lurking around every corner? K is definitely better with email and texting, but even there, she is almost never the one to initiate a conversation. She has no real excuse for her lack of communication, either, besides, "I'm just REALLY busy." (I have little sympathy for this excuse, as we're ALL busy.)

Still, as we were driving home this week, I felt a bit badly for laughing snorting (yep, I was one of the snorters) during our dinner conversation: why shouldn't keeping in touch be one of K's resolutions for 2011? It's a new year: a time to phase out bad habits and phase in new, more positive ones. But then I recalled my other sister's pledge: she doesn't like making resolutions at all, she said, because she always feels like she's setting herself up to fail, and she'd prefer to simply make a lifestyle change on her own schedule. Interesting viewpoint, and I can't say I disagree: I've already been going to yoga on a regular basis for several months, yet am making that my resolution for next year. Making a resolution (or not) doesn't have to be limited to the start of a new year: people make life-changing decisions every day. Some of them stick, and some don't. Some morph into major changes that we could never have seen coming. And some decisions are made for us, whether we like it or not.

I'm welcoming 2011 and all of its wonderful, maddening uncertainty with open arms, and will continue to practice yoga at least once weekly to help me sail through the year with flying colors. Calmer, nicer, more patient person, I look forward to getting to know you better. And K, I look forward to your phone calls. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas magic.

Everyone always says, "Christmas is so much more fun when you have kids." And you know what? They're totally right. Last year, C was a little too young to really understand the holidays. This year, though, she is a chatty and inquisitive two year old, and she is amazed by all things Christmas: lights, carols, Christmas trees, Santa...and his elves. She is particularly enchanted by one very special elf: Perry.

Perry the Elf, you ask? Yes. He is staying at our house, and magically moves to a new location overnight: a bookshelf, the window sill - and this morning, in a potted plant. This mysterious little elf means that the moment C wakes up in the morning, she runs into our room, and yells, "Mommy! Where is Perry?" She hands me my glasses and slippers (my own tiny blond butler! who knew?) and together we make our way downstairs to see where Perry has landed for the day. Though he doesn't move, and won't talk to C, he mysteriously knows whether she's been "good" or "bad," and he reports back to Santa every night. If C starts whining about something, as two year olds are apt to do, we gently remind her that Perry is listening, and maybe she should use her words like a big girl instead.

The two women who created The Elf on the Shelf (a mom and daughter team, as it happens) are geniuses.

Anyway, I have to say that I'm looking forward to this Christmas more than any that I can recollect. C's recent birthday reminded me just how quickly she's growing up, and seeing her little face light up as she explores the joys of the season (magic elves and all) is quite possibly the best gift a mom could ask for.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My world is a fishbowl...Part Two.

Monday night, I was making a second batch of cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday. (Though I was using a mix, I’d ruined the first batch by using old oil, if you can believe that. Shows you how often I actually bake.) As I threw them in the oven, I posted to Facebook that Betty Crocker and I were at war in the kitchen, and started chatting with some friends online about my kitchen debacle.

All of a sudden, I saw an ad on the right hand side of my Facebook profile page for a new TLC reality show, called (wait for it…) The Next Great Baker. Being the non-domestic goddess that I am, I found that extremely funny. So I posted something to my Twitter account, and within moments, received notification that @TLC was following me.

So what does this all mean?

1. I am in no way qualified to participate in a reality show on baking. (Just had to throw that out there.) Ahem.

More importantly:

2. When you talk online, people listen. Monitoring has become so sophisticated that it’s become easy to participate in conversations about you, your company, or your brand in real time, whether you’re using a free tool like Google Alerts or a paid tool like Radian6. If you’re not listening or participating, you’re missing out on a chance to engage with your customers. Interestingly, I tweeted TLC thanking them for their follow, and jokingly pointed out that I probably wasn’t going to be a good contestant. They never responded. That could have been a Twitter API/client issue, or could be that they weren't REALLY listening.

3. Ad targeting has become personal – as in "specifically for me." Here’s another example of extremely targeted online marketing: over the past few months, I saw several different ads on Facebook from a marketing/social media consultant, who works in the multifamily industry. A similar ad was also displayed on a few of my friends’ Facebook profiles – and these friends happen to be marketing directors/VPs in the same space. I also see ads for things relating to moms with young kids, and marketing/social media, since these are things I talk about on a frequent basis. Granted, not everything is targeted perfectly: pink Uggs are not my speed, though I saw an ad for those, too. But most of the time, I’ve found that Facebook's ads are pretty relevant. (Yep, as much as I hate to admit it, anti-wrinkle cream is something that I purchase on a regular basis.)

Though this all is a bit Big Brother, when you think about how useful this technology is, it’s really exciting. As an example, if I start venting online about how I'm unhappy with a certain product or service, the company monitoring their online mentions has the opportunity to step in and help make things right. Or, even better, I can reach out to that company directly: many large companies, such as Home Depot and JetBlue, have online customer service teams active on Twitter and/or Facebook, but so do smaller companies, like Diapers.com and Totsy. I win because as a consumer, I'm seeing resolution to an issue, but companies win, too: they're getting honest, unsolicited feedback. It's the companies who actually DO something with that feedback that really shine.

So yes, maybe we all feel like we live in a fishbowl these days. But in some really nice ways, that makes the world feel a little smaller, and a lot friendlier, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flattered or freaked? My world is a fishbowl.

This week, I spoke with a search engine marketing company who had met our company's president at a recent conference. The call started off fine, and then the VP of Business Development said something along the lines of, "Hey, you're really busy! We read your LinkedIn profile, and your tweets, and your blog. So you go to yoga, huh?" I honestly was a little caught off guard by this, but laughed it off and said, "Wow, you guys are thorough. I don't know know whether to be flattered or freaked."

The fact of the matter is, I am well aware that what I put out there online is visible to anyone who cares to view it. (The one thing that isn't a virtual free-for-all is my Facebook account, which I have locked down pretty tightly.) But with the exception of possible future employers, or perhaps speaking opportunities, it never occurred to me that someone would bother to find out as much about me as they could. And the kicker: this "background research" was for a sales call.

My question is: is this in-depth research a common practice? I'm honestly curious to find out what people do when they're prepping for meetings. And, if you do this type of pre-meeting digging, do you tell said subject?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Please don't call me "kiddo."

As some of you might know, one of my pet peeves is being "ma'amed." Quite frankly, it makes me feel ancient, especially if said ma'amer is a well-meaning teenage bagger at the Whole Foods checkout. I know it's polite, and I'd certainly rather be ma'amed than called, "Hey, lady." I also know that in certain environments, the usage of ma'am is quite common (the South), or even required (the military). Still, for whatever reason, I feel like ma'am is a title that should be reserved for little old ladies.

At the complete other end of the spectrum, I can't stand being called "kiddo" (though I will confess that I get a secret thrill when I'm carded by bartenders). And, believe it or not, it happens on a frequent basis, hence this blog post. My dislike of the term stems from a former manager who used to call me kiddo, as in, "Great job, kiddo. Keep me posted." I often left meetings feeling as though he'd ruffled my hair with the palm of his hand. While I think my manager meant to be nice, his use of kiddo did not make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Why not, you ask? Answer: I am not a kid. I am in my mid-thirties (Gulp. I almost typed "early thirties," but let's call a spade a spade here: I'll be 35 in a few months). I carry myself like an adult, because I am one. I run a department at a respected company. I'm well-educated and have a good head on my shoulders. I'm married, own a house, and I'm a mom. What on earth about any of those things says "kiddo"?

Yes, this manager was older than me, and I was one of the younger managers at the company, but why should that give him license to call me a kid? When I sat down and thought about why exactly I was so perturbed, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I found his comment disrespectful. While often very funny and charming, kids are not always responsible, and you sometimes take what they say with a grain of salt. (Case in point: my almost-two year old doesn't always pick up after herself, and she thinks every day is her birthday.) And most importantly, you certainly don't trust kids to make important decisions or entrust them with valuable information. This manager, perhaps without even realizing it, was making me feel as though what I could contribute to the company didn't matter. I wish I had taken the initiative to speak up and say, "Please don't call me kiddo," but I never worked up the nerve.

Like it or not, we live and work in a multi-generational world. Our coworkers may be much younger or much older than we are, and we all bring unique things to the workplace: tech-savviness, operational expertise, different managerial styles. The generational mix helps make a good company both stable and cutting-edge, and everyone, no matter what their age, should be treated as an equal.

Please, for the sake of building a high-performing team, don't call your coworkers and/or customers kiddo, sweetheart, honey, or any other term of endearment that you'd normally reserve for a family member or pet. (And may I respectfully suggest that you not call anyone under the age of 75 "ma'am." Unless, of course, you're from the South, are in the military, or work at Whole Foods.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Me, a role model?

Over the past few weeks, a few (childless) friends said, "I don't know how you do it: work full time, parent, and generally have your act together. You are such a role model!" My response each time has been to gape at said friend like a fish, and then burst out laughing.

True confession: 99% of the time, I feel like anything but a role model. Yes, I work full time, parent, and manage to make it out of the house looking somewhat presentable. But I have got to tell you, this whole juggling thing is damn hard. And for a self-confessed Type A gal, I usually am stressed out that I am not doing something (OK, everything) as well as I could be, or as well as I feel like I should be. Case in point: just last week, C's school had a pumpkin painting party, which started at 5. I rushed out of the office a few minutes early, after wrapping up some loose ends for my business trip the following day, and made it to school at 5:15. Unfortunately, my husband and I were the last toddler parents to arrive, and C was beside herself, apparently thinking that we had abandoned her. Hello, massive guilt trip. And as far as being put-together goes? I put on a great game face, people. (And I have a love affair with concealer...but that's beside the point, I guess.)

When I think about my own role models, many are very successful women, who also happen to be moms. And though they'd likely laugh at my calling them role models, too, they are more "seasoned" than I, and therefore seem infinitely more capable when it comes to juggling things. As we approach C's second birthday, though, I've come to realize that not everything has to be 100% perfect all the time. If everyone is happy and healthy (and by everyone, I mean both at work and at home), then shouldn't that be good enough? I will admit that "good enough" is sometimes not good enough for me, but I'm really working on retraining my brain to understand that no one/nothing is perfect, and that it's much healthier to just let things be a little bit "wrong" instead of driving myself and everyone around me crazy. I'm also slowly coming to realize that if others see me as a role model, I must be doing SOMETHING right. 

So thanks to my friends for calling me a role model. I might not have shown my appreciation very well, but I really am very flattered. And when you ladies have kids of your own, I think you'll understand where I'm coming from on this one. :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And so it goes.

Wow, that was fast. The Gap has decided to trash both its new logo, and its crowd sourcing campaign. If you type "new Gap logo" into Google (as of today), you get 13,300,000 results. Yowza.

“Since we rolled out an updated version of our logo last week on our website, we’ve seen an outpouring of comments from customers and the online community in support of the iconic blue box logo," said Gap North America president, Marka Hansen, in a news release posted this week on the Gap, Inc. corporate website. Ms. Hansen continued, "We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community.  This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing. There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way. “

It will be interesting to see what happens "if and when" the Gap tries to reinvent its logo again in the next few years. Until then, I'm still sticking to my guns that their brand needs more help than a logo overhaul.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mind the gap, Gap.

This week, there was a flurry of conversation around the Gap. If you missed the news, the company developed a new logo, and then after some major backlash from the public, invited consumers to submit alternative logo concepts via Facebook. Marka Hansen, the President of Gap North America, wrote a piece that appeared in Thursday's Huffington Post.

I'm all for evolution, but this entire process just seems backwards to me. Though the Gap likely has an enormous budget, time and money are both still valuable currencies. Why would a company ask for public feedback AFTER spending many hours/dollars to create a new logo? If having that "public approval" was so important, why not engage focus groups during the development process?  Instead, by going social with their request, the Gap has stirred up angry customers who loved the old logo (many dubbing it "iconic"), as well as graphic designers, who are furious that the Gap would ask designers to create work with no promise of compensation. It's a PR nightmare. And on that note...interestingly, a few people have suggested that the Gap is getting exactly what they want: media attention for a lagging brand that seems to have lost its core identity.

However, it's important that we all take a step back and remember that a brand is so much more than a logo. Speaking from my own experience as a consumer, I've been a pretty loyal Gap customer since I was a teenager (call it 20 years). Today, however, I run hot and cold with the Gap. Once in a while, I want to buy three of everything in the store, but increasingly more often, I feel as though the Gap is in a perpetual state of confusion, and I walk out empty-handed. In my eyes, Old Navy is the young/trendy side of the brand, and Banana is the upscale side. Gap, the original member of the brand family, should be somewhere in the middle, with mid-priced classics. The Gap "brand" used to match that classic sense, but in lieu of offering the well-made staples that were once their hallmarks, today shelves are stocked with a mish-mash of trends: my husband often laments that it's hard to find a pair of khaki pants or jeans that aren't shredded or overly distressed, and though I consider myself pretty fashion-forward, I realize that it's not appropriate for a 34-year old woman to be wearing a micro-mini. Honestly, it's sometimes hard to tell who the Gap is appealing to these days.

For those who are Gen Xers like myself, you'll likely remember that Gap, Inc. successfully evolved a brand back in the 90's: Banana Republic was once safari-inspired, though you'd never get that sense walking into one of their stores today. Given the longevity of the Gap brand, this phase in the company's evolution is sadly falling short of expectations. Instead of reinventing one small (albeit well-loved) aspect of the brand, and then asking the public to reinvent it again, why not focus on figuring out who really shops at the Gap, and stock shelves with product to consistently appeal to that market? Perhaps they've already done that, but given the ever-changing look and fit of each season's collections (as opposed to the other more-consistent Gap, Inc. brands), I am hard-pressed to believe it.

To put it bluntly, there is a gap in the Gap's thinking. In my opinion, they've lost track of who they are in the course of their "brand evolution," and are relying on the public to help them fix an aspect of the brand that isn't broken. I hope that the recent media attention helps them refocus and get back on track. Bonne chance, Gap.

Monday, October 4, 2010

There's no place like home.

My husband and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary (how time flies!), and a friend was getting married in California the same weekend as our anniversary. So, we made the monumental decision to get away for the weekend - by ourselves. I travel pretty regularly for work, and my husband has also done overnights away, but this weekend was big: both of us gone, for three days.

We scrambled getting everything ready (a will! doctor's notes! an overstuffed suitcase full of forty-seven outfits!), and quite truthfully, I was a nervous wreck getting on the plane. Thankfully, everything was great. My parents were THRILLED to watch C for a few days...and C had a fabulous weekend without us. Though I'm very glad we got away for a few days as a couple, when we finally got home, I was so relieved and happy to see my little girl (who was sound asleep), tears almost came to my eyes.

Miss Dorothy Gale really hit the nail on the head. It's good to be home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Putting the "family" in multifamily.

Over the course of my career, I've heard a couple of variations of the phrase, "We really know how to put the 'family' into multifamily." And interestingly, I've found that the longer I'm in the industry, the more I've really come to appreciate and agree with that statement. Of course, as an industry, we collectively provide quality housing for thousands of families, but taking it to a more micro level, my company makes a concerted effort to educate, encourage and empower all employees to do their jobs as best as possible. Our vendors, suppliers and partners are always ready to help us do our business better. And, my colleagues at other, similar companies are more than willing to network, brainstorm and share their experiences: when I have a question about a process, product or conference, I can easily get some feedback by sending a quick email or picking up the phone. I know most industries are fairly tightly knit, but being in real estate, everyone truly seems to know everyone, and the proverbial "six degrees of separation" is usually limited to only two or three degrees. Long live the family!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beam me to MV.

We just returned from five days on Martha's Vineyard. For the record, I have to say that MV is one of my favorite places on earth: my husband and I spent lots and lots of time there early in our relationship, and we actually got married on-island eight years ago this month. Fast forward a few years, add a baby to the mix, and suddenly, what was once a island oasis becomes pretty tricky to enjoy. Getting to the island is no longer as easy as throwing a bathing suit and shorts into a bag and simply walking onto the ferry: instead, we need to make reservations (way) in advance, and bring over a car packed to the brim with enough gear, clothing, toys and snacks to supply a small country.

Now that C is almost two, I can say that things have gotten a little bit easier (no more formula or jars of baby food), but still, I look forward to the day when we can all just walk onto the ferry as a family and not have to pack like we're prepping for the apocalypse. In the meantime, if someone could possibly refine the "Beam me up, Scotty" idea and just teleport us (and all 17 of our bags) to the island, I would be willing to pay REALLY good money.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goodbye, Baby Steps...and hello, Le Cirque.

We are undergoing a rebranding process at my company. Though we're just starting to meet with potential agency partners, it is incredibly exciting, and I desperately wish I had a crystal ball so I could look six months into the future and see the end result of our efforts.

Moving through the process of rebranding in the office has helped me remember that brands aren't meant to be static: they are constantly changing and evolving. As I pondered that on a personal level, I realized that my original name for this blog, Baby Steps, was really not fitting my life any longer: C is running, and I am running after her, all while trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. To be honest, most days I feel more like a circus ringmaster than anything else. And so, I'm excited to relaunch this blog as "Le Cirque de Sara." Le Cirque will cover the same topics as Baby Steps (marketing and motherhood), but I'm thinking that I'll be able to expand a little further on some additional topics, too. After all, you never know quite what to expect when you enter the big top.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning to say no.

With a toddler in the house, you'd think that saying "No" would come fairly easily to me, since I hear it approximately 75 times a day. In reality, however, the over-achieving side of my personality finds it incredibly difficult. Just a few short years ago, I said a resounding YES to just about every professional opportunity that came my way. Serve on the board of directors? You bet. Help start a new networking group? I'm your gal.

Now, for better or worse, I find that I'm having to say no more often. Within the last few weeks, I've had to turn down two amazing opportunities. One example: I was recently asked to write a guest blog post on social media marketing technology. I agreed enthusiastically right off the bat, but said that it would have to be delayed a few weeks since I was going to be attending a conference, and would that timing still be okay? Somehow, we never nailed down a deadline. Fast forward a few weeks, and suddenly, I have zero (and I mean ZERO) time to devote to writing a guest post: I am absolutely inundated at the office, and simply cannot carve out the time when I get home. (I was shocked to discover that it's been nearly a month since I've had a chance to even post here. Shame, shame. Where did the last four weeks go?) In any case, when we finally resumed our conversation, I was forced to take a raincheck.

Another example: I was just invited to serve on the marketing committee of a well-known industry organization. This particular organization is one that I admire a great deal, but my company is involved elsewhere. And so, I decided that it made more sense to focus my attention on getting involved with an organization with which my firm has a stronger relationship.

I shudder to think I'm burning bridges every time I have to decline these types of opportunities, but the honest truth is this: I would love nothing more than to get involved, but just can't devote the time. I always used to think that was such a cliche; now I know better. Being a working mom has forced me to prioritize like never before, and often that means the "extracurricular" activities that I've thrived on for years get pushed to the side.

Have you ever declined an opportunity and lived to regret it? Or has cultivating an ability to say "No" paid off in spades? I'm really struggling with this one. Here's hoping that it gets easier.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Run for your life: it's the Terrible Twos!

This weekend was lovely: we went to my parents' lake house, and the weather was perfect. But C, who is 19 months old today, seems to be morphing into Dr. Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde. Yes, my friends: I do believe the Terrible Twos may be showing their ugly (albeit very cute) face.

When we got home from the lake, I took C to the grocery store. She suddenly stood up in the cart (even though she was strapped in), and insisted on walking. I was game to try that, but then she suddenly took off, losing a flip-flop and tearing down the aisles, shrieking at the top of her lungs. I tried to wrangle her back into the cart, and all hell broke loose. We are talking yelling, flailing, squirming and generally just causing a ruckus. (And yes, I am talking about C, not me.) On the verge of rage/tears/mortification, I ran down the aisle to check out, with C under one arm like a football. We just barely made it to the car in one piece.

Usually, C is a charming, friendly, happy little girl. But driving home from the store, I suddenly recalled something that had been stuck in the archives of my mind for about two years. When I was about 6 months pregnant, I called a friend to pick her brain about daycare. At the time, her kids were about 20 months and 3 months old, and she said something about Baby #1 that at the time I simply couldn't understand - that at times she really just wanted to drop-kick her. When I heard that, I was beyond horrified. But now: I GET IT.  (For the record: neither my friend or I would ever actually drop-kick a child. But the sudden surge of  anger that you get when your 25 lb toddler is completely and totally out of control is simply unlike anything I've ever experienced.)

If you have kids, how old were they when the so-called Terrible Twos started? And if by chance you have any suggestions on what you did to help calm them/you down, I beg you: please, please share.

In the meantime, I have rediscovered yoga. Namaste.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NAA Wrap-Up

I'm back from New Orleans. The NAA Conference made for an extremely busy but wonderful four days away...and I am pleased to report that my husband and daughter did just fine on the homefront, too.

Though I'm the first to admit that it's hard not to feel charged up about a conference when 64 of your coworkers are also in attendance, the overall quality of most of the presentations and general sessions was extremely strong. However, I do wish that there had been a few more educational sessions—when you add it up, there were only five "slots" for those types of offerings over the two and a half days that the conference was officially in session. Also, in contrast to other conferences that I've been to recently, NAA is much, much bigger: close to 5,000 people attended this year, and hundreds of sponsors participated in the exposition. And while I know the conference would not be what it is without those sponsors' generous support, the sheer number of attendees made it somewhat difficult to network. (If it weren't for Twitter and texting, I'm not sure that I would have been able to meet as many people as I did!)

In any case, all in all, I thought the conference was excellent. Without further ado, here are my top three takeaways from #NAA10:

1. Opening the social media doors doesn't mean that people will automatically provide negative feedback. J Turner Research presented some interesting statistics during a panel on strategies to evaluate your online presence. Though 69% of nearly 16,000 repondents indicated that they regularly use Facebook, just 7% of those surveyed have ever visited any apartment community's Facebook page. That's not to say that social media (and Facebook, specifically) isn't worth the effort: of the 7% that had visited FB pages, 62% wanted to see what others were saying about a community, 52% were looking for info on community events and activities, and 20% provided positive feedback about a community. Just 6% provided negative feedback about a community.

2. When it comes to keeping social media in-house or outsourcing, the jury is still out. Some companies outsource their efforts, some do everything in-house, and some have found that using both internal and external resources works most effectively. For those of us who have yet to jump into the fray, the good news (assuming you're a glass-half-full kind of person) is there is no "one size fits all" solution. That might make it a bit more challenging to get started, but having the flexibility to try and test different options is very attractive, if you ask me.

3. Mobile is going to be HUGE. By 2014, more people will access the internet via a mobile device than via a computer—even today, a solid 40% of people go online using a smartphone or other mobile device. Understanding how mobile works, and how mobile tools work, is going to be essential for effectively marketing products and services. One speaker in the Titans of Technology panel noted that the renter of tomorrow could most likely walk down the street, wave their smartphone at an apartment community, and be taken straight to that community's website, where they might see a special exclusively for smartphone users—or even specifically for them as an individual. Amazing? Most definitely. Improbable? Nope.


I could write so much more about this year's conference, but in the interest of keeping things manageable, I'm sticking to just those three points. If you attended, too, please share your experiences. See you in Vegas for #NAA11!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Off to NAA!

Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving for the NAA Conference in New Orleans. I am SO looking forward to this trip: it will include some great educational sessions, time with coworkers and friends, and a chance to see a new city. My one concern is that this will be the longest that I've been away from home since C was born. Granted, she's now 18 months old and can (most of the time) verbalize what she needs and wants, but I still can't help feeling a tiny bit anxious. Fortunately, my husband is more than capable, and my parents will be available to help, too.

I'll be tweeting with the #NAA10 hashtag throughout the conference, and will check in on Foursquare, too. If you're going to be at the conference, please look me up. I'll try to put together a wrap-up post next week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Four things I like about Foursquare.

A little more than a year ago, I was just starting to figure out Twitter. And, now...I'm 100% hooked. So now that I'm just starting to use Foursquare, I can't help whether it'll be deja vu all over again. It may be too soon to tell whether my love affair will pan out, but as a new user, here are four things that I really like about Foursquare.

1. It gives you another way to connect with people, especially if you also share your Foursquare updates via Twitter and/or Facebook. Example: I go to a gym near my office. When I checked in there on Foursquare earlier this week and then posted that to my Twitter feed, the "Mayor" of the gym suddenly started following me on Twitter. And when I said I wanted to oust him as the Mayor of the BSC, we connected on Foursquare as well. I have no idea whether I'll ever meet Tommy in person, but it's fun to think that maybe we'll bump into each other at some point. (Plus the possibility of stealing the Mayorship gives me an extra incentive to go the gym a little more often.)

2. It shows you fun things to do, find and explore. Depending on who you follow on Foursquare and the places they frequent, you might learn that a restaurant will give you a free dessert if you ask about a certain entree, or that a particular retail shop has an outstanding associate - or anything else under the sun. In this way, Foursquare reminds me of a virtual scavenger hunt.

3. You earn badges for doing certain things. Full disclosure: a zillion years ago, I was a Girl Scout. Perhaps that's where my fascination with this aspect of Foursquare comes into play? Anyway, I don't know that I'll ever earn half of the badges that are out there (Crunked is not high on my list!), but it's fun to see what badges other people have "earned" as they check in at different locations and do different things. I also think that badges have some pretty interesting marketing potential: for example, if you check in at five Starbucks, you earn a Barista badge, which comes with perks - aka free coffee.

And that leads me to my fourth point: Foursquare for business.

4. Businesses can create some serious buzz when using Foursquare as a way to connect with customers. If never you've read any of my previous posts, I work in the world of multifamily marketing. One of the hot topics of discussion at the recent AIM Conference was how mobile and social media is rapidly changing the way that we as apartment marketers do business. I am very intrigued to see how the industry uses Foursquare and other similar platforms to engage with residents and prospective residents.


Are you using Foursquare personally, professionally, or both? I'd love to hear your take...and if you have any tips for a newbie, I hope you'll share.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Contemplating #2

Last week, just before I left for the AIM Conference, C was sent home from daycare with a fever. And this week, she was sent home with another fever. My husband and I feared another ear infection, but as it turns out, her ears are "perfect" (as proclaimed by her pediatrician). We have no idea what last week's illness was, but this week the culprit was roseola: C is now sporting a fine-looking rash as proof.

Needless to say, when you have a sick child and a jam-packed work schedule, you have to do some serious rearranging, and fast. Last week, my husband stayed home with C; this week, it was my turn. As I ran out to the car the other day, I canceled/rescheduled meetings, emailed my manager and my assistant, called the pediatrician, and called my husband in rapid-fire succession. And as I was speeding down Route 128, all I could think was, "How on earth do people DO this when they have more than one child?"

The logical side of my brain knows that many, many, MANY people have more than one child, both parents work full-time, and everyone manages just fine: in fact, I have several friends who have kids roughly the same age as C, and they are currently expecting their second child. What I find somewhat amusing is that now that C is almost a year and a half old, we're often asked (by well-meaning relatives, friends, and sometimes even strangers), "So...when are you having Baby #2?" I have no real answer to that question, though, because I truly cannot contemplate adding more chaos to the mix. Every room in our house is always cluttered. Clean laundry stays in baskets for days, or sometimes even weeks, before it's folded. We eat a lot of microwaveable food and cereal. My husband is in grad school at night. I have next to no time to myself as it is. The list goes on, and on, and on.

And, there's the financial part of the equation to consider as well.  My husband and I both have good jobs, but when it comes right down to it, day care is astronomically expensive, and we simply cannot afford to send two kids to day care and stay in our house. I know that there are a number of alternatives and ways to make things work (one of us could stay home, we could get a nanny, we could move, etc.) but none of those options seem particularly attractive at this point. No matter which way I think about it, another baby just isn't in the cards right now for us...and if I'm honest with myself, I am more than okay with that.

The good news is that we have time. I am only 34, and C is only 17 months old. And so, we'll continue in the path of chaos, hoping that the laundry will somehow magically fold itself and that Amy's Organic Kitchen will come up with some new frozen pizza varieties, and at some point, I guess that the equilibrium will shift just enough that we'll know it's time to grow our family. Or, maybe not.

Until then, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we can get through the next week or two without a fever.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AIM Conference Wrap-Up

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the Apartment Internet Marketing Conference, aka AIM, with two of my coworkers. Though I've been in the industry for years, this was my first time at AIM, and I was thrilled with both the content and networking opportunities. Steve Lefkovits, the Executive Producer, and his team, did a fantastic job. A few highlights:

  • Approximately 400 people attended this year's event, up more than 20% from last year's conference. I met a lot of wonderful people, including other marketing professionals, as well as representatives from some partners and vendors that we either currently work with, or are considering working with. Plus, I got to see some good friends that I hadn't seen in a while; it was so nice to reconnect and swap notes.

  • The entire conference was live-tweeted: if you couldn't attend in person, you can check out #aimconf for the "highlight reel." I normally am a pretty active participant when it comes to tweeting at an event, but for whatever reason - perhaps jet lag? - I was pretty quiet at this conference, at least on Twitter. (Dinner, on the other hand, was a whole different story. I would like to personally thank the lovely hostesses for throwing such a fun party on Thursday night...and Spark for not throwing us out on a noise ordinance violation.)

  • The presentations included multiple formats (keynotes, panels, and interviews), and included both industry veterans, as well as people from outside the multifamily world. The content, which was outstanding, covered ground ranging from revenue attribution, to SEM and SEO best practices, to managing your reputation online. These topics are incredibly important in everyone's business, but the majority of the AIM Conference presenters made a specific point to relate things back to the multifamily industry, which made the take-aways crystal clear. Plus, many of the presenters had a great sense of humor. This definitely is a group that understands that all work and no play makes for a boring session, and they did not disappoint on the play front.

The AIM Conference was also very exciting for me on a personal level, as I was invited by my friend Israel Carunungan to co-moderate the Google keynote presentation. Sam Sebastian, Google's Director of B2B and Local Markets, was smart, funny, and made the hour-long interview fly by. We received some great questions from the audience, as well as from our own networks in advance of the conversation. I believe that the presentation and/or a transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly. If and when that happens, I will update this post with a link, as well as with a link to all of the other presentations: Steve Gilbert's South Park/social media presentation is not to be missed, both of Kevin Thompson's presentations were excellent, and the three "Marketing Failures" panelists were both entertaining and educational. (Update: you can access all of the PowerPoint presentations here.)

Though my trip home was a little rocky (canceled flight, a nine-hour stay at LAX, and mechanical delays on the red-eye), the conference was well worth it, and I can't wait for AIM 2011.

In the meantime, the National Apartment Association (NAA) Education Conference and Exposition  is just around the corner. If you're going, you won't be able to miss us: Team Dolben will be about 65 people strong, and always wears very noticeable, matching shirts. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but let's just say that we'll be in full swing.

Hope to see you in New Orleans!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Finding time for friendships

I am a working mom. Sometimes I feel like that statement sums up my sole existence: there is little (if any) time for date nights with my husband, working out, quiet time, networking events, and/or catching up with friends. And though I love my daughter, and I love my job, I find it incredibly frustrating that I am not better at making time for other things that I love. Heck, I even gave up social media for 30 days in an effort to find more balance. (For those readers that know me personally, you know that particular challenge has been a tough one!)

In the May 2010 issue of Real Simple, Managing Editor Kristin van Ogtrop laments that she, too, finds making time for friends difficult. (Thank goodness that I am not alone on that. I kind of knew I wasn't unique in my struggles, but the fact that the editor of a major lifestyle magazine and I are on the same page about this topic is somehow very reassuring to me.) Anyway, the point of all of this is that while I was looking for something fun to do with C this weekend, I stumbled upon a new website called Ziptivity that offers an online community for parents to find and share local classes, events and activities. And lo and behold, I found some fun toddler-friendly ideas, AND a great excuse to get together with my girlfriends: Ziptivity and Union Park Press are putting together a series of Mom's Night Out events in the greater Boston area over the next couple of months, called "ZipMoms' Nite Out."

- 4/29: Weston/Wayland/Sudbury (Fugakyu, Sudbury)
- 5/19: Arlington/Lexington/Bedford (Flora, Arlington)
- TBD Wellesley/Needham

I found a link to the 4/29 event online and am keeping my eyes open for more details on the May event. And, while of course I am hoping that some of my girlfriends will be able to come to the soiree, I have a hunch that even if I were to end up going solo, I'd have a blast. (I don't know about you, but I need very little arm twisting when it comes to cocktails and swag.)

See you at the party!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My (self-imposed) social media vacation

This winter has been a tough one—my daughter seems to come home from daycare with some kind of cold every other week, and when she's not sick, I am. It's a never-ending, vicious circle, and to put it simply, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

My New Year's resolution was to be "better," and if I'm brutally honest with myself, I haven't made much headway. My work-life balance is tilted way to the work side these days, and even though I've never been happier professionally, my immune system seems to be struggling as a result. So, as of today, I am taking my New Year's resolution in a slightly different direction: I'm giving up Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for 30 days, so that I can feel less guilty about carving out some "me time" during the workweek. I have a hunch that the five minutes here, five minutes there that I spend on the various social media networks on a daily basis really add up. Instead of sitting at my computer, I'm going to consolidate that time and go for a run, or go to the gym, or simply sit outside in the sun for a few minutes.

I have no idea how this little experiment is going to go, but I'm as excited for this "virtual vacation" as I've been for any real one. I'll be back in four weeks. Bon voyage!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ten years ago

Ten years ago today, I met my husband. This milestone made me realize how lucky I am to be in such a great relationship, and also made me feel a little nostalgic. Let's be honest: when you're 24, you generally have a few less responsibilities than when you're 34. But when I really think about it, I am so proud of what I've accomplished in the last ten years, both personally and professionally.

A quick snapshot of me, ten years ago: I had just turned 24, and was living by myself in a tiny studio on Beacon Street (which at the time was my pride and joy, even though it cost me an arm and a leg). I loved being able to sleep in until whenever on weekends, and eat nothing except pita bread and hummus, if the mood struck me. By day, I was working as an executive assistant for a real estate company, trying desperately to prove myself worthy of a promotion to a PR-related role. By night, I ran by the Charles River. I went out with my girlfriends and explored the city. I dated a boy who I met on the T. I dated a boy who was a friend of a friend of a friend. I dated a boy who I met online. I dated a boy who I met at the beach. I dated just about every eligible male in the city of Boston, but was convinced that at 24, I would never find The One. And, I went to yoga class on a weekly basis with the wife of a co-worker. This friend, one fateful night, coerced me into attending dinner with her, her husband, and an unsuspecting (and very handsome) guy.

Fast forward ten years, and you have me at 34. I have an amazing husband, and a beautiful little girl who is my pride and joy. I now am a proud homeowner. I have a master's degree in a field I am passionate about, and a strong professional and personal network. By day, I run the marketing department for a well-respected real estate company. By night, I am too exhausted to do much beyond look cross-eyed at the overflowing laundry baskets and collapse into bed. Sleeping in on weekends means waking up at 7:00. I drink too much caffeine, and depend on a trainer to help me stay in shape, since my hours-long runs along the river are things of the very distant past.

Lack of sleep and free time aside, I feel very lucky and blessed. Still, if I could flash back in time, I'd want to tell my 24-year old self a few key points:

- You will get laid off, multiple times. It is not your fault. You will land on your feet and be progressively happier with each (forced) job change.
- Do NOT dye your own hair. You will regret it.
- Wear sunscreen, for god's sake.
- Your girlfriends will go through major life changes at different times than you do. It's okay.
- Do not buy expensive and/or impractical suits/shoes/handbags with credit cards.
- Fighting with your boyfriend does not mean that you will break up.
- When you move in with your boyfriend, you will need to compromise on certain things. Let him get the red couch; you will grow to like it.
- When you get married, you will have too many houses to visit during the holidays. Make a schedule now.
- When you go to grad school, you will discover that you can juggle more than you ever thought possible.
- When you become a mom, you will discover that your previous juggling act was a cakewalk.

Most of all, I'd like to congratulate that 24-year old girl for knowing the perfect guy when he (finally) appeared, and for having the tenacity and perseverance to build such a great life.

Forty-four year old self...are you listening? If you have any advice for me, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baby Steps on the back burner...for now

Last summer, I announced with great excitement that I was going to write an e-book, called "Baby Steps: A New Mom's Guide to Navigating Mommyhood and the Workplace." I sent out a HARO alert to gather information, and met some fascinating women from all over the country who were eager to share their stories. I couldn't wait to get started!

And then...I decided to switch jobs in the fall.

Unfortunately, my new role (though I am deliriously happy) means that the e-book has come to a halt - for now. I have not abandoned the idea, but unfortunately I just haven't had the time available to devote to the project in order to complete it in the way I'd originally envisioned. So, for now, "Baby Steps" is on the back burner.

For those moms out there who have sent me their comments and suggestions, thank you. I think maybe better than anyone, you all can understand how being a working mom means sometimes projects you'd love to tackle have to be put aside (even temporarily). Please stay in touch for updates - you can email me at sarasgraham {at} gmail {dot} com, or simply post a comment here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's my birthday, and I'll pass out if I want to.

Last week, I turned 34. In and of itself, that isn't such a big deal: when I think about my life, I am one happy camper, if a bit frazzled at times. (But what working parent isn't a little frazzled? If you can find one, please send her/him my way. I would like to get their autograph and ask her/him to be my mentor.) But I have to admit: 34 sounds very established. Important. And Grown Up.

In any case, a bunch of my co-workers went out to lunch on Friday. The lunch wasn't for me; I was just a willing and happy guest. We all ate, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company. As we were waiting for the bill, I suddenly began to see spots, my hearing faded in and out, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I managed to squeak out, "I think I'm going to faint," before passing out cold in my seat. I'm a little foggy on the details, but my coworkers immediately called my husband, 911, and a waiter to get me some cranberry juice. By the time the EMTs arrived, I was on my second glass of juice and felt like a new woman.

At the doctor's that afternoon, I was happy to learn that my episode (though incredibly embarrassing) was nothing more serious than having gone too long between meals. Low blood pressure + fast metabolism + empty stomach = passing out.

So while I am technically a Grown Up, it took my doctor to say, "You need to eat six times a day" to really shake things up. Who has time to pass out? Snack City, here I come.

Monday, January 25, 2010

So many conferences, so little time.

True confession: I love conferences. I love the deep-dives that conferences offer, I love roundtables, and I love networking. Since the first month of 2010 is almost behind us, I thought I'd post an initial list of conferences that I hope to attend this year.

1. The CMO Club Summit - April 21 - 22, 2010, NYC.
More than 100 CMOs are expected to attend this spring's Summit. I was very sad to miss the fall conference in California (due to the fact that it overlapped with the NMHC Tech Conference). Needless to say, I am really hoping to get to NYC in a few months; this is a top-notch group and every networking event I've been to has been outstanding.

2. Apartment Internet Marketing (AIM) Conference - April 28 - April 30, 2010, Huntington Beach, CA.
A conference of multifamily industry peers, this year's AIM conference promises to cover renter reviews, social media, resident portals and much, much more.

3. National Apartment Association (NAA) Education Conference and Exhibition - June 24-26, 2010, New Orleans, LA.
My new company sends approximately 60 people annually to the NAA Conference. I am extremely excited for New Orleans - my manager is chairing the conference this year, and he and his committee have put together an amazing agenda, with speakers ranging from former President George W. Bush to William Taylor, Co-founder and Founding Editor of Fast Company. And of course, the educational sessions promise to cover a ton of ground as well, with tracks for Executive, Marketing and Leasing, Operations/Best Practices, Specialty Housing, Technology and more.

4. National MultiHousing Council (NMHC) Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & Exposition - November 14 - 16, 2010, Dallas, TX.
Having recently attended the 2009 Tech Conference, I am hoping to attend the 2010 conference as well...especially since the NMHC is rebranding the conference as an Operations/Technology Conference. It will be very interesting to see how that changes the agenda and attendee list.

I'm sure this list will grow as the months tick by...what conferences are on your must-attend list this year?