Tuesday, December 6, 2011

1,094 Days of Mommyhood.

When my daughter turned one, I wrote a post called 364 Days of Mommyhood. Tomorrow, she's turning three. Three. WOW! Time flies. C is now in preschool, sleeping in a "big girl" bed, and taking ballet classes. She makes up stories, has friends, and is obsessed with all things art-related, pink, and/or sparkly. In other words, she's not a baby any more, a fact that makes me both proud and sad at the same time.

Anyway, in thinking over the last few years, I realized I'd learned some surprising additional truths about parenting.

1. It doesn't matter what you like; it matters what your child likes. In other words, if you like green, and your child likes head-to-toe pink, every day, who cares? It's not worth fighting over, especially when you're trying to get out the door. Let it go, and move on. Same goes for interests. If C decides some day that she wants to play the violin, fabulous. I know nothing about that, but would wholeheartedly support her if she fell in love with it. As C gets older, I'm reminded that she gets to make up her own mind about what she likes, and doesn't like, and that part of my job as a parent is to help her discover those things.

2. Patience is the ultimate virtue. If you've ever hung out with a preschooler for an extended amount of time, you know what I'm talking about. As funny and wonderful as C is, she's still a very little girl. And she gets tired and cranky and whiny, just like every other three year old. I've learned that yelling, prodding, bribing, and threatening to take away privileges generally falls on deaf ears when a tantrum is in full swing. Which brings me to my next point... 

3. She'll be ready when she's ready. This goes for just about everything. Whether it's cleaning up, needing to leave, or transitioning to a new activity, springing something suddenly on a toddler is usually a bad idea. Conversely, lots of advance notice is a very good idea, and makes the whole situation much more pleasant for everyone.

4. Being silly is awesome. I mean this. C has a fabulously funny little sense of humor, and she's starting to understand that she has the ability to make people laugh. We goof around a lot in our house. Just this past weekend, we played freeze dance in our yard. For one fleeting second, I thought, "Yikes. Are our neighbors watching this spectacle?" And then I realized, I just didn't care.

5. I (still) love being a mom more than I thought possible (a carry-over from 2009). It's pretty hard to explain, but I'll sum it up with this: even if I have had the worst day ever, when I pick up C from preschool and she throws her tiny, sticky arms around me, nothing else really matters. Being a mom is more work than I ever dreamed, and yet infinitely more rewarding. And as C gets older, I realize that it's also a lot of fun.

Happy birthday, my girl.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The (second?) greatest customer service story ever told, starring the Hilton Anatole.

If you read blogs and/or hang out on Twitter, you likely heard or read about Peter Shankman's delightful encounter with Morton's Steakhouse, which he dubbed the "greatest customer service story ever told." No question, that is one outstanding example of customer service. However, after that story went public, there were a lot of questions swirling as to whether Morton's offered that level of service because of Mr. Shankman's relative fame, in hopes that he would share the story online with his many fans and followers. Though I can't vouch for Morton's (besides noting that they have delicious food), I truly believe that some people and companies are just devoted to providing stellar customer service, whether said recipient is famous or not. I'm living proof: take what happened to me last week. 

I was in Dallas attending the NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & Exposition (aka OpTech) at the Hilton Anatole. During the very last session, suddenly the power went out. After determining that the outage had affected a large portion of the city, the conference organizers urged anyone who needed to make their way out as soon as possible, as there would likely be back-ups at the emergency elevators for those who needed to return to their rooms before departing for the airport. I immediately stood up and began walking towards the elevators, hoping I'd be able to beat the rush.

A small group of conference attendees was soon gathered at the elevator banks. One of the Hilton's conference managers, Hal, was standing at the elevator and suggested that we all start walking up the stairs, as there was no indication of when the emergency elevators would be operational. My room was located on the eighteenth floor, and when I expressed  concern about carrying my suitcase down eighteen flights of stairs, he said, “No problem, I’ll come with you and carry it down.” 

We went to my hotel room, which was pitch black, and Hal gave me a glow stick so that I could finish packing my belongings. He waited very patiently while I attempted to search the room and assured me that the hotel would be glad to send anything that I'd inadvertently left behind. We then walked down eighteen flights of stairs, while Hal smiled and chatted, and told me about some of the other power outages he'd witnessed during his career. He carried my suitcase through back entrances, all the way to the taxi stand, and gently placed my suitcase on the curb. I am certain that Hal had much more pressing things to attend to, but you'd never have known it from his behavior: he made my little request seem like a major priority that deserved immediate attention.

I was so wowed by Hal's kindness and exemplary service that I honestly could do nothing except hug him and thank him profusely. (I never carry cash; otherwise, I would have given Hal a huge tip on the spot.) Instead, I promised I'd write a letter to his General Manager, and then left for the airport, utterly aglow with thankfulness.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the Anatole's GM, as promised...and then I emailed Hilton's Senior Vice President of Operations to share the above story. (Isn't it amazing what a quick Google search can do?) Within just a few hours, he emailed me the below.

Sara, first of all I am sorry that you had to deal with the power outage while at the Anatole.  That said I am thrilled to read your comments on how Hal handled the situation and put your situation in front of any other issue he had which is the absolute way it should be!  I will be in Dallas next week and will make sure I personally thank Hal!  I appreciate you taking the time to let us know and look forward to welcoming you back at the Anatole and/or any of our Hiltons around the globe!

Wow. When senior management and on-site management share the same philosophy, some serious greatness occurs.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Mommyguilt. [mom-ee gilt] Noun: A mom's feeling of responsibility or remorse, real or imagined, for some offense, crime, or wrong. Also being in the wrong place at the wrong time, running late, and/or having conflicting events, etc. Especially common in moms of preschoolers who travel regularly for work.

Just when you think you've got everything balanced (ha!), the universe decides to throw you a curveball.

I'm traveling a considerable amount over the next few weeks, and am very excited to announce that one of my trips is to the NMHC's OpTech Conference, where I'll be speaking on a panel about Too Many Marketing Vehicles. The kicker? I just found out that my daughter's very first parent-teacher conference is the same day as my presentation. And even though my husband is able to attend the meeting with her teacher, I can't be there. Helllo, Mommyguilt.

The emotional side of my brain wails, "Oh noooo. How on earth can I miss C's teacher meeting? I AM A TERRIBLE MOM."

And, the logical side of my brain wants to smack the emotional side.

C's not even three years old yet, and I'm 99.9% certain that she doesn't know or care what a teacher conference is. I have a good relationship with her preschool teacher, who I see nearly every day, and generally think of myself as an involved parent. Plus, I agreed to be part of the NMHC panel in September, well before the teacher conferences were even announced. But even though I know all of these things, I still feel terrible, because this is the first big "milestone" I've missed as a mom. (Side note: My husband insists that this is not actually a milestone. But I think that's because I married a really nice guy.)

Anyway, I think the toughest part is that I know this unfortunately won't be the last time this situation arises; as a working mom, there are bound to be other events down the road that I simply won't be able to attend. My wise husband says, "We do what we can do," and on one level, I agree...but I almost always feel like we need to do more. Balancing work and family is the ultimate juggling act, and though I'm extremely lucky to work for a family-friendly company in a role that I adore, I've come to realize that the juggle isn't getting any easier as C gets older and my career continues to progress.

However guilty I feel, I want C to know two things: 
  1. If we say we're going to do something, we do it, unless there is an absolute emergency. (We're working on the whole "responsibility" thing now, and let me tell you something: Congreve was wrong, unless the "scorned woman" he cites is three years old: hell hath no fury like a headstrong preschooler who's disinclined to pick up her Legos on Mommy's cue. But, as I said, we're working on it.)
  2. It's part of my job as a parent to help C understand that working is important. That means different things for different families, of course, but in our family, that means that both mommy and daddy go to work in an office, and sometimes have to travel. It also means that we both make meals, and help with bath time, and read stories. (And so on and so forth.) Last week, C said she wanted to be an astronaut so that she could drive a (pink!) rocketship and touch the moon. The other day, she announced, "Mommy, I'm Dr. C. Now come over here so I can give you your flu shot." These are little things, admittedly, but I can't help feeling a teensy bit proud: already, C thinks she can be anything she wants, whether that's an astronaut, or doctor, or whatever else strikes her fancy. If she decides that she wants to be a stay at home mom someday, I think that's great, too: though I can't speak from my own experience, I'd be willing to bet some serious money that stay at home parents have the hardest jobs of all. The fact of the matter is, I want her to feel like any of those choices are good choices, and to feel proud about whichever path she picks.
So, even though my noisy emotional side means I can't escape my guilt trip entirely, I'm reminding myself that this is all part of what we signed up for. If I have to miss C's parent-teacher meeting this year, so be it: an occasional conflict here and there does not make me a bad person, or a bad parent. I'll maximize my time at OpTech, because that's where I've committed to be, and I'm thrilled to be representing my company. And when I return home, I'll be able to tell C about the big airplanes and all of the "work friends" I saw at the conference, and we'll get back to our normal routine (aka controlled chaos).

Working parents, how do you manage family needs and business obligations? I'm planning on Skyping while I'm on the road. It doesn't totally make up for being away for the better part of two weeks, or for missing that parent-teacher conference, but hopefully it will help keep my family close—and help me kick my Mommyguilt to the curb.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going social: insights from an epic journey.

Earlier this year, I enthusiastically posted that we were finally moving forward with social media. At the time, I assumed we'd be up and running within a few weeks. I was oh-so-wrong: we just launched our test properties in mid-October, seven months after I thought we'd be live. 

Why the delay? When I wrote that post, I'd done my homework and was raring to go, but before we went live, I had to get our VP of Property Management to bless our guidelines. And our Director of HR. And our head of technology. And then, ownership. All of these people have many, many things on their plates to begin with...and we have four projects in various stages of lease-up...and it's budget season. (You get where I'm going, I think. With so many irons in the fire, suffice it to say that I was Miss Follow Up for a while.)  

Perhaps not surprisingly, while we were reviewing and revising our guidelines, one of the biggest questions from both our executive team and our on-site management teams was, "What do we do if someone says something bad on our Page?" Though it sounds a bit counterintuitive, we have decided that negative feedback is actually a good thing, as it helps us figure out what we need to do better. When it comes to responding to criticism, constructive or otherwise, here's our take:
  • Dissent and discourse will occur when using social media: dialogue should be embraced, and negative feedback should be looked at as an opportunity to have a constructive conversation.
  • If a resident or prospect uses social media as a means to provide criticism, acknowledge it directly and respectfully.

Like many other management companies, we’ve decided to let our on-site teams manage their own social efforts. We view our properties' Facebook Pages as extensions of their leasing offices, and therefore feel the Pages should be managed by the leasing team, rather than at the corporate level and/or by outsourcing our efforts. We think that having "insider knowledge" of the property and the surrounding community lends itself to a more authentic conversation with residents, and by removing the red tape of having corporate employees involved in every exchange, we hope that our responses will be more timely. As time goes on and our social presence increases to the point where it's no longer feasible for our properties to self-manage, we might change our strategy, but for the foreseeable future, we believe that managing our social assets at the local level is the best course of action. 

All that being said, I am a Page admin for each one of our properties. As an admin, I'm able to help track Page insights, and can easily step in to assist if needed (think power outages, community emergencies, etc.). But I am not "ghost posting" on behalf of any of our properties, nor do I plan to do so. Instead, as we build up our fan bases online, I check out our properties' Pages, see how things are going, and then suggest ways to change things up if warranted. 

In the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd list a few points from our social media guidelines that might be worth considering if you're still contemplating developing a policy for your own company. Because we're new to the space, our policy is fairly flexible; it includes guidelines for acceptable use, expectations for how our employees should act online while representing the company, and some general best practices. Some of the below points have been paraphrased for the sake of brevity, but the message is the same.
  • Your use of social media on company time must be managed responsibly.    
  • While representing our company online, we expect that you conduct yourself as you would in front of a fellow colleague, resident or investor. Your manager, reports and peers may read what you write; residents and prospects may read what you write. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want these people to see.
  • Facebook is an informal place, but remember that this is a business page, and you should use the same language as you do at work. Think of your Facebook Page as an extension of your leasing office. Please don't use slang, and never use profanity. 
  • What you are posting is publicly available and searchable, and the Internet never forgets. Keep in mind that as soon as you publish a post, someone, somewhere will see that version. That being said, if you make an honest mistake, own up to it, and fix it ASAP.
  • If you share content from elsewhere on the web, give that person or organization credit for it. 
  • Follow other apartment communities and management companies, as well as companies outside of our industry:  it will give you a sense of what is working and help give you some great ideas to post on your own Page.
  • Your Page is a place for feedback, good and bad. Respond to all comments within 24 hours, and be sure to thank your residents for caring about their community.
  • Keep your content fresh, and post at least three times a week. If you can serve as a helpful resource, especially for residents who might be new to the area, they'll have lots of reasons to "like" your Page.
  • Encourage conversation: ask questions. Where do your residents love to go when they have free time? What are their favorite seasonal activities? If they could be anyone for a day, who would it be? You might be surprised by their answers, and your residents will love learning more about their neighbors and their community.
  • If you have writer's block, refer to an editorial calendar, or ask someone else on your team for help. Your Facebook Page is an extension of your team, and everyone can play a role in helping to manage it. (Note: we developed an editorial calendar very late in the process, but created this key document before we went live. I highly recommend taking a few hours to put one together: it will save you and whomever is managing your online presence a lot of time down the road.)

All three of our test properties are now live, and though the process took much longer than I anticipated, our guidelines are that much better for having everyone's feedback incorporated. Before we created each property's Page, I held a meeting with each of our properties to run through our guidelines and answer any questions that each team might have. And, as each Page has launched, we've added a "Find us on Facebook" icon to each property's website, developed fliers with QR codes announcing the roll-out, and created stickers for use on packages, etc.

How did your "going social" process work? Do your social guidelines differ greatly from ours? I'd love to hear your take on what we've developed. Until then, please consider "Liking" our Pages—our property managers and I would love to have you as part of our online communities. It's been an epic journey, and we're glad to (finally!) be part of the conversation.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Apartment Social Council talks shop about ILSs

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new resource for multifamily marketers, called the Apartment Social Council. I'm thrilled to report that after a minor technical set-back, we're up and running. Hope you enjoy our first discussion, on the relevancy of the ILS. And if you like what you see, please visit the ASC Facebook page!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The art of negotiation.

I just bought a new car (finally traded in my 10 year old Civic: rest in peace, old friend) and the entire process was quite eye-opening.

After test-driving a new car at a dealership last weekend, I returned to the waiting area, glowing with excitement. "I LOVE this car," I stage-whispered to my husband. And so the negotiation process began. Or perhaps, more accurately the "strong-arm and struggle" began. I felt pressured and stressed, and as the pressure to make a deal increased, my excitement went right down the tubes. I thanked the salesman, said I needed to think, and walked out of the dealership. Once home, I called my dad: he loves buying cars the same way that I love buying shoes, and I thought he might have some good insights. He immediately began calling dealerships, including the same one I'd visited, and was able to get a lower price over the phone within minutes. Fascinated (and frustrated), I shook my head in awe...and then he offered to meet me at a dealership during the week to help make the buying process easier. I eagerly agreed.

A few days later, I arrived at the dealership before my dad, and was immediately set upon by an eager salesman. I explained that I was there to look at a particular car, and that my dad had made the appointment after some preliminary discussion, so I wanted to wait until he arrived before we started to get too deep into the conversation. When Dad walked in, we immediately got down to business. The salesman asked, "What do I need to do to make this sale happen?" As I opened my mouth to speak, my dad said, "Give her a good deal on the trade, and we're done."

What?! Where was the fancy negotiating? The back and forth? The white-knuckled anticipation of wondering whether the offer was acceptable? You know what? None of that is necessarily relevant to a positive negotiation. Case in point: a few hours later, I drove off the lot in my new car—and yes, I got a great deal, including a fair and reasonable amount for my trade-in.

Here's what I learned: negotiation doesn't have to be rocket science, and it doesn't have to be stressful. If you use some common sense, it can be pretty simple, in fact...but I've realized that when I get stressed, sometimes common sense loses out to nerves. And so, for those like-minded folk, I offer the below quick list of tips:

  • Do your homework. You don't have to know everything, but you should be prepared to talk shop. In my case, that meant knowing what the competition was offering in terms of available stock, financing, and promotions. It also meant understanding what my ten-year-old car was really worth as a trade-in. Having these kinds of facts provides you (and the person on the other side of the table) with a legit starting point for discussion.
  • If you know what you want, ask for it. Put it out on the table. Plain and simple: What's the best deal you can get me on this car?
  • If someone asks what you want, be honest. Don't hem and haw, just say what you want. The exchange between the salesman and my dad was shockingly simple and straightforward.
  • If you get what you want, be ready to commit. Don't put people through the wringer if you're not ready to move. It's unfair, and bad business.
  • If you don't get what you want, be willing to walk away. Chances are good that if your conditions are reasonable, they can be met elsewhere.

Are you a skilled negotiator? If so, what would you add to this list? If you're more of a "negotiating novice," can you picture yourself asking for what you want, and then envision all parties feeling like they won out in the end? Negotiating can be intimidating if you let it psych you out, but now that I've been through a positive transaction once, I feel confident that I'll be better equipped to deal with similar situations moving forward.

In the meantime, if you see a cute silver SUV zipping around Greater Boston, look for me behind the wheel. Cheers!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Apartment Social Council

A new resource for the multifamily world is coming: the Apartment Social Council is launching on 9/15! I'm honored to be part of the panel, along with Carmen Benitez, Eric Brown, Sarah Greenough, Ed Javier, Mark Juleen, and Brian Owen. We'll be doing live video chats twice a month, covering topics ranging from social media, ILSs, mobile marketing, leasing, resident retention and much, much more. The ASC will also publish a monthly newsletter filled with helpful tips and best practices.

Check out the ASC link above for additional details: a schedule of upcoming events and more info on our first chat should be posted soon.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Words to live by.

As a mom of a toddler, I hear all kinds of creative/downright bizarre stories on a daily basis. C regales us with tales about what happened at school, about the bear and pink kitty that supposedly lurk outside, and how we all live in boat in a hole in the bottom of the sea. It all makes for a very entertaining conversation, and makes me think that perhaps we have a budding novelist in our midst. Just the other day, though, C spontaneously and very sincerely said, "I love you, Mommy," and gave me a big kiss. (Hello, Mommy puddle.)

Whenever the going gets tough, and it invariably does: back-to-back client meetings, crazy-tight deadlines, a tiff with my husband about why the laundry remains unfolded (again), or a potty-training accident in the middle of the kitchen floor (again), I'm working on remembering that sweet moment. C's sweet, heartfelt words somehow help me to keep everything in perspective. Maybe the "terrible two's" aren't so terrible after all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The 3 D's of Marketing with QR Codes

Where on earth did July go? After the holiday weekend, I traveled a bit (some for work, some for R&R), and then was just completely inundated with new projects. Lo and behold, we're now in August. My intern just wrapped up her time with us this week. Before we know it, Labor Day will be here. Yikes.

One of our summer projects has been weighing on my brain recently, and I thought I'd throw it out there to see what others are doing. We recently generated QR codes for our entire portfolio, and when we announced that we were going to do this, a lot of people said, "What the heck is a QR code?" If you're in the same boat, a QR code (short for “quick response” code) is a 2D barcode  that can be scanned by a smartphone's camera. Depending on how the code was set up, scanning it will direct the viewer to a website, make a phone call, or some other online destination. While I personally think that there's a lot of potential with using QR codes in marketing, I do think that you need to keep a few key things in mind. 

Demographics. If your target market isn't made up of smartphone users, they may not know (or care) what a QR code is. If you make that QR code the only method of contact, you're going to lose leads.

Direction. If you're going to use a QR code, please tell your audience where they're going, and what they're going to find when they get there. Slapping a QR code on your marketing materials with no explanation is likely confusing for the uninitiated, and makes those who are familiar with the technology a little wary. Spell it out, and everyone will be happier in the long run. 

Design. If you don't have a mobile-friendly website, you shouldn't be directing people there with mobile-friendly technology. Case in point: our corporate website is five years old, desperately needs to be overhauled, and definitely NOT mobile-friendly. Our property websites, on the other hand, are hosted on a totally different platform, and both our resident and prospect portals have been optimized for mobile. 

In other words, like anything else: one size doesn't fit all. QR codes aren't going to work for every property, just the same way that Craigslist doesn't work for every property. However, in the few weeks since creating the codes, we've had three managers incorporate their codes into marketing fliers, one create an ad for an ad on a trolley, and one very enterprising manager reprint her business cards with the QR code on the back. Our team also brainstormed the below list of ideas:
  1. Out-of-home media: bus stops, train stations, trolleys, subway stations, etc. 
  2. Print advertising  – the Guides may not let you use your own QR codes just yet, but relocation guides, newspapers, magazines and other outlets might.
  3. Direct mail pieces (yes, direct mail still works) 
  4. Property signs and banners 
  5. Brochures and/or brochure boxes
  6. Business cards  
  7. Community/corporate outreach fliers
  8. In the leasing office, print napkins with QR codes that link to the property’s website, and then use them at coffee and refreshment stations
  9. Encourage community feedback (link to an online survey or social presence) 
  10. Coupons and special deals

Are you using QR codes in your marketing yet? If so, what are you doing with them? And if not, why not? Please weigh in with your comments.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

Last week's NAA Education Conference & Exposition was killer. I'd never been to Vegas before, and though I've done a fair amount of traveling in my 30-odd years, I was blown away by how...excited everything was. Slot machines in the airport! Limos with mood lighting! Huge billboards advertising, "We can get you out of your DUI for only $700!" LED displays for every show imaginable! People wearing club clothes before noon!

And that was just my first twenty minutes. Truth be told, this New England girl was honestly a bit overwhelmed.

I won't go into tons of detail about the conference itself - you can read more about the some of the specifics on NAA's website, as well as at The Training Factor and on Apartments.com's blog, if you're interested. But I will say that I thought this year's speakers were outstanding. I especially enjoyed listening to Dr. Condoleeza Rice. Though our political views differ, she is (not surprisingly) extremely well-spoken, and had some really inspiring things to say about self-esteem, our education system, and the United States as a global power. I found myself nodding along at much of her speech, and during the Q & A portion of her presentation, I was impressed with how "real" she seemed. Afterwards, I overheard someone say, "That is one classy lady," which about sums it all up.

The educational sessions that I attended were excellent. There was a wide selection of sessions to choose from, and I made a point to attend as many of the Marketing Technology presentations as I could. Interestingly, my only "peeve" was that NAA really talked up Twitter (each session had its own hashtag), yet there was no WiFi available during the educational sessions: if you didn't have 3G, you were out of luck. A friendly conference organizer pointed out that there were several hotspots in the common spaces, but that unfortunately didn't do much to help with the social conversation during the presentations themselves.

Similar to last year's conference, I thought that the tradeshow floor was well organized, and the opportunities for networking were plentiful. Still, I honestly felt a bit pressed for time, and there were many people that I simply didn't get to see. I would have loved to have had just a little bit more time to mingle before the parties kicked off.

Speaking of the parties...wow. There's definitely a reason that people say, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." People were out in full force, and when I finally dragged myself away from the dance floor at 2:30 (really, really, really late for me!), the party showed no signs of slowing down. Not everyone at the Mandalay was attending the conference, of course, but I saw lots of familiar faces as I headed up to my hotel room, and I saw many conference attendees with large super-sized cups of coffee the next morning.

In a nutshell, I thought Vegas was amazing, and thanks to the generosity of my company, I can now cross that destination off my "bucket list." Still, I'm beyond thrilled that next year's conference is in my hometown: I can't wait to help show the industry just how fabulous and fun Boston can be.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Marketing mayhem (oh, how I love thee).

In the past two weeks, we have launched mobile sites for (almost) our entire portfolio, created QR codes for each property, executed an online reputation management plan, and developed a prospect portal for a new lease-up. I've also been working on overhauling our website templates, furnishing two leasing offices, wrapping up three properties' marketing collateral, and developing a presentation for our firm's ownership that talks about just how much my little department manages to churn out. And then I need to go get a partridge in a pear tree...oops, sorry, I got caught up in the list-making and lost track for a moment. Developing a resident retention program is next up, as soon as we launch our next ten properties with RentMineOnline and (finally!) set up our test properties on Facebook. But first, I need to execute nine advertising contracts and get a couple of SEM campaigns ready to roll.

You might laugh, but that is in fact a small sampling of my to-do list: I am flat out, and have been for ages. Marketing directors by nature wear a lot of hats, and perhaps more so in multifamily than in other fields. We are advertising managers, analysts, creative directors, copywriters, graphic artists, photographers, interior designers, leasing trainers, social media experts, PR pros, The Brand Police, and presentation coaches. And sometimes, we're all of those things in one day.

I love what I do...but boy, am I glad I have an intern this summer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guess what? It's still work.

Last week, I was lucky enough to go to a Red Sox game with some colleagues and friends from the Rental Housing Association. They had a very nice reception for us, and then we all found our seats and watched the Sox play in a driving drizzle (we were fortunate to be seated in a covered area). As the game went on, a group of fans seated directly behind us got louder and louder. As time went on, they started swearing and sloshing their beer around. They kept getting more beer, and then unsurprisingly, they crossed the line into sheer sloppiness.

We decided to take a few photos of our little group, and one of these very sloppy girls decided to insert herself into our photo. She then slurringly introduced herself, and lo and behold, not only was she part of the RHA group, she was a former coworker (who I'd never actually met in person before). She proceeded to shriek my name at the top of her lungs, and then fell over and dumped her beer all over one of my coworkers. Needless to say, she didn't make a very good impression on any of us, and some of my colleagues were downright horrified.

To be clear: I am not a teetotaler. My coworkers and I all had a drink or two that evening. But even though we were having fun, we were all in control. Yes, it was after-hours, and we were at a ball game and wearing jeans, but guess what? We were attending said ball game with coworkers, vendors, and industry friends, which makes it a work-related event. And that, of course, means that we were all still in "work mode."

With conference season upon us, I cannot stress this enough: what you do and say at those games, cocktail parties, dinners and impromptu gatherings matters. And even if you think that no one notices/remembers the fact that you were incredibly sloppy, I promise you, they do and they will, long after the event itself is over. By all means, have fun, but for the sake of your professional reputation, remember where you are and who you're with. The event will be just as much fun (I'd even say MORE fun), and you'll be able to look back on it with pleasure, instead of embarrassment...or even worse, not remember it at all. Yes, sometimes, people mess up; we've all seen a coworker who had too much to drink at the office party. But don't let that person be you. Know your limits and feel confident that you weren't "that girl" (or guy).

Now get out there and have some fun. And oh - GO SOX! (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Confessions of a lapsed athlete.

True confession: I am a jock. Or I was, anyway. I've played softball (I was terrible, for the record: it's next to impossible to see the ball when you're super-nearsighted, and not yet wearing contact lenses). In junior high, I cheered, then played field hockey in high school. (I had contacts by then, in case you're wondering.) In college, I really amped things up: I tried water polo, fell in love with rowing, and then played rugby during a semester abroad in Australia. When I moved to Boston after graduation, I ran along the Charles River every day, morning and night. (Yes, really. Twice a DAY. When I think of how luxuriously easy it was to make that time, I want to cry.) I took golf lessons. I trained for road races. I did hot power yoga, and then did Pilates. I started swimming, because my husband loved it. I worked with a personal trainer, just to shake things up.

And then...I became a mom, and suddenly lost all sense of time, and my former athletic self. Don't get me wrong, I make an effort to stay in shape, but when you have a toddler, and you work full-time, and your job requires that you travel, it suddenly becomes much, much harder to carve out time for yourself. My gym membership rarely gets used, and though I go to power yoga religiously once a week, and walk or run when I can, I've come to realize that this little mish-mash isn't quite enough to make me feel balanced or healthy on either a physical or mental level.

So, I'm making a promise to myself: I will create a new schedule. If I can't (or won't) go to the gym, then I'll find some other way to get moving, get inspired, and keep my sanity. I just saw an ad for a Boot Camp class, and am seriously thinking that might be the proverbial kick in the pants that I so desperately need. And though I may regret this decision, I'm making this promise publicly, so that I'm more likely to stick to it. I miss my old jock self, and want her to come back for good. I'm tired of making excuses.

How have you changed your fitness routine as you've gotten older? Friends with kids, how do you find the time? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Too much of a good thing? Nah.

In our household of three, we have four computers, four iPods (of various ages and stages), an iPhone, a Droid, a Nook, and an old-school flip phone (which my husband refuses to get rid of). We Skype. We text. We email and Facebook and Tweet. My two year old daughter is a whiz with the iPod Touch. At any given moment, something is whirring, chirping, beeping, and/or ringing. I am a huge fan of technology. It allows us to work from pretty much anywhere at any hour of the day, and connects us to friends and family in far-flung corners of the world. Probably not surprisingly, I find it very hard to unplug; only rarely do I want to chuck all of our techie toys into the bin and run away into the hills, a la Maria von Trapp in the Sound of Music.

And yet, even with all of the technology we have at our fingertips, I honestly and truly lust after the iPad. I was reading a magazine last night, and lo and behold, there was an ad for the iPad 2 on the back cover. "Look," I urged my husband, who was reading a case study. "Look at this new iPad. It comes in all of these colors! Have you seen the commercials? I really, really want one." My husband yawned and said, "What on earth do you want one of those for?" When I said I wanted to use it for travel, so that I didn't have to lug my hefty laptop all over the place, he laughed. "Not company issue," he pointed out (oh-so-unhelpfully, yet as a point of fact, a truthful statement). Logging as many miles as I do on the road, I feel quite sure that I'd find plenty of use for an iPad. Everywhere I look, droves of business travelers are using iPads in airport lounges, and I would be willing to bet some good money that they aren't all just playing Angry Birds. I suppose I could just get a Netbook and be done with it, but the multitasking aspect of a tablet is immensely appealing. (Plus, I'm just kind of a techie dork that way.)

Still, I'm loathe to shell out upwards of $500 myself, and so I am wishing and hoping that I WIN an iPad. Yes, my friends, conference season is upon us, and not only does that mean that it's time to clear out the cobwebs and retrain our brains to think in new and different ways, but many, many brilliant vendors are using iPads as door prizes on the trade show floor. Just last week, I was at the AIM Conference in beautiful Huntington Beach, California, and multiple companies (including the conference organizers) were giving away iPads. Sadly, I went home empty-handed, but the NAA Education Conference is right around the corner. Hooray for more networking, learning, and the prospect of coming home with a fantastically useful new gadget!

If you happen to end up with an extra iPad on your hands during this busy conference season, I happen to know someone who would just love one. And for what it's worth, I have a sneaking suspicion that her husband would probably like it, too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Setting the multifamily world a-Twitter

An industry friend (who shall remain nameless, unless she desires to name herself) recently asked me to list my top ten multifamily tweeters, and provide some insight as to why I rank them so highly. In alphabetical order, here are my picks.
  1. @30lines
  2. @artchickhb
  3. @BSitko
  4. @CharityHisle
  5. @Eric_Urbane
  6. @LisaTrosien
  7. @mbj
  8. @mbrewer
  9. @SGreenough
  10. @trainingfactor
My list is pretty varied: it includes industry consultants, vendors, trainers, speakers, and execs from management companies. But in my eyes, what unites all of these individuals is their passion for the multifamily industry, and their commitment to making it a better space. If you check out any one of these Twitter accounts, you'll see lots of smart conversations. (And some silly ones, but I personally happen to like that. All business and no play makes for a dull interaction, in my book.) You'll also see tons of information and ideas being shared. These folks have their finger on the pulse of what works and what doesn't, and they're more than willing to share their opinions and experiences in an effort to pave the road for the rest of us through conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, and blogs. (For the record, many of these people manage numerous social media accounts—both personal and professional—and multiple blogs. In what hour of the day, I have no idea, but I am in awe of their efforts, nonetheless.) If all that weren't enough, these people also donate their time and wisdom to various local and national multifamily organizations, speak at many of the industry's best known conferences, and participate in webinars and online chats.

I'm so proud to be part of the multifamily world: when you have such smart, generous people in your industry, it's really hard to NOT be excited about what you do. If my friend's "assignment" had been to think of a list of 20, or even 50 individuals, I would have happily done so: there are many more who share the passion and insight of my short list above.

Who's on your must-follow list? Please weigh in and share your thoughts in the comments section.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Interviewing 101

    I haven't had much time to blog the last few weeks: work has been super-busy, and most nights I simply come home and crash. However, I'm hopeful that my workload will be lightened a little bit within the next month or so, as I'm in the process of interviewing summer interns, and am thrilled about some of the candidates that have applied. Most of the students I've spoken with are smart, well-spoken, and eager to roll up their sleeves to get that coveted "real world experience" (and trust me, the experience will be plenty; even with an amazing executive assistant, I've got plenty of projects waiting in the wings). I've interviewed seven candidates over the last two days, and have several more meetings planned for this week. With all of the discussions swirling fresh in my head, and prime interviewing season upon us, I thought I'd share a couple of tips for interns and new grads.

    Look the part. I work in marketing. I don't wear a suit, and I don't expect you to wear one (though I think that candidates who do choose to wear a suit look very sharp). But please, look professional. If you're wearing a rumpled, casual shirt, I'm concerned that you're going to show the same disregard for your work. First impressions count. 

    Know why you're there.
    I asked one candidate what had attracted him to apply for the position, and he said, "Nothing in particular." Though he might have thought that his honesty would have won me over...it didn't. I'm passionate about what I do, and want to work with people who feel the same way. It's okay if you respond that you're looking for some real-world experience: that's what an internship is for. And if you mention specific parts of the role that piqued your interest, you get extra points, since you've shown me that you either have expertise that you're willing to lend, or that you're keen to learn more. Both are outstanding attributes.

    Be prepared to talk about your past jobs, internships and volunteer experiences.
    I've already read your resume, so I have some sense of your accomplishments. As a manager, I want to know what aspects of your previous jobs you liked, what you didn't, and (most importantly) why. Yes, I realize that it can be difficult to relate summer jobs to life in a corporate office, but if you can't tell me what aspects of a job appeal to you, or what you learned from a particular role, I won't be able to give you work that you find compelling. I waited tables for a few summers while I was in college, and I can't think of a better job to test out your multitasking and communication skills. Don't believe me? The next time you go out to dinner, watch the wait staff. Are they friendly and engaged, or are they terse and frazzled? At times we all have assignments that we may find tedious or boring, but if someone asks you what you like, seize that opportunity to express your enthusiasm. The "why" factor of your likes and dislikes is especially important, since everyone relates differently. One candidate might quake in terror at the thought of having an unpredictable day; another might have a strong distaste for monotony. There is no wrong answer to the question, "What did you like, and why?" Hiring managers simply want to know how you work.

    Ask (smart) questions.
    The old saying, "There's no such thing as a stupid question" isn't really true when it comes to interviewing, in my book. Spend some time researching the company that you're interviewing with, so that you have a basic understanding of what your future manager deals with on a day-to-day basis. Read through the position description several times, and ask for clarification on things that you don't understand. I don't expect you to have all of the answers. When candidates ask things like, "What exactly do you mean by 'market research'?" and "How often do you write press releases?" I want to cheer: it means that particular candidate has done their homework, and that he or she is genuinely interested in the position. That interest, in turn, makes me more interested in the candidate. On a related note, make sure that you DO ask at least a few questions. If a candidate says that he or she doesn't have any questions after we've only talked for fifteen minutes, I find that disappointing; it shows a lack of curiosity and motivation. Trust me on this: hiring managers want you to ask questions. 

    Every question we ask has a purpose. Early in my career, I was interviewing for a role via video conference (this was before the days of Skype). The interview seemed to be going really well, and then the interviewer said, "Tell me how you'd make your perfect ice cream sundae." I had absolutely no idea what to say, and I'm sure I gaped into the camera. Fortunately, I recovered quickly, was able to answer the question, and was later offered the role. Once I became a manager myself, I realized that this type of question reveals a lot about a candidate: Can she think on the fly? How creative is she? How detail-oriented? I fully understand that off-the-wall questions can shake even the most prepared candidates. Rest assured, our goal isn't to stump or embarrass you, but rather to see how you respond under pressure.

    If you want it, ask for it.
    I'll be honest: this is a pretty hard thing to do, especially if you're new to interviewing. Out of the seven candidates I've spoken with so far, only one has written me a post-interview note expressing her interest in the role. (In case you're wondering, she is one of the top contenders.) Know that your enthusiasm is contagious: if you're smart, and competent, and qualified for the role, and you tell me that you want the position, I'm going to take that at face value. If you offer me a limp handshake and walk away, I'm going to assume that perhaps you're not that interested after all.

    I'll keep you posted on our search. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what other hiring managers see when interviewing, and what candidates think of managers' interviewing practices. Please weigh in with your comments below.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Persistence: the fifth P of marketing?

    The 4 P's of marketing are technically known as product, price, place, and promotion, but if I could be so bold as to suggest an addition, I'd have to tack on a fifth P: persistence. (Note: Before you start yelling about how the 4 P's have been the same for decades, and who am I to suggest a change, stop and think about it for a moment. How many hundreds of marketing campaigns might have fallen flat, if not for a brave soul or two who championed the cause? Besides, this is my blog, and therefore I can propose whatever strikes my fancy. Okay, moving on...)

    Like many other marketers, I am not one to throw in the towel easily. True story: my stubborn streak actually landed me a dream job back in 2005. I saw a marketing manager position posted online and begged the recruiter to send me to interview for the role. Even though I gave my best effort, I was denied a shot at an interview; the recruiter said I simply wasn't experienced enough for him to even consider forwarding my resume to his client. Deflated, I went about my business, and then lo and behold, I saw the same position posted again a few months later. I immediately called the recruiter, and said, "Listen, all you have to do is get me in the door. I can do the rest." Several interviews later, I had the role. Call it persistence, or call it pig-headed stubbornness, but if I truly believe in something, I am loathe to call it quits under any circumstance, personally or professionally.

    And so the true subject of this post: I'm very excited to say that after nearly a year and a half in my current role at Dolben, we are finally ready to take the plunge into the wild world of social media. I've been pitching this since the summer of 2009 (even before I was hired: social media was discussed during the interview process), and until last week, other initiatives have taken precedence. I fully understand and appreciate why we've needed to take things slow; we've had a mountain of projects to tackle over the last eighteen months, and a one-person department can only take on so many things at once. Still, even with a mile-long "to do" list, I've been pushing social media on a constant basis. Why? Based on what I've seen and heard, I'm convinced that it will enhance our marketing and resident retention efforts. I also feel pretty strongly that the longer we wait, the more our teams will have to play catch up when we finally make our entrance.

    Interestingly, my most recent campaign to "go social" succeeded thanks to one of our advertising partners. Through an exclusive relationship with Oodle and Facebook Marketplace, For Rent Media Solutions is giving clients an advertising boost by listing properties on Marketplace at no charge through the end of the calendar year, and building Facebook Pages for clients who don't yet have them. The icing on the cake? They have a "social media hotline" for on-site teams needing advice. I'm well aware that there are several companies in the multifamily industry who will build out Facebook Pages, manage content generation, and even act as the virtual voice of the property in responding to comments. But as social media newbies, that type of full-scale solution wasn't really what we were looking for: we wanted help getting started, and then wanted to roll up our sleeves and engage directly with our residents and prospects. Thanks to the For Rent team, I don't have to walk our on-site teams through the page development process, and if for some reason I'm not available to help our properties navigate through a sticky situation, they have access to a whole team of people who can help. Plus, our Marketplace ads will connect to our Facebook Pages, allowing the pages to serve as both as a marketing tool and a resident retention tool. Genius.

    Throughout the course of this whole process, I've made a few interesting observations that I thought would be worth sharing. If your company is hesitant to adopt social media (or any other new initiative, for that matter), keep these points in mind:

    It's not about you. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am a social media evangelist: I could sing the praises of Twitter and Facebook all day long. You know what? That's not a good enough reason to engage on a corporate or property level. Figure out why you need a business presence, and you have a case to be made. And no, "everyone else is doing it" doesn't cut it, nor does the fact that you think you're a social media rock star. It's been said (many times) before, but it's worth repeating: Facebook for business is vastly different than Facebook for fun.

    Creative thinking is key. So your first proposal didn't fly? Figure out why, and tailor your next try to meet those specific objections. For me, that meant holding off until we could figure out how to build Pages without pain, and to find some way to access experienced social media resources in a budget-friendly manner. There is always more than one way to get from Point A to Point B.

    Keep talking. I can't tell you how many times I've brought up social media in conversations with our regional managers, my manager, our on-site teams, vendors, and industry friends. Why? Technology is constantly changing. And until you jump in the game yourself, you never know what might be on the horizon that could influence your next step.

    Be prepared. More than a year ago, I wrote a set of social media guidelines and picked a list of "pilot properties" to test Facebook for resident retention purposes. Call me over-eager, but I had no intention of navel-gazing on this project when it was finally blessed. My thinking was: if I could come to the table prepared, the conversation would move that much more quickly. And so it has.

    Even with the resources available to us, and the work we've done to date, we're approaching social media with caution: we're starting with just two properties on Facebook. We'll gauge the response, try out some different ideas, and then determine on a property-by-property basis whether social media is a good fit for each one of our communities. I don't know that we'll ever tweet, or blog. But our first step is definitely a step in the right direction, and I couldn't be more excited to get started. Persistence really does pay off.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Learning to fly (solo)

    This week marks a first for us as a family: Sunday morning, my husband left for a four-day business trip...and so C and I have been flying solo all week. (In case you're wondering whether we're all a bunch of hermits, the answer is no: since C was born two years ago, we've actually had several stretches where I've been away for that length of time, but my husband's job doesn't usually require that he travel. Yes, I know I'm incredibly lucky.)

    In any case, I am happy to report that C and I are doing just fine.  However, over the course of the last four days, I've learned a couple of things that I wanted to share for working parents who are entering this unfamiliar territory.

    1. Take it easy. We (still) have baskets of clean laundry that need to be folded. Sorry, not a priority this week. (Besides, isn't that why they invented irons?) As long as everyone in the house is clean, well-fed, and well-rested, and we all get where we need to be in a quasi-timely fashion, I've made an executive decision: everything else can wait.

    2. Make it easy. C and I loaded up on yummy frozen delights from Whole Foods only hours after my husband left the house. Chaos reigns in our house during the week...and that's on a good day. For better or worse, making dinners from scratch is not in the cards most nights, and certainly not this week. Waffles for dinner? You bet.

    3. Make it fun. We've been waiting for months to introduce C to the Play-Doh Fun Factory, and on a whim, I decided to open it. I have no idea why we waited, because C loved it, and we got a good hour of fun in before lunchtime rolled around and it was time to pack up the purple "spaghetti" she'd made. I don't know many things that will entertain a two-year old for twenty minutes, never mind an hour...but believe me, I won't hesitate to let it happen again.

    4. Burn the midnight oil. True confession: I am generally one of those people who likes to take my sweet time in the morning. I don't dislike mornings, but I hate rushing in the morning. However, this week I've learned that if we are to have any hope of getting out the door before nine o'clock, and I'm the only parent in the house, I need to do everything the night before: make lunches, iron clothes...even wash my hair. (The whole washing-and-drying hair fiasco just takes too darn long before the natives get restless. Hence, I've embraced the professional ponytail this week.) This whole routine means that I've fallen into bed, exhausted and with wet hair every night this week, but the mornings are SO much easier as a result.

    5. Stay in touch. We've made a point to talk on the phone as a family every morning and every evening: C loves it, and has started to hug the phone when she knows that Daddy is calling. (The phone-hugging makes it a little hard to answer said phone, but it's very cute nonetheless.) And of course, my husband and I have made a point to check in with each other, too, with phone calls, emails and text messages. Those little check-ins have made this week fly by, actually: we got an invitation to a party, C used the potty at school (!), and he still needs to pick up his glasses from the eye doctor's.

    My husband gets home late tonight, and while I can't wait to see him, I have to say that I'm pretty darn proud of myself for managing so well this week. Parenting milestones are very exciting things...especially when you're on the other side.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    The importance of follow-up.

    My job requires that I "shop" properties on a regular basis, meaning that I walk in to a leasing office and pretend that I'm looking for a new apartment. It's a lot of fun, and incredibly educational. Depending on the day, I might be taking notes on any combination of the following:
    • Leasing office layout/decor
    • Model apartment decor
    • Apartment/community features and amenities
    • Leasing skills
    • Follow-up techniques
    Over the last few weeks, I've shopped five properties in the Greater Boston area, managed by some of the industry's most well-known companies. Though the properties ranged somewhat in age, size, and target demographics, each property is a Class A property in terms of finishes and amenities, and the location of each is stellar. (True confession: during one of my most recent tours, I was struck with a pang of envy. If I were single, ten years younger and worked in the city, I would have moved into this particular community in a heartbeat—it was just that fabulous.)

    What struck me most though, wasn't the amazing amenities, trendy model apartments, or even the friendly leasing staff at each property (all of whom, with the exception of one property, were professional to a T). Out of the five properties I shopped, only ONE followed up with me. The leasing agent at this particular property promised me that she would send me not one, but two emails that very afternoon with a summary of our conversation, and some additional information that I might find helpful. The emails were professional, cordial, and included all of the information an apartment-seeker might need to make an informed decision about next steps.  If I were actually in the market for an apartment, guess which property would have gotten me to come back and fill out an application?

    If you work as a leasing consultant (or in any type of sales role), take note: After every tour, follow up with an email, phone call, or hand-written note. It's easy, takes only a few moments, and most importantly, will set you apart from your competition.

    Many companies say that they use shops as a training tool: we do at my company, too. If that's truly the case, I find it fascinating that some of the country's best known apartment management companies don't do a better job at following up. Perhaps they think the apartment or community will sell itself? Maybe, but I know I'd certainly prefer to live somewhere that makes an effort to really understand my needs and wants, and then tell me that not only do they understand those things, but they have the best solution.

    While I won't name the leasing consultant that sent me the thank you note (or the property, or the management company that she works for), I will say that she really knocked my socks off with both the timeliness and the professionalism of her follow-up. And to all of the leasing professionals out there who understand the importance of this very small, very simple, but essential step in the sales process: bravo. You're head and shoulders above your competition, and it shows.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Five tips for (new) trainers

    This week is going to be an incredibly busy one: we have been developing a leasing training program for months, and it's finally kicking off this week. I'm especially excited for this program to launch, as training is a somewhat new responsibility for me professionally. While I've taught several marketing-related classes since joining Dolben, this is my first time developing a full-blown training program.

    Over the course of this week, we have two leasing training sessions in New England, two in the Mid-Atlantic, and a Train the Trainer class, so that our internal team can brush up on our training skills. This week's sessions will be followed up with smaller group sessions, and then with one-on-one sessions to review mystery shopping reports and hone in on any issues that might benefit from more in-depth training. We've hired an outside trainer, Heather Blume from Behind the Leasing Desk Consulting, to develop the first round of classes, and our experience so far has been great. Still, during this whole process, I have learned a few key lessons that I thought would be worth sharing with other training newbies out there:

    1. There is no such thing as over-planning, or over-communicating. In fact (not surprisingly), I've realized that the more you can address earlier on, the happier everyone is, and the less you're trying to take care of at the eleventh hour. This includes everything from travel arrangements, to technology, to snacks. Similarly, when you're planning a program that touches hundreds of people, proactive communication is absolutely essential. (On that note, I'd suggest sending out "Save The Dates" WAY in advance, even if all of the details aren't 100% concrete. I sent out a notice about four weeks out, and was instantly bombarded with questions and conflicts. If I could rewind and re-do, I'd have circulated preliminary information at least six weeks prior to the training dates.)

    2. It takes a village. Or in this case, a couple of committees, comprised of regional managers, property managers, assistant managers, and leasing consultants. Having people with different backgrounds and various areas of expertise contribute to our curriculum has been key to developing a thorough program.

    3. Ask for help. If you can get help, do it. I thank my lucky stars that I have an assistant who is, by nature, uber-organized: she researched training venues, coordinated our attendee lists, and fielded questions when I was unavailable to do so myself.

    4. Maintain your sense of humor.  There are bound to be glitches and moments of sheer frustration. Roll with it, have a good laugh, and move on.

    5. Trust. At the end of the day, I know we've done our research, and have done our very best to plan a quality program with a professional training consultant. Once Tuesday morning comes, the ball is in her court, and I need to trust that she'll put her best foot forward in helping to educate our team.

    If you have other suggestions, please share them below. And please wish Team Dolben a happy training!

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Me, middle-aged?

    A few months ago, I read in Allure that Julianne Moore thinks middle age starts at thirty-five. Since my thirty-fifth birthday is tomorrow, my jaw dropped open when I read that, as I generally think of graying Baby Boomers as being middle-aged, not active Gen Xers like myself. Interestingly, Ms. Moore's rationale as to who deserved the moniker of middle-age was to simply double one's current age:

    "I'm always shocked by people who talk about not being middle-aged," Moore tells the magazine. "I'm like, 'How old do you think you're going to live? Let's double your age and see where you get.' People are always like, 'Thirty-five is not middle-aged.' I'm like, 'Double it.'"

    Provided my good health continues, I hope to live much longer than 70 years old...but I get Ms. Moore's point. Still, I find comfort in the adage, "You're as young as you feel," since when you have a two-year old, the everyday silliness factor is upped considerably. And while there are days when I feel every second of my thirty-five years (and then some), after seeing the below, I've decided that I do not yet qualify as middle-aged. Why? I identify with exactly zero of these points. Hooray!

    So yes, I keep searching for the fountain of youth (in other words: an effective wrinkle cream). But middle-aged? Nope. Ask me again in ten years, and I'll see if I feel any differently.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Too cold to play outside? Bring on the books!

    The last few days, it has been brutally cold in New England. Today, it was -16°. No, that is not a typo: MINUS SIXTEEN. And we have about four feet of snow on the ground, with another foot or two supposedly on the way later this week. (Goody.)

    Anyway, since the weather is simply not kid-friendly (or adult friendly, for that matter), we've been finding ways to entertain C indoors. And I am beyond thrilled to say that one of her favorite things to do is to read. There are tons and tons of "best kids' books" lists out there, but since C's favorites include some classics and some newer reads, I thought it would be fun to publish my own mini-list. In no particular order, here's a short list of some of C's prime picks:

    1. The Red Lemon, by Bob Staake 
    This book is completely charming. Farmer McPhee, a lemon farmer, finds a red lemon in his orchard. Bright, colorful illustrations, and a lot of fun to read. (A side note: I read this to C's class one day, and the kids were fighting to sit on my lap. That's how good this book is, people.)

    2. Moomin's Lift-the-flap Hide and Seek, by Tove Jansson
    My parents went to Sweden this summer, and brought back this book for C. The creatures on each page have silly names (Snorkmaiden, Fillyjonk, Stinky), which just cracks her up. And there's not much that's cuter than a two-year old's belly laugh.

    3. Harry The Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
    My husband and I both remember reading this book as kids...and since it was originally published in 1956, I'd be willing to bet some good money that my parents probably read it, too. C enjoys reading it now, and maybe some day, her kids will read it as well.

    4. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive The Bus, by Mo Willems
    I love, love, LOVE this book. Mo Willems' illustrations are so fun, and require the reader to really ham it up. (They do in our house, anyway.) Wheedling, negotiating pigeon? Check. Full-on pigeon meltdown? Check. New love at the end of the story? Check. We recently received Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late as a gift, and I'm thinking that will soon be on a regular rotation, too.

    5. Potty, by Leslie Patricelli
    C is starting to show some interest in using a potty, so this book is high on our list. We have most of Leslie Patricelli's books, and all of them feature a curious little guy who only seems to wear diapers, except for when he's sleeping. C has started to "read" some of these books back to us.

    6. Ten Black Dots, by Donald Crews
    I'm convinced that this clever book has helped C learn how to count to ten. She likes to point out all of the dots (though she also sometimes thinks that they're indicative of pop-up flaps), and every time she sees a train, she yells, "Carrying freight through sun and rain!"

    7. Mother Goose (various)
    We have so many versions of Mother Goose, I feel like the old woman in the shoe...but with books, not kids. That being said, each of these books are wonderful, for different reasons: Tomie's Little Mother Goose has lots of short poems, which is helpful for squirmy toddlers/short attention spans. The Real Mother Goose has just one rhyme on each facing page, making it a quick read for bedtime, and My Very First Mother Goose has more than 100 pages: a Mother Goose anthology! I was very surprised at how many rhymes I remembered from my own childhood...and how many I'd never heard before.  

    8. Where Is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox 
    Rainbow-colored sheep dancing, singing, and being brave: what's not to love? Very sweet, easy-to-read book, with lots to look at.  

    9. Find Your ABC's, by Richard Scarry
    Another classic from my own/my husband's childhood. This is actually intended for kids a little older (4 - 8, according to Amazon), but C enjoys looking at all of the pictures and pointing out Sam and Dudley (the protagonists) on each page. She's gotten really good at finding some very obscure objects, too. 

    10. C Goes Apple Picking, by GiGi
    OK, so this book isn't available for purchase online, but I had to mention it, because C loves it, and I know I'll always treasure it, too. My mom made C a custom photo book, using photos that she took when we went apple picking together, and C asks us to read it again and again. My mom claims it was incredibly easy and fun to put together, and lots of photo-sharing companies (Snapfish, KodakGallery) offer this type of keepsake book. I'm hoping that one of these days, I'll get around to creating one myself. 

    So that's our list. It changes and grows on an almost weekly basis, of course, but if you have little kids and are looking for some new reading material, I hope this helps. Please share your favorites in the comments!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    California, here I come!

    This week, we had more than two feet of snow fall in one day. And it's snowing again this evening. I am well aware that I live in New England, where a snowy winter is de rigeur, and since it's only January, we're still at the very beginning of what's likely to be a long, cold winter. However, a ray of sunshine has entered my frozen world: I just registered for the 2011 AIM Conference, which is being held in sunny California at the beginning of May.

    I went to the AIM Conference for the first time last year, and it was excellent. Though the trip from the east coast to the west is a long one, I got so much out of the sessions and made some great contacts, too. This year's conference promises to be outstanding as well, with early agenda items including the below (as of January 15):
    • What Happened to My Leads? (Actual) Sales Phone Calls Gone Wrong
    • A New Product/Company Competition – New Companies Vie for “Best New Product or Service of the Year” judged by investors and the audience.
    • Social Shopping - Why is Groupon Worth $3 Billion? Do Peer Recommendations Matter That Much?
    I didn't have to negotiate attendance, since my company and manager are very pro-education and networking (lucky me!), but if you need some tips to persuade a "deal boy without a clue," I highly suggest watching this video, courtesy of Stephen Lefkovits, Executive Producer of AIM and principal of Joshua Tree Internet Media, LLC and Joshua Tree Consulting.

    Yep, we marketers have a pretty good sense of humor, which is one of the reasons that this conference ranks so high on my list of must attend events. If your plans take you to California, please look me up: I'll be the girl smiling blissfully in the sun, and eagerly networking with my peers. May can't come fast enough!

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Checking in, ma'am?

    As I've mentioned previously on this blog, I am a big fan of Foursquare. I even wrote a post a few months back, called "Four things I like about Foursquare," and all of what I wrote still holds true. But just recently, I ran into a thought-provoking situation that I'm willing to wager is quite common.

    For the third time, I've been ousted as the mayor of my favorite yoga studio. By the same person. Who happens to be a teacher at said yoga studio. (In fairness, she also attends classes regularly as a participant.) This woman and I jostle for the mayorship on an almost weekly basis, and we've congratulated one another online for knocking the other gal off the pedestal. Part of me loves the friendly competition, which I know is a big part of Foursquare's appeal. I also genuinely admire this yogini for being so diligent with her practice - and for remembering to check in, which I don't always do. However, part of me is a teensy bit irritated that an employee of a retail establishment is able to claim the mayorship in the first place. (I know, I sound like a whiny little kid. And for those of you who aren't on Foursquare, like my husband, you're probably rolling your eyes and saying, "Who the heck cares?" But bear with me, please.)

    I've read that employees can be "blocked" from checking in at the places where they work, but am not sure whether that practice is particularly widespread. Nor am I sure that it's entirely fair, since if employees are also customers, why shouldn't they be allowed to check in like anyone else? And if you work for a division of a company that customers don't frequent, i.e., a corporate headquarters office, do the same rules apply? In the spirit of full disclosure, that last scenario applies to me: I am the mayor of The Dolben Company, but our multifamily properties that are listed on Foursquare all have different mayors, and generally speaking, I don't check in at our properties when I do site visits.

    Rumors have been floating around indicating that Foursquare may someday allow for co/vice mayors, or different check-in categories for employees and customers, but none of that exists today. And of course, Foursquare isn't the only game in town when it comes to location-based marketing. The other platforms all have different rules and rewards, but I'm only talking about Foursquare here, since my personal experience is limited to that.

    As location-based marketing continues to become more mainstream, I'd be very curious to know your thoughts on what is considered "fair game" when it comes to check-ins. In the meantime, I am going to gather my yoga gear together in hopes of catching a midweek class...and if I'm able to claim the mayorship again, well, that's just a bonus, isn't it?

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    A few predictions for 2011.

    So, it's officially 2011. And in the spirit of the season (lists galore!), I'd like to offer three predictions for marketers, based on my own thoughts and on conversations with my peers.

    1. Location-based marketing will continue to grow in popularity. Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places: if you're not using one (or more) of these services already, I predict that my fellow marketers are going to try and tempt you to jump on board this year. Special deals and more await you. And of course, if you use Foursquare, like I do, there's the "game" aspect of this type of social networking, including some friendly competition for local mayorships.

    2. QR tags will finally take off. A way to provide information that can be easily accessed by smartphone, QR tags and Microsoft tags (see SearchEngineLand's article for more on Microsoft tags) offer customers and prospects an online experience, ranging from custom landing pages, to video, to online coupons, without having to manually navigate to a specific URL. Interestingly, Microsoft tags can be custom-branded.

    3. Ratings and reviews will become even more important, no matter what industry you're in. I work in multifamily marketing, and ApartmentRatings.com has long been the only resource for apartment-seekers to get information. The problem with ApartmentRatings is that it's incredibly biased: the ratings skew heavily toward the negative, and apartment managers have to pay to respond to any feedback that residents leave. Thankfully, Yelp and Google Place pages have started to turn the tide a bit, and it's now easier to find a more balanced opinion. In addition, industry-focused companies, such as Property Solutions (with whom my company works) now offer a variety of ways for residents and prospects to offer feedback, with the option for property managers to post those comments on our resident and prospect portals. Other companies, like RentWiki and RentMineOnline (again, my company works with both of these vendors), also allow companies to collect and share resident comments, along with widgets that can easily be incorporated into other media.

    So there are my top three predictions for the year ahead...I'll be very interested to see how things unfold. What are your predictions? Would love to hear your thoughts.