Taking a Fall Vacation? Take My Advice

Welcome Sign at a Tennessee State Park This time of year is considered off-season by the travel industry, and for many, the lure of lighter crowds makes a fall getaway very appealing. But if you’re thinking about taking a vacation in fall or spring, the travel industry’s “shoulder periods,” you should be prepared for a different experience. Here’s what I found on two recent fall getaway trips.

Crowds were lighter, but so were available services. Many destinations power down toward the end of the season (or are gearing up before summer). You might also find some experiences which happen only in this time frame, which make the trip very desirable.

Rate changes abound. Sure, you’re not paying the same rate as July or August. You might even find a bargain or two. But hundreds of destinations have fall or spring festivals of some kind. Art, craft, music, heritage, are all celebrated in these shoulder periods. These events tend to have loyal followings and nearby accommodations fill fast. Shop ahead and book ahead, unless you like sleeping in your car.

Still, there can be cost savings in an off-season vacation, according to a story in last week’s US News and World Report.

“It is important to remember that sometimes a destination’s peak season is not the best time to be there; rather, it’s the time when school is out in locations nearby and that’s why crowds arrive and prices go up.”  Said Wendy Perrin in the story, which you can read here.

A boat making its way across a lake under stormy skies Whatever the weather! Forget the lovely postcards of trees turning orange or beautiful cherry blossoms emerging after a long sleep, the weather is a crap shoot.  When you’re from Texas (like I am), it doesn’t matter where you travel, you are just never prepared for rain.  Be prepared for rain – or any weather, for that matter. This fall, a huge storm system caused a power outage at our rental unit which lasted several hours.

Bring stuff with you. Take the time to print out a map or two. During our recent getaway to the Tennessee Hills, our cell service was sporadic and we relied way too much on our mapping applications, which was a mistake.

Surrender to the middle seat or “friendship seat” as one airline calls it. There are still no empty seats on the plane. Summer season or shoulder season, it really doesnEdgar Evins State Park’t matter. the airlines are running at full capacity. Be prepared to be cozy during your flight.

In a recent story from Travel Leaders Group, it appears that travelers are embracing the off-season. 90% of the travel agencies polled said fall bookings are the same or better than 2013. Their top 5 destinations for fall – Orlando, Las Vegas, Maui, New York City and Honolulu – means that less known destinations have room for more travelers! You can read the results of that study here.

We loved our fall vacation, despite its quirks and crazy weather. My advice: It’s worth considering — just take an umbrella and have a Plan B!

Don’t Steal Stuff: Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Give Credit Where Credit is DueWe all learned the concept of giving proper credit in school. In research and composition, we called it “giving attribution.” The concept is not new and ethical communicators have always been very careful about using attribution.

The intense competition for activity on social networks, however, is making attribution a hot topic once again. The most recent “poster child” for lack of attribution involves a clever deception. A prolific Facebook user claims videos as his own, using a large FB following and advanced video capture software to re-post and re-claim videos. This story on Steamfeed explains it with a lot of images.

I won’t send you to the actual videos the story claims he has stolen, because then you’re giving more views to a piece of content with questionable credibility.

Is this obvious theft? Some say it is. At the very least, it violates the ethics of a number of organizations, and is not a good business practice — most of us would never counsel our clients to engage in this kind of behavior. It does serve as a great reminder of things that smart business owners can to do make sure that they are sharing well-sourced material.

Practice Digital Literacy

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and flow of information on social networking sites, but it’s too easy to lose track of where you are. Be digitally literate by following the guidelines in Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age. She offers three principles for examining credibility of sources:

  • Examine the source of the information
  • Examine authorship
  • Examine credibility of the information

“Our modern challenge now consists of trying to sift through the mass amount of data at our fingertips and find qualitative and credible information,” Weckerle says in the book (page 173).

Curate Carefully

As a business person, you no doubt are trying to navigate the mix of content creation and content curation, by sharing things that might interest your fans and followers or things that might align with your brand. Curating carefully includes clicking through to the original source of the material and making sure the site is legitimate and the author transparent.

Give Attribution Freely

Even if you’ve asked permission from a photographer to use a photo, or are forwarding something (like creating a Pin on Pinterest), give additional clarity to the communication with attribution in your accompanying text. Something like: “special thanks to Sue Smith for giving us permission to use this photo.” Michelle Phan, the famed YouTube makeup demonstrator, might be rethinking the concept of attribution, as she is currently being sued by a record company for use of a piece of music in one of her videos. According to the story in Media Bistro, millions of dollars are at stake.

Protect Your Assets

For media creators, it’s important to protect the assets you own. The first line of defense is to copyright your work, but that won’t keep people from using things without your permission. Many of today’s writers and artists are so willing to share their work, that they implement Creative Commons Licensing. In many cases, the person who desires to use the work need only link back to the creator when they use it. Sounds simple, right?

Not always.

Nan Palmero, a business and technology expert, has a robust Flickr site and shares hundreds of photos. He simple asks that the user link back to his website or his Flickr feed. But recently, he’s come across two sites who wouldn’t comply.

“I hate it when people and brands do this. I’m experiencing this with movoto.com right now. They keep using my photos for their “listicles” and I want them to link back but all they do is put my name on it,” says Palmero. “I don’t find that to be sufficient “payment” for using my photos. People should be compensated the way they want for their content. If the buyer feels the price is too steep, you don’t sell.”

How does he discover these violations?

“I do a Google search for my name, periodically. If I see use without a link back, I send a tweet or email asking to have it fixed. 9 out of 10 times people comply.”

Whether it’s videos, music photography or written works, everyone deserves credit for their original creations.


Was I Hacked?

My autoresponder message after I was hacked

Posts appearing today about a recent phishing scam for Google and Google Drive made me stop and remember an incident that happened to me about one year ago, which scared me enough to file a police report.

Yes, a police report. Here’s what happened.

It was a routine work day for me, which involves using dozens of websites, apps and tools, many of which require a password. I thought I was cautious about my passwords because I change them often and I don’t use the same one everywhere.

Step One: Not Paying Attention

One day, I am doing what I call “kamikaze” through my Gmail — click and delete, click and delete. Instead of deleting, I clicked on something which took me to what was obviously a scam-style website. I leave right away and think nothing of it.

Step Two: How Did That Happen?

Two days later, I am in my email again and I am asked to sign in with my password, which fails. But I hadn’t changed my password???  I reset everything and think nothing of it.

Picture of a Canoe hanging on a fenceStep Three: WTF?

Not long after, I get a longish email from someone about a wire transfer for the sale of a boat which, when I click on this link, will authorize the final transfer. I may not be paying attention some days, but I don’t own a boat.  Okay, well, I have a canoe but seriously, would you need a wire transfer to own THIS?  I do not click, but I delete.

Step Four: Oh, Crap!

Within hours, I was getting emails generated from a list of 35 people, all claiming that I sent the email and what about the boat? At least one of them was actually selling or buying a boat and demanded to know who I was and how I got his banking information.  One kept sending an email saying “Hey, Fran, I need to hear from you. Are you okay?” What sent red flag signals for me is that I could see all the addresses in the email and none of them were people I know or have ever done business with. Usually, someone hacks YOUR address book.

Step Five: Get A Hat and Dark Glasses

The author with a hat and dark glasses to hide her identitySince all these people had my email address, and like a good business person, all my contact details are in my signature line, next I started getting phone calls, including one so threatening “I’ll come down to Texas and pop you if you email me again…” that I filed a police report. I immediately put an autoresponder on my account and screened my emails extra carefully for a few days.

What Should I Have Done Differently?

I asked myself that question at the time and even asked some of my techie friends, who couldn’t figure out the source of the scam.  It was only at the “oh, Crap” stage that I reconstructed the first two steps in which I was not paying attention and moving so quickly through sites and clicks that I inadvertently went somewhere which allowed my information to be compromised somehow.

Here are some other tricks I have seen since that incident.

The display name in the email looks like someone you know, but you hover over it and it’s a horribly weird email in a domain that sounds gibberish.  I caught this one quickly when I realized the name was from a relative who I know doesn’t even own a computer.

A recommendation from something in an email:  Your friend Susie just joined The Blah Network….and you should too. This then activates an email targeting all the contacts in your email domain.  This happened to me when I wasn’t paying attention and it’s a pervasive thing that angers all your friends and certain CEOs who might have been your boss at one time and are still in your address book.

What Should You Do?

I don’t even know if you should call it hacked, but somebody was acting in my name. The whole thing was scary and frustrating. I wish I could say I have a complete laundry list of things I do differently. But I don’t. I do, however, PAY ATTENTION. And maybe you will too.

Remembering How ‘Miracle On the Hudson’ Changed Breaking News

Five years ago today, I watched — along with millions of others — the news story unfold about the “Miracle on the Hudson.”  Within hours, we knew what that phrase meant and learned a new name: Captain “Sully” Sullenberger.

It’s a miracle that the plane landed safely.

It’s a miracle that the Captain KNEW how to land the plane safely.

It’s a miracle that everyone walked away alive from that disaster.

These three facts alone are a good enough reason to celebrate five years later.

I will remember it for other reasons.

The reason I will remember this event is for validation.  When this event happened, I was the communications director for SeaWorld San Antonio. We had embarked on an ambitious social media experiment which was not YET widely accepted. We were in the process of something crazy: launch a corporate blog, allow our employees to use Facebook and Twitter at work and take off the corporate gloves to allow certain, “highly trained” employees the ability to speak on our behalf.  Like many companies in 2009, we were trying to figure out the “ifs” and “whens” of these new channels.

I showed that first photo  from Twitter of the plane in the water and all the commuter boats rushing toward it, and I made huge predictions to the assembled team about how breaking news in the future will be shared on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

Not that it was an original thought — many others were saying this, too, including Robert Scoble, Shel Israel and David Meerman Scott, among others.

I’m pretty sure only a small percentage believed me that day, but since the Miracle on the Hudson photos and story emerged from New York City in 2009, countless news stories have reached us first on social media channels, and second in traditional media channels.

Now, this story is part of my New Media curriculum in the Introduction to Mass Media class.  The average age of the students is 19, so most of them don’t remember this event, much less its effect on mass media today.  We take for granted that we will get breaking news on Twitter and Facebook, something we didn’t believe would happen just five years ago. But it did and we’ve got the photos to prove it.

Relationships that Sing!

the cello section of the symphony orchestra gathered around a cello.

The cello section during the Christmas at Belmont taping

Three weeks ago, we were treated to an amazing opportunity to see –and hear — the Christmas at Belmont television taping which will air nationally on pbs stations throughout the country this week and next week.  The event was held at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville and has been part of a partnership with Nashville public television for more than a decade.

If you’ve never been to a live television taping, they are great fun in many ways. There are many stops and starts to the flow of the performance for adjusting microphones and lights and the production team takes great pains to make sure every shot is just right.  Even though it is “live,” numerous elements happen afterwards in what is called the “post” — the post production or editing phase of the final product.

The real reason we were there was to enjoy the contributions of our son, who is a music student at Belmont University, and was part of the event.  But I got to thinking during one of the breaks about the powerful relationship between these two organizations —  Nashville Public Television and Belmont University – and how rare it is to keep a program going and thrive in today’s business environment.

It’s unexpected for two organizations to come together for mutual benefit and create a product time and time again.  It takes a lot of money.  One hour television specials are not cheap.  It takes a lot of passion.  700 music students, dozens of faculty, instruments, music and time to be performance-ready.  But more than anything else, it takes really solid relationships.

This is the rare commodity in businesses today.  It is easier to cast aside and find a new player or partner than it is to stick with and nurture the relationships you have.  As PR professionals, we need to value and celebrate those relationships in our own organizations.

At this time of year, when we express our thanks to clients, partners and colleagues with cards and event gifts, it is equally important to take a moment and reflect on those relationships which advance our organization.  The ones worth sticking around for ten years or more.

If you’ve stuck with me this long in the post, then you won’t mind some shameless self promotion in this call to action.  Check your local PBS station to see when the latest production of Christmas at Belmont airs next week for the holiday season.  Of course, I’d be happy to point out my son, but take a moment and think about what it took to put the production together.  Then think about what you’ll do to advance your relationships in the coming year.

Merry Christmas.

Click here to see the You Tube Promo for Christmas at Belmont.

How PR Pros Can Use ‘The Invisible Sale’

Book image

This week I read a new book called The Invisible Sale by Tom Martin, founder of Converse Digital and a longtime advertising agency professional. I first heard Tom speak earlier this year at the Solo PR Pro Summit in Atlanta, in which he talked about Painless Prospecting.  That presentation became part of his new book. Despite its name, I highly recommend that PR Pros read this book.

What is the focus of The Invisible Sale?

This book focuses on using your website in a more meaningful way to empower the “self-educating buyer” with helpful information, in the form of blog posts, white papers and videos, to name a fe. Over time, The Invisible Sale advocates building a digital powerhouse to prospect and qualify leads and clients. Tom has figured out a system for doing all of this while running his own agency.  He has used it for himself and for his clients.

I strongly believe it should be on the bookshelf of every public relations pro. It will change how you think about marketing your own business. It will change how you counsel your clients. Here’s why I liked this book.

Uniting Online Selling and Social Media

First of all, The Invisible Sale takes two disciplines within marketing — online selling and social media, and unites them into the useful compatible tools that they should be.  When I work with clients to develop social strategies, they always want to know if their efforts are paying off.  They want to know how this investment in time, money and resources will actually help their business.  Far too many digital strategists will say “don’t ask questions, just get in the game.”  Now, with Tom’s book, you have a blueprint for uniting and tracking these two disciplines together.

 Telling, Not Selling

The second thing I liked about Tom’s book is he talks about helping instead of selling.  This spirit of generosity –giving away what you know — is what attracted me to network in the digital world back when HARO was a daily email to a couple of hundred people and Twitter was where you could talk about issues, trends and new things. It is the main premise on which the Rackspace social media customer service team got its start under the leadership of Rob LeGesse. Now that there are millions more people “marketing” in the space, the spirit of generosity is often lost.   Tom pulls us back there.

It’s STILL About Your Network

The third thing about Tom’s book which I found most valuable is that he emphasizes over and over again this very salient point:  it’s about building a network.  Tom doesn’t suggest that you abandon traditional methods of developing new clients (at least not right away!)  and this is the key takeaway for public relations pros.  Tom advocates developing volumes of content for current and potential future customers with each piece targeted to their needs.

Why PR Pros Should Understand this Book

Here’s the real opportunity for PR pros:  we are perfectly positioned to develop this type of content. Many of us are the “writers” in an organization so turning the raw materials of our intellectual property into helpful materials is what we thrive on. If you are a solo PR Pro or part of an agency, you should be asking yourself:  What have we done for our clients that WE or THEY could benefit from? And then get to work using Tom’s system to build your business.

Tom’s got the business track record to back up everything in his book:  his Converse Digital firm has experienced double digit growth year over year during the worst recession of our time.  Need I say more?

Reflections on SeaWorld’s 25th Anniversary

Some memories from SEaWorld including a photo, an award and name tags. It passed by with little fanfare earlier this summer, but SeaWorld San Antonio is 25 years old. This is an important milestone for our city, our region, and one that is important to me personally.

This largest of the SeaWorld parks opened in April 1988 in what was then considered a remote part of San Antonio.  I was part of the opening team to market the park, arriving in San Antonio 7 months earlier.

It would be easy to talk about how SeaWorld San Antonio changed the physical layout of the northwest corridor where it was built.  Even simpler (and more amazing!) would be to examine its economic impact in our region and on the city’s tourism efforts. Or how thousands of high school and college students called SeaWorld their “first job.”

But I will leave that to others to examine.  What I want to celebrate after 25 years is the effect that the place, the project and the people had on my life and on my career.

There’s something about this place – San Antonio – that is hard to explain.  Living in San Antonio opened my eyes to a radically different culture from my Cleveland upbringing. I knew nothing about Mexico, or the history of the region, much less the rich fabric of the Hispanic heritage here.  It drew me back to SeaWorld in 2002 as the Communications Director 10 years after I left the company to start a family and live overseas.

The enormity of the project—building the world’s largest marine life park—did not impress me until much later. We had a big job ahead of us: get the park open by April 15. We did whatever was necessary to make that happen. We traveled, presenting shows in dozens of cities across the U.S. plus Mexico and Canada. We hosted writers, business leaders and anyone who would listen to “park tours” from the vantage point of the Garden of Flags.  While that’s natural for a marketing team, we also planted flower beds, raked, picked rocks and laid sod during the two weekends preceding opening because there were not enough hours in the day to get it all done.

While the impact of San Antonio and the size of the project made a mark on my career, it’s the people I met and the leaders from whom I learned that made the experience a defining point in my career.

At this point in my post, I should start naming names, but if I did that, I would most certainly forget someone who made an extraordinary impact on me over the 15 years I worked for SeaWorld. There is no company I know with stronger leadership, singular direction and focused passion like that of my colleagues at SeaWorld.

Now, as a solo public relations pro, I frequently find something that I experienced during my SeaWorld career which applies to a completely different industry or situation.

While the exact moment of SeaWorld’s twenty-fifth anniversary may have passed, my gratitude is enduring.  I hope I get invited to the park in 2038 to celebrate fifty years.

Speaking Out – For the Very First Time

Are you Speaking Out for the Very First Time?

Are you Speaking Out for the Very First Time?

If you watch television news, you probably hear this phrase at least once or twice a week. It’s used frequently by news anchors or television hosts in the introduction to an interview. It’s another annoying media trend I wish would stop and here’s why.

Several weeks ago it was used on NBC’s Today Show to introduce a new voice, or thread, in a national news story. The way in which anchors do this implies that we have been waiting to hear from Person X for a very long time, so that what they have to say is very, very important. In this case, it was just one more person or angle in an overly examined topic and no new information was conveyed.

Last week, my local news used the same phrase. The problem is that the “victim” was speaking out about a crime that happened the day before, so the phrase “speaking out for the very first time” portrayed the victim as if they had long been a hold-out, loathe to tell their story in the public spotlight. But it’s really just a way to grab your attention back to yesterday’s story.

I am no grammarian but the way this phrase is used over and over in television bothers me. Have we really been waiting to hear these people? Or are the news media trying to extend the value of a story that has little value by making us believe we have been waiting for this particular point of view?

How many times have you turned to the news media to add a long-awaited point of view to a news mystery? I can think of only one in my entire lifetime.

Deep Throat. The Watergate scandal informant who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the trails which led to the undoing of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Deep Throat was featured in the book, All the President’s Men, followed by the movie of the same name a year later. Deep Throat’s identity was a long-held secret and we really did want to hear who he was and what he would say if he was “speaking out for the very first time.”

He finally did – in 2005, thirty years later. You can read about it here, on the Washington Post website.

That’s what I call “speaking out for the very first time.”

What media catchphrase bothers you?

Myths about Digital Natives-On My Mind

Blogging discussion in class on the Day of Archaeology
I hear it at least once a week.  A grandiose statement about how savvy twenty-somethings are and that they are the experts in exploring and using technology. I interact with that generation every week at the college level, and see a different type of native. In the past two years, I have had students who:

  • Did not know how to upload a document into an online dropbox;
  • Have never read a blog
  • Have only used Facebook, Reddit and YouTube
  • Are afraid to use an online learning system or take an online class

I don’t want to make a similar grandiose statement to say that all twenty-somethings are digitally averse, but it’s clear to me that we should not make assumptions either way and use every opportunity to share the rush that comes from learning something new in the digital universe.

Conversely, my students have also taught me about what’s important to them in their digital lives.

This has broad implications for school systems, for employers AND for students.  It’s not about your age. It’s not about whether you are a Boomer or Gen whatever, it’s about teaching the next generation to learn by exploring.

Photo by Anthro 136k on Flickr. Published under Creative Commons license.

Consider the Source

Microphones in a RowA disturbing media trend emerging the past few years really came to light for me last week while scanning the morning news programs: media interviewing other media. I’ve noticed it on two occasions: celebrity news and breaking news.  Here are two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Celebrity News

Celebrity A is divorcing Celebrity B.

The news coverage includes B roll of celebrity A emerging from a night club and Celebrity B leaving a hotel or restaurant.  The story also includes file footage of the couple – together—in happier times as well as clips from their last hit record, blockbuster movie or product release. But what the news team really wants is the celebrities talking about the break-up, which celebrities almost NEVER do. Not if they have a good PR team and legal team.  So, when the editor is screaming, “Get me someone, anyone, who can talk about the divorce” what’s a reporter to do? Call in the editor of a celebrity magazine who may have the inside scoop on how the relationship unraveled.

Scenario 2: Breaking News

Tragedy Strikes and All Hands Are On Deck

A horrible tragedy occurs and news organizations are interrupting regular programs to cover it. Every news organization wants to offer in-depth coverage by going beyond the basics of what just happened. So they start to develop sidebar stories to fill in the time already allotted to enhanced news coverage while they are waiting for a development, press conference or official information.  They might develop profiles on people, location or work the angle on the economic impact.  This buys them time and makes it appear as if they are advancing the story.  Another solution is to compare and contrast this tragedy to others.

Why Do the Media Do This?

First, it’s a question of access. There are only so many good spokespersons to go around, so if another network or newspaper gets hold of them first, you are stuck.

A second issue is expertise. There are fewer beat reporters on the job today and general assignment reporters have less in-depth knowledge to cover a story beyond the basics.

The last issue is vanity.  It’s pretty easy to fill time by calling your friend who edits the celebrity publication and get them to agree to an interview.

Why This Practice Should Stop

Media outlets using this practice are highlighting sources and information that should serve as background. The celebrity publication editor and industry watcher are being elevated to primary sources of information, which they are not.  Viewers are seduced into thinking the source is important because they have a slot on national television.

So the next time you’re watching the morning news, pay attention to who is being interviewed and consider the source. It may not be as credible as it seems.

That’s what’s on my mind today.