A BlogHer’12 State of Mind

Before I graduated college, before I moved to California, before 9/11, I visited the Big Apple with twinkly little stars in my eyes standing so small among the smattering of skyscrapers like a forest of metal and glass.

The life that lay out before me to present day included severe road bumps, including getting thrown from my seven-year journalism career and regrouping to work another seven years in communications for elected officials.

As they say, all that’s prolog to the moment I surfaced from the subway 14 years older with a couple white hairs, a second career in politics under my belt, working a start-up pr shop with a husband of 7 years and a newborn baby in tow heading to my second BlogHer convention.

[P.S. I was born on 7/17/77. I know, creepers]

Last year, I spoke about illegal immigration as the token Republican knowing next to nothing about BlogHer. This year, I spoke about women in politics again, as the token Reep, but this time I knew all too well the exciting publishing network now as one of its syndicated contributing editor.

After running around doing some basic sightseeing around Midtown, we checked into the Shoreham Hotel with a couple hours to spare before my speaker orientation where I met the fabulous Heather Barmore, our moderator, and Councilwoman Lea Webb.

Afterward, I had an hour to burn before my next feeding with Baby Bird so I zipped through the multi-level, multi-hall expo to pick up piles of swag and meet lots of fun brands.

The next morning, I awoke with a start from the sound of my cell ringing from Nicole at genConnect confirming our interview in 5 MINUTES! Quickly, we rescheduled so I could wash the long, thrashy night beside Dagny off and collected my thoughts from my notes and soundbites scribbled down the day before.

Interview done. Just so my clients don’t think I’m always cool under pressure, I also always think afterward what I wanted to say but forgot. The white hot lights can distract you.

Thinking I would quickly jump in line for the Martha Stewart keynote was ultra silly. The estimated attendance of 4,000 actually jumped to more than 5,000 at last tally and you can tell by this room shot when she talked (rockin’ some killer orange platform wedges, I might add).

Once her chat concluded, I quickly ran back to the hotel for a little time with the fam before returning to knock out my panel.

Here’s the thing about talking politics at BlogHer… some people just don’t care.

In fact, President Obama’s opening address at BlogHer’12 wasn’t 100% adored. Standing in several lines, I heard from bloggers who felt it was overbearing to have politics thrown in their faces.

I know how much I and many in my circles eat, sleep and breath all things political, but it’s really not that interesting in the grand scheme of things for the average woman blogger.

So, I braced myself for a less than stellar attendance despite having Obama National Operation Vote Director Buffy Wicks on my panel.

So, imagine our collective relief when our little panel drew a heck of crowd asking about everything from how to handle the work-life balance to getting a campaign up and running.

You can see from the healthy Tweetstream #BH12Govt101 that we enjoyed some playful, as well as instructive discussion on the role of women in politics.

One of the remarks that struck me hard: one woman considered running for school board but feared controversial board votes would incite retaliation from teachers on her kids. Eek.

In my experience, I’ve never heard of such a thing. I recently met with a male school board candidate and all he worried about was winning.

Throughout history, women have made up just 2.2 percent of Congress – that’s House and Senate.

My takeaway: we do it to ourselves. We sit on the sidelines, we watch the men run the world while we make 80 percent of the household purchasing decisions and keep America’s families running.

In other words, we live with the decisions that impact our lives too afraid to take a stand even when it might do our kids some good. Or as my new BFF Lea said…

Despite that worrisome reoccurring theme both in my and the next day’s panel with Courtney Johnson, Romney’s Deputy Coalitions Director for Women for Romney, I walked away from the conference feeling that perhaps we inspired a few to get involved in their communities.

That night, I got to *finally* get some one-on-one time with my fellow BlogHer politicos at the chic and rather historic Flute to discuss our next big adventure at the upcoming 2012 Republican National Convention. [Stay tuned… big ideas and fun coverage on the horizon.]

Walking back to meet up with hubs who was walking the streets of Manhattan with bird, I caught a pretty mid-street shot up Times Square. So glad I finally returned to the city that never sleeps… a little older, a little wiser, a little sexier? Oh ya.

+++ Read the liveblog of our panel, “How Washington Works and How Women in the States Can Make a Difference.”

Follow me @erica_holloway.

Have Baby, Will BlogHer’12

I caught the travel bug in my late teens.

After a lifetime spent going nowhere for holidays or summer breaks, I stamped my first passport for Scotland a week after my 20th birthday and I’ve been going ever since.

I’ve traveled by plane, train and automobile across the country plus some other pretty terrific places, like England, France and Italy.

In all my travels, my parents worried about safety warnings and crime.

My mom didn’t even like my driving into my native Flint to see garage band shows and perform in theater shows. Even after someone jacked my junky ’82 Buick La Sabre, I blew off any and all concerns she and my dad would share.

“There’s bad people in the world, baby,” my dad would say.

But now, I’m packing my bags with onesies and diapers going to New York City via a red-eye tonight for BlogHer’12 with hubs and my delicate, sweet baby girl.

For the first time, I’m worried about hotel bed bugs (thanks Beth), pick pockets, poor weather and Central Park muggers. I mean, one could be lurking there right now waiting to snatch up a really cute baby.

Irrational fears aside, I’m looking forward to raising up a well-traveled kiddo. We’re even trekking out to the Bronx for a day at Yankees Stadium.

Consulting the multitudes of advice on traveling with an infant helped me prepare and I found some good tips on nursing while flying that calmed my nerves.

In fact, I did more preparing for my tiny progeny’s trip than I did considering my own wardrobe (for the first time ever).

Though, I’m far too practical to believe that I have to buy travel baby gear more expensive than the stuff I use everyday – so I’m taking what I have and hope it works out.

Once we get through security, I’ll breathe easier until I remember I’m speaking on Friday afternoon and I’m still trying to collect my thoughts.

Wish us luck!

POLL: Would you be willing to give up some freedoms for more security?

Today’s senseless shooting in Colorado that left at least 12 dead has resurrected the 2nd Amendment debate over gun control.

Some feel more could and should be done to reduce access to weapons while others feel it’s a slippery slope toward less and less freedom.

What say you?

Dobby the Wonderdog, Truck Stop Coffee and Other Roadtrip Ruminations

At about three hours into our road trip to Houston from San Diego for a week of Thanksgiving eating, I finally decided to reach down for my neglected pile of public relations trade magazines.

Somehow, I wasn’t months behind in my reading, but I don’t imagine I gave the articles nearly the same attention as I did with nothing else but endless sky to distract me.

Road trips force you to slow down your brain, think deeply about what you want and also what you don’t want (another Sonic burger…).

I read some thought-provoking pieces out loud to my patient husband on the role of CEOs and the importance of self branding. Bridging those two takes time and I realized that I do what we all probably do throughout our workdays. I grind. There’s not a lot of personal thought that goes into my work sometimes and that causes a nasty side-effect: I lose the chance to tell stories.

My clients range from politically-adjacent to completely grassroots and independent-thinking, but they all have the same two basic goals: grow membership and increase influence.

But what makes a Steve Jobs stand out with his product compared to Bill Gates and his product? In recent years, we’ve grown to like Gates but not in the way that we love Jobs. Perhaps because we saw a person in Jobs, not just a CEO, who founded a company he ended up losing to another leader for a time. He learned much and humbled himself in later years at the helm once again making light of his failure.

Gates lost our support during the monopoly scandal and then started a nonprofit with his wife to benefit public education. We like him, but we don’t love him and the brand loyalty of Microsoft certainly isn’t as rabid or personal as Apple.

Perhaps that’s why CEO blogs rose in popularity for some companies. When used properly and with a certain level of transparency, our fondness grows for their product and perhaps we’re more forgiving of mistakes.

On the second day of driving, I enjoyed some of the most delicious coffee I’ve had in a while and it wasn’t from Starbucks. In fact, I hadn’t seen a designer coffee place anywhere between San Diego and San Antonio. No, it was from a Love’s truck stop. I liked the coffee and the unpolished, but friendly service so much, I stopped there on my way back for two tank fill ups – my car and my caffeine levels.

Road signs flew past me along the desolate West Texas highway. It seemed to take forever, but time does pass and experiences collect.

How do we capitalize on making a lasting impression on just one passer through enough to love and benefit our brand for life?

I shared some of my ruminations with my brother, Jeff, who handled human relations for some 15 years at Exxon. He learned much and some the hard way about what resonates with the public for CEOs and what doesn’t. He now works in a similar capacity in foreign relations for a private oil company, but the challenges to humanize CEOs remains a challenge.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the company CEO took a back burner and became a case study of what not to do. In the end, another “face” might have been better to look at than his but he needed to step up and learn how to be his company’s brand. It’s where we public relations professionals can make such a difference  by making sure our people are prepared for the sharp fork in the road.

“What the CEOs don’t get is that they’re the company,” he said, as we watched our hometown team lose – a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition for Detroit.

When the game was truly hopeless, Jeff walked me around his ranch grounds visit with his horses, sheep and some dang noisy chickens. As we walked, some plucky dogs and sneaky cats zipped in and out of fence lines.

One dog rescued in the 11th hour was fondly named Dobby for her strange appearance of large eyes and ears similar to that of the Harry Potter character. She’s not a traditional sheep dog, but she has the love and enthusiasm for it. The sheep resist at first, but then they respond eventually and go with the program more readily than they do with the other ranch dog more suited to the work. In fact, they actually try to bite the other dog.

You could say Dobby dresses for the job she wants and my brother happily encourages her good work.

Companies aren’t much different. Some people “look” the part, others work at being the part despite rough edges. In the end, it’s the heart and passion behind the job that motivates the best results and loyalty.

With the notion of being personal on my mind, I prepared a client during a conference call for what’s to be a great opportunity for her organization and decided that her focus shouldn’t be all work and no play.

“Be personal and visionary,” I suggested, while stretching out my mom’s house phone cord to my laptop. “Tell your story about what leading this organization means to you. With all the jobs in the world, why do you love this one?”

Sounds a tad touchy-feely, doesn’t it? But think back to those narratives that tells us about the lifes-blood of people’s work.

What drove Mark Twain to write about a poor boy in the south? Why did James Watt dedicate his life to building the steam engine? How did Tom Brady forge ahead after being a bench-sitter in college to winning three Super Bowls? Can a middle-aged Julia Child just rise to French-food stardom in a freezer-dinner world?

We’re suckers for the story behind the story.

And while most CEOs struggle to seem cool, calm and collected under pressure, as my brother pointed out, sometimes the best approach is the human one.

Standing at what seemed like my 20th fast-food counter somewhere in west Arizona, I thought about the parallel to my work ethic. I’m more of a from-scratch type who bakes my proposals with personal love.

As a friend who shares my mantra says to clients: “For better or worse, you get me.”

But I’ll admit, during a hard and heavy work week, those french-fry ideas do seem better. They save time, money and lots of people think they’re just fine. Plus, just imagine how many more clients I could serve with a few fry cooks. Fresh idea require research, vetting and sometimes, a few trials before they’re just right.

Even still, visions of poulet a la creme looking, smelling and tasting good enough to make Julia warble “Bon Appetit!”danced in my head as I looked contemptuously at my final handful of fries. I dumped the remainder in the bag.

After a full week away from my desk, I’m back to work cooking up new approaches to help my clients speak their language, not a “CEO” language, but in genuine terms that are practical, ambitious and true. We should all aspire for the lasting impressions Dobby the Wonder Dog and Love’s coffee.

Be real, be yourself, do what you love and do it well. And try to stay away from French fries – figuratively and literally.

Thank You for Your Business: What Holiday Gifts Say To Clients

Thank you for your business.

Such a simple sentiment, but so necessary to business survival. So it can be especially tough to express in a holiday gift.

Last year, I showered my burgeoning client list with homemade gift baskets filled with cardamom pear jam, rosemary-garlic infused olive oil, sugar cookies, chocolate truffles and of course, champagne splits. Just delicious and beautiful.

In the end, I spent nearly as much if not more doing it myself than buying ready-made baskets. But the big difference was personal sentiment and quality control. I was rewarded with generous words of appreciation all year through plus continued business support. Well worth the effort.

This year, my client roster has grown such that a similar endeavor would eat up weeks not to mention precious billable hours better spent serving my clients.

So, as I consider some of the ways I’m going to thank my terrific clients for a great 2011, it occurs to me that each client gift needs will vary. A large gift basket for an entire office might suffice for one whereas a carefully selected book might do the trick for another.

Here’s a few goals:

1 – Make it memorable by standing out and adding even just one personal touch. Take note of little office items, such as collectibles, or even scour social media pages for hints.

2 – Select from brands or gifts that represent you and your company’s values. The products, services or endeavors you appreciate say so much about you.

3 – Don’t eat all the good stuff. Include one thoughtful gift that sticks around all year to remind the client that you appreciate their business.

Simply put: The holiday gifts doesn’t mean all candy, all the time.

You can give the gift of giving. One year, I gave a co-worker the gift of a donation to Rescue Task Force to benefit wounded troops and another, I adopted a military family in their name through Operation Homefront.

Entertainment can be a great way to thank clients with a night out, especially if they’re artistically inclined. In San Diego, the options are endless with The Old Globe Theatre, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Symphony among many others.

Books and other industry-related materials can be a great way to mix business and pleasure. In my field, there’s no limit to political and public relations- related books. If you know them well enough, make a personal selection of a book they would enjoy.

And of course, a crowd-pleaser staple – edibles. Everything from chocolate and cookies to champagne and fruit can perk up a busy office. Delight a foodie client with a gift card to their favorite eatery. For clients outside the region, share a little taste of your local favorites from a beloved winery, farm or ranch.

What’s great about your client gift selections? They’re saying something to the client about who you are – be it that you support families in need, patron the arts, know the best writers in your field or enjoy a fine wine.

Still at a loss? Give the gift of business.

Order your holiday gifts from a client or make a holiday-time referral. Nothing shows you appreciate a business like giving them a little, especially if you can cross-promote clients to each other.

After all, business is all about connections.

Gifts to avoid:

Clothes. You don’t want your client gift to end up as the Ugly Sweater of the Day.

Fruitcake, figgy pudding, mince meat pies and other traditional holiday foods. They’re an acquired tasted typically not acquired by most.

What are the best — and worst — client gifts you’ve ever sent or received?