Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Care for a cupcake?

Months ago I attended a Foundation for International Understanding through Students event through the University of Washington. I met a very kind Armenian man who is studying public affairs on a special fellowship.

The man, his wife, and their two children have been in Washington now for nearly a year and this past weekend Dominic and I felt it was high time we show them a little American hospitality. After all the extreme generosity we were shown in Armenia for two years, it seemed like the least we could do to treat the family to a picnic on Alki beach.

The logistics of our American day hindered my enthusiasm as I racked my brain to figure out how I would conjure up a car seat and what we could cook for the Armenians. Fortunately, one of my part time jobs involves caring for 9-12 toddlers at a mom's group in Ballard. The reality of the situation, however, was that we had too many adults and not enough seats in Dominic's two-door Honda. For nearly an hour we went back and forth on what we could make to show the true style of an outdoor lunch and yet not expose our inexperience in the kitchen. Sandwiches--too many options, potato salad--too many steps, fruit skewers--might spoil. Finally, we settled on pigs in a blanket, fresh fruit, chips & salsa, root beer, and cupcakes to compliment the Armenian fried chicken, matsoon, salads and homemade bread. It was quite a spread.

Dominic and I have been huge funfetti advocates for awhile, and made some beautiful spring-like cupcakes for the day. The prized dessert was a huge source of pride and accomplishment. I know, they come out of a box. They were festive.

In an effort to address the car arrangement, I volunteered one of my friends and I to sacrifice the car-ride for the Seattle Metro. The route was easy and I assumed that if I left early we'd arrive in enough time to scope out a table and playing area for the kids. Uncovered cupcake trays in hand, we set out on what I assumed would be a half hour trip.

On the way to the bus, we passed a woman asking for money. Neither of us had much, but I thought it would be harmless to offer her one of our dozen springtime cupcakes. She thankfully accepted. We joked that we were never going to make it to the beach with enough cupcakes to serve as we walked to the bus stop.

As it turns out, the number 15 bus does not always turn into the number 56 bus. This bizzare system had us stumped but we were cold and anxious and got on anway with the hope of finding a different route in downtown Seattle.

Inside the crowded bus we ended up hovering in the aisle trying to balance our weight to preserve the dessert trays. When one man complimented our colorful cakes I quickly offered one out of appreciation. What was one more right?

We arrived on 1st Avenue right by Pike Place Market. This street is a high traffic area in downtown and we certainly stood out. Much to our dismay, we realized that the 56 only comes once an hour and it is the only route that runs to Alki Beach. With a 40 minute wait and 10 cupcakes left, Jessy suggested we go in to a tea store that offers free tea tasting. I've become quite the tea connoisseur since moving to the "land of cafes" six months ago, and I gladly accepted the offer to sit down for awhile.

We placed our trays on the counter and as we sipped blueberry red tea we chatted with the waitress. She was kind and very generous (giving us each a sample of the natural sweetener Stevia to try) so we gave her one of our cupcakes in return. These little things were turning into quite the crowd pleaser!

Upon leaving the cafe, we walked back to the stop and I counted our cupcakes. I knew we needed at least 7 to feed all of our picnic attendees and by this time I was down to 9. I thought that surely we could make it, until a bus (not the 56) pulled up to our stop. A guy ran to catch it, but upon seeing our colorful treats he stopped at the door and asked if they were free. "Of course they are," I replied. "Help yourself." He took one right on that bus! I was worried about the no-food-on-the-Metro policy so I turned my head to see the driver's reaction and sure enough he was motioning to me. I expected to be reprimanded for passing out food to Metro riders, so imagine my shock when he asked for one too! He delicately placed cupcake number 8 in an old coffee cup and drove off.

Uh oh. Now here I was, an hour late to the party and with almost half of my cupcake contribution missing. Poor Jessy was hungry by this point, and it seemed crazy to carry two cupcake trays for just seven cupcakes so she indulged right there. Fortunately, this freed up the empty tray to use as a cover/shield from all the potential cupcake requests between Union Street and Alki Beach.

When we finally got to the beach we were able to serve up a beautiful lunch full of delicious food, soccer, Frisbee and conversation. The kids didn't take to the cupcakes, but we truly impressed my friend's wife, who enjoyed two! Dominic won over the kids with his pigs in a blanket and Jessy cut a beautiful pineapple Cambodia-style. It was a nice day.

I realize that most of my stories come from the Seattle Metro. To be honest, it's experiences like this one that remind me why I wanted to move to a city and why I'm thankful for the 'urban lifestyle'. I'm convinced that public transportation builds communities in a way no other service program can.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My new social media policy

All social networks are not created equal.

I believe Facebook is for real-life friends (who you've met), LinkedIn is for professional contacts, and Twitter is to learn from the world (as much of it as you want). Determining who your blog audience is takes a whole different set of priorities. This blog, for instance, seeks to address family members and potential employers under the umbrella that life is full of learning experiences.

I created my Facebook profile in 2005. Back then, you checked each of your friend's pages individually on a daily basis to see if they had uploaded pictures. You viewed your own profile to see if anyone had written a comment on your wall. Life was simple.

After graduation, I said goodbye to Facebook. I naively assumed that the platform was for college kids who wanted to chat with one another with the world watching. Since I was all grown up, I decided it was time for a LinkedIn profile. On LinkedIn, I could stay in touch with my professors, mentors and employers.

Then I left the country for two years.

Much to my surprise, America greeted me in 2008 with people all a-twitter over microblogging. Even more shocking was the fact that my friend's parents were inviting me to be their Facebook friends.

Wait. What did professional adults have to do with Facebook? Afterall, the last Facebook group I joined in school was based on how many Chipotle burritos I could eat in one sitting. Facebook reminded me of my friend's birthdays, promoted my favorite movies, and hosted last weekend's photos in creatively titled albums.

Today, I think Facebook is out of control. I have invitations to: receive 'flair', find my look-alike, and create a pet society. Sure, there are invitations to support causes, but they're lost in all the ridiculous applications and clutter fed into my homepage.

Last week I thought about establishing my own befriending policy on Facebook. I think that a week is an appropriate amount of time to worry about a social media identity. That policy is at the begining of this post. I'm sorry if you met me at a PRSA networking event and want to see my photos from childhood. You belong in my LinkedIn network. I'm sorry if you were my friend at Thomas Worthington and we haven't seen one another in a professional setting in 5 years. You belong on Facebook.

There will come a day when all these networks will figure out how to play nicely with one another. Until then, lets chat on Twitter.

Friday, March 13, 2009

After the event: Root causes of health disparities

Gilda's Club Seattle hosted Dr. Maxine Hayes, the state health officer, last night for a lecture on the root causes of health disparities in society.

This lecture was the third session in a four-part series based on the Unnatural Causes documentary.

Dr. Hayes was a fascinating speaker who actually published an article in the Buffalo Physician about today's health buzz back in 1971. She realized back then that people weren't dying for medical reasons, they were dying of poverty. She described a program where she took government funding to plant gardens-not write prescriptions.

"Medicine contributes the least to health," Dr. Hayes said. Fifty one percent of what influences our health is healthy behavior (environment is 22 percent and genetic makeup is 17 percent). Interestingly, health care only has a 10 percent influence rate. McGinnis, et.al, 2002

For the past 50 years, our health policies have focused on: 1. Health behaviors & personal risk factors, and 2. access to health services. Today, however, people are noticing other influences: Institutional biases, stress, environmental risk, language, education, mental health & social support, economic opportunity & equity, and trust in the health system and research. These are called social determinants of health.

"Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger," Dr. Hayes said.

We can't blame poor health on lack of health care. There must not be a change in health care policy, there needs to be a change in health policy.

"The choices people make are based on the choices people have," Dr. Hayes argues. If people can't walk on safe streets will they exercise? If people are surrounded by fast food restaurants will they eat a variety of fresh foods?

I must admit, I left last night's lecture feeling rather helpless in addressing this issue. Dr. Hayes works on a policy level with people like Ron Sims. After two years in the Peace Corps I want to know what I can do on a community level. Isn't there a need for a brochure or Web site? Perhaps a group or committee?

If you knew that you could change the health of this nation by improving an urban planning or zoning policy, what would you change?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

After the event: IABC Seattle Social Media Seminar

Chris Brogan doesn't scare us with tips about how to implement social media strategy because he's a really nice guy.

As an associate working on behalf of Shiftpoint Strategies today, I had the opportunity to attend the International Association of Business Communicators social media seminar "Harnessing the Power of Web 2.0".

It was my job to help with set up, Tweet, and interview speakers and organizers from the event. I I went into the day intimidated by some of the blog personalities and Twitter presences I'd be interviewing, but as it turns out, the real people behind @shellyshelly (Shelly Farnham, PhD), @Tosolini (Paolo Tosolini) and @Chrisbrogan (Chris Brogan) are very real and very helpful. After all, they're in the business of network building, information exchange and relationship development too right?

What do I take away from the event beyond the social media tactics? How fun these people are! Chris Brogan and I talked about our favorite movies (his: Fight Club, mine: Life is Beautiful); Paolo Tosolini shared how he gets excited when he can blog about Italy and travel. I guess what it comes down to is that online tools can only take you so far--people need personal interaction. Dr. Shelly Farnham, a luncheon panelist, referred to this as neighboring. Neighboring is to what extent we go to one another's homes. It's what real people do.

I won't recap the whole event because you can watch it for yourself here, but if you're in Seattle I will encourage you to check out Biznik, a social networking site similar to LinkedIn. If you're like me (a freelance professional or small business owner), Biznik provides you with a place to network both online and in person through local events. The site's co-founder, Lara Eve Feltin, spoke to the value of connecting. My favorite quote was: "Collaboration beats competition." She proved this truth by citing the fact that professionals joining Biznik jumped from 40/month in 2008 to 100/month in January and February 2009. In a rough economy people rely on their network and the more widely accepted social media becomes the more people will turn to platforms like Biznik.

Me with social media experts: Dr. Shelly Farnham (social media consultant), Lara Feltin & Dan McComb (Biznik founders), Chris Brogan (president, new Media Marketing Labs)

Look at how excited Brian Westbrook (@bmw) is to show off this new flip stand to Paolo Tosolini (@Tosolini)--they're just people who have fun with technology!

Thank you, IABC Seattle, The Adobe Group, Watchdog Graphics Production, Shiftpoint and Digital Marketing. This was a fantastic event!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

After the event: BusinessWire gets back to the basics

A lunch panel discussion, "From the News Cycle to Spin Cycle: What I learned working both sides of the pitch", reminded about 40 PR professionals in Seattle today how to relate to journalists and pitch our client/company stories.

Chris Elliott
, David Postman and Marty McOmber-all former journalists- spoke to both new and experienced PR professionals about the dos and don'ts of making a successful pitch.

The meeting was a helpful reminder that we should always know with whom we're speaking. It was good to hear that PR professionals should be aware of how a day works for reporters in print and television media, that we should serve as a trustworthy resource, and that we should make our subject line and first sentences captivating. All this information, however, we learned in PR 101.

I was most interested when panelists provided specific examples of relationship building that they respected. David Postman, for example, shared that he was much more willing to read an e-mail that acknowledged a recent piece he'd written followed by some type of resource or valuable information than he was to open an impersonal e-mail blast. His example described the pay it forward concept, the moderator called it "making deposits in the bank of goodwill", but the truth is that it's all about relationship building.

The panelists introduced us to The Poynter Institute, taught us how reporters respond to media kits and print releases, reminded us that not all journalists are created equal, and even addressed the current unanswerable question: "Broadcast follows print-if print goes away, who leads?" [Mr. Postman said, "Everyone."]

Although journalism is in transition now, I was thankful for the new perspectives and timeless PR fundamentals that BuisnessWire's event reinforced today.