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The Whole 9
Creative Photography Circle
Tracy (or Trace, as friends call her) Larrua lives and works between Hawaii and L.A. A seasoned pr/marcom specialist who has worked primarily in the hospitality and entertainment industries, she enjoys teaching her “Get The Word Out” pr workshops and volunteering her time with non-profits. When not glued to her sassy MacBook, you can find her relaxing at the beach, enjoying live theatre, or at a BBQ with friends.
September 11th, in my opinion, is one of the saddest days in our country’s history. The day was a complete blur to me. I recall an early morning phone call by a neighbor who frantically said, “Turn on the TV!!!” I turned the TV on and couldn’t comprehend what I was watching. My neighbor and I sat there, mouths open, not knowing the how, the why. What was interesting to watch though and from a pr point of view, was the composure of the newscasters. I remember watching Matt Lauer trying to deliver the news, while receiving the live feed in his earpiece, all while trying not to lose it himself. He after all, is only human.
There were hundreds of reporters running amid the chaos, trying to gather only the facts, and then doing their best to deliver the news in the most respectful fashion. This was the ultimate in crisis communication. Although the events of 9-11 were the most extreme type of case, having an idea of what to do in the case of an emergency for your client or company is ultra important. Unfortunately, crisis communications is one part of the pr spectrum that is not practiced enough. Let’s face it. Most pr folks typically think that this type of training is boring and probably think to themselves, “Nah, that’ll never happen to me.” I know that I initially thought that myself. But what if you are faced with a real life emergency? Are you ready to handle it?
I remember being part of a very upscale hotel company many years ago that made sure all of its pr directors were well trained in the case of an emergency. A crisis communication company (yes, these actually exist) arrived with video cameras and several test case scenarios outlining a variety of emergency situations. These test cases covered a variety of scenarios including a weather scenario, a rape scenario, and a fire scenario. The goal was to review each test case, prepare a statement within minutes, and then get videotaped with the response. Turns out, during a major crisis, your brain is not always ready to say the right thing and you can easily end up making things worse instead of better.
Let’s face it. Many of us will never have to worry about a crisis communication situation as massive as 9-11, but in the case something does happen to your client or your company, are you prepared? Is a spokesperson designated? Do you have a well thought out statement? Do you know how to speak to a reporter? Are you comfortable in front of a TV camera and mic? Tone of voice, body language… its all important. Its better to be prepared than not, so take it from me. On a day (or night when you’ve seen the same Saturday Night Live rerun more than once), do yourself a favor. Take a moment and do a little research and think about doing some training in this area. Every bit of knowledge helps and it could end up saving you one day.
In a time when some feel there isn’t too much to be thankful for with environmental issues, the recession, and lay off’s, I still feel very lucky to have the kind of life that I have. It is so easy to go down that spiral, become a victim and whine. These days, it seems like the older I get, the more appreciative I am of everything… and mostly, the little things. For example, I am ever so grateful for my family, my friends who have become my family, for a roof over my head, for healthy food, for the lovely clean air that I breathe, for the love of a man who actually “gets me,” and for the opportunities I continue to receive for creative work. In the same breathe, I am also thankful for other stuff like the writers of Modern Family and 30 Rock, for the person who created Almond Milk, and the simplicity of Tom’s Shoes.
Ever since I became a part of The Whole 9 a few years ago, I have been thankful to be given the opportunity to write and voice an opinion, as well as to share some sage thoughts on a career in communications with others, in hopes that it can help someone else’s path be a little easier to tread. As well, I have been so fortunate to learn by others involved in this wonderful little Whole 9 world. I can go on and on, but since everyone already seems to be running around prepping for the holidays, I just wanted to keep this particular blog brief.
Before I leave cyber space, I wanted to thank the gang at The Whole 9 for ALL that you do. You know who you are. You’ve created a community of forward thinkers and I am so proud to be a small part of it. I look forward to more!
Happy Thanksgiving all;) What are you thankful for?
As a publicist, I’ve pitched to “the other side” my entire life. You know, journalists and the like, persuading them to cover stories from concerts to food, art to fashion, tourism to non-profits, and everything in between. Sometimes during the process you get to know the journalist a bit more than just their name, title, email address, and beat. Sometimes you become friendly. And sometimes you really hit it off and become (aghast!) friends. For example, one day the editor of a fashion magazine came into the hotel that I was representing at the time. She explained to me how they lost a location at the very last minute for a story and photo shoot, and how they needed help with a new location asap because of course, they were on deadline. Long story short, I helped them out in a jam and not only did the property receive some great coverage as well, but I’ve been friends with this person ever since (the editor was Alexandra Kotur of Vogue and the story was on then unknown female boxer, Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali). This was one of the first times that it hit me. You know, the realization that this person, this editor, is just like me and just trying to get her job done. This person just happens to work on the other side of the fence. The experience of that shifted me into viewing the way I see people, especially the scores of media that I work with on a daily basis, in a different light.
Fast forward to June/July/August 2010 and my most recent example of that? The annual Gridiron fundraiser in Honolulu which is put on by SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) which gives scholarships to those youngin’s looking to get a start in the industry. [A note to all my male friends: No... this has nothing to do with football.] Anyway, this satire, which has been referred to as a Hawaiian version of Saturday Night Live, has been proudly presented for hundreds of years (ok, I’m exaggerating) and features some of Hawaii’s finest media darlings in print, broadcast, online, etc. (plus some ringers) who bring their acting, singing, and dancing talents to the stage. I mean, Gridiron pokes fun at everything including politicians and anyone or anything that has been covered by the news media. In all my years living in Hawaii prior to my living in Los Angeles, I had never seen a Gridiron. Why? That’s because it was always sold out or I was out of town. This year, I fought back my fear and became (gulp!) an actual participant in Gridiron 2010’s “There’s No Business Like NO Business.” Yep! Yours truly sang, danced, wore wigs (and ok, a mustache), proudly donned drag queen-esque stage make-up, and made merry alongside a bunch of other colleagues, all for a good cause. We even sold out all four shows at a major theatre venue!
What I learned: Not only was this experience an amazing creative outlet for me (I hadn’t done anything like that in about 12 years or so) but I met and re-met some wonderful and talented people who were at times only considered my colleagues, but who are now… my friends. I am not only amazed by the skills that many of these individuals bring to the public in their professional lives, but also by the unknown skills that the public don’t get to see at all such as their comedic writing, strong vocals, and crazy-ass dance ability. That’s right. I said crazy-ass. Who knew? So, I will end with this. You can be friends with those from “the other side.” I only wish I did it sooner. Now I find myself missing the nightly and weekend rehearsals, the easy-going camaraderie, and the daily texts from the stage manager asking “Are you en route?”
Hana Hou Gridiron Show! And, thanks for the memories;) I’m already working on a little skit sung to the tune of “Surrey With The Fringe On The Top” from “Oklahoma.”
There was a time in my pr and marketing career when I began writing more than what was expected of me or of my current job description. At first, my initial thought was typical of someone that age who just wanted to do the deal, and get to the bar after work to meet up with her other pals. I thought, “Great! Just mooooore work to add on to my already seemingly full plate.”
During that time, I was with a pr/ad agency that specialized in the real estate market. One of my jobs was to write about these 50,000 square foot industrial commercial spaces and make it sound… sexy. Were they kidding? How do I do that? Seriously folks, that was challenging for me because up to that point, I thought you could only write about what you experienced first hand. And, I believed that you could only really write about something if you truly believed in it i.e. the product, the service, the etc. I struggled. I’m not gonna lie. There were times I’d sit in front of my computer and hit keys aimlessly until I formed words.
Eventually (and thanks be to god and whatever other gods were watching over me), I got over my fear and began really digging in and actually found the writing experience… fun. Fast forward now, and I really am thankful and appreciative of that time in my life. Why? Well, it forced me to spread my writing wings beyond headlines for ads, or the copy box for some brochure, or the beloved invitation paragraph for a special event. I soon began to realize that you didn’t necessarily have to believe in what you’re writing about, but you needed to have an interest in the info and find an angle in the story that would make others want to read it. I mean, you’re eventually going to share this story with others and bring them on a ride of sorts through your words, no? Obviously writing about a subject that you actually have a real passion for is awesome- but, those assignments don’t come around very often. But when they do, that is one of the best parts about having a gig like mine.
In the end, the belief system goes beyond what I’ve just penned above but also translates into believing in yourself and your god-given talents, whatever they may be. I’m not a super religious person (I was raised Catholic but am not practicing, am more spiritual now and feel like the vibe at Agape in Culver City really suits me better) but all I know is when I’ve written something good that makes me feel like I’ve just accomplished something great, I always find myself muttering “Thank you God!!!” Go figure.
First, let me start out that I held back for awhile from even penning this. But it happens too often in the realm of communications so I thought I’d bring the subject up. What am I yakking about? What can easily get my marketing blood boiling? Well, its my PR pet peeves. But hey? I thought if I shared a few of them with you all, that maybe other folks out there could relate (because you know- in the public relations industry, you relate with the public) and might have some pr pet peeves of their own that they would like to voice. So, I say we bring it out in the open. Maybe something good will come out of this.
PR pet peeve #1: Returning phone calls or emails in a timely manner (or at all).
What’s the deal with people nowadays? Is it really too hard to ask to return a phone call, or an email, in a timely and professional manner? Especially in a work or project related situation that is time sensitive? Has the recession got you down so much that you can’t even tap a few numbers out on your smart phone? I experienced that recently with a sort of famous person (through marriage) who I literally brought, on a silver platter, an amazing promotional partnership. What happened? This person never called back. This person never emailed back. I mean, you can take one minute out to say,”…Hi Tracy- I just wanted to let you know that I’m slammed but have brought this info to the board for consideration…” Instead, said person came back to me several weeks later stating that they were ready to get involved. I then informed them that it was too late, and unfortunately, the opportunity went to… their competition. You snooze? You lose.
PR pet peeve #2: Listening to your voicemail.
This one makes me nuts. You see, the reason God invented voicemail, was so that when you can’t speak to the person you are trying to reach, you then have the opportunity to leave a brief (note, brief) voicemail stating your name, phone number, and what the message is regarding. It may go something like this: ”…Hi XXXX, it’s Tracy. I’m about to step into a marketing meeting for the rest of the afternoon, but I wanted to let you know that the client is interested and would like to receive a bid from you by Monday…” That’s it. See, voicemail was made to help make people’s lives a bit more efficient. Instead, what happens is that the person who was supposed to get the message, looks down at their phone later, sees my name and that I’ve called, which then makes them just hit their re-dial button, so that they can call me back instead of listening to said instruction on voicemail, to say, “…Hi Tracy! What were you calling about?…” thus- wasting more time.
PR pet peeve #3: The miss-use of electronic gadgetry aka the cell phone.
Because our society has become so much more A.D.D. than before, and because people are on a “need-to-know-it-now!” basis, the cell phone, which was supposed to be our friend, has now kind of become… enemy #1. Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re sitting at a lunch meeting with four other colleagues. Etiquette is that you simply announce that you may have to take an important call, and when the call comes in, that you will step outside to take said call. Simple, right? Wrong. It seems that manners and basic consideration of other people’s time have gone out the window. I’ve been in meetings where every single person has their cell phone on the table, as if it has a permanent place setting next to the fork and knife. And if that’s not enough, instead of being present in the meeting, everyone is constantly looking down [note: see previous blog on "The Look Down Generation."] to make sure they aren’t missing out on anything. Here’s my rule: unless you’re wife is about to give birth, or some other similar emergency, you turn the phone off and pay attention. Period.
Ok, I shared you mine. Now share me yours;)
Because I work in the mobile way, I can pretty much create wherever and whenever. And if I land at anyone of my favorite coffee shops (or the beach) and catch a wifi signal, then it’s on! But lately as I roam about town, all I see is people looking down. Literally, looking down. Walking looking down, driving looking down, and even at lunch or dinners, looking down. One day when driving on La Cienega Blvd., one of the busiest streets in L.A., I was at a stoplight. When I looked up to observe the intersection, all I saw on all four corners was either people standing, walking, or sitting in their car, looking down- texting. Wow.
No one seems to connect these days. I am at times, guilty of that. For me, and what I do, I need to email most of the times and sometimes text. Most people I work with prefer that over to a phone conversation because the info needed to conduct business is either in the details of an email or a text such as a phone number, directions, etc. As well, many people don’t have the time or luxury of a phone call. It’s easier to write an email with “…Hey Heidi! When you get a chance, open the attachment and let me know your thoughts on the proposal and the artwork. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. The address for the meeting is…” vs. leaving a voicemail (which people often don’t check; instead they try to call you back right after you left the message, to hear what you just left on their voicemail service, without listening to the voicemail first to learn that I just walked into a meeting and can’t talk and just left them important info- a personal pet peeve of mine). Sorry. I’m old. I like to be efficient. Not redundant.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Though technology is good, it is also evil. It is that thing that can help you as well as create havoc if balance isn’t practiced. I’ve been at meetings with professionals, who in between bites of their Chicken Cobb salad and conversation will constantly look down in 15-second intervals to check on the red light notification of their cell phone. I’ll excuse it once. But on the second time, I’ll actually ask if they wouldn’t mind focusing at the task at hand as to not waste anyone’s time. Unless you are expecting an emergency phone call (or text), which by the way, should be announced at the beginning of the meeting, just wait until you’re done with the appointment and check on the way out to your car. That’s why Santa and his little technology elves created voicemail. Otherwise, skip the A.D.D. behavior of looking down and not being present, and BE present.
And that’s my holiday gift to you… the friendly reminder to strive for electronic balance in your life in 2010. Ho! Ho! Ho! Mele Kalikimaka e Hauoli Makahiki Hou;)
In the beginning, most people used the www or the World Wide Web just as a tool for research. I know that for me, as well as most of my p.r. and marketing colleagues, the web has become one of the most important tools in our arsenal. With it, I’ve been able to find everything and anything from info on my client’s competitors, to demographic and psychographic research, to the latest media updates.
Now, things have changed quite a bit. With what is going on in the world with the economy, the recession, and unfortunately, the depression, it turns out that the web is once again, coming to our aid. But this time, it is being used not just by companies but also by individuals as a way to individually brand ones self. That’s right. For instance, if you have been laid off and are looking for a job, one can no longer rely on just sending out the de rigueur resume. Instead, bold times calls for bold moves and now require that you get your info front and center, and that means online.
But before you can do that there are some things to think about. For starters, besides a professional headshot and your general info outlining your skills, you need to think about how people, especially those in the position of hiring, can actually find you. That means making sure that everything from your web address to your content is filled with words that are actually searchable. Keeping that in mind while working on your design and overall look is key. I always recommend clients to use either their name in the address or a combo with their company name in the address.
The same principle goes if you are a business trying to get, well…. more business. Again, you want to be able to have folks find you. Isn’t that the point? A good example is my friend Diana who has a wonderful skincare company. What is it called? It’s simple. Diana B. Beauty. Her website address? Easy. It’s www.dianabbeauty.com. Her company is her name and her name is her company, therefore making it easy to remember, easy to locate, and ultimately easy to purchase her products.
Overall, what you want to do is this: Make searching for you, your brand, or your business as easy and accessible as possible. Yes, you want to stand out but you don’t want to have your on-line resume or your website be so complicated that people cannot find you. I’m always a fan of the less is more theory. So when creating either your on-line resume or your company website, make sure you cover the basics before you get fancy. It’s all about the foundation of what your information stands on that counts these days.
One thing that I am a huge fan of is donating time to worthy organizations. The thing is, these days we are flooded with all kinds of organizations or non-profits or clubs or charities that could use some help. Here’s what I suggest. Find an organization you are passionate about, or a cause that you can really get behind, and give them a call. In these trying times of less is less vs. less is more, many groups I have spoken to are happy to receive just about anything. I’ve spoken with an organization that used to only collect canned goods. Now they are accepting gently worn clothing as well as toiletries. Another group I spoke to is accepting volunteers to assist with one of their many programs, as they are so short staffed. Right now, it takes a village or at least a few more extra hands.
For me, I decided it was time to lend a hand or two with assisting non-profit organizations with their pr and marketing plans. As you know, or don’t know, having someone on staff to cover the pr and marketing side is a luxury that most organizations simply cannot afford. Personally, it is nice to lend a hand to someone or a group of folks who could use some guidance in how to promote their services, or how to raise funds or how to get their name out there. For me, it is actually…. fun. And, in my particular way of helping i.e. press releases, or coming up with ideas to raise awareness, I get to share some advice and tips with those who could really use the assistance. The other thing that is great about donating some time or services is that you unknowingly make new “things” happen. New energy evolves. You make new friends, new acquaintances, and even learn about a service in the community that can really help others. By volunteering, you actually open your head and take a peek into an area that you normally don’t spend much time in, making you (hopefully) more creative in whatever it is that you do.
Whether you are a painter, sculptor, musician, writer, designer, actor or simply an arts advocate, giving back to the community in whatever part of the world you live in, is a wonderful way to receive (and I’m not talking about material things). It is a way to open up your heart and help others– just because. Now get out there and get involved. Share your talents. Your community thanks you!
I know. Pathetic right? But it recently became the subject of conversation when my friend’s laptop recently died. It was such a sad day. It made me think, “What if something were to happen to my beloved laptop?” I mean, my life is basically in that thing. I mean, her. Yea, her name is Trixie. She holds my brain (stop laughing) within her little black case which goes everywhere with me, and I do mean everywhere. As an example, I brought Trix to a few meetings with me. When they were done, I went to run a few errands. When most people will leave their laptop in their car, I do not. Trix is right there with me, in a sling bag that is snug next to my body. One pal joked with me and said, “Are you kidding? You can’t leave it in the car or the trunk?” My answer, “My entire life- ideas, writings, musings, thoughts, promo ideas, press releases, etc. is in this thing.” My pal’s answer, “Forget I ever mentioned it.”
My life-long love affair goes waaaaaay back. Remember when Apple first came out with the MAC duo-dock? Yea, most don’t. That’s how far back my laptops and I go. I mean, I’ve had desktops before and they are great if you are stationed at a desk all day. But I’m a mobile person working between two cities and my laptop needs to come with me wherever I go. Especially with what I do for a living, I need to be able to put together a press release or write a memo at a moment’s notice or jot down an event idea, from wherever I am. Inspiration and ideas do not sit and wait for you to get back to your desk or cubicle, as I have found.
Right now, I am currently dwelling with “TrixieTres” (Trixie Three in Spanish) as she represents the third laptop I’ve had the pleasure of partnering up with over the years. And, it doesn’t stop there. I am getting ready to purchase “TrixieShi” (Trixie Four in Japanese) so that I always have a sister for TrixieTres, and of course, a reliable back-up. Each of my laptops have had very special cases which showcase their own personality and have all had unique bags to live in when they are not permanently attached to my lap, or lying in bed with me, or sharing a cup of morning coffee on the outdoor patio table. To some, it may sound funny, but I had a friend who used to have her laptop sit upon a beautiful piece of red velvet fabric, treating her laptop as though it was the Queen of Sheba, before she got to work. And I get that. Why? Because that piece of technology is the roadway to expression for most of us pr folks, writers, artists, etc. To me, that laptop is an extension of me, my brain, my thoughts. It’s like an extended family member or even a pet.
“Pet Trixie.” I don’t think she’d like that name. I better keep that thought to myself.
And, by that I mean… if you only study traditional p.r., then that is the only discipline you will know. If you only study advertising, then that is the only discipline you will know. This is fresh on my mind because I just taught my first of many pr/marcom (marketing communications) workshops via The Whole 9. I’ve conducted PR 101 classes before for companies I have worked with, but never for the general public. I found it to be fun, interesting, but more so- that I was so passionate in wanting to help others, and had so much information that I wanted to share. Who knew that four hours was barely enough time?
Going back to my original thought above: Times are a changing people. That means that you have to change with it, or get stuck way in back of the line. I know, I know. Many of you will be fighting change and will be going down kicking and screaming, but if you are open to change, you will be surprised as to just how much more marketing you can do for your business, for yourself, etc. For some folks that I know who have only spent their careers building it in PR, they are now finding themselves being laid off, or worse, out of work. How could this happen? Well, easy. They were so busy doing what they were doing that they didn’t stop to look to diversify… themselves.
How to diversity in times like today? Well, its a good idea to take a class in another related marketing disciplines such as promotion, publicity, advertising, on-line marketing, etc. For example, take up photography so that you can shoot your own images if you are a jewelry designer, or read-up on new advertising trends so that you can better understand media buying in the case you wish to expand and run an ad on your upcoming art show. Start taking the time to stop by the book store and make note of all the publications you wish your business was featured in, and begin the task of building your own personal media list. The point is to not get so set in your ways of how you market yourself, and to be open to other ways of getting the word out- getting YOUR word out.
If you’re interested and would like to learn more, please sign up for the next “The PRsenal, Get The Word Out” on May 9th at The Whole 9 Gallery. It covers the basics and can get you to a better understanding of how to look at marketing yourself, your art, your business in a way that you never thought before. I look forward to seeing you soon!