Story Bank

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser

I will use this space to blog about work, life, hopes, creativity, and branding.

United Way of Greater Portland’s 20th Day of Caring

Posted by A. Smith on May-18-2012

I love people who experiment. So when United Way of Greater Portland’s Jessica Esch asked me if I wanted to participate in the organization’s 20th Day of Caring by mining stories, I was all for it. Neither of us knew going into it how things would unfold or how we’d use the stories down the road, but that’s okay because we’re the kind of crazy people who roll with it.

I showed up at yesterday’s kickoff rally at 7:45 a.m. with my notebook in hand. Jess gave me a few pointers, and then I made my way through the energetic crowd initiating dialogue with random volunteers. I instantly remembered how good it feels to work with a nonprofit and to give people voice – to invite them to contribute not only their services but also their stories.

People who participate in the Day of Caring do it out of selflessness. The irony, however, is how much they get back from it – pride, satisfaction, inspiration, joy, and knowledge. Yes, knowledge. The volunteers I spoke with were astounded this year and in years past by learning about the amazing work being done by nonprofits right here in our local community. This includes me.

Throughout the morning, I visited Ruth’s Reusable Resources, Mission Possible Teen Center, and The Salvation Army, and I was taken back with each encounter. Talk about perspective. In one morning I learned about ripped binders being turned into sets of magnetic letters for kindergartners, a 17-year-old girl who has no home but an unbreakable spirit, and that 40,000 pounds of food can be sorted and packed in less than three hours through teamwork.

I’ll save my stories, but I’ll tell you this: We live in a community where thousands of dedicated people and purpose-driven organizations make miracles happen every single day. And, United Way of Greater Portland helps make it possible.

Thanks, UWGP!

Twenty lessons I took from “Steve Jobs”

Posted by A. Smith on Feb-17-2012

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” —Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

I just finished reading “Steve Jobs.” Trying to wrap my head around who Jobs was and what he stood for is tough. Frankly, for as much as he loved, even craved simplicity, he was the epitome of complex.

I know this: I remain in awe of the work Jobs did. While I question some of his tactics, he did, indeed, change the world. In doing so, he built perhaps the most powerful and emotional brand ever created: Apple.


Here are 20 lessons I took away from the Steve Jobs biography:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a name.
    In a place where tech language ruled, Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak broke the mold by naming their company Apple Computer. They considered names such as Matrix and Executek, but instead went with a name far more friendly, simple, and different. Brilliant move.
  2. Simplicity reigns.
    There’s good reason our toddlers have conquered the iPhone, and it’s not because they’re brilliant. Apple designers and engineers take excruciating measures to make things simple. From the beginning, Steve declared, “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious.”
  3. Blow people away with marketing.
    Wow, did Jobs get marketing. People like me love people like him! Jobs demanded extraordinary creative work and, boy, did he get it. From Apple’s “Here’s to the crazy ones” ad to its unprecedented U2 co-branding to its “Think Different” tagline, Apple evoked creativity and emotion to the core. Jobs actually cried the first time advertising wizard Lee Clow unveiled, “Think Different.”
  4. Design products that have cultural gravity.
    Jobs and Apple’s lead designer Johnny Ives spent days, weeks, and months perfecting every aspect of a product’s design. Ives argued most small consumer products have a “disposable feel” to them when what they need is “cultural gravity.” There is something about the iPod, for example, that makes it feel “significant, not disposable.”
  5. Products have a purpose.
    Jobs, along with Pixar cofounder and creative force John Lasseter, believed products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. Thus, the concept behind Toy Story: “As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by new toys.” I won’t ever look at or market products the same again.
  6. Be a pirate.
    As Jobs put it to one Pepsi executive (who came to work for him), “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Gamble on a vision. Go against the grain. Be a pirate, and prove the naysayers wrong. All along, people told Jobs he couldn’t do what he set out to do. 

    When he announced Apple Stores, for example, one consultant declared, “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake.” By 2010, the Apple store grossed more per square foot than any store in the world, and grossed more in total than any store in New York, including Saks and Bloomindale’s.

  7. Integrate software and hardware.
    From the beginning, Jobs demanded integrating software and hardware. He was often and openly criticized for this. Refusing to waiver, however, paid off allowing Apple to transform the entire technology industry by turning the personal computer into a “digital hub” that coordinated a variety of devices, from music players to video cameras. 

    “Microsoft wrote software, Dell and Compaq made hardware, Sony produced a lot of digital devices, Adobe developed a lot of applications.” Unlike the other guys, Apple was in a position to do it all. Hello, iTunes, iPhone, iPod, and iPad!

  8. Follow a simple set of marketing principles.
    Apple investor and chairman Mike Markkula developed “The Apple Marketing Philosophy,” which outlined three marketing principles that guide Apple to this day:
    •   Empathy: Connect intimately with the feelings of customers; understand them better than any other company.
    •   Focus: Pour energy into a few core opportunities; eliminate all others.
    •   Impute: Present products in a creative, professional manner; people do judge a book by its cover.
  9. Quality design always matters.
    Jobs learned superior craftsmanship from his dad, who taught him to do things right even when people would never know the difference. Jobs took this to heart making sure even the interior design of Apple’s products was beautiful.

10. Play at the intersection of humanities and science.
Jobs held steadfastly to the belief that the real magic happens when art and science converge. This was a huge competitive advantage over other technology companies such as Microsoft, and Jobs believed this combination is the key to the future.

11. If something isn’t right, fix it.
After months of prototyping the Apple store, Ron Johnson (hired to develop the stores) realized they had something fundamentally wrong. It would mean changing everything. Jobs said, “I’m tired. I don’t know if I can design another store from scratch.” But, he did. The team started over and the results speak for themselves. “If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later,” he said. “That’s what other companies do.”

12. Make decisions quickly when the situation merits it.
When Jobs returned to Apple, he wanted to re-price stock options to stop the hemorrhaging of top employees. The Board proposed a study. Knowing this could take months, Jobs demanded immediate approval or said he would quit. He got his way, and it worked.

13. Random collisions breed creativity. Design space for them.
Jobs believed “the right kind of building can do great things for a culture.” He designed Pixar’s headquarters to promote spontaneous meetings and collaboration. There was a central atrium for people to mingle. The front doors, main stairs, theater, and screening rooms all led into it. Conference rooms looked out onto it, and it held the café and mailboxes, making it almost impossible not to engage with others.

14. Get out of the boardroom and onto the streets.
Jobs was infamous for walking meetings, thereby, replacing presentations, conference tables, and closed-in energy with meaningful dialogue. Great approach.

15. Control the whole experience.
From designing a closed system so people couldn’t fiddle with products (customers can’t even replace the battery of an iPhone) to opening Apple stores to control the experience of buying an Apple product, Jobs was all about control – some argue to a fault. Regardless, this obsession reinforced the integrity, simplicity, and innovation of Apple products.

16. Intuition matters…sometimes more than market research.
When asked about what market research went into the Macintosh, Jobs responded, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?” Likewise, Jobs didn’t do any market research for the iPad, stating, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” While I still believe there’s value in market research, this demonstrates it should complement not drive strategy.

17. Never start a company with the goal of getting rich.
Although Jobs became a billionaire, money was never what drove him. He believed in a) making products you love (thus, the success of the iPOD, which Apple’s music lovers wanted more for themselves than the outside world), and b) creating a sustainable company (pretty sure, he accomplished this).
A + B = success. In Apple’s case, wild success.

18. Be a stickler.
Everything matters. Jobs was obsessed with quality and with getting things just right from stage lighting for launches to the corners of the iPhone to the guts of a Macintosh to the perfect voiceover for a television ad. His level of detail and commitment to excellence should inspire us all to always do our best. Don’t settle for mediocrity. People appreciate the results.

19. Embrace a child’s curiosity.
Jobs was a piece of work as a child. Yes, he was brilliant, but he was also mischievous, always getting into things and pulling pranks. Fortunately, his parents were slow to scold. Instead they gave Jobs the freedom to tinker, explore, and investigate how things and the world worked. This is a good reminder to let our kids build things, take things apart, stir things up, and not always walk a straight line.

20. Think Different!
Enough said.

Obviously, this list only scratches the surface. There are endless lessons packed into the book’s 571 pages. I encourage you to read “Steve Jobs,” join me in sorting the good from the bad (the man could be ruthless), and act on the lessons you draw to achieve greatness in business – and maybe even put a dent in the universe!



TEDxDirigo invited me to leap…I did

Posted by A. Smith on Feb-1-2012

I am a TED fan. And, I sometimes do things on a whim. This can be a dangerous combination. A month or two ago, I received a newsletter from TEDxDirigo. I scanned it and noticed a link to an upcoming workshop: “Give the Talk of Your Life.” I clicked on it, thought, “jump,” and without a moment’s hesitation registered. I could grow my wings on the way down, after all.

I forwarded the e-mail to a friend, conned her into signing up, and felt victory in knowing we snagged two of only 12 spots that sold out in a day. I was psyched. Then, reality sunk in and a little voice in me started whispering, “What the heck were you thinking?” This voice got louder when we were assigned homework, which included identifying our “big idea” and developing a two-minute presentation.

What’s a girl to do when she’s in over her head? Procrastinate, of course. That’s exactly what I did. I started to think about my “big idea” less than a week before the workshop. Then, with only a few days remaining, I began to scurry – jotting notes, mapping out ideas, and finally writing my piece.

I was ready. Okay, kind of ready. At the very least, I figured I’d learn a thing or two. And, I did. I learned a lot. The lesson that struck me the most was when one of our facilitators said, “Your audience is always having a virtual dialog with you.” I realized giving a presentation isn’t about being on stage. It’s about connecting with your audience on a very authentic level. It’s about having a conversation as if they were sitting right next to you.

Something happens when we trade spaces and move from chair to stage. But it shouldn’t. Giving a great talk is not simply about great content. It’s also about creating intimacy whether with hundreds of people attending a TEDx event or one person curled up on a couch watching a talk after the fact. It’s about intentionality and connection.

Perhaps what hit home with me the most about this workshop, however, was the unspoken. The powerful feeling of community and support, the positive energy that filled the room, and the amazing people who, along with me, decided to grow their wings on the way down.

I left my TEDx workshop experience filled with gratitude. And, I look forward to the next time my passion for TED and my spontaneity collide. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll take the stage!

A little alone time is good for the soul!

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-13-2011

Some of my favorite work with clients revolves around identity, helping clients peel back the onion and discover (or rediscover) their core. So, a few weeks ago, when I went away for two nights by myself, I decided to turn the tables and do the work myself. It was an amazing experience, and I encourage every one to take time out, look inward, and think about how they want to show up in the world.

Here’s a glimpse of my personal retreat:

I left on a Sunday afternoon at kickoff. Not easy for a diehard Steelers fan who cherishes our family tradition of cheering on the black and gold. But, off I went, heading south to Ogunquit where nothing awaited me but a relaxing resort near the ocean. On my drive, I spontaneously decided to swing by the store and grab magazines and art supplies to create a vision board during my getaway. After all, I was on a mission to make the most of my time, to be productive, and to come back not only rejuvenated but also centered.

I grabbed sticky notes and jotted down a few things I wanted to accomplish during the course of my stay and stuck them on the mirror in my room. From there on out, any thought I had – a goal, a quote, an affirmation, or an idea – was recorded this same way. Within 48 hours my mirror was covered with uncensored musings. I loved it.

For the next two days, I ate healthy foods, sipped on Peeper Ale, enjoyed a hot rock massage, watched Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, went for a beautiful run, took naps, read in the middle of the night, shopped in boutiques, discovered the artwork of Kelly Rae Roberts, and wrote like mad. But, mostly I emptied out – I let go. And, I reflected on the good things in life, and I refilled. And, it was magic.

At the end of my second night, I flipped through the magazines I bought and cut out anything and everything that resonated with me. I thought about the current blessings in my life and contemplated the things I want to attract in my future. Before I knew it, words and pictures were strewn across the king size bed. My vision board was coming to fruition.

But, my work wasn’t done. The next morning, I took the dozens of sticky notes off my mirror and one by one listed them onto a page entitled, “Lessons learned from within on how to be happy.” What I loved was that I didn’t sit down cold and start writing from scratch – everything I was putting down on paper emerged from within during a very conscious state. It was organic. My ideas had culminated in a mantra, a creed of sorts that could help keep me centered when I returned to the real world.

I had an incredible sense of accomplishment. It was amazing to take my experience and expertise, usually stored for clients, and unleash my core – to think about how I want to show up in the world.

While vision boards and happiness creeds might not be for everyone, I do believe each and every person stands to benefit from pausing life, spending time completely alone, and exploring who they are, what they stand for, how they can learn from the past and from others, and their desired future. It’s something I have done for clients for years, and I am grateful that I finally gave myself permission to do it for me.

It was cathartic, life affirming. I returned home believing more than ever that despite the many trials we face, LIFE IS GOOD. And, I will always RISE.



I am a writer & I have someone to thank for it

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-6-2011

“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?”  ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Like everyone else who walks this earth I have many dimensions, but perhaps the identity that most fluently crosses into my personal and professional life is this:

I am a writer.

As I am quick to share with many, writing is my passion – a true love. Writing comforts, empowers, and centers me. It lives in me, runs through me, and, I hope, touches others.

In looking back on my life, I realize the writer in me emerged as a child. I can remember pairing up with my older brother John, breaking out the typewriter, and publishing a newspaper when I was probably six or seven years old. No kidding. Fast forward to high school, and I clearly recall writing as an outlet, penning everything from poems to love letters.

But, I can’t help but wonder if I would have stayed the course, actually turning writing into a huge part of my career, had it not been for the influence of somebody. In retrospect that “somebody” turned out to be my 12th grade English teacher who I would not credit until this past summer, more than two decades after high school graduation.

Let me shed light on my revelation: A few months ago, I was looking through my hope chest. I came across a composition book, opened it, and began to read. It was the journal from my senior year, in which my assignment was to write in for five minutes at the beginning of every class. I smiled as I read entrees about my Pop-Pop, babysitting, life in general, and so much more. To my surprise, I was flooded with memories and pride.

Then, I read comments written by my teacher and it hit me…I was already a writer back then. She recognized it, and she helped me discover it. She nurtured my gift. I instantly felt a sense of gratitude, followed by shame as I realized that I had never credited this teacher. As a matter of fact, truth be told, I didn’t consider her a very strong teacher.

Wow, me, someone who dismisses standardized test and how we measure teachers today had failed to recognize that this teacher made a difference not by what she taught me academically but by how she encouraged me – how she gave me five minutes every day to develop my passion.

Thank you, Mrs. Dodson. I hope you would be proud of me today for what I have done with my writing. I think you would be.

I feel so blessed to do what I love. And, I cannot say this without adding tribute to Steve Jobs, who left this world today – a world he changed forever. One of his many, many famous quotes is:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to…love what you do.”

I am happy to say that I do. I write.

Perhaps these remarks shared by Mrs. Dodson in my journal help explain why I write:

“Angela, I admire your feelings of warmth for your family and life in general. You seem to have a peacefulness about you, an ability to discover the good, the positive, the worthwhile around you. This is not a trait to be taken for granted – nurture your optimism (hopefully it will spread to some of those around you).

Keep writing. I enjoy reading your journal so much. Even if it sounds corny, I feel refreshed and inspired.”




TEDx Dirigo Delivers Stories of Hope

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-19-2011

Sometimes the world throws us curve balls. Other times it gives us exactly what we need. Last week, I needed a dose of optimism. TEDx Dirigo delivered. I walked into this amazing event seeking renewal; I left with that and more.

The TED movement, which has spread worldwide, invites people to take the spotlight for 18 minutes and tell their stories – to share ideas worth spreading. It’s magical. But, it’s not just the stories that I love. It’s the unspoken vibe, the energy and passion that fills the air and ignites souls.

Whenever I participate in an event like TEDx, I feel inherently blessed. I literally walk into the room and think, “These are my people.” It’s hard to fully comprehend or articulate my thoughts, I just feel at home. I am comforted by my surroundings and know that I am in the right place with the kinds of people I want to take center stage not just for the day but also in my life.

As I listen to their stories, I sit in awe. I lose myself realizing I am part of something much bigger. I get over myself, gain perspective, and temporarily crave community on a heightened level. I celebrate the world we live in – embracing the beauty and the suffering simultaneously acknowledging we can’t have one without the other.

While both good and evil are revealed, I cling steadfastly to the positive. I pause and examine my life and question how I can be better, how I as an individual can help tip the scales. I get lost in thought, and as stories continue to unfold, my head begins to fill. I am overwhelmed. I am okay with this; I actually love it. After all, I’ve always been one to dance on the edge of chaos and to reframe disorder as order.

The day ends. Reflection begins. I am desperate to make sense, to figure out how I can animate the lessons I have learned. As I scan the day – now nine days later – I quickly uncover a common theme: PEOPLE.

TEDx Dirigo featured 15 speakers from all walks of life. We heard from musicians, professors, trauma surgeons, and puppeteers talking about everything from wind power to South Africa to gardens, but as I flip through my Moleskin notebook and relive the moments, I realize the underlying WHY of each and every storyteller: It’s all about people.

Their stories are about saving patients, supporting women in business, sharing hope among refugees, and, ultimately, giving people permission not only live but also to dream, to flourish. This makes me happy. This is why I give up a beautiful Saturday with my family in Maine without question to attend events like TEDx Dirigo. This is why I feel at home.

Once again, my mind is full. I am flooded with ideas and want to keep writing. I will save it for another time. But, I will leave you by inviting you to take time out, to pause and authentically connect with and validate every one you come in contact with today. We are all human. We all have a story. Perhaps it’s time we get to know each other.

It’s all about people. And, there is power when we bring people together.



Dedicated to my little brother Jordan.

Lessons you learn from having a much younger brother:

• You will learn at age 12 that sometimes the couch isn’t wet because somebody spilled something. Sorry, kids, but when my older brother and I arrived home after school to an empty house, this is how we pieced together that my mom was in labor.

• You will cry tears of joy when you dad announces, “Jordan DuBois has arrived.” Your Nana will adopt this as one of her Alzheimer’s stories to be told time and time again. It’s the one story you won’t grow tired of hearing.

• Your mom’s best friend will sneak you into the hospital room to meet your baby brother even before you’re really allowed in there. You will get caught and yelled at – you won’t care.

• Baby boys pee on you – the first time you ever change them.

• If you play “airplane” after a baby eats, there’s a good chance they’ll throw up. There’s also a decent chance your mouth will be their target.

• Babies sometimes figure out how to crawl out of their cribs long before you are ready for them to do so. This is the first of many things they’ll do before you are ready.

• When your parents are out of town and your toddler brother gets a piece of wood jammed up his foot, you will hold him down in the Emergency Room while he gets a shot straight up his foot, then has it removed. Your older brother will disappear.

• You will know all of your little brothers friends. And you will adopt them, too.

• Chances are you’ll be the only student in your eleventh grade English class to journal about a five-year-old when asked to write about “Your best pal.”

• You’ll cringe as you utter the words, “Do you want me to pull this car over?” when you are only 17 years of age?

• You’ll learn patience truly is a virtue. It’s one you’ll try to teach your own children someday when much of the time you suck at it yourself.

• You’ll never know what it’s like to send your own kids off to college, but you’ll get a tiny taste when you go off to college and say “good-bye” to your first grade brother.

• You’ll be so poor in college you won’t buy an umbrella for yourself, but you will always scrape enough money together to send a care package home to your little brother for every holiday. Halloween and Valentine’s will be the best.

• Your little brother will adore you so much that he shaves an “M” in his already buzz cut hair simply because you go to Maryland. It won’t be the first time he’s done something like this.

• Your teenage brother won’t dare let your parents drop him off near the door of the mall, but he’ll still hold your hand walking around inside of it. This will make you happy.

• You’ll learn that kids need people in addition to their parents that they can trust – sometimes more so.

• Your little brother will come to you about anything.

• When you put your little brother back on a plane after visiting you and your husband for weeks at a time, he will bawl and it will take every ounce of will power to be strong and let go.

• Those few weeks will go down as some of your best memories. Ever.

• You’ll learn that kids are way more resilient than adults. That we don’t give them enough credit. And, too often, we underestimate them.

• The first time you talk to your brother about the birds and the bees, your face will turn red, your chest will tighten, and you will realize this was way harder than you ever expected. But, you will be glad that you did it.

• You will understand the specialness of taking a teenage boy to his first rock concert. And you will add taking your own sons to their first concert someday to your bucket list.

• The day will come when your little brother won’t come to you about everything.

• You will learn to accept this and trust you’ve done the best you can. And now he will do the best he can.

• Your relationship will shift and while you will always play the role of “Big sis,” a deep friendship will evolve.

• Steelers games, Ice Bowls, Penguin playoff beards, drinks at Grittys, hiking in Maine, and shooting hoops will become the definition of bonding.

• You will understand that someday your own boys will own a million t-shirts, be willing to part with none of them, and keep buying them. There will be something strangely endearing about this.

• You will realize you were cut out to raise boys.

• You will watch your little brother fall in love. And you will feel true joy because he does.

• Your little brother will visit you every summer (all over the country) and then settle down – at least for the time being – 20 miles up the street in Maine. This will be one of the greatest gifts of your lifetime.

• You will go through hard times.

• Your heart will swell and break more than you ever imagined. But the swelling will always be greater.

• You will love the hell out of each other.

• You will be in his wedding, and it will be more your honor than his.

• He will be the most amazing uncle ever. His wife will be an awesome aunt – and the sister you never had.

• You will realize your little brother isn’t so little anymore. You will be proud of the man he has become.

• You will think there’s a chance you’ll be all right as a parent yourself.

• You’ll still be grateful to know that your kids have a great uncle to fall back on.

• You will be the best of friends and the best of family.

• At age 39, on your run to work, you will think about your little brother on his 27th birthday. You will reflect. You will laugh. You will beam with pride. And, you will know that for every second of his life, you have loved him.

I’m a writer who’s fallen for pictures

Posted by A. Smith on Apr-16-2011

Graphic Facilitation

Image by danielroseca via Flickr

I am the kind of person who very quickly gets sucked into things. For example, the first time a friend e-mailed me a TED Talk (John Wooden on Success), I became an instant fan and added “Attend TED” to my bucket list on the spot. I fall fast and I fall hard.

This was the case nearly a decade ago when I attended an International Conference on Appreciative Inquiry in Miami. Granted I was there to learn about this strength-based methodology, but more than anything I walked away captivated by a process called graphic recording – a visual way of mapping information using words and pictures that are both informative and emotionally engaging.

Graphic recorders are scribes who listen, synthesize, and transcribe information generated in different kinds of group settings such as strategic planning, world café, group dialogue, meetings, etc. It is a way to capture the moment, connect people, organize complex ideas, and uncover themes, among other benefits.

My fascination grew when I attended a three-day branding summit at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in 2006 and had the opportunity to watch the masterful Diana Arsenian work her visual magic once again. This time, I also had the pleasure of sharing in conversation with Diana over dinner and learned firsthand the power of graphic recording, which is used all over the world and in major corporations.

I have shared my passion for visual recording with many people over the years. And, I have reaffirmed my belief in it, and in using pictures, many times. For example, last year, at SXSW, I attended two sessions that reinforced for me the importance and value of visual thinking. Both are worth sharing:

The reality is, in work and in life, we underuse pictures. Yes, this from a writer. But, this because I think writing and drawing are actually quite similar: both are about listening, distilling, and communicating stories in meaningful ways.

Visual learning engages people, enhances creativity, stimulates emotion, connects ideas, improves decision making, and so forth – and, it’s fun.

So, if you were to peek at my bucket list today, you’d see that along with “Attend TED,” I’ve also added, “Learn graphic facilitation,” to the mix. Picture that.


Here are a couple of fun websites I discovered in writing this post:


I also have to plug my friend Jessica Esch, a fellow Mainer, who uses sketch notes and who is delving into graphic recording:


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The Immeasurable Value of a Mentor

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-16-2011

Earlier this year, I was sharing in conversation with a colleague and a compelling question was raised, “If you were an entrepreneur and had to choose, would you give up your seed money or your mentor?”

While I haven’t had to rely on seed money, my intuition immediately told me I would hold steadfastly to my mentor.  I have been blessed with two incredible mentors, and I cannot imagine being where I am without them – professionally or personally.

My first mentor was also my first boss at Catholic Charities USA more than 15 years ago. Fresh out of college, I learned valuable lessons from her – including the fact that a college curriculum can only take you so far. The reality is, while I believe my years at the University of Maryland certainly helped prepare me, nothing compares to jumping in and doing the work. Sandy taught me so many tricks of the trade from building a media list to holding a press conference to writing an annual report.

I learned a ton about marketing and public relations. But, this was a case where actions didn’t speak louder than words. Sandy’s greatest influence over me came through our dialog. To this day, I marvel that she always took time to really communicate with me. Real time. Not rushed time. She gave me feedback, walked me through projects, cared about my personal life, and was always good for a laugh.

What I will never forget, what has resided in me for well over a decade, are the words Sandy spoke to me on my last day of working for her: “You have the talent, now you just need the confidence to go with it.” I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have echoed these words. They have carried me.

My second mentor entered my life about 10 years ago thanks to a cold call. No kidding. As a Navy wife, I moved around a lot early on in my career. So, I learned to be bold, pick up the phone, and simply introduce myself to people in my field. Some calls didn’t pan out. This one did. Big time.  Mona and I hit it off within minutes, and before I knew it, I was in her office and on her team.

From the start, Mona and I shared an integrated approach to marketing, a commitment to building brand, and a belief in the power of stories, but over time I realized what we shared was bigger than work. We shared vision, values, and a passion for life.

It’s hard for me to put into words the difference Mona made in my life. She pushed me, empowered me, and took time to know me. She assured me it’s okay to trust my gut, introduced me to the world of appreciative inquiry, and even changed my language (our words become our realities).

Mona and I used to laugh because we could finish each other’s sentences – when we weren’t talking over each other. And, when the rest of the world thought we were crazy (we are), we got each other. We danced on the edge of chaos, did amazing work together, and built an incredible friendship.

After I moved to Maine (I worked with Mona in Florida), I can remember hanging up phones call with her and thinking, “Who hangs up the phone with his or her boss and the last exchange is, ‘I love you’?”

Mona was vested in me. She believed in me. And, she continued to grow my confidence – the void Sandy identified so many years ago.

I am a work in progress. There is still so much I want to learn and do. But, I know I can achieve great things because these women, my mentors, have given me skill and confidence. They have been, and continue to be, extraordinary forces in my life.

Yes, I’ll keep my mentors, hands down. There are simply some things money can’t buy.

Is Public Relations Right for Your Business?

Posted by A. Smith on Jan-20-2011

About a month ago, I had a colleague who runs an advertising agency call me for advice. One of his long-term clients wanted to know whether public relations might be a good option. Off the top of my head, I suggested his client go through a three-step discovery phase. Nothing I said was planned, but when I hung up I realized other people contemplating the same question might appreciate what I had to say.

So, if you’re wondering whether PR might be right for your business, here’s a simple yet effective discovery process to help you decide:

  1. Story identification
    Explore what stories your company has to tell. Start by interviewing people inside your company. You’d be surprised what people have to say and what ideas emerge. Brainstorm. Talk to people individually. Hold an open session where people can bounce around ideas. Look at the past and consider your company’s back-story. Envision the future and what ideas might come of it

    The key here is to DIG. Every organization has stories. Uncover them.

  2. Channel distribution
    Increase the value of your stories by creating opportunities to leverage them. Yes, pitch your stories to the press, but have additional outlets for sharing them, as well. Consider blogs, social media, guest posts, etc. Think about ways you might be able to weave stories into speaking opportunities, annual reports, and so forth. This will help you determine whether you can get your stories out to more people, as well as get more bang for your buck.

  3. Relationship building
    Reach out to the press to get a feel for what’s possible. Contact an editor or reporter at a relevant publication and explore the possibilities. Could you do a column or an advertorial? Do they sponsor an event that you might partner with them on? Are they willing to meet for coffee? What are the opportunities for building a relationship and getting press coverage?

At the end of this process, evaluate whether public relations makes sense for your company. Do you have solid footing, good stories, and a strong foundation for moving forward? If so, build public relations into your overall marketing strategy. If not, you’ve determined this is not an area to spend your time, energy, and money.

Quite frankly, though, companies who take the time to work through this process – and unearth their stories – typically find public relations has great merit.