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.



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.

Change the World Through Story

Posted by A. Smith on Nov-1-2010


Last week, it’s 6:30ish in the evening. Two of my sons are curled up on my bed watching Scooby Doo. I am in the bathroom with my littlest guy while he swims around in my oversized bathtub pretending he is a fish. I am sitting on a stool scrolling through Twitter trying like mad to catch up on the many hours I am behind. Suddenly, a tweet catches my attention. It’s from @GetStoried reaching out for public relations help for its upcoming Reinvention Summit. I quickly hit the link, something I rarely do on my Blackberry, and like what I see. I like it a lot. The Reinvention Summit is a virtual summit on the future of storytelling. I scan the page and see phrases such as:

  • Narrative is a key to re-story possibilities
  • Gathering a new tribe of storytellers
  • Choose your own adventure
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Reinvent your story
  • See an emergent future

I’m sold. On a whim, I send a direct message to @GetStoried requesting more information. For all I know that’s the end of it. Minutes later my phone rings. Wouldn’t you know, it’s Michael Margolis, the force behind GetStoried. In the midst of chaos, we talk. And, it’s like we’re old friends. Our ideas mesh, there’s good energy, and so it begins…my joining the team for what is going to be an amazing event.

The Reinvention Summit is a totally bold and audacious attempt to break out of old silos, gather a new tribe of storytellers, and change the world through story. Taking place November 11 through November 22, this virtual event features an unusual cast of more than 25 innovative storytellers including:

  • John Gerzema, President BrandAsset Consulting, Young & Rubicam
  • Tiffany Shlain, founder, Webby Awards, and doc/cultural filmmaker
  • John Elkington, pioneer of corporate social responsibility/sustainability
  • Nancy Duarte, auther, Slideology and Resonate: Present Visual Stories
  • Julien Smith, co-author, Trust Agents, pioneering podcaster
  • A full list of speakers is available at

The Reinvention Summit is designed to move participants into the world of possibility. As a huge believer in the power of story, I am grateful to have crossed paths with @GetStoried and to be a part the Reinvention Summit team. I encourage you to visit to to sign up. Reinvent your story and join us as we re-story the future.

Not your ordinary business lessons

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-30-2009

I could spend hours, heck weeks, thinking through all I’ve learned over the past 15 years in marketing. Instead, I am going to share what comes top of mind because these are the ideas that live in my head. This is not an end-all-be-all list. It is a rapid reflection of lessons that keep me afloat and moving toward excellence:

(Top five lessons that came to mind, unedited, in no particular order)

  1. I am not an expert.
    This is one of the first things I tell clients. And, it’s true. I am not an expert. I bring expertise to the table…and so do they. I respect my clients and have come to truly understand the meaning and power of real collaboration. When I enter a room, I always go in believing the answers are already there.
  2. It’s okay to struggle with confidence so long as confidence wins out.
    On the last day of my first job (which I left because I was moving), my boss Sandy said to me, “You have the skill, now you need the confidence to go with it.” In delivering this phrase, she gave me confidence. I whisper this sentence to myself almost daily.
  3. There’s nothing more powerful than a story well told.
    I just witnessed a wonderful example of this. The agency I share space with is kicking off an ad campaign for a local nonprofit to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Many organizations would celebrate this milestone by simply focusing on the number. In this case, however, they are telling 50 heart-opening, human stories every Sunday in 2010. Ah, I get chills just thinking about this. If given the option of communicating about helping hundreds of people or telling the personal story of one of them, tell the story.
  4. Part of my responsibility is expectation management.
    One of my not-so-glorious responsibilities is to help clients understand that branding is a process. Overnight success is unrealistic. PR, for example, requires meaningful story ideas and time to nurture and grow them. Companies shouldn’t expect one press release to land them a front-page article in the New York Times – but they do. Therefore, it’s important that I am clear and honest upfront: Commit or don’t bother.
  5. People are the heart of business
    I inherently believe that every employee matters – and contributes to business. This belief was reinforced for me a few years back when I was a patient in the ER at Maine Medical Center. My brain was bleeding and I was completely disoriented. I remember very little about that night – except for the friendly janitor who calmed me down by giving me a Tootsie Roll and reassuring me that everything would be okay. He got through to me in a way no one else could. I love Maine Med, and he is among the reasons why. Every person at an organization has the opportunity to live its brand.

These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned. And, I know it’s just the beginning. As we approach the end of this decade, I encourage you to reflect on your personal journey. What lessons have you learned in business?