Are brands and bloggers just toying with each other?

Disclosure – this post has NOTHING to do with any other bloggers I know who attended #chitagall references are to bloggers in the abstract/ aggregate.

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the world’s largest toy fair open to the public this past Saturday at Navy Pier. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair (#chitag) had vendors ranging from small mom and pop stores like Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park to mom vendors like Little Sib, LLC which created a baby doll that helps older sibs get used to having a baby around. Good thing I’m over that hump already.

The fair was tailor-made for the kids. Mine loved the pile of CitiBlocs and riding the oversized, I mean, really freaking large horse pushed by some poor schmuck for $2 a pop. Family Time, couldn’t you have covered the cost? The thing wasn’t even motorized.

I’m the poor schmuck who paid for this thing.

The kids also loved the R.C. Color Bug, an ingenious remote controlled car with an attached marker that lets kids draw while driving (a new distraction?). I started chatting up the owner/ creator/ mom of the R.C. Color Bug, because well, that’s what I do and naturally our conversation turned to marketing and blogging. I mean this toy has grass-roots marketing written all over it. But my new friend said she’d gotten burned by bloggers in the past just emailing and asking for free stuff for almost nothing in return. She’s working hard for her business and takes marketing seriously. I don’t blame her. I felt bad that she had a bad taste for mom bloggers, but I moved on. Sometimes one bad apple can ruin the blunch. (We haven’t combined blog with anything good lately around here.)

Then I made my way to the Learning Curve booth where I could not possibly avoid the Thomas the Train huge mountain thing-y that had my eldest in a tizzy. Needless to say we weren’t going anywhere for awhile so I did what I do — I chatted up the lovely booth hostess/ PR associate for Learning Curve. When we got to the part of the conversation “well, what do you do” and I said the word mom blogger, she recounted some of her mom blogger tall tales as well. How she’s working with this controversial mom blogger conglomerate and yet is surprised when she gets emails from moms who want a free (or two) samples of a $300 car seat she’s promoting. She also was perfectly nice but did she quite understand the irony of her working relationship with bloggers?

Unfortunately, besides seeing my son go super-crazy-excited for a remote-controlled helicopter, my biggest takeaway from the fair was that real mompreneurs are turned off by mom bloggers approaching them for products (rightly so in many cases IMHO), but then so are PR firms who willingly give away product to some bloggers but wonder why others would be so bold to email for free stuff.

That’s the problem. We are not sending a consistent message on both sides of the equation. We all want to help the mompreneur, but some of us have an unfounded expectation that we’ll get something for free in return. I wonder if any of the bloggers out there know that Ms. R.C. Color Bug is a single mom working her can off to provide for her family and earn a living? That might change their want or need for that freebie. Conversely, does Ms. Booth Hostess/ PR Associate know that by aligning herself with a known PR bashing blog will just set herself up in the future for freebie hits down the road?

There seems to be little to no logic in this PR/ brand/ freebie dance. The only thing we seem to be able to do well is toy with each other for some free toys. There has to be a better way. I know – it’s already been done. Let’s just all Blog With Integrity, shall we?

Did I tell you about the night I went drinking tequila?

I didn’t think so. Last week I was invited to an event at an amazing house in Old Town for Sauza tequila but on by the one and only Beth Rosen. (How do I get invited to these things?? I’ll never figure that out). This event, a “Ladies Night In” featured amazing margaritas and food made by Food Network’s very own Chef Marcela Valladolid. Not only was Chef Marcela super cute, friendly and also a mom (how does she do it?), but her food and drinks were to die for. Especially the drinks. Did I mention I went out drinking tequila?

Me after the first drink with @secondcitysoiree, @frenchfoodiemom, @BethRosen and @Manamica. Good thing we didn’t take the “after” photo.

Chef Marcela said that tequila wouldn’t give you a hangover, so I decided to test her out and had 3 of her drinks. Under normal circumstances this would have left me flat on the floor begging for mercy. But, I guess she was right. I was able to switfly dial a cab (Flash Cab is my preference if you care to know), and be coherent in the morning for my boys. Good thing because I don’t know how I score these invites, but I’d like to be invited back.

More photos and links about the night at Chicagonista. (Thanks @mjtam.)

Photo me not

It occurred to me not too long ago that I have no framed photos of my baby in my house. I searched from room to room and all I could find was a newborn shot that our photographer took last year. It’s hidden up in my bedroom so only I see it. Other than that, all the frames in my house are filled with my eldest and of my husband and I when we looked a lot younger. (OMG the GRAY!)

However, I have been pretty good about getting photos, while not up in print around my house, into electronically-produced photo books. The kind where I can go online and select some photos I uploaded and click to put them on pages and then click to buy the book. It’s not the most creative way to record my family history but it’s efficient and effective. And, it just so happens I’ve been doing this through Kodak Gallery for the last 4 years. All on my own.

So, when Kodak Gallery approached me last month about trying out their new photo book process and they’d pay me for trying out that process it was a natural fit. Plus, I realized I hadn’t put together books since my baby turned 5 months. Clearly, there is some sort of deficit in my brain.

With Halloween photos and birthday party photos piling up in my iPhoto tray, I was really excited to bring them to life outside my beautiful Mac screen. iPhoto has this great feature that lets you automatically upload to Kodak Gallery with the click of one button. Again, click.

On Monday I uploaded 191 precious photos into 2 separate albums on Kodak Gallery and then organized them into two different photo books. I had some trouble clearing out the photos from the first book to put in the second book, but I realized my mistake after about a minute (you must “clear tray” before you create the book), and then sorted it out. In about 5 minutes, after uploading time, I had 2 books for the last 3 months of my kids’ lives. Seriously. That easy. After checking out early Tuesday morning I was told late yesterday that my order had already partially shipped.

That’s about 3 months of photo work memorialized forever in 2 days. And the quality of the new books seem great. I chose one medium and one small and I’m happy with the way the pages were automatically laid out. Now, I just need to get some of those prints into some frames around my house before the baby realizes he basically doesn’t exist outside my bedroom.

Does this ease of memorializing your family sound appealing to you? Well good! Because I have TWO $75 gift cards to giveaway from Kodak. It’ll buy you about 3 small books with 30 pages each or a small and extra-large amount of photos medium book. Just tell me that you’re more unorganized than me when it comes to photo documentation in the comments or give me a tip about how to become better organized, and I’ll enter you into a raffle to win the gift card. Contest will end on 12/1 just in time to get your books for the holidays. You can comment once here and once on my Chicago Parent blog to enter twice, if you like!

Cross-posted to Second-City Baby.

Disclosure: I was given a $75 gift card to post about my experience using Kodak Gallery plus purchase my photo books.

On Blogger Relations and Lost Shoes

Last week, I was on high alert for an invite to a local blogger event being put on by Gilt Groupe this Friday featuring its founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. At the Peninsula Chicago where I got married.  It’s a match made in blogger heaven. And, no less than three of my blog friends asked if I was going. I panicked. Had I missed the invite? I mean, if you’re looking for a blogger in Chicago who likes to shop look no further, right? But, I tore through my inbox and had not received the coveted email. In a cold sweat I emailed Kim. Could she help? She said she would and emailed the PR team in charge.

Of course, being that nosy former PR agency type, I asked the necessary questions. What agency? What contact?

That’s when the heavenly match fell apart. I put two and two (hundred emails I sent that day) together and realized in haste, I’d asked to be taken off a certain pitchy-salesy list. From Gilt. I’d basically dissed over email the very people I was begging all my friends to get an answer from on my event invite status.

Foot in the freaking sent box.

I’ve ranted of late about how companies nowadays aren’t being thoughtful in their approach and ask of us bloggers. But my recent gaffe reminded me that we as bloggers owe it to PR folks not to send emails that are direct (“please take me off this list” is what I wrote) and then expect to be included in the fun part of the pitch down the road.

I sent over my apologies to the poor PR rep who had now heard my name 72 trillion times by my friends and explained to her how badly I felt. No harm done, she said, and extended a kind invitation for the brunch this Friday.  I’m excited to attend and grateful we worked it out amicably. Lesson learned, though. If I’m going to respond at all to pitches I don’t want, I’d (we should all) better be damned clear about what that means in the long run. Because brand relationships aren’t just about fun events. They’re about listening to the sales stuff too, once in awhile. Even if it’s not a good fit.

And while we’re talking about good fits, I own a shoe by Cole Haan that fits me perfect. It’s the Air Lainey Wedge (to the right). An amazing combination of cute and comfortable. I wore it to my friend’s rehearsal dinner Friday night and promptly left it at the hotel today at checkout. When I unpacked earlier this evening I realized what had happened, and in a cold sweat (I’ve had a lot of these lately, apparently), called the Taj hoping they’d recovered my BSF (Best Shoe Friend). The man in charge of lost and found said he had a pair of black shoes, size 9. I asked, are they wedges!? Like he knew what a wedge was. But, with some explanation and brand recognition, we agreed it was the correct pair. I figured this little forgetful incident was going to cost me a pretty penny. But, no, the Taj said they’d ship them UPS to me for free if I couldn’t come get them in person.

After a weekend of questionable customer service at the hotel and a laundry list of complaints I was about to air in public, this was just what I needed to sweat normal again. I repeated my address no less than three times to the gentleman on the other line (and called back to confirm the address because I’m that neurotic.) I should receive my shoes within 5 days.

Moral of this story?

I’m out my cute shoe choice for the fancy fashion brunch this Friday. Serves me right.

It’s a mad mad mad mad networking world

I’ve been doing it so subtlety even I didn’t realize what I was doing until I made the pronouncement last week while at dinner with my husband, my MIL and her husband.

I’m looking for a job.

Not a half-job (although it’s a nice half-job), but like a job where someone might hire me for regular work, I may have to go into an office once in awhile and most certainly where I’ll make more money than just to cover my babysitter costs.

I thought what I was doing was just scheduling some random meetings so that I would keep myself busy on days that I have childcare and my eldest was at school. But as I got into scheduling such meetings with old colleagues and friends, the more I found myself getting kind of mad, in a nutty, not angry kind of way, about my schedule and the people I am trying to connect with. I’m in mad networking mode.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to on-ramp again. I had an itch two years ago and now it’s like a festering mosquito bite that won’t go away. It’s time, people. I’d like to work again.

I’m planning on journaling this potential re-entry into the workforce so I can help other moms who are trying to get back on that ramp.

People keep asking, well, what do you want to do? This is where I’m at: I have high standards, not only for myself and what I want, but for my potential employers. I don’t want to work full-time. Yet. I need that flexibility while my baby is still a baby. I also want to shift my career focus from employee communications consulting to new media-type consulting especially locally in Chicago. I’d like to think that my four years spent blogging and my time writing, event planning and the like will have set me up for such a shift, but that remains to be seen.

I’m still on step one. Mad mad networking. Seeing how marketable my skills (and I) are after all this time off.

And moms who’ve tried to re-enter the workforce after a break, I’d love any and all tips on how you did it!

Check out Second City Baby!

Did you know I write another blog for Chicago Parent? It’s called Second City Baby and I’ve got some pretty exciting stuff up there this week.

First, I’m hosting an amazing giveaway from teutonia – a new luxury stroller manufacturer. They’ve given me a t-linx to giveaway on the blog (valued over $400!) Just write in the comments why you need a new stroller and why your current one stinks and the best story wins! I’ll pick a winner on September 15.

Also, I’ve just posted some really helpful videos from a recent symposium conducted by Playtex led by the country’s leading pediatricians, including the venerable Dr. Sears. The videos give helpful tips and tactics on how to tackle the toughest infant feeding issues. Check it out, or send it to a friend. There’s some good stuff in there.

That’s all. I hope you all have a great holiday weekend!

A Follow Up to the Blow Up

I don’t want to belabor “the post” or the topic. I’m tired!

But my head, twitter stream, email box have been filled these past few days with the major #fail by Toys “R” Us and Lead Dog Marketing with the pitch heard ’round the world (which, should be noted, the microsite related to the pitch is currently “under maintenance.”)

I don’t want to belabor “the post.”

I will, however, take this opportunity to make some additional comments on “The Situation” as it stands now. Also, because Kim’s a yenta and she asked.

  • The big question. No. I haven’t heard from any representative of Toys “R” Us or their agency Lead Dog Marketing. I can’t say I’m all that surprised, actually. What did I expect? I assume that they’ve seen the twitter streams. I mean, the infamous microsite is “under maintenance” now. Something’s up. But, I didn’t think hat they’d actually respond to the twitter streams. Clearly, there is a disconnect between client/ agent and really, I wouldn’t want to be involved in those conversations now. I didn’t want or expect any sort of apology or acceptance of wrongdoing over email. I don’t need that. But, I would have liked a response from someone, anyone related to this to at least have sent out some sort of communication to my twitter friends and/or I something like, “we heard you, we understand your concerns, and we’re having internal conversations/ working on it/ doing some shots to think better about it.” Just something simple. But, as of 9 pm on this Thursday night, radio silence.
  • What I would do if I were running the “I Want to Be a Toys R Us Mom” Campaign right now. Because I do think at the core it’s a great idea. And, the tagline is catchy. First, I’d send out an email to those who’ve been pitched, or, at the very least, those that have been vocal in tweeting about the campaign that those voices have been heard. I’d then spend time culling the contact list of bloggers and web site owners to ensure that the right targets are being targeted (i.e. I delete those who asked to be deleted!) And I would stop calling them/ us “mom promoters.” Because we aren’t at a night club, people. I’d rethink the fundamentals of the campaign. TRU wants community and local outreach? Host company-sponsored events at the local stores but don’t ask bloggers to make “in store” appearances, as if they’re Geoffrey the Giraffe. Invite them as VIPs. Take them on a behind-the-scenes tour of the revamped store. Let them test out merchandise. Do a giveaway but don’t make the bloggers do it. Treat them like you’d treat a reporter who was covering the retail industry. Make them want to write about you, not “promote” you. We all know your main goal is to get people in your stores, but one of the fundamentals of PR is third-party advocacy, and nowadays there’s no better way to get people in your stores than word of mouth. Let it happen organically. TRU wants a banner ad online campaign component to complement the in store events? Pony up the dollars and pay for it. PR can work more organically, but you gotta pay for banner ads.
    (Edited to add: It occurred to me in the middle of the night – of course – if TRU/ agency wants a “microsite” so badly, why not host that on the site? Then, select an exclusive number of “TRU Moms” to help with the online campaign. TRU moms can contribute to the microsite, review new products/ stores, comment on likes/ disklikes of toys, etc. If Wal-Mart can do it, so can they!)
  • I need to apologize. I was talking to my husband this week who rarely makes appearances or mentions on this blog (other than my best one-liner from the last post) about the attention this one post got on my itty-bitty blog. He’s my best critic and biggest fan really, even though he keeps a low profile. (Just ask Cynthia about that.) He thought I could have made the point about the agency’s blogger relations outreach #fail without laying into Emily and Lindsay so much. I do not regret “naming names” because those two were the “face” of the campaign and outreach, but I do regret making their names so central to the point. The point that as a marketer you must understand your audience and what you are asking for and be smart about your plan. I made plenty of mistakes as a junior-level account exec. But there was no blogosphere then to call it out. Taking a step back after a few days, I’m sorry I didn’t generalize it just a little bit more.
  • I want to figure out where we all (me included) go from here. I’ve felt this way about blogger/ brand/ agency relations since I started blogging 4 years ago. But this is the first time I’ve been able to articulate it properly and in the right context. I’ve gotten so much support from so many amazing bloggers and friends from this post that it’s very inspiring to do something and make something of that voice I have. So we’ll see about that. But I also want to figure out how to make this better without having the same conversation over and over again. Because as I said in the post, neither sides are all right or all wrong. In five more years of blogging (my husband says “oy”), I don’t want tweets to say, “PR people don’t get it” or “I can’t believe someone asked me to do a sponsorship without payment” or “I hate PR people.” I’m not entirely sure how we’re all going to get there, but it will probably have a lot to do with attending awesome conferences and the kind of grass-roots education my post and others provide. Maybe I’ll even attend one one of these days.

And, with that, I’m going to attend to my other “Situation.” Testing out the best jeggings.

The day we came *this* close to Venus Williams

I hardly ever accept invitations to blog events with my kids because it’s hard to convince a four-year-old that it would be fun to hang out with me and my bloggy sistahs. I mean, he bawled his eyes out in hysteria at the first and only blog event I coordinated last month. So it’s safe to say that we stay away most of the time.

But when the kind PR folks of Catalyst Public Relations sent me an email that we were invited as VIPs to their Powerade Play event at Daley Bicentennial Plaza to schmooze with Venus Williams and Derrick Rose and try the samples of the new Powerade Play drink for kids, well, I responded yes faster than Venus’s serve.

We love tennis (okay, and my son likes the Bulls *as a Detroiter I cringe*) in our house.

My eldest and I geared up for the big day yesterday by watching countless Venus/ Serena matches on You Tube. He kept asking about Venus’s sister. I told him DO NOT SAY THAT IN FRONT OF VENUS.

If only he said anything at all.

After we saw MJ (man, she is EVERYWHERE!) at the event, we waited, and waited and waited for our chance to stalk brush hands with tennis greatness.

Here’s the photo play book of what happened next:

We played Bag-O (which, people, is not NEARLY as fun played with little kids sober.)

We got excited when a limo pulled up. False alarm.

We were bummed when we thought this was as close as we’d get.

And when we had the chance for the photo opp, this is what happened…

He chickened out. But Venus was super cool about it.

I should also mentioned the Powerade “Blue” color got a mixed review from the little guy. Maybe we’ll try the “Red” next time.

I was not compensated for posting about the Powerade Play event. I did receive a complimentary VIP Pass to the event, which had no monetary value to my knowledge, but worth a few good memories.