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PR Rock Stars: Life Time Fitness’ Ava Beilke

Yep, Ava Beilke is a millennial. But, she doesn’t act the part (at least, not according to stereotypes). In fact, I believe I’ve heard Ava say “I’m a grandma trapped in a millennial’s body” the last time I saw her at a Talking Points event in September. Ava is being sarcastic, but the reality is she is a hard worker, she doesn’t seek out accolades and she’s not a serial job-hopper. In fact, Ava had been with Carlson Rezidor for four years before taking on a new role with Life Time Fitness recently. Let’s hear more about Ava in today’s “Rock Star” profile.


You just took a new job with Life Time Fitness after years with Carlson. What drew you to LTF?

I have always desired to experience a slew of different companies and industries throughout my career without looking like a jumper who never stays put. For me, working in the hospitality industry at Carlson was very enjoyable, and was a continual source of severe wanderlust that kept me traveling. At the same time, there is a very large part of my life that I dedicate to fitness and wellbeing, so Life Time Fitness felt like a natural progression. It was the right opportunity at the right time. I’m a big believer that timing is everything.

You cut your teeth at Carlson though–you spent the first four years of your professional life with them. What did you learn from your time at Carlson that you’ll apply to your work with LTF?

Absolutely! Having the opportunity to work on global hotel brands like Radisson Blu during my time at Carlson is something that will be ever valuable and applicable as I continue to work for national and international brands. It really trained me to be aware of the big picture at all times, yet be able to adapt marketing tactics by region, language, and even by culture.

Do you see yourself staying in social/digital marketing long-term? Why or why not?

I’ve dabbled in many fields including public relations, branding, consulting, teaching, and email, digital, and social media marketing. I feel like all of these experiences are intertwined in some way or another. Whether the experiences I continue to collect will keep me in the social/digital marketing profession long- term remains to be seen, but my passions and skills have always fit nicely within that realm. It is kind of one of those “what will happen to social media marketing” questions, but that is something we’ll all have to wait to find out.

After earning your degree from the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!), you almost immediately started pursuing your MBA at Augsburg University. What drove that decision? And, do you think it’s helped you early on in your career?


Woohoo, Go Gophers! And Go Auggies! The decision to pursue my MBA a couple years out of undergrad was again one of those right place, right time scenarios paired with the fact that I always like to have a passion project that I feel is mine and mine only. When I was in undergrad, pageantry was my project, which I retired in 2011. Once I started working at Carlson full time, I needed something else, and I decided at the time that an MBA was the answer. I remember the program entrance interview so vividly. The dean asked me why they should accept someone drastically younger than the others. I told him that my age would actually allow me to offer a unique perspective, especially within the marketing aspects of the curriculum (reminding him that I was a digital native)… and then there I was, an Auggie. I feel that it’s helped me early in my career to jumpstart a more strategic, critical way of thinking and problem solving. I also had the pleasure of taking the two-year journey with a phenomenal cohort of students that are now lifelong friends, so it was totally worth it.

What’s the one social media trend most companies are over-looking or under-utilizing?

I think that influencers have become such a huge, trendy tactic in social media marketing… which is awesome, I love influencers don’t get me wrong. But, I feel like companies completely overlooked the untapped potential they have within their own employees to become badass brand advocates. The employee programs I’ve experienced to date seem to be minimal and almost an afterthought. How cool would it be to really push employee social advocacy to the seams (all while remaining within FTC guidelines)? It seems like low hanging fruit.

You also spent time working for SaveTheVikes.org earlier in your career, which I can assume was similar to a start-up-like position. What did you learn during your time with that organization that has helped you in subsequent roles?

Working for SaveTheVikes.org was my first social media and PR specific role. I had no idea what I was doing right out of school, but the founder Cory Merrifield threw me right into the fire and trusted me 100% to take a task and run with it, which allowed for an incredible learning experience. It was very much like a start-up in the sense that we worked fast and furious, and poured our hearts into it. This role really taught me how to work quickly, which is a notion often lost in large corporate environments. Regardless of the organization, social media needs to maintain a sense of urgency at all times, so to this day I do my best to insert a sense of speed whenever I can. Working on the Vikings stadium solution also piqued my interest in public affairs… never say never.

You’re right in that millennial sweet spot. What’s the biggest misconception most folks like me (Gen Xers and Boomers) have of your generation?


That’s a great question. The differences between generations are always interesting to me because we truly do not understand what it’s like to be from a generation other than our own. The misconception that bothers me the most is that millennials are lazy. How can one identify an entire generation as lazy?! My colleagues and I graduated college to be greeted by one of the worst economies of all time, matched with fierce global competition, so if anything, I think millennials have had to work extra hard to not only secure, but sustain a career. We’re also pretty good at that technology stuff.

Finally, you’ve been nice enough to give me musical advice in the past (I need it, but I still haven’t adopted Kanye). What are three bands/artists of the moment that you just can’t stop listening to?

I’m always more than happy to dish music advice! I literally listen to music all the time, so it’s hard to choose just three. But, I’d say that right now the song I can’t get out of my head is 24K Magic by Bruno Mars. As much as I try not to like Bruno, his songs are so catchy, infectious, and timeless. I’ve been a big Frank Ocean fan since his album Channel Orange released in 2012. He finally released new music this year, and I’ve had Blonde on replay. And then there’s my number one, Drake. I’m a shameless Drake superfan so his music is my default “always on” preference. I can rattle of every lyric to his Views album in my sleep, so Drake, if you’re reading this… I’m ready for new material. 

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Super-early brand adopters show interesting uses for Snap Spectacles

As you probably know by now, a couple weeks ago Snapchat unveiled its version of the previously doomed Google Glass: Snap Spectacles.

At $130 a pop, they’re much more affordable than Glass was, but equally as tough to get your hands on–only available in pop-up vending machines that Snap alerts you to on Snapchat (brilliant marketing move).

Obviously, it remains to be seen how the public and Snapchat users will react to this new product, but early returns seem fairly positive (The Verge was raving last week). The glasses are more visually attractive than the Minority-Report-esque Glass, and have a built-in user base in 100 million+ Snapchat daily users.

So, it should come as no surprise that a handful of early adopter brands have already started experimenting with Spectacles–including Minnesota’s own space150 and the Minnesota Wild.

Sports franchises seems like a logical fit for Spectacles. From a social/digital perspective, one of a sports team’s goals is typically to bring fans closer to the team and improve the “fan experience.” With Spectacles’ “first person” view, they seems ideally suited to do just that.

And the Wild showed us a glimpse of what that will look like in the months ahead.

Behind-the-scenes footage. Glimpses into rare viewpoints during the game (Nordy shooting the t-shirt cannon). Again–Spectacles is IDEALLY suited for sports teams, so this was kind of a slam dunk before it even began. And my guess is you’ll see other sports franchises experimenting with Spectacles as they become a little easier to obtain.

Another early adopter? Sour Patch Kids, which typically is on the more early side of experimenting with new social and digital technologies.

Sour Patch Kids’ first attempt with Spectacles wasn’t quite as interesting as the Wild’s, as they used the glasses to show fans how to make what I can only guess are called “Sour Patch Cookies” (um, gross).

Now, admittedly, this was Sour Patch Kids first attempt with the new glasses. And I think you’ll see them get a lot smarter in how they use the new tool. This first stab was most likely a complete experiment–not sure cooking with Spectalces is “can’t miss” video on Snapchat. But, I think that’s also an important lesson for brands as they start to think about how they use these new glasses–only use when a first-person viewpoint would create a unique experience. For the Wild, that was definitely the case. For Sour Patch Kids, baking cookies in first-person isn’t exactly what the experts would call “engaging content.”

Finally, the other mainstream brand I’ve noticed playing with Spectacles so far has been General Electric. Probably no surprise, given GE’s propensity to experiment with and push the envelope with new digital technologies in the past.

GE’s first stab? A look inside their Fort Worth facility and locomotives.


Again, much like the Wild, GE is giving fans an “insider’s look” at its technology and facility–something they really can’t get anywhere else, and from a unique perspective.

Obviously, we are VERY early in terms of brand adoption of Spectacles. Heck, half the battle right now is actually getting your hands on these things.

But, once brands do obtain a pair of Spectacles, I think you’ll see a lot more experimentation. Most of it is definitely going to be lousy (and probably unwatchable), but after that big first wave wears off, I do think there’s something here for brands.

Because Spectacles are tapping into two big trends: 1) Social video, and 2) FIRST-PERSON social video.

And, keep in mind, Snapchat is still a growing platform. Definitely not at the scale of Facebook (or even Instagram) yet. But, with a built-in user base, huge interest (thanks to a brilliant product roll-out strategy) and a reasonable price point, I tend to think Spectacles may actually catch on and be a viable tool for brands to reach certain segments of their audience (trending younger, obviously).

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The evolving media consumption habits of Gen Z–and what they mean for communicators

For many companies, targeting and talking about Millennials has become a full-blown obsession. I mean, how many articles have you read this year with “Millennial” in the title? 20? 30? 1,000?

And sure, Millennials represent a sizable audience for almost any company to consider. And for good reason–they’re starting to accumulate wealth, and they’ll be moving into their prime earning years soon.

But, you know who’s next? Gen Z. Kids ages 5-19 now. These are the NEXT Millennials.

And, they have the size to back it up.


Would it surprise you to know that Gen Z represents a full 25% of the overall U.S. population? Crazy, huh?

But, we don’t hear much about Gen Z because, well, frankly, they’re still kids. And, there are ethical boundaries many companies would prefer not to cross.

However, this is the next big generational group we’ll be marketing to and communicating with in 5-10 years. Because, by that point, many of them will be 21-29 years old. Right in that spot Millennials occupy now.

What do we know about these kids? Not much. Again, they’re so young we don’t really need to know much about them.


But, we should start paying attention. Because these kids communicate and consume media much differently than the generations before them.

And, that’s going to significantly change the way we communicate with them in the years ahead.

What am I talking about?

Gen Z watches a LOT of video–most of it on YouTube

According to recent research, 93 percent of Gen Z’ers visit YouTube at least once a week. And, a whopping 54 percent visit multiple times per day. As a parent to two Gen Z’ers, I will attest to that fact. For my kids, YouTube IS the internet. It’s their go-to platform and they’re on it ALL the time. For Gen Z, video IS YouTube. So, that’s a big shift. For previous generations (even Millennials), video has meant a combo of network TV/cable + YouTube + streaming. And probably in that order. For Gen Z, it’s more like YouTube (by a mile) + streaming + cable (and no network TV).

What does this mean for communicators?

From a comms perspective, that has a few implications: 1) Traditional TV news shouldn’t be the first priority with this audience–kinda goes without saying, but I feel the need to hammer it here; 2) Gen Z will most likely get their news predominantly from social networks; and 3) Gen Z may not be seeking out news the way other generations have–simple as that.

Gen Z is not reading newspapers or magazines or listening to the radio

See how far down “reading” and “radio” are down on this list?


Especially when you look at teens as they prepare to enter the “real world”. Radio and print are miles behind smartphones, computers and tablets as the tools they’re using to get information. These kids are using smartphones, computers and tablets to get their information, instead of newspapers, radios and TVs. Again, seems obvious, but worth hammering home.

What does this mean for communicators?

Again, traditional media will not be the best way to reach this audience. Why do I keep saying this? Because, for many PR folks, traditional media still rules. And, for now, with many audiences, that is an effective approach. But, with Gen Z, that will be tipped on its head. Reaching these kids/people will mean: 1) Reaching them with video vs. text, 2) Reaching them on mobile devices (see below), and 3) Reaching them on their timetables–not ours.

Gen Z will be the first mobile-first generation

Look at the graphic above again. And note the total media time for teens (8 hours, 56 minutes). Now note the total mobile media number: 4 hours, 12 minutes. Almost half of their entire media consumption is on a mobile device. These kids grew up with tablets and smartphones. Again, my two kids are living proof. Both get most of their entertainment and info on either their tablets or smartphones (well, MY smartphone, anyway :). I know all generations now use smartphones ubiquitously, but Gen Z will be the first generation who actually grew up with the smartphone as their PRIMARY device.

What does this mean for communicators?

This shift will make a big difference in how we communicate with Gen Z. Mobile-friendly sites will no longer be optional–they’ll be table stakes (I would argue this is the case now). Your mobile experience won’t just need to be “optimized”, it’ll need to be air-freaking-tight. These kids will be so attuned to the mobile experience, they won’t have time for brands who are fumbling the snap. Mobile won’t be a “consideration”–it’ll just be assumed.



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Does the four-day workweek work in PR and digital?

The four-day workweek.

For many, it’s a pipe dream. But, for an increasing number of people, it’s quickly becoming a reality.

In fact, just a few weeks ago a friend and former client negotiated her four-day workweek. And, from what I’ve heard so far, it’s worked out incredibly well for her.


And I think it’s a trend that’s going to grow even more in the months and years ahead.


A few reasons:

  • People are completely burnt out (especially in our industry)
  • Priorities are shifting (young parents looking to spend more time with their kids, for example)
  • Not everyone wants that VP job (is the money worth it? A lot of people are saying no)

But, here’s the big question for us: Does the four-day workweek work in PR and digital marketing?

Because there are challenges.


1: Companies, largely, aren’t ready to embrace the four day workweek

Yes, I know there are some companies (mostly smaller) than are embracing the changing nature of work–but let me tell you, most big companies aren’t in that group. Most big companies still believe in the “butts in seats” philosophy. 40+ hours a week. At the office. That’s the reality. Now, agencies are probably a little more lenient here than companies would be, but those companies represent a lot of PR and digital marketing jobs right now.

2: The “always on” nature of our business doesn’t lend itself well to taking Fridays off

Look at it from management’s perspective: You hire a PR or social media manager. After a year, she asks for a four-day workweek. You want to work with her because she’s a star employee. But, giving her a four-day workweek means having to backfill on Fridays with other staff. Which, in some cases, might mean training those other employees to cover for the PR or social media manager. Not saying this is impossible–just saying it’s a barrier.

3: Take a day off, get passed over for promotions and other opportunities

“Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s the phrase, right? Couldn’t be more true in this type of situation. You’re out of the office one day a week–might not seem like a lot, but that one day can be the difference between you getting that promotion, and you getting laid off. See point #1 above–companies, largely, still value the “butt in seat” mentality. Makes a big difference when there’s no butt in that seat for a full day each week.



photo credit: tomylees Tuesday, 15th, An autumnal look IMG_9715 via photopin (license)

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4 simple reasons the mobile newsfeed is the future of employee communications

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an interesting trend going on in the employee communications world.

More brands are shifting to a mobile-first, newsfeed-like approach.

Take Nissan, for example. It’s VP of Communications in Europe, Stuart Jackson, recently shared results from his team’s move away from the corporate intranet to an employee app: Nissan Insider Mobile. The early results? Not too shabby. 10% of employees have downloaded the app and used it in the first four weeks. And, a third of the audience visits the app over the weekend!


Or, take Target. It’s new “Skimm-like” daily email is essentially a mobile-first, newsfeed-like experience. In employee’s email inboxes by 6:30 a.m., this scannable email is (most likely–I’m guessing here) designed to be a mobile-first experience given the wide swath of Target employees across the country.

Those are just two examples of stories I’ve heard about lately. The trick with employee comms is it’s all behind the firewall, so “case studies” are hard to come by (unless you know someone). So, if it’s bubbling up in media circles, chances are it’s a bigger trend than we might think.

Yet, many companies still lag behind.

Many companies are still operating on 1998 internet principles. That is–over-relying on web sites and desktop views to drive employee awareness and understanding of key company priorities and issues.

However, it is the year 2016, and mobile devices are increasingly the way people (and, of course, employees) are getting their information.

Yet employee comms teams haven’t adapted.

Why not? A myriad of reasons: lack of budget, lack of vision, lack of leadership. It’s a pretty long list.

But make no mistake about it–this IS a trend. And, I see it advancing even further in the years ahead. Here’s why:

Employee communications experience should mirror personal communications experience

This is what drove Target with its “Briefly” daily email. They loved the Skimm–MANY people love the Skimm. So, why not replicate their model for employee comms purposes? The Skimm is just one example of the way people consume news differently now–predominantly in short bursts and increasingly on mobile devices. How many employees at your company have mobile devices? 80 percent? 90 percent? 100 percent? How many are checking those phones multiple times throughout the day? Why wouldn’t you try to reach those employees on a tool/device they’re using ALL THE TIME?

Reach employees without computer access

This is what drove Nissan to develop its mobile employee app. It was trying to better reach the thousands of employees on the production floor. Those employees without desktop access. Think of all the companies and industries this impacts–health care, manufacturing, retail. Again, it’s a pretty long list.

Don’t make employees hunt for news–make it easy

One of the major challenges with corporate intranets is that they are the definitive dumping ground for information. Which means employees have to search hard for relevant and timely news (usually–outside the home page, for example). A mobile-first newsfeed approach removes that challenge. You’re getting the most relevant and timely information in front of employees with minimal work on their part. All they need to do is check their device the thumb down.

Reach employees on weeknights and weekends

If you work on the corporate side, how much time do you have during the day to check traditional employee comms channels? If you’re like many, not much. Chances are you’re in meetings. Doing work. Managing people. All of which takes you away from your computer to read employee comms messages. Or, in industries like health care, manufacturing and retail, employees don’t have desktop access during their jobs–you actually NEED to reach them when they’re not working. A mobile newsfeed (specifically, an app) gets at this need. Just look at the early results from the Nissan folks above.

photo credit: MjZ Photography Flipboard via photopin (license)

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