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Throwing my hat in the Journchat ring…

At the suggestion of a few friends and colleagues, I am throwing my hat into the proverbial ring for moderator consideration during next Monday’s Journchat.

Sarah: If selected, I can only hope to be 1/100th the moderator you have been since you founded Journchat. You have set the bar remarkably high! Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity. Regardless of who moderates next week, your openness to sharing the stage and spotlighting others is one of the reasons I, and many others online, love collaborating and working with you.

Cheers!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8GU9YvgqK0]

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Social Media and Not-for-Profits: The perfect marriage?

I’ve had several conversations with leaders at local not-for-profits lately and one theme continues to emerge: How can we use social media tools to further our organization’s vision and help us make a difference in the communities we serve?

I currently consult with two not-for-profit organizations and for both social media can and will play a key role in their marketing and communcations mix in 2009.

Why?

The tools are cheap or relatively inexpensive–key for not-for-profits with little to no communications budget. They’re usually easy to set up. Also important for organizations who usually have one do-it-all communicator on staff. And finally–and most importantly–most social media tools can help build stronger communities. Isn’t that what not-for-profit organizations are all about?

Think about the not-for-profit organizations in your town. Maybe you volunteer with a few. Are they taking advantage of these new tools and resources (in addition to their existing PR and marketing tools) to connect with donors, volunteers and community members? If not, maybe it’s time for you to intercede and lend your valuable time and talents to help an organization you believe in further its mission. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

* Communicate more effectively and efficiently with volunteers through a blog. Instead of communicating with your volunteer base through one-off and group emails, communicate one-to-many through a blog. Using this tool, you can also share photos and video with these important stakeholders. And best yet, they can share with and learn from each other by posting comments and information.

* Enable photo sharing (and spread your message) by creating a FlickR account. Most not-for-profit organizations hold events–whether it’s to raise money, engage new audiences or recognize volunteers. Why not give your members and stakeholders the opportunity to share these photos with their friends, families and colleagues through their own social networks like Facebook. After all, who doesn’t like to see themselves in a photo? It will spread your message and mission to audiences you’ve never reached before.

* Build stronger communities and engage your champions through a Facebook “fan” page. Set up a playground where your members and stakeholders can interact, share and connect. Give them the resources they need to tell your story (photos, PDFs of donation forms, brochures, etc.). Provide video testimonials from people your NFP has helped. Find new ways to engage this “fan base.”

That’s the short list of my ideas. I know there are many others out there. What’s worked for you? How are NFPs using these tools to build stronger communities?

Photos courtesy of American Red Cross and kmxphoto.

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PR Rock Stars: A Conversation with Greg Swan

You hear something once, you may dismiss it. You hear it twice, your ears start to perk up. You hear it three times, you start to believe the hype. This has been my experience in getting to know Greg Swan, digital strategy manager with Weber Shandwick here in the Twin Cities.

Over the last few years, I’ve heard so many great things about Greg and his work–from my PRSA colleagues, mutual friends and PR leaders throughout the community. But, I’d never really had the chance to meet Greg and sit down and chat until just a few weeks ago. Instantly, I became a huge fan. 
Smart. Plugged in. Creative. Early adopter. Greg Swan is many things. What he is not is just another media relations pro. Sure, Greg knows PR backwards and front. But, what makes Greg so unique is his ability to draw upon his experience with digital solutions, citizen journalism and PR to craft integrated marketing and communications programs for his clients. Now, that, my friends is how you become a PR Rock Star.

You’ve been one of the pioneers in the Twin Cities blogosphere since starting your PerfectPorridge blog in 2004. How did you get into blogging and who would you consider your key influencers and mentors in that space?

After my ad agency stint in Des Moines, I interned at the alternative newspaper in Des Moines and had the opportunity to put that journalism side of my PR degree to work and fell even more in love with writing. Shortly after leaving the paper I co-founded and edited a statewide arts magazine dedicated to the arts, Art Scene. When I moved to the Twin Cities and moved into PR full time, I still needed an outlet for all of that arts-writing passion. Perfect Porridge was born.

However, I first set up a LiveJournal blog back in 2000, where I eloquently shared rants like, “Why I Refuse to Call Independence Day the Fourth of July.” Now I maintain three to four blogs daily: PerfectPorridge, Greg Swan, Minneapolis Metblogs, PerfectPorridge Second Helpings; but try to stay away from the pajama-style rants. Twitter is the ultimate blogging tool, and because it’s so simple to update, it’s my preferred publication medium.

There are so many pioneering trailblazers across the blogging landscape; it’s difficult to give them all enough credit. I can’t say I regularly read a single blog, but I do make it a practice to skim FriendFeed, Twitter and Google Reader a few times a day and use a sundry of new media widgets and alerts for constant updates.


I have this horribly personal analogy for mining this overwhelming data stream I can’t stop myself from sharing: I imagine myself as an F16 fighter pilot who flips down a 360-degree lens wherein real-time data is piped through the lens and enters the sensory awareness of my consciousness as I fly the plane. I may not directly pay attention to every post or news story, but there is a working madness to the osmosis of skimming hundreds of streams a day and gleaning a general feel for news of the day or what’s really important. That’s how I use social media streams – straight to the brain!

You play a key role on the digital strategy team at Weber Shandwick here in Minneapolis. As we ease into February, how are organizations integrating social media and digital tools into their marketing communications mix differently in 2009? What kind of trends are you seeing there?

Clients and agencies are looking are continually evaluating and evolving their approach to social marketing. Weber Shandwick Digital has a focus on inline communications, meaning we don’t create a stand-alone, traditional communications campaign and bolt on a few online tactics just because. We also rarely deliver solely digital or social media plans. Instead, we craft integrated strategic plans that reflect the audience our clients are trying to reach, as well as the approach that will be most effective in driving advocacy for a specific brand, issue or company.

Advertising, interactive, pure-digital and even events companies are trying to carve out their own approach to social marketing. In my opinion, PR agencies already build campaigns that help a company/brand foster two-way dialog with their stakeholders. Therefore, social media is a logical, next-generation framework for generating the opportunity for this discussion to happen.

Additionally, legacy media reporters are increasingly using media tools – often without realizing it. The “2008 Journalist Survey on Media Relations Practices” study found the greatest change in journalism practices as a result of the internet to is the ability to access corporate news and contact information online 24 hours a day. Nearly half of journalists reported visiting a corporate website or online newsroom at least once a week, while nearly 87 percent visit at least once a month.

Many companies see those kinds of stats, review their own corporate newsroom and take a big “gulp.” We’re helping companies bridge the gap between 1) legacy reporters who may still want a formal news release and a high-resolution photo, and 2) citizen journalists who may want two bullets and a Web-quality photo, plus a digg or del.icio.us button.

Whether it’s a social media newsroom to accommodate unique media needs, a corporate blog for consistently updated information, or a Twitter account for less formal updates, I feel we’re enabling the trend toward corporate transparency and immediacy using new media tools.

As for other trends in the mediasphere and PR industry, check out these other stats from that same study:

* Nearly 75 percent follow at least one blog regularly
* More than 75 percent of journalists say they use social media to research stories
* Nearly 38 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site at least once a week as part of their reporting
* More than 53 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site such as FaceBook or YouTube at least once a month
* Nearly 19 percent of journalists receive five or more RSS feeds of news services, blogs, podcasts or videocasts every week

This blurred gray line between traditional and social media is the reason I’ve tried to stop myself from using the terms “mainstream media” a
nd “new media.” It’s increasingly hard to distinguish the two.

With that said, mass media is still “mass,” yet legacy news outlets now publish their stories online and include comments and sharing tools. I think what’s left of that gray line will dissolve by 2010.

You’re actively involved in both PRSA and MIMA (Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association). In fact, you just moderated an outstanding panel at a recent MIMA meeting at the University of Minnesota that covered digital reputation management. Why do you continue to be so involved in these two organizations? What value does it bring to your professional life?

I highly recommend PR pros join one or more professional organizations. My college advisor was a long-standing APR accredited professional and frequently extolled the importance of accreditation to help shape and restore PR’s reputation.

Based on Wednesday’s unfortunate USA Today piece, “Despite dim view of public relations, it may be needed,” the PR industry still has a long way to go on the reputation front.

PRSA’s code of ethics and APR programs are a great foundation for new and tenured PR folks to lean on day-to-day, and especially in time of a crisis or need for a snap-judgment.

MIMA is leading the way as the go-to organization for interactive marketing strategies. They also hold less formal, more frequent and integrated discussions about a wide range of topics that help me stretch my thinking beyond PR 101 blinders.

Back to the inline concept, it’s important for all PR professionals to understand the changing face of the media landscape. You don’t have just one person in your company/agency who knows how to write a press release, so you can’t afford to just have one person who reads blogs or even more importantly, understands how an innocuous blog post can seriously and immediately impact mass media coverage.

I can understand the challenges professional organizations face in recruiting these days, particularly with 1) the economy tightening our belts and budgets and 2) a Millennial generation who may view their employment as an 8-5 commitment and perhaps not a career that demands investment, education and peer interaction.

Event groups like Social Media Breakfast MSP, Conversations About the Future of Advertising and Likemind provide all generations with a less formal opportunity to get together, network and collaborate. I think we’ll continue to see formal organizations become more dynamic while these information organizations adopt formal protocols to manage growing membership bases.

I recommend seizing the opportunity to interact with peers at every chance, and the Twin Cities marketing community offers countless opportunities every month.

As I mentioned, you started PerfectPorridge, a Minneapolis-based music blog that covers the national, international and local music scenes. Clearly, you have a passion for music, but what keeps you blogging? It doesn’t seem like you have a lot of free time on your hands with your position at Shandwick, professional association duties, speaking engagements and your growing family. What’s stoking that fire?

That’s a great question. I like to be busy and have my irons in lots of fires. But last fall we bought this gorgeous 120 year-old house, and if you were following closely, you may have noticed my tweeting, blogging, tagging, etc. severely dropped off while I refinished the hardwood floors and tended to home projects.

I also rarely tweet or blog between 5-8 p.m. when I try to give my son the attention he deserves. With new technology tools, it’s simple to stay connected, but I try to maintain a healthy level of offline discipline, too.

Interested in a live band take from you. Give me your top three local (Minneapolis) bands and three national bands you absolutely have to see when they come to town.

I understand the reasoning behind this question, but I always hate ranking local bands. Our musical community boasts a tremendously creative talent pool across multiple genres.

The new P.O.S. album, “Never Better,” is shaping the next generation of hip-hop. Adam Levy (of the Honeydogs) recently put out a kids CD under the moniker Bunny Clogs. I took my two year-old to Rock the Cradle at the MIA a few weeks ago to see Adam and his daughter perform tracks from “More! More! More!” Jeremy Messersmith is another talented singer-songwriter who has recently come on my radar. His track, “Welcome to Suburbia” was my theme song last fall.

Nationally, I have to recommend Raleigh’s Annuals, who never fail to disappoint when they come through town. I’m also a big fan of Great Northern’s dissonant songwriting and poignant live show. They have a new album coming out, “Remind Me Where the Light Is,” poised to really break them out. I also caught Fujiya and Miyagi last night at a sold out 7th Street Entry show. My ears are still thumping twelve hours later.

You seem to be somewhat of a hybrid in professional terms—you have a keen interest in citizen journalism as the captain of the Minneapolis Metroblog, you work for one of the largest PR shops in Minnesota and you clearly “get” the social media/digital space. What do you see as the advantage of focusing on multiple areas of expertise instead of specializing in just one?

Unlike some traditional brick and mortar trades, public relations is an industry that changes dynamically nearly every day. I’ve found the best way to stay in touch with those changes is to jump into the fray head first.

For example, to be a good PR pro, it’s critical to understand journalism and the natural flow of news. Both the definition of “news” and how that news is reported have changed greatly in the last decade. But it’s not as easy as touring the local newspaper and TV stations and reading the local daily newspaper every morning.

Reporters are scanning blogs, LinkedIn and using Twitter to source experts for their stories. Stories are now often updated after they publish with corrections or better, fresher content. And where do they get that content? Press r
eleases still serve a purpose, but that purpose is fading. Matte releases are headed the way of the Video News Release. With the advent of e-mail, reporters are the most accessible they’ve ever been, yet they’re completely overwhelmed with competing pitches from our peers. Meanwhile, everyday people – citizens – are using new tools to publish, share and tell stories and impact mass media coverage.

The most daunting challenge we face – that tomorrow will never be the same as today – should be the easiest hurdle to overcome. I want to be involved in knowing and shaping what’s next, and the best way of knowing and shaping is by doing.

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7 ways to hone your consulting skills

Like many in the PR/communications business, I’ve been on both sides of the table. As the consultant, you’re looked to for fresh ideas and sound advice. On the corporate side, you’re more accountable for the organization’s results and feel a little more connected to your employer. After all, you’re on the “inside.”

But, after sitting in both chairs, I’ve learned the consulting skills in both positions are quite similar–no matter if you’re on the inside or coming from the outside. Regardless, these skills are among the most important in your toolbox. You might have a great idea or strategy you believe your client should implement, but unless you can persuade, communicate and manage expectations, you won’t get too far.

So, as you sit down with your clients next week, think about how you can improve your consulting skills. Do you have a tendency to do all the talking in client meetings? Do you really understand your client’s business? How well do you know your client? As you assess your performance, keep the following tips in mind:

* Understand your client’s business–inside and out. This is imperative. You can’t provide effective counsel if you don’t understand the key drivers of their business. Who are the client’s key audiences? Who are their top three competitors? How are they perceived in the marketplace? Who are the key influencers in their market? You know the drill.

* Partner and collaborate–don’t preach and tell. Easiest way to get under a client’s skin? Walk in to the meeting and start telling them how smart you are, how much they have to learn and what they should be doing to improve. Yes, they want your advice–but it’s all in the approach. If you can learn to join forces with your clients and work toward common goals (isn’t that the whole idea?), it will pay huge dividends down the line. Results for your client. Additional work for yourself or your agency (results for you). And happiness. True happiness.

* Listen. Intently. Probably the biggest mistake we make as consultants–we don’t listen enough. We’re so eager to advise our clients and tell them what to do, we forget to listen. I mean, really listen. One way to do this? Ask intelligent questions. Start with the basics. What are your business goals this year? How do you expect marketing/PR/communications will help you achieve those goals? How are you currently performing vs. expectations? What are the top three challenges your company’s facing right now? What’s preventing you from reaching your goals? Get the client talking. And listen.

* Do your homework. The mark of any good consultant? Over-prepare for every client meeting. That means walking in with an agenda–even if the client didn’t ask for one. That means clearly laying out what you hope to achieve in the meeting. That means researching the client and their immediate and long-term needs, the challenges they’re currently facing and identifying any roadblocks they need to navigate. Never, ever, ever be caught with your pants down in a client meeting because you weren’t prepared.

* Tell them how wonderful they are. The great ones do this so well. I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some incredibly talented consultants in my career and they always made a point to commend the client and their team on their great work. Without flat-out lying, of course. Couple reasons why this is a smart move. A) It shows you’re paying attention to what they’ve been doing and that you recognize great work, and B) It helps you start building that relationship, which is critical. The client has to see you as a partner, someone who’s looking out for their best interests. By telling them how great they are, you’re in fact saying, “You do great work. I do great work. Let’s do great work together for your brand.”

* Manage expectations. An often overlooked component of the consultant-client relationship, but one that’s vitally important. Constantly look for ways to uncover the client’s expectations around specific projects you’re working on together, your role in the work and the overall relationship. This will help you manage those expectations when projects get derailed or sidetracked or results don’t pan out as originally planned.
* Date your client. Ok, not really because that will get you fired (or not, stranger things have happened). Instead, build a relationship with your client. Find out what they’re interested in outside of work. Find ways to incorporate those interests into your daily interactions with them. Remember their birthday. Comment on photos on their desk. Ask about their children. Just get to know the client as a human being. To a large extent it’s still a relationship-based business. People do business with people they like. Work on being someone people like.
So, how are you doing? Are you hitting on all cylinders in these areas? Any room for improvement? If yes, how do you plan to hone your consulting skills in the weeks and months ahead?
Note: Photo courtesy of Creator Apps

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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder


My first two conversations in the “PR Rock Star” series have been with fairly seasoned PR pros–David Mullen and Lee Aase. Today, I’d like to highlight two younger pros and a couple of the real up-and-coming PR stars in the Twin Cities community–LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder.

If you’re on Twitter, you may know them as @uptowngirlmpls and @sleepnumbersara. Together, they make up a formidable social media and PR duo at Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. They’re also both past Dr. Willard Thompson scholarship winners (through PRSSA), by the way, so we know they’re smart, driven and ethical practitioners at their core.

OK, enough set up–let’s get on with the conversation! Hope you enjoy this installment of the PR Rock Star Conversation series.

You’re both active on Twitter professionally with Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. You share information, promotions and sleep tips through your accounts. What was your strategy as you started to use this new tool in your marketing mix? And what’s the one thing you’ve learned about your community through using Twitter?

LeeAnn/Sarah: As a communications team, we’ve adapted social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook to reach our customers and consumers interested in getting a good night’s sleep. By providing followers and fans with sleep tips, sleep/health news and Sleep Number promotions, we’ve become a resource to help them achieve the best sleep possible. Fortunately, the Sleep Number brand meets two essential social media criteria a brand needs to have in order to be successful:

• The Sleep Number brand has a solid awareness among online consumers.
• We have a large group of satisfied owners, who are already highly engaged with the brand and online talking about it. Social media is another way to support a mutually beneficial relationship.

Sarah: As “SleepNumberSara” I’ve learned there are a lot of owners actively talking about and promoting the Sleep Number bed on Twitter, and the recommendation by a community or network carries a lot of weight in the consideration and purchase process. I’ve enjoyed connecting with consumers to gather testimonials, answer questions from potential buyers, troubleshoot issues, and ensure they have a quality experience with our product.

LeeAnn: From a personal perspective, I’ve become a Tweeter because it’s a tool to help me connect with other communications professionals, colleagues, friends and news resources every minute of the day. And, I do mean every minute! While external social media does not fall into my day-to-day Select Comfort responsibilities, I have an overwhelming interest and need to share my knowledge and serve on the “truth squad.” We have great products and I want to help people understand how each of the personalized products work.

Sarah: Through my personal Twitter account, I’ve learned that Twitter is a great resource to stay-up-to-date on news, trends and to maintain relationships. But it still doesn’t beat reading the Wall Street Journal or talking face-to-face with friends and colleagues. I love the ability to read my feed between meetings and conference calls, but no form of technology will replace the importance of face-to-face communication. On that note, happy hour anyone?

LeeAnn: I’ve learned many things about my community through Twitter but so far the most important lesson is to provide worthwhile content. My tweets reach beyond sleep and Sleep Number products. I speak to my personal life as UptownGirlMpls – sharing how to maintain a great quality of life within the Twin Cities as a single, 20-something who is active in her community. And as an Uptown community advocate, I’m always game for happy hour. 😉

Unfortunately, like many companies, Select Comfort has had to layoff staff recently. From some of our previous discussions, I know you have used social media tools internally as part of your strategy to communicate with staff and open up two-way dialogues. What tools did you use and what kind of response did you hear from employees?


LeeAnn/Sarah: We have many internal communication vehicles including a weekly e-newsletter, regular voicemail and e-mail communications, and an internal blog. One of the company’s goals is to foster true engagement. To help us reach this goal, it’s important that employees feel real ownership of the company. So, we created a company blog.

Our internal blog is a place where all employees have a voice. It helps to foster communication not only across the company, but across the country. New, relevant and important information is posted by contributors from all areas and levels within the company. And, we encourage all employees to comment, share ideas and engage in conversation. Ultimately, the blog is an importance resource for employees. A place where they can give and receive information that will help everyone feel true ownership.
Sarah: As a side note to our answer, I’d like to add that as a fairly new Select Comfort employee, I really appreciated the open communication and dialogue – especially during the past two months. The communication has truly helped foster great conversations, and has increased employee confidence and morale via our internal blog, brown bags and other employee engagement activities.

Staying on that topic for a minute. There are plenty of case studies online featuring companies that are using social media tools with external audiences. However, there aren’t nearly as many when it comes to internal audiences. In your experience, what’s the biggest challenge in using these tools to foster productive conversations and build community with employees vs. customers and external stakeholders?

LeeAnn/Sarah: In our experience, the biggest challenge to foster productive conversations is getting ALL employees to comment and engage in dialogue. We know there are many readers of the blog and the next step is to activate more voices. Our employees are passionate about the product, company’s success and display a personal commitment each and every day. The conversations are always productive and honest. We are working to bridge the gap between retail field and home office participation. While the retail employee base is larger than corporate employees, it’s a goal of ours in 2009 to evolve it to be more tailored. We have such different internal audiences that one tool is never absolutely perfect for everyone.

I know you’re both big supporters of PRSA and professional development. What have you found to be the biggest benefits of your involvement with the Minnesota chapter? And what is the one thing you learned this past year as a result of your involvement with this organization?

LeeAnn/Sarah: We both agree that we wouldn’t be where we are today without PRSSA and PRSA.

LeeAnn: The bigg
est benefit I’ve found in our local Chapter is overwhelming support. We have a great community of public relations professionals who take care of each other. My mentors are PRSA professionals who have connected me with many opportunities and helped develop my career path. In the last year as co-chair of the Student Relations committee, I’ve learned how to be a better leader by managing through change – listening to my committee, balancing workload and making decisions together.

Sarah: As a relatively new PR professional, it’s been wonderful and beneficial to have a nurturing community and a network of great professionals to learn from. I feel very fortunate to have great PRSA mentors and friends who have supported and shaped my career.

During the past year I’ve been a PRSSA president and a Classics committee member. Although both positions are very different, I’ve learned a similar theme; volunteering my time to help others is the best way to give back to the PR community that gave me so much. As there is constant change and learning opportunities associated with being an active PRSA member, I’ve also learned to become more adaptable to change.

You both played lead roles in your respective PRSSA chapters (Sarah at the University of Minnesota and LeeAnn at the University of St. Thomas—both
Dr. Willard Thompson Scholarship award winners, by the way) so you understand the value of effective leadership. As we continue to struggle in this rough-and-tumble economy, what are three characteristics you believe every leader should possess?

Sarah: I think a leader should posses 1) a genuine passion and excitement for the team members and the team’s goals, 2) good listening skills for open two-way communication, to identify emerging ideas/trends and gauge group morale and 3) have an overall vision for the group and the confidence to make quality decisions.

LeeAnn: Adaptability – not just during difficult economic conditions but always. As communications professionals there is constant change and without becoming adaptable to change, it’s difficult to grow and succeed. Social media is a prime example. So many professionals have tried to ignore it — but think of your audience; what are their needs and how can you help meet them? Be present in front of them; stop standing in the back waving your hand hoping they’ll see you.

Humor – without it, we’re toast. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the positive within a situation. But to operate without warmth or a way to connect to others does not help. Commit to optimism and focus on what you can control.

Keen listening skills – when things are tough all you hear is noise. The buzz about what to do next, questions to establish accountability and determining what the solve is. Now more than ever it’s important to use your listening skills. To hear the real question and concern, and tune into what your constituents are asking of you. To be an effective communications leader, you need to listen before establishing the course.

As companies think about integrating social media into their marketing and PR mix, some believe these tools are just for high-tech or high-profile consumer companies. You convinced a bedding retailer and mattress manufacturer to give it a try. How did you do it?

LeeAnn/Sarah: Select Comfort uses Twitter and other social media to not only spread the word about the benefits of the Sleep Number bed, but we also create genuine relationships with our owners while providing them with value.

We provide metrics that define our success with every communications tactic used. The same goes for social media. If we can measure what we implement, generate positive results and be cost efficient, it makes for a winning case with our senior leaders.

As technologies evolve, what remains the same is our great product and our owners genuine excitement to talk about it. Whether offline or online, we enjoy being involved in that conversation. Technology is one communications vehicle; it’s the connection that’s important.

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