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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:
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: 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.
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.
A few days ago, I found myself in a good discussion with my PR colleague Allan Schoenberg around the legitmacy of public relations as an industry. Allan was lamenting that yet another network TV series this winter may portray the PR profession in a somewhat negative light. I immediately responded by saying this has been going on for years (Sex in the City, Spin, PoweR Girls, for example) and that it doesn’t help our cause as we fight the good fight for a seat at the proverbial “table.”
As promised, below you’ll find the updated list of Twin Cities communicators online (Twitter and blogs). With your help, this list grew massively from just last month.
Again, standard disclaimer: This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. It’s a work-in-progress and a resource for us all. So please, if you know someone I’ve missed, please leave a comment below or DM and I’ll add their name, Twitter handle and/or blog to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all Minnesota PR/communications blogs and Twittizens.
www.beehivepr.biz (Waxings–authored by various Beehive staffers)
www.marketingpie.risdall.com (authored by various RMPR staffers)
www.dailyaxioms.com (authored by Tim Otis and other Axiom staff)
www.fasthorseinc.com (authored by various FH staffers)
www.providentpartners.net.blog (authored by Albert Marruggi)
www.toprankblog.com (authored by Lee Odden)
www.conniebensen.com (authored by Connie Bensen)
www.getfreshminds.com (authored by Katie Konrath)
www.socialstudiesblog.com (Shandwick PR/social medial blog)
www.providentpartners.net/blog/ (authored by Albert Marruggi and Mike Keliher at Provident Partners)
http://abovethebuzz.wordpress.com (Sterling Cross blog)
http://prmoxie.wordpress.com (Sterling Cross blog)
http://mediapirate.wordpress.com (Sterling Cross blog)
http://e-strategyblog.com/ (blog by David Erickson)
http://social-media-university-global.org/ (authored by Lee Aase)
http://prchickspov.blogspot.com/ (authored by Heather Schwartz)
www.twitter.com/graemethickins (GTA Marketing)
www.twitter.com/jenkaneco (Jennifer Kane–Kane Consulting)
www.twitter.com/stephaniesnyder (Padilla Speer Beardsley)
www.twitter.com/patrickstrother (Strother Communications Group)
www.twitter.com/timotis (Axiom Communications)
www.twitter.com/aprilnel (April Nelson–Weber Shandwick)
www.twitter.com/mjkeliher (Mike Keliher–Provident Partners)
www.twitter.com/jeffshelman (Augsburg College)
www.twitter.com/albertmaruggi (Provident Partners)
www.twitter.com/karyd (Kary Delaria–KD Public Relations)
www.twitter.com/asdeos (Anthony Deos–Target)
www.twitter.com/leeodden (TopRank Online Marketing)
www.twitter.com/cbensen (Connie Bensen–Techrigy)
www.twitter.com/reinan (John Reinan–FastHorse)
www.twitter.com/bskogrand (Brant Skogrand–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
www.twitter.com/bmjewell (Bridget Jewell–Mall of America)
www.twitter.com/saramasters (Minneapolis Synod)
www.twitter.com/rebeccamartin (Beehive PR)
www.twitter.com/curtisrsmith (Carmichael Lynch)
www.twitter.com/sleepnumbersara (Sara Ryder–Select Comfort)
www.twitter.com/prchck123 (Heather Schwartz–Weber Shandwick)
www.twitter.com/evakeiser (Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
www.twitter.com/ekdao (Erika Dao–Mall of America)
www.twitter.com/uptowngirlmpls (LeeAnn Rasachak–Select Comfort)
www.twitter.com/knegs (Keith Negrin)
www.twitter.com/terrijellman (Tastefully Simple)
www.twitter.com/kellygroehler (Best Buy)
www.twitter.com/azemke (Ayme Zemke–Beehive PR)
www.twitter.com/perfectporridge (Greg Swan–Weber Shandwick)
www.twitter.com/joel22882 (Joel Swanson–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
www.twitter.com/laskaroy (Jared Roy-Risdall)
www.twitter.com/mnpr (Ryan May)
www.twitter.com/melanieBB (Melanie Boulay Becker)
www.twitter.com/kaz152 (Laura Kaslow)
www.twitter.com/jbagdade (Jennifer Bagdade)
www.twitter.com/jmaustin (Jon Austin)
www.twitter.com/teddavis (Ted Davis)
www.twitter.com/dawnbryant1029 (Dawn Bryant)
www.twitter.com/bloisolson (Blois Olson)
www.twitter.com/susanbusch (Susan Busch-Best Buy)
www.twitter.com/amyLFisher (Amy Fisher-Padilla Speer Beardsley)
www.twitter.com/lizmiklya (Liz Miklya)
www.twitter.com/ngarrison (Nicole Garrison-St Paul Pioneer Press)
www.twitter.com/allinaComm (comm pros at Allina)
www.twitter.com/publicrelations (Shelle Michaels)
www.twitter.com/TCStace (Stacy Housman-Ameriprise)
www.twitter.com/haker (David Hakensen)
www.twitter.com/mcporter (Mike Porter-University of St Thomas)
www.twitter.com/roseMcKinneyPR (Rose McKinney-Risdall McKinney PR)
www.twitter.com/gabbyDNelson (Gabby Nelson-Select Comfort)
www.twitter.com/bworden (Brooke Worden-Weber Shandwick)
www.twitter.com/tkpleslie (Kaleidoscope Partnership)
www.twitter.com/mhwright (Michell Wright-Padilla Speer Beardsley)
www.twitter.com/RPMaus (University of Minnesota)
www.twitter.com/ryanmathre (University of Minnesota)
www.twitter.com/DJWolter (University of Minnesota)
www.twitter.com/egiorgi (University of Minnesota)
www.twitter.com/MrChristopherL (Sterling Cross Communications)
www.twitter.com/PRMoxie (Sterling Cross Communications)
www.twitter.com/MediaPirate (Sterling Cross Communications)
www.twitter.com/DancingQueen1 (Sarah Ryder-Select Comfort)
www.twitter.com/derickson (David Erickson)
www.twitter.com/leeaase (Lee Aase-Mayo Clinic)
www.twitter.com/mariaenergia (Maria Surma Manka)
www.twitter.com/heatherwestpr (Heather West)
www.twitter.com/dloumeyer (Andrew Meyer-North Memorial)
www.twitter.com/IntervalAdam (Adam Meyer-Interval Marketing)
www.twitter.com/IntervalChris (Chris Bevolo-Interval Marketing)
You’ve probably seen the meme going around on Facebook that asks you to list out “25 random things” about yourself. I posted mine initially a few days ago, but since then I’ve been tagged by a number of people, so instead of reposting on Facebook, I thought I’d post it here for everyone to see. After all, I’m an open book for the most part. Nothing to hide here.
1. I have a Blackberry but I have HUGE iPhone envy.
2. On that note, I’m a Mac guy. Always will be. I think you’re either a Mac guy or you’re an idiot. Just sayin’.
3. I’m a relatively smart guy, just don’t ask me to do anything that involves a hammer, screwdriver or a table saw.
4. I spend WAY too much time on my computer every day. I cannot overstate this enough.
5. I’m a big wimp. Can’t look at needles when they draw my blood. Had to leave room once when they gave my son a catheter. Seriously, they gave him a catheter when he was 3 months old. I still have bad dreams about that.
6. If it weren’t for my wife, I’d be a walking pizza roll. Let’s just say historically, I haven’t had the best eating habits.
7. I need my Caribou coffee. Just started drinking a few years ago. Oddly, that’s about the same time we had our first child.
9. I like having a broad network of friends instead of a few really close personal friends. Always been that way.
10. I played golf collegiately. Wasn’t all that good but I did play in an NAIA national tournament.
11. I really didn’t start my college experience until my senior year. Long story. But it led me to some of my best friends. No regrets.
12. I have wide-ranging music tastes. I can go from Disturbed to Journey to Johnny Cash to Jimmy Buffet in a 15 minute span.
13. I played in a “garage band” for a few years. And when I say “garage band” I mean five guys who had no idea what they were doing. Some very fun times though in Jay Troe’s basement. Kinda miss that sometimes.
14. If I had to do it all over again (collegiately), I’d go to school at KU for all four years, take the hit and pay off the loans. And I’d teach and coach boys basketball and golf somewhere near KC, Charlotte, or San Diego. I’d also spend a semester abroad–missed out big time on that one. Of course, I’d be broke as hell, but it’d be a lot of fun.
15. If I had to do it all over again again (professionally), I’d start my career working for an agency like Fleishman or Shandwick, travel the world and settle into a cushy corporate job in my mid-30s. Do ‘cushy corporate jobs’ still exist? 🙂
16. I’m looking forward to teaching my kids the game of golf and playing many rounds with them as I grow older. Then again, they could wind up playing hockey. Damn Minnesota.
17. My favorite spot on earth: Honeymoon Beach on St John. We will retire there. Mark my words.
18. I’ve always wanted a boat. Don’t know how to operate one. Don’t know much about them. But every time I’ve been on one, I just feel like I was meant to be on the water. Can’t really describe it. I need to act on this soon.
19. I’m a little bit of a video game nerd. Grew up on Track N Field, Qbert and Pitfall. Graduated to FIFA soccer and RBI baseball in my college years. These days it’s all about Guitar Hero and MarioKart.
20. I hate MN winters. HATE. I know that’s a strong word and I don’t care. I HATE them. If it weren’t for the fact that my entire network of friends and family leave within 30 miles of us, I would be out of here in a minute.
21. My dream job? Director of PR/communications for the PGA of America. Actually met the guy who performs this job three years ago at Medinah. Best. Job. Ever.
23. I live with a lot of regrets, but I’m always hopeful about the future. Never more so than this year. So much opportunity ahead of us al in 2009.
24. I grew up in the suburbs and now live in the city. That’s a microcosm of my life. I like to do things my way (Frankie style, baby!), not necessarily the way everyone else does it.
25. My dreams: Watch my kids grow up to be healthy, happy, productive human beings; live in St. John; live on a golf course at some point in my life; grow old with my wife; have at least three different careers by the time I’m 75.