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The commencement speech I would have given (if Winona State had asked)

President Olson, distinguished faculty, families and class of 2015 graduates, my name is Arik Hanson and I am an independent marketing consultant and a graduate of the class of 1996.

I am your 2015 commencement speaker.

Apparently, the other 5,421 grads from 1996 as well as pretty much everyone else that graduated between 1997-2014 was unavailable for today’s event. So, you’re stuck with me.

WSU Grad

But, believe me, you won’t be disappointed because I have prepared a speech today that will have you LOLing and tweeting every other line because you’re feeling so damn inspired.

And, I based in entirely off a story I read in NPR.

See, this is one of the first things you’ll learn when you leave here today: There are no original ideas. There are only people who steal ideas!

And today, I’m stealing from NPR because people who work at NPR are very, very smart. And I am, well, I’m an independent marketing consultant.

Here goes.

NPR’s first piece os sage advice: Be funny.

See, I’m screwed right off the bat. I’m not funny. Never have been. In fact, I’m the guy who laughs at the funny guy. I’m the funny guy’s best friend. So, being funny just isn’t going to work for me. But see, I discovered that early in my adult life. I figured out I wasn’t funny. I couldn’t make people laugh. Heck, I can’t even make my 10-year-old son laugh right now and he basically still worships his Dad. But, you see, there’s a lesson here. I’m not funny. I know that now. And, knowing what you are–and what you aren’t–is an important thing. Because trying to be funny all the time can be exhausting. It can drain you of your true energy. Energy that you’ll need to pursue your dreams. So stop trying to be so damn funny!

Number two: Make fun of yourself.

On the flip side,I’ve been making fun of myself since I was about 12 years old. I pretty much had to since 1) I wasn’t all that smart, 2) I wasn’t all that attractive, and 3) I wasn’t all that funny. But, self-depricating humor? That, I could pull off, thanks to oodles of material. And, that’s really never changed. I play the self-deprication card often when meeting new people–in meetings, over coffee, at a Twins game. It’s one of my go-to moves, to be honest. It works because it softens you up to those around you. But, it also plays a vital role for you: It keeps your ego in check. Humility is one the key characteristics of almost every successful person I know. I’m talking about people you really admire–not LeBron James or Bill Gates. XXXXX

OK, number three: Downplay the genre.

Everyone always says you’ll never remember much about your commencement speaker. I say that’s hogwash! I’m willing to bet you’ll remember me for a good 10-15 seconds after this event! After all, I’m an independent marketing consultant! I patterned my speech based on an NPR article! I followed a can’t-miss playbook! I shall be remembered!

Number four: You must have a message.

So, I’m going to steal even MORE ideas. Hey, maybe that should be one of my messages: ALWAYS STEAL IDEAS!

I have three quotes I think outline three key messages I’d like to impart to you today.

“People talk about getting lucky breaks in their careers. I’m living proof that the ‘lucky breaks’ theory is simply wrong. You get to make your own luck. … The world is run by those who show up…not those who wait to be asked.” —Steve Blank, Philadelphia University, 2011

I used to believe in the “lucky break” notion, too. Except, I thought I was the victim of NOT receiving any lucky breaks. Why did I have such bad luck, I thought? Why was the world against me? Why didn’t I just fall into these great jobs that my other friends were getting? Then, it kinda dawned on me. You need to make your own luck. You need to create your own change. You need to STEAL MORE IDEAS (no, Arik, wrong message–stay on point here). Over the years, I’ve come around to Mr. Blank’s way of thinking: There is no luck. There are only people who show up. Be someone who shows up. Every. Single. Day.

“You are now entering a world that’s filled to the brim with idiots. Since there are so many idiots out there, you actually may start to think you’re crazy. You are not. They are idiots.”–Lewis Black

For YEARS, I’ve been meeting with students. Speaking at classes (including many here at Winona State). Grabbing coffee with students. Allowing kids to job-shadow me for a day. And, over those years, the number of students who really stand out–I mean truly stand out–I can count on one hand. Lewis Black, unfortunately, was right. The world is full of mediocrity. And, because of that, I would argue it’s easier than ever to stand out from the crowd. It just takes a lot of hard work. And, people don’t want to put in hard work anymore. They want things easy. If you’re not afraid to put in the time and effort to get what you want, you will succeed.

“As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own.” —Michael Dell, CEO, Dell Computers, University of Texas at Austin, 2003

When I graduated in 1996, a fellow grad of mine had it all planned out. I mean, she had her whole life locked down. She was going to be a VP by 30. She was going to have twin girls by 28. I’m telling you, she had it LOCKED DOWN! But, then something funny happened. Life happened. She got side-tracked. Thrown a couple curveballs she chased into the dirt. Then, life threw her a high-and-tight fastball that knocked her down flat on her ass. Her plan was kaput. But, she started to form a new plan–one that was better than the first because it was based on where she was going. Not where she thought she had to go. There’s a big difference. If you would have told me that by the time I was 42 I’d be a successful independent marketing consultant who’s keynoted conferences, earned top-billing as a national blogger, and earned more money than he could have possibly imagined as a 22-year-old, I would have said you were crazy. My life took some unexpected turns. Not everything out the way I planned it. And that’s OK. In fact, I kinda like that. I like how sometimes I don’t know what’s around the corner. I like that I don’t know what’s coming at me next (even if it might be scary). I’ve come to accept that I simply don’t have that much control over my life.

This gift you’ve been given, life, it’s a ride. And, you’re among the very fortunate who now have a college education. You have a chance to do what so few in this world can. Anything you want.

Make the most of that opportunity. And remember: ALWAYS STEAL THOSE IDEAS!

Note: Photo courtesy of Winona State University.

Tide’s #OurColors NFL Draft Day Twitter campaign: Boom or bust?

If you followed the first round of the NFL Draft on Twitter last Thursday, you noticed something a bit odd (but, expected for those of us in the marketing world).

More brands were showing up in our feeds connected to the players getting drafted.

Notably: Tide.

Tide’s #OurColors campaign was one of several throughout the night, but also one of the more interesting from a variety of viewpoints.

At first, I thought it seemed awfully forced. And, personally, I think it’s weird for these kids who have been dreaming about this moment since they were 5, to be making sponsored tweets just seconds after that big moment.

But, once I started digging in, things got interesting. I mean, Tide has been at this #OurColors campaign for a couple years already. But, to my knowledge, they’ve never done anything like this on Draft Day/Weekend. They also have a partnership with the NFL–this doesn’t even come close to happening without that, given the access to the players they now have. That’s a huge–and most likely very expensive–piece to this case study puzzle.

Given all that, I still thought it was an interesting case study. So, let’s dive in and look at what worked for Tide this past weekend:

Engagement win

Although I have no “insider knowledge”, you have to think one of Tide’s key goals with this campaign was around engagement. And, say what you will about the campaign, but if you look at it from that perspective, it worked. I mean, this Melvin Gordon tweet had 1,000+ favs and 500+ retweets. Now, those aren’t gaudy numbers, but when you consider the @TideNFL Twitter account has just under 5,000 followers and tweets regularly see under 20 RTs, you quickly see the benefit. Tide made the strategic decision to use their “brand ambassadors” (NFL players) instead of their owned accounts, as a means to drive engagement. They could have just used promoted Twitter products to blitz the hell out of us on Twitter over the weekend, but this approach worked much, much better.


Impression boost

The other goal for Tide on Twitter is most likely around awareness. After all, they’re not selling Tide online, right? The likely measure here is probably impressions. If that’s true, I think this is another win. Given they had a long list of not only draftees tweeting on draft night, but also current players, the impressions numbers have to be huge. Case in point: Clay Matthews tweet below congratulating Demarious Randall on becoming a member of the Green Bay Packers. Matthews has 820,000 Twitter followers. @TideNFL, again, has just under 5,000.


Winning on Twitter without a meaningful account

As much as I thought the idea of NFL players celebrating the biggest day of their lives (draft day) with a sponsored message rung hollow, the idea of Tide running this account without a big presence on Twitter is kinda brilliant. In essence, what they’ve said is “we don’t need a Twitter handle for this campaign–we’ll just have our brand ambassadors do it for us.” And keep in mind, it’s not just the guys who were drafting who were tweeting. Because, let’s be honest, outside of the fans of the college they played for, who’s following those people right now (I mean, Demarious Randall could have been the bus boy at Applebees for all I knew until I just researched him two minutes ago)? It’s also the EXISTING players (like Matthews above) who were contributing to the stream all weekend. Like Chicago Bears RB, Matt Forte (see below. Again, parts of this approach were really smart.


Now, let’s look at what didn’t really work:

Does this really do anything for Tide?

The danger with hitching your entire campaign to engagement and impression metrics (if that’s really what Tide’s doing here), is that it’s fairly flimsy. Sure, those impression numbers are gaudy. Yeah, those engagement numbers are going to look AWESOME in that TPS report for your boss. But at the end of the day, what is that really doing for Tide? Is it selling more units? Is it raising the brand’s profile among a group that may have lower awareness of their product? Maybe. But, do you really think that many people noticed the @TideNFL handle in tweets? Did people really even know what #OurColors meant? Will that impact sales or purchase decisions at all? I’m not so sure. From a certain perspective, this seems like a big metrics grab.

Forced real-time marketing?

Here’s the thing. Some of this felt forced. Dante Fowler’s tweet here–forced.

Again, Trae Wayans tweet upon learning the news that he’s joining my beloved Vikings and is now an instant millionnaire? Forced.

But, then you look at DeVante Parker’s tweet here, thanking the University of Louisville and its fans for supporting him the last few years? I don’t know–not so forced. At least that’s a message he may have sent anyway. You just stick the #OurColor and #Spon tags on there, and it’s really something he’s probably say anyway.

So, what do you think of this campaign? Pretty interesting, right? Rubbed some people the wrong way on draft night (mostly marketing folks, like us). But, the average fan? I think it probably played well with them–I mean, look at the impression/engagement metrics, right? If nothing else, it’s an interesting campaign from the strategic perspective of allowing your brand ambassadors to carry the water for you–certainly Tide has paid for that, and they’re seeing results.

The “social CEO”: How AmFam’s Jack Salzwedel manages his social media profiles

About a year ago, I talked about 14 things your CEO should talk about on Twitter. It was part of a larger discussion about CEOs and how they tackle social networks from a content perspective.

As part of that research, I stumbled on American Family Insurance CEO, Jack Salzwedel. You see, it’s actually pretty tough to find Fortune 500 CEOs who are active on Twitter these days (I know, surprise surprise, right?). But, finding Jack’s handle was a God-send. In my opinion, he is one of the more open, authentic and genuinely engaging CEOs using Twitter. Really, check him out if you get a chance.


So, I got to thinking–I’d like to know more about Jack (I can call him Jack–we tweeted once :) and his strategy behind using social media. Coincidentally, over the years, I’d met Tom Buchheim, executive social media advisor at AmFam. I sent him a list of questions about how Jack uses social media–here are his responses. Some pretty interesting insights for those of you who are thinking about working with your executive partners to become more active on social media.

First, does AmFam CEO, Jack Salzwedel post and manage his own social media accounts, or does your team help him? How did you make that decision and what was involved (training, assistance, etc.)?

Jack manages his own social media accounts, and is most active on Twitter. I provide oversight for his accounts – for creative assets like header or profile images, among other things. I also serve as a liaison between his accounts and our Customer Service teams, should a customer or claimant reach out to Jack through social media.

Jack receives regular counsel from me and others at the company, too, especially related to the content he shares. Every tweet sent from @AmFamJack comes from Jack personally. He decides who to follow and with whom he engages. And even though he regularly receives suggested content to post that is prepared in his unique “social voice,” Jack will almost always personalize each tweet before posting. And he doesn’t use every suggestion.

Last year, I profiled Mr. Salzwedel as one of the few CEOs that I believe is really using Twitter effectively as an engagement tool. Can you talk a bit about how you got Mr. Salzwedel started on Twitter and why?

Jack was actually an early adopter to Twitter, and joined for the same reasons most of us did – he was curious about it. He wanted to try this new technology on for size. He recognized early how Twitter could help him and AmFam on several fronts, including driving deeper connections with agents and employees, as well as simplifying his life by aggregating news and information into one place for easier consumption.

On Twitter, Mr. Salzwedel is really great at engaging with followers, but also making sure AmFam’s key projects and initiatives get mentioned. How do you find a balance? Is there a certain mix you’re going for?

Jack definitely has interests he will share more often than anything else on Twitter. That includes recognizing the good things our employees, agents and affiliate companies are doing every day in our communities. The challenge – as you noted – is finding that mix. It’s why Jack realized long ago – 2011 to be exact – that he needed help. He’s a busy CEO and recognized social media would be a factor in how he communicated with various audiences. In my estimation, that’s still pretty radical thinking in 2015 – and we’ve been at this for more than 4 years!

One thing I noticed when studyingMr. Salzwedel on Twitter–he talks a LOT about his hometown Badgers (especially over the last few months!). This is one area a lot of executives struggle with on Twitter–talking about their personal interests/passions. How has talking about the Badgers publicly worked out for Jack and AmFam? And, how has it impacted his success from a company POV?

I think the philosophy is the same as you’ll hear from many social media power users… Be yourself. Be real. Be approachable. Find your voice and use it for good. Jack is all those things on Twitter, along with being a thought leader and CEO of a large company. I talked before about some of the topics of interest for Jack – and they’re not just about business or leadership or politics. They’re about sports, his alma mater (Wartburg College), his family, his home state – and more. These are all things Jack will share, and they’re all things that factor into the mix of content I look for when supporting him.

With the advent of livestreaming tools like Meerkat and Periscope, and given Mr. Salzwedel’s prolific nature on Twitter, have you given any thought to using those tools? What does that decision-making process look like for your team?

We’ve previously discussed things like Google Plus hangouts as an option for deeper engagement in social media, and to share more of Jack’s leadership vision. However, we haven’t pursued these to date, mostly because we haven’t identified the right moment or audience.

I’ve also noticed Mr. Salzwedel going out of his way to interact with and promote AmFam employees on Twitter. I’m sure that’s purposeful (and very smart). What’s been the impact internally and across the country with your AmFam agents and teams?

Jack believes in the power of social media – to connect people inside our company and our enterprise with each other. Social media has removed barriers between AmFam employees and agents, and between employees from our affiliate companies. As mentioned previously, Jack uses social media to drive deeper engagement with all of these audiences – to encourage them to find their voices. It empowered many of these folks to become active in social media, in turn driving a more open and collaborative culture at our company. American Family already has a mature and successful social media program at the brand and agent level. Jack’s presence – combined with an active and engaged employee base – only strengthens those programs and helps solidify our standing as a social business.

How do you measure success with a CEO like Mr. Salzwedel on social media? 

It’s much less about numbers than about individual wins. Jack appreciates the feedback loop social media provides, as well as seeing others become more active and engaged with each other – in finding their voices. When social media allows us to relate better to our workplace colleagues, our communities, our leaders … that’s a win. And Jack is a driving force behind that openness at AmFam. He’s in this for the long haul, and recognizes that social media – in whatever form it takes in the future – has value at American Family.

I noticed Mr. Salzwedel started using the LinkedIn publishing tool last year. Has that been successful so far, in your eyes? 

The LinkedIn Publisher tool complements Jack’s desire to share longer-form ideas around leadership, culture change and more. He was already blogging on jacksalzwedel.com, and using LinkedIn’s publishing features only extends the reach of Jack’s messages. I’m thrilled with the early results and feel it should earn Jack a spot as a LinkedIn Influencer. In 2014, his LinkedIn Publisher posts had a 66% engagement rate and a 51% share rate. Those are gaudy numbers I hope underscore the value Jack brings to the platform.

Finally, any tips for other communicators looking to get their CEO more involved with social media?

Communicators don’t hesitate to provide CEO support around other, more traditional communication vehicles like speeches, letters, emails, etc. There’s plenty of research available that shows the value of a “Social CEO” – so do your homework and make a case. Social media – in my estimation – is table stakes for today’s leaders. If leaders think otherwise, they fail to recognize the value an active and engaged community can provide them – and that they can provide it – every day. Communicators should add social media to their regular toolbox and understand its strategic value. Those who fail to recognize this are missing out and doing their leaders a disservice.


PR Rock Stars: Bellmont Partners’ Maggie Lamaack

The first thing I noticed upon meeting Maggie Lamaack is this is one woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind. Or, share her loves (Hello–Tay-Tay! More on that later). I’m drawn to people who aren’t afraid to share their opinions or perspectives–even if they run contrary to popular opinion. And, I also tend to like people who just kinda march to the beat of their own drummer. I’m not sure Maggie would describe herself that way, but I say that in the most positive way. So, it came as no surprise to me at all when she won the MN PRSA Young Professional of the Year a couple weeks ago at the MN PRSA Classics event.

Let’s hear more about this PR rock star…


Maggie 1

Let’s just get to the big question right out of the gate–you won the MN PRSA Young Professional of the Year last week at Classics. What does winning this award mean to you?

I would say it was an honor just to be nominated, but that would be incredibly cliché, right? Well, it was an honor.

I didn’t get to give a speech at the ceremony because I was the PRSA committee member in charge of the script this year and wrote in, “Maggie walks on stage, accepts award and walks away as fast as possible.” (Just kidding, sort of.) But if I had given a speech it would have been about how fortunate I have been in my career to work under talented people who have given me the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, and haven’t fired me for tweeting about Taylor Swift too much.

When I first started in PR, I always felt a little out of place. I would go to interviews and hear a lot of feedback that I was too shy, or too quiet to work in this industry. It was a fair assessment at the time, and now I can even go to networking events without feeling nauseous beforehand! But I think to me this award really proves that if you do good work, any personality type can make it in this profession. 

You’ve worked for two smaller PR shops in your young career (Bellmont Partners and McFarland Cahill). Do you think working for smaller PR firms has benefitted you early on in your career?

Maggie 2

Working at small agencies has given me so many leadership opportunities I may not have had otherwise. I have never worked at a large agency, but I think it is safe to assume I would have had less responsibility earlier on in my career. Having face time with clients and running entire events with the help of one or two other people has taught me a lot about this industry in a very short period of time.

It’s also fun to know all of your coworkers. Everyone at Bellmont is very different, but we all get along great. I think I would miss that.

You also take time to serve as the editor of the popular LOL/OMG blog here in the Twin Cities. Why do you make the extra time for that work? And, how has it helped you in your “day job” at Bellmont?

Writing for LOL/OMG Blog was one of the best professional decisions I ever made. I started my #MSPtweeps column around the same time I started working at Bellmont. I am so lucky that I work for people that encourage their employees to have outside interests.

Writing that blog each week allowed me to start writing for other outlets like City Pages, Vita.mn and the Flyover. I landed my first City Pages cover story through a tweet I sent about how someone should write an article about the normal people on Twitter.

In terms of how it helps my real work, I have met so many journalists and members of the media through social media. I think I have more “Internet” friends now than I have “normal” friends. While those relationships are valuable, I also think keeping tabs on what is happening on Twitter is so important. It keeps me informed and teaches so much about human behavior, which easily translates into my day-to-day job.

At BPR, you’ve had the opportunity to work on some pretty interesting and fun accounts. I know you can’t play favorites publicly, but what’s the one piece of business you’ve worked on that’s been professionally fulfilling?

Maggie 4

Right now we’re in full on event mode, supporting the planning and implementation of nine Fuel Up to Play 60 Reward Summits throughout the Midwest for our client the Midwest Dairy Association. I will be traveling a lot over the next month, putting on events to reward students for their work throughout the school year.

I was recently talking to one of our clients on the phone and she was telling me how excited all of the kids were to come to these events, and get to meet a real life NFL player. It’s easy to get caught up in all the work and tiny details, and kind of forget you’re creating an event that these kids are going to remember forever. That is pretty cool.

I’m no math major, but by my count you had FIVE internships while you were still in school at the University of Minnesota! How do you feel those internships prepared you for your first ‘real job’? And, based on your experience, do you think multiple internships is a must for today’s student given the hiring landscape?

It’s funny, because at the time I never thought five internships was a lot. When I graduated from college I still had a hard time finding a job.

I learned more about PR in those internships than I did in college (no offense, U of M). I think there should now be college classes about how to send emails correctly, because it’s things like that that make internships so valuable.

Now, getting a job is more about who you know than anything. So, building those relationships within the industry is important, and internships are a great way to do that.

I don’t think I’m breaking any news here when I say you’re a fairly big Taylor Swift fan. So, the question is: Do you prefer pop star Taylor Swift or country icon Taylor Swift?

Maggie 3

Both! I think “1989” is perfect — other than “Welcome to New York,” which is terrible. But I also love her last album, “Red.”

I also think Tay is a PR genius. I’m sure she has quite a marketing team behind her, but I would also venture to guess the woman knows what she is doing. I could write a whole guest blog post about this. The way she has handled herself throughout this press tour has been genius, and she and her post-gym outfits are going to be laughing all the way to the bank.

Like me, you’re a bit of a local coffeehouse aficionado. So, what’s your absolute fave Minneapolis coffeehouse to work from and why?

Spyhouse Uptown for real work. I don’t know why but it is the only place I can really be productive. Plus, they play good music.

Spyhouse Northeast when I’m writing. Everyone there looks like they just walked off some sort of independent movie set. It’s inspiring.

Canteen on the weekends. Their toast bar is the best and you can get unlimited refill coffee.

Twin Cities PR This Week – April 27

Every two weeks, this is where you’ll find who’s been promoted, who’s changing jobs, who’s looking for talent and who’s hosting events here in the Twin Cities. It’s your one-stop shop for all things PR and digital marketing here in town!

Want to make it even easier? Sign up for my weekly e-newsletter and you can get all this stuff right in your inbox.

Fenced In, Part 3


Congrats to Maggie Lamaack at Bellmont Partners PR for winning the Young Professional of the Year Award at #mnclassics a couple weeks ago!


Sad to see fellow MIMA board member and friend, Brad Spychalski, move on to the Windy City. Chicago–I hope you know you’re getting one of the good ones. PS: You’re also getting another Packer fan to incessantly heckle you!


Jolina Pettice was recently promoted to vice president at TopRank Marketing. Couldn’t happen to a better person!


space150 is seeking PR and social media interns: http://www.space150.com/contact/careers/pr-emerging-media-intern/

Bachman’s is seeking a corporate content manager. Apply at jobs@bachmans.com (if you want the job description, please send me a note).

Preston Kelly is seeking a public relations specialist: http://prestonkelly.com/about-preston-kelly/news/public-relations-specialist/

Maccabee PR is looking for a PR and social media account executive: http://maccabee.com/pr-social-media-account-executive-technology-sought-by-maccabee-public-relations/


MIMA will be hosting a new kind of event on May 20 with “Tactics in 20″. The format? 3 panelists sharing tips in 20 minute increments. Simple as that. The first topic–data and tech. Register here.