michaeljbarber Archives - michaeljbarber

alive

Thankful for Today

By | life | One Comment

At least I’m breathing
At least I’m alive
As long as I’m dreaming
Everything’s going to be all right

In my short 25 years on earth, I have been reminded how precious life is more this year than any other. Between losing one friend to a drug overdose, two friends to suicide and almost losing another to cancer, the fragility of life is ever present in my mind.

In the past, I often found myself thinking about the future. Thoughts about when will this happen or where will I be in 6 months, a year or 5 years down the road. I think it’s a marketer’s curse in life to be more forward thinking. While I doubt it’s not the only cursed profession, we are constantly being asked to build campaigns for the future, set strategy for next month, next quarter, next year or understand our consumer’s future opinions of our brands.

If there is anything the past 11 or so months have taught me, it is that future goals and plans are great to ponder and put to paper, but you never know what’s on the horizon. Life is fleeting .

So, in honor of Tweetsgiving, I’m thankful for today, for the ability to simply breathe in and out, be right here at this moment, writing this post and listening to Lady Gaga tell me about a Bad Romance.

I hope you all have a safe and restful Thanksgiving, and if have a couple of extra bucks to spare please donate to Epic Change’s Tweetsgiving by clicking on the button below.

 

Verse above by Eve 6.
Photo by BruceTurner.

balloons

One Year with NieNie: Ambient Intimacy through Social Media

By | life | 6 Comments

About a year ago, I came across the story of Stephanie and Christian Nielson through a mutual friend and former colleague, Andrew Bagley. Stephanie, the popular “mommy” blogger behind the NieNie Dialogues, and her husband, Christian, were traveling back from a family trip when they were involved in a private airplane crash (Today Show story here). Their flight instructor was killed and both suffered serious burns; Stephanie’s being more extensive.

I’m not quite sure why, but I felt an immediate connection to Stephanie. It could have been because my first recollections of pain were from serious burns that I experienced as child or the passionate love for her children she illustrates through her posts that reminds me of my Mum’s love for my sister and I. Alas, it could have also been related to my general nature as a complete softy.

Regardless of why, I followed Stephanie and Christian’s recovery through Twitter conversations, her family members’ blogs and then Stephanie’s when she returned to writing a few months ago. Though I have never met Stephanie or Christian, I have often cheered their successes and shed a few tears during their set backs. It’s odd to have such deep feelings for people who you have never shared more than casual interactions through their writing, and one that can only be somewhat explained through one of my favorite blogger’s, Leisa Reichelt, theory of Ambient Intimacy. Leisa describes Ambient Intimacy as, “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.

Social networks and the tools built around them are giving everyone participating levels of ambient intimacy with people we have never seen before. As Leisa mentions, Twitter gives us the chance to find out what people are doing at any given moment of the day, Flickr lets us see the world through other people’s eyes, event-based networks such as Upcoming show us where people might be going and Yelp gives us the likes and dislikes of everyone leaving reviews. We suddenly know more about individuals we follow than their own personal friends or family might now, and this creates significant levels of intimacy. Sometimes this intimacy can leave one feeling sad as David Armano wrote about when he heard about the passing of Megan Porter, and other times we feel uplifted as I felt when I read about Stephanie climbing a nearby mountain to celebrate one-year of life after the accident.

Ambient intimacy is an interesting theory and definitely needs more exploration. As social networks evolve, it will become more important not only to how humans interact on them, but also how brands apply the theory to humanize themselves.

What are you thoughts on ambient intimacy? Is it a bunch of hodgepodge or does it explain the emotions we feel for those who we only have a digital relationship with? How could brands apply this theory to humanize themselves across the social web?

(photo by Serge K. Feller)

Why I Will Do My Best To Never Fly with “US” Again: An Open Letter to US Airways’ CEO, Doug Parker

By | customer service experiences | 9 Comments

UPDATE: Some 36 hours after I initially posted this letter, I received a voicemail from Cynthia, a member of US Airways’ Customer Relations team. Being on vacation didn’t provide any opportunities to call her back until a few minutes ago. During our call, she mentioned a couple policies and outside forces that contribute to their 45-minute baggage check in policy. Long story short, it is related to TSA’s and US Airways’ need to make sure all baggage can get through their systems before a flight departs.

Cynthia also apologized for my experience with the gate agent. She said that individual should have taken the chance to check the flight’s actual departure time (note: it left some 51 minutes late). She also issued us some vouchers to cover a small part of our expenses and asked that we give them a second chance. I appreciate her taking the time to reach out to me, explain what could have helped us make the flight and be sincerely apologetic for the inconvenience that we were caused. Even more impressive, it’s good to see their customer service team listening and responding to consumer complaints from blogs. I haven’t fully decided if I will give them another shot at my business, but this goes a long way to showing me they care about consumer’s  concerns and experiences on their airline.

Dear Doug,

My name is Michael Barber, and I am Dividend Miles member with over 30,000+ miles logged last year. I am writing you from approximately 33,000 feet on US Airways flight #16. This will be my last flight on your airline.

You see I shouldn’t be on this flight right now, but should be heading over the Atlantic for a family vacation in Italy. But alas, my girlfriend and I will be spending the night in New York City (not all that bad, I know) before continuing our journey tomorrow afternoon, providing us one less day for adventures in Italy and over $2,000 in additional expenses from rebooking our tickets, hotel, cab and food related costs. Here’s how we got here.

We were originally booked on flight #12, PHX to JFK arriving at 5pm EST. We arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport one hour and five minutes before our scheduled departure time of 8:52am and got up to the kiosk 42 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave. Apparently that is 3 minutes too late to check bags. I politely asked one of your customer service agents to ensure the flight was leaving on time and see if we could still make it. She quickly remarked “No”, pointed her finger at another line, said “Go over there to rebook”, and moved on to the next customer. I can’t say I am surprised at the exhilarating customer service she provided because this isn’t the first time your employees have treated me or passengers within earshot with a complete lack of simple respect.

It took us another 30 minutes before we reached the front of the second line only to be told that our original flight was over an hour delayed, that we probably could have got on the original flight had the first associate checked their computer, and we would be rebooked on flight #16 which left some six hours later. This effectively closed the door on any chance of making our connecting flight in New York. What’s worse, we were told that we couldn’t rebook to the following morning without paying for an entire new ticket.

You are going to need to explain to me some things. Why can’t you allow passengers the freedom to change their travel plans within reason? Southwest does. If we could have re-booked to the following day, it would have saved us a couple thousand dollars. Why is that your airline can’t get bags on a plane that leaves in 42 minutes? It is a union requirement, logistical issue? I can understand that if we walked up 15, 20, hell even 35 minutes before our flight that checking bags wouldn’t be available. But, come on 42 minutes. That’s only 3 minutes too late, some 180 seconds. Southwest (the other major PHX airline) would have gladly checked us in, reminded us of the time requirements, and made sure our bags made the flight, all the while making us feel valued as customers. Why can’t your airline do the same? Had this been the only incident with your airline over the past few years, then I could cut you some slack. It simply was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

Look I get that your industry is under siege at the moment. Between the floundering global economy, decreased demand and oil prices last year, the airline industry is hurting. It’s widely known that if oil prices were to hit say north of $200/barrel (and this is entirely possible), the industry would be decimated. I also get that airfares haven’t increased with inflation over the past 20 or so years, so there will be complaining from me about increased prices and fees. However, these issues provide ZERO excuses for your company’s lack of focus on your customer. You NEED to give travelers a reason to choose your airline over another. Whether that be friendly communication from your customer-facing employees or checking the bags of a traveler who is a few minutes late, find a way to make your customers smile because we don’t forget these experiences.

Between the incidents with your employees and your airline, the ridiculous online/offline fee structure for baggage and your complete lack of providing any value to your customers, I simply won’t spend my or my employer’s hard earned money for travel on your airline until I hear or read about some significant customer service improvements. I will do my best to fly with Southwest, JetBlue and Delta/Northwest. Between those three airlines, I can get anywhere in the world from Phoenix.

Should you take the time to read this letter and have questions or comments, I live around the corner from your office and would be happy to grab a cup of coffee, lunch or would even be satisfied with a few comments below. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to the day when I can update this post about a better experience with US Airways.

Sincerely,
Michael Barber

(photo by me)

shock

6 Tips for Ad Agencies & Interns from A Former Intern

By | advertising agency | 17 Comments

Let’s face it. We all love a bit of  controversy here and there. It often gives life a little excitement, stirs good thinking and presents opportunities for reflection once the so-called dust has settled.

So it wasn’t surprising that when an  intern resigned her position from local Phoenix ad agency, Moses Anshell, wrote an open letter about her experience and posted it on the Phoenix Ad Blog, that it stirred quite the reaction. The post spread like wildfire through the local ad community via Twitter and conversations among colleagues. It also (by my count) garnered the most comments on a single post the blog had ever received. No matter what your opinion of whether or not the intern should have publicized her feelings, it does give everyone who has ever employed interns, managed them or had the opportunity to be one time to reflect on how s/he could have could have improved their experience.

Here are 6 tips from a former ad agency intern for agencies (or any other employer for that matter) and interns for getting the most out of the internship experience.

First…Ad Agencies

1. Educate your interns. If your agency has interns and zero formal training program, you shouldn’t have interns. Agencies need to build robust education programs to provide on-the-job training or risk doing yourself and your interns a disservice. Training programs provide agency staff with great teaching experience (and potentially a little refresher in the basics) and provide interns with the fundamentals. Yes, yes…I know some of you naysayers will say we don’t have the time to educate, but it is vital to any successful intern program. Sitewire created their own media school for new hires with no experience and interns that provides once-a-week training sessions on different core components of the agency and then asks participants to deliver a full marketing plan utilizing what they learned for a current or potential client. In my case, I came straight out of college and interned at Off Madison Ave. While at Off Madison, I spent hours training with media buyers, planners and account managers before getting the chance to work on “real” work (Thanks Pam, Megan, Chris & Jenna). That brings me to my next tip.

2. Give interns “real” work. Yes, I know “real” work is for our “real” employees, but give me a break. Chances are your real employees are über busy and could use a little assistant. Enter you intern. If you have spent the time to educate your interns, you should put them to good use. Give them a small PPC campaign to manage or the opportunity to put together a couple sections of a creative brief or marketing plan. If they are somewhat intelligent and you have educated them, you will be surprised by the result. And PLEASE don’t get scared or jealous if they end up providing some strategic insight that you didn’t think of. If anything, good thinking by an intern means you probably trained them well and it never hurts to be kept on your toes.

3. Don’t make promises. Whether it be the promise of a job at the end of an internship or opportunity to play a significant role in a pitch or client presentation, don’t make promises of any kind unless you 100% intend on keeping them. Why? If promises aren’t kept, it gives interns a bad taste about your organization, the larger ad industry and will likely be discussed at the intern’s future employer.

Next, the interns…

4. Expect grunt work. Yes, you will have to do grunt work. Staple papers, collate and bind presentations, run food or coffee orders. At some point, interns should expect being asked to complete menial tasks. Get over it, get it done and put a bow on top. Once you are done, tell your manager that it’s done, if you managed to improve any inefficiencies and ask them for more work. If they don’t have any, go find someone who needs helps. The more you ask, the more people will see that you are eager and will start giving you “real” work. If you find yourself being asked to do these types of things all the time, ask your manager how you can contribute to client-work. If the menial work continues after you have asked 1000 times (yes, I said 1000x), kindly resign and go find your next adventure.

5. Ask a boat-load of questions. Here’s one of the few opportunities in your career when you can ask a boat-load of potentially stupid questions and not have people think you don’t know what you are doing. Utilize the vast amount of talent sitting around you and ask every question that comes to mind, write down the answers and apply them to your work. The most successful and talented people I’ve worked with love answering and asking questions. Be a constant learner. Trust me, it won’t go unnoticed.

6. Build relationships. If there is one thing that has served my career well in this industry, it would be building relationships with people that I worked with during my internship and early professional career. Many of the colleagues I met during my early years I count as friends. They have helped me build my career by providing recommendations, client referrals and the occasional “get over yourself Michael”-type of conversation.

Let me know what you think of the tips. What are some others you would give to interns and agencies?

(photo by pfaff)

diving-head-first

Engagement via Social Media: 3 Examples of Smaller Organizations Outdoing the Big Boys

By | social media marketing | 5 Comments

 

Many marketers are struggling to understand and define their organization’s role within social media. Some of them simply don’t get it and have turned a blind eye (big mistake on their part), others understand they should be engaging and are figuring out how to, some have tiptoed and others have waded head first into this metaphorical sea. Regardless of your company’s size or current level of engagement, you should be paying attention to “smaller” businesses that are engaging and creating real conversations with consumers. They provide good examples of how organizations can engage with consumers via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and in some cases, are outdoing some of the big boys (enterprise level organizations) playing in the social media sandbox.

Here are 3 examples of “smaller” businesses (non-enterprise) that are utilizing social networks and the tools built around them to engage with consumers:

1. Flagstaff Brewing Company – What they are doing right…

    • Presence on Twitter (@FlagstaffBeer) where they are not only talking about their business, but are having conversations with consumers about Flagstaff, beer, brewing and other topics.
    • Leveraging the search tools built on and around Twitter such as http://search.twitter.com , Flagstaff Brewing Company is seeking out consumers talking about all things Flagstaff and Beer. See a personal example below. I didn’t even know they were on Twitter, but they saw my tweet and let the community know they have Wi-Fi. There are a variety of ways including http://search.twitter.com, search columns within Twitter clients like TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop, RSS feeds and other independent websites and applications where businesses can find and engage with consumers about topics related to their organization.

 

  • Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/Flagstaff-Brewing-Company). Somewhat limited engagement here, but I like how they are at least using the platform to announce events to their fans and give a small glimpse into the brewery via pictures.

2. Boulder Canyon Natural Foods: What they are doing right…

  • Boulder Canyons Twitter stream (@BoulderCanyon) is an example of Twitter done right. They not only promote the happenings around their company, but they reach out to consumers who have health-food related questions and provide links to content where they believe their audience will finds tips or added value for their lifestyle.
  • Similar to their engagement via Twitter, Boulder Canyon’s Facebook page goes beyond promoting their products/company, and provides links to articles their health-conscious fans would be interested in reading. When consumers post questions or comments, they reply with answers. They are creating conversations with consumers that go beyond their products.

3. Morgan/Dorado Public Relations: What they are doing right…

  • Engaging with strangers and connections via LinkedIn. I have seen Joe Morgan of Morgan/Dorado Public Relations pop up all over LinkedIn’s “Answers” section. The section provides any LinkedIn user the ability to post a question and receive answers from the community. He has spent quite some time answering questions about PR, social media and marketing, and even landed a client doing so.

Large companies need to realize it’s not about screaming at consumers. We want engagement, conversation and an understanding that the brand wants us as much as we want them. Flagstaff Brewing Company, Boulder Canyon Natural Foods and Morgan/Dorado Public Relations show us that even small organizations can engage with consumers via social media, and do a good job at it.

Do you think these organizations are good examples? What other examples, good or bad, of small companies engaging in social media are out there?