They say parents aren’t supposed to pick a favorite child. In my time working for Expect More Arizona, I have helped create countless projects to engage Arizonans in supporting education. I am proud of a lot of that work… but, I have a clear favorite.
In March of 2014, we launched TodayInAZ.org to provide parents and other concerned Arizonans one simple action they can take to support teachers and students. In the last year, I have created and designed at least 5 unique actions a week (with no end in sight for the campaign). The Today actions have increased our following and engagement on social media exponentially, building momentum and support in all areas of our work.
I LOVE this campaign dearly. But, it isn’t exactly my favorite.
We don’t want parents to have to visit Expect More Arizona’s website or social media pages in order to find us. We want to disrupt them in their daily lives, and provide these actions to families in their natural habitats. We are now able to do that, thanks to some new partnerships with arts & culture organizations across the state.
So, my favorite child is an offshoot of the Today campaign that combines my two deepest passions: the arts & education. Now, when parents visit any of 24 amazing arts & culture destinations in Arizona, they are given a worksheet with 5 simple actions they can do with their child Today.
The worksheets are available at the locations or parents can download them at TodayInAZ.org/Activities. Plus, if they take a photo of one of these activities, they can upload it to the site for a chance to win tickets to another of the arts & culture destinations.
So, if you have kids, you don’t need to pick a favorite. Gather them up, head out on an adventure, pick up a worksheet and enjoy my favorite project… Today!
When I was preparing to launch Blabbermouth more than 4 years ago, several people asked me the same question: What types of clients would you like to have? At the time, it was very difficult for me to answer that question – with the uncertainty of whether I could make a living doing this hanging over me. So, I answered the question out of fear, only half joking, saying that I would like the types of clients that would pay me.
Looking in the rearview mirror, I now know that – if I had been able to answer that question honestly – I would have described the very types of clients I ended up with. I have been so fortunate to be able to support the work of organizations that are working every day to make Arizona a better place for all of us to live. I’ve loved working with foundations like Helios Education Foundation and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, organizations I admire deeply and all of us in Arizona owe a debt of gratitude to for the investments (and not simply financial ones) they make.
But, there is one client I have had since day one that has always held a special place in my heart. I have been a part of Expect More Arizona since before its official launch in April of 2009. Expect More Arizona is a movement dedicated to world-class education in Arizona. Improving education in our state is not only a moral issue, but one that determines the financial outlook and quality of life in our state. It matters to each and every one of us. It has been a humbling issue to work on, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some ridiculously talented people while doing it.
In fact, Expect More Arizona is so important, that it is making an honest man of me. Beginning tomorrow, I take on a full-time role as their Director of Marketing & Digital Engagement. I’m so proud of the work we have done together, and I am excited to build on it to help make world-class education a reality for every Arizona student. And, I’m particularly excited about some things we have planned for this year (stay tuned)!
The last four years have been incredible and very rewarding. Thanks to all of you who helped make it great (I want to single out Nicole Magnuson, Rebecca Lindgren, Paul Luna, and Marilee Dal Pra for your support, guidance, partnership, and friendship. Also, I would be nowhere without my beautiful wife, Erin, who is my biggest champion always. There are so many more of you who have supported me. I hope you know who you are). It sounds cliché, but I seriously could not have done it without your support. And thanks, of course, to Expect More Arizona – Pearl Chang Esau & Erin Hart – for this amazing opportunity to continue our great work together and to build on what we have begun!
P.S. I will be converting the Blabbermouth website into a blog only site, where I will occasionally post about word of mouth marketing, Expect More Arizona, and whatever I else feel like Blabbing about. I can’t promise to post regularly (I never have anyway), but I will do my best to stay in touch here
I’m very proud to have helped launch The Expect More Excellence Tour for my longtime client, Expect More Arizona. The Excellence Tour is a portal to see and share excellence in education across Arizona. Although we know there is still a long way to go before we see the type of world-class education Arizona’s students deserve, it is important to recognize and celebrate the models of excellence in our state. This reminds us that not only is excellence possible here, it is already happening across our state right now. Now, we must demand that excellence for all of Arizona’s students.
There are just a few highlights about the site I want to point out, and then I encourage you to visit, vote, and share.
A Google map is embedded where you can visit different areas in Arizona to see local submissions.
A “Thumbs Up” ticker on the map measures engagement with each example of excellence submission. It’s fun to watch those numbers climb throughout the day.
Each submission has its own unique URL, with buttons to share that page via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and e-mail.
Visitors can vote for their favorite videos, encouraging submitters to utilize their networks (and their networks’ networks, and so on) to share their submission. You can only vote for a video one time per day, to encourage repeat visitors.
The user-generated content gives participants ownership of the site, and the friendly competition gives them a vested interest in driving traffic.
But, mostly, in an environment that often focuses on the negative, this is a nice way to stop and acknowledge great work that is happening in an increasingly challenging arena. It’s a way to say thank you to those who are expecting more of themselves and raising the bar for education in Arizona. And, personally, I don’t think we can say thank you enough.
La Cage Aux Folles isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but it does have one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while. The show itself isn’t much to speak of; it’s campy and fun, with an entertaining script and couple of songs that stick with you, but a score that is mostly forgettable. The production is clever, making the large Gammage Auditorium feel like a cabaret.
Although the cast is uneven, Christopher Sieber’s performance is worth the price of admission.* Sieber, as the flamboyant and fabulous Albin, brings the most humanity to the stage, in a role that could easily become a caricature (see Birdcage). He is seamlessly subtle and vulnerable, yet commanding and powerful. His delivery of the Act 1 closer “I Am What I Am” is heartbreaking and empowering all at once, and handled with a raw honesty usually eaten alive by an auditorium of this size. Sieber’s booming voice seemed to fill Gammage unaided by his microphone as he brought the house down.
I also want to mention Childsplay’s production of The Color of Stars has one more weekend of performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I can’t recommend it enough; a must-see, with or without kids. Click here to read a review and click here for tickets and information.
When Green Day’s American Idiot was released in 2004, I listened to it non-stop. As soon as it ended, I would start over from the beginning and listen again. It became a sort of addiction; the passion in the music and the completeness of the album just hooked me. I’ve also been a lifelong fan of musical theatre, so when I heard that American Idiot was being adapted for the stage, my curiosity was definitely piqued. I knew the result would either be brilliant… or a complete disaster. I finally had the opportunity to see it last night at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe. It was brilliant.
The production was directed by Michael Mayer, who won a Tony for his direction of another favorite show of mine, Spring Awakening. He captures the raw emotion and energy of Green Day’s work, and, like with Spring Awakening, brings innovative staging and storytelling. The cast brings it as well, led by Van Hughes who is incredible in the role of Johnny. After the curtain call, the entire cast comes back to the stage with guitars (although I caught at least one of them faking it) for a new arrangement of Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). That alone is worth the price of admission.
This is a show you could see many times and notice something new every time. American Idiot is not to be missed.
One last quick note. For as long as I can remember seeing shows at Gammage, the sound has been pretty awful. This was not the case last night. The balance was good, and you could hear the singers over the band really well. I spoke with a representative from Gammage who told me they made some changes recently, relocating and replacing some equipment. Whatever they did, seems to have worked, which is great news for audiences!
(Disclaimer: Tickets to the show for myself and my wife were complimentary in exchange for my participation in the Gammage Goers program. This in no way influenced my response.)
One of the questions I asked the panel when I interviewed to be a Gammage Goer was, “What happens if I don’t like a show?” (hoping the question wouldn’t immediately eliminate me). They wisely responded that having an honest, negative review only adds credibility to the program. So, it’s a good thing they feel that way, because I didn’t love this cast of West Side Story. As much as I wanted to like Uof A grad Kyle Harris as Tony, I just didn’t. I had seen him in Hair a couple of years ago, and thought he was great. To me, his voice doesn’t fit this role and his broad portrayal was distracting. The rest of the cast was good, but nobody blew me away.
I did, however, in my immediate post-show video interview, want to focus on some of the positive as well. So, as you’ll hear in my interview, I believe that seeing a production of West Side Story is important context for understanding the groundwork that was laid for the Broadway musical to evolve. Anymore, it seem like every show likes to tout that it “Redefines musical theatre.” West Side Story made that possible. Arthur Laurents, author of the musical’s book, said, “I thought maybe it would run for three months. I didn’t care. It was so not what a musical should be.”
Here’s my immediate reaction:
I should point out that my opinion of the cast was not shared by The Arizona Republic or my fellow Gammage Goers. For tickets and information, click here.
(Disclaimer: Tickets to the show for myself and my wife were complimentary in exchange for my participation in the Gammage Goers program. As I mentioned, they in no way influenced my response.)
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending The US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD with my brother. But, you’ll have to take my word for it, because I can’t prove I was there. The closest thing I have to a photo of myself at The Open is this picture of Rory McIlroy’s ridiculous shot on the 10th tee. See Rory’s left shoulder? It’s pointing to where we were sitting, about a pitching wedge away from him. I was unable to capture any moment of the tournament, and, regrettably, unable to share the experience with my friends as it happened.
Even though the PGA changed its cell phone policy earlier this year to allow mobile devices at tournaments, the USGA did not follow suit. Now, I can sympathize with professional golfers who don’t want the unwanted distraction of a “Baby Got Back” ring tone during their backswing – I’m constantly battling the unwanted distraction of sucking at golf during my backswing – but I believe trying to enforce a “turn-your-devices-to-silent” policy during tournaments will be worth the reward. This is a battle that stage actors, teachers, museum staff, movie theatre managers, and more have been battling for a couple of decades, and while it’s not a perfect system, people usually do the right thing out of respect for the venue, the event, and the people around them.
Let’s face it; golfers make a fairytale living based on ratings and attendance. Yes, they are paid by sponsors (those on their shirts and those who sign the winners’ checks), but those sponsors are motivated by the awareness and brand loyalty their sponsorship brings. In this age of the social web, prohibiting on-location online word of mouth doesn’t do any favors to the sponsors, the players, the fans, or the USGA. Let’s look at why:
Ratings: Not everyone’s life revolves around watching major golf tournaments. If I “check-in” on Facebook or Foursquare (unlikely) or post a picture of myself while at the tournament, a few people might tune in. Some might have forgotten it was happening, and my post is a subtle reminder to watch. Or, even more likely, a few friends and family might turn on the tournament for a while to try to catch a glimpse of someone they know in the crowd. True, I may only convert a handful of viewers, but it is estimated that 229,574 attended this US Open. Guess how many of them have smart phones and a few hundred Facebook friends.
Future Attendance: For a golf fan, like myself, being at the US Open is a pretty incredible experience. Other enthusiasts who, in a small way, live vicariously through attendees’ online exhibitionism may start planning a trip to The US Open in San Francisco next year.
Interactivity: As cool as it is to watch golf history unfold, it can be pretty difficult to watch a golf tournament live and follow all the action. Unlike watching football or baseball live, you lose all context watching golf in person. All you can see is an individual shot or putt, and not how the drama is unfolding across the course. The US Open has a pretty cool iPhone app, but imagine how an application could be developed to improve the fan experience with video and updates from the tournament. Plus, social media integration in the app could encourage and increase the various types of sharing described above.
The USGA ran the tournament smoothly, managing capacity crowds, keeping the grounds in great shape for players and spectators, and, most importantly, offering a delicious Maryland crab cake sandwich at the concession stand. Now, to follow in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy and take their game to a dominating new level, they should embrace new technologies to help increase visibility and generate more word of mouth.
Expect More Arizona, which I’m not ashamed to call my favorite client, launched a new campaign today, designed to help Arizonans make and keep a New Years resolution to expect more and do more for education. Below is the e-mail sent from Expect More Arizona.
Check out the site, and please use the easy links to share on Facebook and Twitter to help encourage all of your friends and family to resolve to expect more and do more for education in 2011.
Here are a few books that have helped shape my approach to word of mouth marketing. I’d recommend them not just to marketers, but anyone looking to approach their business in new ways, particularly non-profits (which always need to find ways to do less with more).
In early May of this year it rained in Tennessee. A lot. The record-breaking rain devastated the area and claimed 21 lives in the state. Businesses and homes were damaged and closed due to flooding, including the historic Grand Ole Opry. Right next door, Opry Mills Mall was underwater in every one of its 1.2 million square feet. Closed to rebuild, the mall needed a way to stay connected with its customers and evangelists until it can open its doors again.
A visit to the mall’s Web site encourages visitors to stay connected through its Facebook page, promising progress reports on the reconstruction. Lynn Kittel, Opry Mills’ Director of Marketing, turned to the social networking site as a way to keep in touch with customers, and even she has been pleasantly surprised with the response. “People usually just think of a mall as bricks and mortar,” she told me on a recent phone conversation, “but this experience with Facebook reinforces that it is so much more than that.” Kittel explains that many of their visitors have emotional connections to the mall and use the page to express how much they miss being able to visit.
Before the flood, Opry Mills had around 1,400 followers on Facebook. That number has swelled to 8,476 (and counting) as of the posting of this blog. Fans post questions and comments regularly, asking which stores will return, requesting photos of their favorite stores, and seeking construction updates and timelines. Kittel responds promptly and always honestly, “We’ll tell you the truth. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll find out and get back to you.” She’s also been able to combat rumors and misinformation (including a story that piranhas had escaped from an indoor aquarium and were “running amuck in the mall”). She doesn’t delete the infrequent negative comment; in fact, she says that “most of the time, our other friends on the page come to our defense in full force.”
The mall posts videos and pictures of the destruction and reconstruction, generating enthusiastic responses such as: “Awww…makes me miss it so much” and “I might have a few tears of joy over this!!” The posts are never written in “marketing-speak,” and often have a touch of humor. Responses to questions and concerns are compassionate and personal.
Kittel understands intuitively what I constantly preach: Social media is not about “marketing,” but about building relationships, listening and responding. Opry Mills wants to keep its fans engaged with the process, and even solicits input from Facebook followers on what they would like the mall to become as they rebuild. “One of our posts that received the most responses was when I asked what kinds of restaurants they wanted in the food court.” By doing this, Opry Mills invites its base to take a vested interest in the mall; in turn, they will take more interest in its success and likely be more active to share items from or about the mall, and more responsive to specific requests from the mall to help spread the word. I’m anxious to see what impact Kittel’s social media outreach has on the success of the mall, and I look forward to following the grand reopening on Facebook.
A recent post on the Opry Mills’ Facebook page posed this question: “What weighs 4,000 pounds and had to be loaded into the mall with a helicopter?” You’ll have to visit their page for the answer.
Disclosure: My brother is an executive with Simon Properties, overseeing all of the Mills Malls. However, that’s simply the reason Opry Mills’ Facebook page was on my radar, and not why I’m using it as an example.