How to walk the walk and talk the New Yalk

As it is now September, I can officially say I survived my first summer in New York City. It has definitely been a roller coaster ride. I’ve learned that the twinkling lights can be deceptive and this city can bite you in the ass harder and faster than the mosquitoes that have been tormenting me since day one. Being a West Coast transplant has allowed me to view the city from a different perspective than I had when I first visited it as a child; but just like back then, I am no closer to having a grip on the Big Apple or the life I want to have in it.

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The first major lesson I learned was how NOT to act on the subway. Don’t take up too much space, don’t lean on the pole, don’t make eye contact with the homeless people who come on and ask for money, DO fight for a seat as soon as you see someone start to stand up because even if you feel like standing your sense of balance is no match for an MTA conductor who wants to get through his/her route faster.

The second lesson I learned is that what I thought I knew about budgeting was no match for big city life. As someone in NYC told me, “The city will make you hemorrhage money.” And while the reference to bodily fluids freaked me out, it is so true. One drink in the city costs more than I would spend on dinner back in Eugene, and there are always a million things to spend money on. Since being here I’ve been to concerts, a music festival, and the MTV VMAs. None were cheap. All were worth it.

The third lesson I learned is that packing lunch saves more money than anything else and is 100% necessary if I want to do anything on the weekends with the current amount I am earning.

The fourth lesson has been the hardest: Homesickness is real and it sucks.

Growing up I spent summers away at camps all over the country and plenty of nights away from home and you would never find me crying for my mommy or skipping camp activities because I missed my friends at home. But this move has been completely different. I never realized how much Eugene, my university, and everyone there had come to mean to me. I missed the Eugene summers where I spent hours laying out in the sun after work, floating the river, and strolling around my quiet campus and a city I knew like the back of my hand. I missed my friends and my house and above all my bed. I missed having a space that was mine and being surrounded by nature. And  I missed the fact that it cools off at night on the West Coast. It can still be 90 degrees at 11pm in NYC.

I still miss all of these things, especially my friends, and I know this will only get harder when school starts back up and they are all back together, when football season heats up and we battle our rivals, and when I see everyone on Facebook talking about sorority recruitment, midterms, and finals.

The fifth lesson I learned was how to combat my homesickness: acknowledgement and optimism. I had to let myself feel homesick and talk to my friends, and I had to focus on all of the great things about NYC that I wouldn’t have in Eugene, such as going to see Beyonce in concert, seeing a free concert in a laundromat, having a front row seat at the second largest fireworks show in the country, and that little thing called having a promising career future.

The lucky thing for me and my homesickness is that the majority of my family lives on the East Coast. I’ve gotten to reconnect with family I haven’t seen in years, and in a month my best friend will be an hour train ride away. This is something else I have to acknowledge: I’m really not as alone as the city can sometimes make me feel.

That leads me to my sixth and final lesson for now: this city can make you feel like you are on top of the world and in less than a second it can put you right back in your place. You just scored a ticket to your first award show, and on the way home you get on the wrong subway. You just saw Beyonce’s most amazing show, and on the walk home you trip on uneven sidewalks and fall on your face. You’re finally going to bed on time with everything ready for the next day and a giant waterbug scampers down the hall in front of you.

But I think this sixth lesson is the most important of all because it has been the best reminder that no matter where you live, East or West Coast, life will never be perfect. It was unreasonable for me to believe after the heartbreak I felt as I drove my overstuffed car out of Eugene that I wouldn’t be a bit sad and nostalgic when I arrived in NYC. I’m still the same person with the same ambitions, insecurities, passions, and neurosis that I was in Eugene, I just have to learn to adapt all of who I am to NYC. And I have to learn how to be me and live the life I want within the parameters of NYC, not Eugene.

NYC will never be Eugene, but at the same time Eugene was never going to be NYC, the city where I dreamed of living since my first trip there for my sixth birthday and where I knew a successful career in advertising could get the best start. I’ve found the small ways to create a community for myself and to engage in the things I enjoyed most about Oregon. I’ve joined a food co-op, I shop every weekend at the local farmer’s markets, I can still go to movies, and I am fortunate enough to have family all over the East Coast that allow me to escape the city and enjoy nature whenever I can afford the train ticket.

I guess there is a seventh lesson to throw in the mix: This is a big scary, fabulous city and I’m going to be ok here. A part of my heart will always be in Eugene, but in the last two and a half months another part of it has already been won over by New York. Or should I say New Yalk.

Full time employment is a full time job

Do you remember that night before the first day of a new school year? The one where you struggle to fall asleep because you aren’t really tired yet and have no trouble popping up less than eight hours later? And then that morning you think, oh em gee waking up this early isn’t that hard. What was I so worried about?

Do you remember that night after that first day? The one where you are nodding off during the 7pm news cast and can barely move the toothbrush across your teeth? And do you remember that next morning when your alarm feels like your mortal enemy and you curse your oh-em-gee-ing self for thinking you would pop out of bed like a sugary, pink frosting covered pop-tart every morning this school year?

Well kids, the working world ain’t no different.

For the past 24 days I have been a full time employee of the University of Oregon. 8am to 5pm. In an office. Staring at a screen. Drinking coffee. Packing a lunch.

I’ve begun to be picky about office chairs.

I thought this would be great, and while the money is great compared to working 20 hours a week at minimum wage, I am exhausted. What happened to all of the spare time I thought I would have? I barely have time to work out and shower before I hear the Friends theme song on my TV at 11pm signaling my new bedtime. I had this dreamy idea about all these Pinterest projects I would finally complete, books I would read, recipes I would experiment with, writing I would get to do, the garden I would grow.

But I’m 24 days in and my hot glue gun is still cold, I’m maybe reading 20 Twitter headlines at a time, there’s a grapefruit rotting in the bottom of my purse, and I have three plants in my window that are thriving as much as my potential career as an author.

I’m beginning to understand why people take early retirements.

I am grateful for my current employment–I swear I really am–because it has allowed me to be a slightly less broke college student and it has taught me a few important lessons.

1. Working in higher education is not for me. Really the moral here is that you should work somewhere/do something that you love because otherwise it really is day after day in an office staring at a screen. I’ve always known that a typical office job wasn’t for me, and I’ve proven myself correct. I don’t really care where my tushy rests for the day. But I do care that I’m fixating on my tushy’s comfort because I’m spending a lot of time sitting in a chair doing things I enjoy and care about but have no desire to do for another year. Or 5. Or 10.

2. Be invested in something. It is not enough to want to do something. You have to be invested in it. I know that some people think their work does not define them and that their job is just their job and not their life. But I think that mentality sucks. While in college my major has, in a way, defined me, so why shouldn’t my job define a part of me as well? It’s the thing I have been working towards for four years and have invested thousands of dollars in, so I sure as shit better have invested thousands of pieces of myself in it as well. I want to care about my job. I want to be passionate about what I do to the point that it infuriates me and causes me to jump for joy. Maybe I’m crazy, but I want to love the thing I choose to do for the next 20-40 years.

3.  Money is nice. I’ve learned that I’m not above a job as a receptionist or a barista or a janitor if it means I am in the place and have the ability to work towards my future. While I would love to buy a one way plane ticket to NYC and couch surf until the perfect job comes calling, I’m broke. There is no shame in a job that pays the bills. There is shame in settling for that job because it’s good enough if it means you will never be truly fulfilled.

4. Patience is a virtue but that doesn’t make it any easier. The future is coming whether I’m ready for it or not, and at this point I want to call every agency or company I have applied to and scream into the phone, “Hire me damn’t! I need to know what my future looks like!” The closer we get to June the closer I get to the edge where I may actually take the leap and start doing this.

5. Invest in a good office chair. I know, I know, I said before that I don’t care what my tushy rests on, but gravity is real, ergonomics matter, and when you’re spending more time in a chair than walking around a college campus or in your own bed you do want a happy tushy.

V-Day Branding for the Big V

Who knew Valentine’s Day could be a big day for branding? Apparently Trojan condoms.

Being a student at the University of Oregon and growing up in a family of USC haters, I’ve heard my fair share of Trojan jokes from signs at football games that say “Trojans break under pressure” to a text from my uncle (the only USC fan in the family) after a USC loss saying he wasn’t “the first man to be let down by a Trojan. But this Valentine’s Day the condom company isn’t joking around. They’re driving around.

New York City will be home to the Trojan Condom Cab on Valentine’s Day this year, which is one of the most genius pieces of branding I have seen in a long time. And no, it’s not a roaming place to have sex, nor is it just giving people rides and handing them a condom as they’re handed their change. Riders will receive free rides, within a set range, and during the ride will be quizzed by a Trojan representative on sexual health, making the ride both convenient and educational–that is as long as you don’t mind riding around in a cab with a giant condom on top.

I’m just blown away by this idea as a new form of interactive media. According to Nielsen, the week that Valentine’s Day falls in is the week when condoms sell best. And what a way to convince your customer base to buy your condoms that week. This is a brilliant idea because the brand is actually providing people a service that they want and need. How often do brands do that? More often than not they create something that they teach us to want, but we never really needed.

What I love most about this concept is that it does not shove the idea of buying their products down the consumer’s throat. There is nothing saying that Trojan is the only condom that will keep you safe or that can guarantee your sexual health. Instead the main goal of this project is to provide education through a service. Why not learn something during the time you spend riding in a cab?

This is the direction advertising and branding has to be moving. It has to be smart and strategic, in the words of my professor and advisor Deb Morrison. But really. It does. And this is. And I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the industry in which this is happening. Falling in love all over again just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Free rides. Promoting sexual health. Preventing the spreading of STIs and/or an unwanted pregnancy.

What could be more romantic?

Wagging the Long Tail

I never would have thought that going into week 6 of an academic term I would have read 3 books for a class about social media. But like all of my advertising classes, the assumptions I held going into the class were wrong, and the books assigned have more helpful than I ever would have thought.

You might assume like I did that you learn advertising and branding and social media by doing. And while our professors and classes do a great job of ensuring plenty of hands on projects, the value of a good book should never be scoffed at.

I finished the third book today. It was a quick but interesting read called The Long TailIt was not itself a long tale. The few stories it did tell were quick and to the point. But even in its brevity it opened my eyes to a brand new concept of the current marketplace: the Long Tail market. This concept basically describes the phenomenon that has begun occurring since the introduction of the internet and digital markets. The Long Tail is the place where everything that is not an explicit “hit” lives. It was created by sites like Netflix and iTunes and Amazon that never run out of shelf space and thus offer people more than they may ever immediately realize that they want. The Long Tail shows the current focus on niches and how they grew out of the fact that the new digital marketplace made niche media, movies, and products available to everyone who wanted them.

I would just like to recommend this book to everyone who works with media, markets, and/or selling products, and/or anyone interested in knowing more about these things. So basically, everyone should read this. Even if you just give it a good skim it might help you understand some important ideas about how the world works.

Long Tail Graph

These are my big take-aways:

Popularity exists at multiple scales, and ruling a clique doesn’t necessarily make you the Homecoming queen.

Jeez, how beneficial would it be to many different companies to understand this concept. So many PR problems could be solved if certain corporations realized that just because they have a good quarter financially does not make them the be-all-end-all of their consumers’ worlds. Wal-Mart with infamous and over-publicized error with the “Wal-Marting Across America” scandal, and Apple with some of it’s flippant moves in the past could take a lesson from this statement.

The Long Tail is about abundance: abundant shelf space, abundant distribution, abundant choice.

It seems like America is about abundance these days. An abundance of people, an abundance of problems, an abundance of food, an abundance of brands competing for your attention. So my question to this statement is whether our society has been influenced by the Long Tail market in the way we have come to have an abundance of everything, or did this acceptance and presence of abundance contribute to the formation of the Long Tail?

In some ways the Long Tail is taking us back to the fundamentals of human communication: used to be before media and then mass media that the only way to get the word out about anything was word of mouth. And because that was an evolutionary thing and people didn’t spend a lot of time trying to hype, more often than not the true essence of an entity just emerged in the market.

Wow. Powerful statements happening right there. But when you really sit down and think about it, everything said there is absolutely true. Think back to the days when people only purchased things from their local store and after talking to the sales person about the quality and where it came from. Now this happens on a massive scale with thousands of reviews for every product out there on the internet, but we’ve returned to a time when those reviews, that human to human contact, is becoming more and more important to the consumers. And companies are starting to learn that those reviews come more frequently when consumers feel that they know the company producing the product and they feel that they can trust it. This principle applies to everything else that I learn in my advertising classes and books, but this book may have stated the most simply and eloquently.

 

Heaviness and Happiness

Almost every time I tell someone that my major is advertising people ask me a) what my favorite ad is or b) whether I criticize every ad I see.

A. I have new favorites all the time

B. Yes

The new year always brings out my most critical side because I tend to hate diet and exercise ads. I don’t judge the people that take them to heart. We’re so inundated with them how could people not? But I do judge the people who make these ads and some of the products that roll out each year intended to make us thinner, leaner, healthier, and ultimately happier.

Maybe it’s because I’m a member of this special club of people who knows that being thinner does not automatically make you happier, and that if you truly think it does you are in for some heartbreak. This is not to say anything against those who legitimately need to lose weight and who are happier once they start living a healthier life. But our society spends a lot of time convincing a lot of consumers that they are one of these people when in fact they are not.

There are not words to explain how much I hate the Special K “What will you gain when you lose?” ad from last year. It is the biggest crock of shit. I’ve watched girls smash scales before just to feel like they had some power over the stupid numbers it spits out, and I know firsthand what it feels like to be such a slave to those numbers that you’re willing to die to make them change. I want the people who made this ad to know what that feels like. I want to know from someone who works for Special K when their scale has ever read “Joy” or made them feel any. And more than anything I want to shove so much cereal down all of their throats that I get my own sense of “Joy”.

But lately there’s been another ad getting under my skin, but this time it’s more the product that I take issue with. Watch.

Seriously?!? Now my fucking orange juice is going to make me fat? What next, a lower calorie orange? How insecure does one have to be to pander that much for a compliment on their appearance from their friends? And are they really true friends if all you focus on is appearances around them? And orange juice, really? You really get that excited to have lower calorie orange juice? Was that something people were even worried about?

As you can see, I have serious questions about how these products get created. I desperately want to know if Tropicana actually felt like their was a need in the marketplace for a lower calories orange juice, or if some person in a back room thought he/she could win big by capitalizing on women’s insecurities.

But to end on a happy note, I recently saw a tweet about an ad about happiness and had to click and check it out. I’m glad I did. It restored a little bit of my faith in the world. I’m stopping myself from questioning whether this ad is really a good representation of the brand or even has anything to do with it or its values, and I’m ignoring the part of the article beneath it talking about fighting obesity with lower calorie soda. I’m just enjoying the happy feelings it gives me. Click here to watch.

A. This might be one of them

B. To a painful extent

Pacific Northwest Jungle Fever

I have lived in Eugene for the past 4 years, with a couple months taken out here and there. 5 days ago I spent 8+ hours exploring the agency world of Portland. It wasn’t my first trip to Portland, nor will it be my last. 4 months ago I travelled for the first time to Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. In 7 weeks, I will no longer be a full time student at the University of Oregon, and hopefully in six months I will no longer be calling Eugene my home.

There have been a lot of numbers whirling around in my head lately, such as the amount of my future salary, the cost of the average apartment in New York or Boston, and how much it will cost me to move to wherever my first big girl job is located. This past Friday, when I travelled to Portland agencies with other members of Allen Hall Advertising, this job became more of a reality and some of the fuzziness began to sharpen. For those 8 hours that I spent running around Portland from Epipheo to Uncorked to Instrument to North I forgot about all the numbers and all I had flitting through my head was images of me working at these different agencies and where I thought I might fit. But as soon as I got home, all that I had absorbed from the day entered the numbers conversation murmuring throughout my mind.

What I realized early on in the day was 1) these agencies were amazing in their own unique ways, 2) I could see myself working at all of them depending on what I wanted out of my career at a given time, and 3) these places were still in Portland. Working at any of them would mean staying in the Pacific Northwest.

4) Right now, staying where I am is not something I am prepared to do.

There is something about the East Coast that is calling me. It’s where I was born. It’s where I learned to talk and walk. And moving away made it where I learned to miss. I say this even though I know that I would be lucky to work at any one of the tremendous agencies in Portland. Or Seattle. Or San Francisco. Or Los Angeles.

It’s hard to explain, but I’m ready for a different pace, a different climate, and a different time zone. And I think that at this point in my senior year there is something healthy about being ready to leave the nest without a push.

But the hard part of Friday was the fact that each of the agencies in Portland was completely mind-boggling and utterly alluring.

We spent 3 hours at Epipheo, an agency with 31 employees in their Portland office. No other word can convey their space and the work environment except to simply say, cool. Epipheo was cool. They were open and honest and generous and inquisitive. I fell in love with the furry pillows on their couches and the idea that every morning they had their bar (yes, an in-house bar) set up with coffee for all to enjoy–and I really mean all. I was captivated by the idea that every morning they invited people from other agencies into their space to get their caffeine fix, and that additionally on Friday evenings their bar was literally a bar, also open to those working in other agencies across Portland. I’m still not sure whether this creates an atmosphere of transparency or generosity or something else–or a combination of all of that, uncertainty included.

 

Why doesn't every office has a bar in it?

Why doesn’t every office has a bar in it?

Next up was Uncorked Studios. After having a class with David Ewald and hearing of his many colleagues during that term, I thought I knew what to expect. I both right and wrong. The place was small and the people were hilarious, open about their process and the times they have been in over their heads, and they really took the time to listen to and answer our questions. That was what I expected. What I didn’t expect was how at ease everyone seemed to feel there even though we were cramped in their “lobby”. I know it doesn’t seem like the easiest agency to be a part of because code is intimidating and many of us in AHA have no idea how to make an app that allows people to report measurements of radiation levels in Japan, but the people who work there still seem so comfortable with what they’re doing that it makes me feel comfortable with what I do when I’m around them. That is unique.

Instrument was a new world from what any of us had experienced that day, and from what I experienced while in NYC last spring. No internal walls reached to the ceiling and in the middle of the warehouse/airplane hangar type office was a teepee used for conference calls. What? They were the type of agency that is pushing the limits of what digital can be or could be, and I know they are not the agency doing this, but they might be the only ones doing it in the way they do. And with the statement of “If you want to start your own business just do it, and do it before you’re 30” they made it all sound so early. I mean I’m 22 now, so I need to decide soon if owning my own business is a dream so I have at least 7 years to make it happen. Not intimidating at all.

By the time we reached North I was exhausted, and I quickly became grateful that North was our final visit of the day. The atmosphere was so much more homey and relaxed. I felt like I could just absorb without needing to impress with the next great question. The floating conference room in the middle of the agency was pretty cool, too. And there were dogs to pet. Maybe it was because the two people who talked to us were British and I’ve been very UK obsessed since returning from London this summer (yes, I mildly stalk Kate Middleton from this side of the pond), or maybe it was because Dave Allen, who teaches at UO, spoke to us with a different perspective and level of understanding, one or both of these things made North the relaxing, reassuring end of a crazy day rushing around an unfamiliar city and hearing that maybe you should start your career doing something completely outside of advertising in order to be more successful when you do jump into the agency world. As a senior with exactly 55 days of college left and a journalism major with an advertising focus under my belt hearing things like that really knock you on your ass and wonder whether it might be worth it to work as a barista for a year just to seem more interesting. Or more desperate. Or pathetic. Whichever one works.

All calculations aside, I’m so grateful for the chances I’ve had as a UO student to visit so many different agencies with different sets of values and unique agency cultures. I’ve seen some of my favorite work presented at some of my favorite agencies. That’s pretty damn cool, and they’re experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. So knock me down, press all clear on the calculator in my head, tell me that I’m not right for you. I know I’ll hear it a number of times, but I also know there is a place for me in the advertising industry out there, and I really hope it’s in Europe or on the East Coast because it’s time for this duck to fly back to her natural habitat.

Hop aboard the Cluetrain

All aboard! Join us on the Cluetrain where wisdom falls like the snow around my parent’s home in Nevada.

The inspiration is back. This is going to be a good term.

If you are in media or advertising or business you have to read the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you want to know how the current marketplace is evolving and where you fit now, you should read it. If you don’t then absolutely have to.

Every concept and idea in the book seemed like an obvious statement on its face. Yes, we all know that businesses need to communicate. We know the world is becoming more web-centered. We also know that businesses are now on the web and that means a different conversation. But when all of this actually put down on a page it provides moments of insight and clarity that delve deep into the heart of what is happening in society, business and otherwise, all over the world today.

As I read over the 95 Theses at the beginning of the book, each theses started a cluetrain running in my mind. It chugged from one company to the next that I could identify as following these principles and thus succeeding, and it also stopped at the stations of those companies that made a bigger impact on me because of how poorly they were doing their work in the new marketplace.

The first one to really strike me was the assertion that “there are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.” It brought me to Apple, one of my favorite companies…that is until I got my new iPhone 5 that came shiny out of the box with major glitches that it rendered it unusable. Not unforgivable in itself, but it was replacing my broken iPhone 4S, which was my second of that model because the one before that was broken, too.

So of course I Googled my problem, which lead me to the Apple support communities of the world, which lead me to posting my problems in forums where I found many other disgruntled iPhone owners. I became even more frustrated when no one, including the employees of Apple, Inc. could figure out what the issue was because they “had never heard of this before” and I left with another iPhone 5. Yes, they fixed it, but I found the Apple I had always loved rotting before my eyes. I don’t know if this fully means that Apple has missed the cluetrain, but my experiences shared with those of my peers on the interwebs showed me that the recent iPhone and many of Apple’s employees have.

My next big connection was to the author’s thesis that stated, “We’re also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.”

Wasn’t this a whole plot line of The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel? Do we learn nothing from movies, or at least Judy Dench anymore? I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t seen the movie, but I think we can all relate to dealing with a company that doesn’t seem to care about the individual and is so stuck in “company policy” that they can show no hint of humanity. And I’m in full agreement that the age of accepting this needs to end.

I’ll stick to the third time’s the charm rule and just comment on one more assertion so that you’ll be intrigued enough to read the whole thing yourself. Really, it’s worth it.

I love when readings or other class materials pose questions. I ask a lot of questions, so it’s nice to get asked one too once in a while. And this one really got me thinking. “What if the real attraction of the Internet is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales?”

After I looked atavistic up, I started thinking about all of the companies that do tell stories today and how the advertising agencies and brands I most want to work for after graduating are those whose stories I could tell because of how well they have told them to me. I thought of Starbucks and how they created a culture around the romance and story of the coffeehouse and uniting people over a common beverage. I thought of HUGE, Inc., and how their applications say applicants need to believe that websites should tell a story. I thought of Target and how they have built a brand by reaching out to bargain shoppers and introducing them to what their story can be with a little more color and pizazz in their lives. All of these companies have their own stories to share, but also created a story for their customers to engage with and build upon. This is what I want my career to be and something every company should want to attain.

Welcome, Leah, to the cluetrain.