About Secret Sauce Creative

Brand and content inspiration by Catherine Carr

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: A Tribute to Leo Medisch of the Back Porch Cafe

I haven’t blogged in a while, and this is a departure from my usual topics, but I just learned that someone I admired tremendously died earlier this week, and it feels important to express the huge impact that Leo Medisch had on me. Sometimes you don’t realize such a thing until it comes sharply into focus — until that person has slipped away.

Leo was the early founder and chef at The Back Porch Cafe, to this day one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Because my dad’s brother had also been one of the original founders, they were kind (crazy?) enough to hire me for a series of summer jobs that I truly had no business doing. For two summers I worked in the Back Porch Store, a gourmet take-out shop that was a couple decades ahead of its time. And the summer after the shop closed, I waited tables in the exquisitely casual, sprawling, creaky, fabulous main restaurant.

Tribute to Leo Medisch of the Back Porch Cafe

The Back Porch Cafe from Rehoboth Avenue (Creative Commons photo by ding_pression)

When I worked in the shop, Leo would come kind of sailing in, usually carrying an enormous bucket of enormous organic carrots that I had to chop or something. He had this wonderful, grand, floaty way of walking. He was usually humming or singing — my favorite was “Knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door.” He had a lovely, Cheshire cat sort of smile and a sly sense of humor.

In my memory he kept this kind of composure, this presence, even in the outlandishly cramped, hot kitchen during dinner rush. I’d like to say that I keep my cool like this when things get crazy, but it is something I think about and aspire to. Really, Leo was the opposite of the “Hell’s Kitchen” type of chef. He definitely wasn’t pleased the time I left two lunch plates sitting under the hot lamp and reflexively dropped them, inches away from the table who’d been waiting far too long, in a crash of plates all over the back deck. But he didn’t fire me, although I probably would have fired me.

Tribute to Leo Medisch of the Back Porch Cafe

On the back deck at the Back Porch (Creative Commons photo by Susan Sharpless Smith)

Most days, he would let me write out the day’s lunch and dinner menu, which was always posted for people walking by on Rehoboth Avenue to see. When I started doing this I was 17 and I had decent handwriting, but was inordinately prone to stars and swoopy flourishes. He never criticized my style, but over time he taught me how to make it simpler, cleaner, and more elegant. (Years later when the Back Porch catered my wedding, he declared my look “simple elegance” which, coming from him, felt like the highest possible praise.)

Whenever I walked past the Porch, I always stopped to read the day’s menu — not just to contemplate the inventive offerings but to appreciate Leo’s round, stylish handwriting. Would it have been faster to just print the menus? Of course. But to me, those handwritten menus were always a soulful reminder that good things take time — quintessential Back Porch.

It also has to be said that Leo inspired me to love food and to cook. When I started working at the shop, it was like learning a foreign language. Mascarpone. Shirred eggs. Terrine. I can still remember exactly how some of the dishes tasted, and I still try to recreate them — roasted green bean salad with walnuts and lemon zest, the absurdly tasty Thai chicken curry (inspired by collaborator Siri Svasti who, I learned from reading Leo’s obituary, has since become a celebrity chef in Thailand). I also learned that Leo wasn’t a trained chef. This surprised me, but it made me appreciate him even more (not least because I have taken a decidedly nontraditional career path in my own field). Passion counts.

Tribute to Leo Medisch of the Back Porch Cafe

Brunch at the Back Porch (Creative Commons photo by grrlie)

In the big scheme of things, my summers with Leo and the Back Porch crew were a tiny slice of my life, but an incredibly vivid and formative one. They taught me about care and craft and authenticity and community. Leo, I’ll miss you, but I’ll never forget you. I hope you’re knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Five Lovable Local Businesses in Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach boardwalk

View from the boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach

Each summer I spend a month or so visiting my parents in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and really the only thing I don’t absolutely love about it is the lack of a proper coffee shop. I’ve sampled just about every latte in town and even tried giving them up for the trip, but have finally resigned myself to the chronically understaffed Starbucks on Rehoboth Avenue, which has the longest, slowest lines I have ever encountered.

Recently a friend responded to one of my (admittedly) whiny tweets about the Rehoboth Starbucks, wondering why I hadn’t been able to find a good indie coffee shop. He speculated that maybe it was too hard for small businesses to compete against Starbucks. I didn’t think that was the issue, since Rehoboth Beach is almost all local businesses. His reply: “Take pictures of them, while they’re still there.”

Rehoboth’s small business scene is unique and vibrant, and it’s impossible for me to imagine it without the bookstores and ice cream parlors and pizza places I loved when I was growing up here. But–all the same–I’m taking pictures.

Here are five of my favorite Rehoboth Beach businesses, and what I especially love about each one.

Browseabout Books Rehoboth bookstores

Browseabout Books, Rehoboth Avenue

1. Browseabout Books: This is the absolute best kind of bookstore, packed with tables of thoughtful staff picks, a maze of aisles to get lost in, and a choice selection of cool games and toys. Browseabout completely gets the importance of offline events for building community, and on most summer days you can enjoy a kids’ story time or an author book signing. Giving my kids a few dollars to spend here can keep them happily flip-flopping around, spinning racks of paperbacks and playing with Schleich animal figures, for at least an hour.

Signature touch: Rainbow-hued murals commemorating local best sellers since 1975.

Browseabout Books bookstores Rehoboth Beach bestsellers mural

One of Browseabout’s signature murals

What could be better: Coffee worthy of the Browseabout experience–though they claim the best lattes in town, trust me that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

2. Royal Treat: There are probably dozens of places to get ice cream in Rehoboth, but Royal Treat is by far my favorite. It feels like stepping back in time when you climb the steps of an old beach house and relax on the porch with a hand-dipped milkshake while fancy ceiling fans keep you gently cool. In the mornings the fare shifts to breakfast, with local teenagers serving up platters of french toast and bacon.

Royal Treat rehoboth beach ice cream parlor

Royal Treat, Wilmington Avenue

Rehoboth Beach Royal Treat ice cream parlor

Milkshake on the porch, Royal Treat

Signature touch: A big ceramic crock of ice water that my friend calls….

Royal Treat Rehoboth Beach ice cream parlors

….”the best water in the world.”

What could be better: “Cash only” also feels like stepping back in time.

3. Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats: This outstanding craft brewery founded by the charismatic and visionary Sam Calagione is garnering increasing fame–for good reason–but it all started here, and it remains a decidedly local (if no longer exactly small) business. More than 15 years ago, we took a chance on their recently opened brewpub at the northern tip of Rehoboth Avenue to host our rehearsal dinner, and it turned out to be the ideal spot for a laid-back, memorable gathering. Dogfish Head is one of my gold standards for amazing word-of-mouth marketing (led by my childhood friend Mariah Draper Calagione), and it deserves a post of its own, but this place is the real deal, with a rotating selection of handcrafted brews on tap, live music, and a walk-up window where you can pick up cool t-shirts or a growler of 90-Minute IPA or Festina Peche (my favorite).

Dogfish Head Rehoboth Beach brewpubs

Dogfish Head Brewpub, Rehoboth Avenue (by Bernt Rostad)

Signature touch: Creative, conceptual concoctions like Raison d’Etre and Palo Santo Marron.

Dogfish Head Rehoboth Beach brewpubs beer

Flight of Dogfish Head beers (by Bernt Rostad)

What could be better: I might be spoiled by Georgetown Brewery in Seattle, but the growlers seem on the pricey side compared to the bottled beer.

4. Funland: A trip to Rehoboth Beach without a visit to Funland would be inconceivable. A handful of tickets can score you a ride on the classic bumper cars, the whirling teacups, or the Ferris-wheel-like Paratrooper, which offers a peek at the ocean at the top. A true rite of passage is to strap your tiny ones into the floating toy boats–the very same ones my dad rode when he was small–and take about a hundred pictures as they circle around, pulling on little ropes to ring the bells that crown the bow of each boat. You can squeeze into an old-school photo booth or plunk down some coins for a game of Whac-a-Mole or Skeeball. It’s a happy din of pure, perfect boardwalk magic.

Funland Rehoboth Beach

Funland, Rehoboth Beach boardwalk

Funland Rehoboth Beach boardwalk Paratrooper

Up high on the Paratrooper, Funland

Signature touches: The iconic green tickets, still a bargain.

Rehoboth Beach Funland Toy Boats

Riding the boats, Funland

What could be better: Some of the rides and games could use a (gentle) facelift, though I appreciate that so many of the originals remain intact.

5. Grotto Pizza: Anyone who has visited Delaware knows there’s nothing small about this business, but it certainly started out that way. What began as two brothers from Pennsylvania selling slices out of a tiny window has bloomed into a vast empire of shiny family-friendly pizza factories. I have vivid childhood memories of the original Grotto on Rehoboth Avenue–a dimly lit corridor of vinyl booths–and as a teenager l I took a turn in the kitchen as a “pie writer,” hand-writing each order on a clipboard placed carefully in the cooks’ line of vision so they could crank out pizzas without interruption. Now I love sharing “the legendary taste” with my family in the pleasant open-air side patio.

Grotto Pizza Rehoboth Beach

Grotto Pizza, Rehoboth Avenue (by M.V. Jantsen)

Signature touches: The bright-tasting sauce is applied over the cheese in a distinctive spiral pattern. Also, balloons for the kids.

Grotto Pizza Rehoboth Beach

Sacked out after a satisfying meal (by Dom Pulieri, Grotto Pizza founder)

What could be better: Keeping the ever-sprawling menu in control (breakfast pizza?).

Stay tuned for five more favorites…and in the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming about opening the ultimate Rehoboth Beach coffee shop.

Case Study: Burro Content Strategy

Aside

Client: Burro, Seattle, WA and Koforidua, Ghana

The Challenge:

Burro is an inspiring startup with a unique, complex story that wasn’t being told effectively on its website. There was plenty of content, but it was dense and difficult to read online. The company’s founder undertook a major site redesign to present Burro in a more compelling way, and engaged Secret Sauce Creative to lead the content strategy. The budget was small, so we needed every word to do more, just like Burro’s innovative, hard-working products.

Burro light Ghana

Secret Sauce Contributions:

  • Performed detailed audit of existing site content to determine what was usable, what changes would be needed, and what was missing.
  • Collaborated with founder and site designer on inspiration, overall strategy, user experience, and site design.
  • Created clear, detailed voice/tone guidelines to establish brand voice and inspire all brand copy.
  • Created detailed site outline with specific copy requirements and direction for each page.
  • Developed plan to establish and maintain company blog, including overall inspiration, post types, media, and suggested post topics.
  • Extended brand storytelling approach to social media channels, providing training and inspiration and crafting overall strategy for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Burro Ghana do more

The Results:

  • The “on-the-ground” story of Burro is now unfolding authentically across channels through evocative stories and imagery.
  • The Burro team has been able to establish and maintain a high-quality blog and social media presence without outsourcing.
  • The Burro Facebook community—small and growing organically—is highly engaged, with some posts achieving virality (response/share rates) of more than 20%.
  • Site copy readability has increased by 65%.
Burro Ghana Secret Sauce Creative

Do you need your content to do more? Please get in touch!

Brandcrush: Glassybaby Shines

I remember distinctly when the glassybaby sign first appeared on a corner in Madrona, in 2003. I strolled in one day with my infant daughter, expecting cute onesies and maybe Scandinavian toys, and was surprised to find myself in a tiny gallery lined with shelves of colorful glass candleholders. I’ll confess that my first impression wasn’t overwhelmingly positive; I just couldn’t get my head around a store full of fancy $40 candleholders. But this brand has since grown on me like a cozy, flickering fire, and I’ve discovered that there’s quite a bit more to the story.

Image

Here are five reasons why I admire this exquisite brand.

  1. Powerful story: I believe there is nothing like an authentic, memorable founding story to anchor a brand and give it emotional power and richness. Glassybaby’s is one of the best I’ve come across. Its founder, Lee Rhodes, found peace in the colorful vessels as she battled a rare form of lung cancer while raising three young children. As described on the glassybaby website, “She had endured surgery, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and was searching for a few moments of serenity to escape the fear that encompassed her life. Lee filled [the glassybabys] with tea lights and scattered them throughout her home. She found great hope and healing in their color, light, and love.” One especially lovely thing about glassybaby is that each purchase, each gift, becomes its own story as you select exactly the right shade, and name, for the occasion. On Mother’s Day, I chose baby, a pale peachy hue I know will look perfect in my mom’s beach house, and red, red happiness for my mother-in-law.
  2. Craftsmanship: Each glassybaby is handmade by artisans in the Madrona hotshop–in fact, you can peek in and see them at work on any given day. The high quality is evident in the heft and stunning color of each unique piece. I love that they have been able to continue manufacturing locally even as they’ve scaled up to supply new shops around Seattle and in New York. The obvious care and craft makes each glassybaby feel that much more special.

    glassybaby

    glassybabys by greenplasticamy

  3. Generosity: Since 2003, Glassybaby has donated more than $900,000 to charities dedicated to health, healing, and quality of life. In each collection, several glassybabys are offered to benefit specific organizations that align with the company’s mission. I was surprised to see a prominent glassybaby presence at a recent Seattle Sounders Women match, but it all made sense when I read more about the partnership behind it to “kick cancer.” This deep commitment to worthy causes–in a way that authentically supports the brand’s roots–adds meaning and grounding to what might otherwise be perceived as a style-focused brand. Another generous (and all too rare) detail that stands out is free everyday shipping from their online shop.
  4. Focus: It takes incredible focus and discipline to do one thing and do it well. Pressures from retailers, media, and investors to deliver something new can be intense, but I’ve observed too many brands spin out from their centers as they rush to expand with new products, lines, and categories. There is a compelling purity and simplicity to a glassybaby shop that I believe amplifies the deep power of the brand.

    glassybaby

    glassybaby colors by mariusstrom

  5. Courage: I have a soft spot for companies that play by their own rules, and I love this quote from Lee Rhodes: “Even with my early success, I can’t tell you how many people told me that my product and my company wouldn’t work.  Many doubted that I could hand-make a product in the USA; others doubted that I could be successful with a single product; still others questioned my decision to give a portion of revenue away.  All of these people underestimated the power of color and light.  I knew I had something special because you can’t help but look at a glassybaby and feel something.”

For me, glassybaby is a model for brand cohesion. The powerful story at the core shapes everything, from how the product is made to the causes the company supports, and the effect is a warm, sustaining glow. What memorable details can your brand’s founding story inspire?

Case Study: Wonder Forge Social Media Activation

Client: Wonder Forge, Seattle, WA

The Challenge:

Establish a vibrant social media presence for an independent board game company, starting from zero fans/followers and minimal brand awareness. Develop brand voice, amplify existing marketing efforts, and cultivate relationships with partners and influencers — all in less than an hour a day.

Wonder Forge Facebook Fan

Secret Sauce Contributions (Ongoing):

  • Collaborating with team to clarify objectives, crafting social media strategy, and drafting sample posts to ensure alignment.
  • Creating and maintaining Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles.
  • Building a comprehensive, integrated editorial calendar; writing and publishing all posts to creatively build an authentic, inspired brand presence.
  • Setting up an integrated dashboard to track and respond to all brand and product mentions as well as content from key partners, bloggers, and industry influencers.
  • Integrating tightly with PR outreach and partner social media efforts, including Twitter parties, Facebook giveaways, and trade shows.
  • Building an organic, low-budget brand ambassador program to identify and reward the company’s most enthusiastic and consistent fans.
  • Identifying new influencers and bloggers for outreach.
  • Creating processes to capture and make use of valuable fan insights, and ensuring they are fully integrated into all areas of the business.
  • Providing thought leadership on best practices for word-of-mouth marketing and emerging social media platforms.
Wonder Forge fan tweet

The Results:

  • After two years and zero incremental spend, Wonder Forge has a relatively small but highly engaged, passionate, and supportive social media community (2,400+ on Facebook; 1,700+ on Twitter).
  • 100% response rate to fan comments, posts, and tweets.
  • “People Talking About This” Facebook measurement often eclipses those of pages with communities that are 10 or even 20 times larger.
  • Brand sentiment remains consistently 100% positive, with frequent “love” mentions.

Wonder Forge facebook fan post

Insights:

  • It is possible to cultivate a highly engaged, enthusiastic community with a very small investment (of both dollars and time).
  • Responding to fans consistently and positively goes a long way toward building brand loyalty.
  • Paying close attention to what’s going on with influencers, key partners, and bloggers reveals priceless insights and new opportunities.

If you would like to talk more about cultivating social media community without a big budget, please get in touch.

Brandcrush: Molly Moon’s Gets the “Offline Event” Badge!

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, Seattle

I could make a list of 100 things Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream has done right in terms of word-of-mouth marketing, really from the moment they opened. Their stylish scoop shops are loaded with talkable details like the irresistible smell of fresh waffle cones baking, a strategically placed low window where toddlers can peek in to see the ice cream being made, and smartly designed posters showing all the wholesome, local sources of their ingredients.

Molly Moon's Ice Cream Trade Map Local

Molly Moon's Trade Map

Of course, Molly Moon’s also makes seriously kick-ass ice cream with inventive, memorable flavors like Salted Caramel and Honey Lavender that get people literally lining up around the block on Seattle summer days — which, of course, drives interest and gets even more people lining up — you get the picture.

Today I saw a Tweet that Molly Moon’s was offering free scoops of one of their signature flavors, Scout Mint, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts. It happens to be about 40 degrees and pouring — certainly not a day that would normally make me think “ice cream.” But this sounded so fun and compelling that I surprised the kids with an after-school stop. Here are five things I loved about this inspired event.

Molly Moon's honors Girl Scout Anniversary

Happy 100th Anniversary, Girl Scouts!

  1. It was generous. Not 20% off Scout Mint. Not buy one get one free. Not free scoops for Girls Scouts in uniform (which would have been perfectly awesome). Free scoops of Scout Mint. Period. No questions asked.
  2. No huh? moment. You know what I mean. You hear about a special promotion, you go into the store, and the person at the counter has no idea what you are talking about. Or you bring in a coupon and you have to wait hopefully while the manager scrutinizes it to make sure you’re not trying to rip them off. The guy serving up the free scoops at Molly Moon’s was just straight-up awesome. He patiently gave out tastes and served up dozens of free scoops with gusto. He made the whole event feel fun, which, of course, is exactly how it should feel.
  3. It felt celebratory. There was a seriously festive vibe going on. The whole store was decked out with artful arrangements of Thin Mints boxes. A local Girl Scout troop was camped out at the entrance gamely selling boxes of cookies in the rain. Another troop had come in for scoops in full regalia. As they left, they called out, “Thank you, Molly Moon’s,” and the cool scoop guy called back cheerfully, “Thank you, Girl Scouts!”  It made me love my neighborhood and, of course, love Molly Moon’s for being part of it.
  4. It was disruptive (in a good way). When was the last time I took my kids spontaneously for ice cream on a Monday afternoon? Hmm. Maybe never. There was something about going at an unusual time that made it feel extraordinarily fun and memorable. Will I do it again? Probably. Where will I take them? That’s pretty easy.
  5. It was authentic. For me, this is a big one. Molly Moon herself was a Girl Scout, and she has honored that with her unique Scout Mint flavor. There is a real reason for Molly Moon’s to be celebrating Girl Scout Day; it wasn’t forced or opportunistic. It was from the heart.
Artful Thin Mint display on Girl Scout Day at Molly Moons

Those who follow word-of-mouth marketing best practices know well how important it is to have offline events in the mix, but I think Molly Moon’s gets a badge for this one: a sweet, simple, smart concept, perfectly executed. Thanks for those free scoops, Molly Moon’s! We’ll be back.

Brandcrush: PEMCO Gets It!

Over the past year I have had the excellent good fortune to get to know Rod Brooks, VP and CMO of PEMCO, through various word-of-mouth marketing events. It’s difficult to imagine a warmer, more authentic, more visionary leader for such a warm, authentic, visionary brand. I have heard Rod speak 3 or 4 times now, and each time, I feel more compelled to stand up and cheer and clap and say “YES! This is how it should BE!” I am continually inspired by the bold, consumer-focused marketing he and his team are doing at PEMCO.

Rod Brooks, CMO of PEMCO

Rod Brooks, PEMCO CMO and Sounders Fan

Here are five things that PEMCO has nailed, from my perspective.

1. They had the excellent sense to realize that their customers really don’t want to talk about insurance. After all, as Rod points out, insurance is odd in that you spend a lot of money on something you hope to never use. But when PEMCO invested time in really listening to their customers, they discovered that they *did* want to talk about their homes, their habits, their neighbors, and what makes them unique. This critical insight helped PEMCO carve out both a competitive niche and a creative point of view, celebrating the quirky facets of local life through its Northwest Profiles campaign, which immortalizes local characters like “Ponytailed Software Geek” and “First Snowflake Freakout Lady” and proclaims “We’re a lot like you. A little different.”

2. They have had the courage to stick with this memorable, extensible campaign for several years. They introduce new profiles as needed to keep things fresh and support their expansion into new Northwest markets (most recently, “Flawless Firewood Stacker” and “Portland Food Cartlandian“), but they haven’t succumbed to the temptation to break out some flashy new campaign once or twice a year like so many brands do. As a result, the campaign itself has become a local touchstone with meaningful roots and street cred. PEMCO fans can create their own profiles, suggest new ones, and even make trading cards.

PEMCO Northwest Profiles on Metro buses

Seattle Buses Adorned with PEMCO Northwest Profiles

3. They are truly committed to hearing and being led by the voice of the customer. Rod’s last presentation opened with a quote from a customer that said simply, “PEMCO gets it!” I frequently pull consumer quotes for inspiration in my work, and this one is a gem–crisp, memorable, and broadly applicable. Rod told me that they begin every executive meeting at PEMCO with a real customer story. I can’t think of any business that wouldn’t benefit from such a simple, focusing practice.

4. They have one of the most elegant and inspiring mission statements I’ve ever heard: “We enable and protect the dreams of responsible Northwest people.” Early on, they made the strategic decision to focus on “preferred-risk” policyholders in the Pacific Northwest–and this clarity about both their audience and their offering helps them stand out from the competition with a local angle and a distinctive voice.

5. They don’t just say they are local; they live and breathe it, supporting and participating in the Northwest community in enthusiastic and fun ways. They host a running pre-game foosball tournament at Sounders FC games. They hand out soup and coffee at the Polar Plunge in Eugene and show up at the Northwest Center with their WALLY (short for “We’re A Lot Like You”) van stuffed with 920 pounds of clothing donated by PEMCO employees.

PEMCO hosts the Foos Cup before Sounders FC games

PEMCO Foos Cup at a Sounders FC Game

If PEMCO can make insurance this fun and talkable, really, there’s an angle in for any product, category, or brand.

You can (and should) follow Rod Brooks on Twitter and read more at his personal blog,  as well as the PEMCO blog.

My So-Called Public Speaking Career

A friend recently asked me if I had done anything specific to develop public speaking skills. Though the answer is technically no, it’s just something I naturally enjoy, the question did prompt me to reflect on some highlights (and lowlights) in my speaking career.

1975: I asked if I could say grace at Thanksgiving dinner. I “surprised” the crowd by singing the ABC’s in my doll Gloria’s voice, several octaves above my normal register.

1980: I ran my own school, attended by neighborhood kids, and somehow managed to keep several squirrelly kindergarteners entertained and educated for several hours a day. Inside! In the summer.

1987: I delivered my high school valedictory address on the “daring” theme of how we were butterflies emerging from our cocoons. I managed to keep my cool and deliver my earnest, trite teenage speech while being attacked around the ankles by savage mosquitos.

2001-2008: I had numerous opportunities to deliver a “gong speech” at Cranium, which is how we celebrated company milestones such as new hires, new products, and awards. My most memorable (though not my best) was the one where I got streaks-of-mascara teary welcoming our new publishing partner. In my defense, I was seven months pregnant, I had just hosted an intense two-day kick-off meeting, and I had walking pneumonia. I can safely say that this particular combination is unlikely to repeat itself.

Catherine wearing Cranium brain helmet
Sometimes I even gave gong speeches wearing the brain helmet. It’s actually quite heavy.

2008: Soon after Cranium’s acquisition, I flew to Hasbro’s headquarters in Pawtucket to introduce Cranium to a packed crowd of executives and a mix of curious/skeptical/excited employees. A deadly combination of time-zone change and insomnia meant that I got about 1.5 hours of sleep the night before. The Hasbro exec appointed to oversee the transition hovered anxiously, cutting slides deemed too “wacky” and–two minutes before I went on–letting me know my allotted time had been slashed from 45 minutes to 15. It went well, however, and the Cranium team was nominated for a Hasbro “Inny” award for giving outstanding presentations.

2010: My inspirational and much-loved grandfather died at the age of 103, and I delivered a heartfelt eulogy–miraculously, without mascara streaks. You can read the text commemorating this remarkable man here.

August 2011: I delivered my first “Ignite” talk, “You Are Not Your SAT Score” to an all-ages crowd at an outdoor venue. This was partly to spread the “multiple intelligences” message that there are lots of ways to be smart and partly to demonstrate to my kids that I can do more than make quesadillas to order. It was also my first time giving a talk without being in control of the clicker–the slides advance automatically every 15 seconds, whether you want them to or not. (Holy cow…have you ever tried that?) My endless practicing paid off, though, and I’m still thankful that I only came close to stepping backwards off the stage in the middle of the talk (spatial intelligence is not my strong suit.) You can watch my Ignite talk here.

On the stage at Ignite Seattle 15 (image: Ronald Woan)

October 2011: I was invited to be a featured presenter at the Red Pencil in the Woods conference. I put together a talk called “Twitter: A Cocktail Party for Word Lovers” and had a fantastic time demystifying Twitter for a terrific group of editors and writers. The best part was seeing the event hashtag catch on during the session and to see all the conversation that kept going for weeks afterward!

Case Study: Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-A-Lot, June 2011

Client: Giant Thinkwell, Seattle, WA

Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-a-Lot, Facebook Game

The Challenge: Create hundreds of buzz-worthy questions for a Facebook game featuring pop culture icon Sir Mix-A-Lot  on a fast, fluid schedule. Drive outreach and launch on a shoestring budget.

Secret Sauce Contributions:

  • Established overall content approach, voice, and high-level parameters to support game spec and deliver innovative Facebook social gaming experience.
  • Crafted 1,000+ clever, entertaining game content elements to engage Sir Mix-A-Lot’s fans.
  • Helped mastermind and execute social media and PR strategy behind what GeekWire called “The greatest PR pitch ever.”

“[Catherine] instantly gets the idea, makes it better, asks tough questions, drives the process, and then delivers the most awesome content one could have imagined on time and on budget.” Adam Tratt, CEO of Giant Thinkwell (full recommendation here)

The Results:

“MixNMatch is Giant Thinkwell’s first game, and it’s cute and funny enough that we would like to see more from this shop.” Jolie O’Dell, Sir Mix-A-Lot Likes Big….Facebook Games, Mashable

Insights:

  • Researching and referencing personal details in PR pitches gets them noticed.
  • Creating an optimized social media dashboard is a cost-effective way of amplifying a launch.
  • When you can make a bona fide character like Sir Mix-A-Lot laugh out loud, you’re on the right track with the content.

Sir Mix-a-Lot with Giant Thinkwell

If you need content or inspiration to support your launch, please contact us.

5 Ways to Amplify Your Trade Show Presence with Twitter

Toy Fair 2012, New York City

Toy Fair 2012, New York City [Image: Michael del Castillo

There’s nothing quite like a big conference or trade show to gather fresh inspiration, make new connections, and plug into the shared energy of people with a common passion getting together to talk shop. Twitter can be a surprisingly powerful tool to fine-tune your event plan and make your presence even more successful. Here’s how.

1. Keep tabs on key contacts: Before you go, look up the Twitter handles of everybody you are planning to meet with and gather them into a Twitter list. Before your meeting, take a quick look at your contact’s tweet stream to get some context and look for opportunities to make a memorable impression. Is he frustrated by slow wifi? You can commiserate. Energy flagging? She’ll be delighted if you have a cappuccino waiting.

2. Tweet and retweet generously: You certainly don’t want everybody in the booth heads-down tweeting, but be sure to tweet throughout the event, always using the official event hashtag if there is one. Be generous in your approach, retweeting quality tweets even if they are coming from a competitor. Active tweeting gets you on the radar of event attendees and sets a positive, engaged tone.

3. Listen for relevant trends and hooks: Save the event hashtag stream using a client like HootSuite or TweetDeck so you can keep an eye on all the tweets about the event. When you notice someone tweeting about something that’s relevant to your offering, extend an invitation to stop by your booth for a demo. Make it personal, including your booth number and who to ask for.

4. Be on the lookout for new influencers: Even if you came with a lengthy list of key contacts and planned meetings, if you’re listening actively you’ll identify plenty of new influencers to build relationships with. Keep an ear out for bloggers, journalists, or critics who are actively tweeting about the trends or topics you are addressing, and extend a warm personal invitation to stop by for a chat.

5. Follow up: Trade show attendees meet dozens or even hundreds of people in a short stretch of time, so a follow-up tweet is a quick way to solidify your connection and make it easy to keep the conversation going. Make it warm and personal rather than generic–for example, “Stephanie, thanks for stopping by to play the new Dr. Seuss game! Hope you find some more comfortable shoes for tomorrow.” Of course Twitter shouldn’t replace other follow-ups, but it can be a powerful way to punctuate a positive meeting.

Bonus Tip: With some close coordination, some or even all of this Twitter dot-connecting can happen remotely! In some cases this setup can even be preferable, since on-site wifi speeds tend to be sluggish and schedules packed. As long as your Twitter point person can coordinate as needed with booth staff via email, phone, or text, you can drive a very effective event Twitter presence from miles or even time zones away.

What are your favorite Twitter trade show tips?