Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Rise and Fall of (my childhood. I mean,) the Mall. Specifically, the Woodfield Mall.

It's completely unremarkable, really. And it's old news as soon as it's penned.

Another store closing. Another mall's irrelevancy. Another suburban casualty. Old news.

Except - this is new news. As of 9pm tonight. Today. Now. 

"They" have decided to close not just another sad, humorless, hapless, irrelevant store in a long -forgotten - un-tiktok-able, stereotypical suburban mall. 

But this was my Mall. This is my gateway shopping experience. This was my 1970s. And my 80s. This was my history. And this is one of my favorite memories with my Dad and my Mom. Separately. 

The Harder Side of Sears

Woodfield Mall, in the much-parodied big-hair (guilty, but I was 8) suburb of Schaumberg, Illinois, was my litmus test for all future shopping experiences. Dallas Galleria. Galeries Lafayette. Cherry Creek. 900 North Michigan. The Forum Shoppes at Caesars ....

You name it, I've shopped it. 

But this. This is different.

Heaven knows I haven't darkened the doors of our local mall in years. But, Woodfield. 

With its twisty wooden slide, indoor ice-skating rink, Roy Rogers, Gift Gate (read: Hello Kitty), Express, I.Magnin, and incredible waterfall. This was THE HEIGHT of 80's shopping. And of course - Marshall Field's. So many amazing memories with my Dad, my Mom, my best friend, Rhubarb and Ribbie (the White Sox Mascots), etc. (and I'm all Cubs - all the time!) And the nachos at John's Garage.

Look. I'm very clear on the Sears saga. I'm very clear on the mall saga. I'm very clear on the old-retail-guard saga. But like another infamous 80's hold-over - this time, it's personal.

It's heartbreaking that so many childhood (fond!) memories have to go away. But, more important - I understand, of course, that jobs are going away. And, really, a bit of a way of life is going away. 

As much as we may or may not love the analog life - digital life and the evolution of commerce is not only important, it's vital. It's vital to the future. It's vital to the economy. It's vital to the next generations. 

But it still makes me really sad. 





Thursday, September 2, 2021

Working from Home as Reality.

From the Washington Post, "A D.C. resident whose office closed permanently during the pandemic said he has three more hours each day to play with his daughter, relax or work late when necessary. An Alexandria resident who used to ride Metro daily is planning to move away to be closer to family after being allowed to telework full time. Limiting the commute has provided breathing space to better balance work and parenting." Story editing by Tim Richardson. Photo editing by Mark Miller. Design by J.C. Reed. Copy editing by Anne Kenderdine.

Over the many, many extended months of the pandemic, we've all seen articles like this. Workers of all ages pontificating the merits of working from home. Sure - we miss the tomfoolery - the office witticisms, the ridiculous hallway conversations and the brilliant high-fives (fist pumps?) after client meetings that redouble our resolve that we have a)a great job b)a great industry c)great co-workers. That WE. ARE. RELEVANT. And FUNNY. :-)

Well. You ARE still relevant. Your co-workers ARE still awesome and you still have A GREAT JOB. In whatever form that takes. But, let's accept that just as some of our peers love after work happy hour, complaining about Mondays in the elevator and eating "conference chicken" - many of us are better off, better because of and better in spite of - working from home. 

WFH. Telecommuting. Teleworking. Distance Working. It's had so many names, shapes and forms since the early oughts and late 90's. But one thing it's not - is 9 to 5 (music break). 

Let's jump right to the chase. In some form, I've been "working remotely" since I was 27. And we were given beta RIM devices from AOL. (AOL!). 

There is nothing easier than being on vacay on the Riviera (or visiting your Mother in the Riviera Assisted Living Facility) than working from a laptop, iPhone, etc. And there is nothing more comforting than the anxiety, stomach ache and stress cramps you DO NOT GET - because you can, well, WFH.

Things I can now do without (or with less) anxiety (in no particular order) - take my mother to the doctor(s); bring flowers to my mother-in-law; go with my dad to the doctor or a long lunch; meet my husband for work discussions and lunch; hang out with my retired brother; take my son and his friends to school; take my son and his friends to practice after school; handle all of my non-profit meetings online; work until midnight at home (with Forensic Files in the background); work from a restaurant during lunch; take "lunch" at 10am to hit a tennis ball or two.

I can LIVE and WORK. And I love work. And I love my clients. And I am one lucky girl.  

And at the end of the day, who wants to wear sky-high heels for more than 4 hours? 

Well, sometimes me. So I do. And lipstick - always lipstick.

 



Friday, February 19, 2021

This Will Probably Become A Book and is not about Marketing, but might be ....

This. Has nothing, but also probably everything, to do with my career (because Our Mother thinks working is a curse. A personality fault. Proof of failure.) But I am writing it here to have a record and documentation. And because this is my blog and I feel that two blogs would be indulgent and Versailles-like. 


So, I called my Mother the other day, by way of check-in. 

Our little son has been calling her sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, during Covid. We have been worried Sick. Like, actual Wake-Up-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Night, Sick. About my Mother being in an ALF during the pandemic. (She has had BOTH shots as of this writing!!!). Did I mention she has unapollegetically smoked for 65 years?

But sometimes, I check-in. To be clear - she is not interested in moi whatsoever. But I feel like I should. So I do. I am the fourth sibling. And typically the first that can handle dealing with her. Our Mother. And also, she did a great job with the guilt.


So, I called Our Mother.

"Hi, Mom. How are you?"

"Oh, Ren! Just thinking about you!," she effusively states. 

I think, immediately, "This is odd. This is a trap. Oh, maybe she's being kind. How nice!"

Then.

"I got my check today. I need it cashed. Also, I'm out of cat food. And. Paper towels."

Yep.

Yep.

Yep.

Why on earth would I be surprised? Why on earth would I expect anything other than? Why on earth would I think this time she was actually, really, humanly - thinking about me?

But she was. Really. In the only way she can. And that has got to be okay .... Because if it's not? What am I supposed to do with that?





Friday, February 5, 2021

Home from "Working"

This is the most detailed and comprehensive article on the subject, from The New Yorker - the subject I've long wanted to tackle. And finally pushed me to put pixels to pretend paper.

By way of update, this just in on 2.10.21 from The Verge, "Salesforce will also give employees more freedom to choose what their daily schedules look like. The company joins other tech firms like Facebook and Microsoft that have announced permanent work-from-home policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic."

Working from Home. #WFH. Telecommuting. Working Remotely. 

These words have been a part of my vernacular for over 20 years. When my progressive Chicago company literally said to me - "Moving to Florida?, just fly up here every few weeks!". 

I was literally gobsmacked. This. Was the Holy Grail. 



So, 20 years later. This is not a new or mind-blowing concept. So, why did it take a literal pandemic to bring it into the "new norm" or new "abnorm" as some are wont to say? 

"Twenty-seven per cent of the American workforce will be remote in 2021, according to a recent survey by Upwork, a freelancing marketplace."

I will first state, raised by a dedicated and workaholic father and a mother who still believes working is a character defect (there's a novel/memoir in there, so more later), the whole lauded "Work/Life balance" thing was never part of the equation. Work is Life. Life is Work. 

But that's okay. Because to me, and half of my upbringing, it was just logic. Work is what you do, is what you love, is fulfilling, is joy. Since I was a teenager, my philosphy has been "Love what you do, do what you love." If you are going to spend your life doing something, anything, you should embrace it. It should be a natural extension of yourself. When I played? I pretended I was working at a Blue Chip company. My stuffed bunnies had almost unionized. 

May seem trite, but for me, at least, it's true. Life - as much as possible, should be joyful. If you have a passion or are really good at something and can find yourself a profession within that passion - embrace it. And that's still "work".

Well, that's easy when it's Advertising. What's not to love? 

So it never occurred to me, and still doesn't, that "working" 80 hour weeks in Denver and Chicago in the early oughts was actually, "work." And I was able to do that because at that time, I worked for  businesses that understood, if you are travelling 50% of the time, you have to be able to live, and the work is not only getting done, but to an exceptional level. So when companies embrace and help their employees thrive - Work Happens.

Hot Desking. Espresso bars. Real bars. Yoga Class. Purse Parties. Blues Brothers. Cubs Games. Stanley Cup. These are the Perks. 

Because, and again, this is just my personal experience and my opinion - there's no on/off switch or separation from any of my roles - Mother, Sister, Daughter, Wife, Employer/Employee, Tourist, American, Friend, Cook, Traveler, Photographer, Reader, Writer, Pretend Painter, etc. Those traits are there, always. So why would Worker be treated differently? 

Obviously, there is a time and place for each "role", but my experience is they don't vanish neatly when the sun rises or sets. Like a werewolf or vampire (and that would be so cool). So, I find it no surprise when I see - so very, very often these days - remarks like this ....

“'We have seen productivity go through the roof,” ... So why did the staff require so much expensive office space? Did they need any at all?"

Well, of course. Maybe this is obvious to me, a working mother. But here's the thing - what did we think would happen to driven, dedicated people who love what they do when you take all of their stressors away? 

The most anxiety I've personally ever felt at work - again, not heart surgery, but advertising - is the anxiety of picking up my child from school on time or even worse, heading into the no-man's land of the dreaded afternoon doctor's appointment. Forget the appointment for me, personally. Because there were a few employers (not many, but a few), where it was best to just not go. At these workplaces, I couldn't stand the idea of "bosses" and competitive co-workers wondering where I was, why I wasn't at my desk or why I thought I was so "special". I know this is true, because whenever a fellow hapless employee would dare leave the office - or leave their desk for lunch - they would be at the mercy of the "there" employees. In some of these less progressive companies, this - not passion or skill or drive or curiosity - was the route to success. 

I just think "there" is a state of mind. 

As I write this - and I would say, "I'm working", it is 4:35am. I finally have time - time I want and need and love, to work a bit. It's quiet and the puppy stopped playing at 2:22am. But that's the thing, if you can work from home, or Prague, or Alaska or the Florida Keys or a hotel room in Times Square or Las Vegas, and you want to - you should. 

"Six months in, the final round of surveys showed that employees—driven by adrenaline and anxiety about underperforming, and because there wasn’t much else to do while sheltering in place—were working all the time."

"Working all the time." Yes. That's a danger. But, for some, it's natural and productive. There will be times in the lives of employees - and if an employer is lucky, they will have their loyal employees through many stages of their lives - when they work 80 hour weeks. There will be times when they have crises. I had a brilliant boss say one time, upon our blessed, yearly 2 weeks off (company closed!) at the Christmas and New Year holidays, "I don't want to understand the head of a company who doesn't want his team to be with their families during the holidays." THANK YOU!

I would implore all employers to please meet your employees where they are. If they just had a baby or a hurricane or a prognosis or a family/childcare issue - give them peace. Give them time. Give them a DAY. 

They will be more productive than ever because they want to be and because you let them. Loyalty and productivity are interrelated. When an employer is giving, understanding and appreciative - people will exceed their own expectations to actually "thank" that employer. They will THRIVE. 

But, then, this is actually why I started my own business. I knew I could do So. Very. Much. More.

When unfettered by the stressors and constraints of less progressive workplaces that demanded me there at 8am and kept me until long, long after 5pm. I had zero issues with working 12-15 hours a day - but during very specific times - with a family? Being the last mom at pickup for aftercare? I still get a pit in my stomach. When I was single, I regularly woke at 3:15am to workout and be on a plane by 6am and work until midnight. Or later.

One of the best times of my life was when I worked at a fabulous museum and because they have a fantastic all-day summer camp, my son and I commuted together every single day. It was the working mother nirvana. And, after camp, he was a great intern!

I recognize there are a zillion different philosphies about work. But, and I feel very fortunate to have worked for AMAZING companies and employers and CEOS, etc., I feel for me I can fairly say, this is the least stressed I have ever been. Is it because I am a working woman or a working mom? Would I have been less stressed if those things were not a factor? Well, if I were a boy I would've been named "Montague" apparently, so I'm not sure.

But what I will say is, I work when there is work. And when there's ideas that need work for the future. No email goes unread or unfiled. This is really true. Because literal OCD. No client question unanswered. No deliverable unmet. 

Thanks to technology, vacations are even better - usually five to ten quick emails and the rest of the day is bliss. And the ability to be proactive? Gosh. It's like Pandora's box! I do Zoom and Google Meet calls while cooking lunch for my son (also doing school virtually) and husband! My dog is in every meeting. I can be on more non-profit boards. I am always available or within minutes for my wonderful clients. I work when they work. And I work when I work. 

The stress is gone. I can take care of my family, be more productive and serve more clients - better than ever before. 

This is not "work", it's just my life, it's what I do. It's me. I'm working but I'm home. Where I've always been. 




Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Business of Advertising and the Matter of Metrics.

I'm not going to lie. The advertising business is actually all it is cracked up to be - exciting, glamorous and fun. The best thing in the world. There is honestly nothing I'd rather do as a career in life (except dolphin trainer). Truth. 

At its best, advertising is exactly what you think it should be - fabulous headlines, exclusive sponsorships, exciting photoshoots on location, awesome networking (especially when it wasn’t virtual!). 

So, maybe 5% of advertising is that. 

At its worst, and perhaps many of you have experienced this, it's expensive, confusing and imperfect. This is just really 5%, too.

So, up-for-grabs is the remaining 90%. The actual Business of Advertising. There is actually a reason for all of the precious puppies, hilarious headlines, uncanny taglines and canny calls-to-action. A measurable reason. 

As someone with the benefit of incredible timing and superlatively more incredible peers, who had the privilege (via my then-Associate Media Directorship at Leo Burnett/Starcom) of participating in the execution of the first interactive TV campaign (via Survivor and my favorite Chevy Avalanche) as well as the first mobile campaign and associated branding study - via AT&T, and so much more, I can say - Measurement is Everything.  

It's ROI. It's results. It’s the Matter of Metrics - engagement, clicks, lead generation, conversions and ultimately sales. It's the glorious Purchase Funnel we all know and love. And ultimately, it's loyalty and customers for life. 


In real terms - it's measurable metrics from marketers, social media teams and media partners (not vendors - strategic partners!). And if that's not what you are experiencing right now, it really should be. 

Up until the digital age, advertising measurement was not an "exact" science. "Impressions", for example, which translates into "the opportunity to see", weren't ever a truly concrete number. As late as 2015, did we exactly know the number of cars passing a billboard during a specified period of time or exactly how many households were tuning in to a given network and given show on a given night, or how many folks really saw the ad in Vogue? Well, we do now. Thank you GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.

Well about Vogue. Still no. But we know it's a bunch. And it sure is gorgeous!

For TV, the digital age has been nothing short of revolutionary. The onset of digital, on-demand and OTT television allows us to know not just households with the "opportunity to see", but actual households that viewed the commercial in real life - how many skipped, how long it was viewed and maybe, how many purchased a product directly from the ad.

Measurement and analytics are actually the very best and most rewarding part of advertising. Really. It makes up the other 90% that isn't "Where's the Beef?". I still don't know where it is, but I do know, "It's What's for Dinner".

The simple tools that allow you to see, understand and analyze impressions, reach, engagement, cost-per-click, time spent, time viewed, pages per session - and every other in-depth rabbit hole - and on and on and awesome, is the actual proof in the proverbial advertising pudding. 

That said, a large component of why working with small, local businesses is my passion and is so very purposeful and rewarding to me is because my clients and I are able to review actual, meaningful results. And then, I can present action items and strategies to drive their businesses forward in actionable, concrete ways. 

The long and the short of it is, if your agency, or nephew's brother's cousin's uncle who handles your social, digital or any other media, isn't providing exhaustive metrics, measurements and ever-increasing results and associated optimization strategies - it's important to ask for them. 

Regardless of your budget, actionable metrics for your local business are really the best part of your advertising investment. And that's what actually makes advertising so fun. 







Monday, May 4, 2020

"Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit." - Aristotle

And now this one has inevitably gone bad. Another in what is sure to be a cavalcade of lawsuits, ill-executed exit "strategies" and proverbial "uncle!" yelling ....

This week, this disappointing, but unsurprising, headline appeared on CNBC - JC Penney goes to court to try to stop Sephora from pulling out of the troubled chain’s stores and in JC Penney's home market, this story from The Dallas Morning News.

I have always been puzzled as to the relationship between #Sephora and #JCPenney. Puzzled because their brands, to me, are not synchronistic. Puzzled because I, personally, haven't ever been a JCP shopper - although I have appreciated the brand's good nature, messaging and accessibility, and also its history and generosity.

Puzzled because Sephora has become a go-to, a game-changer, an iconoclastic innovator who brought all beauty brands - big, small and store-branded - to the fore in the most fun, non-classicist, festive, demographic-defying format I had seen in a long time. If not ever.

I do appreciate, from a retail and branding standpoint, what both brands stood to gain from one another. Namely, a broader customer base. A giant demographic. But I also thought the couple was surprising. Was mis-matched. Not unlike #PrettyInPink, but I won't say who is who in this scenario.

All of us brand-watchers have noted the mis-matched brand partnerships that look like so much striving and not enough, "of course!". It's a tricky game. Aligning one brand with another to gain an audience that should have similar attributes or buying power. But those ill-fated ones really, really end up doing damage to both brands - which may or may not be forgiven. I mean, Coca-Cola® and movie theatres - a resounding YES! Disney Theme Parks and #Starbucks® - correct! #McDonalds and #Monopoly - I'll take #FreeMcDonaldsFrenchFries whenever I can get them!

But, seriously, Dooney & Burke and #Disney. No thanks. #Target and #LillyPulitzer - great idea. Worst. Execution. Ever. I would put JCP and Sephora right up there.

To me, it's just because the brands never fit together. There was never going to be buy-in and trial on either side. The women I knew who shopped #Sephora at #JCPenney would literally run into the store entrance, only to shop within the makeup area, and then exit, stage left. This is much of what has happened with most suburban malls. In the past 20 years, I have only ever gone into 2 stores and 1 restaurant in our entire local mall. These days, proximity does not equal sales. People like who they like and it takes a lot to get folks to change their behavior, much less their passions.

That said, the fact that this relationship is now becoming forced upsets me even more for both sides.

It's not fair to the shoppers of either brand, but a forced union is not going to mean the brands are #MFEO (see: Sleepless in Seattle).

Well. It's really just another retail drama that will play out on the national stage. I had been so thrilled years ago when JCP finally changed the 1985-font of its logo. Sadly, the struggling brand promptly rescinded when there was customer backlash. I was thrilled when they got rid of coupons. It was inviting to potential new customers, much like their collab with #Mango. But traditional shoppers wouldn't have it.

I don't envy any brand trying to change its stripes.

How many have done it well? #TheSofterSideOfSears #CadillacCatera #McDonaldsSignatureCraftedRecipes ...?

This all comes the same day as #JCrew finally files for #bankruptcy, after being $1.6 billion in debt. Also, a result of trying to deviate from a tried, true and, dare I say, beloved, brand.

What will retail look like on the other side of this? What will we be buying in our #WorkingFromHome, #Athleisure, probably-not-consuming-luxury lives? It's up to us, I am sure. But which brands will be able to read our passions, our behaviors and our appetites and pivot to meet those demands?

I have a small prediction, but it's self-serving and hopeful and I wonder what's on everyone else's lists?











Thursday, April 30, 2020

This is where I leave J.Crew ....


UPDATE as of Monday, May 4, 2020 - Details of the bankruptcy filing from The New York Times .... 

The next - leopard print, kitten-heeled - shoe is dropping. J.Crew is prepping to file for bankruptcy. 

This is not new news. This is not a surprise. This is not unprecedented. This is still sad. Kind of. They got pompous, they got full of themselves, they thought they were influencers. Just because you raise the price does not mean people think you are worth it. This. Is. Hubris.

Even if you are not a J.Crew fan, one must acknowledge this is the end of an era, but it's their own fault.

It started with the #JCrewCollection and continued downhill through the slalom of every "capsule" collection and "exclusive". Is someone really going to procure a J.Crew necklace or sequined skirt upwards of $500? Another marker was the case of the #tippi and #tilli. Not enough orders of the one, and too many of the other. J.Crew ceased to read its very loyal, albeit aging, audience.

The quality markedly went down in the early aughts, when J.Crew was feeling its proverbial druthers and thought it should rightly charge $98 for a sweater worth about $29, on a cold, Lake Michigan day in January. And then its sales people got snooty. Snobby. Too big for their khakis. I have never been so shabbily treated as I have in a J. Crew store. And they don't even offer a Coca-Cola, much less a champagne (see Tory Burch and Tiffany).

And I do actually, occasionally, venture into Chanel. And Gucci. And Bergdorf. From time to time. So when I say I've never been so insulted, I really mean it. And I did make this known to the brand in the hopes it would, could, should - help.

I get it. I was flying high on my #GenX brands like #BananaRepublic and #Gap. Even in foreign countries I still do shop at #Benetton and #Swatch. I want. Just really want (need?). Legacy brands to survive.

But J.Crew won't. J. Crew can't. Because prep school dressing isn't a thing. Gosh, with Covid-19, is going to an actual class a thing?

Admittedly, the mortifying - yet satisfying - athleisure trend - has also disrupted. J.Crew is well-suited for this trend, but is charging way too much for the privilege of sleeping in. It also didn't do much to grow the brand, make it relevant to the crucial under-40s (with the exception of the $100 per outfit crewcuts brand). The other thing is, how much do we really need to spend on pants only worn at home?

Then, there were tweaks to the distribution channels. J.Crew and Madewell, at Nordstrom. J.Crew on Amazon. To be a major brand, searching for a home - searching for relevancy - is like a death nell.

To the frequent shopper, this has all been too real, for too long.

The online "Chat" - tellingly helmed by everyone named "Ashley" in the free world - really! - has not been active for at least two years, near as I can tell. Every time I click to access it, they are "not available at this time." Mind you, "at this time" is 2pm on a Wednesday, 9am on a Monday or 11am on a Saturday.

I have tried. I have been in denial. I have gone through the stages of grief. Yesterday, when the temperature dropped below 60 degrees (in FL, in April!), I came across the first ever cotton sweater I bought from J.Crew. I bought this at NorthPark mall, in Dallas, circa 1992. As an SMU student, I considered this an "investment piece". It still holds up. Is still soft. Still holds its shape. Is probably the only J.Crew item in my wardrobe that completely still exemplifies the brand (still fits!).

I have been pulling for this brand. I have been loyal to it. Followed its triumphs - embraced its high-low chicness and cool-geek phases. J.Crew was the accepted bellwether of East Coast prep trends.

Capsule collections. Major cosmetics brands. French brands. Nike. Lacoste. "Exclusives." J.Crew on the upper East Side - Madison Ave. CEOs coming and going. Group management. Brand ambassadors, in and out.

This is what happens when you cannot take a step outside of your brand and see the bigger picture.

But who can? Can Gap? Can Neimans? Can JC Penney? Can Macys? Can Anthropology?

I ventured down the rabbit hole and clicked through one of the ubiquitous emails this past week - to see the New Arrivals. There were the "must have" looks. There were the "no-brainers". Alas, there were still the jewelry capsule collections, upward of hundreds of dollars - intermingled with latent items from a year ago that were now 50% off (the doppelgangers of which can be procured at Target).

I bought everything in my basket - white jeans, earrings and a signature striped top - for less than $75 (because, why would one pay more?). I bought these for old times' sake. For the nostalgia I feel for a brand that has been with me every step of the way. For a brand I really don't want to go away. But that is going to.

This is, sadly, where I leave J.Crew.











The Rise and Fall of (my childhood. I mean,) the Mall. Specifically, the Woodfield Mall.

It's completely unremarkable, really. And it's old news as soon as it's penned. Another store closing. Another mall's irrele...