danniewriter

Head butting, reconstructed

If you own or manage a business, it’s likely that one of the least-favorite aspects of your job is responding to customer complaints. And, if you are on social media, it’s possible that the headache turns into a migraine if a troll has latched onto you.

Business Unplugged’s Carol Roth compiled a great collection of advice from business and communications pros about how to handle complaints, and trolls, and how to tell the difference. Some tips mentioned often:

Don’t respond in an angry or defensive manner, especially if you are dealing with a troll instead of a legitimate customer. Trolls want conflict. Don’t feed them.

You may feel that a customer’s complaint is unfair or possibly even untrue. It is your job to listen and respond with professionalism. Provide them with a way to communicate with you directly about their complaint. Direct messaging via the platform (Facebook or Twitter, for example), is the best way to start.

When you respond with patience and restraint, your faithful customers and supporters will chime in with their stories of great experiences at your business.

Respond, even if you need to step away from the computer for a while first to cool down. The silence of not responding screams to current and potential customers, “I don’t care if you’re happy or not.”

You have no control over reviews and comments on other sites such as Yelp, but it’s possible for you to block a follower from your own Facebook or Twitter feed. Do this only as a last resort. If you are dealing with someone who simply wants to rant, and if you have made an effort to respond in a reasonable and professional way, you can control who can post on your feeds. Do it too often, however, and you get the same blowback as not responding at all.

Finally, try to keep a sense of humor about everything. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible it will keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. As an aside, it’s OK to approach complaints and haters with humor, too, but make sure you really have a gift for it first. It’s a tricky business to convey sarcasm online. Check out some pros who do it really well, Moon Pie and Wendy’s.

From Magnolia to Mississippi

The song, “Once in a Lifetime,” by Talking Heads has been going through my mind quite often of late, especially the lyric, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

Never thought I’d find a kindred spirit in an eccentric Scottish rocker, yet here I am.

For reasons frequently murky to even myself, I recently moved from Kentucky to Mississippi. At a very tired 53, I thought that, maybe, I had one more transition in me. Living a landlocked life for virtually all of my existence, I’ve always loved the beach. Not the crowds or the mid-summer heat, but the awareness of the vastness of the world that I seem to experience nowhere else except standing at a point where land disappears underwater.

I get the slightest twinge of fear in those quiet moments, realizing how possible it would be to get lost out there on the water. I don’t feel the same about getting lost in Kentucky’s mountains, forests and hollers–although Lord knows, under the right circumstances, I could pull that off quite nicely with just one or two stupid moves.

In my few short months here, I’ve discovered a few things about Mississippi:

  • Whatever number of Waffle House franchises per capita you think could be considered excessive, double it, and you are getting close to reality.
  • Ditto Sonic.
  • They grow roaches big down here. The palmetto beetles I experienced in Georgia would be flayed into submission immediately by the monsters here.
  • When driving to Mississippi from Kentucky, Alabama becomes the largest state in the lower 48, extending all the way to the Florida Keys.
  • A fried oyster Po’ Boy is food of the gods.

I like the small-town feel of Gulfport. It has fewer than 70,000 residents. Most recently, I lived in Louisville, which is Kentucky’s largest metro, and home to more than 600,000.

I lived in Louisville for several years, and love many, many aspects of that great city. Still, I often felt like a fish out of water, having spent the first years of my life in small-town Appalachia before the family moved to an even-smaller town pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state.

You’ll notice that Magnolia (population 524) is in capital letters, however. (Note: this is a vintage map that incorrectly identifies the LaRue County seat as “Hodgensville.” The correct spelling is “Hodgenville” … It matters.)

The excitement and fun of the transition from Magnolia to Mississippi (the latter being the Magnolia State, by the way) is struggling to outweigh some fairly epic disasters regarding my new home. A dear friend tells me the house was suffering and I’m here to rescue it. An appealing thought, but Bruce Wayne, I ain’t.

My takeaway on the entire experience is that spontaneity often comes at a very high price, literally. Were I looking for a smooth transition to assure me of the wisdom of my decision, I’d be as lost as I sometimes feel when I look at the Gulf.

It is what it is.

I’m here. Loving my gorgeous 300-year-old live oak in the back yard, meeting new people, and after living in gas-gouging Louisville for more than a decade, reveling in $1.95/gallon unleaded.

How did I get here?

I’m trying to tell myself that answering that question isn’t really all that important. The bigger question is, “What now?”

Hell if I know. Stay tuned.

The cardinal is the state bird of Kentucky.

They’ll always be kids to me

It is 3:19 p.m., and I have no idea what I was doing at this time 30 years ago. I was living in Elizabethtown, Ky., at the time, so chances are I was doing Saturday errands, maybe making plans with my mom. Perhaps we were on our way to Magnolia to see my grandparents. I simply don’t remember.

Hours later, however, around the time when May 14 was ending and May 15 began, that memory is crystal clear. I was awakened from a deep sleep, told some dreadful news by my boss, and sent on an eerie drive north to Carrollton. I was a reporter then, for the News-Enterprise. The bus carrying a group of kids and a few chaperones to and from Kings Island that day was owned by a church in our county. The story was national, but for us, it was very local.

By now, the facts are rote: a Carroll County resident, with a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit in 1988, got into his pick-up truck and began driving. Traveling north on I-71, Larry Mahoney no doubt was unaware that he had steered his vehicle across the grassy median and onto the southbound lanes of I-71. He hit the bus head-on, and the impact was in the worst possible location. The fuel tank, situated just behind the front exit, was ruptured, and the bus became a fireball. Investigators said the temperature inside rose to 1,500 degrees, and that toxic fumes from the burning seat covers became as deadly as the flames. In just a few minutes, 24 children and three adults were dead.

With the anniversary in the news, last night I found myself remembering the details of my “first big story,” as a reporter. Five years ago, I’d heard about the release of a documentary on the tragedy, Impact After the Crash. Although I wanted to see it, mostly because crash survivors were instrumental in the production, I wasn’t eager to revisit the story, the names, the faces, the devastating facts.

I watched it for the first time last night. It is available on Amazon via streaming or DVD. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to the film, the memories of those lost, and to the ongoing journeys of the survivors and families.

The film is very well done. It is unflinching without being gratuitous. It is touching without being cloying. It delivers a powerful message without preaching.

It is the definition of authenticity.

Of the many survivors interviewed in the film, I had met two. Weeks after the tragedy, the most critically injured remained in Louisville hospitals. I made the drive from E’town not knowing if any of the parents would speak to me, let alone permit me to talk to their hurting kids. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they’d kicked me out on sight.

The parents were gracious. I think with the outpouring of love from home, they wanted to give the community some sort of an update. I remember not really knowing what to ask Harold Dennis and Ciaran Foran (now Madden), at the time. Another survivor in the film is Carey Aurentz Cummins. She and Harold were producers on the project. I spoke with Carey’s dad at the hospital in 1988.

The word “strength” is tossed around a great deal when describing people who have come through tough times, whether it’s illness, the death of a loved one, financial ruin, and sometimes a combination of obstacles that can be described as anything from “struggles” to “horrors.”

But sometimes, even the word, “horror” fails to capture the reality. For Harold, Ciaran, Carey, and the other survivors, they have more than earned the right to be described as strong.

These kids about whom I wrote so many years ago are now adults. Most are parents, and have other distinctions. They speak with emotional intelligence, and a combination of world-wise weariness and keen awareness of everything good in their lives.

In 1988, I wasn’t old enough to be their parent, and I was young enough to remember, in detail, my own church trips to Kings Island, Opryland, and Six Flags, riding in a bus as old and as combustible as the one that erupted in flames that terrible night. I was too young to be responsible for the poor design of the bus, or even the tepid penalties for drunken driving on the books. But, I was old enough to feel, deeply, that somehow we had failed these children, and their families. I wondered if anything good would come out of the mess.

Without question, buses are safer now. Drunken driving laws are tougher. Those are very good things.

Viewing Impact After the Crash led me to realize that many, many of the survivors, their families, and the families of those lost, took ownership of that outcome beyond those obvious positive responses.  A thread that runs through their comments is about taking control of one’s attitude and optimism.

There’s a maturity about accepting consequences, and how one single decision can alter the course of countless lives. You hear the wisdom of talking through pain, letting go of anger, and perhaps most important, recognizing that the talking and the letting go sometimes have to happen more than once.

Yes, in a way, these individuals will always be kids to me. They are cute tweens with their 80s glasses and hairstyles, smiling back from grainy yearbook photos, images taken before they knew anything about how school buses are built, or what debridement and skin grafts are.

I’ve learned, however, that they are so much more.

*feature photo at top from (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal by Bill Luster

Foto Phriday: Gone to the dogs

Being self-employed actually means working for more people than I can count on most weeks. I like the fact that, usually, no two weeks are alike, but I’m also glad when some aspects change very little. Case in point, these three friends.

Maddie is in the foreground. She is a miniature Australia Shepherd/Poodle. Behind her is Macy, a blend of Pomeranian and Bichon-Frise. I usually walk these gals four days each week. They are fun, only infrequently infuriating, and sweet as can be.

The little guy in the hero shot above is Smoochie. His person took a tiny cable-knit sweater and crafted this coat/cape. Smoochie is Chihuahua and Miniature Pinscher. Whenever he goes outside, he adopts the posture of a great explorer stepping into the savanna. (He needs a pith helmet.) Every bird, breeze, footstep, and door slam is fraught with possibility for this little guy. He’s really smart, and I’ve never met a dog who enjoys squeaky toys more.

And here’s my best boy, Chip. Yes, he makes four dogs in this post, not three, however, he is actually in a class all his own. Unlike Maddie, Macy, and Smoochie, Chip is stuck with me pretty much 24/7. He is a unique blend of Chihuahua and some kind of terrier. He loves people, and is very curious about the goings-on of the bipeds. He is always up for making a new friend. Unlike “reindeer” Chis, Chipper is very close to the ground. Yesterday, we were taking a stroll past a construction site when one of the workers saw him and said, “Hola, Shorty!” That was followed by comments about my dog’s excessive cuteness. I couldn’t agree more.

These are my closest canine companions. I’m a lucky gal.

If you live in the Metro Louisville area, and need a dog walker and/or pet-sitter, you can find me on Rover.

Pitch the rug: Manage PR crises with integrity

When you are in charge, and something bad happens, instinct can serve you well, but not always.

Instinct can equip you to put out fires, the literal and figurative blazes, quickly and efficiently. As a business owner, or head of a community organization, that instinct is like gold. It can prevent a spark from growing into a conflagration.

Where instinct can let you down, however, is in dealing with the aftermath of a crisis. Your gut tells you to circle the wagons, swear people to secrecy, and give a terse “no comment” to the press, the public, and even your stakeholders. Bad idea.

How you handle problems says more about you as a leader than how great you look riding the biggest wave of success.

Matt Valentine of Goalcast recaps four major public relations crises, and how corporate leadership responded with integrity and transparency. A few things that rise to the top:

  • They responded quickly.
  • They responded like human beings, not corporations.
  • They took a financial hit without flinching (at least publicly).
  • They answered their stakeholders’ questions sooner rather than later.

The Apple v. FBI example is unique, but there are lessons that can transfer seamlessly to your business or organization. The non-corporate tone of its response to customers is especially impressive. The document is straightforward and easy to understand, but it doesn’t bog the reader down with too much detail. It quickly goes to the heart of the issue, and states Apple’s position clearly.

If your business or organization is facing a tough time, there’s no need to tell the public everything about the crisis, but it is important that you tell them something that is truthful and makes sense. I have experience with crisis communications, and would be happy to help you with this, and other public relations issues. Contact me by email at danniewriter@gmail.com, or call (502) 432-8725.

 

 

Small business marketing on a shoestring

 

May is a time to celebrate small businesses. In our mail-order/drive-thru/cookie-cutter existence, you, small business owners, give our lives and communities character, color, and identity. Thank you.

I’ve written frequently about how tough it is for small business owners to think proactively and for the long-term when immediate concerns are so, well, immediate. I don’t have any answers to a lack of time, but I’ve run across some tips and resources that can help you market on a shoestring.

Writing for Forbes, Mike Kappel has seven tips for small budgets. Note: It has never been easier to start a website or blog than it is right now. If you’ve been putting it off, don’t. Start with a simple, one-page site with a concise description of what you do, where you are, and how customers can reach you. Make sure the site looks good on smart phones and tablets.

If you feel like your business gets lost among your competitors during the big annual sales, consider picking a new date for a promotion. Small Business Trends has some ideas, and a comprehensive list of lesser-known “holidays” and annual awareness campaigns. (Remember, May is National Small Business Month.) Don’t get lost in the crowd; find your own day and start making plans.

Need some inspiration? Check out the companies that the U.S. Small Business Administration singled out for recognition in their annual awards. Read their stories. Take a look at their websites. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m willing to be that you’ll find at least one marketing idea that you will be able to implement immediately.

Are you ready to write a marketing plan for your business? The SBA has a section of its website devoted just to sales and marketing. It includes a sample of a marketing plan to help get you started.

If you know you need to do a better job marketing, but can’t seem to find the forest for the trees, give me a call. The initial consultation is free.

 

Trends: Looking back; looking forward

Do a Google search on 2018 marketing predictions, and you will read about IoT (Internet of Things), Chatbots, live streaming, virtual reality–and that’s just scratching the surface. For small businesses and organizations, all that techno-speak can be overwhelming, especially if you handle your own marketing and public relations.

Take heart. In the midst of all this gadgetry and constant change, the experts also have a great deal to say about foundational, even old school, marketing techniques.

Here are some insights on 2017 marketing trends that came to pass, and predictions for 2018.

The site, B2C: Business to Community, shared a very helpful column by Sarah Hanney that focuses on marketing for small businesses. A blogger for Signkick, it’s not surprising that Hanney has something positive to say about outdoor advertising, but her perspective is sound, and there is a new take on how billboards, bus signs, and the like, can work in concert with digital media.

There are other approaches that Hanney, and other experts, mention that are as old as movable type, although the names have changed: purpose-driven, and influencer, marketing.

Mathew Sweezey puts it this way in a post for salesforce: “Marketing of the future must have a heart.” Now more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that care about the communities in which they operate, in addition to a national, and sometimes, global community.

That sense of mission and integrity is really in demand today, and marketers and influencers are responding.

Consider Virat Kohli, a pro cricketer from India, who turned down what must have been a highly lucrative deal with Pepsi because he wanted to promote a healthier product. Read S. Swaminathan’s piece on Campaign India. His insights are helpful to all of us.

Celebrities are not the only “influencers” you can call on to market your products, services, or organization. Find out more about influencer marketing in a blog post by Joshua Nite for TopRank Marketing.

If you need help marketing your small business or community non-profit, give me a call. I can develop a plan for you that uses old-school and new-school media to get your message to the right audience. The initial consultation is free.

Confessions of a reluctant protestor

Note: The author is a resident of the El Conquistador condo community in Louisville, Ky. Her views are her own and do not represent anyone else at El Conquistador, Casa Granada, or Planet Earth.

There are several reasons I’ve never been much of a “joiner” when it comes to causes, no matter how worthy.

I tend to get too emotionally invested, which often interferes with good judgment. On many issues, I clearly see both sides. And, rather than considering the rightness/wrongness of an issue, I often ask myself how likely will a vocal opposition result in a positive change? Outrage for the sake of outrage, to me, is wasted energy. I dislike the sound of my own voice. I prefer to express my opinions at the ballot box or perhaps by writing a check.

When something hits close to home, naturally I take notice, but even then I try to be circumspect. Is this something to be fought, or something to be accepted?

Every once in a while, however, I run across something so clearly in opposition to respect and common sense that the outrage, and the organized opposition, comes quite easily.

The proposed Hikes Point SpeedWash at 3000 Breckenridge Lane in Louisville is a case in point.

It’s a sweet deal for a small group of people. Reportedly, it’s worth about $1.5 million for the current owner of the property. And, with an average daily traffic volume of more than 31,000 vehicles, it’s about low-hanging fruit for SpeedWash. The business model here touts bargain basement prices; exterior washes start at only $3/car, and self-serve vacuums are free. The only way SpeedWash makes a profit is to process as many cars as possible in the 12-13 hours it is open, seven days a week.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for people making money. Also, it would inject a few more low-paying jobs into the local economy. However, the list of pros is pretty short compared to the cons in store for hundreds of people profoundly affected by the project.

Full disclosure: I have a dog in this fight. I live at the El Conquistador Condominiums. If this car wash goes in, I’ll be looking at it out my front windows. The value of my financial investment will plummet.

But, unlike many of my older neighbors, I have options. I can sell out, cut my losses, and move elsewhere to lick my wounds. For many residents, the condos are the last homes they will ever have. For many, they invested a lifetime’s worth of savings and pensions into purchasing a home they thought would be a safe and pleasant place to live out their years. For many, they spend most of their time each day within the walls of their condos, making those homes incredibly important to their quality of life.

I daresay none of the residents moved in dreaming of the day that a high-volume car wash would be built across the parking lot, adding traffic, grit, heat, and unfathomable noise to their everyday lives.

This is very much a David and Goliath story. Many of my neighbors are ill, or so advanced in age, they don’t have much fight left in them. I’ve heard them express great concern even while struggling to sign their name to a petition. As I write this, my eyes well with tears. It’s just not fair, especially to them. Where is the protection for our elderly that our society claims to prize?

I’ve tried to get the attention of local media, and senior citizens advocacy agencies, but so far, few people outside Hikes Point, and the two condo communities, are aware of the project and its implications.

Maybe you can help us. First, I encourage you to read the petition, and the press release about a valid-but-still-Hail-Mary legal battle El Conquistador has undertaken. Here’s a layman’s explanation of the “adverse possession” question.

Get the facts and decide if you think it’s a battle worth undertaking, even if you don’t have a dog in the fight. If you do, help us by reaching out to:

If you are still reading at this point, thank you! That’s a win right there.

Dannah K. “Dannie” Prather lives in Louisville and is a freelance writer and part-time dog walker (Rover.com).

 

 

 

Adverse Possession Adversity

Note: The author is a resident of the El Conquistador condo community in Louisville, Ky. Her views are her own and do not represent anyone else at El Conquistador, Casa Granada, or Planet Earth.

The lawsuit filed last month by El Conquistador Condos against Bayside Properties, LLC makes a claim of “adverse possession” of a portion of the 1.43-acre parcel at 3000 Breckenridge Lane.

Often, the concept of adverse possession is shorthanded as “squatters’ rights.” This writer’s non-legal, and pedestrian explanation follows: If an individual or group maintains a piece of property for several years without complaint from the actual owner of the land, the argument could be made that the land legally belongs to the individual or group.

Many years ago, El Conquistador leased the building and property at 3000 Breckenridge Lane as a clubhouse and swimming pool, but the developer eventually sold the land, and over the years, the building was rented out as offices for various professional services such as attorneys, dentists, chiropractors, etc. Other than no longer having a clubhouse and swimming pool, nothing much changed for El Conquistador residents.

It is only now that residents are learning that the boundaries of the parcel drawn up so many years ago include a much bigger chunk than they likely imagined.

For decades, residents of El Conquistador have paid for the maintenance and improvement of the strip of property that constitutes the border of the condo community and the office building. With the complete knowledge and tacit approval of owners past and present, ECC has resurfaced the thoroughfare, installed speed bumps, striped parking spaces, and landscaped the parcel.

Now, Bayside wants to sell the whole enchilada to a high-volume car wash likely capable of processing more than a dozen cars each hour, and open for 12-13 hours daily and seven days a week. The location is smack dab between El Conquistador, and another senior living community, Casa Granada.

Lost in that enchilada will be several parking spaces and landscaping for El Conquistador, expanding the thoroughfare of El Conquistador Place to within seven feet of one of four entrances to ECC’s Building Two. Yes, seven feet. There are basketball players taller than that. In the photo below from Bayside’s website, Building Two runs parallel to Breckenridge Lane. The structure with the star is the proposed location of the car wash’s office. For reference, the parking lot across Breckenridge Lane in the upper righthand corner is in front of the McMahan Plaza Kroger. At bottom right is one of Casa Granada’s buildings.

Whether El Conquistador’s attorney succeeds in court, is the question of the community’s maintenance of the property really a question at all? The photo under the headline at top, and the images shared below reveal clearly how ECC is using the property, and how well it has been maintained. In marked contrast is the almost complete lack of maintenance by Bayside of 3000 Breckenridge Lane, which has created an eyesore for condo residents for many years.

A former ECC board member said the condo contacted Bayside to invite the realtor to piggyback on the annual resurfacing project in order to save time, money, and inconvenience to all involved. Bayside declined, and opted to continue doing essentially nothing to maintain what it considers the portion of the property for which it is responsible.

It’s pretty obvious where ECC’s care ends and Bayside’s begins:

Here’s a visitor handicapped parking spot that Bayside alleges to maintain:

Bonus eyesores for ECC residents include a stand-alone carport, three junk vehicles complete with towering weeds and flat tires, and a boat that definitely has seen better days.

Some will argue that Bayside and previous owners have been benevolent for all these years, allowing ECC to use the property for parking and landscaping. It’s a fair point until you figure that, with all the money ECC has spent, residents likely have paid for the property itself a few times over.

Another argument is that Bayside’s lack of maintenance of 3000 Breckenridge Lane is a point in favor of selling, but that argument falls as flat as the tires on the boat trailer. If polled, residents likely would opt to live with the junk cars and weeds compared to a noisy car wash that will divert a portion of the 30,000 cars that travel Hikes Point daily onto a thoroughfare that was never designed to handle such numbers.

The lawsuit is in the hands of ECC’s board, and now, Jefferson Circuit Court, but residents are hoping to generate support for their cause with these efforts:

  • An online petition that explains the issues in more detail.
  • A Facebook page (Hikes Point Wipe Out the Wash) to share facts and encourage others to share to their Facebook pages in order to build awareness.
  • We’re also on Twitter as @wipeoutwash, and are using the hashtag #wipeoutthewash.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Dannah K. “Dannie” Prather lives in Louisville and is a freelance writer and part-time dog walker (Rover.com)