danniewriter

When nothing is everything

About the photo: Artist Amy Peters creates a mural in downtown Hopkinsville, Ky., in preparation for the 2017 solar eclipse. (Photo by Meredith Willse for the Kentucky New Era)

What do Oreo cookies and Mountain Dew® have to do with the hit HBO series Game of Thrones?

Absolutely nothing, but sometimes nothing is everything.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones kicks off April 14. The build-up is saturating headlines, social media and conversation. What business wouldn’t want to take a ride on the hem of that cape?

GoT-themed cookies are just the tip of the marketing iceberg. To get an idea of how brands are capitalizing on the show, check out Rebecca Jennings’ article on Vox.

If something has captured the public’s attention, consider how your small business might make the most of it. A direct connection between your company and the event in question is good, of course, but if the event is big enough, that doesn’t matter.

The 2017 total eclipse was a big deal in my home state, Kentucky. Hopkinsville was the largest city in the area of greatest eclipse. The event was on the horizon, pun intended, for a while, so it gave businesses and non-profits a long time to squeeze every drop of potential from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What are people talking about in your community? Join a coffee klatch. Brainstorm with your fellow merchants or non-profits. Join neighborhood Facebook groups or Next Door. There might be something big on the horizon that takes your brand to the next level.

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Embrace something new

I’ve been collecting articles and infographics for a while now, searching for resources that will inspire owners/leaders of local small businesses and non-profits to try something new in their marketing for 2019.

Of all the infographics I’ve seen lately, this one from Larry Kim and MobileMonkey, Inc. seemed especially useful. Take a moment to look over each suggestion, and I bet you will find an example in your universe of work or philanthropy.

Can’t see it? Call me and I’ll help you connect the dots. I’d love to meet you, and the first consultation is free of charge.

The second resource comes from Forbes, and is a tad highfalutin in my opinion, but there are some immensely valuable insights here for a business or non-profit that is struggling to make a go of it right now.

Don’t get bogged down with the techno-speak and alphabet soup … yes, I had to look up some of the stuff mentioned here. Instead, focus on those broad principles that the author, Billee Howard, has shared.

Check out the “about” and “services” sections on my blog, then schedule an appointment. I live and work on the Gulf Coast, so don’t let the Kentucky area code confuse you. I’d love to meet you and to learn more about your business/organization.

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Foto Phriday

Christmas Pansies

One of the things I love most about living in the U.S. is the vast diversity of geography and climate in our 50 states. Among other things, it guarantees that weather is always an appropriate, informative, entertaining, and reasonably safe conversation to have with strangers.

“You’re from Minnesota? What’s the most snow you’ve ever seen?”

“You live in Louisiana? Is the humidity down there as bad as they say?”

Sometimes there is this tendency, especially on social media, to try to “outdo” uncomfortable weather conditions with someone living in another part of the country.

“Oh, you think 100 degrees is hot? In Phoenix, we consider that mild in June.”

A hearty Dakotan might say: “Wait until you have to function at 30-below … and that’s air temperature, not wind chill. Wind chills are for wimps who want to think they know what real cold is like.”

And so it goes.

As a recent transplant to Mississippi, I find myself hesitant to comment about balmy weather in December, for fear that my friends and family in colder climes will think me insensitive or obnoxious. Having arrived in Gulfport the end of August, I am all too aware that the proverbial shoe will be on the other foot come the dog days of summer that extend into November.

Truthfully, the only thing I’m really prone to gloat about, and it’s not really gloating more than weeping with gratitude, is the price of gasoline down here right now. ($1.82/gallon for Pete’s sake!)

The fact is: I am fascinated by the change in climate, and consider it an integral part of getting to know my new home. So, when I post photos of Christmas pansies, or comment that “here it is a few days before Christmas and the swimming pools down here are still full,” … it’s not meant to rub anyone’s nose in the snow outside his window. Like every time I drive down Beach Boulevard and see the Gulf of Mexico, it’s just a reminder to pinch myself: “Yep, I’m really here.”

Merry Christmas!

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A Dickens of an impact

The frontispiece of the original printing of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (public domain photo)

I love movies, but am no longer someone who “must” see a film on opening weekend; sometimes I’m even a year late.

Falling squarely in the better-late-than-never category is The Man Who Invented Christmas, which I missed in 2017 but now intend to add to my “best Christmas movies” collection.

The film follows Charles Dickens’ frantic and very bumpy road in writing A Christmas Carol. His family in dire financial straits, Dickens needed a bestseller. A frequent speaker on the charity circuit after the tremendous success of Oliver Twist, Dickens was keenly aware of society’s poorest of the poor, even as he wrestled with personal money woes.

In reference to the title of the film, obviously, the celebration of the birth of Christ pre-dated Dickens’ lifetime, but how the day is celebrated definitely was impacted by the novella.

With the success of the small book, Dickens inexorably linked the holiday with overt expressions of compassion and generosity toward the less fortunate. In a 1998 article, The Washington Post shared examples of the book’s instant impact in 1843. Here is just one:

A young Robert Louis Stevenson was beside himself after reading A Christmas Carol for the first time: “I want to go out and comfort some one; I shall never listen to the nonsense they tell me about not giving money— I shall give money; not that I haven’t done so always, but I shall do it with a high hand now.”

The book has never been out of print. It has been adapted for the screen dozens of times. It is performed on thousands of stages, small and large, every year. I would argue that every red kettle, every toy for a tot, is linked in some way back to this small book with its huge message.

I read it every Christmas, for no particular reason other than the sheer joy of experiencing Dickens’ words. Now, having watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, and having dug into the story behind the story a bit deeper, I love and appreciate it even more.

Just as the fortunes of every retailer rise and set on the period of Black Friday through Dec. 24, non-profits depend, mightily, on the public’s generosity this time of year. Without Dickens and his novella, how different that picture might be.

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Foto Phriday

As welcome as Santa …

A beautiful member of my sister’s family for more than 20 years, her Christmas Cactus blooms faithfully every year, but truthfully it sometimes is so excited to show off that it’s been known to be a Thanksgiving Cactus. Whatever you call it, it’s a welcome spot of brightness and color during the gray days of winter.
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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.

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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.

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A second look

With Amazon’s takeover of the universe showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, it is easy to minimize our “non-digital” surroundings. However, if you are a brick-and-mortar business owner, you could be missing simple and effective marketing opportunities. Make sure you aren’t Overlooking the Obvious, revisit this blog post from 2016.

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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

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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.

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