Win or lose, I’m always proud to be a Spartan

Like most of my fellow Michigan State Spartans, I was feeling a little depressed yesterday afternoon. Despite great effort, our basketball team fell to UConn in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Along with many sports analysts and bracket builders across the country, I had hoped this year would be the year they made it to the national championship. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Five years at Michigan State gave me some of my favorite people and great friends.

It’s often easy to get swept up in the ups and downs of college sports. For alumni like me, you’re invested in your school and want their success more than anything (especially when you’re going up against your rivals). But when losses like these happen, I have to step back and remind myself that a basketball team is not even close to the most important thing I got from my time at Michigan State. In my five years on campus, it was far more important that I gained:

  • An amazing fiance. While we actually met before college, Michigan State was where we started our relationship, learned about one another, grew as a couple and made the decision to face the real world hand-in-hand, for the long haul.
  • Absolutely great friends. Some of my best friends are those I met through FFA or NAMA or other classes in the College of Ag and Natural Resources. I wouldn’t have gotten through college – and it sure wouldn’t have been as much fun – without them.
  • A professional network. Whether it was through internships, on-campus jobs or participation in various clubs, the professional network I continue to reach out to today is the one I started building during my time in East Lansing.
  • My favorite memories. By the time graduation rolls around, every senior is just ready to be done. You’re done with classes and studying and exams. You’re ready to be in the real world, making money. And everyone tells you to savor those moments as a college student but I – just like all the students who came before me and those who have and will come after – didn’t really believe it. Now that I’m three years out of school, though, I savor those memories of club meetings and hanging out in the dorms and walking through old campus. It was a great time in life and an experience I will be ever grateful for.

As someone posted on Twitter, “We’ve won a lot of yesterdays. We’ll win a lot of tomorrows. We just didn’t win today.” It’s always hard to not reach your goal, but I’d harken to say that being proud of your school and thankful for the time you spent there means that you’re already a winner – no matter what the scoreboard says.

Lessons from Pixar: Technology won’t fix a bad story

If it’s possible for companies to have “fans”, I would definitely be a “fangirl” of Pixar.

Now, I’m a self-diagnosed Disney child, so of course I love their movies. But despite loving Toy Story and Finding Nemo just as much as the next person, the true reason that I’m a fangirl is not about their products. It’s about their philosophy.

I was reading a great article this morning on Fast Company called “Building the Next Pixar”. The author interviewed several people who have since moved on from their time at the animation studio (turns out, that group is actually pretty small) and gathered their insights on what it is about Pixar’s business philosophy that makes them such an enigma in entertainment and such a gem for their employees.

You can read the entire article for the full list, but one of my favorites is “Story Drives Everything.” Now, I’ve heard this mantra from John Lasseter before – in the (great) documentary, A Pixar Story – but I love it every time I hear it. The fact is, there have been times when Disney movies weren’t very good (the 1970s-1980s, late 1990s-2000s). A lot of people tried saying that animated movies were a dying genre and that computer animation killed traditional animation. Neither is true. The real problem was that the stories they were trying to tell really weren’t all that good. If you look at the great Disney and Pixar movies – whether it’s Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story – it’s obvious that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the story.

In my line of business (advertising/marketing), we often face the same challenge. From social media to Google Glass to SEO to apps, technology to reach people with the latest product/service/cause is always changing. Print is dead (or maybe it’s not). Social media is dead (or maybe it’s not). The vehicle for the message keeps changing.

Which is when we have to remember that the technology is irrelevant, unless it helps us tell our story better.

An example of using technology to enhance a story is what we’re doing for our clients with video. Now, I work on animal health business, which tends to be quite technical and not always that interesting. But we have a great group of veterinarians and cattle producers who are using our products to help raise healthier cattle – and that’s a story worth talking about. So, we’re using video to better tell that story than maybe we could through print or social media.

Below are two of my favorite videos we’ve done for my client in the past year:

What It Takes – Prevention Works Verified

Trust Triangle – Carlton & Carlton Ranch

Whether it’s for work or if you’re a farmer/rancher trying to tell the non-farm community about what you do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology available out there to communicate. Take a tip from Pixar, though, and remember to first and foremost focus on your story and making sure it’s something the people you’re trying to talk to care about. Who knows? You could have a blockbuster on your hands.

“I met a cowboy in the hallway…”

I was recently at a conference with a group of cattle ranchers. It was held at a hotel, so there were other meetings and events going on in the space. One day, while I was grabbing lunch from a buffet in the foyer, a woman (not with our group) came up to a rancher, very excited, and said “Can I take your picture? I’ve never seen a real cowboy before!”

As I smiled to myself and continued to get my food, he let her take is picture. Like most of the ranchers I know, he was very friendly and asked her where she was from.

“California,” she said.

“California!?” he replied. “Don’t they have funny people there?”

The woman laughed kindly and said, “Well, I suppose you could find Californians funny.”

But the rancher meant something else. He clarified, “No, I mean they’re funny. Don’t they all smoke a lot of weed and let the gays get married?”

Now, I want to say that this rancher wasn’t trying to be mean. But, I could tell the woman was uncomfortable, despite trying to answer his questions. As he was pressing incredulously about if she thought it was alright for “the gays” to get married, I wandered away, not really wanting to see where this was going to end (I probably should have stayed, but admittedly I tend to avoid most things confrontational).

Now, obviously I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, so I’ll give the rancher the benefit of the doubt and say it could have gotten better, but what I heard made me rather uncomfortable. This is not a post about changing what you do or don’t believe. The topics discussed could have been about Obamacare and global warming instead. No, this is about being a positive representation of the farming and ranching community.

This woman had never met a rancher before and, unfortunately, her first experience seemed to me to be an awkward one. Instead of talking about what a real cowboy does on his ranch, she was being pressed for her belief on controversial topics that she may or may not have agreed with. And I would bet she went back to her friends in their meeting and told them all about the cowboy she met in the hallway who could not get over why anyone would smoke a bunch of weed and let the gays go off and marry each other. Would she use terms like “backwoods” or “redneck”? I don’t know. Maybe (hopefully) not. But it’s a possibility, and is that really how we want to be remembered?

In agriculture, we have enough of an uphill battle with our non-farming friends in terms of their ideas around how we raise our crops and our livestock. And it’s no secret that we may have different belief sets than a lot of our urban counterparts. But let’s remember to focus on the things we have in common during initial conversations — compassion, love of family, wanting to do the right thing — and leave the people we meet with thoughts of “We’re in this together.” rather than “That guy is nothing like me.” Because when “That guy is nothing like me…” is combined with “…and I don’t like how he takes care of his animals/crops.” we’re in a losing battle.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls: Meet Kelly Rivard

One of my favorite article series is “Behind the Pencil (Skirt)” that Levo League does about once a week. The website – which focuses on providing useful information and resources for young professional women – uses this series to highlight 20-something women who are making waves in their respective career fields. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in learning about the wide variety of careers that are out there and learning from your peers.

Whenever I read “Behind the Pencil (Skirt)”, though, I always wonder how my friends and network of 20-something women would answer these questions. After all, I know a great group of young professionals who are working in all sorts of fields, in the city and in the country. Wouldn’t it be neat to learn more about them and their careers? So, that’s what I’m doing.

Kelly Rivard headshot

Meet Kelly – she’s originally from rural Illinois, but is now an SEO and social media specialist for Kansas City full-service marketing agency, PlattForm.

My friend, Kelly Rivard – or, rather, “sister from another mister” as we like to refer to ourselves – kindly agreed to be my guinea pig for this project. I hope you enjoy learning more about her!

Background

Current location:
Kansas City

Originally from:
Rural northeastern Illinois

Education (college/major):
North Central College (IL), Interactive Media Studies Major

Job title and company:
SEO & Social Media Specialist, PlattForm

Brief description of PlattForm:
PlattForm is a full-service marketing agency with a specific focus on vocational and continuing education.

Where were you before PlattForm?
I was previously with AdFarm, a full-service agency that specializes in agricultural clients.

How did you become interested in SEO and social media?
As an Interactive Media major, I was always fascinated by developing digital communications trends. Even though my focus was graphics, I accidentally became involved in the “social media revolution” of agriculture, often referred to as “agvocacy.” I landed some really life-changing internships in agriculture that focused on social media, which led to my first full-time job out of college at AdFarm. As the social media coordinator there, I learned a lot of valuable skills. Eventually, my career took an unexpected turn and I got the opportunity to learn some new skills as an SEO and social media specialist for PlattForm.

Around the Office

Office culture in a few words:
Nurturing, empowering, and fun.

A day at work looks like:
Every day is different. Usually, my day is a combination of organized chaos and unexpected situations. The job is stressful, but rewarding beyond belief.

Favorite part of your job:
Working in education, I get to know that the work I do changes lives.

Biggest challenge you face at your job:
Time management. So much of my job is free-flowing, independent work with lots of surprises that sometimes it feels like fitting 10 gallons of stuff in a 5 gallon bucket — but it’s fantastic.

Apps (or other tech) you can’t live without:
My Outlook Calendar, my iPhone calendar, and my iPhone clock for timers, alarms, and reminders.

Style

Your personal style in a few words:
A hot mess? The only shoes I like to wear on a daily basis are cowgirl boots and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

Office dress code:
“Smart casual.” Jeans and a t-shirt is acceptable most days; dress for the occasion for different types of meetings.

Go-to work outfit:
Jeans, boots or Chucks, and a t-shirt or cute top depending on my mood!

On-the-go kit:
Clear or pink lip gloss, sunglasses, and a Swiss Army knife with a nail file.

Lifestyle

Morning routine:
Hit snooze as many times as I can get away with. Get up, get dressed, walk my dog, then pack a lunch and head to work. I talk to my boyfriend on the phone for a few minutes, and then listen to 96.5 The Buzz for the rest of my 30-40 minute commute to work.

Favorite spot for brunch:
My boyfriend’s apartment. We love breakfast food. His kitchen is bigger than mine so I love to go over there and cook omelets, French toast, and breakfast burritos for us!

On Saturday, you can be found:
On adventures with my dog and/or friends and/or boyfriend. Or, volunteering. I’m a chronic philanthropist.

Favorite spot for a 10-minute break:
Somewhere inside of a book. I’m currently reading Clash of Kings, the second book from the series that Game of Thrones is based on.

One thing everyone should do when visiting your city:
Kansas City is an AMAZING food city. Find a local favorite restaurant (or several) and eat yourself stupid.

Hobbies:
Reading, painting, video games (I have a pink xBox 360 controller), and volunteering with the American Cancer Society.

Cause you’re passionate about:
Mental health awareness. Statistics say that as a bipolar woman, I should not be as successful, happy, and stable as I am. Yet, here I am, kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Anyone can succeed if they have the willpower and support structure!

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian/professional artist/a flute player in a world-famous symphony.

Dream job:
Someday I’d love to work in a non-profit setting. I have a very charitable soul, and making a difference gives me a deep sense of satisfaction in my job.

Encouraging Other Women

Inspiration:
My parents (my mom, my dad until he passed when I was 12, and my step-dad) have worked hard to give me and my siblings a good foundation in our lives. My mom is especially inspiring to me. No matter how tough life gets, she smiles and does what we needs to for those she loves most.

Best advice you’ve ever received:
Have confidence. I struggle with confidence every day of my life; I KNOW I’m good at what I do, I KNOW I’m a good person, but knowing and feeling are two different things.

My mentor(s):
I have had so many! I’ve stood on the backs of giants to get where I am today, and I only hope I can pass on wisdom like I’ve received from them over the years. A few to mention: Katie Pinke, who was a supervisor for my internship with AdFarm; Libby Hall, who was my supervisor when I was Social Media Coordinator for AdFarm; Mark Gale, who gave me my first ever agency experience as a 20-year-old intern; Janice Person, who has more wisdom than any single person should be allowed to keep in their own head.

In 10 years…
I will be one of those crazy women juggling a family and a professional life.

Career wisdom for young professional women:
Don’t ever pigeon-hole yourself – don’t assume you can’t do a job because you’re a woman, you’re “too girly,” “too nice,” or “too young.” If you have the experience, drive, and passion to do it, go for it!