Category Archives: Inside Stories

Making PR Magic

While much of the nation was under snow last week, I had the fortune of spending the week in beautiful and sunny Orlando, Florida attending the PRConsultants Group conference, our annual gathering of senior-level PR professionals from around the country.

When we originally booked our conference hotel within the Walt Disney World Resort Area last year, we were told that they would be in the process of converting from the Royal Plaza Hotel to a new property, the B Resort. Renovations were expected to be completed by the time our group arrived, but as anyone who has ever built or renovated their home knows, construction doesn’t always happen on our personal timelines. As our conference approached, it became evident that they were a bit behind schedule. (The hotel is now slated for a grand opening in the summer of 2014.)

Since it would have been terribly difficult to find another location to suit the needs of our group on such short notice, the hotel agreed to accommodate us, with the understanding that they were in “soft opening” mode. You had to feel for them. They had potentially the worst set of critics around – a group full of outspoken PR people with extensive experience in event management and logistics, and national media contacts to boot.

What began as tempered expectations were quickly turned around and sustained throughout our stay by a staff that was committed to exceptional customer service and hospitality. From the moment each guest arrived to the moment we left, the staff went above and beyond to make us feel extra special. They were friendly, welcoming and accommodating. Their willingness to solve problems and to find quick resolutions to minor inconveniences demonstrated not only a customer-focused culture, but also a leadership team that empowered their employees to pursue any idea or remedy that would make our stay better.

Here are just a few examples of how they ensured that we had an experience that we would be proud to share:

  • Their culinary staff served a cooked-to-order breakfast and provided complimentary snacks, including custom-designed cookies.
  • They ordered and assembled stylish furniture for the lobby so that we would have somewhere to congregate in the evenings.
  • They arranged with nearby hotels for the use of pools and fitness rooms.
  • When winter weather along the east coast threatened some guests’ travel plans, they offered to accommodate anyone impacted by canceled flights.
  • When a staff member overheard one of our members lamenting a sore throat, he prepared a special, soothing “homemade recipe” with cucumbers and tonic water.
  • Minor maintenance issues were resolved within minutes, including one repairman who provided a guest with his name and personal extension in the case of further concerns.
  • Most notably, the general manager asked us to serve as a “test guest group” and report to him directly any suggestions that would be helpful for future travelers. It made us feel that our opinions mattered, and gave us the satisfaction of knowing that our input would help future hotel guests have an even better experience than we did.

In the end, this property created 40 ambassadors who came away feeling impressed, relaxed, pampered and appreciated. The PR value was immeasurable. The cost of making it right was priceless.

In a culture that is so resigned to bad customer service, shouldn’t we all shine the spotlight on those who go above and beyond? Share your stories of great customer service in the comments section below!

Of course we have favorites

Ninety-five percent of my professional energy is spent trying to avoid clichés. So it pains me that I won’t even get through the next sentence without revealing myself to be one.

I’m an advertising creative director, and my favorite client is a bar.

Hope the shock of that didn’t send anyone into atrial fib.

In all seriousness, the smart money says I really shouldn’t be admitting this. It would be better to whip up something frothy and unassuming about an airline whose industrial video unlocked the outer dimensions of my social consciousness. Or the accounting firm’s annual report that Hansel-and-Gretled me toward new heights of disciplined personal finance. I get it. The urge to spin that kind of “client-least-likely” yarn is tempting.

It’s just not true.

The not-so-sexy fact is, our degree of job fulfillment is oddly consistent: We meet up with nice people, stretch in all imaginable directions to get to the bottom of their situation, identify the opportunities therein, then work like hell to communicate that relevance in the most memorable way possible.

Cracking that nut is where the jollies lie. If you help a brand discover something about itself and get that thing noticed in the market, you feel good. If you don’t, well then, not so much. Still, nine times out of ten, the specific category of a client’s business is irrelevant to the ratio of smiles and frowns.

But this post isn’t about those nine times. So all I can hope is that an explanation of the tenth turns out to be less obvious than you might have thought.

In November of 2002, I arrived in Columbia from Morgantown, WV. Achingly homesick and too stubborn to admit it, I knew no one but the people who’d hired me. At that point, I was an all-together different cliché — 22 years old with the bank balance to prove it. So I moved into the kind of apartment complex whose parking lot is just as full on a Tuesday afternoon as it is on Sunday evening. Bed sheets hung in windows, beepers hung on belt loops, and folks paced bare spots in the grass waiting on the payphone to ring. The rent was right. But it became clear that unless I hoped to add “Miranda” to my small list of acquaintances, social needs would have to be met elsewhere.

Enter Yesterday’s Restaurant and Tavern. I walked in my first Friday night in town, knowing nothing about the place other than it was a RIGGS client – the first and oldest to be exact.

As in any decent pub, my approach to the bar was met with a smile and expectant expression from the young woman on the other side. Rounds passed and it became clear that the demeanor of this wait staff wasn’t the product of a well-studied handbook or strict managerial coaching. There were no scripted phrases, no upsell ploys or pandering stabs at personal conversation. Just a few kind words and the respect to leave patrons to their own private thoughts or company.

The result was a feeling of genuine acceptance, an easy belonging that sets drinkers and servers on truly equal footing. I knew my requests weren’t putting them out. They knew I assumed no sense of superiority accompanied a seat on the outside of the brass rail. This translates into an unspoken, organic equilibrium that is the hallmark of all Clean, Well Lighted Places — so many of which are literally neither. Settling my tab that first evening, I felt grateful to have located this in Columbia. But it wasn’t until I tried to leave that I realized what I’d really found.

Growing up in the rise of “casual dining” franchises, my generation has been long conditioned not to trust, or even notice, the “memorabilia” a restaurant nails to its walls. But something stopped me at the door that night.


Here I was, five hundred miles from home, awash in a sea of garnet and black and orange and purple. But just over the threshold were my own colors and this small salute to home. Trite as it sounds, I can’t tell you how validating that felt. Suddenly my new city seemed a little more open to its transplants.

Those ragged stickers snapped my funk long enough to hear just how loud the walls were talking. I registered the keepsakes from Michigan and Penn State. I read the hand written tributes to longtime customers and fallen Marines. I studied plaques and flags and oars and framed galleys of books that had presumably been written in the booths they now hung above. I began to understand that these weren’t decorations, but artifacts that told the age and history of this place as sure as the rings coiling to the center of an elderly tree trunk.

And then, of course, there were the photographs. For the next forty minutes I went to the walls.

I scanned the faces frozen in time, fixed in their celebration of birthdays, promotions, their own relationships and life in general. Here was proof that the allure of this place transcended most of the trivial ways we try to classify each other and claim there’s much difference between us. I saw white and black, locals and drifters, professors, dropouts, first loves and ex-wives. I saw folks who must look nothing like themselves now and some who were most surely gone all together.

But most importantly I saw reflections.

The majority of the snapshots chronicled Yesterdays late 1970s origins. And so the photos bore striking similarity to those in my parents’ old albums, the ones I used to spend hours examining, wondering what their lives had been like before me. These questions swirled even more now that I’d reached the age they were then. I took comfort in the belief that, just like all the strangers on the wall, the ones responsible for me had had their moments.

I pictured a time they may have drank too much or laughed too loud. I told myself they too were probably alone at some point, starting from scratch and hoping for the best. I used the faces on the wall and the loved ones they resembled to convince myself that things would work out for me too. And with that, a bar that claimed to be all about the past made it just a bit easier to face the future.

Several weeks ago, Yesterday’s asked for an appropriate way to celebrate its 35th anniversary in an outdoor campaign. For good measure, we took a few days and went in several different directions.

Then, of course, we went to the walls.

Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Stories: Here’s What We’ve Learned

 If you don’t understand the finer points of tomato sandwich perfection or realize the necessity for a soundtrack in your life, don’t worry. Teresa Coles and Kevin Smith can tune you in to both of these things.

If you're not from the South, you may not realize what a game changer the right mayonnaise can be.

One of the best parts of working in the WECO is getting to know the other people who work here. You soon begin to see how everyone’s professional expertise is shaped, not only by education and lots of practice, but also by the little pieces of life that happened on the way here – both the serious and the whimsical.  

I recently read the partners What I’ve Learned sections of their web bios, and it made me wonder,  what other  WECOnian wisdom is out there?

Kevin Archie

Two heads really are  better than one.

Organization is the key to efficiency.

Kelly Davis

Mama always said nothing good happens after midnight.

When God closes a door, he always opens a window.

Catherine Doyle

The ultimate cure for a bad day is to drive with the windows down and the music up. Loud.

Maintain the relationships that are worth the work. Forget the ones that aren’t.

William Goodman

Be prepared.

Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work hard and never give up.

Andrew Norris (Our new Strategic Development Apprentice, yay!)

You don’t need to know everything about anything, just a little bit about everything.

Smart people talk. Wise people listen.

Michael Powelson

Never drink to feel better. Drink to feel even better.

Nate Puza

Stop procrastinating, and be nice to everyone.

Keely Saye

Never post anything to social media after two glasses of wine.

The day you stop learning is the day you become irrelevant.

Julie Turner

Always keep bacon in the fridge.

You have the opportunity to learn something new even if you’re just reading a cereal box.

Will Weatherly

Luck is mostly a concoction of brutally minute repetitions + long term perspective.

Teach your tongue to delight in bland, unsalted foods.

And what have I learned?

Nothing  happens the same way twice. – Narnia wisdom.

No matter how tired you are or how late it is, always wash  your face before bed. – Britney Spears wisdom.

The Introduction of an Optimist

Illustration by www.studio-ria.com

I’ve known this day was coming.

The moment I signed the papers and officially rejoined RIGGS Partners, a trio of realizations set in, each one spiking my anxiety level slightly more than the last.

“That’s right, they blog,” I thought, passing the contract back across the table.

“I mean…we blog.”

“Oh lord, I’m going to have to blog.”

One wouldn’t expect this to be such a daunting prospect for someone who trades in words and ideas for a living. But I began to sweat it on the spot. Yes, I enjoy writing. I’ve even blogged once or thrice for my own self. But this blog, this first post, wouldn’t be just writing. As the new Creative Director, I would have to introduce myself, make a statement. I would need to communicate something important about me to an audience of clients. I’d be talking directly to you.

What could I say to make you as excited about the future as I am? How could I reassure you that I would be a good steward of your brand and work tirelessly on its behalf? Where might I find the words to articulate what I was all about and why that was going to be a good thing for you?

Walking out of the office that Saturday afternoon, I registered the challenge that would soon lay before me and decided there was only one suitable course of action: Total avoidance.

That’s right. My first day was a week away. I had already settled things up with the friends at my previous shop. That left seven days to spend ordering household affairs, centering myself and, most certainly, running from the shadow of this damned blog post.

I’d made it to day five when that shadow caught up with me in the place most everything of consequence does — standing waist deep in a river, failing to outsmart creatures with brains the size of my thumbnail. I am, you see, a recent convert to the art of fly-fishing.

My father did his best to interest me in this when I was a teenager. So, naturally, it was ignored alongside every other piece of truth or beauty he worked to instill at the time. As such, I have only been properly engaged in the sport for the last two years, which is to say that I’m not very good at it.

Proficiency has little to do with enthusiasm, however, and I decided to spend the last two days of my hiatus on the Davidson River in Western North Carolina. It’s a beautiful spot that has routinely humbled me, its trout being easily spooked and always skeptical of my offerings. I’ve stared at the river’s mottled bed long enough to overlook fish which should have been caught and swear to see others that never existed.

True to form, this trip had delivered me into a seventh troutless hour when the shadow began to creep overhead. By that point, I had tied on nearly every fly at my disposal. I had led them downstream over and over again at every conceivable depth. I had cast, and cast, and cast.

Thus, with no fish to distract me, my thoughts soon emptied into the pools of uncertainty and expectation regarding the new chapter I would begin back in Columbia. I caught myself auditioning angles for this post and sarcastically remarked that I might as well be back in the office, feet up on the desk staring into the blinding white of a blank page. And that’s when it became clear how closely my profession mirrors the pastime that periodically interrupts it.

Be it on streams or in sketchbooks, we cast doggedly toward the barely visible — something we trust is out there. The right words. The perfect images. The strategies and narratives that steal beneath the surface of conventional thinking. The concepts that can bring a brand to life. It’s why I count creatives and anglers among the quintessential optimists. They never forget what the next cast, the next idea, could mean.

It wasn’t until the sun ducked below the timberline and the water around me had given up its reflections that I reached for a small, neglected box of dry flies. Though there is undeniable excitement in using these feather-light imitations to mimic insects floating on the water’s surface, they are far more difficult to present than their swift sinking counterparts. Despite two years of trying, I had yet to catch a single trout on a dry.

But with only minutes separating me from total darkness, prior experience and conventional wisdom yielded to a “you never know” approach. Tying on a #16 Parachute Adams, I squinted towards what might have been a rise near the bank. On my third cast, I managed to shoot the weightless fly out further than the heavier line and, with a quick mend, kept the current from dragging the whole parade of tackle unnaturally downstream. Just as the fly reached the end of its drift a small ring appeared in front and gently sipped it underneath. A second later, my line surged tight. A steep, diagonal tether formed from my raised arms to where the fly had just disappeared, and the trembling rod doubled over, its reel whining against my right ear. A few glimpses during the fight hinted at a brown trout, which my net ultimately confirmed. The fish was not as big as its strength had suggested, but big enough to change how the entire day would be recalled.

The next cast. It can mean everything.

That evening as I sat on a tailgate, staring into the fire and enjoying that pleasant ache of physical expense, I circled back to the clients and questions that awaited me in the coming week. I thought about that blank page and all that might be done with it.

Eventually an idea surfaced and hinted at how I might introduce myself. I began to see a way of telling you something important about me. That I will treat your brand as if it were my own. That beneath all the wise cracks and devil’s advocating, I am truly an optimist. That I plan to tie on everything at my disposal to get the right ideas for you. And that I will cast and cast and cast.

Pleasure to meet you. Let’s get to work.

 

 

The Wonderful World of WECO

What's your favorite WECO business?

For the past two weeks we at Riggs have done a lot of talking about WECO. It’s more than the building. It’s West Columbia. And while most people’s attention may be focused on what’s happening on the other side of the river, we think we’ve got a pretty hip thing going on in our little neighborhood. So I asked my co-workers, “What’s your favorite WECO business?”

Catherine Doyle
Sun Spirit Yoga and Wellness
.  It’s an awesome yoga studio, where I’ve been getting my teacher training and Tzima (the owner) is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.  Plus she makes lots of cool jewelry, soaps, lotions, oils, tea blends, etc., so there’s always something new to check out.

Kevin Archie
One of my favorite WECO businesses is True BBQ — “Home of the Pretty Lady AND Sexy Lady sauce!”

True BBQ, located at 1237 D Avenue, West Columbia

Will Weatherly
Paul’s Barber Shop
. The Aroma. Paul. The Pool Table. The Aroma.

Jenni Brennison (me!)
116 State
. It’s a great place to grab an espresso or a glass of wine while sharing small plates with friends.

Ryon Edwards
My favorite would have to be Old Mill Antique Mall, because you just never know what you’ll find in that place.
Runner Up:
Jimmy’s Citgo, because it’s the closest place to get cigs, lottery tickets, energy drinks, beer, gas, breakfast and/or just about anything else you’d ever need.

Nate Puza
New Brookland Tavern. You will see your favorite bands before they are famous, the drinks are cheap, and they have an old-school Mortal Kombat arcade game. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Cathy Monetti
BUG Outfitters. ‘Cause I like to play outside.

Julie Turner
The Original D’s Wings. It has the authentic character chains try to reproduce using interior design. And then there was that one time Billy made me chicken wings wrapped in bacon.

Kevin Smith
It’s not a business, but we have the best view from the Gervais Street Bridge.

You can't see this view from downtown Columbia.