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Remote Control: Making Offsite Working Work

July 23, 2014

I'm proud I work for a company that embraces having remote employees. There are quite a few R+Kers who live in different parts of the country. We're called various names including Remoters and Offsiters. Yes, we still get the email that says there are leftover sandwiches in the kitchen while we're glued to our desks and starving. It's a cruel irony that there's rarely any food for my own lunch in this house.

Over the years I've been asked a million questions about my job and what I do all day, but the most common comment when people learn I work from home is, "If I worked out of my home, I'd stay in my pajamas and I'd never get anything done." I always smile and laugh, but every time I hear that I secretly want to say, "And that's why you don't work from home."

I've worked off-site for R+K for almost 10 years and the technology advancements have been truly amazing. Ten years ago, I had Instant Messenger, a flip phone and a Verizon Blackberry and we thought that was high-tech. Now we spend our days sharing screens and have panoramic video calls! I love that technology allows those of us who work off-site to be closer to our Naperville team members and our clients.

Working from home is not all fun and games. To be successful, I've noticed that we all have a few shared traits:

1. You have to treat going to work like going to work. No. You can't wander around in your PJs like it's Saturday morning. Get up early. Shower. Get dressed. Make a second pot of coffee and walk into your office and stay there. You need some tunnel vision so you can close the door on the rest of your home during office hours.

2. Work harder. I was one of the first at R+K to work off-site full time and I definitely felt the pressure to make it work - I often felt like I was working in a fish bowl during those early years. But those experiences set the stage for being able to do this long-term: Go in early. Stay late. Make sure you've done everything you can to be a valued team member. Take your job seriously or you're not going to have one for long.

3. Make extra phone calls. You have to work to stay connected to the home office when you're not walking the halls every day. You can't sit in your remote office and never talk to anyone. That doesn't mean I don't send emails, and yes, I instant message all day long. But when it's time to have real conversations, have them. Build connections. Nurture relationships.

4. Get a stand up desk. Seriously, if you haven't tried one, you should. OK. It doesn't really have to be a stand up desk. It could be an exercise ball. Just do something so you don't sit in your chair all day. When you're not walking around to conference rooms or taking the stairs to another floor all day you want to be sure to get some movement in during the day.

5. Don't keep snacks in your office. This one's more of a personal philosophy. You may have greater self-control than I have.

I love that I get to do exciting work with an inspiring group of people I'm proud to call my teammates. And I love that I get to do it from my home way down South. Still, I do sometimes wish there were someone to take out the trash.

Elizabeth Smith is a Senior Account Supervisor, Public Relations at Rhea + Kaiser and knows what it takes to make working offsite successful with clients and team members.

Food for Thought ... and Strategy, Planning and So Much More

June 27, 2014

Two of my senior co-workers recently donned aprons and walked around the Rhea + Kaiser (R+K) office with a trolley cart of delicious gourmet ice cream cupcakes handing out treats to the staff. For ambience, ice cream music played over an iPhone.

It was a reminder that June is dairy month, and we love any opportunity to thank the farmers who feed us from the fruits of their toils. It was also social bonding at its best, as my peers from various departments clustered around the cart debating the choices.

It also reinforced our own company's values ... choose your delectable cupcake flavor based on the R+K value you were experiencing at that moment: pink sprinkled, red velvet cake batter for the curious, fudge-whipped and Oreo-covered devil's food cake for the courageous and chocolate curl-covered, sweet cream and yellow cake for the ingenious.

Feeling courageous, I sampled the chocolate one. Finishing that in less than two minutes left plenty of time to be ingenious AND curious as well. Having ... ahem ... sampled (gobbled) more than my fair share, I leaned back in my chair like a satisfied Cheshire cat, legs outstretched and belly stretched out as I found time to natter on about my love for R+K.

It is no secret ... I love food. So it is no surprise that I really like working in a place that offers me choices. There's a fresh bowl of seasonal fruit 27 paces to my right and as much fresh ground coffee and cream as I can handle a mere 20 paces to my left. Directly across from me there is Nacho Mama's, home to the world's best guacamole and margaritas (not yet but we have big plans). Now add on the brainstorm snacks, the guilt-free fridge, the community-themed, pop-up lunches (Chicago team won-let's have pizza) and the ag day farmer-support meals a la national dairy month and beef day (head's up National Bacon Day is Aug. 30, so that one should go on calendars now). It is no wonder I need to go walking all summer long at the nearby forest preserve over lunch break. We must walk to make room for all this food. Not that I am complaining. Please, keep it coming!

So every time our CEO Diane Martin asks why I chose to work at R+K after a long, content tenure at another agency and the fulfillment of having been at a start-up, I try to think about the reasons she wants to hear:

We are encouraged (repeatedly) to step outside our comfort zone; to sit in on other department meetings and collaborate

We are given the tools to be courageous; to think differently, beyond traditional boundaries

We are challenged to be proactive and anticipate client/brand needs; to be curious about what's next in trends and technology (return of the flip phone, just saying)

I want to say those things so she'll be happy, move on to the next person and ask a different question. I want to, but I can't. Because in my mind I am really secretly thinking, "I will show up every day with a smile on my face, brimming with enthusiasm if there is the slightest chance the words 'ice' and 'cream' may be used consecutively today." But until there is a direct deposit link from Dairy Queen to my home freezer, you'll see me here, gladly trading strategy for scraps of sandwiches and doling out media plans in exchange for donuts.

Thank you R+K. You find many curious, courageous and ingenious ways to brighten my rainy day and make feel like a valued member of the R+K family/team.

Marcy Miller is a Senior Media Planner at Rhea + Kaiser and loves how just a little food brings out the best in her work.

Blown Away by Drones that Weren't Blown Away

June 24, 2014

Last week, I went to the "Tools of the Future" conference sponsored by Successful Farming. The event provided sessions on multi-hybrid corn planters, wearable technology, farm data integration and many other topics. But the demonstration that blew me away was one where the wind was strongest.

Two unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a. drone) vendors gave presentations in a tent outside of the Asmark Agricenter in Bloomington, Ill. The wind was SO strong, that conference representatives had to keep adjusting and holding down the legs of the tent, which was in danger of being blown away.

After the speaking portion of the presentation was done came the moment of truth - the live demonstration of the Crop Copter and Precision Drone UAVs. Both went up and hovered steadily without issue, even when the wind gusted. Using GPS and multiple propellers, these drones maintained position and only responded to the controllers used by the operators.

Cameras on these drones allowed attendees to see what the UAVs were over, providing a bird's-eye-view of the field below. They have the potential to scout and inspect fields in a way that walking between rows can't match. The Crop Copter even offered Fatshark first-person view (FPV) video goggles (handsomely modeled by Jim Haist below).

All the other outside exhibitors eventually moved into the conference center, but the drones kept flying.

Pete Hlavach is the Digital Strategist for Rhea + Kaiser and likes all things techie and wind resistant.

Avoiding the Generation-Gap Trap (or Lessons I'm Learning from Millennials)

June 11, 2014

I confess I am a Baby Boomer. A tail-end of the Boomer generation, but still a Boomer. I haven't fully closed the gap with Millennials, yet I do appreciate their perspectives and experiences. Indeed, I know some amazing, inspiring Millennials and have suffered some self-absorbed, exhausting personalities, too - with and without hoodies.

The cool thing about knowing and working with Millennials is that I am forced to suspend my biases and rethink what I value most when hiring and developing talent of any generation. For me, there are five simple rules for avoiding the generation-gap trap.

1) Screen for coachability. Steer clear of the prima donnas who think their work is beyond reproach, argue with or ignore good advice and blame others for failure even if they're bursting with potential. Rarely can you serve a big enough dose of humility to help them develop and grow.

2) Insist on team players. Individual glory-seekers jeopardize work and relationships. Select individuals who believe and live by the credo: Successful teams live and die by the team.

3) Prioritize critical thinking. Many straight-A students are excellent at acquiring and memorizing facts. We want, however, multi-modal thinkers that analyze and synthesize a range of knowledge and experiences to problem solve and innovate.

4) Discriminate for empathy. Atticus Finch told Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." It is imperative for developing resonant communications and fundamental to interpersonal skills.

5) Hire adults. We cannot coach for accountability and maturity, so hire for these qualities at the start.

It's easy to blame generation gaps when confronted with poor performance and bad attitude. But by embracing the fact that Millennials are here to stay and sticking to my five simple rules, it's becoming easier to not fall into the generation-gap trap.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and is inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and boldness that Millennials bring to work.

Circle? Square? Why You Should Care

May 09, 2014

Knowing the personality 'shape' of your audience can help close a deal.

When it comes to selling an idea, how much thought should you give to the personality type of your prospective audience? A lot, as it turns out.

At least, that's what Connie Podesta told us in her keynote speech at the recent NAMA conference. Personality type tells you how and when to approach your audience, what information they will be looking for from you. It also gives context for understanding their reaction to your sales pitch.

Sounds like good stuff, right? So, are you a square, triangle, circle, or squiggly line?


Yep, that's how easy Connie made it. With a simple question, she got the entire room to figure it out - first for ourselves, then for others.

Here are the highlights of each shape according to Connie:

Squares are highly organized, dedicated and do what they say they will do; they prefer to work on their own than with a team, and like to know what's happening ahead of time (please, no surprises).

Triangles are extremely detailed oriented - a bit OCD - majorly competitive, and fight to win - even long after a fight is over.

Circles are collaborative, highly sociable, optimistic peacemakers who don't like confrontation and want to 'fix' the world and its problems.

Squiggles are creative thinkers who operate way "outside the box" and take enjoyment out of defying authority; they are also a bit disorganized.

What's best about Connie's approach is that it's simple, yet effective. Recognizing that different people process information differently seems obvious, but we rarely discuss it. If anything, it's an afterthought.

Most of us assume our audience wants to be spoken to the way we would prefer. And then we wonder afterward what went wrong when things don't go how we planned. Well, you know what they say about assumptions.

Before your next big meeting - whether with a prospective client, spouse, child or parent - better think about the shape test first. Like me, you will be so happy you did.

Check out for more on personality shapes.

Megan Henry is a Senior Brand Strategist at R+K and is fascinated by shapes and what they can reveal about people.

Gotten It Right!

April 17, 2014

A long unfulfilled need comes into its own. The challenge: develop a cost-effective and uncluttered agricultural network that targets farmers in standard and different ways. AgHub took the challenge seriously and is delivering on the promise. By taking a page from the consumer side, AgHub has been able to identify the need for a cost-efficient digital advertising network using 200+ local websites targeting production agriculture.

We all knew this was bound to happen but kudos for it being someone outside of the usual ag players. AgHub recognized that is not so much about the channel but about who you want to deliver the message to. Unfettered with what has always been, AgHub seems to have gotten it and gotten it right.

Everybody is winning! The partner ag sites, the advertisers and the audience.

Patsy Comella is R+K Vice President, Media Director, and appreciates when clients and media vendors have the courage to take new approaches in reaching audiences.

Gearing Up for Programmatic Media Buying

March 20, 2014

This year, R+K has chosen to take a closer look at a few specific topics of growing importance to the ad industry. This closer look includes internal study and conversation. (Of course, the internal education leads to better collaboration with our clients and partners!)

One of these topics is programmatic media buying. What is it? Who is using it? What impact will it have (and is it having) on our business?

The phrase "programmatic" is a growing presence in the trades and blogs. As with the sudden, ubiquitous use of "native advertising" the past couple years, there's still a lot of confusion about what programmatic is.

The meaning of programmatic buying is not a done deal. The actual process is still undefined, and as a method of buying in traditional media it is still very rare. That said, we've benefited from several explorations of the topic and thought we'd share some of them here:

"Programmatic for Dummies: Everyone says it's exploding, but what is it?" by Mike Shields of AdWeek.

"Programmatic Buying - What's In It For You? (Also, What The Heck Is It?)" by Larry Allen of Business Insider.

"Define It - What Is Programmatic Buying?" by John Ebbert of

"Audience-Based TV Is On The Horizon" by Cory Treffiletti of MediaPost.

While these articles make clear programmatic media buying is still rapidly evolving, they also show it has the potential to significantly disrupt the business of "traditional" media channels. For R+K, that means we need to understand it now and share what we learn with our clients and partners.

Grant Cassiday is Media Supervisor at Rhea + Kaiser and new technology explorer.

The Truth About Your Social Media

February 28, 2014

Social media makes it too easy to spew out one's opinion to potentially vast audiences.

Social media, just as 24-hour cable and talk radio did when they came along, has not made a single person any smarter. It has only created a vacuum that people feel compelled to fill with words, intelligent or not...comprehensible or not...truthful or not. The First Amendment says that is the way it is supposed to be. But just having the right and means to say something doesn't make it credible.

For a while now, in the professional public relations world, we have lamented with clients and amongst our peers on the sad fact that anyone with a thought in their brain and an internet connection can be passed off as "media." Yes, it makes our job a little harder. But sadly, it has helped perpetuate an ongoing problem in communications and in our society...the mean-spirited, callous and sometimes intentionally cruel missives that are fired out into the webisphere, and usually take on a life of their own. Managing these things from our seat is next to impossible.

So stay true to yourself, your brand, and to the important people in your life. Social media, like all other forms of marketing/communications, still requires the application of best practices. Speak to your target, act responsibly, stay true to your brand attributes, be transparent. And even then, you can't control what happens. You can only stay with your plan and don't overreact. It's lawless out there...let's all try to not be part of the problem.

Rob Merritt is Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Rhea + Kaiser and advocates clients stay strategic with their social media programs.

Olympic Ad Overload

February 20, 2014

Excuse me while I kiss the sky, again and again. As an avid viewer of the Olympics, I wonder if it has ever occurred to the good people at United Airlines, Citibank Visa, Liberty Mutual and McDonald's to check on wear out for their one or two spots that run non-stop, in nearly every commercial break.

With the cost of the network sponsorship somewhere in the area of $30 to $60 million, one would think the sponsors would be able to afford more than a spot or two. Or maybe I am a bit delusional.

As I watch these spots being repeated, I think back to the days of Olympics past when sponsors would do things so old fashioned as sponsor content focused on the back story of the athletes. Now that is a thought.

Patsy Comella is R+K Vice President, Media Director and recalls a time when the Olympics (and the commercials) were must-see TV.

Veterinary Conferences and Blowfish

February 14, 2014

When We Think Veterinary Conferences, We Think Blowfish.

We're just a few days from heading to Las Vegas to attend the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC). Yet it is seems like I just returned from the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC). I have been attending both of these shows for years and find things about each that I value and things about each that fire me up with questions and ideas.

While I am looking forward to the smaller venue of WVC next week, I am still thinking about the magnitude and pageantry of NAVC. How does a small, emerging or even mid-sized marketer can break through all of the marketing noise at NAVC? How can smaller marketers can be blowfish in this huge, dual-property forum?

NAVC Day 1 at the Marriott. There's hardly a surface at the Marriott that doesn't have a major marketer's message stuck to it. Pillars in the corridor and escalator walls are covered end-to-end. Banners with brand messages hang from the ceilings. And then I walk the exhibit hall at the Marriott. It's like being banished to Siberia. It is nearly wall-to-wall 10x10 booths occupied by organizations with important products and services, but perhaps lack the scale of pet food or pharmaceutical companies, which had some 20 x 10s and 20 x 20s scattered throughout the Marriott exhibit hall. I knew, however, the big booths and big guys were over at the Gaylord Palms, which I planned to tackle on Day 2.

Day 1 ended with some long overdue visits with industry friends, but when I called it a day I still could not shake the idea that there's opportunity for a smaller, bolder marketer to lead and even dominate the Marriott venue without wallpapering the place with brand messages. That night I dreamed of blowfish.

NAVC Day 2 at the Gaylord. It's a much bigger venue with fewer places to stick and hang stuff, until you get into the exhibit hall. Most of the booths are much bigger as are the crowds, which is obviously why marketers want to be there. But there are lot of 10 x 10s particularly around the perimeter and some 20 x 10s, too. Oddly, they almost provide a respite for the eye that is filled with two-story 40 x 40 booths and big arcing overhead headers. Clearly you have to have an agenda of where you want to visit or lots of time to sort through the hundreds of booths at the Gaylord.

I was eager to see some of the techniques used to draw booth traffic in such a large forum - book signings, games, presentations, interactive screens, etc. I was delighted to catch up with old friends and clients and connect with some prospective ones too. Yet, as Day 2 wrapped up, I was still thinking about blowfish. How a scrappy marketer - one that can't write the big checks - could leverage the space and pace at the Marriott to more fully engage veterinarians and technicians.

What's Planned for WVC? I'll be thinking more about blowfish strategies as I wander WVC next week with my colleagues. I'm looking forward to sharing some of our ideas with old and new friends who might be interested in getting more impact with doing the unexpected next year.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and has been helping clients build animal health and nutrition brands for more than 15 years.

A View from the Other Side

December 27, 2013

We open a lot of windows of opportunities by leaning in to listen to what our clients have to say. The past couple of weeks I had the opportunity to look at that window from the other side. I got to walk in the fields of a client's customers.

When you spend time with farmers during harvest, you get to witness the pleasure (sometimes disappointment) as they harvest their crop. The more you talk with them the more you appreciate all the hard work, early mornings, long nights, many miles and unpredictable weather conditions they have to endure. Not to mention the weeds, pests or diseases they deal with simultaneously. For them, being a farmer is much more than raising crops or livestock. It's their hobby, their livelihood, their passion and their legacy all rolled up in one.

I got to learn more about the inner-workings of their operations and truly understand what motivates them. As with previous visits with farmers, I found it enlightening and refreshing. It provided me with a new perspective, particularly with the changing global landscape. While farming is inherently risky and can be downright stressful, I have found that most farmers are eternally optimistic. And why shouldn't they be? Each year Mother Nature gives them a clean slate to grow their crops. And this year, those same farmers welcomed me back to their farms. The least I can do is listen to what they have to say and communicate that back to my clients. That way, clients can make better connections with their customers.

I rather enjoy opening windows for our clients, but every once in a while it's good to look through that window from the other side. You should do it, too.

Greg Lammert is a PR Senior Account Supervisor who knows not all windows open the same way.

Value-Added Should Never Be Confused with Free Stuff

October 25, 2013

Where did the train go off the track on the concept of value-added?

Once upon a time value-added was defined as what we did to make an otherwise commodity service (i.e., branding and communications) differentiated and more valuable than what clients could create themselves or what the competition could offer. Somehow, we've allowed value-added to be equated with free stuff or free services that are expected and counted, but perhaps not evaluated on strategic or true value-add merit. Now value-added has devolved merely to be more for less.

Granted, we agencies are largely to blame for derailing value-added in the advertising world. We thought meeting basic business requirements like being on-strategy, on-time and on-budget gave us bragging rights. Easy to jump to that conclusion when you hear clients comment about their current agencies missing these basic business requirements. Boy, what empathetic agency leader doesn't seize the opportunity to let them know "we get it right the first time, every time." But they shouldn't seize it. Because by celebrating the fact that we meet table stakes, we permit clients to perceive our services as commodity and, in turn, expect more for less. Plus, our response has been to give them (or negotiate for them) more bang for their buck ... free stuff in the form of free services, free ideas, free ads, free interviews, etc.

Even worse, when we're giving clients free stuff, we are often devaluing the only thing that can truly be value-added: our thinking ... our ideas ... our intellectual property. Many times an agency has pitched ideas or given lucky strikes to clients in order to protect the current work ... the implementation ... the part that represents over 85 percent of what we do everyday, but probably earns less than 20 percent of our profits. Meanwhile, we're struggling to be paid for low-margin status reporting and budget management, while we're content to give away our high-margin intellectual property because it's going to lead to the next great project. This is not sustainable in any business and is especially unmotivating in a creative environment.

We recognized this at Rhea + Kaiser a few years ago and challenged our teams to get value-added back on track. We challenge R+Kers to lean into our clients' businesses ... to listen, ask questions and add value to everything we do making it better, different and easier than what clients can do themselves or other agencies can deliver. We still push for and value executional excellence, because we all know that failure to meet the basic business requirements can get an agency fired. But we all know that getting it done right isn't a sustainable, differentiating value proposition.

It takes a while to get the value-added train back on track. But we're making progress with our lean-in approach. Yes, there's still some free stuff, and likely will always be, but not in lieu of value-added thinking.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and hopes to live to see the day when "free stuff" is no longer disguised as value-added.

Truth and Challenges at #SHSMD13

October 04, 2013

On a whole, this week's conference of the Society of Healthcare Strategy and Market Development was yet another reminder of the progressive, nimble approach required of healthcare marketers today.

As many presenters so aptly conveyed, we are often called upon to be strategists, futurists, educators, collaborators and doers all at the same time, which requires a breadth and depth of marketing know-how, resilience and bold ideas. This sentiment was further enunciated by the closing speaker, David Grundy of HDR Architecture, who challenged #SHSMD13 attendees to engage key aspects of design thinking to "transform the way healthcare is delivered."

As Idea Igniters, we wholeheartedly agree. The future of traditional healthcare establishments and providers and the long-term effectiveness of healthcare marketing and communications of these traditional healthcare systems and services require true insight and ingenuity. So to close our coverage of this year's #SHSMD13 conference, we offer these questions to keep your curiosity, courage and creativity moving forward.
  1. Was #SHSMD13 the first time you heard the term "brand journalism?" If not, what did you do today to make brand journalism work for your organization? If so, what are you going to do starting tomorrow?

  2. What one tool would help you harness more power of the market data available to you? Now assume you can't afford that tool. What one must-have benefit of that out-of-reach tool can you fabricate using your current resources?

  3. When is the last time you looked outside of healthcare for inspiration?

  4. How do key executives in your organization define population health? Is their definition designed to support or challenge the organization's current offerings and to accept or turn a blind eye to the community's state of healthcare?

  5. What one daily task should you never do again to free up time for uninterrupted thinking?

R+K Idea Igniters who contributed to this post include Neil Johnson (, Mike Hurt ( and Laura Schmidt ( If you're looking for a destination for inspiration, drop us a line.

Creativity Abounding at SHSMD Connections

October 01, 2013

Session topics at this year's SHSMD Connections conference span the strategy and market development spectrum, but as always, cross-track themes are starting to materialize just past the halfway point.

One thread we're following and discussing between sessions is the idea of healthcare systems shifting from being "we think" to "we know" cultures (as articulated during a session with research and marketing representatives from Cleveland Clinic and Dean Clinic).

We agree. This mindset, born from today's unprecedented access to and analysis of market intelligence, should be expected from marketing, PR and communications, planning, physician strategies and business development alike, empowering (not intimidating) healthcare marketers to be more creative and effective than ever before.

Consider these ideas our fellow healthcare marketers have shared over the last day and a half:

  1. A director of business development with limited internal resources engaged an external research partner to bolster physician outreach efforts and ultimately used data to educate physicians on market opportunities and increase volume.

  2. A chief executive of a major healthcare systems' ambulatory service centers described how a novel approach to presenting his data positioned him to earn previously limited c-suite face time to discuss his ambulatory network plan.

  3. A senior marketing and PR specialist acknowledged the value of proprietary data, but also challenged attendees to remember to use existing data from often overlooked internal and external resources like clinical and financial departments, marketing opt-in lists and the U.S. Census Bureau.

As we've said in previous posts, "big data" doesn't describe the size, it refers to impact. Get creative!

Laura Schmidt is a Senior Account Supervisor at R+K and driven to develop creativity that makes an impact for her clients.

High Expectations for SHSMD Connections

September 27, 2013

In less than a week, healthcare marketers from across America will gather at the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development's annual SHSMD Connections conference. This year, the always though- provoking gathering is happening in Chicago, an undeniable mecca of exceptional healthcare providers.

And starring in this optimal setting? A cornucopia of volatile regulatory matters, high-impact consumer trends and ever-melding marketing and communications mediums that challenge even the most seasoned healthcare marketers every day.

From our perspective, participating in these cross-organizational, cross-functional conversations is all gain. And our goal is to share the insights we gain with you, our valued partners. We'll be posting SHSMD insights and ideas via our blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed using the SHSMD hashtag #SHSMD13.

We look forward to getting smarter and igniting ideas with you. See you at SHSMD!

Laura Schmidt is a Senior Account Supervisor for R+K and is eager to share her perspectives from SHSMD.

Standing Out in the Confusing World of Healthcare

September 03, 2013

Convenient care. Urgent care. Immediate care. Outpatient care. Primary care. Does anyone care that even informed consumers struggle to understand what or if there are any differences in the services being offered by these new facility options for healthcare? Added to that are differences by states-like Illinois where law mandates that only emergency rooms are allowed to use "urgent" in their titles. So you can expect Urgent Care in Illinois to be an emergency room, but go across the border to Wisconsin or Missouri and it could mean something completely different. And this doesn't even consider how consumers are expected to distinguish facilities with similar service offerings from each other.

Even with all this confusion, there is little doubt that the explosive growth in alternatives for outpatient care will continue as the new world of healthcare evolves. Health systems, hospitals, retail chain stores and insurers are all jumping on the bandwagon to address real needs-convenience, lower cost alternatives for the consumer, cost efficiencies for healthcare organizations and increased ambulatory needs to name just a few. All of this resulting in new choices for an already confused consumer.

As proliferation of this market continues, Rhea + Kaiser (R+K) believes that healthcare marketers have an extraordinary opportunity to guide consumer choice. They need to clearly define who they are and differentiate their services, organization and new facilities from all the others. And, they need to use their brand as the exceptional business tool that it is to connect with the consumer and drive business results. At R+K, we've had the opportunity to partner with healthcare clients for nearly 20 years to ask the hard questions, to help identify real distinctions and to develop powerful brands-brands that differentiate, make emotional connections and drive consumer choice.

Cheryl Muzinic is a Vice President and Director of Client Services for R+K and pays careful attention to the details that differentiate our clients' brands.

Will Pricing Be a Serious Consideration Factor in Choice of Healthcare?

July 03, 2013

Exit surveys? Sure. Outcomes? Definitely. But, will consumers really compare hospital pricing before they decide where to go for medical treatments or surgical procedures? In all likelihood, yes.

Consumerism in healthcare has risen to a whole new level with the federal government's May 8 release of rate data for the top 100 procedures at more than 3,000 hospitals across the United States. This report was quickly followed by helpful comparative pricing tools like the one provided by the Washington Post. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has even launched a competition to develop an app to improve consumer understanding and use of data that compares hospital pricing. And, before consumers even have the chance to react to sticker shock and the wide disparity in costs across hospitals, a Florida medical center pledged to even more transparency with a commitment and challenge to share contractual costs to private insurers for diagnoses and treatments.

The focus on pricing in healthcare is not new. Low-cost promotions for medical procedures have become increasingly prevalent in recent years focusing on everything from diagnostic testing to medical tourism. These offers have probably been attractive to a select few. But with healthcare reform and the growing emphasis on pricing transparency, this interest is likely to shift cost considerations into the mainstream. So, how will this affect healthcare marketing?

As the focus on pricing transparency continues, we believe that healthcare marketers need to shift the conversation from cost to value. And at R+K, we recognize that the value a healthcare system provides can best be expressed with a powerful brand. In fact, a strong brand is based on a unique value proposition. Identifying that unique proposition is what we at R+K do every day. Partnering with hospital clients for nearly 20 years, we have developed healthcare brands that capture what they do and how they believe that separates them from all the others. The result: consumer choice that is about much more than the hot topic of the moment, like pricing.

Cheryl Muzinic is Vice President/Director of Client Services at Rhea + Kaiser and thrives on building strong brands that are measured by value not cost.

Can Higher Ed Afford to Focus on Branding?

May 31, 2013

What's with all the talk about higher ed branding when slashed budgets can barely cover promotions for the latest course offering? And, everyone knows that you need to focus marketing dollars on student enrollments to drive much needed revenue. How can higher ed afford to focus on branding? The short answer is that you can't afford not to.

Like many industries, the field of higher education is changing dramatically. Competition has become intense with for-profit schools becoming actual contenders, spending serious marketing dollars to lure in the masses and even partnering with corporations to dangle the elusive 'job carrot' at the end of the stick. With the cost of higher education skyrocketing, many of these non-traditional options entice those who are looking for degrees without interrupting careers.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are also becoming more than just buzz and have become a credible source of learning with the upscaling of online courses by some of the most research-intensive schools and increasing numbers of universities offering credits. Some of the most prestigious universities are even offering select courses for a minimal fee or even free. In fact, for-profit startups like Udacity have become a go-to resource for online courses from top universities, extending the consideration set for higher education to a whole new level.

With an extended consideration set, the marketing focus in higher education is on the sales pitch and product offerings with little, if any, time being spent on what makes a student want to be part of what the university is all about. While there will always be a need to encourage student enrollments and build awareness of course offerings, it should not be done at the expense of creating a brand identity that establishes who the university is and why it's different.

At R+K, we believe that, now more than ever before, branding in higher education can help refocus the conversation on who you are, not what you offer. The goal is to shift the focus from products to university distinctions, from filling a short-term need to building a life-long relationship with students, donors, faculty, staff and the community you serve. We believe that all universities are different in some way, most often in ways that they are already living. We work with our clients to develop big ideas around these differences to create a unique brand that drives relationships that last.

Cheryl Muzinic is Vice President/Director of Client Services at Rhea + Kaiser and believes that more education is needed for branding higher education.

My Rookie Year at NAMA in a Nutshell

May 24, 2013

Actually, there weren't any nuts. Too much turbulence. Even the attendants were stuck in their seats. No drinks, no nuts, no attendants and NO, you may not get up and roam around the country! As an aside, my heart goes out to the five-year-old in the seat in front of us who had to go to the potty the entire flight. I just kept thinking "Me too!" Are we there yet?

Carrying rookie status into NAMA this year was daunting. They throw you in, leaving you to sink alone to the depths. I'm one of the lucky ones. I lived to tell my story. Nothing a few Excedrin, Sudafed and one very large Coke couldn't handle Friday morning. However, I witnessed a few new cast members of "The Walking Dead" Friday morning that were questionable. They were crabby and unwilling to sign autographs. I can only hope they found their way to the airport, flights weren't too delayed and, because we know they were, the airport bartender was serving bloodies with a smile!

NAMA will fondly be remembered this year for the travel experiences - canceled flights, delayed flights, turbulent flights, hard landings, no peanuts or drinks, chemical spills, long tanker trains and toddlers slow to embrace the escalator.

It was the year of springing Pancake Ray from the clinker for drinking beers with Tipsy the elephant. We got to meet Ray's new girl, Julie, who gave a whole new meaning to girly girl! Officer Sparkles apparently charmed the crowd with his policeman gear. And a few R+Kers perfected the art of tattooing without getting arrested.

As for me, I woke up five days after NAMA to find a third tattoo proudly displayed on my other ankle. If you are intuitive enough, you've figured out that the second one was on the other ankle. If you are curious, the first one was mostly visible. The good news is that there wasn't a fourth hidden in a place that would have required help to apply. Whew!

But that isn't what you are reading this for, right? You want the goods, the meat, and the inspiration that NAMA is supposed to leave us with (for those who actually attended the sessions... Adam?). Ok, ready for the onslaught of great inspiration? DISRUPTION! There is a mantra hanging in my office "Do something brave today, and then run like hell." I may have a new one designed, replacing brave with disruptive. In other words,

And in this age of digital disruption - in everything we do - we need to be disruptive for our clients. Not only should we be opening windows for our clients, we should be leaning so far out the window that it is almost dangerous. To quote a line from a famous ad campaign "Challenge the Status Quo."

One example worth sharing - Check out how a young 20-something successfully disrupted a category owned by the giants ... with a $4,000 video.

My parting thought for next year's rookies - pack Excedrin, mints and nail polish remover. Travel with a buddy, attend every session you can and make sure you spend time with Pancake Ray, if he makes it next year. His wisdom is life-changing.

Laura F. Boynton is Senior Account Supervisor at R+K and can't wait to color outside the lines.

Come On, Make it Real

May 20, 2013

Customer intimacy. Relevance. Context. Customer empathy. Credibility. Authenticity. We're seeing these words and phrases tossed around the advertising industry on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Yet, I continue to see irrelevance, lack of credibility and just simply missing the mark particularly when major, mainstream brands are targeting farmers.

Never mind the hayseed portrayal of farmers in some pickup truck and ATV ads. You know what I'm talking about - the bib overalls with red handkerchief hanging out of a pocket and a straw hat. That iconic, Americana image is comforting to those who aren't in agribusiness. And the folks creating those ads probably don't care that the target audience doesn't relate to that image and sees the advertising as inauthentic.

The ads that have stirred up my ire are those that completely miss any chance at relevance and credibility and are on the verge of being insulting. And these ads are from marketers who've been in the ag space for quite some time.

One of the ads which ran in a major U.S. ag publication was for a line of lubricants. Nothing about the ad is real. The ad featured an older, dirty combine in a green (i.e., unripened) field of corn. Disregard that the operator looked like he came from Down Under. Do they not care if they're authentic and credible? Certainly that giant global oil company could've afforded a disaster-check on the execution, right? They would've at least learned to show the combine in a ready-to-harvest, golden field of corn.

Another ad is from a well-established insurance company. This ad - a full-page, four-color, tabloid ad - ran in a well-established regional farm publication. I appreciate the advertiser's attempt at empathy, but do farmers (or construction workers, lawyers or even ad guys) need to be reminded that they work hard? One of my colleagues' immediate reactions was "that's insulting."

At Rhea + Kaiser, we say to these advertisers: do your homework. It's not hard and it's not always expensive. For example, we regularly tap into our network of friends and families on the farm for gut-checks on ideas and executions. Through our strong relationships with the ag media, we have another layer of friends to vet strategies and messages. We host internal IQ events and roundtable discussions to broaden our knowledge of the industry and our understanding of the customer. It's part of who we are and how we help our clients achieve heightened customer intimacy.

On behalf of farmers, we're chafed by these types of messages that suggest the market really doesn't care enough to get to know their prospect. Really, it's not hard to be real and relevant.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser, and has been making it real in advertising for more than 25 years.

Is It Possible to Crowd Source Healthcare?

May 09, 2013

Problem solving? Yes. Idea generation? Yes. I was even able to wrap my head around the concept of scientists using crowdsourcing to raise funds for research (i.e., crowdfunding). But crowdsourcing medical diagnoses? Yep, it's happening (or trying to). Check out CrowdMed, a startup that believes in "harnessing the wisdom of crowds to help solve even the world's most difficult medical cases."

Via the CrowdMed website (that's still in beta form), people can help solve a medical case by signing up to be a CrowdMed "Medical Detective" (MD, get it?) or submit a case of their own for solving by the site's "hundreds of Medical Detectives who will collaborate on solving your case." CrowdMed's offering is based on a patented prediction market technology that promises to aggregate contributors' input and generate personalized, insightful diagnostic suggestions to discuss with their doctor.

At this point in the story, your mind is probably being pulled in a few different directions. You might be thinking "wow," or "how irresponsible," or "could it work?" or "it's never going to happen" or "Gee, what if this could help diagnose what my Mom has been struggling with for months?"

Certainly, opinions abound on crowdsourcing healthcare. But the objective of this blog post is not to give CrowdMed or crowdsourcing healthcare a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The objective is to demonstrate and support the power of what we at R+K like to call "untethered thinking." That is, in our view, the founders of CrowdMed saw a big problem and freed their minds to the point of generating a big idea solution for that problem.

At R+K, we and our clients value this kind of strategic, forward thinking that's generated out of curiosity, courage and ingenuity, and deliberately not bound to industry-wide standards, conventional wisdom, what's been done before or the like. It's how we ignite ideas with and for our clients. It's how we inspire brands to become integral parts of consumers' lives.

Laura Schmidt is a problem-solver, idea-generator and brand-inspirer for R+K.

35 and Moving Forward

May 01, 2013

As long as I've known Steve Rhea, he always talks about the importance of an agency re-inventing itself. He cautions us about getting too comfortable and reminds us to look for new ways to add value to our clients' businesses. I've never doubted that he speaks the truth, especially today as we celebrate Rhea + Kaiser's 35th year of being in business.

We started with one client, four people and a shared vision to do great work, have fun and be a destination for top talent and leading clients. We were founded as Rhea & Kaiser Advertising, Inc., on May 1, 1978, by two gutsy, entrepreneurial guys - Steve Rhea and the late Van Kaiser - who had acquired the Chicago office of Cleveland-based Wyse Advertising.

Van led creative and production while Steve was the account guy, HR, accounting manager and media director. They grew their business, hired people and moved the agency to Naperville, Illinois (just 25 miles west of the Chicago Loop). Rhea + Kaiser grew despite their first client going bankrupt ... despite agriculture's economic downturn in the 1980s ... despite client mergers and acquisitions ... despite pitching and defending one piece of business five times over these 35 years ... and despite intense competition for talent and clients.

We grew because Steve and Van were entrepreneurial and they persevered. They found ways to gain new clients and create new revenue streams. For example, R+K was managing tractor plant tours and file photography assignments, not just advertising, when I joined in 1987. We steadily expanded our services to include public relations, sales promotion, direct marketing and digital. Our agricultural roster grew, even as we diversified into industries such as animal health, construction and industrial equipment, healthcare and higher education.

With growth and diversification came some name and logo changes. In fact, there are eight business cards on my wall that document my 26-year (and counting) career with R+K. More importantly, these serve as a testament to the evolution of Rhea + Kaiser and our brand identity. We spent most of the 1990s and early 2000s as Rhea & Kaiser Marketing Communications with tweaks on our gray and red logo. In 2007, we rebranded R+K with an all new logo and look-and-feel while building on those core values set in 1978.

Today, we are Rhea + Kaiser with 55 dedicated and talented people and nine highly engaged, industry-leading clients. The vision hasn't changed much. The entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance are alive and well, but the pace of re-invention is accelerating as our industry and our clients' needs change at a near-frantic pace. And we're prepared because Van and Steve started with a great blueprint 35 years ago.

Congratulations Rhea + Kaiser on 35 years. And thank you, Steve Rhea and Van Kaiser, for building R+K on a firm foundation with enduring values that enable the new generation of R+K to take the agency forward.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of today's Rhea + Kaiser, succeeding now Chairman of the Board Steve Rhea in 2010.

Go Ahead … Be Inspired.

April 30, 2013

It's been one of those great weeks. You know, when you feel like the world is trying to inspire you and you actually feel open to being inspired.

It doesn't happen all the time, but it's like a breath of fresh air when it does. You flip through that trade magazine that's been staring at you for weeks. You click on the creative website a friend recommended and ultimately spend time on a half a dozen more cool websites you find along the way. You have energizing conversations before and after work hours and maybe even in your sleep. You feel awake.

I'd like to believe my great week is because we've been talking a lot at R+K about opening windows ... asking unexpected questions ... looking at things in a slightly different way ... leaning in and taking a deeper interest.

It's a permeating perspective.

If you're feeling like a breath of fresh air is exactly what you, your team, and your business needs ... let's talk. Our conversation might just spark one of those great weeks for you.

Go ahead. Be inspired.

Laura Schmidt is an Idea Igniter with R+K.

Think you’re a professional? You might need to think again.

March 28, 2013

We've been talking about professionalism and ethical behavior quite a bit lately at Rhea + Kaiser. This is largely due to some of the spring cleaning we're doing at R+K - cleaning up processes, purging unwanted practices and striving to invigorate talent. But some of these conversations are prompted by the fact that I've found my new "work bible." It has me evaluating the people, situations and transactions I encounter on the basis of whether they're trustworthy, ethical and professional.

This new work bible is "The Power of Professionalism: The Seven Mindsets that Drive Performance and Build Trust" by Bill Wiersma. I literally carry it everywhere. Yes the hard back, analog version - complete with at least a half-dozen book marks and several dog-eared pages. Not a how-to or quick steps kind of book, Wiersma's book is best described as contemplative and inspiring.

I was psyched after merely reading the introduction. So when I finished the first three chapters, I was scheming on how I could stow away somewhere quiet to finish and consider the rest of the book. It's a very inspiring read, but not a fast read, because there is so much to reflect upon while reading it. I didn't stow away but used stolen moments to read more digestible increments of, say, a dozen pages at a time.

Essentially, Wiersma tells us that trust is at the heart of professionalism, and it is driven by mindset - not education or accreditation, not vocation or skill sets, but rather how we think about ourselves and approach situations and other people. I'm sharing the seven mindsets, but suspect this abbreviated list would be greatly enhanced with Wiersma's perspective.

  1. Professionals have a bias for results.

  2. Professionals realize (and act like) they're part of something bigger than themselves.

  3. Professionals know things get better when they get better.

  4. Professionals have personal standards that often transcend organizational ones.

  5. Professionals know personal integrity is all they have.

  6. Professionals aspire to be masters of their emotions, not enslaved by them.

  7. Professionals aspire to reveal value in others.

Seems like common sense, right? But living up to these standards - being a trusted professional - isn't something you just decide to do on Sunday and implement on Monday. Being a consummate professional is part of who you are ... not just at work but in everything you do.

Read the book. I'm confident that you'll find it gratifying, inspiring and beneficial in your work and personal lives. And who knows, it may become your new work bible.


Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and a continual student of leadership, ethics and professional development.

A Reminder: Client Service Is an Art

March 06, 2013

In The Art of Client Service, Robert Solomon explains, "58 things every advertising and marketing professional should know." This immediately caught my attention. It did not appear as if Solomon was presenting revolutionary work or unique ideas. However, as a young professional whose goal is to one day run an account, I devoured the book like ice cream on a hot summer day.

The Art of Client Service is broken down into 58 chapters that discuss three main topics: work, relationships, and style and substance. In a section entitled, "before you start," Solomon simply asks why advertising, or communications, is important. He goes on to say that the book is not meant to be groundbreaking, it is meant to be a solid foundation and refresher course for account people. It includes topics that I am still learning about, such as evaluating creative and making presentations, as well as topics that I have heard but never need to forget, like socializing with the client is great but at the end of the day it is all business.

Throughout the book, I caught myself smiling. Why? Because I realized that I am working for an agency that has allowed me to see the contents in the book every day. For example, last week my supervisor talked to me about "scope creep." In chapter 48, "No Surprises about Money or Time," Solomon uses a very similar example. Multiple chapters discuss working with colleagues within the agency and managing client expectations. I see those things happen on a regular basis. The book also helped me gain a better sense of why certain processes are in place. While I enjoy sending meeting agendas and recaps, it seems tedious at times. Yet, the five chapters dedicated to running a meeting, gave me some perspective and a greater appreciation for our meeting process.

In the portion of the book entitled, "after you're done," Solomon relays advice he gave a young candidate when she asked him what makes a great account person. The graphic below embodies his answer. This is my biggest takeaway from the book. Account people are a conduit between the agency and the client. A great account person is an advocate for both parties and uses the four qualities below in doing so.

By Samantha Cobb
Assistant Account Manager

Embracing VUCA

December 21, 2012

We are living in the Age of VUCA.

VUCA? Not the Gilded Age. Nor the Age of Aquarius. Rather, the age of VUCA. It's a time for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA.

Five years ago, I attended an industry conference where Bob Johansen of the Institute of The Future was the keynote speaker and enlightened us about VUCA. Since then my notes have faded (it was 2007 for gosh sakes; we still used pencil and paper!), I did come across an old email that I sent to my Rhea + Kaiser colleagues about the significance of this acronym. In that email, I wrote:

"We as an agency cannot sit still nor rely on the past to propel us forward. We are working in an age of rapid market evolution, which in turn suggests that in order for agencies to thrive we must continually experiment with and evolve our strategies and processes to remain in alignment with our clients and more importantly their customers."

What struck me as I was preparing to delete this ancient email (I confess, I am an email hoarder), was the fact that we are still in the throes of VUCA. And that we - and any business - still need to experiment, evolve and continually check for alignment.

I also realized that I like living in the age of VUCA. I'm comfortable with being uncomfortable. I love trying and testing big and small ideas. I know that agility, experimentation and continual learning are critical to propelling us - in our individual accomplishments and in R+K's progress - and our clients forward. As we wrap up 2012 and get ready to kick off 2013, we will be challenging ourselves to embrace VUCA. To embrace experimentation and evolution and to strive to be nimble.

Wishing all R+K friends a bright, prosperous new year. Here's to thriving in the Age of VUCA!

Diane Martin has been President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser since 2010, but has been speaking her mind at R+K since 1987.

Tractors and Combines of the Future

December 12, 2012

I recently attended a meeting of the Chicago Chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association at the CNH Engineering Center in Burr Ridge, Ill.


A huge thank you goes out to the team at CNH who hosted our group of agri-business professionals and students!

Much of my career has put me very close to farm equipment. The innovation in the category seems to have advanced to a fever pitch compared to just 15 years ago. Our tour at CNH's engineering center gave our group an understanding of why. Here, they've put together a highly diverse group of hundreds of engineers and technical experts all driven to develop machines that do new things, work better and do it all faster.

The most amazing part of our tour was the time we spent in one of CNH's several very high-tech virtual reality labs. Here CNH virtually races through prototype testing in minutes and hours. In the past, it would have probably taken years with the now somewhat old-school, hand-built, one-off prototypes. Our guide also demonstrated how the labs are used for developing service techniques and training service technicians. From a marketing perspective, our guide shared how the labs are used with farmer-customers to gauge their reactions to future products and enhancements being considered by the company, all long before we see them at a farm show or on a dealer's lot.

We also heard a lot about the new Tier 4 engines and the emissions regulations that farm equipment manufacturers must comply with. It seems much of that conversation lamented the intensive work and added operational tasks that come along with the more environment-friendly results. It was interesting to hear the engine development speaker explain the test cells CNH uses to torture-test the engines, as well as develop and certify them for the government-regulated standards. From their comments, you could hear the pride CNH has for the work they are doing and the excitement they have in developing technologies that both meet the government standards and continue to improve the fuel economy and performance levels that will ultimately benefit their customers.

Oh, and there was food! And great hospitality!

On behalf of our group, thanks CNH! And, thanks to Kris Martinez of Martinez Creative Group and Rosemary Schimek of Farm Progress Companies for organizing the event with CNH.

By Jim Haist
SVP, Group Account Manager

Farm Show Immersion

October 03, 2012

A few weeks ago, I became that girl. That city girl infiltrating the world of agriculture, walking around slowly, scribbling down notes, trying free food samples and soaking up the wealth of information that was radiating throughout the 2012 Farm Progress Show. With an open mind and an empty bag, I made sure to pick up every piece of literature, every pocket-sized notebook and, of course, take advantage of every free tractor ride I could find. This way, I knew that I was going to experience everything that a hot, summer day in Boone, Iowa, had to offer.

Within the booths that I visited, there were multiple trends used by the represented companies to make a memorable impression. Some of the most interesting tactics were the use of digital/3-D technology, like the rotating images of a corn kernel's transformation to a corn stalk, and the opportunity to have yourself photo-shopped into your favorite advertisement by standing in front of a green screen. It was interesting to see how each company incorporated our ever-evolving consumer digital obsession into their interactive show tactics - without a giant QR code to be found!

It's obvious that the world of agriculture is immersing itself into innovative marketing trends and finding ways to make an impact on their future and current customers. Figuring out how to aesthetically display a wide range of products is hard enough, but these companies were up-to-date and ready to show why they deserved their customers' attention. It's going to be interesting to see the continuing evolution of digital technology and its presence in the farm show world, but as long as they make sure to still hand out free key chains and reusable water bottles, first-timers like me will definitely return next year to become regulars!

Monica Arcaro is an Assistant Account Manager at Rhea + Kaiser and is "that girl".

A Self-Caffeinated Future

July 30, 2012

Automatically when you hear of someone receiving an internship, the first image popping into your mind is someone who is designated to grab coffee and bring office supplies at your beck and call. Rhea + Kaiser (R+K) is the exact opposite of these typical internship expectations. From the first week of my internship to the eighth week, I was given responsibilities for client calls, internal operations, department meetings - you name it, I was able to experience it. As I could see everything from my university classes falling into place during each work hour, I knew that R+K would make a big impact on my future career.

While time went on, I could feel my inner-marketing suburban spirit open up to the rural opportunities with farm brands that I had never experienced before. Ever since then, I've listened to the farm report on the radio daily. Reason being, R+K had taught me that with energized client dedication and observing the brands from new perspectives, success will surely follow.

In March 2012, I was offered the opportunity to join the R+K team as an Assistant Account Manager, allowing me to smoothly fuel the transition from a university student to a full-time position. Trading in the textbooks for legal pads used during client calls and Ohio student housing for a Naperville office has opened a brand new world to me, a world that will continue to expand my marketing knowledge. Becoming a "real person" has granted me the chance to make a difference in our clients' brands and products, and I can't wait to see what each successful work day will bring ... once I finish this cup of coffee I just grabbed from the kitchen, of course.

Monica Arcaro is an Assistant Account Manager at Rhea + Kaiser and is a "real person" who enjoys fresh-brewed R+K coffee.

E-mail is not dead in the workplace. We just need to make it better.

June 29, 2012

A few weeks ago I shared an article with the Rhea + Kaiser staff about e-mail overload in the workplace. I shared it via e-mail... with "Read at your Leisure" as part of the subject line. I do recognize the irony in sending an e-mail about internal e-mail overload. But I shared the article because there were interesting data and advice in the article posted in the Daily Dog, and it blunted that urban legend about e-mail being dead in the workplace.

The study referenced in the article reinforces that e-mail is still a very important business communication tool, but everyone faces overload of internal and client e-mails. Not to mention the deluge of newsletters and solicitations we get in the course of the day - I usually purge a dozen of those with my morning coffee before heading to the office. The study also presents a strong case against internal e-mail embargoes - they're not effective and often alienating. All good stuff.

Perhaps most useful in this article is the second to last paragraph that cites the biggest issues our colleagues have with internal e-mails:
1) Excessive back-and-forth replies
2) Using e-mail when a meeting/phone call is more appropriate
3) Unnecessary use of "reply all"
4) Poorly written e-mails that lack clarity; and
5) Copying others unnecessarily.

I have two more issue to add to the list:
1) The blind copy... It's just begging for an embarrassing "reply all" by one of the BCCs. If you want to confidentially share a message, forward it.
2) Vague subject lines that don't allow us to prioritize the message amidst 50 others received just before lunch.

I've been guilty on all counts since e-mail entered my professional life, and I am striving to make my e-mail better... to make it more relevant, useful and hopefully less annoying.

Perhaps you have other issues or tips that will help us make even better use of e-mail. I'd love to hear some of your proven techniques for creating and managing e-mail better (besides ignoring it).

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and wants us all to send and receive better e-mails.

Windows Wide Open

June 26, 2012

Over 25 years ago, Bill Gates and Microsoft introduced an operating system that would change the face of personal computing.

They called it Windows®.

As brand names go, Windows was spot-on. You "clicked" on an icon on something called the "desktop" and a "window" magically opened. We take it for granted today, but Windows really did offer a look into a vast new world.

At Rhea + Kaiser's 2012 Branding in the Works agency event, windows figured prominently, as well.

Not the operating system — we were instructed to leave all laptops behind! — but rather, the old-fashioned, apple-pie-cooling-on-the-sill kind of window.

Branding in the Works was essentially a seminar/summer outing hybrid that began with a trolley ride to a secret destination (an old-time automobile warehouse turned art studio) where the usual was served up — food, drinks and coworker shenanigans — as well as the unusual — music videos, breakout sessions and magic tricks! — before culminating in a rollicking trolley ride back to the office.

And the windows?

They were brought out at the end of the four-hour long event, just prior to boarding the trolleys.

Two all-wood, divided-light, double-hung sash windows — home improvement aficionados will attest to their sweet simplicity — unpainted, so that everyone at the agency could sign their names on them.

Two windows, one for each floor at the agency — simple but present on-site reminders of the inspiring potential of open windows.

In our business, we're told to "think outside the box." Unfortunately, sometimes the constraints of a project — time, budget, competitive realities — put us and our clients in a box, unavoidably.

But here's a thought: What if the box had a window? Rather than thinking of ourselves as prisoners in solitary confinement — a windowless cell — what if we could unlatch the window, slide it open and let the sun shine in and the breeze blow through?

All the better, to see what's on the horizon.

We think Bill Gates would approve.

Gene Payne — no relation to "Window Pane" — is an Associate Creative Director at Rhea + Kaiser.

Soaring Like a Turkey Vulture...

June 21, 2012

At least every other day when I look out my office window, I have been admiring a turkey vulture that seems to have found a home on the R+K balconies. I'm in awe when I see this huge bird take off, land and especially soar hundreds of feet up in the air with barely any effort. With such a perspective, I can only imagine all the things that this amazing bird has in sight.

Last week's R+K Branding in the Works event was very inspiring and offered hope that we are starting to look at things in a new light and perhaps do things a little differently. Sometimes people get caught up in tradition with the comfort in knowing that nothing is going to change and that "this is what we know", but the message I walked out with is that we are going to start taking a different approach. Change is hard, but once it is embraced, can sometimes yield great rewards. The event produced a lot of energy which is what we all needed. So many people who I saw walking in the halls prior to last week just appeared to have lacked motivation, sometimes with a sign over their heads asking "Why am I even here, nobody cares and nobody listens."

I think change has been a long time coming. I'm excited and I noticed that others are, too. We are now in the 21st century where things are not the same as they were 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. We have to move with the times and sometimes even anticipate where the times are headed so we are not left in the dust.

I think all of us have some really great ideas that can really make a difference for ourselves, for the company and ultimately for the client. I know we can make this an environment for the people by the people, perhaps even following examples of other successful company cultures like Google and Zappos, I believe this could be the spark of the ultimate R+K culture of the times.

I feel like R+K is ready to evolve into an agency that clients want to work with and people want to work for, and now it sounds like the time is right, taking the company and clients to a new level.

I can't wait for us to soar!

Faisal Farooqui is the manager of Business Technology at Rhea + Kaiser and enjoys watching T.V. (Turkey Vultures).

Healing Thyself

June 20, 2012

When I was a child, we had a revered family doctor. In fact, he was the man who delivered me. As I grew older and became more aware, I learned that Doc M liked to have a drink or two. Or three. Enjoy a smoke. OK, a pack. Stay out late. In other words, act exactly like plenty of other adults of the 60s.

But Doc M, perhaps feeling the stress of his profession, lost control of his demons. He certainly knew better — he just chose not to control his demons. The physician never healed himself.

Over the past few months, an agency—our agency—did set out to heal itself. In the exact same manner as we would follow for a client, we teased apart every strand of our brand, held them up to the light of our audience and our competitors, and gave R+K an unblinking critique. With data in hand, we assembled an inspiring new set of pillars upon which to build a revitalized R+K.

The marketplace will ultimately decide how this strategic, unified R+K will be received. But, just as we advise our clients, great brands are always built from the inside out. In other words, make your staff—always your most valuable asset—evangelists of your brand, and the word will spread like wildfire. So in an all-staff event last week, the fires of that evangelism were stoked. And an agency began something my beloved family doctor could not. It chose to heal itself.

Jim Myers is a creative at Rhea + Kaiser. His new doctor tells him to "just rub some dirt on it."

Too Busy? Consider the Alternative.

June 11, 2012

Over the last few years I've heard an increasing number of people say "I'm so busy." For me, that phrase is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Life is busy. So when people start telling me about how busy they are, I begin to suspect that the busy person is either fishing for recognition (the Busy Fisherman) or trying to avoid less interesting tasks (the Busy Avoider). I don't exclude the Legitimately Busy persona as a possibility, but they rarely self-promote their busyness and present a different set of management challenges.

In the workplace, the first two busy personas draw on a manager's patience and ability to navigate team emotions. First of all, saying you're so busy and shutting down by 5:00 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. is conflicting behavior - even among the power-hour users - and often alienates other co-workers. And secondly, these personas drag down productivity.

We all know a Busy Fisherman or two. Being busy is a contest for him, and he will go out of his way to tell anyone who makes eye contact with him how busy he is. While a manager might want to deflect the Busy Fisherman by asking "aren't you being paid to be busy?" She can't. A good manager learns what currency the employee prefers to trade in, and the Busy Fisherman values praise and recognition. Active trolling for praise by a Busy Fisherman can be reduced when the manager schedules regular status meetings with the individual to review what's ahead on the to-do list and what's been accomplished. Kudos, words of encouragement and an occasional, well-deserved public "Atta boy" will curtail the trolling and improve the Busy Fisherman's attitude and productivity along with the respect and productivity of the Fisherman's peers.

The Busy Avoider is tougher to manage, because the motivation for avoidance is complex. Is the Avoider even aware of his behavior and the disservice it's doing to him? The good manager dealing with a Busy Avoider will need to spend some time with the Busy Avoider to understand his goals and get to the root cause of the "I'm too swamped" reaction to new assignments. And the causes may vary by situation. Is the Busy Avoider among the entitled that will cherry-pick assignments? Does the Busy Avoider have personality conflicts with some colleagues? Does the Busy Avoider have some work-life balance issues that would prevent him from going beyond the expected to take on more? Does he struggle with multi-tasking or prioritizing assignments? Regardless of the motivations of the Busy Avoider, the key lesson for him to learn is that respect of his peers and upward mobility in the organization are at risk. And the manager will need to work with the Avoider to determine how to embrace new assignments and/or more effectively communicate his temporary inability to help.

Granted, there are the Legitimately Busy personas that live on the other end of the spectrum -- those who have had a surge of work come through, who can't say "no," who don't know their limitations or who work inefficiently. They typically suffer in silence, which is a different set of challenges for the manager. But today, I ask the Busy Fisherman and the Busy Avoider to think before you whine - all you're really accomplishing is irritating and potentially alienating others. I suggest to their managers that they address these personas head-on - it will improve esprit de corps and productivity. And if all else fails, I think the Busy Fisherman and Busy Avoiders consider career alternatives if they don't expect to be busy at work.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and believes busyness is a great antidote to boredom and prevents unemployment.

Learning the Latest in Toronto

May 04, 2012

Stephanie Soesbe and I just returned from Toronto (properly pronounced Tron' toe with just two syllables as we were advised by our Toronto partner and host, BRANDWORKS). We were in Toronto for four days to participate in the annual World Meeting of Worldwide Partners, the world's largest network of independent communications agencies. We joined the group five years ago to support clients who need global reach in their communications programs. In addition to this access to global markets, we gain a lot of great information at each of the group's annual world and regional partner meetings.

What a week it has been. A fast schedule. A mix of accents that accurately reflects the global reach of the organization. And tons of information to sift through and use to better serve our clients and shape our business.

These meetings are always stimulating. They're a great opportunity to see, hear and share the great work being done by the group's partners. Key to the meeting content are the leading speakers who share their thoughts on the future of this rapidly evolving business.

Sean Moffitt, co-author of the book Wikibrands, was one of the most interesting speakers of the week. Clearly Sean is a fan of the recent Brad Pitt movie, Moneyball. He used references to the movie to make his points. Perhaps most interesting was his reference to the "Moneyballization of Advertising." His position: The keys of effective advertising today - those areas we should be measuring - are: content, insight and foresight, community and influence.

In different ways, much of the conference content dealt with ways to generate and develop great ideas. We look forward to using this information in a lot of the work that's ongoing at R+K right now.

It was a great week in Toronto. Our thanks to the leadership at Worldwide Partners ( and partner BRANDWORKS for hosting this year's event.

Jim Haist is a Group Account Manager at Rhea + Kaiser and is the agency's point-person with its global agency networks.

What part of your conversation is wasted with mental wandering and multitasking?

March 27, 2012

Today I'm thinking a lot about listening ... the art of listening ... really leaning in and listening.

I didn't just wake up today and decide I'm going to focus on listening skills. Rather, today's theme is the culmination of recent conversations about good listening skills, being on the receiving end of poor listeners and being a distracted (or deluded multitasking) listener. I've been guilty of looking at (and even responding to) email while I'm in a conversation- overtly when I'm in a phone call and a little more discreetly on my mobile device when I'm in a meeting. Chances are I am not hearing what someone is saying much less digesting it ... pretty rude and risky. I have probably missed an important detail from a client or not heard a very revealing statement from a prospective employee.

So today I had a phone screen with a candidate. I made sure I was prepared and focused. Not only did I re-review the resume and prepare my questions, I silenced all of the devices in my office and minimized the email screen-I shunned temptation to mentally wander or to multitask. And I made myself take detailed notes. You know what? It was one of the better phone discussions I've had in a while. Regardless of the quality of the candidate, I am confident it was better because I was fully focused. I was able to have a conversation rather than check off questions and wait for my turn to speak again. I gleaned so much more from the interview.

Seems rudimentary, right? But ask yourself how often you are annoyed because your colleague is scanning emails on their device during a meeting, you can hear your client's keyboard clicking during a conference call or you missed a key point in a meeting while you composed your to-do list for the day. Not to mention how many times you were cut off by someone erroneously finishing your sentence. Granted, even the best listeners struggle with Sesame Street attention spans-one statistic shows the adult attention span maxes out at 20 minutes. Makes me wonder which third (or more) of a half-hour status meeting is wasted. And reminds me that good meeting facilitation techniques are also critical to wrangle multitaskers and mental wanderers and ensure what needs to be communicated is heard, discussed and digested.

I grabbed some tips from on listening skills. It's pretty basic stuff, but a great review. A good way to help us all lean in and be better listeners, whether to a colleague, client, friend or family member.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and is working hard to be listening and not just waiting for her turn to talk.

Public Relations defined … who cares?

March 15, 2012

It's been an interesting past year or so in the world of Public Relations. If you haven't heard (and I'm positive most of you haven't) the public relations lead professional group, the Public Relations Society of America, decided after 30 years to produce a new definition for my profession.

Here is the 1982 version:

"Public Relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other."

Now, after months of research, committee hearings and furious debate, here is the 2012 version:

"Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."

So I am sure you are asking yourself, who cares? Well, you probably don't. But you should care that we (PR and marketing professionals) care.

It's safe to say there has never been consensus on the definition of PR ... among PR pros, our clients, the marketing community or the general public.

I think a lot depends on where you sit. For example, pros from PR or integrated agencies look at it differently than PR pros from corporations, who have a different take than independent PR practitioners or those from, say, the nonprofit sector.

In addition to a general confusion of the definition, the practice itself has gone through significant change with the explosion of the Internet and especially social media. For example, media relations (one aspect of PR), is no longer relegated to dealing with traditional, professional reporters and editors. Anyone with a blog, website or Twitter account with an audience of more than 10,000 now has to be considered a media property and dealt with. So to answer the question from the top, here's why you should care.

Public relations, no matter how it is defined or which tools are utilized, will always be about communicating with the public or consumers about a brand or institution other than through paid advertising. PR helps build relationships ... sometimes telling a story, sometimes defending a position, sometimes passing along information, and sometimes simply engaging in conversation. As long as we in the profession care enough to continue to try and improve, and help our clients continuously improve their relationship with their publics, Public Relations will continue to thrive ... no matter the form or the definition.

Who Needs Five-Hour Energy When You Have a Standing Desk?

February 28, 2012

In December, the head of our IT department shared an article on our Yammer network (an interoffice social tool for industry updates, news-of-the-weird and the usual office chatter). The article discussed the dangers of sitting at our desks all day. To summarize briefly: we are slowly withering away to nothing. That's when I realized I was spending nearly my entire day sitting:

In various meetings where I sit around a conference room table with my coworkers
At lunch (if I can get out for one)
In the car an hour each way for my commute

I thought back to my days as an account coordinator, running keylines and spreadsheets from office to office for approvals, and I realized I missed that feeling of activity and motion. The head of our IT department started the push by creating a standing work station using an old printer stand. I mulled it over for a few days, then decided to inquire further. He couldn't recommend it enough and suggested that I borrow his stand for a trial run. The culture at R+K is quite open and encouraging to new ideas, so I decided to try it for two weeks.

The first few days were different than I expected. I felt more productive and had more energy. Plus, it completely erased that post-lunch lull in the early afternoon. The new setup also brought the screens closer to my natural eye level, making it easier to read and reducing eye strain. I also found myself walking around the office more. Rather than pick up the phone for a quick question, I'd walk down the hall and pop my head into an office for a discussion.

For the first couple of days my knees were a little tired and my back was a little sore, but that subsided by the end of the week. Besides, the gains far outweighed those temporary drawbacks.

In the end, I decided to keep my standing desk - as did five other coworkers who have adopted the new lifestyle. If you are tired of sitting all day, why not give it a try? Get outside of your comfort zone ... you just might surprise yourself.

R+K Celebrates Another Round of Regional NAMA Wins

February 07, 2012

Last month, Rhea + Kaiser competed once again in the annual National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Region/Chapter Best of NAMA events. And once again, R+K held its own, hauling home seven first place and five merit awards.

"We strive to do Great Work for our Great Clients," said CEO Diane Martin. "Performing well at Best of NAMA is one way we can evaluate and validate our ongoing efforts to accomplish that."

The wins are as follows:

First places
Bayer CropScience, Belt Insecticide Crop Registration "Trophy" Insert (Unique print advertising)
Bayer CropScience, Stoneville :30 TV (Television - Single or Series)
FS GROWMARK, FS Brand TV - Kelsey "Trust" (Television - Single or Series)
FS GROWMARK, FS Brand :90 Videos - Kelsey "Trust" (Audio visual presentations)
Rhea + Kaiser, R+K Holiday Card (All elements)
Rhea + Kaiser, R+K Pancake Breakfast (All elements)
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nutrient Management Is All About Being "Right" (Persuasive writing)

Bayer CropScience, Capreno "Man vs. Weed" Campaign (Multi-Media Campaigns)
Bayer CropScience, Stratego YLD Fungicide Personalized T-Shirt (Premiums/Specialties directed to growers)
Bayer CropScience, Driver Weeds Crash Yield Potential In Soybeans (Persuasive Writing)
Bayer CropScience, GlyTol TechTour Takes Texas (Events - Customer)
Bayer CropScience, Capreno Commodity Text Update Program (Interactive Marketing Tools)

All regional first place and merit finishers are eligible to compete in the national Best of NAMA awards, which are announced in April. To see more of R+K's Great Work, visit our the Ideas section of our site.

The Golden Rule Of Business Manners

January 30, 2012

By now, we've all made (and hopefully are still keeping) our New Year's resolutions for 2012. Year after year, the most popular resolutions are losing weight, eating healthier, managing stress and so on. These are to be applauded, but for your consideration, allow me to suggest one more belated resolution - improving our workplace manners.

We've all been on the receiving end of some else's bad manners and have, in turn, had to go into crisis mode, shakeup our schedules or re-prioritize tasks. And the kicker is: most of the offenders don't realize (or don't care) that their bad behavior is disruptive - not to mention unacceptable.

A few examples of bad manners that really drag down team morale and productivity include:

Habitually showing up late to work or meetings. For those offenders, here's why this is a problem. Late arrivals - especially repeatedly - telegraph disrespect for others' time. Late arrivals delay the start of work. Late arrivals disrupt the flow of meetings in progress. Ultimately, even if you delude yourself with your importance or busy-ness, late arrivals erode others' confidence in you. And by the way, there's no reason anyone should ever show up unexpectedly late - virtually everyone has a mobile phone with texting capabilities and can call/text the expected arrival time.

Last-minute requests. These should be the exception, not the norm. Regardless of the root cause, frequent last-minute requests create undue chaos for others, suggest you don't respect their time or responsibilities and eventually drain the confidence and forgiveness accounts. A couple tips for those repeat offenders: Be brave enough to ask for help before it's a crisis, and consider seeking time-management training.

Entitlement. Neither tenure, nor title, nor role, nor educational pedigree ensures others will respect, follow or trust you. When you play the entitlement card, you're effectively alienating those upon whom you depend, are trying to influence or want to impress. My advice: Get over yourself and learn to work with others toward a common goal, whether you're the boss, a colleague, a customer or a vendor.

I realize that these few examples of bad manners also touch on compromised ethics (check out Patrick Khuse's list of 8 Critical Thinking Errors Common in all Unethical Behavior) and a general lack of professionalism. The core of the problem is that in business we've lost sight of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated (thanks Ben Franklin!). And I believe that when you embrace the Golden Rule, good manners, professionalism, ethics, productivity and profitability will follow.

When you abide by the Golden Rule, you'll find that achieving individual and common goals is more feasible, more rewarding and much more enjoyable. My challenge to you: the next time you are on the receiving end of bad manners, don't suffer in silence. Tell the offender how their rude behavior affects you and the work. And if you're feeling especially bold, let them know it's unacceptable.

Diane Martin is President/CEO at Rhea + Kaiser and won't tolerate rude behavior.

For consumers, it's a jungle out there.

January 19, 2012

We've kissed the sun goodbye after returning to Chicago from Orlando and the North American Veterinary Conference.

It's a great event to attend if you're associated with any aspect of the animal health industry. The schedule is chock-full of excellent sessions on a variety of trending industry topics, and exhibitors' booths are generally overflowing with experts, white papers and video demonstrations. Attendees are primarily veterinarians, veterinary technicians and practice managers, and most of the IP is centered on helping pet-owning consumers keep their beloved, four-legged friends happy and healthy.

What's amazing is how many more influencers pet owners have access to today. Joe Smith's local veterinarian is hardly his first or last stop for pet health information.

"Why not ask my local pet food retailer what will keep Skippy's tummy feeling good? They know what they're talking about."

"I'm sure the groomer will let me know if anything looks weird."

"Since I started taking Skippy to my chiropractor, he's in the best shape of his life."

Yep - chiropractors. And doggy day cares. And big box stores hoping to open countless doc-in-a-box centers for animals. It's truly a jungle out there for pet owners looking for the most appropriate, most informed information about pet care, and often it's everyone BUT the reputable veterinarian channel making the most noise and getting the most attention.

Does this crowded, loud, and often convoluted marketplace sound familiar? Where do consumers find out about your brand? What shapes their opinion about your product? Who do they trust to recommend your product? Do they even know and understand what your product does and why it's important?

If you need to uncover insights into how your consumer thinks, learns and chooses, and if you need to do it now to grow - or defend - share-of-voice and share-of-mind, give us a ring. We'd love to chat about how our Think Customer First approach could help you build your business.

Learnings from a conference (before hospitality hour)

January 16, 2012

After a day of hi-how-are-yous, nice-to-see-you-agains and lets-catch-up-at-the-booth-laters at the North American Veterinarian Conference (NAVC) in Orlando, there's much to ponder. As evidenced through the vast curriculum offered during the four-day show, the conference's mission is "to provide world-class continuing education for all members of the veterinary healthcare team."

We're at NAVC to make new friends and to ensure we offer the best thinking to our current clients in this category. I.e., we don't just promise an informed, cut-through-the-clutter point of view, we deliver it.

But we're also here because we truly appreciate and seek out opportunities to learn. At R+K, we steward a culture of learning through programs like R+K IQ, Donuts + Dialogue and every day learning moments (that we even have a job number for). For example, we challenge R+Kers to not just know how many veterinary clinics are on Facebook, but to understand how our clients can help these clinics drive business results through improved compliance through social media channels.

Well, off to our the-rest-of-the-story dinner.

Diane Martin and Laura Schmidt reporting from Orlando

To Van Kaiser: Black Licorice and Big Boy Boscoes

January 11, 2012

This week we lost a friend, a leader and a great storyteller when Van Kaiser, co-founder of Rhea + Kaiser, passed away. Yesterday, we toasted Van with some of his favorites including black licorice, Big Boy Boscoes and a lot of funny and poignant stories.

As the R+K family shares their memories of Van - and others share theirs on our Facebook page, and through emails and phone calls, I'm hearing similar themes about how Van touched their lives. And looking back on my own 25-year relationship with Van, a lot of great memories rush forward. All of them held a common thread: After a conversation with Van, I left with a chuckle and new inspiration. I learned about leadership and mentoring from Van. Specifically, I learned about the importance of leading by example and of being consistent, honest and, well, human.

All of us in the Rhea + Kaiser family say thanks for the humor, compassion and the opportunity to do great work at Rhea + Kaiser. Cheers to you, Van! You are missed, but your legacy will live on.

Diane Martin is President/CEO and a 25-year fan of Rhea + Kaiser.

Christmastime in the Age of Social Media

December 24, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He tweeted me just the other day.

Children have been hanging their stockings with care, hoping for a glimpse of the jolly fat man, since the 17th century. Over the years, Santa has moved with the times, appearing on radio, television and the Internet. Now, with the recent proliferation of social media vehicles, there are more ways to interact with Santa than ever before.

Parents used to debate the authenticity of the local mall Santa; now, they also have to worry about which Twitter Santa is the real Santa. A UK wireless provider probably went to the greatest lengths to spread Christmas cheer on Twitter - anyone who used the hashtag #o2santa between December 12 and 15 received a custom YouTube video from Santa.

Discovering new ways to interact with Santa is just one example of how people are connecting digitally during the holidays. Need help counting down the days until Christmas? Download one of several holiday-themed apps to do the job. In fact, search "Christmas" at the iPhone App Store and you'll get more than 600 results, including everything from movies and music to widgets and wallpaper. Or how about a clever reimagining of the Nativity Story envisioned as a series of Facebook posts, tweets and foursquare check-ins?

It's not a holly, jolly Christmas for everyone. There's talk of Facebook greetings supplanting holiday greeting card sales. And for every St. Nick on Twitter, there's an Ebenezer Scrooge lurking (sample tweet: "I just saw my own grave. #whoa").

Still, the social media Christmas vibe is definitely a net positive, especially after reading stories like the one where the Case Foundation is encouraging people to commend random acts of kindness they witness through a #GoodSpotting hashtag. And after Christmas is over, Mashable will show you how social media resources can help you keep your New Year's resolutions.

Of course, nothing beats an in-person smile, handshake or hug at the holidays. But if we don't see you, we still want to wish you a very happy digital holidays.

Ben Potter is Manager of Technical Writing for R+K and mayor of the North Pole on foursquare.

We're "AMP"ed about our new name!

November 15, 2011

In a fanfare-filled announcement last week, R+K announced it is changing the name of its Account Services department to the Account Management + Planning Department, or AMP.

The idea behind the name change is to better reflect the team's role as account leaders who provide smart, strategic counsel and cultivate big ideas for clients and internal teams.

The 12-member AMP team was super pumped about the "namectomy" and the resulting new department moniker because it underscores that they do much more than tend to the day-to-day account details.

"We're forward thinkers who bring unparalleled knowledge of our clients' industries and customers, nurture our relationships with clients and internal teams, and generally are awesome and indispensable," said Cheryl Muzinic, director of the AMP department at R+K. "We think AMP says that loud and clear."

Why I Think We Are Moving To The Cloud

October 19, 2011

We are fans of "the cloud." Here's why.

Traditionally when you are working on a computer, you have your hardware (laptop/desktop), operating system, applications and data. When you buy a new computer from the store, you typically install your programs that you would be using and create/add/edit data, i.e. word, excel, etc., add music to your iTunes and download your child's precious first birthday pictures from your digital camera.

And of course you have it all backed up right? Ideally a backup would be done daily or at least weekly, but who has the time? We all still need to get work done and don't have time to worry about the small details...until a hard drive crashes, or your computer gets stolen, lost at the airport, etc. It's a scary thought but it is an unfortunate reality.

But what if when you used your computer, your files were automatically backed up without you having to lift a finger? What if when you saved a word document it was saved in a place that didn't have the same risk of just leaving it on your hard drive? How about the cloud?

The cloud, in my generic definition, is a place out on the Internet that can serve as a repository for almost anything; office documents, pictures and music. If you save your critical files to the cloud, you automatically have your data backed up on highly available, reliable, redundant storage in a location that is available 24/7/365 days of the year.

At Rhea + Kaiser, we are putting the cloud to work for us. Five years ago, we virtualized our servers (think of it as a "private cloud"). Within the next six to twelve months, all company laptops and personal computers will be virtualized as well. We'll be able to log onto a website that will allows users to see and run applications and their desktops loaded on a custom interface.

What this means is that we are no longer tied to a particular piece of hardware. Don't feel like lugging home your laptop every night? No big deal - just access your data via the cloud on your home computer or mobile device like the iPad or even your phone. We'll never fear the "blue screen of death" again.

The cloud has improved efficiency in other ways, too. For example, we only house three physical servers (we had 24 five years ago) at our main facility and two more at our disaster recovery site. These three servers are actually running 25 virtual servers that let us access company data, email, proprietary application and more. Cooling, electricity and space requirements have gone down dramatically.

As technology continues to progress and head more to the cloud, I think the traditional laptops and desktops that we are used to today will slowly disappear and move more towards devices that are instant on and don't hold any critical data on the device - only in the cloud.

Faisal Farooqui is the manager of business technology at Rhea + Kaiser.

Twelve Tidbits From The Digital PR Next Practices Summit

October 13, 2011

Last week's "Digital PR Next Practices Summit" yielded hundreds of helpful insights. Here are 12 such tidbits we thought were particularly worth sharing.

1. Online shoppers are 144% more likely to put an item in their shopping cart after viewing a product video.

2. Your microsite is 53x more likely to get on the first page of Google search results if it has video content.

3. By 2014, mobile Internet use will surpass desktop Internet use.

4. A good Google+ profile has the following: (1) fresh content, (2) a defined voice, (3) no clutter, (4) transparency.

5. Your headline is probably too long - Google only analyzes the first 65 characters of headlines in its search algorithm.

6. RSS feeds are nearly always a top five traffic driver.

7. 46% of journalists use Twitter to find sources, and 98% of journalists start a story by doing a Google search.

8. Journalists are increasingly expected to provide not just headline and body copy, but also links, keywords, alt text, etc. They consider it a tremendous value add if PR would start supplying these.

9. LinkedIn has two severely underused professional development tools: Advanced Search and Answers.

10. Crisis communication made simple: (1) Have a plan before it happens, (2) Don't deny, (3) Humanize, (4) Don't overreact, (5) Monitor.

11. Some good books that can help you learn more: "Social Media ROI" and "Sam's Teach Yourself Google Analytics in 10 Minutes."

12. The word that was spoken the most times during the conference: LISTEN.

You can find more event information here. The digital world moves at a breakneck speed, but with so many new communications tools at our disposal, we consider that a good thing.

Ben Potter is manager of technical writing at R+K. He is 53x more likely to help out a co-worker who bribes him with candy first.

It Takes a Great Leader to be Truly Accountable

October 11, 2011

At Rhea + Kaiser, we've been spending a lot of time discussing accountability. Being accountable to our clients, for the work we create and the results it generates. We're also talking about accountability to each other - which has been driven by the fact that we've begun using a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (also known as RACI Matrix) approach with the implementation of our new Project Management discipline.

As I've listened to group discussions using RACI or about the metrics and measurement we're using to be accountable to clients, there's been a theme that has been rustling around in my brain: It takes a Great leader to be truly accountable.

Being accountable requires bravery, integrity and initiative - things Great leaders embody. Accountable people must be brave to take ownership of the work (good or bad), to take criticism, to share praise, and to allow others to shine. Accountable people must have integrity in the decisions they make and how they champion others. And they must take initiative to inspire others, anticipate problems and keep the work moving forward.

We define Accountable at R+K as "taking ownership of your ideas, decisions and responsibilities with clients and your colleagues." With RACI, Accountables approve the work. And they are the people in the spotlight - the first ones called if something goes wrong and the first ones showered with praise for the successes. They are the Great leaders who know when to step up, step aside or step back, but always with end-goal in mind.

Accountable is one of six critical assets that R+K seeks in our team. Other assets include collaborative, innovative, critical thinker, leader and maverick spirit. We challenge every employee to embrace and live these assets - we believe that these assets make the difference between being good and being great.

Three Takeaways From The 2011 Farm Progress Show

September 12, 2011

As the largest outdoor agriculture show in the U.S., the Farm Progress Show (FPS) is an annual "must attend" for us at Rhea + Kaiser. Each year, we journey to Decatur, Ill., or Boone, Iowa, (the show rotates between the two permanent sites) in search of key insights that may benefit our agribusiness clients. It remains one of the best trend-spotting events of the year.

So what caught our eye this year? We came back with three interesting observations that we would like to share with you.

1. Farmers are people, too.

We don't always think of farmers as "regular" citizens. They don't work 9 to 5, not by a long shot. Their office is outdoors. They drive a $500,000 combine with a fuel tank that costs thousands more to fill.

But job quirks aside, it's important to remember that farmers are people, too. They consume media and embrace technology much like the rest of us. Guys in dusty boots and blue jeans talking on a smart phone were a common sight at the show. Many show vendors conducted their presentations and demonstrations on iPads or touch-screen monitors. Anyone could follow along at home via a very active #FPS11 hashtag on Twitter. QR codes ran rampant - which brings us to our next point.

2. Make sure the medium makes sense.

QR codes are an easy way to deliver additional content to your audience. We saw them everywhere ... on booth signage, sales collateral - even t-shirts. One of our favorites was a six-foot mammoth canvas QR code roped to the side of a booth.

But did they deliver? Only if the additional content on the back end was worthwhile. We liked the QR codes that connected users with on-site information or interesting video content. We were less enthusiastic about ones that simply led the user to a website.

Consider also the medium. If you put a QR code on a T-shirt, you literally have created a moving target that may be difficult to scan! And if you use iPads at a trade show, make sure your content is large enough to display properly, or sync content onto a larger screen so others can follow along.

3. Word of mouth is still the king of social media.

We have more ways than ever to connect with each other, and social media vehicles such as Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever. But despite all of the tech and flash at our fingertips, FPS was a good case in point that there's no better social media vehicle than word of mouth.

Everywhere we went, people were having conversations. Watching product demonstrations. Climbing into combines. Asking questions. Learning.

Facebook, Twitter and the like are great tools and can be a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, they can never replace face-to-face interaction. We learn so much just by talking with others. It's critical for us as communicators to remember that - in fact, it's a major reason we spend time developing Personas to unearth customer insights. Only after we have those insights do we focus on delivery. It's a "message before medium" philosophy.

Not that we don't love technology. After all, advertising professionals are people, too.

Ben Potter is the Manager of Technical Writing at Rhea + Kaiser.

Inside The Millennial Mindset

July 27, 2011

I belong to a generation that is known by several names. Generation Y. Generation Next. The Millenial Generation (often shortened to simply "millenials"). Now that my peers and I are entering adulthood, journalists and advertisers alike are more eager than ever to dissect our styles, interests and patterns of thinking.

"Millenials are tech savvy," your morning newspaper might inform you. "Millenials know interactive marketing. They know advertising." But don't let our "newness" scare you - we're only here to help your brand by spreading the good word.

Who exactly is the millennial generation? There are about 80 million of us, born between the years of 1980 and 1995, and we are heavily influenced by the antics of MTV in addition to a constant stream of social media contact among our peers and ourselves. Because we are inundated by multiple forms of communication from products, professors, text messages and blog notifications, it is becoming increasingly difficult for advertisers to grab our attention as potential brand enthusiasts. Our generation has the potential to achieve greatness and the education to do so. All we need now are the connecting factors, products and services to strengthen our (Inter)net yield to share with the rest of the eager ears across the globe.

We don't just consume media - we share it with our friends. Our generation scours through news, facts and information daily to pass along to fellow millennials around the world through our smart phones and blog posts. Not only do we want to share information, but we're also on a constant adventure to learn about new opportunities and challenges that are just waiting to push our buttons. To reach our generation, marketers need to adopt different approaches than what they use for baby boomers, emphasizing personalization and conversation.

Dialogue among millennials occurs 24/7 thanks to continual advances of technology, and this gives marketers the chance to be involved with their targets at any point during the day, in any time zone. Impulse purchases are becoming less of a factor due to recent issues with the economy, so we millenials now look to trust in brands for investments, whether for short-term product use or long-term services.

What we want is simple: to be connected to a brand while feeling a sense of confidence that the company is listening to us and willing to become involved with our fast-paced lifestyles. Marketers need to interact with those who love their products and services , as it becomes the end-user who will proclaim the good news to everyone and anyone willing to listen.

Brand enthusiasts (not the brands) do the talking across social media platforms, creating buzz that increases and strengthens a solid fan base. Over time, peer reviews have transformed from a "barely there" purchasing factor to the primary influence for making an ultimate decision. Therefore, if your business gives us the tools for business-to-consumer interaction and constructs a place for us to do the speaking, we will tell the story of your fantastic products/services to the best of our ability.

Our fingers are just waiting to type out passionate reviews, in addition to creating sound bites with our influential voices for your company's benefit. So come on in, the digital water's great! And we're ready to make some splashes in the vast ocean of targeted marketing through our millennial generation's voices.

Monica Arcaro is a senior marketing/photography student at the University of Dayton. She counts herself as one of the 80 million U.S. millenials.

A Candy-Coated Welcome To R+K

June 30, 2011

Glass jars of M&Ms were everywhere. It was the first thing I noticed when I entered the Rhea + Kaiser office on the first day of my internship. I was overjoyed. Working with chocoholics - what could be better?

Before I accepted the internship, I became familiar with R+K's work and decided it would be a great location to learn. However, I hadn't yet developed an opinion about the agency's people. A few bowls of candy and about 50 handshakes did the trick.

Then my co-workers let me know why they had chosen M&Ms. We are Monica Arcaro & Michelle Ward, a/k/a M&M, the new interns. I couldn't help but smile. It was a warm (and tasty) welcome.

And what fantastic PR. If R+K can come up with a creative way to make its interns feel at ease on their first day, it's no wonder they are able to do Great Work for clients. I'm happy to be part of that work.

I didn't know what to expect coming into this internship. It isn't my first internship, but it is my first time working in an advertising agency. I wasn't sure if I'd solely be editing media lists, researching, writing press releases or working on random projects. As it turns out, I do a little of everything. I'm learning about what it means to work in an integrated agency, the nuances of public relations and the challenges of working with clients in regulated industries like agriculture and health care.

During the past four weeks, I've gotten the opportunity to see how R+K uses creativity, industry knowledge and marketing expertise to create Great Work. I've seen how the personas for DePaul's graduate schools shape campaign strategies. I've listened to status calls with Bayer CropScience and learned how influential themes for seed company meetings can be. I've even created media lists for the AKC Canine Health Foundation and discovered the importance of correctly targeting an audience.

The best part of this internship is that I am constantly learning, and I know the people in this agency are, too. R+K facilitates a learning environment. No question is a dumb one, and we all strive to learn new things about advertising, public relations and the industries we service.

Before I started on May 31, I knew very little about the agricultural world. This week, I drafted my first ag-related press release. It required me to think a little differently, but good writing and media communication are important, no matter what the industry.

In my first month here, I've learned a lot. I can safely say I know where my food comes from and the role various crop inputs play in helping farmers produce the most food possible.

It's true that life teaches you more than school ever could. I'm halfway done with my time at R+K and hope I've made some valuable contributions. But ultimately, I'm here to learn. After all, a great agency is about Great People producing Great Work, and I'm thankful to R+K for letting me watch and be a part of that process.

Michelle Ward is a senior journalism student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She really does like M&Ms (especially the peanut butter ones).

Oprah: The Show Has Ended, But The Brand Plays On

June 13, 2011

With 13,000 excited fans, local and national media littering the perimeter and the Queen of Daytime Talk waving from a passing yellow cab, Oprah's Surprise Farewell Spectacular was a PR professional's delight.

And, that was only the beginning...literally. From the moment droves of fans arrived to line up outside of the United Center, a certain "Oprah-like" vibe filled the air. Fans waiting in line an hour or two (or three) prior to doors opening were patient, friendly and had high expectations for what was to come - similar qualities the guest of honor demonstrated daily on her show.

I've never stood in any line for that long without coming across at least one cranky patron. Even those like me who felt neutral about the Oprah Brand were excited to engage with it the night of the taping.

Perhaps anticipation overshadowed impatience and impartiality. Perhaps no one wanted to bring negative energy to such an exciting moment in Chicago's history. Whatever the case, it got me thinking...what can we marketers learn from this event? How can we keep consumers engaged in our brand and dare not speak a negative word about it, even if they're waiting in line for hours?

What if more marketers could engage audiences to the point that consumers will want to develop a relationship with the brand? This question came to mind after hearing what Jada Pinkett-Smith said to Oprah during the second half of the star-studded taping: "You were our girlfriend." Maybe that's the answer to the age-old question of why so many women and men watched The Oprah Winfrey Show over the last 25 years.

The Oprah Brand talked about issues important to viewers. It was there for them when they were struggling through relationships and family issues. It taught them to take better care of their health. It encouraged them to appreciate the good in their lives and pay it forward. It even introduced them to new friends: a psychologist, a cardiothoracic surgeon, an interior designer and a comedienne who will now take the show's timeslot.

What if our brands spoke to our target audience's needs like The Oprah Winfrey Show did to its viewers? As marketers, we often hear that our brand messages must connect with consumers on an emotional level. I think that's the success of the Oprah Brand phenomenon. Its marketing team has tapped into the heart of viewers worldwide and etched into it a brand loyalty that will last long after the show's final airing.

Call me idealistic, but I believe our brands can accomplish similar lasting effects with proper brand strategy, emotive messaging and the right marketing mix. It will take a lot of work and client convincing, but it's something we must strive to achieve. It took the Oprah Brand 25 years to get to this point. Maybe we can do it for our clients' brands in the next five.

Paris Ivory is a PR Account Executive at R+K, where she uses media relations savvy to keep her clients' brands in the news and top-of-mind for consumers. She also changes her hair every other week. Email Paris at

Don’t miss (the after) after-party at NAMA 2011!

March 24, 2011

You know how it goes. Thursday night at the annual NAMA Agri-Marketing Conference in Kansas City starts with leisurely drinks with friends and clients, followed by a great dinner, then the Brownfield party, and then...umm...stumbling back to the hotel parched and famished?

What? No? Yes? Don't want to admit it?

Well, if you (or someone you know) are looking for something to do - or to eat - after the Brownfield Party at NAMA, join R+K for our Last Call Pancake Breakfast. All the sweet pancakes and savory sausages you can handle after a night of "networking."

Here's the scoop, but don't worry if you forget. Ask an R+Ker for details when you get there! See you at NAMA - and bring your appetite!

The Last Call Pancake Breakfast

Thursday, April 14

Midnight to 2 a.m.

Hyatt lobby

Don’t profile…think people!

March 18, 2011

I've always championed the philosophy that no matter your target audience, they're all just people like you and me. That is, whether you're marketing to a consumer or to a business, they're all individuals making decisions based on their own experiences, needs, preferences and touch points.

I've found this philosophy often challenged in the agricultural segment where marketers, desensitized by terms like "grower" or "user of X brand" and demographics like acreage and income, often forget that farmers are people, too.

Recently I was comparing digital penetration and habits from a variety of consumer and agricultural resources (Nielsen, PEW Research and Successful Farming) and I began to compare trends between the consumer audience and farmer audience. For the first time in my career, the farmer and consumer numbers nearly mirrored each other in high speed internet penetration and several other areas, particularly among the kinds of farmers who would be top prospects for our agribusiness clients. Farmers aren't some anomaly. They're connected humans who know how to use technology to advance their businesses, too. If you are interested in seeing the comparisons, drop me a line.

It's a good reminder that whether you're a B2C or B2B marketer, you should always ask yourself: how well do I really know my customer? At R+K, we use persona development to push our customer understanding to a deeper level. What's your approach? We'd love to chat.

Wes Meador is Director, Digital Experience, at R+K, where he channels consumer insights to uncover how technology intersects with consumer behavior and clients' brands. He also loves chicken salad. Contact him at

The R+K PR Team Wins Gold

March 02, 2011

The R+K public relations team received three Golden ARC awards for work on behalf of Bayer CropScience at the Agricultural Relations Council's annual meeting last week in Fort Myers, Fla.

ARC is the only professional group uniquely focused on the needs of agricultural public relations professionals, and the Golden ARC awards are considered the pinnacle in achievement for those in the ag PR profession.

R+K received awards in the following categories:

Media Relations: Media Events and Conferences, awarded for a Poncho/VOTiVO media field day and deskside briefings with editors.

Marketing Communications for Ag Audiences, awarded for a peer-to-peer success stories project promoting LibertyLink soybeans.

Digital and Social Media: Podcasts, awarded for a series of 10 podcasts promoting Stoneville seed varieties and in-field performance.

Congratulations to everyone involved in executing these award-winning programs!

Differentiation Through Incremental Innovation

February 16, 2011

In today's agency world, where there is an abundance of choices with nearly 62,000 agencies in the United States alone and a scarcity of differentiation, we find that innovation is one of six critical assets (the other five being collaboration, leadership, accountability, critical thinking and maverick spirit) to move Rhea + Kaiser forward.

Innovation, perhaps one of the most overused terms in business, is often associated with revolutionary, category-defining, competition-crushing and paradigm-shifting ideas. For R+K, we embrace Jack Welch's and Jim Collins' concept of incremental innovation, or evolutionary innovation, where we approach every assignment with the mantra "how can I do it better, how can I do it differently?"

In our recent all-agency 2011 Kickoff Meeting, all R+Kers were challenged to make innovation and evolution an everyday mindset. We believe that innovation is not a top-down concept, and it doesn't reside within one department, management level or age group. We believe relevant, beneficial innovation is best achieved in a boundary-less environment in which every R+Ker is empowered and engaged to find and apply the best ideas for how we service clients, how we run R+K and how we create great work.

Sounds great in principle, right? How do we make it happen? One tactic is R+K Innovation Days. These are work days away from day-to-day business - up to four per year - that an individual can use to think/ideate about a client or agency opportunity. Employees can take an Innovation Day anywhere they please - individually or in small groups. All we ask in return is that they provide a top line write-up which includes: 1) the Situation/Opportunity that inspired the Innovation Day; 2) the Idea; 3) the Rationale for the idea and 4) Implementation basics of the idea.

Not all ideas are implemented as presented. Not all ideas make it past presentation. But all ideas are considered and valued. And we hope in the process, employees hone their critical thinking and brainstorming skills and have some fun.

Diane Martin is the President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser. She works closely with the R+K Management team and the entire agency to continue to evolve the agency in order to remain relevant and competitive among the other nearly 62,000 agencies in the U.S.

R+K celebrates Regional NAMA wins!

February 10, 2011

Last month, R+K competed in three of the six annual National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Region/Chapter Best of NAMA events: Region IV (held in the northwest Chicago suburb Hoffman Estates); Mid-South (held in Memphis); and Carolinas/Virginia (held in Raleigh).

We scored big, taking home seven First Place awards and three Merit awards in Region IV, one First Place and one Merit in Mid-South, and two First Place awards in the Carolinas/Virginia competition - an award for nearly every entry. See below for a complete list of wins.

Now it's a matter of waiting to see which of these award-winning programs will place during the Best of NAMA awards program, which will take place in conjunction with the 2011 Agri-Marketing Conference in April. Fingers crossed!

To check out more of our Great Work visit:

Region IV

Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO Launch Campaign (Advertising/New product introduction)
Bayer CropScience, FiberMax Cotton Seed "Texas Quality" (Advertising/Spreads, series)
Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO Video Insert (Advertising/Unique print advertising)
Bayer CropScience, LibertyLink Beanman Bobblehead (Advertising/Premiums/specialties directed to farmers, growers and ranchers)
Bayer CropScience, Harvest Road Show: LibertyLink Soybeans Year One (PR/Overall PR Campaign)
Bayer CropScience, LibertyLink Yield Map (PR/Internet website - directed to farmers, ranchers or growers)
Central Garden and Pet, AMDRO "Payback" Commercial (Specialty Category/Specialty Advertising Category)

Region IV merit

Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO "Barrier" :30 TV (Advertising/Television - single or series)
Bayer CropScience, Bayer CropScience ASTA Exhibit (Advertising/Exhibits)
Bayer CropScience, Placing Interactivity Right at Your Feet (PR/Interactive Marketing Tools)


Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO (Overall PR program)

Mid-South merit

Bayer CropScience, Respect the Rotation Launch Event (Events - customer events)


Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO (Advertorials)
Bayer CropScience, Poncho/VOTiVO (Events - customer events)

Do you let your imagination leap?

January 20, 2011

Ideas are a very big deal these days. Not that they were ever passé, but ideas have become THE THING when it comes to corporate communicators and agencies forging and developing successful relationships.

So what makes an idea special, particularly in today's digital world where a panhandler with a decent radio voice can star in a YouTube video one day and become the voice of an iconic brand like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese the next?

At R+K, we believe a good idea becomes Great when it's grounded in solid consumer intelligence. What could you tell me about your most loyal consumer? Do you know what she looks like, what her name is, how she spends her time (online and offline), who influences her and what her long-term goals are? Without these very personal insights, it's hard to create - let alone execute - a Great idea.

But we equally value risk and whimsy as part of the ideation process.

I was watching a great show on public television about Edward Drinker Cope, a 19th-century paleontologist who discovered thousands of new species. The narrator eloquently described Cope as being able to take "leaps of imagination" in the context of Cope's pioneering attitude and inherent competitiveness that pushed him to envision disparate, dusty objects as living, breathing creatures.

The story stuck with me because that's what we do at R+K every day with, and on behalf of, our clients. We ignore the what-ifs, why-nots and the always-been-done-this-ways and dig up invaluable nuggets that become Great, new ideas. And that's special.

So let your imagination leap today. You just might produce that next Great idea.

Laura Schmidt is a member of the R+K team who would love to talk with you about your ideas and how R+K can help bring them to life. Contact her at

What's eating you?

December 07, 2010

SuperMarket News recently published six "new" trends to watch in 2011. Here's a snapshot of the piece:

The new customer service - It's about food apps, as technology allows for the ultimate in-store information experience.

The new nutritional guidelines - While devoid of any startling recommendations, they will be the spark for changes.

The new food store - Stores will continue to get smaller with fewer employees, but will offer more affordable mainstream prepared-food and service departments.

The new vitamin: Vitamin D - Supported by medical research that shows Vitamin D deficiencies in Americans, naturally occurring Vitamin D will be touted everywhere.

The new free sample - Food brands sample products will be distributed in-store before they hit the market, in order to curb the new-product-introduction failure rate.

The new social responsibility - Consumers will recognize and commit to social responsibilities, especially reducing hunger in the United States and abroad and advocating the humane treatment of animals.

Which of these trends is top-of-mind for you? How are you helping your customers seize these opportunities or overcome related challenges? Are there other important trends you're anticipating?

Rhea + Kaiser is a group of highly collaborative, creative problem-solvers who can help you address these trends head-on and figure out fresh marketing and communications approaches that make them work for your bottom line. The R+K advantage is our deep understanding of the food value chain - field to table.

Are you creating magnetic content?

December 03, 2010

We found the following eMarketer article to be smart and concise in explaining why magnetic content is important in the new communications paradigm. One of the questions Mr. Ramsey asks is "Besides your product, what can you do for the consumer?" The R+K personas-based approach to communication planning helps try to answer this and other pertinent questions. The article also lists five questions to help assess content validity and usefulness for your audience. Enjoy!

2011 Trends: Content Marketing Is Critical

Dec. 1, 2010 Geoff Ramsey - CEO, Co-Founder
Next year, marketers will need to rethink their approach to advertising and marketing and intensify their focus on creating magnetic content that will naturally attract consumers, rather than relying solely on the interruption model of advertising, which consumers are responding to less and less. Think pull vs. push.

Magnetic content can include anything created on behalf of a brand-be it an ad, YouTube video, online game, Facebook page, Twitter promo or mobile app-that consumers genuinely want to engage with and pass along to others. This content entertains, amuses, informs, serves a function or satisfies a consumer need. It's welcome instead of annoying or interruptive.

Marketers, especially those working in social media, have seen the proven value of branded content, sometimes also referred to as "earned media." Nearly three-quarters of US companies with a social media strategy used such content in their campaigns, making it the most common type of content used, according to a June 2010 study by King Fish Media, HubSpot and Junta42.

Creating effective, breakthrough advertising has always been a challenge for marketers, as well as for the agencies charged with the task. But the classic interruption-disruption model of advertising is moribund. Marketers should ask themselves five questions about the magnetic content they are seeking to create to determine whether it will be truly attractive to their audience:

Is the content unique?
Is the content useful?
Is the content well executed?
Is the content fun?
Does the content make good use of the channel in which it appears (e.g., social, mobile, video)?

Marketers should base their magnetic content ideas on well-researched customer behaviors, attitudes and lifestyles. This entails altering your emphasis in marketing from "selling product" to identifying and solving a consumer need or want that transcends or complements the physical product or service you are selling. Ask yourself this critical question: Besides your product, what can you do for the consumer?

Are you reaching consumers or landing in the Web 2.0 black hole?

November 19, 2010

Consider this October 2010 presentation, "The Changing Digital Landscape," by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

In a world where people simultaneously connect with friends, create groups, access news, post opinions, watch videos and share their location - often within both their personal and professional networks, and using more than one gadget - the competition for consumer mindshare has reached an all-time high.

Making message breakthrough in this hyper-competitive landscape even tougher for animal health companies (in addition to increasingly stringent FDA regulations) is the plethora of unreliable, and often outdated, information about pet products and services. A Google blogs search of "toxic pet medications" alone recovers nearly 26,000 results.

So how do you ensure consumers hear your messages and accurately carry them forward to their friends, fans and followers? You must start by understanding your "target audiences" as individuals. Where do they spend their time online and offline? Who do they influence and who and what influences them? What frustrates them? Where are they most - and least - receptive to brand messages? Why?

This deep, multi-dimensional understanding of the consumer enables you to shape more effective brand messages and more effectively deliver them to your target audiences where, when and how they want to receive them.

At Rhea + Kaiser, we work with our clients to develop - and make the most of - consumer insights using Persona development, which includes social/digital tracking of consumer behavior among other research methods.

If you're interested in developing more effective messaging to cut through the clutter and avoid the Web 2.0 black hole, we'd love to talk. Contact Diane Martin at and learn more about our animal health experience at

Google Instant Search – what does it mean for you?

October 25, 2010

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of my favorite disciplines because pouring over SEM results makes me feel like I'm getting an almost real-time, firsthand account of how consumers really consume.

At R+K, we've spent the past few years refining how to use and report on SEM tactics, but changes in search engine functionality have been relatively quiet (aside from the inclusion of real-time results from microblogs, experiments here or there with paid advertising, and behind-the-scenes changes to algorithms that keep our geek friends up at night).

Now, however, the advent of Instant Search on Google gives us a chance to rethink and speculate a bit. While we're primarily in a wait-and-see mode, we're working to educate clients on what these changes may mean. As such, I've outlined some of the basics and posed some questions we're pondering as SEM evolves.

Overall, Instant Search favors the search activity and behavior of the searcher over the advertiser.

With Instant Search, the ad is not counted as an impression until after three seconds. Google has determined this is the appropriate pause time for an ad to register with a searcher.

Instant Search is not necessarily impacting the kinds of terms or volume for terms being searched at this point.

It is impacting below-the-fold links (particularly important from a Search Engine Optimization standpoint), which reinforces the importance of Top-3 positioning.

According to some of our SEM brain trusts, the industry is looking at ways to influence the suggestion feature, but currently there aren't many ways to do it.

Depending on the outcome, Instant Search could change consumer search behavior in the long term, and impact how other search engines treat results.

Overall, we aren't recommending clients make wholesale tactical changes with search until we have a firmer grasp on impact. But, this great unknown leads to many questions:

Will subsequent eye-tracking studies reveal that searchers observe search results through new visual patterns? If so, will it force us to rethink how we construct text ads?

Will searchers form new expectations about the kinds of results they receive?

Could this new way of searching cause fewer impressions against ads as searching becomes a game of precision that eliminates impressions against historically high-volume head terms? If so, will long-tail terms become more prominent and more costly?

Or, will the new format increase impressions and drive down overall click-thru rates? Would fewer - but more closely matched - clicks equal more high quality conversions?

Will search queries now clearly vary depending on where the searcher is in the sales cycle?

The questions are many, but at the end of the day, we won't know the answers until we observe how the humans we're marketing to change their behavior. Then we'll adjust our SEM tactics accordingly. We can speculate on how we think consumers will respond, but keeping an eye on consumer behavior is vital to success in search. And it should be to every other tactic in our communications plans. We have some thoughts on how to do that, too, if you are interested.

Wes Meador is the Director of Digital Experience at Rhea + Kaiser. He likes chicken salad and trying to figure out why people do what they do so clients can get more customers.

Refusing to settle for good.

October 14, 2010

As I was preparing for my new role as President/CEO at Rhea +Kaiser, I became a self-directed (and somewhat obsessive) student of leadership and business models. For months, I studied, hypothesized, discussed, drafted and deleted points-of-view and manifestos. I read blogs, books and articles. Some of which I highlighted, filled with margin notes and saved for fast, frequent reference. Others I take with me everywhere I go...important bits and pieces in my little red notebook.

The most inspiring read, which helped me shape the vision for Rhea + Kaiser, was Jim Collins' book "Good to Great" which was published in 2001. I, and millions of readers I'm sure, have internalized Collins' idea that "good is the opposite of great."

Loved it. Vowed to never settle for good enough and always aspire for great. And challenged every employee at R+K to do the same. To aspire to be Great People who do Great Work for Great Clients.

There is a synergistic relationship between Great People, Great Work and Great Clients. We know that Great People are mission-critical to Great Work and Great Clients. So while we've identified the five to six criteria for each component of greatness and have action plans to achieve them, we've been focusing recent energies on bringing out the greatness of our people.

At R+K, there are six critical assets that make good people Great People. These assets do not supersede technical competency and relational skills, but take them to a higher level. We've simply yet carefully defined each asset so that each employee can understand and internalize it.

Collaborative: Work together to generate ideas, improve ideas, generate Great Work.

Innovative: Approach every assignment with a goal of doing it better, doing it differently.

Critical thinker: Skillfully conceptualize, analyze and synthesize information to understand the impact or arrive at a conclusion.

Accountable: Take ownership of your ideas, decisions and responsibilities with clients and with your colleagues.

Leader: Inspire others to perform and succeed.

Maverick spirit: Take smart, measured risks and actions where there is potential to stimulate Great Work.

In many circles, words such as innovative, accountable and collaborative may seem over-discussed and overpromised, but at R+K they're real and actionable. The R+K Great People assets were introduced at an all-agency meeting a few months ago, and are frequently revisited in a range of venues and initiatives. For example, we are conducting goals assessments with all employees, including new hires, using the Great People assets as the basis for discussion. These assessments enable each employee to collaborate with their managers on their goals and action plans to better deliver on specific assets, and will serve as one benchmark for measuring employee and agency performance.

We have several other greatness initiatives underway at R+K that we believe will yield different, better experiences for our clients. I look forward to sharing additional thoughts and updates on progress as we strive to be Great People who do Great Work for Great Clients.

Contact Diane Martin at

"YOU ARE our social media guru!"

September 24, 2010

If you've heard this or have recently been referred to as your company's "social media guru," I'm glad you clicked here. As the social media lead at Rhea + Kaiser, in terms of staff education, client counsel, and campaign strategy and implementation, I've learned a few lessons of my own that I felt compelled to share.

Become a "Human Google." To truly own social media expertise, you must keep your eyes, ears and mind constantly open to the myriad social media opinions and perspectives being offered every day. Glean information from well-respected bloggers (e.g., Brian Solis), e-newsletters (e.g., eMarketer), trade publications, webinars, networking events, conferences and seminars. But use heightened critical-thinking skills to determine what's what and to decide which platforms and practices have staying power and make sense for your company and your customers.

Take ownership. If you've been tapped to tame this beast, you're probably a self-starter, independent thinker and problem solver. But while you're probably having fun owning this little piece of the world, the trial-and-error nature of social media can be challenging. Believe in yourself and your social media ideas and recommendations. Your confidence will build confidence in others.

Demonstrate success. Social media measurement can seem elusive, but it is obtainable if you define metrics early on and set the expectation that those metrics will evolve. Start by asking, what does social media success look like for you, your leadership team and/or your customers? A specific number of qualified followers or retweets on Twitter? Comments on at least half of your blog posts? Increased internal understanding of social media tools and their application? Effective engagement in an existing online community? You can find some additional measurement thought starters here.

Educate others. While you'll likely be the go-to social media person for some time, bring your peers, leaders and clients along with you. The more people around you who understand social media, the easier and more effective your job will be. For example, if you come across a really compelling case study on social media, share it. If you're attending a webinar, send the meeting request to one or two people who you think could benefit. Plan a social media-focused lunch-n-learn once a quarter to discuss evolved perspectives, best practices and new tools. Repurpose the content for a client or two.

Engage a team. Once the above activities are part of your social media routine, you'll likely identify people who are just as enthused about social media as you are. Engage them! You've probably already realized social engagement isn't a 9-to-5 need a team of brand ambassadors to be effective. Give them access to your HootSuite account. Encourage them to write a blog. Ask them to take pictures of their next road trip you can post to your Facebook page.

At the end of the day, whether at an agency or in-house, we're all trying to keep up with and vet the influx of social media trends and platforms, develop valuable - and at least semipermanent - best practices, and make the smartest, most strategic social media recommendations we can. I welcome idea sharing (and venting!). Contact me @RheaKaiser or at

Taking ‘Mixed Media’ Literally

September 13, 2010

"There's a dang TV in my magazine!"

That was the actual reaction of one of the corn growers who received the August edition of Successful Farming magazine. And he was right - the publication contained a 1-inch by 2-inch video display that played more than 10 minutes of educational content about a relatively unknown pest (nematodes) and an innovative solution to this pest (Poncho/VOTiVO seed treatment from Bayer CropScience).

This marketing technology has been implemented once in the consumer market but was a first-of-its-kind endeavor in agricultural communications. So why take a chance in a more conservative market?

"Growers see a lot of advertising for new products, so we wanted to engage them with a format they had never experienced before," said Rhea + Kaiser executive creative director Robert Landa. "It makes the education much easier to consume when the medium does so much of the work for you."

To keep costs manageable while targeting only the most influential growers, Meredith Publishing and Bayer CropScience synched their databases to better target top growers. About 17,000 total growers received the video insert, while the other 96 percent of subscribers received a "print only" edition. In both versions, the headline boldly stated: "Plant it and the protection grows." With its innate water-cooler appeal, the insert has garnered additional attention and discussion both online and in the field.

"People are definitely talking about it," said Bayer CropScience product manager Kerry Grossweiler. "The innovative format matched up well with the innovation surrounding Poncho/VOTiVO. Plus, the piece is so unique and eye-catching that it has been a great conversation starter."

That tends to happen when there's a dang TV in your magazine.

Social media engagement and other measures that matter

August 25, 2010

A recent study on marketer and consumer Twitter usage from 360i and published by eMarketer found that only 16 percent of tweets pushed out by brands engage followers, compared to 43 percent of tweets by consumers.

Are you a marketer for whom these statistics again raise the question, "Why are we on Twitter?" If so, take heed: The study narrowly defines engagement as "tweets using the '@' symbol, a sign of back-and-forth engagement on the service." That is, tweets that direct-message another Twitter user. Great for Dell-like brands, which sell hundreds of products at a variety of price points to a broad range of (presumably digitally savvy) consumers.

But consider, for example, a heavy equipment manufacturer selling multimillion-dollar pieces of equipment within very specific verticals. Does @procurement make or break the deal?

For most brands, it's important to define social media engagement more broadly, and to ultimately measure success in the online social space based on overarching, agreed-upon campaign strategies and objectives, and within context of a brand's overall marketing mix, including SEO/SEM, display, mobile and other online and offline initiatives that can affect the efficacy of social media initiatives.

So while there's no arguing that true engagement in the online social space is valuable, some other qualitative and quantitative measures to consider are:

Qualified volume. Strive to increase number of Twitter followers, Facebook "likes" or visitors to your blog who you're able to bucket into groups that matter. For example, customers, prospective clients, industry influencers, respected peers/references, etc.

Sentiment. While there are appropriate times and social spaces for sharing company-focused news and information, prioritize value-added content from reputable sources. Even if skimmed by a qualified follower, such content builds positive brand awareness and can lead to engagement.

Coverage. Is your content being shared, re-tweeted or linked to? This could be by friends, employees or other important and/or influential individuals or groups within your online social network. Is your content driving traffic to your company website and/or blog?

Internal competency. Today, an understanding of (and often presence within) online social spaces is considered cost of entry. Whether talking to current or prospective customers, employees and recruits, or networking at the annual industry event, the topic is likely to arise. Measuring your understanding of social media, and that of your peers, is often a precursor to sustained financial and human capital for social media initiatives.

And no matter how you approach social media measurement, always draw actionable conclusions from your findings that you can use to refine and evolve your approach. Measurement is research.

Oh, and give yourself a break. The world of social media - the platforms, the players, the rules and the measurement tools - are constantly changing. You aren't the only one trying to wrestle this greased pig.

Questions about your brand's social media efforts? Contact Laura Schmidt at or 630-955-6618.

R+K PR team brings home the Gold

August 25, 2010

R+K registered an impressive showing at the Golden ARC Awards on July 27 in St. Paul, Minn. The awards, which are sponsored by the Agricultural Relations Council and honor the best work in agricultural public relations, were given out in conjunction with the annual Agricultural Media Summit event.

For its work with client Bayer CropScience, R+K received eight first-place Golden ARCs in the following categories:

Marketing Communications for Agricultural Audiences - "Harvest Road Show"
PR Campaigns: Internal - "Success Comes From Within"
Open Category: Campaigns - "Want Help with Aphids?"
Media Relations - "Creating A New STAR at ASTA"
Collateral/Literature - "How to Save $3 Billion"
Feature Writing - "Teamwork Restores Hawaii Cole Crops"
Special Events - "LinkUp and Lead the Way"
Unique Tactics and Executions - "Take Your Best Shot"

This year's competition was judged by members of the Public Relations Society of America, who proved to be tough in their assessments (in some categories, judges declined to give an award). Other organizations receiving awards include American Farm Bureau Federation, The National Pork Board, Weber Shandwick, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Golin Harris, Fleishman-Hillard, Bader-Rutter, Charleston/Orwig, Dow AgroSciences, Osborn & Barr, CHS, John Deere and more.

Deadlines for the 2011 Golden ARC Awards competition will be announced soon. For more information on the Awards, visit

Deron Johnson is vice president, director of public relations at R+K. He can be reached at

Aligning with TV content, even in the summer.

July 07, 2010

Used to be summer was a time to hit the beach, a national park or at least the backyard. It was not the time most people thought about gathering around the TV (or laptop or handheld) for a new batch of outstanding programming. But this year certainly follows the trend of the last few and offers up a bevy of beauties.

Drama, comedy, reality - they're all here to distract us from the beautiful weather, friends and family. But, no reason for a staycation, because with DVRs, single system TVs, and phone and Internet packages-plus a little creative jockeying to tune in wherever you are, there are shows-aplenty to create a perfect 30- or 60-minute escape.

The Big C, Covert Affairs, The Good Guys, Memphis Beat and The Hard Times of RJ Berger mark some of the new shows to interrupt the normally packed schedule of reruns and summer reality shows (most that would never make it to air during the peak TV watching season). Returning shows Entourage, Burn Notice, White Collar, Mad Men and True Blood will be bringing audiences back to well-known characters and storylines that will define summer water-cooler or links-strolling conversation. And these are just a few. Jason Dietz, Features Editor at Metacritic provides reviews of 20 of his summer selections.

So there are great shows. Many with narrow themes and niche audiences-dare I say long tail here? So why then, in the case of shows that allow advertising, do we see those pesky TV spots and pre-roll video that don't have anything to do with the content of the show? Are the digital and traditional folks at agencies not merged together yet? Have we not learned that contextual means contextual no matter where we are-in the airport, at the bus stop, on the Internet, on TV?

I remember 10 years ago while working at the ill-fated marchFIRST, there was a spoken promise of the day when we would never be served an ad that didn't align with us personally. Nirvana, right? Well, we clearly haven't gotten there on the box, begging the question, why are we so far away? There have been a few occasions over the past year when ads have come on and at least played to the content and context of the shows where they appeared. They surprise, not because they are necessarily 100 percent relevant to every person in the audience, but at least they recognize that a person is watching a certain type of programming.

Give us the rock star spot for Cover Girl or Sears when we're watching American Idol or the American Music Awards. Or how about the sports-related spot for Ford or Johnsonville Brats when the baseball game is on? Sure, it means making far more spots (probably cheaper, faster and with a lot more creativity), but isn't that what we're already doing with contextual banners, buttons and boxes...even online searches? It is. Maybe if advertisers demonstrated they understood what we were watching, we'd take the time to understand their brand a little better.

Here's to locking yourself away in the basement on a sunny Saturday to get a few of those new summer favorites off the DVR, and hopefully soon pulling your thumb off the button during commercials to take in something that just might feel like it belongs.

Robert D. Landa is Vice President, Executive Creative Director at R+K. For more information, contact

A conversation with Grant and Jodi

June 10, 2010

If you're not familiar with the phenomenon The South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, known to most by its acronym SXSW, you must check it out.

If you are, you'll understand that it's literally impossible to get a full night's sleep after attending the weeklong, annual event, which claims "Tomorrow Happens Here." Total sensory overload - and an amazing opportunity to get steeped in all-things next gen music, film and interactive.

Two R+Kers attended this year's event in Austin - Grant Cassiday (Media Supervisor) and Jodi Carreon (Account Executive) - and the halls of R+K have been buzzing ever since. We thought we'd share a few of their favorite tidbits:

Real-time web is a reality. Yes, it's evolving - rapidly - and goes by many names, including intuitive search (seen a Bing ad lately?), but it's the future of the Internet. Check out Google Wave.

Content is king. OK, this isn't a revelation, but it's a reminder that effective conversations with today's consumers require fresh, relevant content in formats and places that suit your audiences.

Fight process with process. Jaime Punishill, SVP Social Media, Citibank, told an incredible story of launching a social media effort within a highly regulated company. A core tenet of his success was instituting processes to help internal audiences stay involved in every step of the effort. More here:

Beware talk of the "digital revolution." If you're charged with digital/social media efforts at any level within your organization, you know people's understanding and acceptance of such things varies...greatly. Best to focus on how it works on a day-to-day basis and the short- and long-term benefits to your company.

We hope you enjoyed these bites, at least for these few minutes before you surf the net, look for that cool new app, turn on the TV or login to Twitter when, of course, you'll come across chatter of the next big thing.

Want more? Contact or Follow us on Twitter @RheaKaiser.

Nuance – it’s the cake.

May 27, 2010

Maybe it's the times, maybe it's my age, maybe it's because I've had more downtime the last few weekends, but I've recently become an avid re-reader.

By definition, reread is a verb that means "read anew; read again." I like read anew because I'm finding that's exactly what the action of re-reading creates: an opportunity to interpret information in a new form or matter, which often leads to a deeper understanding of the content.

And that's what communicating today is all about, right? As professional communicators we must genuinely understand the messages we're communicating, why we're communicating them, to whom we're communicating, how and when.

At R+K, that starts with developing personas, or comprehensive profiles of individuals who represent our clients' distinct target audiences. We get to know our clients' current and prospective customers, literally on a first-name basis. How do they perceive themselves? What inspires them? Who influences them? Where do they go for information - online and off? Why?

We then use this knowledge - particularly the nuances we confirm or discover - to create and execute tailored communications strategies and initiatives that resonate with and motivate customers, and produce bottom line results for our clients.

We understand that nuance isn't icing anymore - it's the cake. And our best client partners understand that too.

Laura Schmidt is just one member of the R+K team who loves nuance. Contact her at Learn more about R+K at . Follow us on Twitter @RheaKaiser.

Ag Communication's Future

May 25, 2010

Agency overview

In this era of rapid change, we are reinventing core tenets of our business while fiercely guarding and enriching the assets that have propelled us forward for 32 years. In particular, the digital revolution has redefined the communications landscape and fundamentally altered how all of us consume information. It's not just about print ads and news releases anymore.

Rhea + Kaiser opened its doors as an agricultural advertising agency on May 1, 1978. Today, we are a full-service marketing communications agency with expertise in agriculture, equipment, home and garden, animal health and nutrition, healthcare and education. We're equally comfortable working in Milan, Tenn., or Milan, Italy - and everywhere in between.

New agency activities

The velocity of change we're encountering - and must affect - is occurring at warp speed. It's also driving two distinct initiatives at our agency.

First, we are expanding our digital competencies by creating a digital-centric culture. Digital is, literally, not a department at R+K. We operate under the premise that digital literacy must occur and be nurtured within everyone in the agency, regardless of level or job title, under the direction of a digital champion. Further, we recognize that not all digital is the same, which is why strategy and execution are assigned by areas of competency: Social media is managed through our public relations team, web development is driven by our creative department and search and digital display are the media team's responsibility. We love silos as much as the next ag agency, but you won't find any digital ones at R+K.

Second, R+K is conducting an agencywide process review designed to continue improving client service. Over a several-week period, each agency department mapped its current processes and identified obstacles to getting the work done. Now, we're in the process of overlaying learnings to ultimately keep, kill or evolve steps to enhance the efficiency and quality of our work. We have challenged individuals to give up comfort for quality, if necessary. What we're doing is the equivalent of a major manufacturer deconstructing its assembly line to determine how and where to gain efficiencies. We expect the outcomes to be equally as significant.

Future of agricultural communications

Before you can be optimistic about the future of agricultural communications, you have to be optimistic about the future of agribusiness. We are extremely bullish on agriculture - and think today is the most promising moment in the history of agriculture. A rapidly growing world population, a push to preserve natural resources and the imperative to get the most out of available farmland (whether from a crop or food animal perspective) all speak to what agriculture can deliver.

But it's critical that agriculture make its case to people - elected officials, policymakers, media and general consumers - who collectively know the least about farming, yet hold huge sway over our future. That's where agricultural communications comes in.

In the past few years, R+K has had the good fortune to hire young talent bursting with potential - people who will break new ground in understanding, motivating and communicating with the next generation of farmers. We're looking to those same people to take the message all the way through to the consumer.

By Diane Martin, VP/Director, Business Development

Is Earth Day really just a day?

May 11, 2010

At R+K, we think not. Yes, we celebrated the day on April 22, but we know that contributing to a healthy planet requires daily thought and effort. Thus, our agency-wide GreenWeek initiative designed to inspire our ranks to take a part-of-daily-life approach to going green.

GreenWeek, conceived and promoted by a group of earth-conscious R+Kers (aka The Green Team), consisted of daily e-newsletters, videos and other in-house efforts focused mostly on waste reduction and energy conservation. New recycle bins popped up in our kitchens. Signage appeared encouraging us to turn off our lights after meetings and before we go home. And we were encouraged to I really need to print that?

The week culminated with a party, of course, where teams - including URTH, Green Hornets, R+K Real Kermits and Old Poops - got inventive making sculptures out of trash. You'd be surprised by what a bunch of creative people can make out of garbage...see Exhibit A:

R+K GreenWeek. Fun, but important, stuff making an impact on how we as individuals and as a team contribute to keeping the earth healthy.

For more information, check out these interesting sites. And tell us more about how your teams are going green on the R+K Facebook page.

Home Energy Saver

U.S. Dept. of Energy

Are you listening?

April 26, 2010

One of the benefits of weeklong industry conferences (besides free beverage tickets) is that your mind often has a chance to wander and observe, bigger picture, your colleagues, clients and competitors in action.

During one of these moments at the 2010 Agri-Marketing Conference in Kansas City, I noticed that mobility isn't just the next new's how EVERYONE is doing business (or looking like they are). While sitting in a session watching 80 percent of the people use their PDAs, I recalled the countless conversations I've had about teens constantly texting. You know the commentary...

But how different is today's professional from today's teenager? During keynote sessions, on the trade show floor, in line at the Starbucks, during networking meetings in the lobby, waiting on the cab for dinner, even during dinner...EVERYONE was on their smart phone.

It begs the question, what are we doing? Checking and responding to email? Downloading that uber-important document? Re-tweeting a great blog post? Getting the latest from Huffington Post? Just looking busy?

What I didn't see was a lot of genuine listening. That eye-to-eye contact, close body language and copious note taking symbolic of a really juicy think session.

Now I'm not oblivious to the anomaly that is the "industry conference." We all do our thing at these things, but at R+K, we're constantly talking with our clients about the importance of listening, especially with the advent of social media and the insights such online platforms can provide into target audiences. We listen to each other, our clients, our clients' influencers and competitors, and our prospects. And yes, we use 21st century devices to do so, but we also listen to real people and we know when turning off our PDAs helps us turn on our ears and brains.

At the end of the day, we believe great idea making takes listening. It's how we truly understand what we're trying to communicate, why and to whom. So how about turning off your phone the next time you're supposed to be listening. Your ideas might surprise you...oh, and they'll give you something to text about.

Laura Schmidt is a member of the R+K public relations group. She loves listening to music, birds chirping in the springtime and to people - on and offline. Contact Laura at

Get ready to play R+K Q+A!

March 26, 2010

What's the longest recorded flight of a chicken? How many muscles does the average, garden-variety caterpillar have in its head? What's a flink?

If you're attending the 2010 Agri-Marketing Conference in Kansas City next month, you'll be able to answer questions like these when you PLAY R+K Q+A, a text-based fundraising promotion sponsored by Rhea + Kaiser. For every text received during the conference, R+K will make a donation to the Agri-Business Educational Foundation. You won't even have to be right for your text to count! And you'll be entered to win a super-duper prize.

Need some conditioning prior to the conference?

What's the longest recorded flight of a chicken? 13 seconds

How many muscles does the average, garden-variety caterpillar have in its head? 248

What's a flink? 12 or more cows

Answers provided by the USDA National Agricultural Library

R+K Q+A Official Rules

Toyota: A Cautionary Tale

February 08, 2010

On Friday, the Washington Post sent out an early morning news alert to report Toyota has formed a committee to examine problems that led to two safety recalls relating to accelerator pedals on some Toyota models.


Other news reports said much the same. After a two-week silence, a public battering by the media, and a recall that affects 8.1 million vehicles worldwide and could cost the company $2 billion in repairs and lost sales, Akio Toyoda (grandson of the company's founder) said, "I feel we are in stormy weather... (we) must regain customer trust."

My first thought was along the lines of, "No, ----, Sherlock."

My second: "Where is his public relations counsel?"

Of course, not even the best PR counsel can reverse time and undo the damage caused by inaction or the head-in-sand, hope-it-will-go-away syndrome. But what good PR advice can do is help a company navigate tricky communications channels to lessen the severity and length of negative publicity and, in some cases, keep an issue from becoming a crisis.

So, what's the difference between an issue and a crisis? Timing.

There are almost always warning signs that companies have an issue. Inspections show standards aren't being met, weak spots in protocols are ignored, problems aren't decisively addressed. For example, the Blakely, Ga., plant of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp of America, responsible for a 2008 salmonella outbreak in peanut butter that sickened 700 people and was linked to nine deaths, had a history of rodents, roaches, and sanitation issues according to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

Worst of all, records show the company had found salmonella in its products, but still sold them "a dozen times over two years."

Similar scenarios may or may not have played out in other recalls, including Toyota's, but many post-crisis reports or investigations reveal issues that were ignored or purposefully dismissed.

A communications crisis happens when issues become publicly known either because of accidents or outbreaks. When that happens, a company must address the internal problems and face the scrutiny of media, governments, consumers and employees. In an age of instant communications, a company often has hours-not days or weeks-to take decisive action and communicate that action if it hopes to minimize damage to its reputation and bottom line.

Preventive and proactive actions are your best course of action. Address issues as they arise, and if the worst happens, have a plan in place so you can respond in hours-not weeks.

This advice may seem obvious, but if a global company such as Toyota lacked a proactive plan, which others do, too?

Who needs Roger Ebert when we’ve got “Roger W.?”

January 27, 2010

So, I was channel surfing the other day and a TV spot for an upcoming new movie ("When in Rome") caught my attention. No, not because the movie looks charming enough (it does) or might be a nice diversion on a Saturday night (it could). What got my attention was that the ad featured positive reviews and quotes from "real people," supposedly posted on Facebook.

I'm sure this isn't a novel approach. But it struck me that in this new era of cynicism on steroids, your next-door neighbor might be the ultimate authority on matters of entertainment. Or local government. Or national security.

Who needs Roger Ebert when we've got "Roger W.?"

In fact, we have become so distrustful of powerful people, whether they be elected officials or Tiger Woods, that to hold power is a disadvantage. What really matters is what your best friend, or Commenter No. 8 on this morning's Facebook post, think.

The implications of this have already played out in the journalism world, where once-venerable news organizations have been scooped (literally and figuratively) by "citizen journalists" pumping out "news" via their bedroom computer. It is within this brave new world that a hoaxster masquerading as a CNN iReporter can post an item, unchecked and initially unverified, on CNN about the death of 15-year-old heartthrob Justin Bieber, and the tween world for a few days goes mad with speculation and panic. Calmer heads prevail after Justin tweets that he is, in fact, alive and MTV(!) confirms the good news under the headline "Justin Bieber: Not dead." Good times.

For those of us who toil in public relations, this topsy-turvy turn of events - where the power-brokers are persona non grata and the "unwashed masses" spout pearls of wisdom - poses some interesting challenges. When we pitch a media outlet, do we offer up the CEO or somebody who bought the company's product for the first time yesterday? When we craft recommendations for a speaking platform, do we suggest the Ph.D. project leader or a research intern who just joined the company and has a "fresh take?"

I'm being facetious (I think). We will eventually sort all of this out, ever-mindful that the rank-and-file more and more are the Ones Who Matter.

In the meantime, I guess the upside is that maybe we'll have to tolerate fewer "Best. Movie. Ever!" hyperbolic quotes from that local Fox affiliate critic in Albany.

Deron Johnson, R+K's VP, Director of Public Relations, is a former journalist who was never asked to confirm the veracity of a celebrity death report. He was, however, once assigned to look into the inner workings of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Time will tell if AG CONNECT Connects with Farmers

January 21, 2010

Is there room for another ag tradeshow? The folks at AEM think so. That's why they're banking on Ag Connect to become North America's true international ag show. Ag Connect appears patterned after AEM's widely popular CONEXPO and MINExpo shows. Many feel it's our answer to Europe's enormous Agritechnica show.

The Show Floor

As interested observers, R+K staffers Jim Haist and I attended the opening last week in Orlando. Temperature-wise, it felt like we never left Naperville. Mickey's ears must have gotten frost bite as the mercury dipped below 30 degrees.

Here's our take from the show:

Ag Connect resembled Commodity Classic-times-two more so than a mega-iron show. Crowd sizes seemed lighter and more geared to high-value prospects.

While the numbers of attendees were lower than expected, farmers there had good opportunity to ask questions of company reps, and many were taking advantage.

This was clearly an "iron" show, anchored by the usual players: Case IH, John Deere and AGCO. Each had different twists: Case IH's used live events, and multi-lingual presenters, that packed its booth with onlookers; AGCO parked its traveling road show at its booth; Deere took a more traditional approach and enjoyed steady crowds. An elevated classroom over a part of their display was an interesting idea.

Perhaps most unusual to what we're used to seeing at U.S. shows was the large number of unfamiliar names from overseas, most notably quite a few companies and distributors from China.

Several niche and short line equipment companies and engine manufacturers were prominent.

With crop input suppliers few and far between, Pioneer Hi-Bred's relatively small exhibit stood out to us.

Other players, such as soil nutrient suppliers and specialty tool makers, got better attention than they may have at larger shows.

All the exhibitors we talked to were most excited with the international customers and prospects they met with. This international reach is what many said will keep them coming back.

As with any event, what's most interesting are the people you meet. For us, one such person was Troy, a mid-sized farmer with a big-scale custom operation. Right after spring planting, this Midwest based farmer runs a custom forage cutting operation stretching from his home to Florida. And he takes the scenic route.

He roads much of his convoy of heavy equipment cross country. While the view from the cab may be nice, a road speed of 30 mph gives new meaning to the term "Are we there yet?" For his crew's sake, we're hoping he opted up for the XM radio.

Meanwhile, AEM, as well as its 300 exhibitors, are hoping to see operators like this custom harvester and many more of his friends - at next year's show in Atlanta.

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