Did Obama or Your Boss Overstay Summer Vacation?

[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

Every August, millions of Americans take vacations. And every year, the most powerful of them, their president, takes a lot of heat just for taking his—and also for where he goes. Powerful business executives, too, take hits for their choice and length of retreat.
Continue Reading →

Our Multi Multicultural Awards

The Pittsburgh office of @havaspr has won its 18th award over the past four years for work on Transitions Optical’s multicultural program. The latest is a Golden World from the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) for community relations, in the agency category. (All four entries we submitted were named finalists.) When research our agency initiated showed that African Americans are at greater risk for eye damage linked to UV exposure, we recommended a partnership with the National Council of Negro Women to help educate the community about their risks. Among other successes, our 2013 research showed a 29 percent increase over our 2011 study in the number of African Americans who understood that their ethnicity could put them at higher risk for eye health issues. More than 300 Golden World entries meant that the contest, according to IPRA’s president, was “particularly tough this year.”

How Using My Brain Has Helped It Heal

[Originally posted on the Huffington Post.]

As we approached Brain Tumor Awareness Month (it’s every May), I had coincidentally been posting about my own repeated misadventures in and recent return visit to brain tumor land. Some of what I wrote or tweeted about might have sounded a bit crotchety (the stress of having to negotiate with insurance companies and my confusion about mankind in general, for instance) or odd (admitting that I was coping with stress and lack of control by watching videos of brain surgeries on a questionable Indian hospital website), but it could have been worse.

Just as I found out, strangely, that dealing with surgery to remove a meningioma and the subsequent recovery is harder for me with a family than when I was on my own, I’ve also become grateful that I can use my brain during this period instead of simply resting. The National Brain Tumor Society notes that for people who do choose to return to work, “the challenges … can help you move ahead on the road to recovery.”

Work gives me a focus, a framework, a welcome distraction—especially the work that feels good. One of the main projects helping me heal after my second craniotomy (the first was nearly six years ago) is to bring some healing to the families of the Sandy Hook tragedy. More than that: I credit this work with inspiring my recovery.

My agency, Havas PR North America, has gotten involved with the Emilie Parker Art Connection, founded by the family of one of the young victims. Newtown struck close to home—my partner, Jim, and I also live in a supposedly safe Connecticut community—and it’s a cause I would have been glad to wholeheartedly support under any circumstances. But with everything going on in my head this winter and spring, I threw myself into it as deeply as possible.

The Parker family and others needed my skill set and connections to the media, and I needed them: The still-active aftermath of Sandy Hook galvanized me to push myself to recover faster to help them, and I gave them the redoubled efforts of a PR pro who was extra determined not to let a personal setback stand in her way. I even persuaded Jim to stop at Havas’s Wilton, Conn., office on the way home from Massachusetts General Hospital two days after surgery so that I could see the team building the new Emilie Parker Art Connection website.

To be sure, I could have thrown myself into any number of projects at work or at home: I’ve always been an overachiever—a type A-plus (and as Jim will attest, I am understating my intensity)—and have always had trouble sitting still. I don’t know what to do with a hammock. More likely, show me a hammock on a Thursday and by Tuesday I’ll be importing hammocks and selling them to raise money for a Latin American village.

So taking a break from work just didn’t make sense. What would I do? Who would I be if I did nothing, even for a day? For me, clock watching isn’t being. I had done that for 19 hours in the ICU, and even there I monitored my BlackBerrys (yes, plural) relentlessly, provided unsolicited commentary to the Roman Catholic Church on its choice of a new leader and obsessed on the state of news coverage. Staying home and resting would have meant, well, just more time to watch those gruesome Indian videos.

Even though my surgery was a little over two months ago and I’m still technically on medical leave (I’m feeling much better, but the headaches can be paralyzing), I’m working as hard as ever. And thank heavens for that. Although the tumor has zapped my organizational skills, like the last time my entrepreneurial skills today (in addition to my hair) are intact and my media relations and negotiating skills are superlative.

A lifelong catnapper increasingly afflicted with insomnia, I pass the early morning hours thinking about new-business proposals, which relaxes me. When it was time to get the 50 sutures removed from my scalp, a procedure that could have been uncomfortable (to use one of the medical profession’s favorite euphemisms), I was so distracted by client emails and budget proposals that I didn’t even realize when the doctor was done.

About a week after surgery, in a moment of subtle levity (and clarity), I told Jim, who had by then returned to his classroom obligations at the University of Arizona, about an excursion I was making. I might have let him hear “CVS” instead of “CBS.” So while he thought I was headed to the drugstore, I was instead at an inspiring CBS shoot with the amazing Parker family in Newtown as they told the story of their 100-day journey since the tragedy. (I bribed Jim’s son to chauffeur me.)

And as with the Parkers and their eye on the future—on creating a legacy for Emilie and working toward a goal of stopping more senseless tragedies—my post-surgery clarity has led me to want to advocate for a better story for others. I was vigilant about getting regular scans after my first meningioma was successfully removed, so when my symptoms returned and then worsened, I dismissed them because my radiologists had given me the all clear. Three times. But they were obviously wrong. So I am here to passionately encourage listening to what your brain is saying and feeling, and to get a second opinion if you want to be sure.

No matter the trauma you face—and we all will, because life is never trauma-free—never underestimate the power of hard work, or working hard at your passion, to heal.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Ars Electronica]

Music to Our Ears

One way we’re remembering wounded warriors this Memorial Day is through celebrating their victories since they’ve returned home. We pitched a story that appeared yesterday in The Washington Times about Musicorps, one of the many organizations funded by grants from our longtime pro bono client the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Tim Devaney’s story in The Times tells about some veterans whose rehabilitation includes Musicorps’ musical training, including Marine Cpl. Todd Love, who lost his left arm and both legs in Afghanistan. With the help of Musicorps, says the article, Love, who first played as a kid, can now play piano better one-handed than many amateur musicians can play with two. And if you missed it in November, check out some of Musicorps’s members playing with Roger Waters at the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s Stand Up for Heroes event.

We’re Breathing Change

New business is what makes us very happy, because it is brainfood for the mind and soul. So we’ve been pigging out in February, a month of intensive learning, with topics ranging from music to advocacy, NGOs to personal care (all our new wins are confidential, but think pharma and cause). If you don’t love change, this isn’t the business for you. Our global leadership meeting a couple of weeks ago even gave us a rallying cry: “Change faster.” Buckle your seat belts.

12 Days of Havas: Bob Woodruff Foundation

Each year as my family sits around the dinner table at the holidays, my father, a Vietnam veteran, takes a moment to remember our troops. It’s always a special reminder about how lucky we are to be celebrating the holidays with our family and that it is in huge part thanks to the men and women of our military who have given up that opportunity in order to fight for our country.

Since joining Havas PR nearly three years ago, I have been lucky to work on a lot of the agency’s special events, and I have taken the lead role on many of our cause initiatives. One of my favorite projects has been helping the Bob Woodruff Foundation with its annual Stand Up for Heroes, which honors veterans and service members and raises awareness and funds for programs that help them.

Before working with the foundation, I was like everyone else: I got teary watching Internet videos of soldiers returning home to their families, I shook my head when hearing the number of soldiers injured while serving our country, and I couldn’t believe the staggering percentage of warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress (one in three!). But unless you know someone directly affected by these wars, this information doesn’t quite seem real.

As part of our work this year, I met absolutely incredible people who, despite all that they have sacrificed, still have a smile on their face. Like Aaron Mankin, a Marine who was severely burned during an IED attack. I listened to Aaron bravely tell his story with a little bit of humor, letting everyone know that although he might look different on the outside, deep down he’s still pretty much the same guy he was before he went to Iraq.

This is why, when my colleague Jay Williams created the idea of the 12 Days of Havas, an initiative during which the Havas PR team will donate time to charitable causes leading up to the launch of our new digital publishing venture, 120M Books, and its first e-book, I immediately called our friends at the Bob Woodruff Foundation to find out how we could help.

The team from the foundation visited our offices and explained that they need our help transforming their social media presence with their new branding and also need ideas for keeping up the social media momentum they receive surrounding Stand Up for Heroes. Having recently been through our own rebranding, we worked with them to develop a plan to incorporate their new branding on their existing Facebook and Twitter accounts. We also strategized ways for them to increase their SoMe footprint and suggested potential content ideas that would take them through the entire year.

If you want to help the Bob Woodruff Foundation with its mission to support injured service members, please click here.

[photo: courtesy of the Bob Woodruff Foundation]

12 Days of Havas: Home Base Program

When we were bouncing around ideas for our holiday initiative, one thing we really wanted to achieve was not only working on programs that represent our corporate values but also spreading our wings to work on projects that our staff are passionate about.

Havas PR has been committed to supporting the military and our veterans for years—so much so that we don’t just consider ourselves to have a cause marketing practice but also a service marketing practice. We have accomplished lots of award-winning work with Heroes at Home, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Home Base Program of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General, so it was only natural to work with some of those groups for the 12 Days of Havas, too.

With nearly 300,000 (about 20 percent) of all military service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan reporting post-traumatic stress or major depression symptoms, it is clear that we as a nation need to do more to help our heroes integrate back into their communities and families. That is one of the reasons we are so thrilled to be working with the Home Base Program.

Home Base provides care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have combat- or deployment-related stress or traumatic brain injury. One of the things that differentiates this organization is that it goes beyond job creation and reintegration goals and provides much-needed support to the families who struggle with the effects of this stress.

My husband was recently away for work for nearly a month, and I found it incredibly hard to balance work and motherhood without his support. I simply cannot fathom the sacrifices that the families of service members make. A month pales in comparison with deployment, not to mention the potential that your partner could return changed forever, or worse. So the Home Base Program’s focus on helping soldiers successfully return to their family life, job, school and community really struck a chord with me.

Through the 12 Days of Havas, we have put ourselves out there to tackle any task—whether immediate or forward-looking, strategizing, developing campaigns, doing media support, pitching, monitoring, measuring, creating social media or other content, or even physically helping out. As our resident social media maven, I was happily tapped for Home Base to help it develop a social media program for a major fall fundraising event. With limited details locked in this far out, we provided social media training and strategic recommendations that the Home Base team can use starting in January and taking them through 2013.

Designed to leverage the organization’s existing social media footprint on Twitter and Facebook to publicize the event, the plan gives a content calendar complete with tiered sample messaging to help drum up support for what is slated to be a fantastic event for a truly special cause.

To see how you can contribute to the Home Base Program, check out its website. And, of course, look out for the big event next fall.

12 Days of Havas: Ronald McDonald House

I have been volunteering with children’s charities in New York City for almost a decade, but none has touched me as much as my recent visits to the Ronald McDonald House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Founded in 1978, the Ronald McDonald House of New York provides temporary housing for pediatric cancer patients and their families receiving treatment in the New York City area. It’s the largest facility of its type in the world. I have participated in various volunteering events at the house in the past few months, and I know that the dedication and love I’ve seen from this organization will deeply touch anyone who comes into contact with the staff, volunteers, and, of course, the wonderful and brave kids staying there.

The facility is amazing. The Ronald McDonald House of New York has a state-of-the-art computer room, a comfy TV and movie room, professional murals on every wall, daily activities from cooking classes to arts and crafts, and a full gourmet kitchen and dining room. The staff wants the kids staying here to feel special, and it shows from the minute you enter. So I was thrilled when we chose the house for one of our 12 Days of Havas.

The house can accommodate 83 families, and it is filled to capacity almost every night. Its location in Manhattan, close to 12 major cancer treatment centers, draws children and families from across the country and the world, as well as from the metropolitan New York City area. The Ronald McDonald House supports each family and coordinates emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and companionship for parents struggling with their child’s cancer diagnosis. It never charges families more than $35 per night, which includes room and board, all meals and daily activities. Individuals, foundations and corporations support the house.

November 2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the Ronald McDonald House of New York. Since its opening, more than 30,000 families have stayed there. Havas PR’s assignment for the 12 Days of Havas is to brainstorm big ideas on how to celebrate this milestone. The house’s staff is looking for ideas that would incorporate a grand celebration event and ongoing marketing initiatives that could run all year. It would also like to tap into its celebrity supporters and get them involved as much as possible to generate additional publicity for the anniversary.

Havas PR will be conducting brainstorming meetings over the next week to generate ideas that are sure to bring great publicity around the anniversary. Initial ideas include getting the first families who were in the house 35 years ago back for the anniversary, providing VIP tours and housing for top media to experience the Ronald McDonald House first hand, and launching the anniversary with a full week of celebrity parties and consumer events.

We are excited to be working on this assignment for the Ronald McDonald House of New York and being part of the ongoing planning of the 2013 anniversary. I hope everyone gets a chance one day to volunteer at this amazing place.

[photo: Ronald McDonald House]