The Midwest is More Sustainable Than You Think

Folks sometimes think the Midwest region is a little slow to adopt sustainable practices but we’re going to share links and information that undercuts that assumption and proves the Midwest is more far more sustainable and forward than you might think.

I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a guided tour of the Johnson County Community College Center for Sustainability with the Executive Director for the center and Professor of History, Dr. Jay Antle.  Antle’s specialization is American Environmental History.  I first learned about the JCCC Center for Sustainability on the JCCC television station.  I caught an hour-plus long documentary on the origin of the center and was truly blown away by the commitment and achievements of Dr. Antle and the team at JCCC.  But don’t trust me for the data, you can view their dashboard for data on how they reduce their carbon footprint, every day.  For example, JCCC has composted 636708.2 lbs of food waste since 2011.  That composting practice enables them to save $17,509 in trash costs on an annual average basis.

But their sustainability efforts do not end there.  Under Dr. Antle’s direction, the JCCC Center for Sustainability spearheads and supports many sustainable projects on campus from the art competition to the Galileo’s Pavilion.

GalileoPavillion.JCCC.2019

Dr. Antle walked me all over campus and led me to the 3,000 square foot building that houses two classrooms, a lounge and exhibition/display space, and was built with a goal of achieving LEED platinum certification.  The gray slate that covers the outside of the building is actually recycled chalkboards and the building incorporates energy-saving features as photovoltaic solar panels on the roof; a small, 2-kilowatt wind turbine; LED lighting; sedum rooftop plants and a rain-collecting cistern that are being used to water living walls of plants on the north sides of both classrooms as well as the lounge.

LivingWall.JCCC.GalileoPavillion.2019

Could not help but wonder why we don’t hear more (we all live in our own bubbles in this digital age, don’t we?) about the great work Dr. Antle and his team are doing at JCCC and my deep dive into sustainable businesses in Kansas City revealed a number of opportunities and bright companies that exceeded my expectations.

We already work with fellow, eco-minded businesses like HKN Design that uses recycled drum drops to create their own original designs exclusively from exotic hardwood veneers and drum set shells here in Kansas City.  Each piece of material is a remnant from the handcrafted wooden shells (handcrafted specifically for drummers and musicians worldwide) and is rife with shell grain patterns the HKN Design meticulously matches for optimal finish and aesthetic appeal.

HKN Design is a team of mother and daughter designing, creating and inspiring. With backgrounds as a professional drummer/graphic designer and architect, they are uniquely skilled and committed to sustainable design.  We have worked on a number of collaborations with them and we’re very excited to roll out a new lighting design in the summer of 2019.

HKNDesign.MirroredFrame.wMoss.CLOSEVIEW

My deep dive led me to Bridging the Gap, an organization founded in 1992 that (and winner of numerous awards)  works to make the Kansas City region sustainable by “connecting environment, economy and community,” and providing environmental education and volunteer action through more than 1,500 volunteers annually.  Needless to say, we will become members.

I also found Naturally KC is a Kansas City-based naturally minded website, blog, local business directory, and community.  In their words, “naturally minded means you are conscious of the products you use, the food you put into your body, and the way that you live. Naturally minded can look different to each individual.” Naturally KC, established in 2017, has since morphed into Sage + Frank  and the brain and design talent behind Sage + Frank is Brittney Miller and I love her statement:

“I work with determined people who are dedicated to themselves and their business – people have a deeper purpose than turning a profit.”

-Brittney Miller of Sage + Frank

The next step on my journey was the City of Kansas City and KC Green and I learned a few things I already knew like, “The City of Kansas City, Mo. takes a view of sustainability which incorporates green programs into a broader triple bottom line approach that simultaneously promotes social equity, economic vitality, and environmental quality.”

The City of KCMO also provides tips for green practices for home and office as well as resources and links to publications including Greenability Magazine.  Greenability connects readers to greener lifestyle opportunities through news, events, resources, products, services, and ideas.  Founded in 2007 as a bi-monthly subscription magazine by publisher Julie Koppen, Greenability transitioned in 2015 to a more sustainable media for connecting with readers.

And remember, we are part of the larger, Midwest Region and to my delight, I found the Midwest Sustainability Summit coming up in June in Cinncinnatti, Ohio.  Here’s the skinny:

Green Umbrella (GU) is partnered with the City of Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Economic Inclusion, the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University, Hamilton County Planning and Development and the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council to present a daylong conference to share the latest ideas and best practices in environmental sustainability on a regional level. This year’s Summit will look deeper at the issue of resilience while also focusing on environmental sustainability.

“A key initiative of the City of Cincinnati’s Green Cincinnati Plan, the Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit inspires a collaborative culture of new thinking and unconventional ideas that pushes change in unexpected ways.” 

The 2019 Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit will bring stakeholders throughout the Ohio Valley region and adjoining areas to exchange together to discuss and promote best practices, provoke thoughtful discussion, celebrate the work that is currently being done throughout the Midwest.  They will also continue to identify models for future regional collaboration that can be replicated throughout the United States. The Summit attracts participation from across the Midwest including Dayton, Louisville, Lexington, Cleveland, Columbus, and Indianapolis.  Consider me attracted. 

Unlike many conferences and green product shows, the Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit is priced for the average bear with registration starting at just $45 ($15 for students).  The keynote speaker is Andrew Winston, author of Green to Gold.  There is still plenty of time to register and find someone from the KC area with whom to carpool and share gas.

Last but not least and though the post is from 2018, I love that Rubicon Global put together a list of sustainable small businesses in every state (please do that again this year!).  If you don’t know Rubicon Global, they are a technology company that powers a digital marketplace, provides a suite of SaaS products for waste, recycling, and smart city solutions, and collects and analyzes data for businesses and governments worldwide.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print from so-called “flyover country” aka the Midwest Region.  Three cheers for all the great, green and sustainable businesses (large and small) because together, we are, making a difference.

As Always, Yours in the Love of All Things Green,

Kasey at The Fat Plant Society

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Green Walls in Schools: Beyond Health Benefits and Into Curriculum

You have likely seen at least one article on why moss is highly beneficial for the home and for the workplace but we’d like to share why green walls aka moss walls (see our previous post on the differences between the types of green walls)make excellent sense for schools and other educational environments and we’ll go a little further than the stress and psychological benefits–in fact, green walls can be the foundation for project-based curriculum and other learning opportunities.

We were over the moon and crazy-excited to find this superior article by fellow midwestern folk on the benefits of plant life/green walls in educational environments. Michael B. McCullough, Michael D. Martin and Mollika A. Sajady in their superior perspective article, put it simply and succinctly, “Green walls have the potential to inspire critical thinking through a combination of project-based learning strategies and environmental education.”

Wait. What?  So beyond the benefits that we already know and list for you below, there are numerous learning opportunities when greenery is introduced into the learning environment.  In fact, the authors of this great piece have outlined a curriculum that incorporates project-based learning modules that interact with the wall.

“In conjunction with the passive health benefits of a green wall, project-based curriculum models can connect students interactively with indoor nature and have the potential to inspire real-world thinking related to science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics fields within the indoor learning environment. Through a combination of these passive and interactive modes, students are connected to nature in the indoor environment regardless of weather conditions outdoors.”

Source: Implementing Green Walls in SchoolsMichael B. McCullough1*Michael D. Martin2 and Mollika A. Sajady3

Well, that just makes sense.  Who doesn’t remember rainy or cold and snowy days when recess was held indoors and we were relegated to the classroom with maybe one philodendron on the teacher’s desk as the only green life in the room?

So in addition to making recess more fun and healthy, there are also ample STEM and STEAM learning opportunities.  For those of you unfamiliar with STEAM, it adds the wonders of art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math learning programs.  And as Biomimicry expert, Jamie Miller noted in a recent TEDTalk in Collingswood, “Dell put out a study last year saying that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030, do not exist today. There’s a huge transformation taking place and the next generation will actually be building the next economy. So I inspire that next generation to start thinking about their philosophies.”

Many educators have embraced both STEM and STEAM and the forward-thinking educators are thinking in terms of project-based, hands-on curriculum centered on the design of the classroom (or school as a whole) setting.

“It’s already been proven that being in the presence of plants can increase memory retention by around 20%, as well as improving people’s performance in a series of basic tests. This is thought to be due to the fact that their leaves and stems can absorb, deflect, and retract background noise, such as exterior traffic, children playing in the playground, and people talking in corridors.”

Source: The Benefits of Plants in Schools and Educational Facilities by phs.Greenleaf out of the U.K.

And here is where we explain that our moss walls function like plants.  Though the moss we use (harvested in North Carolina and Kentucky) is preserved and dormant, it still absorbs both noise and air pollution and is maintenance free (no watering or misting ever needed).

And because moss covers a greater area (in terms of square footage), it actually absorbs as much noise and air pollution as hundreds of plants.  The photo below aptly illustrates how that is possible.

The benefits of moss do not end with reduced noise and air pollution though, so we rely on the work and research of others to substantiate the statement that moss is very, very good for your health and for learning.

Benefits

Improves classroom performance

The lovely folks at phs Greenleaf in the U.K. spell out for us what happens when just three plants are introduced into a learning environment.  Student performance in spelling, math, reading and science improved by over 10% (a significant increase for those of us familiar with curriculum development and learning research).

researcher in Taiwan found similar positive effects from greenery in the classroom.  K.T. Han used surveys every two weeks to assess students’ emotions. He also collected objective information on students’ academic performance, health, and behavior and found that students in the experimental classroom (where plants were introduced) had significantly higher scores than the “control” classroom in terms of preference, comfort, and friendliness.  Additionally, those in the experimental classroom had higher test scores on academic measures than those in the other classroom.

In addition to serving as a filter for distracting background noise, another explanation for why plant life can improve student classroom performance is because moss reduces levels of CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds in the air). Studies explicate that students exposed to high levels, this can experience headaches, dizziness, and tiredness, all of which impact a student’s ability to concentrate and focus.  And speaking of focus…

Reduces “directed-attention” fatigue

So this is cool–way back in the 1970s, USDA Forest Service provided funding for research on the effects of an outdoor challenge program in the wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That research spurred a series of investigations with findings that have influenced a generation of environmental psychologists.

“What grew out of that work was the influential theory of restorative environmentsoutlined in such books as “With People in Mind: Design and Management for Everyday Nature” (Island Press, 1998). Drawing on William James’s distinction, between two kinds of attention, which they refer to as directed attention and fascination, the Kaplans [Rachel Kaplan, PhD and Stephen Kaplan, PhD) argue that using too much of the former can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility, and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state.”

Source: Green is Good for You by Rebecca A. Clay. April 2001, Vol 32, No. 4

Reduces anxiety and stress

Introducing greenery to an environment reduces feelings of tension and anxiety by around 37%,  and anger by 44%. 

We are all quite aware that frequent, high levels of stress can have a negative effect on a person’s health and well-being, from causing headaches, fatigue and general aches and pains (which can impact your productivity by making you feel generally unwell), to making you feel more sad, fearful, and irritable.

The cool kids at phs Greenleaf recommend introducing Lemon Balm, Haworthia, and the Snake Plant to classrooms and school hallways.  These are excellent recommendations but be aware that plants (in comparison to moss) do require maintenance whereas moss does not and moss will retain its color for at least ten years, if not longer.

Fewer sick days/illnesses

So we already know that greenery in schools and other educational environments will reduce the CO2 levels in the building, which reduces the likelihood of teachers and students experiencing unwanted side effects, such as headaches (Yes, yes, we are obsessed with headaches since 38 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from migraines or some kind of chronic headache).  We know from a Norwegian study by Fjeld in 2002 that introducing potted plants to classrooms reduced the amount of sickness-related absences amongst primary school students and we know from our own experience of introducing moss in an environment not only reduces migraine attacks, it also increases humidity in the environment, making it more healthy overall.

And it’s not just us.  Taiwanese researcher K. T. Han also found that students in the classroom with plants had significantly fewer sick leave hours and punishment records than students in the regular classroom.

But let us be clear—we are not suggesting that a moss wall is the complete and total solution for improving and enhancing learning environments.  In fact, we underscore and applaud the work of Oliver Heath out of the U.K.  He has shared a fantastic case study on The Garden School, Hackney in which he explains his holistic approach to creating a nature-enhanced, optimal learning environment.  Heath introduced natural wood in hectagon shapes along with multi-sensory features with which the students can interact.  Highly recommend you watch the video and read the case study on The Garden School, it’s inspiring.

So inspiring that we are planning an imaginary “bio-dinner” with Oliver Heath, Jamie Miller, Janine Benyus, Anna Lappe, Woody Harrelson, and, of course, Willie Nelson.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  And after dinner, there will be dancing.

As Jamie Miller suggests, “start to dance with nature, start to figure out how to leverage nature and participate with nature, in harmony.”

Great suggestion Jamie.  We’re excited to keep learning.  And we’re ready to dance.

As Ever, Yours in the Love of Learning and All Things Green.

Kasey and Morten

The Fat Plant Society 

Voice, Statement & Ritual: A Preamble to the AMA-Wichita September 2018 Luncheon

Next month I will be talking to you, the wonderful folks of the AMA_Wichita Chapter and we’ll be talking about finding your voice–authentic writing to engage and retain readers.  So in advance of that, I thought I would share why you need to write for yourself, the leeway you may have in creating or editing your org’s editorial mission statement and what it takes in terms of your schedule to produce good writing.  Lastly, I will recommend developing habits and rituals that will enable authentic writing and make the process go more quickly and easily.

Why You Need to Develop Your Own, Authentic Voice (even under the constraints of your organizational brand) 

IMG_2321I love the way Joshua Poh explains it in his post, “As A Content Marketer, You Also Need To Write For Yourself. Here’s Why:” 

Mr. Poh openly addresses the constraints we all face when developing content for a brand.  I own my own company and it’s still a challenge to keep in line with the brand I developed and retain an authentic voice.  What tends to happen is what Joshua Poh describes:

“You change the way you normally say things, because you know saying things the way you want to won’t get approved by your editor.

Keep it going long enough and the craft of writing turns from something you use as self-expression, to something you dread because you’re always trying to sell something.

Or after a while, you feel yourself starting to coast.

Your writing gets lazy.”

Joshua Poh, Startup Marketer, Photographs Life, Documenting his journey of reading and writing to learn more about the world and himself.

Sounds a little familiar, yes?

And when we meet on September 20, we will delve into how to develop and/or retain that authentic voice that readers will want to return to again and again.  For now, let’s examine the organization’s editorial statement.

Editorial Mission Statement 

If you don’t have one, that’s great because you, as a top writer, can easily craft an editorial mission statement that will enable you to be authentic and adhere to the brand voice at the same time.  As Kane Jamison (Founder and Managing Director of Content Harmony) writes, “Content that’s not backed by an editorial mission statement is a bit like a ship without a compass.”

cropped-corona21.jpgEven if you are a team of one, as I am (often) that editorial mission statement is incredibly valuable to return to regularly to remind yourself of where you are going.  You wouldn’t go for a long walk in the woods by yourself without a compass (or a phone with a compass and GPS), would you?

Ann Gynn, (Editor of the Content Marketing Institute Blog) reminds us…”there’s an art to crafting editorial mission statements, and not everyone gets it right. Many statements lack sufficient detail – or offer too many details – to be useful.”

The goal then is that “just right” amount of words that address and remind the writer:

  1. who the readers are using specific rather than vague adjectives e.g. “value quality of life” is vague but “eco-minded” is specific.  Refer to those killer buyer personas you’ve created.
  2. what you want to accomplish when with the content
  3. to leverage your differentiation–that thing that sets your organization apart from competitors

If the editorial mission statement is already in place, then remind yourself that it is an ever-evolving document and it’s probably a good time to dust it off and freshen it up.

With the editorial mission statement all shiny and in place, you can now turn your attention to your schedule.

Set Aside Concentrated Blocks of Time to Write 

Let’s start with the fact that good writing, humorous or otherwise, requires time and concentration.  Even if you have never seen an episode of Seinfeld (Gasp–you have NEVER seen Seinfeld? You need to change that!), you know Jerry Seinfeld (right?), so take a gander at the process he and Larry David used:

Jerry_Seinfeld_2011_Shankbone“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99.9 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

-Jerry Seinfeld

 

Clock.KLRI will go into much greater detail about the vital importance of setting aside concentrated blocks of time to write when I talk to AMA_Wichita in person but for now, suffice it to say that trying to squeeze in time to write between meetings simply is not a good writing process.  It also tends to make the process much more stressful than it needs to be.

Please remember that what you do, as a writer is very important.  And if you or the members of your team need a reminder of how important it is, let me remind you by sharing David Dodd’s stats from the article “Written Content Still Matters.

Dodd writes, …”in a recent survey of business executives by Grist, the three most preferred content formats were:

  1. Short articles (800 words)
  2. Blog posts (300-500 words)
  3. Feature articles (1,200+ words)
In the 2018 content preferences survey by Demand Gen Report, survey participants were asked to select the types of content they find most valuable during the early, mid, and late stages of the buying process. Across all three stages, respondents identified thirteen types of valuable content, and all but three were text-based formats.

Writing Rituals are Your Best Friend 

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My Best Friend and Part of My Ritual

Lastly (for now anyway), I am going to recommend you develop a set of rituals to accompany your writing process.  For me, rituals put me in the ideal mindset for writing and when I adhere to them, they actually help to take some of the anxiety out of that dang blinking cursor and boost my confidence.  Think rituals are silly?  Okay, then refer to it as a healthy habit.  There is actually scientific data that supports that rituals and/or habits can be extremely effective in helping you achieve a goal.  In the Scientific American article titled, Why Rituals WorkWhy Rituals Work, Francesca Gina writes:

“Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”

I will be sharing my personal rituals with you all in person and I will ask you to do the same but in the meantime, take a look at the rituals of highly successful bloggers and entrepreneurs (you know, those people who have the luxury of writing for a living and having that be their sole focus).

AMA-Wichita, I am very much looking forward to meeting with you all in person next month to delve deeper into the how to write authentically to engage and retain.  Please come armed with questions, suggestions, frustrations, and, of course, your writing rituals (or habits).

See you all on September 20, 2018.

Yours in the love of the written word,

-KLR

How to Find Your Voice and Take the Struggle Out of Writing

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking at AMA_Iowa at their Experience conference on February 23, 2018, to a room full of attentive, enthusiastic marketers who asked some really great questions after my presentation.  I’ll get to those great questions but first, let’s do a quick run through of my tips for Finding Your Voice: Writing Authentically to Engage and Retain.  

What you need to know about me, and my presentation is that I am not prescribing a singular method for the authentic writing process.  What I do recommend, however, is that you develop your own process that is just yours and own that process.  Like just about everything, we get better through practicing and honing a specific methodology.  Mine involves setting aside an entire day for writing so I can give that writing the love and care it deserves.

KLR.AMA.IowaExperience

If you are anything like me, you feel pretty overwhelmed much of the time as you work to keep up with the moving target of content marketing, let alone data analytics and sometimes you want to put your head in your hands and cover your ears with headphones blaring Rage Against the Machine.

There is no way anyone can keep up with all of the information promulgated so we all have to learn to be selective, to trust our instincts, and find the content that truly captures us.  

Here are my five tips for finding your voice and writing content that is not only educational and informational but authentic engaging as well.

  1. Make writing a part of your life. Writing should not be that last, hurried thing you have to do before the end of the week.  That’s why my writing day is Tuesday.  By writing on Tuesday, I have time to let my writing season and simmer.

    No more than one would throw all of the ingredients for chili into a pot and eat it right away, good writing needs time to season and simmer.  At AMA_KC, we got to laughing about how nobody likes “bad chili.”  Good content needs to simmer.

    By letting it simmer, I can step away from it and come back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh(er) perspective and then make the necessary edits.  It also helps to get a neato little notebook so when you have a stroke of genius or even a passing thought that could become a killer blog post, you can write it down by hand, which also matters and helps the brain to help you become a better writer.

  2. To be heard above the noise, you must be compelling and to be compelling is to be vulnerable.  No one likes any person, personality, or business that purports that they are perfect and invulnerable.  To be vulnerable is to be human and we all trust the organizations and people that admit when they’ve made a mistake, that cop to being afraid and worried at times, and that express their humanity.

  3. Hone your tone. It is hard to be an authentic and compelling writer without being a good listener.  I’ve always felt the authentic voice comes from the authentic person so I ask a lot of questions of everyone I communicate with throughout a given week and I listen carefully to the answers.  Invariably, because I am listening, I learn something and get inspired by others which I then use as writing fodder.  And ask yourself, is this how I talk?  If the answer is no, it probably isn’t an authentic piece of writing.

  4. Consume content and make connections.  Be an interdisciplinary thinker.  The world is more interdisciplinary than ever before and studying and learning outside the realm of marketing is incredibly valuable.  Consume content is not marketing content.  

I consume my content on long walks so my advice to take a long walk in the woods is advice that I adhere to as well.  It is incredibly helpful and taking the time to listen to content while walking seems to open up my mind and enable me to make connections in a way I am just not able to do while sitting at my desk.

 

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Listen to podcasts but podcasts are, of course, just one form of content.  If reading is your thing, then read and pick up magazines and articles you might not normally read.  I cannot tell you the wealth of ideas (and knowledge) I gain by reading Omni Magazine.  Before you contradict me and tell me that Omni Magazine went out of print in the 90s, check again.  They just quietly relaunched a quarterly publication that is worth a review, as is Scientific American. I love learning about science (because I am not a scientist) and making connections between science, marketing, and business.

5. Find the thread and headline last. One of the benefits of making writing a part of your life is that you now have the time to go back and revisit a mediocre piece of writing, find the thread, improve the piece and then last, but not least, write that killer headline that will capture readers far and wide.

So back to those two of those questions have stayed with me—the first of those questions was how to straddle and balance the need for an authentic voice with the established brand identity of the organization.

In simpler terms, how do I write for my organization and still sound like a human being and not a brand robot?

My answer lies in the creative brief.  We all know this tool is ideal for working with clients and solving problems but it can be effectively repurposed as a tool for finding your voice that not only aligns with the organization brand but enhances it greatly.  I highly recommend developing a creative brief that marries your voice with that of your organization.

The other question from the session that stuck with me was how to enhance and expand on content when you run out of words or when the topic has been hashed and rehashed.  The answer to that lies in creating your own content library.  My Gmail account is my content library and at any given moment I can search for the emails I have sent myself and scroll through them to find an ideal argument (or better yet, counter-argument) for the topic I am writing about and I manage it like a librarian.

Kansas_City_Public_Library

Lastly, and certainly not least, I remind you, the gentle reader, to make writing a part of your life.  Writing matters and your words deserve that much love and attention.

Yours in authenticity,

-KLR

Making Connections: A Step by Step Guide to Curating Content for a Killer Blog

This post is a deep dive into slide 9 of my presentation titled, “Finding Your Voice: How to Write Authentically to Engage and Retain.  For those of you attending the upcoming AMA Iowa conference on February 23, 2018, I will be delivering that presentation and this post is the “Extended Version,” of Slide 9, not unlike an extended LP or EP in music.

Slide 9 is titled “Make Connections.”  That’s easy to advise and much harder to do so let’s take a look at the actual process for making connections with relevant and tangential topics as well as authors who may not be well known or even consider themselves “authors” and why making connections will make you a better, and more engaging writer.

If you are anything like me, you feel pretty overwhelmed much of the time as you work to keep up with the moving target of content marketing, let alone analytics and marketing in general and sometimes you want to put your head in your hands and cover your ears with headphones blaring Rage Against the Machine.  There is no way anyone can keep up with all of the information promulgated so we all have to learn to be selective, to trust our instincts, and find the content that truly captures us.  And guess what?

That content does not necessarily have to be marketing content.  

Consuming content is hard. We all have jobs to do, groceries to get, houses to clean and emails, oh my stars, the emails.  They never end.  Plus, we need to relax once in a while and focusing on marketing content 24-7 does not a well-rounded writer make.

CONSUME CONTENT 

IMG_2545

I subscribe to five different podcasts and I listen to an additional two or three and only one of those podcasts is about marketing (it’s Jay Acunzo’s Unthinkable) but the ones
I enjoy the most and the ones that seem to spur the most innovative ideas (possibly giving myself too much credit here) and enable me to think in an interdisciplinary fashion (which is how I believe strong marketers think) are the surprise topics that The New Yorker podcast serves up.  One of my faves is an interview that The New Yorker writer, David Remnick conducts with Bruce Springsteen.  Remnick sits down with Springsteen for an hour on the stage of The New Yorker Festival and whether you are a fan of Springsteen or not, I would question you at length if you did not find the interview compelling and interesting.  Again, not about marketing at all but my takeaways (that apply to marketing) are as follows:

  1. Deciding what to write and when matter (this stems from the question to Springsteen about why he decided to write his memoir).  Kinda begs the question of when one begins to reflect on their own life and very much begs the question of timing.  When it the right time to address the topic–whether it’s an innovative marketing concept or net neutrality *gulp*, timing is everything.  For example, there is no way I am touching the net neutrality issue until the smoke clears a little.  I would like to learn from others and their views on the subject before I start spouting about it.
  2. Find the (writing) voice you are comfortable in that normally might feel awkward and keep at it.
  3. Express yourself authentically or don’t bother (in a super charming way, Springsteen cops to the fact that the subtext of every one of his songs is a cry for or about Daddy–how authentic is that?) He actually goes into his relationship with his dad in detail and both heartwrenching and relatable.

And that’s just one podcast from The New Yorker.  Some of the other topics that have captured me range from “Slut: The Play,” an Empowering Story for Young Women” (and a great way to hone your empathy) to an interview with author of “My Struggle,” “Karl Ove Knausgaard on Near Death Experiences, Raising Kids, Puberty, Brain Surgery and Turtles.”  I mean come on, if you can’t find something compelling and applicable to content marketing from that podcast, you should take a walk in the woods and re-awaken your imagination.  And if you can retain your Midwestern, American sense of humor, you will be utterly charmed by the ever-existential Scandinavian.  Don’t forget that Denmark is the land of Soren Kirkegaard, the father of existentialism and honestly, that perspective is pretty helpful sometimes.  Case in point is my favorite Kirkegaard quote, “Once you label me you negate me.”  That feels pretty timely, don’t you think?

I consume my content on long walks so my advice to take a long walk in the woods is advice that I adhere to as well.  It is incredibly helpful and taking the time to listen to content while walking seems to open up my mind and enable me to make connections in a way I am just not able to do while sitting at my desk.

Podcasts are, of course, just one form of content.  If reading is your thing, then read and pick up magazines and articles you might not normally read.  I cannot tell you the wealth of ideas (and knowledge) I gain by reading Omni Magazine.  Before you contradict me and tell me that Omni Magazine went out of print in the 90s, check again.  They just quietly relaunched a quarterly publication that is worth a review, as is Scientific American.  

I dig how reading about science engages another part of my brain and I feel I gain a great deal of valuable and applicable knowledge from reading about the mind and how the mind functions from a scientific perspective.  Makes senses for us marketers to know a bit about that, don’t you think?

DO A LITTLE DIGGING

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So now that you have consumed content that goes beyond the same information about SEO and SEM and Google Adwords and such, you can do a little digging and begin to make connections that are rather innovative.

For example, articles about the mind and brain function lend insight into empathy (which is something I feel every good writer should have) and how empathy can lend itself to strong content marketing.  But this time, instead of backlinking to the other content marketing articles on empathy, you can provide new insight into empathy by linking to “off the beaten path content” and aid your readers in thinking in new ways as well.

START WRITING

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Now it’s time to start writing.  Sometimes I use a loose, handwritten outline but for the most part, I just start writing and as I write the thread begins to emerge.  Sure, I may have to go back and do a little more research on one topic or another but the only way to get words on the page is to start writing and keep writing.

For inspiration and guidance in that area, I look to publications that challenge my own experiences.  One of my “go-to’s” is Deep South Magazine.  I am not a southerner and I honestly know very little about the southern American experience so reading articles like “The Greatest Bromances in Southern Literature” and “The Real Roots of Southern Cuisine” are fascinating.  The magazine is a window into a culture very far from my own, but arguably, one I should understand since we source our products for The Fat Plant Society from North Carolina and Kentucky and some of our customers are from the south so it’s a market I need to know and know well.

Of course, some days the words flow out of me faster and easier than others but the bottom line is that the words won’t appear on the page unless you type them.  Get some content on the page and worry about finding the thread and editing it later.  Just keep writing and it will come.

Once you start making connections between seemingly disparate concepts, you become more interesting and so does your writing.  

As David Remnick tells Bruce Springsteen, every good song, like every good piece of writing has brains, soul, and heart.  

 

 

The Void in Video Marketing: On-Camera Media Training for Marketing, Sales, and CEOs

I was on a walk while I was listening to the Marketer to Marketer podcast featuring Marcus Sheridan, the Founder, and CEO of  The Sales Lion and Sherri Powers, the Director of Marketing at TechSmith Corporation. on sales integration and video marketing.

It was chilly so I was walking at a good clip, but when the podcast was about halfway through, I noticed that I was running so as to get back to my desk and get my thoughts down.  The topic of video is a topic I love.  It is also a topic I hate.

We all know that we should be producing video and as a marketer who literally does everything, video to me is, at times, just one more thing I have to learn and master when it seems that there are never enough hours in the day.  We actually have a video in production right now and to underscore how intimidated I am by it, I will share that we outsourced it to an up and coming video production agency that does really great work.

However, hiring Intrepid Creative is not going to be financially feasible for our business every time we need fresh video content.  This production (in my mind anyway) will be a cornerstone piece but as our products continue to grow and develop, we will need to capture that too and what we do is so gosh darn visually appealing, we’d be utter morons not to keep the footage coming.

Plus, there was Jeff Julian’s post that marketers need to pick up the dang camera and I have been following Storyboard Media out of NYC partly to learn and partly to torture myself about what I am not doing.  But just as I was about to commence full on self-flagellation, Marcus and Sherri hit on an aspect of video marketing that made me feel a whole lot better for entirely selfish reasons.

As a Director of Communications for nine years, I found myself in front of the camera for local news fairly often.  As a former teaching professor and hardcore extrovert, I am extremely comfortable in front of groups and pretty comfortable in front of the camera.  I am not great by any stretch but I have had (and taught) media training for on-camera interviews.

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What I got really excited about and what I had not even considered until I listened to the full episode with Sherri Powers and Marcus Sheridan on Video Marketing and Sales Integration, was the salient point about media training for multiple roles across an organization.  From sales to the CEO, there are so many more people who should be and need to be in front of the camera, but they also need to be trained.   

In the long, long, ago time, it was a given for PR folk such as myself to get media training and/or train themselves through self-study and trial and error.  Everything I know about being on camera and training others, I learned from Richard Brundage.  Mr. Brundage has done it all–from television director, news anchor, and lecturer who has trained some of the world’s top CEO’s, high ranking government officials, celebrities and sports figures to appearances on 60-Minutes and Dateline NBC, Brundage has anchored television news programs, lectured at universities, worked with celebrities and conducted media workshops for senior executives of major corporations around the world.

I got to see Mr. Brundage present to a group of my colleagues because his Center for Advanced Media Studies is conveniently located in Overland Park, Kansas, the suburb of my West Plaza, Kansas City home.  I internalized everything he said because it all made so much sense to me.  Then, I got to train my colleagues in my organization which cemented the concepts further and I’d like to think that everyone who attended my media training workshops still remembers at least one or two of the concepts to keep top of mind when in front of a camera.

Things like this: 

  • Know your key talking points like the back of your hand and keep returning to them (especially in an interview setting) so that your talking points roll off your tongue naturally. 
  • You are the one in charge because you are the one in front of the camera and there is an artful way to keep the conversation headed in the direction you want. 
  • Soften your face (drop your jaw, don’t clench, it makes you look tense and angry). 
  • Don’t nod while the interview is asking you questions because you might look like you are agreeing with something you don’t. 
  • And for heaven’s sake, wear solid colors. Please. The camera may not love your houndstooth patterned jacket.  And the camera’s almost invariably hate stripes. 

So in as much as these are solid tips for on-camera broadcast news interviews, they apply pretty well to just about any on-camera situation.

Honestly, I could train marketing and sales professionals in on-camera prowess all day, every day, and never grow tired of it.  It is immensely rewarding to see people who were convinced they could never be great on-camera, get great at being on-camera.

I also believe nearly everyone can be trained to look and sound fantastic on camera, it just takes some solid training and, of course, practice. 

But as Marcus and Sherri point out, this is a piece of the video puzzle that is often missing from the packages most video production agencies offer.  Yes, they focus on editing and telling a good story, but seldom do they train the on-camera talent.

IMG_1940Media training does not take very much time and the return on that investment is huge.  I acknowledge the difference between being on-camera on the local news and being on Facebook Live but the goal and the outcome of these two things are exactly the same: get your point across clearly and do it authentically.  Don’t try and mimic teenagers on SnapChat, be the professional you are and don’t be afraid of that dang camera.  If I can figure out how to shoot and edit video almost like a pro (and I will) then you can build media training into your campaigns and make sure everyone who will be on-camera will be ready.

As Sherri Powers and Marcus Sheridan note, video marketing is no longer the future, it is the now.

 

Why Choosing the Right Plants for Indoor Spaces Makes a More than a Design Statement

This is a tough time of year for plant experts and novices alike as the decisions we have to make about what to bring inside and what to sacrifice to the cold are really tough decisions.  Many of us have learned the hard way that no matter how much you love the plant, you can’t love it enough to enable it to survive inside during the winter months.  Believe me, we have tried.  Stopping barely short of ripping out the carpet in the attic and replacing it with soil, we have tried everything to create a microclimate for plants in the Midwest.  And we have often failed.

There are the plant varieties, particularly the tropicals that can gimp their way through the winter with a lot of TLC and monitoring but they will need to be cut back (way back) in the spring before they go back outside and you can pretty much count on an aphid infestation unless you have significant air circulation.  But life is full of lessons and in all of these failings, we’ve also learned more than we’ve failed so let’s take a closer look at a couple of succulents that do incredibly well indoors and remain gorgeous while they do so.

Enter ZZ plant.  You tell me you kill every plant you own? I give you a ZZ plant.  There are people who think of the ZZ plant as the plant of the shopping mall but it just isn’t so.  The leaves are shiny and range from bright green to dark and they sprout like mad, especially just after they are brought inside.  We have one partying like a rock star right now and she needs very little light.  She is just going to hang out and be shiny all winter long.

ZZplant

Because it is a succulent, the ZZ plant needs less rather than more water. Water the plant only when the soil has dried out. Though really hard to kill, the one sure way you can kill this plant is to over water it. If she starts turning yellow, it means she is getting too much water and its underground rhizomes may be rotting. You can literally forget about watering it most of the winter.  Check every so often and know that the ZZ plant will grow faster with just the right amount of water but only when the soil is very, very dry.  We feed ours but ZZ plants are also happy without fertilizer.  We recommend feeding the ZZ plant in the spring before she goes outside for the summer and only when it has warmed up for good.

The other hardcore, punk rock succulent that does well indoors in any environment is the mother-in-law tongue or sansevieria.  This succulent is also known as devil’s tongue, jinn’s tongue, bowstring hemp, snake plant and snake tongue.  Because of the variegated leaves, this plant is more than green.  Green, yellow, light green, and even white shades run up the sturdy leaves and the snake plant and like the ZZ plant, the snake hardly needs water and remains robust and strong–a nice counter to the fussy ficus tree that loses its leaves every time you look at it sideways.

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Snake plant just wants to be admired and wants practically no water.   In fact, you should only water it when the soil is totally and completely dry.  Even in the summer, this can be as seldom as every three weeks.  Like the ZZ and the rest of us, Snake plant likes a good meal now and then so fertilize it.  We use some custom mixed soil and have some slow release fertilizers such as Osmocote that we recommend so feel free to give us a call and we can talk you through the right amount for the size of the plant.  It’s very important not to give them too much food, they hate that.

So look into these incredibly low maintenance succulents.  We find the bigger the plant the better and more impactful design-wise but whatever the size, they are an easy and enjoyable way to keep green in the house all winter long.  And because they take virtually no water all winter, you get to make a statement about sustainability as well as design.

Yours in the love of all things green,

The Fat Plant Society

http://www.thefatplantsociety.com

Succulents and Moss: The Sustainable Cost Saving Solutions for Green Design

It is not exactly “breaking news” to make the statement that environment has a direct bearing on creativity, productivity, and mood. There are oodles of articles on office design and how to design an office to the benefit or detriment to creativity.  In fact, I bet you can quickly rattle off the top five things that create stress in a given environment.  High levels of noise are always at the top of the list of complaints, be it an office/work environment, restaurant, or hotel.

Ever left a restaurant because it was too noisy?

Ever tried to conduct a business meeting in a loud, crowded coffee shop or workspace?

And for many a business, the bigger challenge is how to create a welcoming, beautiful environment that stimulates productivity and creative thinking without incurring expensive, ongoing maintenance.  Whether an office, restaurant, or hotel lobby, mitigating noise can be a challenge.  Enter succulents and moss.

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We love the work of Misako Inaoka of Kyoto, Japan.  He began working with moss an art material but as is clear from the photo above, the art also serves a utilitarian, noise-dampening purpose as well.  The benefit of real preserved moss is that it is zero maintenance.

Moss has become incredibly popular in public and private spaces in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates for its beauty and cost-savings.  As noted in an article in The National, the benefits extend far beyond beauty.  “Beyond aesthetics, the beauty of the moss wall is that it hardly requires any upkeep. The lichen feeds on moisture and other particles in the air and does not require any photo-stimulation, so you don’t have to worry about watering or adjusting light levels. What’s more, Sag walls absorb sound, repel dust (so are naturally self-cleaning) and can be attached to any surface.”

IMG_7214Succulents are another cost-saving solution to introducing green into a space because they are hearty, require very little water, and can be propagated easily so taking cuttings from the original plant and propagating them can be a nice “supply-chain” to ensure the succulents always look great.

We supply succulents to more than one local restaurant and the plants hold up against the public remarkably well.  We check on them periodically and occasionally we need to replace one or two of the plants but for the most part, the plants are maintenance free for our customers because we offer three to six month care contracts and we happily take care of any replacement plants for free (because we propagate our own of course)!

Our customers tell us they love the flexibility of both our moss and our succulent products.  They hold up well, they look wonderful and there are numerous color options for both moss and succulents so we can tailor the planters, moss frames, and moss installations to fit seamlessly with the existing decor.  The added benefits of sound absorption and little to no maintenance are the other key selling points.  Last but certainly not least, moss and succulents are also very calming; you get to bring nature indoors, without having to worry about maintenance.   We make vertical gardens as well but we coach our customers on vertical planters because though equally beautiful, they do require more maintenance and may not be the best option for public spaces or people who don’t have the time to dedicate to pruning and watering the vertical frames.

HolidayplanterIt is also inexpensive and easy to dress up the succulent planters and moss frames for the holidays by adding spruce, pine, and holly and once the holidays are over, simply remove those adornments and the succulent will continue to look fantastic all winter long.  See, succulent go dormant in the winter months (in winter climates of course) and caring for succulents in the months of January, February and March are even easier—they only need to be watered every four to six weeks.  As long as the plants are getting enough light, they will happily “hang out” until spring comes.

So don’t think that providing the calming and welcoming feeling of real greenery will break your bank.  With the little to zero maintenance options now available, you can create a “wow-worthy” space for little money and even less work.

We do offer free consultations so don’t hesitate to give us a call.

http://www.thefatplantsociety.com

816. 933. 9509.

 

 

 

We Know Everyone is Feeling Anxious and Sad, Maybe This Can Help Just a Little: The Fat Plant Rx

There is no getting around the fact that virtually all Americans are managing an inordinate amount of stress at present.  Even those of us that have been fortunate enough not to have been directly impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria or the horrific mass murder in Las Vegas (the worst mass murder in U.S. history), the refrains of these tragedies play over and over in our minds and create significant anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.

These intense emotions seem to come in waves and just when we start to think we are okay, another wave hits (Hurricane reference intentional).  We admire those who have survived and persevere despite their own losses and we ache for those who are gone.

 

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The North Atlantic as seen from the coast of Denmark.

 

You see, here at The Fat Plant Society, we have been feeling really helpless amidst the destruction, chaos, and violence of late, and while the urge to go to bed, pull the covers over our heads and hide or scream at the top of our lungs is quite pronounced, we have this business to run.  And because we are human, we (like everyone else) have additional issues to contend with on top of the stress our nation is under– from losing a parent to chronic illness, to how the heck to pay for health care.  This is life.  It can be tough.

These are tough times for all of us.

And nearly unbearable times for others.

We wonder how others find the strength to keep going.

We have found that for us, it is the plants themselves that have been helping us through these terribly tough times.

We certainly do not purport that buying and caring for plants is the penultimate answer to these horrors and tragedies, but we would like to humbly submit a way to help manage that stress and anxiety (if only a little) and we even have the science to back it up.   

So we gave it some thought, talked it over, and decided that we wanted to share just five reasons that going to work and getting our hands dirty has not been tortured, in fact, it has been immensely helpful in coping and here’s why:

 

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Echeveria in Bloom in our garden at home

Plants connect to us living things and take us outside of ourselves.      

We have noted our inclination is to feel that we are alone in the anxiety, panic, and feeling of helplessness–that our own worries and concerns (from the great, big, scary, world to the financial stress of building a business) are winning.  The reality is that today, pretty much every American feels that way and that is how it is likely going to be for a while.  So the task is to not beat ourselves up for feeling anxiety but to find a way to get outside our own heads for a while.  Essentially, plants and live moss help us relax and get outside of ourselves.

 

Nurturing is good for our self-esteem 

Everyone gets a self-esteem boost from nurturing–be it a child, an idea, a business, or a wonderfully simple plant.  Plants are incredibly easy to nurture and we can see the benefits of our nurturing almost instantaneously. Plants help us relax.

Plants contain microbes that fight depression 

Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance that scientists have been studying and it has been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil stimulates serotonin production, which makes us happier as well as more relaxed.  As the folks at Gardening Know How note, “studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress. Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. The bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil and has no adverse health effects. These antidepressant microbes in soil may be as easy to use as just playing in the dirt.”

You can read the full post on the Gardening Know How Website: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm

Gardening keeps us in touch with the cycle of life through ritual 

The bright minds at Psychology Today understand the human need for ritual and perhaps that need is amplified in times of great stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness.  As Sarah Rayner notes in her article, Petal Power: Why Is Gardening So Good For Our Mental Health?, 

” Rituals can help us work through difficult emotions, including grief, and gardening is a form of ritual involving both the giving of life and acknowledgment of its end; it’s symbolic of regeneration. It’s no coincidence we create gardens of remembrance and mark the scattered ashes and graves of our loved ones with roses, shrubs, and trees; by doing so we’re acknowledging that from dust we all come and to dust we return.”  

This is in no way meant to diminish the horrendous grief so many of us are feeling but ritual can be a means of helping to process that grief…in due time, of course. 

Plants are actually social and help us work toward a shared goal

All the way back in 2003, Mental Health Nursing Researchers concluded that for those in mental health units and prison, the social nature of group gardening is beneficial because it centers on collective skills and aspirations. At the same time, caring for a plant and garden is wonderfully individual and allows for the use of creative skills along with the nurturing skills mentioned above.  We have noted that when we work together to meet a project deadline and ensure all of the plants look their very best, we foster a sense of team that is inspiring and energizing in a way that we just can’t find without our human and plant connections.

 

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Handmade Succulent Crate 

Plants need us and they give back so willingly and freely 

Without our daily care, the plants will literally die.  Honestly, sometimes that is reason alone to get out of bed, even on the toughest day.  The plants are sweet and innocent and they need that water and food and we could no more neglect them than we could neglect a child or a dog in our care.  But they give back in the form of oxygen and brave, inspiring, constant growth.  They keep growing and changing and that is what we aspire to do as well.  Plants remind us there are no constants.  And we like to think, optimistically, that growth and positive change is always attainable.

So as we extend our very most heartfelt condolences to those who have lost in immeasurable ways of late, we very humbly submit that caring for plants may help, just a little, as we try and process the tragedies all around us, all the time, every day.

However corny or trite is might be to quote the immensely talented Tom Petty the day after his death, this song, like the plants, sings of hope.  We are all in need of hope right now.  Thank you, Tom.  Rest your soul.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free

Thank you for reading.  Don’t lose hope.

-Morten and Kasey

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