Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: May 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Darren....By Popular Demand

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After I wrote my blog entry LUXEMBOURG a few weeks ago, I received an outcry from my public. "What happened to Darren?" was the question on every one's mind. Today, I will give you the Darren story. Believe it or not.

As I mentioned, Darren was my secret admirer that became my boyfriend years after he first set eyes on me. I mentioned that Darren and I had a tumultuous lifestyle riddled with drinking and questionable behavior. We were collegiate outlaws.

Me in college

After dating for eight months, Darren moved back to his home town in central Illinois. We stayed together but it wasn't the same. Shortly after he moved home, I heard that he was cheating on me with his "best friend", a girl named Jennifer. Jennifer knew that Darren and I were a couple, we even had mutual friends. I often inquired about his relationship with Jennifer, his supposed "best friend", Darren assured me it was strictly friendship. Due to the obvious reasons, I was tremendously upset when I learned that I had been correct all along. Once things were over between us, I never spoke to or heard from Darren again.

Fast forward. I graduate college a year and a half after the break up. I move back to Chicago. I start working in advertising. I enroll in graduate school. Five years pass.

In grad school, I had class Tuesday and Thursday nights at 6:30p. I would leave the ad agency until about 6:00 p.m., it took me 15 minutes to walk to school, and I would always arrive a few minutes early.

One particular day, I left work an hour early to visit the head of the Arts Management department. I arrived at school around 4:30p. I was walking south on Michigan Avenue, approaching the main entrance of Columbia College when I saw him standing just outside the doorway having a cigarette. Darren was standing there smoking. I could not believe my eyes, what was he doing in Chicago?

I walked straight up to Darren and said "Hello Darren" and walked inside. Instantly, I started to think about what time his class started. If he had just gotten out of class he wouldn't be standing in the doorway, he would have walked on. It deduced that his class was at either 4:30, or 5:00 p.m.

A week later, I made an excuse to leave work early again and head to school. I knew that Darren would be standing out front again, I had no doubt. Sure enough, I was correct. This time, I stopped and asked him for a cigarette. We both smoked our cigarettes and had a bit of small talk. This was when I learned that Darren and Jennifer were still together, five years had passed and they were still together. They were living on the north side of Chicago, she was a waitress and he was a film student.

The end of the semester was approaching. I saw Darren outside of class one last time and I reminded him that we likely would not see each other again in school. We decided that we would meet the following week after class and have one beer together.

The following week, we met after class and went to a pub for one beer. I wrote my work number down on a napkin, in case he wanted to ever get a hold of me. We went about our separate ways. It was completely innocent.

Fast forward again. This time only about two weeks. Darren phones me to tell me that Jennifer found the napkin with my phone number in his jacket pocket. She quickly assumed that Darren and I had been speaking for the past five years behind her back and was threatening to show up at my office. Darren explained that she always felt as though she lived in my shadow and that her fears were realized when she found the napkin. Although nothing had happened between Darren and I, I felt as though...Vengeance was mine!

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aging Baby Boomers on The Net

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How do you convince a 72 year old, business owner that he needs to Twitter? That he needs to start blogging? The value of a web presence? The value of a successful email marketing campaign? You show him. Slowly, slowly, show him.

Back in November, I started to work with a travel agency in Chicago, Artun Travel. The agency was a successful, small operation with strong ties within the Turkish-American community, in multiple markets throughout the U.S. They provided outbound travel services, primarily to Turkey and The Middle East, with reciprocal services for Turkish citizens traveling to the U.S. for holiday.

70% of Artun Travel's business was comprised of Turkish Americans, Arab-Americans, Pakistani Americans, Indian Americans and various other Eastern European Americans traveling home to their motherland. The other 30% of their business was made up of American tourists traveling for leisure holiday, student groups traveling for religious tours, historical tours or for business studies. They had a strong relationship with major Universities, such as The University of Chicago, their History and Humanities programs would take students to Turkey and various other Middle Eastern Countries - Israel, Jordan, Egypt, etc.

Artun Travel survived the loss of business of the first Iraqi war and the war in Kosovo in the 90’s. They even survived the biggest hit the Agency took in their near 20 years of operation - the travel recession after 9/11 and the second Iraqi war. 9/11 nearly killed their entire leisure business with many Americans confusing Turkey and their political policies with their neighboring countries. The simple fact that Turkey shared a border with Iraq was enough to put Tourism to Turkey at a near standstill.

I visited Turkey days after the U.S. started to bomb Iraq. I can tell you from first hand experience, Turkish tourism business was not suffering, it was dead. In the five days I was in Istanbul, I saw ONE American tourist group at Topkapi Palace - we were so happy to see other Americans, as perfect strangers, yet countrymen, we hugged.

Artun Travel biggest struggle was yet to come. They started to see a severe downturn in mid 00’s with the competition from the online travel agents. Airlines continued to cut their commissions for travel agencies and it was nearly impossible for Artun Travel to compete with the low rates that online agencies were able to offer. The agency was relying almost solely on existing relationships, an existing client base, with little growth.

In November of 2008, I met with the 72 year-old owner of Artun Travel to discuss his current business model and where his business was headed in the future. He was near retirement, could barely use email, and really did not see the value of being on "the Internet". He did not understand "the Internet", for him, "the Internet" was the enemy and he wanted nothing to do with it.

We convinced him he needed to re-vamp his marketing. We started with basic things, redesigning his logo and his communications pieces. We utilized the services of a local graphic designer. We wanted a modern and fresh look to captivate Westerners, without losing the Eastern feel. The "evil eye" was the chosen icon as it has a historical relevance yet also represents modern Turkey.

Next came the website. The old Artun Travel website was built in the late 90s by a friend of a friend. The old website had the design elements worthy of a kindergartner skills.

I put together a small budget for the travel agency. I worked with an independent web designer whose design skills agreed with my vision for the agency. He built the site as a side project (we saved money by sacrificing efficiency). I managed the process and wrote most of the content for the site with the help of a fact checker and a proofreader.

As the process moved foward, I was able to squeeze the bare minimum out of the "aging, baby boomer". He had limited funds, but believe you me, he had plenty of input on the creative - "Sexy imagery!" "Bigger logo!".

When we sent out his first email blast to his existing client database (which I built from scratch because he never kept an email database). The amazingly positive response to our first email blast allowed me to convince him to spend a little more on web marketing. We had almost a 50% "open" rate for his first newsletter. We continue to send a newsletter out monthly alerting his clients of travel deals and various other cultural and travel news. We average about a 44% open rate for our newsletter and the agency receives calls and emails immediately after each blast.

I slowly demonstrated to the "aging baby boomer" that value of a web presence. That he did not need to SELL a product on the web in order to have a web presence. I gave him statistics of how many shoppers do their research online and then buy offline. I built a case around other successful businesses and how they were managing their online marketing campaigns. I emailed him and his staff weekly giving them the results of their web analytics. And met with him montly to explain what exactly I was talking about when I said "analytics".

I persuaded him to spend a small amount of money on a Google Adwords campaign and a few other online advertising programs. Through various tests, we determined that the Google Adwords search ads worked best for his business. We created multiple ads that rotated based on their performance. We limited the hours that the ads were displayed because we wanted to capture people to phone or email during business hours.

As things progressed, I started the Artun Travel blog. Next step, we moved onto Facebook, we built a Facebook "Fan Page" where we encouraged our "fans" to upload their travel photos and share their travel experiences. Then we started to Tweet. This last phase of building a web presence started in late March of '09. We continue to build daily as we grow an understanding of how to best utilize these platforms and convert "fans" and tweeters into clients.

Our social media presence has developed a growing client base and helped in exchanging links with other bloggers and non-competing travel sites. Through our new web site and web presence, we have developed multiple travel partners in Turkey, the Middle and Far East. The agency's travel inquiries driven by the website has grown by 20% over the last six months.

For me, as a marketer, I recently made a connection with a Social Media firm in Turkey who specializes in online web strategy for travel clients. This agency builds applications, they blog on behalf of their clients, build facebook pages, etc.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Self Promotion Takes Some Getting Used To (But I Still Hate It)

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What can I say, I absolutely hate promoting myself. Judging by the number of photos I have of myself on this blog, you may think I am pulling your leg, but it is true, I despise promoting myself. Unfortunately, when your business is to sell OR promote other people's business, you have to first sell yourself.

Self promotion is severely uncomfortable for most people. I used to think about people I would meet that would gush about themselves, how awesome they were and all the benefits they could lend you or your business. I would think to myself, "I do not want to be THAT guy." Often times, THAT guy, he/she probably has a lucrative business with clients or a job that got him there because of his self promotion.

When I was an Account Executive at DDB Chicago, I worked for a VP with a great title and even better responsibilities. The day my VP boss was leaving the agency, we went to lunch. At lunch, he said one very important thing to me, "Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil." My initial feeling was "I hate the squeaky wheel. I don't want to be the squeaky wheel. I will let my hard work speak for itself." As I grew into a more seasoned professional, I learned that the squeaky wheel trick works too. So long as you can back up your self promotion with substance and hard work, and you are not over-inflating yourself, people will pay attention. If you don't tell people what you are worth, who will?

An Accidental Lesson
I ran the Chicago Marathon in "the year" 2000. The bulk of my teen and adult life was spent running for fun but previous to 2000, I rarely ran more than five miles at any given time.

In celebration of the Millennium, I decided I was going to train and run the marathon. I knew I wanted this to become a reality, not something I thought about and never achieved. In order to ensure my marathon dreams became a reality, I made it a point to tell EVERYONE! I made the marathon declaration to all family and friends. When I met someone new, I would introduce myself by saying "Hi, I am Leyla and I am running the marathon this year." I probably sounded like a crazy person but I promoted myself and the goal I was absolutely, unequivocally going to accomplish.

I did run the marathon in 2000, I averaged a 10 minute mile for 26.2 miles. I never hit "the wall" and I crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face. I didn't "promote" my run but I promoted myself and my dedication to the marathon. I actualized it by saying it over and over again, outloud.

Some Helpful Starting Points to Self Promotion:
- Make a declaration. Write it down, say it out loud, profess it however you can and as many ways that you can. And then, own this declaration - really OWN it.

- Write up a "sell sheet" for yourself. Think of yourself as a product. Make a list of Top Ten selling points of your skills or and when referring to the list, remove emotion, don't personalize it. Think of yourself as a product.

- Pay attention to others. Is there someone that you know or admire who is a self-made PR machine? Someone who promotes themselves relentlessly? Watch that person, learn from that person, pay attention to the details and nuances of what makes them successful at promoting themselves.

- Stay truthful and humble. Do not lie, you will be found out. You can stretch it if you know you can back it up. And finally, be humble, this is not about bragging.

Final Thought
Something that has helped me in recently months, in my blackberry, under "notes", I have a memo to myself. "If you say it enough, it becomes true." That is how I feel about self promotion. If you say it enough (and believe in it, practice it, live it) it becomes true! You just have to own it.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Twitter...Everyone Else is Doing It, So Will I

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Twitter. What is Twitter? Why is everyone jumping on the Twitter bandwagon? What exactly is a "Tweet?"

Before we go any futher, I want to clarify ONE thing, I am not a social media expert, I am a practicing student. This is the story one girl's journey and how she has benefitted from Twitter. I am that girl. I am @leyla_a

I am not going to tell you what Twitter IS or what it does. There are plenty of blogs on the web where you can obtain that information. The only thing I will tell you is what exactly a "tweet" is - it is what is commonly known as a "post," or for you Facebook lovers, most similar to a "status update." This entry is to tell you more about how Twitter has benefitted me as a marketing professional and my clients. Maybe I will throw a little bit in there about how Twitter has also helped my social life.

I opened my Twitter account a little over a year ago when a friend invited me by promoting an event she was hosting. I signed up but didn't "get" it because I rarely used it. I was drawn to the fact that I could tell everyone what I was doing exactly at that moment, particularly because I am a bit of a narcissist. After months of stagnation, and observing my colleagues doing the whole @ thing, my curiosity peaked. I started to "Follow" other marketing professionals to listen to what they were saying.

Education. When I first started my business, I had some idea how to promote myself and I had limited funds. I started to follow various online marketing professionals to learn everything I could about online marketing and social media. Through Twitter, I have read close to a million blog entries, joined in valuable webinars and Tweet-ups on various communication and marketing practices. I used this blog as practice until I was ready to move forward. More about how I used Twitter as an educational tool later. I intend to write, "How I Learned a New Career in 7 Months on Twitter." That is a post to come...

Connections. After several months on Twitter, I developed relationships that I would not normally be able to cultivate. Previous to Twitter, I attempted to "Link" to a certain VP of Communications on a professional networking site, but because I didn't have the paid subscription, I wasn't able to connect with this person. I started to "follow" the VP on Twitter, and join in various conversations the VP was having with others. Soon after, the VP started to "follow" me back on Twitter. Thus began a dialog and eventually we met in person at a "Tweet up". That is one example of many connections and relationships I developed solely on Twitter.

I prefer to keep my circle relatively smaller and engage in conversation with Tweeple that I view as "valuable" for various purposes. "Valuable" can mean many different things: people whose Tweets I find entertaining, many times it is for business networking purposes, perhaps someone posts great travel deals, another may be a fellow foodie. We each weigh "value" in our own ways by what is meaningful to us.

Link Building. I manage more than one blog and I have more than one Twitter account, for me, Twitter is a great place for link building. Fellow bloggers have reached out for link exchanges. When appropriate, I have graciously accepted their requests and continue to build relationships with fellow bloggers and site owners via Twitter.

Promotion. If you are a small business owner, there is no better place to promote your deals. If I post something for a client that is viewed as "re-tweet" worthy, I find my tweet (or post) being re-tweeted multiple times like a domino effect. By "re-tweet" worthy, I mean that my promotion has value to others. This also helps me gain more followers, which helps me spread the good word.

Driving traffic to my sites. When looking at the analytics for the sites I manage, I've noticed that Twitter is quickly becoming the of the top sites from which I receive referrals. This blog, in particular, receives more hits when I am more "controversial."

Friendships and my Social Life on Twitter. I have made a few friends on Twitter. Mainly, they are people in my field or other people who share my hobbies. We meet in person only after we realize that we will be at the same event and manage to find each other using Twitterberry or some other Twitter app on our mobile device. It's awesome.

P.S. you can follow me by clicking on the Twitter link I have on the right hand column. I am @leyla_a

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Sunday, May 10, 2009


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When I was a freshman in college, I had a "secret admirer." I would receive notes in my mailbox, kids on campus would make mention of this admirer, and after a few short months, his identity was revealed. His name was Darren.

The first week of my junior year of college, I was walking on "the strip" after the bars closed. A crowd congregated to watch a fight. I watched with the crowd as two boys threw punches at each other, rolling around the street. I noticed that Darren, my not-so-secret admirer, was standing there as well. I approached him, which made him nervous, and asked if he knew of an after hours party.

That was the first night I ever spoke to Darren where he spoke back. Normally, he was too shy. We ended up at his friend Adam's house for a few hours. At Adam's, Darren revealed that he had dropped out of college and moved back to his family's home. He was now living in a small town in central Illinois.

Eight weeks later, after many, many long phone calls, Darren moved back to our college town and lived with me in my one bedroom apartment. Though he was back in town, he was not enrolled in school and he was not working. In any case, we had a great time together.

Darren and I lived a life of heavy drinking and crime. We begged, we borrowed & mostly we stole in an effort to make ends meet. I applied for food stamps, so we only worried about had rent and hooch. His car was falling to pieces, smoke would billow from the vehicle as we drove down the street. Cars couldn't drive behind us as they surely would be blinded from the smoke that Darren's late model, powder blue, Chevy Malibu would spew. We would simply laugh at our absurd level of poverty and dispair.

As poor as we were, Darren and I always managed to have great fun. He was a poet, a lover of the arts and a music enthusiast. Our apartment was filled with books, films and incredible records purchased from the second-hand store. He would play my favorite songs and I would dance alone in the living room. When my song was over, I would demand that he play the song again. And again. And Again.

Each night, I would make dinner and Darren would make cocktails. We would stay up late playing Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning. When it was time for bed, we would each take our turn saying good-night to the ghost we were certain lived in our attic.

The one thing I loved about Darren, in addition to the friendship, the laughter, the grifting...was the joy of being so romantically poor. Regardless of how little money we had, Darren always brought me a gifts. Several times a month, he would come home with something for me. Whether it was a fine point, felt tip pen that he stole for me from the bookstore or a moleskin journal, he always brought me something. The Luxembourg vase was one of my most prized gifts.

Darren spent most of his empty days surfing the thrift stores while I was in school or work. He would look for small treasures and on that particular day, he found the Luxembourg vase. I've owned this vase since 1992.

Darren and I, we often dreamed of traveling through Europe and for some reason, Luxembourg was one of our favorite countries to fantasize about. The tiny country seemed wealthy and majestic. Darren came home one evening with a tiny, ceramic vase with painted imagery that depicted a vision Luxembourg on the front. It was the sweetest gift. So appropriate for our sweetest life.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009


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Originally uploaded by leyla.a
As I've mentioned in the past, I come to Starbucks a few times to a week to work - using their free wifi. Today, I walked in and sat down next to this duo.

The Starbucks on Rush Street in Chicago has many characters. Your Gold Coast moms strolling their $1200 strollers with their Gucci diaper bags, students with their Mac Powerbooks studying for their GRE or LSAT, the retail maven who works next door at Barney's New York, the self-employed marketing chic and finally the old folks.

The Gold Coast has a large number of retirees who stroll the streets looking for something to do. Many times, they wander into Starbucks, they meet their friends and they sit for a while and read the paper. It warms my heart when I see them.

The photo I took today nearly brought tears to my eyes. Two gentlemen reading the New York Times, one asking for the business section while the other reading something about science. The one in the red shirt had an accent and the other was a bit of a joke-ster. Together they read the paper, they made conversation with the younger gal to their left (me), they drank their coffee and then they went about their way.

I imagined that in more youthful times, these men were professionals, hard working, at the top of their game. Now that they were older, they took solace in each other and relaxed while reading the paper. Maybe their wives were deceased? Maybe they just wanted to enjoy each other's company for a bit. Whatever it may have been, it was comforting to see two older gentlemen having each other to waste the days away with.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Homage to "The Chicago Boat Whore"

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Tonight was absolutely amazing. The day started out with rain and in the afternoon the rain stopped,the sun came out around 5 p.m. The temperature rose as we settled into the evening, making today very reminiscent of a warm, Chicago summer day. Just like a typical, busy Spring/Summer schedule, I had several events this evening. My day started with a networking event for The Social Media Club and then I hopped in a cab and went to the Field Museum for a Wine Enthusiast event. The sequence of my day felt very familiar, very much like summer.

As my long night was coming to an end, I was in a cab heading northbound on Lake Shore Drive I looked out onto Lake Michigan and started to think how incredibly lucky I am to live here. My life exists right here, in the heart of Chicago, and in that moment I felt so fulfilled. I drifted off into the darkness, looking out onto the lake and I started to envision summer: boats on the lake; the beautiful, fresh air; the spontaneity that one feels with the warm weather and humidity. Ask anyone who has lived or visited Chicago in the summer, you will never find a better summer city in the world.

And...finally, after reflecting on all of my Chicago-summers-past, I thought of The Chicago Boat Whore. A very special whore. Every summer she emerges, The Chicago Boat Whore. She comes from the suburbs, the Schaumburgs, The Napervilles, The North Side, The South Side, she is 20, she is 17, she is 40 - she is...THE BOAT WHORE.

We see her in the Play Pen right off Michigan Avenue. We see her at the terrible nightclub later that night wearing her bikini top under her cheap, Bebe T-shirt with her Dior sunglasses on her head. We see her at Tavern on Rush with three Italian guys whose arms are larger than the wheels on their Escalade. We see her hop from one trader's Carver 36' Mariner to a nightclub owner's 42' Sea Ray until she progressively moves on and finally passes out on some trust fund baby's 52' Sundancer.

The affection for The Chicago Boat Whore runs deep and it runs long. Without her, the rest of us, we'd simply remain without any fingers to point. We need The Boat Whore, we need to judge her and her friends in an effort to make ourselves feel smarter and better about who we are. Witnessing The Boat Whore makes us feel better about our bodies and the fact that it is OK for us to have an abdomen and a place to store our intestines. Much unlike The Boat Whore, we digest our food. The Boat Whore, her food is re-released straight from the throat therefore bypassing the abdomen, intestines and colon altogether. We need The Boat Whore to know what 300 cc's of silicon actually looks like on a blow up doll. Tits on a stick, if you will.

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