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Now THAT Was a Great Idea! x2

July 12, 2010

I like a lot of things about being in the PR biz.

But when I stop and think about what I like BEST – I’d have to say I love seeing our good ideas take shape.

Whether the idea is something that I, personally, cooked up, or an idea hatched by one of our intrepid HKA team members, I love the satisfaction of seeing it come to life.

The week before the 4th of July was a perfect example of crazy deadlines, sky-high expectations, and what seemed like insurmountable challenges that popped up along the way – yet ultimately an incredibly satisfying week of work.

Twice in one week our ideas came to fruition:

The first idea sprung to life in a plaza courtyard in San Juan Capistrano, where O’Connor Mortuary presented its Heart & Soul Awards to three very worthy recipients in an intimate, joyous ceremony.

Heart & Soul Award Recipients - L-R, Steve Concialdi, James Pribram, Sharon Davis, Neil O'Connor

Heart & Soul Awards Ceremony

At first blush, it’s true, the idea of getting an award from a mortuary is a bit unsettling. But those who know O’Connor recognize that, perhaps paradoxically, it focuses on celebrating the living. The Heart & Soul Awards are the perfect manifestation of the O’Connor philosophy, now led by 4th generation CEO Neil O’Connor. The recipients — a firefighter, a nurse and an eco-warrior – were commended for the self-less roles they play in life. As Neil says, NOW is the time to recognize these people. And so he did.

Each month will see a new winner – if you have suggestions, send ‘em in!

The second idea was a bit more complicated, involving three clients: Haskell & White LLP, F&M Bank and OC Affiliate of Komen for the Cure. Whew! This one was too complicated to explain in detail in a blog post (and the previous post by Allison did such a good job!) so I’ll just point out the 40-foot-long PINK RV (owned by H&W managing partner Wayne Pinnell, who is a Komen Pink Tie Guy) decorated with larger-than-life faces of smiling breast cancer survivors; the famous Huntington Beach 4th of July Parade featuring breast cancer survivors walking and waving to the cheering crowd; a new pink checking account from F&M Bank with a $125 donation to Komen for each account opened for mammograms for under-served women in OC.

Busy July 3 at HB F&M Bank parking lot (that's Big Pink in the background!)

Breast cancer survivors from Komen for the Cure, OC Affiliate, at July 4th parade with F&M Bank

Wayne and Karen with "Big Pink" on Parade Day!

Along the way, we learned how to wrap a huge RV, secure a parade route spot at the 11th hour and organize an entry in the parade. I repeat, whew!

This past week was tame by comparison. Can’t wait to see what’s next!


The Antidote

May 19, 2010

Every now and again I find myself overwhelmed by people’s good hearts . . . people doing something for the sheer joy of giving. This past Sunday was such a day. And so, I feel compelled to counteract all the bad news we are bombarded with. When we ingest too much of this bad stuff, we can start believing that’s all there is out there.

Sunday was an invigorating antidote to all the bad stuff.

I spent Sunday at Working Wardrobes Women’s Day of Self-Esteem. Founder/CEO Jerri Rosen & team have done this for 20 years – besides what goes on day in and day out at Working Wardrobes. The stats tell the story – 135 women-in-need were served on Sunday, 323 volunteers made it happen. Over 20 years, 50,000 women and men (men have their own Days of Self Esteem) have been served.

But taking a closer look at the day reveals even more. The women showed up early Sunday morning, told they’d be getting a fresh start – professional clothing to help land a job, career guidance, etc. Each came from a shelter or halfway house; each had gone through a counseling program to earn their spot on this day. Some had done prison time, mostly resulting from drug and/or alcohol abuse. Others had clean records, but were caught up in an economic nightmare – suddenly homeless and destitute despite a solid work history. Some looked excited, some looked uneasy. All seemed somewhat weary. Life had not been good to them, at least not lately, but all were ready to get back into daily life.

They gathered first to hear a talk from Eve Michaels. It was a motivational talk and boy did it motivate! Eve talked about how a person’s image can dictate their path in life. Clothing, grooming, posture, attitude – these things can make or break you, she told the women. She told them that even wealthy women come to her boot camps for wardrobe and grooming advice. “You can be rich and still dress and groom yourself terribly.” After her pep talk, the women were ready to tackle the day. Their excitement was electric – the weariness I had detected had melted away.

HKA at Working Wardrobes - Women's Day of Self-Esteem

Each woman went through wardrobing, finding two outfits suitable for work interviews, with shoes and jewelry. Each went to the makeshift salon for a makeup session, haircut and/or styling, and a soothing massage. They ate lunch and then were free to visit the job fair, where recruiters from Kimco Staffing, Marriott Vacation Villas, Hilton Hotels and Public Law Center were eager to help them get into the workforce.

I found myself drawn to both the clients and the volunteers.

For the clients, one word sums it up: grateful. Everyone was grateful – no one took this special day for granted. For some, pampering was a new experience. For others, it was a buried memory. For most, their self-esteem was rock bottom. One woman, Sherry, had spent time in prison and no longer had custody of her daughter. But her ear-to-ear smile Sunday showed she was back on the path to a good life. Sherry’s personal shoppers helped her pick out a sharp blazer and slacks that, along with her newfound attitude, were just what she needed. We chatted, she hugged me, and she kept grinning. She told her story to a TV cameraman and didn’t mince words. She thanked God and she thanked Working Wardrobes. In the fashion show at day-end, she came down the runway strutting her stuff, looking every bit like a model (although a tiny one) with plenty of attitude. The exuberant fashion show had not only a sound track of rollicking music, but roars of approval accompanying each model’s appearance. These women had pride in the shelters they came from and loudly supported their representatives in the show — like sorority sisters in friendly competition.

And I was touched by the volunteers. The genuine, heartfelt goodness I felt rushed over me like a wave. Everywhere I looked I saw it, I felt it, it was real. The personal shoppers greeted each client with respect and joy. The easily recognizable hair stylists, with their own creatively colored hair, chatted as they worked , and the Working Wardrobes interns were learning at a young age what giving is all about. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there. In fact, Jerri had to turn away volunteers who signed up too late.

My takeaways?

First, I have not doubt that many of these women are back on the right track. Sure, some will stumble. And hopefully they will get up and try again. But for many, Sunday began their personal turnarounds. I applaud them for not giving up.

Second, the antidote of seeing so many volunteers giving their time and love to help others truly in need will counteract the stacks of negative news stories coming my way. Their joy in helping was infectious. The clients felt it. The other volunteers felt it. I felt it. I think you’d feel it too. Why not volunteer at the next Working Wardrobes event – it’s Oct. 10, Men’s Day of Self-Esteem. See you there!

Blast Off!

April 4, 2010
 Just a little over a week ago, I paid a first-time visit to the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral. And my timing couldn’t have been better – other than actually witnessing a space launch. Today, just before the shuttle Discovery blasts into space, I am thinking about last week’s quick trip to Kennedy. I‘ve figured out that I’m pretty much of a space geek – who knew?  

Yep, I'm a space geek

I always thought it would be cool to go there, but being so far away, I shrugged it off. Orlando itself never held much attraction for me – after all, Disneyland is just a few exits up the 5. I was content tuning into the NASA TV channel at odd hours – watching launches, space walks, interviews from the space station, and the amazing views of our planet from outer space. Admittedly, not everyone agrees — someone recently compared watching the NASA channel to watching water boil. 

Back to last week’s trip. . . Once again, my travels were dictated by my charity auction shopping. A year ago, I attended a charity auction chaired by a very good friend. The auction was sputtering and I felt compelled to shoot up my arm, wave my paddle, and bid on a trip for 2 to Kennedy Space Center, complete with airfare, hotel and all the tours you could want at the Center (including the ATX, which turned out to be a highlight.) 

Look who's at the controls

To be honest, it wasn’t much of a bidding war. I was the first and only bidder – no other space nuts in the crowd. Fortunately, my husband and I share this late-blooming enthusiasm for space travel. With my busy schedule, it took a year to schedule the trip – being threatened with expiration got this finally on our calendar. But our timing was superb – Kennedy Space Center was humming with anticipation as one of the last shuttle flights was set to blast off in a week (April 5).

Discovery poised for April 5 launch

Discovery was in plain sight, majestically poised on the launch pad. We were bussed to a fairly close vantage point, and, a bonus for me, along the way we spotted alligators, egrets, bald eagle families, armadillos, vultures and who knows what else. As our tour guide mentioned, technology and wildlife live side by side at the space center.  

After reading this far, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this morning I watched a little of the shuttle preparations on the NASA channel. And while watching, three thoughts came to mind:  

1. I’m not happy about our country’s priorities — I can’t believe the space program is taking second fiddle to some expenditures I find “questionable,” to say the least. Watching NASA’s program become ever more meaningful over the years has been exciting, why aren’t we increasing space exploration?? Seems like a huge mistake.  

2. If you get a chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center, DO! Whether you are a baby boomer who grew up while the fledgling space program spread its wings, or a Gen Y-er who has always known flights into space, it’s worth a trip. History came alive for me as I saw exhibits from the earliest days of space travel all the way to current day.  

3. If you visit the Kennedy Space Center, go on a Saturday and reserve the ATX (Astronaut Training Experience). This is an awesome, personalized, hands-on, small group experience with several hours of both real and virtual training, followed by a mock launch that our group “performed.” Very fun! Everyone in our session was captivated.

Are we having fun yet Layne? YES!

And we all loved our personal Q&A session with Bob Springer, an astronaut who flew two shuttle missions, walked in space, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy sharing his experiences with us.  

Our new friend, Astronaut Bob Springer

And on that note, I think I’ll head into the other room – I think I hear a Mission Control briefing starting. . . . Roger that.

Never Too Old . . . Never Too Young

March 19, 2010

I feel re-invigorated when I unexpectedly encounter inspirational people. Today’s post is about two such people who fill me with awe.

The first one is a nonagenarian (admittedly, I didn’t even know that word existed before writing this post) and the other is a teenager (yes, quite familiar with that word).

Jinny Avery is the nonagenarian who has gotten my attention. She is well into her ‘90s –and I’d probably be shot if I revealed her exact age. Women, it seems, aren’t keen on fessing up to their age no matter how young or old we are. But you’d never suspect Jinny’s age.

The amazing Jinny, right, with daughter Lesslie

She lives in upstate New York and I know her because she’s the mom of my good friend Lesslie Giacobbi. I’ve met Jinny a few times when she’s visited Lesslie and after each visit I shake my head and say, “THAT’s how I want to grow older!”

Jinny is living life to the fullest from start to finish – definitely not taking a passive approach as she scales the decades. She travels alone, coast-to-coast, and still loves exploring new locales. A jazz pianist, she continues to draw crowds to monthly Sunday jam sessions at her home. She’s an expert on textiles, creating vibrant jackets (and other pieces) that quite simply say “wow!” A teacher and an artist, she’s been inducted into the hallowed Quilting Hall of Fame (didn’t know that existed either!).

I admire Jinny and to be honest, wish I could be just like her when I’m in my 90s — or even my 60s! She’s a fireball and what a role model!

Then there is Emma. Emma Wass is just 16. Emma has impressed me since she was in elementary school. Most notably, she has a giving spirit and is sincerely interested in helping people. The daughter of my friends Patty and Adam, Emma has had this characteristic since she was young and, remarkably, nothing changed even when she entered the dreaded teen years.

Emma horsing around

Emma recently had a birthday party, taking her friends to Disneyland. Not too unusual. What WAS unusual was her insistence that they not buy her a birthday gift. Instead, she asked them to donate to Orangewood Children’s Home. What????

Yes, Emma makes me smile. A sophomore at OC Performing Arts High School, Emma is majoring in Integrated Arts. She’s also a competitive athlete, but again something unusual: she drives carriages pulled by huge draft horses, winning piles of ribbons, of course. And she is dwarfed by these huge horses. To round out the picture, she holds her own conversing with a group of adults and even seems to enjoy these conversations!

So there you have it – two of my role models, one a fraction of my age and one much older. I’d be curious to hear about some of your role models. . . .

Lessons from the Beehive

January 29, 2010


I learned a lot yesterday – none of which I could have predicted two days ago. Suddenly forced out of our office by thousands of uninvited bees, the stage was set for my unexpected learning.  

First, and foremost, I learned, once again, that silver linings are part of every bad experience – you just have to open your eyes to them. This week was very hectic. Deadlines loomed. Yet the thousands of bees who apparently lived in the eaves of our vintage 1920s Craftsman Bungalow decided THIS was the week to visit down below, which was OUR part of the office. Last week’s torrential rains had wreaked havoc with their entrée and exit. When their scouts buzzed by for a visit, our HKA team was not happy. The bees were docile – not Africanized attack bees – but they buzzed and were scary to some of us. I was suddenly faced with tremendous loss of productivity, not to mention the cost of ridding the building of bees, and loss of staff morale, as people’s attitudes were dropping like flies, I mean, bees. The serendipitous silver lining? Overnight, we FINALLY scheduled an office retreat where we learned about each other’s personalities, planned small “Kaizen” steps to achieve our newly stated 2010 goals, and even began noodling over our upcoming industry awards competition. Pretty darn good use of time! We left our retreat conference room (generously provided by client Farmers & Merchants Bank) more bonded, more focused and actually laughing again. And I wouldn’t have done this, despite wanting to, if we were not physically forced from our comfy surroundings.  

Lesson #2: We saw for ourselves –as we always tell our clients, publicity works! While none of us LIKED having the bees buzzing around, none of us wanted to kill them either. Especially not when honeybees are growing scarce. Two of us remembered an OC Register article from last year about a beekeeper who removes the bees live and relocates them so they can continue living and making honey – just not at HKA. Perfect! Our intrepid property manager (my husband Layne) called her up and she quickly came over, wearing the funny white bee suit you see in movies, to investigate.  

Beekeeper Melinda Nelson



Melinda's "helper" -- Layne


When she returned, she spent four hours gently coaxing the swarming bees out live and removing their intricate honeycomb hives and, hopefully, the queen bee. It was more expensive than extermination, but, hey, we all felt better about it. See how it works? We wouldn’t have known to call her without the press. If you have unwanted bees, here’s the article:  

Lesson #3: I learned that fresh honey, right from the honeycomb, is an amazing taste treat! Couldn’t believe the intensity and purity of the sweetness when I sampled what our unwanted visitors had been producing upstairs. My husband had salvaged a hunk of honeycomb, dripping with honey, and encouraged me to indulge when I returned: a first-hand lesson on the value of buying/eating locally produced food. I suspect I won’t find exactly the same flavor burst from honey at the local farmer’s market, but I definitely won’t settle for that supermarket honey-in-a-jar anymore!  


 Yes, there were lessons learned yesterday. But not all questions were answered. For instance, who the heck decides who is the queen bee? Is she elected? Or is she royalty?  Inquiring minds want to know!