What People Can Learn from Thanksgiving


For marketing professionals, it’s easy to take the “superficial” route for every holiday-themed blog post and make a listicle of social media blunders or share heartwarming stories of brands who give back to their customers. But, as I look out the window feeling gratitude for the rain that has finally come to drought-ridden California, I choose the road less taken. The end-of-the-year holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year (yes, even more than summertime!). And it’s not the holiday sales that have me excited; I’m talking about having a bit of time to reflect, give thanks, and create better relationships and stronger communities.

So, while you’re eating turkey and yams this Thursday (or for my fellow Filipinos, sinigang and every pork dish imaginable), I hope you take at least a bit of time to reflect on your good fortune, appreciate your loved ones, and think about approaching the whole holiday season in a more grateful, expansive way. Here are a few things that I will be reflecting on later this week:

Sometimes, the best reaction to misfortune is to celebrate what you still have.

I think the Pilgrims knew what they were doing when, after losing over 100 people on their journey to America, they brought the community together to give thanks and appreciate what they still had. Let’s face it: in a time of crisis, loss, and uncertainty, we should bring people together, provide hope when possible, and be thankful for what we still have. In the corporate world, in times of crisis there is often a tendency to paper over, deflect, or avoid discussion about the crisis at hand. I’m grateful for companies that don’t do that, companies like Johnson & Johnson and Odwalla that suffered misfortune but celebrated what they still had and made the most of it. People continue to take Tylenol and drink Odwalla juices.

We can all learn from each other, especially when the holiday spirit is strong.

Anyone who has sat through a U.S. history class has been told about the long, sad history of Native Americans and their treatment by colonists and Americans throughout the centuries. One of the highlights in early American history, however, is the First Thanksgiving, when Pilgrims invited their new neighbors to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Relations were tense, so extending a hand of friendship was necessary to achieve peaceful coexistence; but, beyond that, both parties benefitted in learning each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and cultural differences. In providing a bridge to network and communicate, the Pilgrims and Native Americans provided the other group the opportunity to learn how they can better work together.

Likewise, professionals (PR, marketing, and otherwise) can take advantage of the holiday spirit to send warm wishes to colleagues and distant acquaintances alike. Befriending actual competitors gets messy when office talk works its way into the conversation, but the holidays provide an opportunity to send a thoughtfully written card, a LinkedIn invitation with a personalized holiday greeting, or a request for a coffee date. Thanksgiving provides the perfect context for getting to know each other on a basic, human level. And, if you walk away with mutual respect for each other (or a new friend), what can be better than that?

There may be better ways of doing business you’ve not considered.

Because of Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims learned new methods of doing business and farming sustainably in the New World. (A popular trick that comes to mind is the planting of corn with buried fish heads for nutrients.) We marketing professionals are always attending trade shows, conferences, and other networking events to reap the same benefits. Okay, maybe not to learn cool gardening tricks, but you know what I mean — to grow our wealth of information, pro tips, etc. That said, anyone who has been to networking events knows how difficult it can be to get individuals to open up or to follow up with a business card exchange for coffee afterwards. This holiday season, reach out to the people you’ve been meaning to connect with and invite them for a holiday coffee. Enjoy sharing a hot cup of peppermint mocha, swapping industry stories and insights, and agreeing to connect again in January after everyone is back from holiday vacations.

I suppose this whole blog post can be summed into a single phrase: the Thanksgiving season allows us to better nurture both our personal and professional relationships in an authentic, rewarding way. I can’t wait to tell colleagues, clients, and acquaintances how much I appreciate them this season, and have enjoyed connecting with them over cookies and tea this past month. I hope you’ll seize the opportunity to do the same. What is this season for, if not for celebrating community?

Rosie Brown can be reached at rbrown@sterlingpr.com. You can also follow her at @lilmsrosieposie.


Demystifying Preproduction, Part One: Harnessing Creativity to Conjure Arresting Visual Stories

Any working professional knows that each job has its highs and its lows. Well, video productions are my highs. Every time we start a new video project, our team powers through the preproduction phase, brainstorming creative ideas and nailing down logistics, all eagerly awaiting the proverbial game day: that is, production.

But, in my opinion, what makes production days so exciting is the level of hard work and forethought put into preparing during preproduction. “Preproduction” as a term is often pushed aside and excused as being a vague way of saying that you’re planning a shoot. However, here’s the not-so-secret key to a successful, high-quality video, film, or sketch: the highest production value videos are the ones with an intense amount of time and effort spent in preproduction.


Sarah K

It’s our 25th Birthday!

Hard to believe, but Sterling is officially 25 years old. Since 1989, we’ve transformed from a boutique three-person PR firm into a full-service integrated marketing agency with offices in both the Northwest and Silicon Valley. Once a year, we take some time to get together as a company, sharing best practices, brainstorming new ideas and taking stock of where we are on our journey. There’s no way to fit 25 years into one day, but this year we sure did our best to fit it into three!


Sarah K

Brevity is the Key to Successful Communication

Dug from Up says "squirrel"

In this day and age, capturing and holding someone’s attention is a tough business.

We have hundreds of things demanding our attention at any given moment: emails, texts, snapchats, a coworker’s birthday, a significant other wondering what’s for dinner – you get the picture. (If you spaced out during that long list, you’re not alone. I actually checked Reddit about four times while writing it).

A funny thing happens when you exercise brevity: people don’t mind listening to you. Well thought-out, brief communication shows that you respect and value others’ time.

CEOs and journalists have particularly harried schedules, so capturing and holding their interest is no small feat. Here are six tips to help you do just that:



From Chinese Babies to Risk Management Software – My Journey into the World of Tech PR

Editor’s note: Welcome to Jenn Kincaid, Sterling’s newest account executive. Jenn’s brings to Sterling a background in journalism, writing about child welfare institutions in China. Here, Jenn recounts her previous experience and how she found herself at Sterling. Welcome, Jenn!

If you had asked me, say, 10 years ago if I would end up in tech PR, I would have a.) asked you if you were talking about the same Jenn Kincaid, then b.) asked what the French toast is “tech PR?”

I double-majored in journalism and communication studies here in the Bay Area. My first job out of college was with an alternative weekly newspaper in Sacramento, Calif., where – among many other things – I wrote about sustainability and coordinated community arts projects. When I moved back to San Francisco, I started work at a strategic communications and environmental planning firm, where I was thrust into the world of government consulting. I left that job to be the writer and Web content editor at a nonprofit that implements nurturing-care programs in child welfare institutions in China.

But as varied as my experience and education has been, there was one common thread – I was required to learn different applications, technology, and social media tools. So, I began thinking… what would happen if I combined everything: interest in technology, the passion for writing and the communications background? Enter Sterling Communications.

At first, I had my concerns. Although I had experience with public relations, it was on the editorial side – and even though PR is kind of like what would happen if journalism and communications had a baby, I was coming from working as a writer at a nonprofit whose work was implemented in a country halfway across the world. And then there’s the small issue of not being the most technologically adept in my personal life. I think I am the only one I know who has managed to crash a hard drive on a 6-month-old Macbook (losing edits to a semester-long project and breaking my heart). Three phones have fallen into various bodies of water, from toilets to an East Bay lake. A brand-new Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot just stopped working one day. So did its replacement.

But despite – or maybe because of – technology’s aversion to me, I am fascinated by it. As my friend says, it inspires in me the “dog-like instinct to chase what flees” from me. Learning new applications and then successfully understanding and implementing them leaves me with a triumphant feeling, as if I’ve just run a mental marathon or scaled a cranial Kathmandu mountain. It’s not just the behind-the-scenes workings, the “wizard behind the curtain,” that draws me in; it’s the end-results of implementing technology. It’s the endless realm of possibilities that technology enables and the amazing accomplishments technology allows us to achieve.

So it’s been a really interesting step from writing about disadvantaged children in China to writing about BYOD mobile risk management software. There’s been quite the difference between learning CEQA/NEPA regulations and learning what exactly DevOps and agile software development is. I’ll be the first to admit – it’s been quite the learning curve. Luckily, I’ve found absolutely amazing teachers in my new colleagues and superiors, whose patience, vast wealth of knowledge, and senses of humor have been professional and personal gifts to me every day. And as the tech world is changing and advancing every single minute of every single day, here in the heart of all this growth, I am excited to be along for the ride.

Jennifer Kincaid can be reached at jkincaid@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JennLKincaid


Occupy: the Media

Over the past few weeks, I have been watching the Occupy Movement stories with interest, and maybe a little annoyance, after having been harassed in Reno by a mob of Occupiers this past weekend. But whatever my personal view on this, I am grateful for the First Amendment, which grants us the rights to exercise freedom of speech, and keeps the government from infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

Like many ‘non-Occupiers’ however, I found myself more willing to believe what I heard from the mainstream media in terms of the types of people who were protesting. That is, many are homeless or unemployed extremists who have assembled into nonsensical, unruly mobs with no clear point for protest. I found myself increasingly adhering to this view, especially after hearing numerous interviews with protesters who really had no clear idea of what specific results they were interested in achieving, or how to obtain them.

Of course, if you want to discredit a group, wouldn’t you always put a spotlight on the lowest common denominator?

After giving that a bit of thought, I decided to do a little research of my own, which is when I noticed the huge amount of dialogue on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. After reading through a number of articles and posts, I started to see a bigger picture forming within the scores of people ‘Occupying’ social media sites, where they were expressing an increasing discontent over a wide range of topics from ‘domination by the 1% of economic elite’ to ending the war in the Middle East.

Regardless of the specific topic, I am coming to realize that at the core, THE PEOPLE ARE PISSED, and while not an organized or disciplined group at this point, there is still the fact that the movement, and its various factions, are embracing an entirely new model for communications—one which allows them to control the message.

So, with all of the flaws I personally see with the Occupy movement, I am also intrigued by its use of non-traditional media to disseminate the messages and reach people directly. At the same time, I see many others like myself tiring of the same played out stories about the negative side of Occupy and other politically-charged topics. How long will it be until people completely forsake the mainstream media in lieu of getting the story directly from the grassroots?

Scott Smith can be reached at ssmith@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealAskScott.


Sterling San Francisco: Up and Running!

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone here at Sterling Communications: we opened a new San Francisco office in a fabulous location right around the corner from Union Square.  Now, in addition to our Seattle office and Los Gatos, Calif., headquarters, we have a gleaming new office space in San Francisco at 575 Sutter Street. (There’s just something about the smell of freshly painted walls that I simply adore!)

This is not the first time we’ve had space in San Francisco; we’d had a formal office in the city (that’s San Francisco, not New York) from 1999-2009. We decided to go the “virtual office” route up there in 2009 for several reasons: 1) our lease was up and our Taiwan-based landlord was out of tune with the local market; 2) given our adoption of IP technology, laptops and virtual networks, the transition would be relatively seamless; 3) our employees up there were game to work remotely for a 1-2 year period. (Some folks find the thought of working in pajamas is simply irresistible – and there were frequent trips to our Los Gatos office when they needed a fix of “face time” or needed to hold a big group meeting!) Frankly, as an integrated communications agency that specializes in the high-tech industry, it seemed fitting that we give the virtual office a try.

Here’s what we found:


Lisa Hawes

Sterling Communications Celebrates a Successful 2010

1019160673_4786be776b_m Here's the latest news from Sterling Communications: 

Bucking Recession, Agency Expands Marketing Services Portfolio, Adds New IT and Cleantech Clients and Drives Awareness for all Clients

Sterling Communications, Inc., an independent, full-service communications agency specializing in the technology sector, grew revenues in 2010 despite the sluggish economy. During the year, the firm — which has weathered three major recessions since its inception in 1989 without a layoff — added new clients in the cleantech sector and launched several new marketing communications services.

"We hit some remarkable milestones last year,” said Marianne O’Connor, Sterling’s president and CEO. “We achieved one of our strategic goals for the year which was to expand our client roster in the cleantech sector. 2010 also marked Sterling’s transition from a traditional PR agency to an integrated marketing and digital media firm, as we broadened our services to include website design, SEO and videos/web animation work. I am proud of what our team has accomplished and am looking forward to accelerating our growth in 2011.”