The Stories We Leave Behind

There’s no question 2016 was rough for a lot of people. When you lose David Bowie, Prince, Harper Lee, Gene Wilder and Leonard Cohen in one year, it’s bad. Period. But then add in civil unrest, protests and a tumultuous (and seemingly never-ending) election season and most of us will be only too happy to see this year in the rear-view mirror.

amber-mom-weddingFor me, the heartache of 2016 was compounded by my mother’s death in September, less than a year after my beloved grandmother passed away. Neither was unexpected, really.

My grandmother was 92, although in surprisingly good health until the day her heart suddenly stopped while she was sitting in her favorite chair cheering on her favorite football team (who was winning, by the way).

We should all be so lucky.

My mother was only 71 but had been confined to a memory care facility for the past four years due to early-onset dementia. During that time, we watched as this once vibrant, intelligent, funny woman lost her ability to talk, walk or even smile. She was trapped and I prayed over and over that she would be released from her prison.

When release finally came, I was with her. Even as a writer, I can’t find the words to truly explain the jumble of emotions that washed over me.

Relief.

Pain.

Gratitude.

Shock.

Joy.

Anger.

Sadness.

Hope.

Loss.

And weirdly, I kept thinking, “Well, I guess I’m an orphan now.” See, my father passed away suddenly five years ago at the age of 67 – the same age my mother was when she was placed in memory care.

It’s been a rough few years.

After my mother’s death, my siblings and I walked that path that has become all too familiar recently. The notification of friends and extended family. The writing of the obituary. The planning of the funeral.

We also told stories about my mother, most of them funny. We listened as others shared their own experiences with her, most of them funny. We cried a little. We laughed a lot.

And it occurred to me as I was traveling this road for the 3rd time in five years that that’s really what we are, isn’t it? Stories and experiences. The stories we leave behind. The experiences we’ve given to others. In the end, those are the things that really matter, that stay with us, that bind us together, that keep us alive when we’ve turned to dust.

Experiences and stories. That’s my goal for 2017 for my friends, my family, my clients and those I just meet in passing. To give a little more of myself. To be conscious of the experiences I’m creating for others. To leave a memory that turns into a smile or a funny story.

As you gear up for another busy year, I hope you’ll to take some time to think about your own experiences – those you’ve had and those you’ve given to others. What has stuck with you? What would you like to do more of? How can you create little moments that make you (and your business) someone people love to tell others about? What is, ultimately, the story you’re writing?

I truly hope all the chapters you write in the next year hold only good things, filled with exciting adventures, beautiful experiences, and lots and lots of funny stories.

Don’t Make These Mistakes with Pet Influencers

dog-on-computerFull disclosure: I started out my life in the pet industry as a dog blogger. Four years ago, to keep track of the progress of my fearful dog Mayzie, I created a blog written from her point of view. At the time, I thought I was one of only a handful of humans who were this crazy. But as it turns out, there are thousands of us writing either about or as our pets.

Like the rest of the pet industry, the pet blogger community is growing. And as their numbers grow, so does their influence. There are now entire conferences dedicated to this segment of the industry. BlogPaws, the largest of these, boasted an attendance of over 600 bloggers last year and they expect even more this year.

Smart companies are recognizing the power of these influencers and are reaching out to partner with them in various ways. From product reviews to brand ambassadorship, pet bloggers can drive traffic, increase sales, build brand awareness and create goodwill amongst other pet parents.

However, there are definite dos and don’ts for companies interested in working with this (or any) group of influencers. I conducted an informal poll of fellow pet bloggers and came up with a shortlist of things to avoid when approaching a potential blogging partner:

DON’T send out a mass email.  It’s obvious (and a little insulting) when a company uses a generic email meant to cast a wide net. Starting the email with “Dear Blogger” is a sure sign that a company hasn’t done its research. It’s well worth taking a little time to look at their site and find the contact name, if available (rather than the dog’s or cat’s name). In your email, mention something specific you like about their blog and why you’d like to work with them. Remember, the bloggers behind the pets are human and want to do business with companies and people who value what they do.

DON’T focus on numbers only. Although it seems logical to target large blogs with huge followings, companies would be wise not to overlook the smaller blogs. These blogs often have loyal readers and engaged communities. In addition, they tend to be easy to work with and are willing to give companies more time and space on their sites. Numbers are important but it’s not the only thing that matters when vetting bloggers. Do they encourage lively discussions? Are there people who comment day in and day out? Do they have an active Facebook page or Twitter account? Do they attract a specific niche that would find your company interesting? Looking at the whole picture will help you determine the blogs that will offer you the most beneficial partnerships.

DON’T neglect to offer something in return. Most bloggers I know spend several hours on each review, setting up shots, taking pictures and writing. If there’s a giveaway involved, it’s even more time intensive. While it’s great for a blogger to receive a free product for their own use, it’s unlikely that the product (unless it’s worth a good deal of money) comes close to compensating the blogger for their time. While most bloggers provide product reviews at no cost to companies, it’s appropriate and always appreciated for a company to offer a link (or several) back to the review via their website, Twitter, Facebook and/or other social media.

DON’T forget to say thank you. When a blogger agrees to feature your product or service, they are essentially donating valuable advertising space for free. Yet rarely do companies follow up once the review has gone live and the giveaway has been completed. Not only is a follow-up email just a nice thing to do, it helps build a foundation for other campaigns. If a blogger has been exceptionally easy to work with, or has gone above and beyond, let them know they’re appreciated and make every effort to include them in future marketing plans. These people will often turn into your best advocates and talk you up to others (both online and off) even when they’re not doing a review.

Cultivating relationships with pet influencers can be hugely beneficial and profitable for your company. Approaching them in a professional, thoughtful way creates a win-win-win situation for you, the blogger and potential customers.

Have a question about working with pet influencers? Let me know in the comments.