I Really Wish It Were Jedi Returning

gray cat looking at the calendar

I’ve tried to think of a clever or eloquent way of writing this, but I can’t find one. Bald facts: they think my cancer might be back. There’s a spot, it’s small, less than 2cm square, but growing.

I’m having surgery on Monday back at Hopkins. If they can, they’ll remove it. If they can’t remove it, they’ll place markers around it to help direct radiation. After surgery I’ll talk with experts in sarcomas, clinical trials, and radiation therapy and the tumor board at Hopkins will come up with a plan. They really want to avoid chemotherapy. Recovery from surgery will be between 1.5 and 3 weeks, roughly. I’ll be in the hospital between 1 and 3 or so nights, depending on what they find and can do during surgery.

I’m exhausted, angry, and sad. My office is helping me figure out short term disability again, which is good because I was finally up to 16.1 hours of PTO. I’ll have to go negative for a few days, before short term disability will kick in because I can’t go negative enough days to cover even the short end of recovery without taking unpaid leave.

Last year I had my wedding to look forward to and my strong, amazing dad who always knew the right words to cheer me up, even if it was just leaving me a voicemail telling me that he was glad I’d suggested he watch Supergirl because he was really enjoying it and thought I would, too, once I could stream it.

In good news, my husband, cat (pictured), sister, still-living family, and the few gray cat looking at the calendarfriends I’ve already told have been rock stars. I know from last year that my community and friends are amazing. I know where to get biscuits near Johns Hopkins so I can send Jarrod for them when I’m angry and crabby at the hospital (I wish I could remember where my dad got me a milkshake during chemo). I’m luckier than the folks in Silver Spring who recently lost their homes and belongings to the explosion last week (learn how to donate). And, thanks to my dad, I have boxes and boxes of Star Trek books to read during recovery and any treatment that might be needed afterward. Dad liked both Star Wars and Star Trek, but it was Star Trek novels that he devoured and we shared back and forth.

Let’s see what happens.

 

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It’s Been Rough

This was originally going to be a “professional” blog with posts showcasing my skills and the professional stuff about which I am a total geek. Then I got sick.

The sickness turned out to be uterine cancer. I went through surgeries and chemotherapy. I blogged about it at a protected blog because someone was stalking and harassing my husband and me at the time. Eventually, all seemed to be getting better. My hair started to grow back. I started to find my footing again.

Then my beloved, amazing, strong, wonderful dad, Michael Meissner, died from a sudden and unexpected heart attack. My world fell apart again.

I started to cope with my grief and make plans for a delayed honeymoon (my husband and I got married between cycles 1 and 2 of chemo in 2015). I saw Hamilton (amazing!). I thought I’d regain my footing yet again. I decided I would live as much as I could and try to not give into fear.

It’s scary to be open about one’s personal life. There are fears that it’ll make me seem “unprofessional” or “unreliable” to reveal the physical and emotional bullets that have hurtled through my life in the past two years.

If we wanted writers who were 100% free of physical and emotional bulletholes, who had no scars that sometimes pulled and hurt, we’d have robots do our writing. We wouldn’t work with and embrace human beings. Hiding humanity behind a veneer of “professionalism” doesn’t do anyone any good. So I’m combining them. I’m a professional who is damn good at her job and, screw ego, really skilled. I’m also a human being, doing the best that she can and believing that honesty helps everyone.

Screw the stories of cancer patients being kickass warrior women who run Ironman marathons. That’s not what you’ll find in me. I think I have strength and I think I have courage, but it’s the normal kind that does sometimes just curl up with an old stuffed panda and a good novel to escape from reality and feed my creativity.

 

GIFs Are the New Infographics

By now you know you need infographics in your campaigns. You’re comfortable with infographics, so let’s move to the next level!

To really humanize your organization and connect with your audience, you need to do more. You need to include GIFS. GIFS are the new infographics that every cool campaign needs to capture audience attention.

What’s so great about GIFs?

1. They grab attention. Your campaign can’t take off if no one sees it. Also, bonus, once you have their attention, they might be amused enough to share your work.

You do want people's attention

2. GIFs can make even a serious topic a little more fun. No one wants to receive a lecture. People do want to be entertained. Many serious topics can be made more palatable with a dash of humor.
Healthcare is much more fun with a dose of pop culture

3. GIFs humanize your organization. Whether you want donations, signatures, or customers you need to connect with people. People like to connect with human beings. That means they’ll be more likely to connect to your brand if it’s obvious that there are human beings who participate in pop culture on the other end. If you’re human, people can feel a real emotional connection with you.

We all want to be loved

How do I find GIFs?

There are a number of ways to find and make GIFs. You can ask us for help, or you can do some searches. Google image search with the Advanced Settings set to include only animations is a favorite. This works best if you have a particular show in mind. Tumblr is also a fantastic place to find GIFs. Some would even say it’s their natural habitat.

How do I make GIFs?

If you have Photoshop, you can use that for really great gifs. If you don’t though (and we know many organizations that don’t, it’s okay), you can still make GIFs. There are many free gif makers out there. One that works pretty well and won’t be NSFW is imgflip. Just go to the tool, upload the video or link to it from YouTube (you can also upload photos to make a GIF, but a lot of people find that too complicated), and then follow the steps. Make sure to choose a text color that stands out on the image so it’s easy for people to read without having to read lips.

What are the legal issues?

Generally GIFs are considered “fair use” that don’t compete with or draw money from a show. However, don’t do a GIF of the World Cup. As the Washington Post notes, that’ll get FIFA’s attention. As always, talk with your legal department if you have concerns.

I’d love to know some of your favorite uses of GIFs!

I Was Sold To, Without Any Active Selling

Gray cat staring at a laptop

I’ve probably been hearing about coworking since 2011 or so. I have a great setup at home and hate commuting (seriously, the least favorite part of my day when I’m in an office — the Metro is so crowded in the morning, I used to shift my hours just to avoid those crowds). I didn’t really consider myself to be a likely candidate for coworking because of that and a love of yoga pants. I have a fantastic desk in front of my floor-to-ceiling window. I have all the coffee and tea I could want, along with wine for as soon as I finish my work on a long day. Plus I have my cat for when I need a break.

Then a new group, Creative Colony, started up in my neighborhood. They were literally blocks from my home. I first noticed them via Twitter before their space had even opened. I noticed that they were tweeting about my favorite local market (Fenton Street Market) and other cool activities so I started following them. I liked the tone of their Twitter. Because they stressed that happy hours did not require being a member, I went to one and met some fantastic people.

Gray cat staring at a laptop
Selling would not have convinced me that I’d be more productive without my favorite coworker.

When I started up a Twitter account for my local nonprofit thrift shop, Creative Colony began following and retweeting us. They also helped promote our events. Then they began hosting free Monday morning pre-work lectures that I enjoyed and I saw how people easily buckled down to work after the talks. I started to think about giving their discount day pass a try. It was $10. If I hated it, I could easily drink enough coffee and tea, or print enough, to make the money worthwhile. I was hooked after that first day. I somehow finished more work that one day than in two normal days. My boyfriend actually had to text me in the evening to ask when I was coming home because I got into such a good work groove.

Then they did a free coworking week with no pressure to purchase, other than an extra discount if you bought a membership that week.

I’m sure you can guess, I ended up buying a membership. Although what I’m getting for the membership fee is awesome, that wasn’t what brought me in the door, built up my loyalty, and even pushed me over the edge. That was done through social media and community involvement. By focusing not on selling, but on providing value and building up our community, they got me in the door. By then focusing even further on connecting people within the community and providing value for free, they earned my loyalty. Without getting me in the door and earning my loyalty, I liekly wouldn’t have considered a membership, let alone taken the plunge on one.

I got a lite membership (5 days a week) so even if I end up in a full-time, on-site gig somewhere I could still use the space on the weekends or let my boyfriend use the space for his branding work. I’m also still interacting with them on Twitter, thanking them for supporting my volunteer gig, and encouraging friends to go to their Monday morning workshops.

If you want to learn more about selling by focusing on giving away value for free, I highly suggest Mark Schaefer’s book Social Media Explained . I snagged a free copy at an awesome Vocus event where he spoke in the spring, but it’s easily worth the roughly $8.50. Reading it always reminds me of why I love social media and modern marketing. I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed marketing and advertising in the Man Men era of sell, sell, sell, but I love it now when brands see great results by focusing on giving away value and actually helping people, rather than only selling to them. That’s a marketing world where I want to be.

My Three Favorite Ways to Create Visuals for Free

Tan teddy bear in hipster glasses staring at a laptop.

When I left a corporate position where someone else paid for great, fancy software I found that I needed to find some new tools. I no longer had access to tons of stock photos and Photoshop to help me make badass images. Thankfully, some sleuthing, googling, and (always my favorite) asking of friends led me to a happy place where maybe I can’t do everything that I used to, but I can do a heck of a lot.

Hubspot

Tan teddy bear in hipster glasses staring at a laptop.
Bear with my puns please.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a fangirl for Hubspot. They provide various services to paying clients, but as someone marketing on the cheap I absolutely adore all the resources they provide for free to everyone. They provide advice through whitepapers and webinars, as well as a ton of tools. There are free stock photos, templates, and more. Go poke around and you’ll almost certainly find something useful. (Yes, that photo to the side is definitely a free Hubspot Stock Photo — who doesn’t love a bear on a headset, even if it’s not the most applicable?)

PicMonkey

There is a paid version of PicMonkey, but to be honest, there’s so much in the free tool that I’ve never felt the need to buy the full version. PicMonkey is incredibly intuitive with various filters, edits, and even cute overlays and frames for your images. I used the collage tool to make the Facebook banner below right before Easter to showcase a nonprofit thrift shop’s character and variety of merchandise.

Collage of thrift shop merchandise including Easter items and men's suits.

Trying to put this together elsewhere would have involved a lot of futzing with sizes and placements, but with PicMonkey it was less than 15 minutes — and most of that time was spent choosing which photos would work best for our goals!

Photoshop Express

Finally, sometimes you just want the free version of Photoshop. Photoshop Express makes me gleeful until I have a proper “real” version of Photoshop again.  I love the browser version for its simplicity and ease of use.  Just look at that interface with those perfectly useful buttons. How can it make you not want to sigh with gratitude?

Screenshot of Photoshop Express being used to edit a photo of a gorgeous gray cat.

 

This isn’t an exhaustive list (Inforgraphics mean I turn to other tools), but they are my solid standbys, my true favorites. What are yours?

Spitfire’s “Planning to Win” Looks Fantastic

I’m a tip and tool junkie in a lot of ways. I have folders in Google Docs devoted to whitepages, interactive tools, and even templates that will save time for me or others. If a friend calls or emails asking for help, I always turn to those folders to see what I can provide that will help (I adore that Hubspot, realizing that most people don’t have Photoshop, provides templates in PowerPoint so that anyone can put together a good looking image post).

Here’s the latest tool I love — Spitfire’s “Planning to Win” campaign tool. Spitfire Strategies is a cool company I learned about when my old coworker/friend, Adam went to work for them. They work with nonprofits and use their marketing knowledge to help nonprofits raise funds and deploy campaigns. Pretty neat, eh?

Try the tool and let me know what you think! I, for one, am very impressed!