Jump on the STEM bandwagon

I have STEM religion now.  I have heard the facts, been working with the experts, and now I am fully on board.  A couple of years ago, I didn’t know what STEM meant (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and I certainly didn’t get why it was becoming such a buzz topic.  Now I get it.  The fastest growing sectors of our economy are in the science, tech, and engineering fields.  The US Dept of Labor estimates that by 2020  there will be 1.4 million jobs in these areas  and currently there are only 400,000 kids enrolled in these majors.  That’s 1 million job openings that our kids won’t be qualified to fill.  Sheesh.

As a country, our stats are not so impressive.  Globally we are ranked 25th in math, and 17th in science. (Dept of Education) Why?  Some point to a shortage of well trained teachers in these fields.  When is the last time your kid came home and talked about how great her math teacher is?  If you have one of those fantastic teachers – count him/her among your blessings.  Companies across America are in a bit of a panic about getting kids involved in STEM to create a pipeline of future employees.  Facebook, Apple, Google, and scores of others are promoting after-school STEM programs to stimulate more students to focus in these critical fields.  It is certainly why my company, Sylvan Learning, teamed up with LEGO Education and Tynker to offer classes in Robotics and Coding to elementary school kids with our new Sylvan EDGE brand.

Read the rest of this entry »

My 4 New Millennial Media Lessons

Over the holidays I spent some quality (and quantity) time with my teenagers and I  learned some millennial media lessons – but as a user and not just as a trend observer.  My top 4 media lessons?

1) Binge watching shows – why wade through commercials or wait 7 days for the next installment of a good program?   I know that I may be the last one to jump on this media trend train but this Mom has signed on.  Old favorites of West Wing?  I was chain watching them like a smoker goes through a pack of camels.  House of Cards?  Its my new obsession.  But the beauty of watching commercial free programming on Netflix made it really tough for me to sit through network shows where they are overtly increasing the amount of commercial time between programming.  I mean sure, I like Madam Secretary, but any idiot can tell that the commercial breaks lengthen as we get toward the end of the show.  My daughter suggests that I just record the show and skip through the commercials.  See, she is learning at that nice public school!    Is anyone at the networks working on a new playbook?  I used to think that binge watching was for millennial loafers with nothing better to do than sit around and watch hours of TV.  Now I’m using the old adage “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”.

2) Shared mobile games are a lot of fun!   And who knew that scores of my friends are willing and ready to challenge me to a round of TRIVIA CRACK? Okay, that may be the most aptly named app ever.  It is very addictive.  I don’t know why I never jumped in on the words with friends fad, but there is something nice about playing a round of trivia with an old high school friend, a neighbor, my kids, and even my kids friends.  Its especially nice when I win, of course.  As a media pseudo snob, I thought that these games were for the kids.  But why should kids have all the fun?  I’ve added this to my list of favorite vices.

3) Stupid You Tube videos as perfect ice breakers at awkward gatherings?  Haven’t seen these cousins for 3 years?  Bust out Scott Sterling and see if they counter with Old Greg.  I used to be that Mom who told the kids to put away their phones and turn off the TV at social gatherings.  But lets face it, not all social gatherings are created equal.  I think the holidays help underline that point in black Sharpie.  We had a couple of soirees that started off stiff, but once my son started the video trading, the laughs began and the conversation followed.  Again, I have to hand it to my millennials.  Now that we have armed them with Smartphones, they sometimes use them for good.

4) Social Media Cyber bullying –   it’s appalling and to my surprise it is very real.  Its easy to be an anonymous hater behind a computer screen.  I was outraged when my daughter showed me  Twitter pages (complete with pictures lifted from social media)  that went up dedicated to maligning  several of her high school contemporaries. Their offense?  Dating more than one person during high school.  First, I would have thought that would be a good thing.  ( But I have already established here that I am seriously out of touch) These cyber bullies were slinging some hurtful trash and straight up vicious slander about their fellow classmates.  It is the stuff from the movies and headlines.  Except that I learned something new – that there are more kids than ever  fighting back.  My daughter showed me where dozens had responded to the pages by calling out the authors as cowards and haters.  There were more retweets and likes of the protesters than there was of the bullying.  Then she showed me how she could report them to Twitter, as had hundreds of other kids by the end of the day.  And then she showed me how to just unfollow the pages and turn your back on negative karma and media.

My big “Aha” is that my kids have much more enticing media and entertainment choices than I did when I was their age.  Hell, they have more choices than I had 5 years ago!  But they also have the burden of knowing when to flip it off.  As I started to live in their world, I am got a much better appreciation for how hard it is to master that skill.  Mama Says So.

 

 

Favorite Brand Videos of 2014

My marketing team and I are big fans of videos that really talk to Mom.  As we start our planning for 2015, I pulled together some of my favorite brand videos from 2014.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Hardest Job – From American Greetings Mothers Day Cards –Great creative and brilliant show of discipline – they didn’t to ruin with too much commercial branding.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB3xM93rXbY

PSA about not drinking and driving – Budweiser – Not specifically Mom targeted, but I guarantee you that every Mom watching it cried.  (Or that’s what they tell me)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eubWYPhcEEo

 

Oh, Canada! – Molson Beer  – This a great asset in a campaign where Molson establishes themselves not only as Canada’s beer – but the spirit of Canada.  (Fantastic repackaging roll-out included).  I didn’t intend to have 2 beer videos in my round up but Molson made this about patriotism – not beer.  In a way, eh?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t41wNkGvJ9k

 

Inspire Her Mind – Verizon –   This great video also ran on broadcast TV.  Its about girl empowerment and getting girls to code.  This topic is near and dear to my team’s heart as we gear up our Robotics & Coding classes for kids in 2015.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0

 

Thank you, Mom – P&G – Part of an on-going Thank You, Mom campaign – this one ran with Olympics and make you cry.  I always watch the moms in the stands at the Olympics and try to imagine what they are feeling watching their kids on that international stage .  Ooops.  I’m tearing up again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57e4t-fhXDs

 

These brand videos go viral, in part,  because they each tell a story that authentically connects with people.  Heartfelt or funny they are about the storytelling –  and the brand only tips in at the end.  Commercial messages don’t work.  Stories do.  Send me your favorites brand videos from this year that I may have missed.

 

 

Black Friday Gets a Black Eye?

Today’s headlines are “Black Friday has lost its Mojo” and “Black Friday has lost its allure”.  Maybe the retailers just got too greedy and killed it.  Seriously.  Years ago Friday crept into Thanksgiving Day Thursday.  And everyone knows that there will be more deals on Cyber Monday.  Which, by the way, crept into Sunday since we all have phones and computers at home.  And lets not even pretend that the sales were just re-distributed between Thursday – Monday.  We all know there are more big sales coming right up to Christmas Eve – both in store and online.  So not as many of us feel forced to jump through the late night retail hoops.  It used to be a thing.  It used to be sport.  At the toy company I worked for we would make our Black Friday deals in March with the large retailers and they had a pretty good idea how many shoppers would reliably rip through that hot toy on the Biggest shopping day of the year.  So I wonder if they are sitting on a lot of inventory?  That can only mean bigger discounts closer to Christmas.  Here’s where the savvy shopper can stall and wait it out for the best, best deals.

With online and mobile shopping, the power has shifted.  Mom shops when Mom wants to shop.  It will be interesting to see if the same total holiday dollars are spent when it is said and done.  But it looks like you can sit back down at the table and have the pumkin pie with your family instead of running off to the store.  Mama says so.

 

Facebook Makes it Harder For Brands To Reach Mom

Its official.  Facebook has killed organic reach for brands.  So all of those hard earned “likes” are mostly useless.  Really, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.  As an FB user in my personal life,  I don’t mind losing some of the ads that creep into my feed.  As a marketer, I harrumph that I can’t share messages with Moms who have liked us – signaling that they are interested in our brand content.  Well, that’s not exactly true – I can share a post with all of them (or mysteriously some of them).  But now I have to pay FB to talk to them.

Boy, were we duped!  Marketing, PR, and Social media teams across the globe were  busy beavers building up our substantial audiences.  But we failed to realize that they are not our audiences – they are Facebook’s.  I guess we should have seen this coming – even before last April when Facebook told us that they were reducing brands’ organic reach.  At some point all of these free social platforms had to start showing some bank.  There had to be a day when Wall Street demanded dollars instead of engaged users.  So the Social Media Platform becomes an ad platform.  Bam!  Platform monitized and my brand’s followers are on somebody else’s asset sheet.  Damn, I feel used.

So now when I get the FB pop up questions “what music do you listen to?”,  or “what books have you read?”, I go into a little tirade that sounds like this:  OH NO!  I’VE ALREADY DONE ENOUGH WORK ON YOUR BEHALF!  NOW I AM NOT GOING  TO GIVE YOU MORE DATA TO SELL AD SPACE IN MY FEED!!!”   I don’t think their most recent move was to connect people with better content, yadda, yada, yada.  Facebook will still collect data on all of us and sell ads we don’t want into our feeds.  I just don’t have to like it.  Mama says so.

Your Likes Are useless

Education is what matters – Mama says so!

 I recently left my retail marketing job at Sears / Kmart to contribute to something that sounded more urgent than selling toys and fitness equipment.  Don’t get me wrong, I love both toys and fitness equipment, but I am sure both will do fine without my assistance.  I joined the Sylvan Learning team where their purpose is to help kids succeed and thrive through personal learning.  As it turns out, a lot of kids can’t get everything they need from a classroom with one teacher and 30 students.  Sylvan helps kids who are behind catch up, and accelerate students who want to excel and push ahead.  It sounds simple, but it is pretty powerful stuff. 

I am discovering all kinds of crazy facts about education in the US that are flat out eye openers to me.  Like 3,000,000 kids drop out of high school each year.  Yet 90% of available jobs require a high school degree.  Currently, almost 80% of available jobs require a college degree, so if we plan to have the right workforce in the very near future, we collectively need to do a better job with our national approach to education.

But the real reason I joined Sylvan is not to improve our educational system as a whole.  It’s because like most Moms, I want my kids to be happy, confident, and successful in life.  And that happens when your kids know how to learn, and have a solid education.  Sylvan is one of the rare companies that are focused on motivating kids to learn, so it’s my privilege to join them in their efforts.

It’s Show Choir Time! Mama Says So!

 Heavy makeup, curled hair, bedazzled dresses.  I gape as my soccer-gear- wearing daughter appears transformed into a curious mix between an Irish Step Dancer and a low rent hooker.  And she doesn’t even seem to mind!  In fact, on a Saturday morning she and her contemporaries are gussied up and on a bus at the high school at 5:00 AM for a day of cut throat show choir competition.  They have been singing and dancing for weeks in the choir room and they are ready to bring it.

If this is your first trip to the Show Choir rodeo, there are some ground rules to understand from the get-go.  First, most of the competitions are in small town high schools in Wisconsin and Iowa.  Midwesterners love Show Choir!  Second, a lot of the parents are over the top about these events.  I’m talking appliqué sweatshirts that say “I’m a show choir mom” and big buttons featuring their son or daughter’s face.  Last, despite the first two factors, these cult-like events are jam packed with varying degrees of talent and unbridled high school energy and fun.

My husband and I leave the Chicago burbs bright and early on Saturday and drive a couple of hours north into Wisconsin for this first of the season competition.  We know we are getting close when most of the houses along the rural route have stone deer ornaments in the lawn and some of the front yards feature above ground swimming pools.  It’s a nice touch.  We go by the little town of Brodboard and we see the pizza place where we will probably escape for lunch.  It’s adjacent to the taxidermist, so I am wondering if squirrel deep dish will be one of the options.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Mamasaysso holiday gift list

Haven’t started shopping yet? No problem! It looks like lots of people are putting it off until the last minute this year. And we have two extra days between thanksgiving and Christmas to procrastinate. Be warned though – the weekend before Christmas will be a MONSTER shopping experience. #truth. People always ask me for gift ideas since I’m in retail – So I have put off my holidays guide albeit a little late this year

  1. Family gifts:
    Season tickets to a theatre in your town. We did this when the kids were in elementary school and we had no idea how it would influence their lives. Broadway in Chicago tickets were one of our best presents to the family yet
  2. Board Games -it only sounds corny until everyone stars having a ton of fun playing. Take one as a hostess gift if you get stuck at dull holiday parties. (The ones where you can’t even drink enough to make the people seem interesting)
  3. Harry & David’s Moose Mix – its ridiculous what they charge for it but EVERYONE loves that stuff.  It’s probably laced with moose meth and that is why we continue to buy the overpriced snack.

Teen Gifts -  Always a hard one because they secretly still want the thrill of opening toys, and they are mostly sulky no matter what you get them.  Regardless, here’s my top picks:

  1. Yurbuds – These are the best ear-buds EVER.  They stay in even when you are working out, and they will help your teen ignore you even more when they are plugged into their music.
  2. Little Speakers – I like the Nakamichi cubes.  They are small enough to fit in a stocking, but when connected to teens’ phones / music devices, these little guys can crank the jams to create an instant party
  3. Boys still like RC cars, planes (think Air Hogs) and Nerf guns.  They just do. 
  4. Teen girls have mixed emotions about make up – some love it and some have no idea where to start.  But its a great time to get them into something that looks natural and non trashy – Bare Essentials is a great line to get for teens and its fun to “play” with even Christmas day.

Grandparents – They are soo hard.  “Don’t get me anything, I don’t need anything”  As if we could ever get away with that!  Here’s my tried and trues:

  1. Anything from Marbles Brain Store.  They have all kinds of fun trivia and fun “stay sharp” games for seniors who end up spending a lot of time alone
  2.   iPad – if you are going big.  They are so much easier for the non-computer savvy just cause iPads are so intuitive
  3. Grandmas – Pictures – incorporated in calendars or framed up.  Just because we are leaving our photos on our phones does not mean grandmas are.  They like a picture, damnit.  Scarfs or capes – one size fits all, and pretty pyjamas. 
  4. Grandpas – Gift Cards to restaurants they like (think Olive Garden), sports stuff (golf balls) and favorite team gear (license plate rims, etc)  

Guys in your life:

  1. Stocking stuffer – multi colored shoe strings from Nordstroms.  They change them in the bucks to match their shirts
  2. Clothes – so they stop wearing the same stuff all the time
  3. Fun/ cool winter hat

Kids – Its way too easy.  Go look up my Kmart/Fab 15 list online.  Furbys, Monster High, Lala Loopsy are all perfect for girls.  Boys are still loving Legos, and the young kids love anything that is Doc McStuffins or Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Throw in some classics for stocking stuffers – pick up sticks, card games, jacks.  Its retro and cool and you can still beat them at these things. 

Hope this helps as you go out to polish off your list.  Have a happy holiday!  Mama Says So!

Tricks and Treats – Halloween as I See it

I have certain bias toward Halloween – I will admit it.  After marketing Halloween for Kmart for a couple of years, I have a house full of decorations and an AWESOME witch costume I bought at Kmart for $24.99 and will wear once a year forever.  But when I dressed up for work this year, imagine my disappointment when I walked in the corporate complex to find that I was about the only one in costume.  How awkward for everyone else that they forgot to take advantage of the best day of the year.  Face it – Halloween is the one holiday where you don’t have to go to church, buy anyone a gift, and you can wear any crazy get-up you want.  Wake up, zombie-people!

I started my “corporations kill Halloween” grumbling – but I realize that isn’t true.  I have worked in companies where Halloween is a much anticipated event with food, decorations, costumes, and take-no-prisoners competitions.  If there is one thing I have learned – its that nobody does the costume and decor contest like the IT department.  Those guys bring it!!  Haunted cubes, blood, guts, twisted humor, they are the hands down favorite.  And it reminds me not to mess with IT- ever. Read the rest of this entry »

You Are What You Eat?

I have been keenly aware lately of the rise in kids food allergies and issues.  It is quite commonplace in the hoard of roving kids that move through our house to have peanut, wheat, and dairy allergies.  Now, it does not outweigh the 14 year olds who are shoving fist-fulls of dry breakfast cereal in their mouths, munching a shameless “Hello Mrs Fitz” as they have their arm elbow deep in what used to be my breakfast.  Still, when did the food allergy epidemic happen?

I have always been allergic to milk, but I was definitely an oddity.  I remembered that none of my teachers really believed me, and would try to force those nasty little cartons on me during the milk break in elementary school.   Now, not only has the milk break gone the way of the telephone booth, but there are so many kids in elementary with food allergies that more drastic measures are now commonplace in our community.  We receive the note every year that bans peanut products at school - including our household staple of peanut butter.  In recent years all birthday treats have also been banned.  It just became too hard for the school to manage the safety issues for the kids who have extreme reactions.

At first I was not very sympathetic, and even peeved that hundreds of us had to adapt our lunch packing routines for a few kids.  But once I met a few moms who try to manage the day to day effort of keeping their kids fed an out of the ER, I softened my stance.  My son has also had issues with stomach aches off an on for years.  For cross country, he stopped consuming all dairy and it seemed to clear up.  When he tried to resume cheese, ice cream etc, his body through an out-right fit.  We were pretty clear that he, too was lactose intolerant.

So here’s my queston – WHY?  Have we changed the foods and food production so they affect us differently?  Or has there always been a high percentage of kids with food alergies and we are just better at identifying them now?  I am on a quest to find out.  On a related note did tell my tween daughter that she needs to watch her food choices because you are what you eat.  The reply was “Really?  because I don’t remember eating a bowl of sexy beast this morning?”  Groan.  I’ll continue my research on my own.  :)