“Get people talking. People have a lot of interesting things to share. You might discover an unexpected connection.” — Kelsey Recht, CEO, VenueBook
Ever try to book an event and end up calling around to dozens of places, trying to get someone on the phone to check dates of availability, budget, menu, capacity, etc.? It can be extremely time-consuming and often fruitless. Well, Kelsey Recht, founder & CEO of VenueBook, has a simple solution: create an online platform that enables corporate event planners — or regular people — just looking for a party space to search all of those things and more in one place.
When we saw Recht pitch her idea at a NY Tech Meetup Women’s Demo Night a few months ago, we knew she’d be a rising star in both the technology and hospitality worlds. While VenueBook just launched in New York City, the company plans to roll out its platform to other markets around the country over the next year. We interviewed the founder of what she calls “an OpenTable-like platform for finding and booking event spaces” about launching a brand, standing out in your career and creating buzz.
Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?
The harsh reality right now is that the economy is not strong. Jobs are hard to come by. If you have one, you need to do your best to excel and make a name for yourself.
What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?
Do your homework on reporters and what they cover first. Half of the battle is knowing the right person and what angle to take with them.
What are your top networking tips?
Get people talking. People have a lot of interesting things to share. You might discover an unexpected connection.
“I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say. In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself.” – Valerie Insignares
We meet a lot of powerhouse women in our day-to-day lives — women who are making a name for themselves in their industries and beyond. So, when we recently connected with Valerie Insignares, SVP/Chief Restaurant Operations Officer at restaurant company Darden, we jumped at the chance to get her perspective on standing out in the workplace.
Insignares is impressive — recognized within her company (which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, among other multi-location establishments) for her record-breaking guest count growth as well as for her role in establishing the supplier diversity initiative — she’s made the “most influential” lists for key industry publications as well as Hispanic Business. Add to that her other role as one of this nation’s 30 million working moms, and her list of accomplishments becomes even more inspiring.
With all on her plate (restaurant pun intended), we were honored that she found a few minutes to share her perspectives about serving up authenticity and quality no matter the role and why we should look to Missy Franklin for inspiration:
Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?
I’ve been with Darden for 15 years now, and we’ve grown into the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with more than 180,000 employees and 2,000 restaurants. As the company has grown, the organization has become much more complex and the environment is much more global. In order to stand out, you need to be more than a functional expert. You need to be viewed as a business leader. The way to do that is to view your career as a learning journey: (to) take risks and roles that will broaden your perspective, be committed to evolving your leadership, and be open to relocation. Many more opportunities will be open to you if you are!
As a leader, it’s equally important to be known for how you do things as it is for what you do. It’s important to demonstrate personal balance and commitment to your family and community. Luckily Darden is a place that places equal weight on both its business and its values.
What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?
Play to your strengths. We all come from different places and have seen or worked through all kinds of personal and professional experiences. Remember that you bring a unique perspective to the table as well as a unique set of skills. It’s up to you, however, to deliver tangible value to your employer by using these strengths. At the end of the day, doing good work using your unique strengths is your best PR plan.
What’s an example of when you’ve been your own best publicist?
As a leader, I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say. In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself. Do you behave in way that is positive and energetic? Are you consistent?
What are your top networking tips?
Networking doesn’t have to be something you do in addition to your day job. As a working mother, I have little time outside of my day-to-day schedule of work, family and exercise. My advice is to work connections into your schedule. Make genuine connections with people in your company, industry and community, and keep those relationships going. Simply checking in with these connections a few times a year can help maintain a strong network. Also, keep your commitments. A quick cup of coffee is easy to reschedule when your calendar is full or you have a full inbox. But it’s important to realize we’re all busy, and you’ll be happy you honored their time and your commitment.
How important is it to break through the clutter when you’re trying to stand out—and what’s the best way to do so?
Sometimes you don’t need to break out in a big way; rather, you need to demonstrate leadership qualities and let the result speak for itself. A good leader coaches his or her team and smartly allocates his or her resources in the best interest of the business. Making a true difference is the best way to differentiate yourself.
What’s your best tip for how to get what you want at work?
A great start is to really know what you want! So many people ask me for career advice and say they want to advance, but when I ask them where they are trying to go they aren’t clear. When you’re clear about the types of opportunities you would be open to — lateral, cross functional, relocations, etc.– you are more likely to be top-of-mind when the opportunities are created. You also need to be very willing to do or change what it takes to get there and be ready to say ‘yes’ when asked!
What do you think is the best/worst recent example of managing your reputation?
I think a strong example of reputation management was seen with the United States Olympians in London. Athletes like Missy Franklin, the 17-year old swimmer who at such a young age is expected to carry herself with the composure of someone twice her age. I think we can all learn something about staying calm under pressure and performing to the best of our ability.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing recent graduates now – and how would you combat it?
There is a lot of pressure on youth to figure out what they want to be when they grow up before they’ve had enough experiences to really know the answer. My message to youth is that you don’t have to have it all figured out… but do follow your passion! If you set yourself up for success by taking advantage of educational or mentorship programs and always keep learning and working hard, you’ll carve out a path to success – and that success may look a lot different in the future than it looks now.
I love the restaurant industry! I grew up in Chicago, wanting to be a chef. I’ve lived in Kentucky, Texas, and now, Orlando. I’ve progressed from the purchasing side of our business to leading restaurant operations. I couldn’t be happier, and to realize this happiness, I had to be open to course changes during my career journey. The restaurant industry is truly an industry of opportunity.
What skill or technique have you, yourself, used to get ahead or get a job?
For me, it’s strategic thinking: working with teams to identify and prioritize the work that will matter most to our business and our people. In fact, I use the same skill as a working mom to understand the events I really can’t miss at my girls’ school — like Mother’s Day celebrations, for example!
Happy almost Labor Day!
Are you heading off — or have you already clocked out — for some much needed R&R? If your answer is “no,” you’re not alone.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans left an estimated 226 million vacation days on the table last year. To put it into perspective — that’s almost $35 billion dollars worth of vacation days that went to waste.
The question is “Why?”. Were those findings an outgrowth of what has been a challenging economy and very tight workforce? Are people just too overworked to take time off? Do they not feel supported in using those days? If they do hit the road, did they feel the need to remain connected?
Some of those answers are featured in this great infographic created by Column Five Media for Rasmussen College.
But it made us curious: Will we see the same kind of numbers this year?
Help us out and take our quick survey and tell us how you spent YOUR summer vacation:
We’ll post the results next week.
In the meantime, in honor of this holiday season, we pulled together some top tips to help you stay in vacation mode — at least through the weekend:
- Don’t check your email. The good news is that most people are off, so people should not be expecting a quick turnaround for messages. Set an out of office message and plan to get back to people on Tuesday.
- Step away from the phone. Are you guilty of spending more time with your mobile device (or computer) than you do with your actual friends and family? This holiday, put down the phone and focus on play time. (To lessen the temptation: Change that setting on the phone so it doesn’t ping every time a message is delivered.)
- Find distractions. This weekend is the perfect time to take a road trip, head into the great outdoors, have some cocktails with friends or just catch up on some much needed sleep. Find ways to fill your days so that you aren’t as tempted to check in with work email.
- Find a place with little to no connectivity. Nothing like going off the grid for some peace and quiet.
“Be 100 percent genuine. If you have to fake it, then maybe you are at the wrong event or in the wrong business.” — Andrew Hapke, co-founder of Zokos.com
What’s your advice for developing a relationship with someone you don’t know?
Find common ground to start the conversation even if its something as small as the weather.
What is the one piece of advice that you wish you knew when you were graduating?
How did Zokos get from idea to reality and what prompted you to launch a business?
The idea first originated when the founders took part in a vegetarian dinner club as graduate students at Yale. We were so excited about the amazing food and all the great people we were meeting that we thought, “Why aren’t people doing this more often?” From that spark, we went on to found the company as a way to bring down the barriers to entertaining, so that we could host better parties and host them more often.
What’s your “elevator pitch” for Zokos and how did you come up with it?
“Zokos is a kickstarter for parties. We believe people are hungry for real life interaction and that food is the world’s favorite reason to come together. Zokos.com helps you enjoy better parties more often by sharing the cost with your friends.”
We spent a lot of time crafting our pitch over the last year, working with mentors and going to pitch competitions. It’s amazing how many different opinions smart people can have. We settled on something that resonated with us, but also referenced the crowd-funding industry more generally.
What’s the hardest thing about getting attention for a new brand, particularly without dedicated PR support?
Its hard to get rejected so much! Generally when you first try and get press, it’s when you launch something big for your company, and so you are in a very exciting time in your company’s history. Yet, apparently 95 percent of the press you contacted didn’t think it was that exciting, which can be very discouraging. For us, we just had to make sure our list was long enough that the 5 percent that came through for us was meaningful.
What’s your advice for helping your brand stand out against the competition?
Have a really clear idea of why you are different, and which group of people would care about that difference. Start with that small group, and let them help you build your story so that as you grow, you have a genuine identity that fills a real need.
Working from home is getting more popular and also harder, writes the Wall Street Journal‘s work/life columnist Sue Shellenbarger, in this interesting recent article. With the ability to be connected 24/7 and more ways for your boss to be monitoring your progress and productivity from afar, doing your job remotely may be just as demanding and busy as if you went into the office every day.
According to IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market-research company, the number of corporate employees who work from home at least one day a month has been rising 23% a year since 2007, on average, to 22.8 million last year. Jessica works from home one day a week and she can attest to the fact that some of those days are so packed with conference calls and deadline-driven tasks that she doesn’t even have time to shower or say hello to her toddler between play dates. In fact, because she has a laptop that hooks into her company’s network and a wirelessly-connected duplicate of her work phone at home, most people don’t even realize she’s not physically in the office.
As technology has allowed us to be reachable at all hours no matter where we are (even, in some cases, on vacation), companies are increasingly offering employees more flexibility and telecommuting options, which is a good thing. At the same time, even when you work remotely, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy office environment has gotten more challenging.
Nice Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere – and Other Lasting Lessons Learned from the Legendary Helen Gurley Brown
Monday marked the passing of a publishing legend: Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown who, at 90 years old, still came into her leopard-print and pink corner office at Hearst Tower nearly every day. While Meryl only admired her spunk and sayings from afar, Jessica, who has run PR for Hearst Magazines for over a decade, knew Ms. Brown personally and was able to admire her up close.
Ironically, a story Jessica had been working on for months about the power of Cosmo as a global brand, ran in the New York Times Magazine just last Sunday and paid homage to Brown and the influence she had on the 100 million readers of Cosmo around the world. The “Cosmo Effect,” as it has been called, all started with the publication of Brown’s bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl, much of which is still relevant today. If you haven’t read it, you should.
In light of this significant loss for the magazine world and for women in general, we wanted to take a moment to share some of our favorite lessons gleaned from the author/businesswoman/editor’s life well lived and well spoken (if not controversial at times):
-“Nice girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.” Brown wasn’t technically a “bad girl” but she was a risk-taker and she had the confidence to be her own best advocate to get ahead instead of fading into the background. Yes, she started as a secretary but quickly rose the ranks of the advertising world, then conquered the magazine landscape with her bold, frisky version of Cosmo.
-A handwritten note goes a long way. Famous for her handwritten and typewritten notes, Brown sent them to everyone she met. In fact, a book of select notes she had written, Dear Pussycat (her preferred term of endearment), was published in 2004 and is filled with quippy, thoughtful, interesting messages from her to people such as Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Barry Diller and Steven Spielberg, among many unknowns. We simply don’t hang on to people’s emails like we do a handwritten note and it really makes an impact when you send one. In fact, Jessica still has the note that Brown wrote to her in 2003 saying, “You were such a busy person and you took such good care of me…I was wildly impressed!” — and she cherishes it to this day.
-“Beauty can’t amuse you, but brainwork—reading, writing, thinking—can.” Brown did not consider herself beautiful; in fact, she referred to herself as a “mouseburger” (the feminine version of “milquetoast”). But, boy, was she whip-smart and that –even more than looks–was (read: “is”) sexy. The brainier you are, the more beautiful you get!
-“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.” Being book-smart is one thing, but being street-smart is often more important in getting ahead. Common sense is an innate skill and if you listen to it. It will help guide you in the right direction. Trust your gut. Helen Gurley Brown did and look where it got her.
-“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how listening can often be even more important than speaking. It will give you insight on people that you wouldn’t get if you just blathered on about yourself. Brown understood this and was gifted at reading people –both women and men– and identifying what they wanted.
-“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.” We interpret this phrase to mean that everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of young people these days don’t want to take an unglamorous entry-level or administrative job; they want to get to the top quickly. But Brown started in the secretarial pool, worked hard, networked and moved up. But she never turned her nose up at getting into the trenches in order to get things done. Even when she had reached the top, she often stayed at Cosmo’s offices until midnight to make sure everything was just so.
-“What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.” She believes that every woman can be successful and sexy, even if they don’t have traditional good looks or natural style. Like we address in our book, finding your personal style is about playing up your best features, creating a signature that people will remember you for and presenting yourself with confidence.
Helen Gurley Brown was truly ahead of her time. She believed in the power of women and encouraged them to shoot for the moon in all aspects of their life, from relationships to career. The world is a little less interesting without her in it.