Flagstaff Communicators

Mike Russell telling his COmmunicators story

Meet & Greet at Collins Pub, March 2012

Recently I was asked to help out with a local organization that I had been a part of a few years back, the Flagstaff Communicators.

I was first introduced to Communicators 10 years ago in its early heyday when it was well above 100 members. My story starts even before I knew it existed. I had begun my first job in the industry of graphic design at a book publisher, Northland Publishing in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a wonderful job. I was surrounded by the various professionals in the industries I loved: photography, illustration, journalism, design and art directing. All these fields working together producing beautiful books with loads of visual content. I was also introduced to the world of copy-writing, marketing, sales and distribution all within a homelike office in my hometown of Flagstaff, just below the magnificent San Francisco Peaks. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better. Unfortunately economy and corporate buyouts caused the office to slowly shut down, I was laid off and left to fend as a graphic designer in a small town. My next job was also a publishing house but not as desirable in that the subject matter was not my subject of choice and the software was outdated. The people were not as focused on the visual as they were the bazaar subject matter, which I don’t wish to offend so will leave out. Let’s just say I was isolated in that I was not a “believer” of the subject matter. This is where Communicators came in. I read an ad about the group in a local “rag”, Live Magazine. It was a marketing organization that met monthly for networking with other marketers, photographers, illustrators, writers ect… It sounded familiar to my days at Northland and I was in.

Upon going I was welcomed by local professionals from all the fields and work places that I was trying to get into. It was a great experience, though my boss at the time did not look favorably on the length of my lunch excursions once a month as it was always tough to keep it under an hour. Nevertheless I went regularly and even invited office staff, we were like a secret society, sneaking out to a group of greater ambitions and hope. After 4 years at this job I would move on to a public relations company in town, a job that I felt more confidently about. They actually asked me to get involved with Communicators and my boss at the time invited me to a board meeting, they needed help and I couldn’t say no, so began my board participation. I became the event coordinator, it was a great position as I got to pick the meeting topics and work with the speakers. I learned a great deal about the Who’s Who in Flagstaff.

This job unfortunately didn’t last a year due to one of the owner’s finances so after loosing a second good job I decided to go out on my own and took the freelance plunge. Communicators was there to help me promote my business and meet new clients. Unfortunately I was better at promoting Communicators than I was my own business. Eventually I ended up at my current job working for the City at the Convention & Visitors Bureau, promoting the very city I grew up in. At this point I had been involved at the board level for about 4 years, having served as President the last two I decided to take a break from the group to focus more on my current job at the Flagstaff CVB. The job’s tourism and government components presented a new challenge and I felt it was time to let other community members take the reins of Communicators.

Mike Russell speaking at a luncheon on "How to speak Visual".

Invited to speak at a luncheon on "How to speak Visual".

Where I work now I am surrounded by sales, marketing and public relations professionals who often are not at the office due to the nature of their work. As a graphic designer I feel chained to my desk so I had been looking for ways to get out of the office. Two things occurred over the last couple of years that brought me wanting to come back to Communicators. First was Twitter, when I started growing into a network of online professionals I found myself reminiscing about the old days of Communicators. I began attending tweet-ups on a regular basis to fulfill that need to get out and meet people and even stepped up to help Paula Monthofer, the local tweet-up aficionado, coordinate three tweet-ups while she was on maternity leave. The other thing that happened was my former board member base who had also taken a break from the organization called me out and asked to get together with each other for an old-time lunch. This was a great feeling, to have people I met with on a regular monthly basis want to get back together for no other reason than that we enjoyed each others company. This also brought back the good vibes of Communicators. When finally Star Hunter and Frank Moraga called for help from former Communicators I was quick to say yes and so here I am, once again on board and ready to help build not only a new membership base but also a new channel of my life.

In tweet-ups we use the acronym IRL, meaning “in real life”, as in “I finally met so-and-so at a tweetup IRL”. Communicators is all about the IRL. In today’s world of online networking, webinars and video conferencing we need more than ever to gt out and meet people IRL. If you are reading this and you are from Flagstaff I hope you will give the organization a chance, you truly do get out of it what you put into it. I put ten years in and it helped me every step of the way.



Who said social media was going away?

Social media faces of MikerDzign

Social media faces of MikeRDzign

The never-ending world of social media continues to draw me in. I started not with My Space, but with Twitter and Facebook in about 2007, when Twitter was still a word that made most people smirk, or raise an eyebrow. As I followed along with Twitter I learned the twitter-speak and yearned for more – jumping into any new thing that came along; Twibes, Twazzup, Tumblr, Flickr, Blip.FM, and of course LinkedIn and YouTube. I also found out about Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Mashable, Hubspot, Words with Friends and those nasty Phishing schemes. I followed leaders of the new digital frontier like @GaryVee @PeteCashmore, and @CaliLewis. I attended Tweetups on a monthly basis and got involved with the Foursquare community in location-based apps. But that’s all old news. Twitter is no longer the eyebrow raising app that it used to be and social media did not just go away like some presumed.

Today there seems to be a social media app for everyone. My brother got me into Geocaching where I learned of a whole new network of behind the ‘screen’ treasure hunters who took their devices outside. Geocachers are a whole new tribe of Social Media with different lingo and different allegiances, they don’t care so much about where you eat, or what you are doing today as long as you BYOP, CITO and avoid the muggles you’re OK. I also discovered apps like GetGlue, Klout and my current favorite; Instagram, and yet again each of these platforms is another filter from the mainstream of Twitter and Facebook. These apps draw smaller crowds of people who like certain types of things and have certain types of ways of sharing. There are whole worlds buried within these app communities of lingo, icons, contests and friendships. I had only just begun snapping photos with Instagram when I realized I had followers, and their was a feed that you could watch of your friends photos, and that with the right choice of hashtags you could open your photo to worlds of Instagram users.

Do I sometimes worry about broadcasting my life 24/7 to a mass of unknown followers? Somewhat maybe, but every time I decide to back away someone RT’s my tweet,  gives me an #FF,  or follows my Foursquare tip. Whether it’s a well-known event promoter like Mark Dudlik who contacted me about the AIGA/Pivot event happening in Phoenix Arizona, or a conference event speaker like Troy Thompson responding to me and seeking me out at a conference just to say hello. In San Francisco I met a company, At Large inc., from Sarasota, Florida who I’ve been following on twitter and ended up going to dinner with their staff, and in my own hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona lead vocalist Colin Hay from Men at Work, a major band of the eighties, complimented me on a tweet about his upcoming  concert performance. These are  examples of celeb social media stars, but it’s also the social media friends I’ve come to know that keep me from just walking away.  It’s not just a marketing tool, or a new trendy application anymore, it’s a social network of connections with like-minded people. Twitter cannot be simply reduced to a cutesy app for tweeting about lunch, it’s also my only connection to many people I would otherwise never have met. When I go to a conference I automatically know people, when I go to a city I’ve never been to before I can seek out advice from people on where to eat, shop and how to get around, and most of all when in uncomfortable situations like a conference or being in a strange city I can easily be comforted by the reminders that I got friends watching my tweets, enjoying my photos and perhaps even meeting IRL. At home I find out what’s going on around town, with the weather and someday soon I know we will eventually pull together and stop a fire or perhaps catch a bank robber (of which we’ve had many in the last year). Social media is here to stay, if you haven’t got on board yet there is an app community out there waiting for you.

eTourism Summit, 2011

This was my first time to the eTourism Summit and first time to San Francisco. My last conference was Phoenix Design Week a high powered design conference in Phoenix Arizona. As much as I like to network and grow in my native design industry, having worked for the Flagstaff CVB for the last 4 years I have an added responsibility to learn more about the industry of tourism. My supervisor suggested the eTourism Summit…I’m thankful she did.

In the world of travel/tourism visitors are exposed to a host of options for designing their getaway; from Trip Advisor, Yelp and Urban Spoon, to mobile apps like Tripit, and social sharing sites like Twitter and Facebook. Destination Marketers are presented with challenge of harnessing the various media options out there in one centralized media hub and projecting it out in the proliferation of devices that are on the market today.

I’m not going to try and sum up what I learned or sound as if I have all the answers from a two day conference but I did learn to appreciate the challenge destination marketing organizations (DMOs), face and am all to familiar with ecommerce’s widening grasp of the marketplace. As a graphic designer I have faced many of the same technology expectations. Clients want you to be able to provide the next greatest technological thing; they want speed, they want it cheap and they want it done yesterday.

For DMO’s the next step is finding the team that can provide the answers, whether it is an internal team or working with an agency, you need to build a collaboration of trust and communication that leads to solutions. Some of my suggestions are to be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into a solution that isn’t adaptable. Take the reins of social media and engage with your community, build your networks and be transparent. Brainstorm, plan and empower your staff to work together, every voice counts.

Some of the key themes I pulled from this conference were collaboration and building from what you know. Expand on your key resources and leverage your assets. Build with user generated content and partnerships. Get to know Google Adwords. With all of these don’t be afraid to experiment and be creative.

An interesting article on some of the same concepts suggests new tools for the evolving digital landscape:

As digital technologies create a continuing disruptive environment, old methodical, systematic and proprietary approaches must be augmented with new skills.

Here’s some of what’s needed:

Integration: In the analog world, things moved slowly enough that people with diverse abilities had time to learn to collaborate as new technologies developed.  Digital technology, however, moves at dizzying speed and people of varied talent and expertise must find a way to work together on the run.

Today, points of operational interface need to be the primary focus of managing digital activity.

Partnerships and Frenemies: The world is changing so fast that nobody can really keep up with it.  We’re all a little bit lost.  Therefore, it is important to be able to develop mutually beneficial partnerships, in the form of licenses, standards and joint ventures, even with competitors.  No one can do it all.

Empowerment: Another consequence of the digital age is the multitude of capabilities involved, which means management knows very little about each individual speciality.  Control has become an illusion and the lunatics really do run the asylum.

If people aren’t empowered to share their views, an important part of the strategic picture is lost.  Even worse, since very few people understand the work of highly skilled specialists, those with coveted skills will often simply do what they think is best and not tell anyone.  Why fight to get your voice heard when you and you only control what you actually do?

Digital Strategy vs. Digital Skills, 2010 November 3

One last final thought from the perspective of a lone graphic designer is don’t forget the visual landscape that you are entering. As consumers navigate the web they may want speed and functionality above everything else but in light of this last weeks events we cannot forget the importance of brand. Steve Jobs taught us that it’s not just the speed and functionality but also the visual exterior that counts. We live in a different world because of Jobs and his company. One where people identify themselves with every accessory they own. From not just your Nike shoes or beverage of choice but now people identify with their peripheral devices. They arm themselves with gadgets and take sides for what they believe in. Jobs created a brand of computers that had style, people weren’t just working on a computer they were given the choice of colors they proudly touted their devotion in a Microsoft dominated world. The Mac was never just another personal computing device and your web, mobile or social media strategies should never be just tool’s that offer speed. They should reflect your company and give the consumer a feeling of presence, they should know exactly where they are in the digital landscape and feel comfortable knowing it. I want speed if I want to order wings but I also want to know where I’m getting them from so I can go back or so I can shout it out on social media. I want the quickest solution with the most information and to be able to purchase tickets, make a booking and get solid advice from one place but I also want to know it’s a reliable source that I can trust.

If there is one thing I’ve learned form attending both of these conferences it’s that there are a lot of people out there with the same expectations, fears, concerns and ambitions and they are all trying to stay up to speed. Be sure you are not neglecting the true value of who you are and what you offer and not becoming just another technological fix with bells and whistles.

Related blogs:

About the eTourism Summit

DMO Strategy: Technology or Inspiration? By

Digital Strategy vs. Digital Skills By Greg Satell

Video from my trip:

Why Tweetup?

Twitter is great but the Tweetup is a phenomenon all it’s own. In Flagstaff, Arizona we are privileged to have had tweetups put together since 2009 by the always fabulous Paula Monthofer (@PMonthofer). I have been a part of other organizations but nothing quite like a tweetup, in fact I was looking for something new to get away from dual graphic design jobs, working in publications and web management at The Flagstaff CVB and burning the midnight oil with a graphic design freelance business. The first Flagstaff Tweetup came at just the right time as I was feeling burnt out in my virtual world of graphics and online avatar friends and needed a real world professional outlet. It was at Picazzo’s where members of a blossoming twitter community first came out from behind their PCs and mobile devices to meet IRL. What a truly motivating experience to meet people of similar interest and to talk about Twitter, then still very new. You can view photos from the first Flagstaff Tweetup on Deborah Soltesz’s Flickr Stream (@dsoltesz) .

From then on it was history, through Paula and friends like James Anderson (@Jim_Anderson1) and Carra Riley (@Cosmiccowpie) Flagstaff and Sedona Tweeps would continue to meet at various places throughout town on a monthly basis, meeting new tweeps and tasting fine samples of food provided by the generous restaurants and business owners. The tweetup became a volunteer effort by the members who chose to come and contribute, some took video, some wrote blogs and some bought drinks for those that came (Thanks Jim). This went on until Paula became “set at bay” with the much tweeted about #BellyPirate. Pre-occupied with her soon to be born, bundle of joy and her business as a Realtor and Instructor, I was obliged to take my turn in helping things along by bringing the much anticipated reopening of Bookmans and #Flagstaff #Tweetup together in one celebration. The 2011 January tweetup was a large one, no doubt due to the help from Kate Beles (@Bookmansflag), also a community who cherishes its local venues and an uncontrollable growing twitter audience. Within this tweetup there were mini tweetups: the twitter Rat-Pack of Flagstaff; @Kordean, @Bobraibourne, @drewlesaurus , @Mouuntain_O, @Eunicebrownlee, a group of new twitter Parents including Paula, @Schussman and @HeatherAinardi, a group of NAU Communication Arts students curious to check out the tweetup and a group of tech talking tweeters including @Bschorr, @Flagcent and @Sedonadogg, and so much more. With Paula’s support and encouragement I would go on to plan two more tweetups and am happy to say I found that real world professional outlet.

Thank you to Paula for not only starting the Flagstaff Tweetup, or #Flagup as coined by Greg Roybal (@Piogreg), but also encouragement and love to all us tweeps who use twitter to it’s full benefit and promote our wonderful town of Flagstaff.

Tweetup at Flagstaff Visitor Center April 2011

Here are a few blogs dedicated to the Flagstaff Tweetup.




Traveling via iPhone and Social Media

So I just got back from a day trip to Phoenix for a Adobe CS5.5 workshop. It was a last minute decision to go, but I’m glad I did. Not only was it a great workshop and a good networking experience but it was also a Social Media experience in traveling with an iPhone.

Going down to Phoenix, Arizona, a two hour drive from Flagstaff in Northern Arizona is a necessity when living in a small town and trying to maintain a big city career as a graphic designer. If you want to stay up on current trends and fresh on the current software and technologies you need to participate in all the events you can. Webinars are great but you sacrifice face time and valuable networking. I have found maintaining contacts in Phoenix a valuable resource and refreshing source of inspiration. Plus you can’t beat the real life exposure to the city. It is alive with networks of communication that speak to you the moment you enter; roadway signs, city transport advertising, architecture, radio airwaves and fashion trends all seek to get your attention and inspire or motivate a mind in need of new motivation.

Twitter Converstation between Mikerdzign and Mountain_O

With my iPhone prepared I planned ahead the night before and asked on twitter for the best app to use as a navigation tool. I go to phoenix a few times a year and typically get lost or thrown off course at least once or twice. Thanks to @Mountain_O, a friend in the Flagstaff community of tweeps, I was referred to Mapquest, I’ve heard of it before but had not used it until now. So I tried it, plugged in my destination, along with a destination to a nearby lunch venue and lastly to a friends house from the event so that I would leave no room for error. Mapquest turned out to be a great tool and friend; the soothing female voice giving directions became quite comforting. Even though I’ve been to Phoenix a thousand times I never fail to take the wrong off ramp or get detoured by construction and end up in some undesirable neighborhood off the freeway where I feel like I need to lock the doors and not make eye contact for fear of starting a gang riot. Upon reaching my destination, a half hour early, I found I had time to do the necessary Foursquare checkin with an added photo of the brilliant architecture of the ASU Building of Design and Architecture where the event took place.

In addition to planning my route the night before I also purchased tickets online the night before via Eventbrite and was able to use my iPhone as a ticket at the registration table. The workshop itself was put on by AIGA Arizona and featured Brian Wood, an Adobe Certified Instructor. The course audience was mostly AIGA members from what I could tell but a few others had made it from the outskirts with one person from Winslow and another from Tucson. Upon entering and taking a seat I immediately went to my twitter account to find where the discussion would be taking place online. All I could find is the comments from various AIGA members using the @aigaarizona twitter handle. The first thing I look for in a seminar like this is a hashtag so that I can follow along with my iPhone too see what others are saying about the instruction, it also helps to push out quotes and thoughts to my friends back home and to network before and after the event is over. Twitter in defense to those who think “it’s a distraction during meetings or rude”, is in my opinion a great way to become even more a part of the discussion and for an outsider to learn a little about those sitting around you. As the discussion began I kept an eye on my twitter account but there was not really a lot being said, and if it was I was missing it because I was not a part of the networks within the room who most likely knew each other so I decided to tweet: “This #adobe workshop needs a hashtag @aigaarizona #justsaying.” Immediately I got a response from @MarkDudlik well known for writing an open letter to the Phoenix design community, calling for unity and forward thinking and thus inspiring Phoenix Design Week. Mark put out a suggestion that we use the hashtag #adobeaigaaz which seemed good enough to me. At the end of the event I thanked Mark even though no one had really used it besides us, however he did say they would continue to use it for all the following workshops. So in a way I felt I had contributed in a small way to the groups’ presence on twitter and hope it will become a future resource to keep all tweets in one unifying stream so outsiders like me can participate while attending, or if we can’t attend but want to know what’s going on.

Foursquare tip of nearby restaurant.

The next phase of my iPhone enhanced day would be to find my next destinations via Mapquest which I did seamlessly and of course to foursquare each stop. The amazing part of foursquare is that you are able to see what and where your friends are while out and about and I came across several Phoenix friends’ trusted spots along with tips and recomendations. It was quite a cool experience going into a restaurant and getting a tip on what to order from a familiar face. It was also cool to see that many of my Flagstaff friends were also in town that day and as a matter of fact some were nearby, given more time I would have chatted them up via twitter, but I was in a rush to get to my buddy’s house where I would be able to recharge my battery sucking device and visit “IRL” (in real life) without digital intervention for a while (unless you count that we watched the new Star Trek on his Blue Ray T.V.)

My last endeavor of the day would be on my way out of town where it became necessary at the oncoming sunset to find the nearest Starbucks. This usually does not require a digital device as there is one on every corner, but when you find yourself scouring parking lots and hitting every red light and every store front people-crossing you decide that an immediate source of information is better than endless searching, so I downloaded the Starbucks app and sure enough there was one just down the street from where I was. Upon leaving, Mocha-Coconut Frapucchino in hand, I Foursquared: “Time to head back up the hill. (@ Starbucks) http://4sq.com/k25BXf” and received yet another tip of a nearby restaurant from a foursquare friend as well as a message from a twitter friend @Azdurawrap, to have a “safe trip”.

All in all it was a great day participating in virtual and real life experiences where I was never for a moment alone. The voice of my trusty Mapquest companion kept me on the right path. I received tips and suggestions of my Foursquare friends. I helped provide a place to stream tweets about the future AIGA Arizona events and oh yeah I attended a great workshop via @AskBrianWood and @aigaarizona.

Jim Nissen president of AIGA Arizona

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Beware the Quickie Job

Recently I was asked by a client if I could do a “quickie” design project. This is a common question from clients, friends and family. This was not an official meeting that I was prepared for. Often clients will expect that something in the digital world takes less time and because graphic designers have the software and equipment they can just push a button and “poof!” In a lot of cases that may well be the case, but it’s not always the case and graphic designers should be aware of being lured in to this simplification of our industry. Just like anyone else we should be compensated for our time, services and overhead. Graphic designers as business owners like any other professional have to pay overhead. Just like repair services charge service call fees regardless if the problem is fixed, or the bank who has fees for every small little task, just like the medical specialist who charge for their time and the use of expensive medical equipment, we too have to treat our profession with the same respect. While I may freelance out of my home I still have to pay for utilities, upgrades, training, supplies and the list goes on as it does for any business. Equal or greater compensation must provide for that to make my business sustainable. So back to the quickie edit question if you ever find yourself in the same place; be sure to consider all factors before you give an estimate. Consider all processes involved and give an accurate estimate rather than giving into a simplified guesstimate.  Have a minimum amount of billable time, for instance I charge by the hour but I bill in 15 minute increments as the lowest time interval. Finally don’t sell yourself short, your time is valuable, your software and hardware is valuable and your expertise is valuable, though it may be a “quickie” project, the client is relying on your expertise, your software which they may not have or be able to afford and your time.

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