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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a publishing house but not as desirable in that the subject matter was not my subject of choice and the software was outdated.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.


Mikerdzign Logos

MikeRDzign Logos II

MikeRDzign Logos II

MikeRDzign Logos

All samples shown are trademarked and/or copyrighted by their respective legal owners and are not subject to reproduction by any means.

Social Media on the Job

Mikerdzign Twitter PageAs we all are pioneering into this great open space called social media we’ve found there are many trials and tribulations along the way. We’ve all experienced the highs and lows of our new semi-celebrity status. To stay current and with the times we’ve stuck with it despite the nay-sayers, the fear mongerers and the corporate doubters. Along the way we’ve found some new friends and confidants as well as realizing that some of our old friends are not the same. In my own experiment I have found that my hidden and controlled life has become exposed, my beliefs and convictions, my temperament and professionalism challenged. This isn’t just a way to connect within a like minded click of internet forum techies, this is a mass public transit of people of varying beliefs and purpose. Some want to sell, some want to learn, some want to be a part of something bigger and some just want to re-connect. How do you put yourself out there with so many different directions, how do you control your own path when there are so many viral pathays of thought? 10 years ago no one would have conceived of expressing themselves in such a public way, and many today still can’t and won’t. There have been repercussions, layoffs and I’m sure lawsuits. Many have been burned by putting out posts that should have never been entered.

Hopefully you set out with a strategy, a set of guidelines within your organization or at least a set of personal rules. Here are some potential guidelines I would recommend from my own experience of work related posting.

Be Real but be Professional. If you are posting for your organization, make it clear that you are doing so and get approval for your postings, discuss the orientation and manner of discussion you are promoting with all who will be involved and I would even suggest having regular meetings on the relevancy and course you have set out on. Social media is transparent in that you are yourself and not a marketing robot who put’s out mindless sales leads. Be real but be focused, and be professional.

Be positive and Pay-it-Forward. As said before, social media is not a techie forum for complaints. You put yourself at risk every-time you complain or vent about someone or some thing. Social media requires that we are accountable.

Inform and Educate. Don’t expect folks to flock to your account and comment on all of your wonderfully articulated posts, put something useful out, something that promotes not just you and your business but something that maybe educates folks on your industry.

Bite your Tongue. If someone posts something mean and nasty on your wall, hold on for a bit, bite your tongue long enough to let your emotions calm before posting something you’ll regret, especially if it’s a work related page. Stay professional.

Leave them Hanging – Don’t Overdo it. You don’t need to give every detail of your day. The best posts are the ones that tease or leave them hanging. The best thing about social media is that we often are all dealing with the same issues and you don’t need to say a lot to get a response “This wind really blows!!!”  or “Pay Day – I’m buying!”

Give Credit. If you are re-tweeting on Twitter or sharing a Facebook post be sure to give due credit to the original person who posted.

Don’t be a SM Snob. If all you are doing is putting info out and not responding to posts on your wall or mentions, tweets or direct messages than you are no better than the celebrities who are taking over social media and turning it into just another spotlight on them. Social media is about engaging. I’m not even sure why celebrities are on SINCE MOST ONLY FOLLOW OTHER CELEBRITIES AND FORCE US PEONS TO WATCH THEIR CONVERSATIONS WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO COMMENT!!! – whoa, do I seem bitter.

Don’t Vent. Unless you are ready to laugh at yourself, (refer to above commentary on celebrities).

Don’t use All Caps. Unless you are ready to laugh at yourself, (refer to above commentary on celebrities).

Be Consistant. Don’t post once one week and fifty times the next, post on a regular basis and if you decide to “go off the grid’ for awhile let your followers know.

Don’t be a Fear Mongerer. If you are concerned look it up, research it and put out your well thought-out concerns but don’t spread panic because your accounts been hacked. Just change your password and get back to posting (and stop clicking on links that you know your friends would never, ever send you).

Avoid Politics and Religion. Remember I’m talking about work related posting. On your personal time – do whatever you want.

Related articles:

How I made My Avatar

So I’m pretty sure I get a lot of follows based on my Avatar. Not to say that my real face is hideous and folks would shun me because of my non-blue complexion, but I think people are drawn to the creative aspect. As a graphic designer I’ve always felt it important to make a statement about my craft with my resume/portfolio, so representing myself in an illustrated graphic makes since for me, whereas a realtor, for example should probably go with their true face. Of course now you can get your own illustrated face through several sources on the web, and there are plenty of those hip little avatars from various social media apps but mine is truly custom and I do think it brings attention to my social media outlets.

Relevant Magazine -Keanu Reeves

Relevant Magazine -Keanu Reeves

Now the blue wasn’t my idea to be fair, in fact I got the idea sitting in a auto mechanics shop (waiting for my then blue chevy blazer to be worked on). I remember sitting in the small waiting room inclosed with windows that faced the penetrating and blinding sun, I sat with my two boys around 5 and 7 years old at the time, bored, thirsty, hot and driving me nuts playing with the door that rang every-time you opened it! And there it was the inspitration, sitting on the coffee table under a stack of People and US magazines, an image of hope to a designer needing a new motivation. Keeanu Reeves, in blue on the cover of RELEVANT magazine. The coolest thing I ever saw, I asked the mechanic if I could take the magazine, he didn’t seem to care. In it I found the content interesting, kind of a hip religious magazine targeted at 20 somethings, as a designer the design and illustration of the magazine and articles really moved me, it truly was a new inspiration point in my career. [Cue the chorus of angels]. 


Steps to becoming blue

Steps to becoming blue

So I decided I couldn’t let Keeanu have all the glory and thought maybe this would make for a cool client christmas card that I could send to my clients, to put my smiling face fresh in their minds. The process involved me late one night taking photos of my self, then a not so common necessity as avatars were virtually non existent. I then pulled the photo into Adobe Photoshop and applied a blue hue to the photo via the poster effect and hue saturation sliders. I followed by pulling the photo into Adobe Illustrator and began with tracing over the  posterized colors. Posterization is cool because it breaks a photo down into basic colors, you can specify the amount of colors you want represented, the less you specify the larger the blocks of color, and you end up with a flat looking image that is less difficult to simulate in a vector program like Illustrator. As you can see, it took a number of steps to get to the final, (and I’m leaving out quite a bit regarding drawing with bezier tools and adding gradients). Illustrator’s layers allow for opening and closing of top and bottom layers so you can see what you’re doing from start to finish. Starting from Basic elements like face and hair shape to more detailed elements like eyes and facial hair, also the white outline which gives the illustration an added illustrative feel, is a duplicate of the entire image that is then added to the back with the white outline. Pleased with the final result I was able to produce the christmas cards, added snowflakes and all, and go on to use this same image in a number of other ways including my avatar in apps like Twitter, Facebook, Blip and of course WordPress. Thanks Keanu, and thanks RELEVANT Magazine for showing me the light.  Just so you know I’m not slighting the content of your magazine, I did become a subscriber and I am also a volunteer core member in my kids religious teen group.