Portland happenings

Jennifer Huston, the “Missing Person”

For the past week I’ve becoming increasingly consumed with the ongoing search for Dundee woman Jennifer Huston.  On the outskirts of Portland, Dundee and neighboring Newberg where she was last seen are quite close to where I live in Tualatin and my kids went to school in Sherwood.

I am not here to speculate or accuse or even try to guess at her whereabouts or what exactly went down after her bank, gas station and Rite-Aid visits (although I may have a few opinions); what I want to comment on is how this case and Jennifer are being depicted in the media.  In fact, some reading this may not have even realized that her name is Jennifer. That is because in nearly every media story, blog post and TV segment, she is referred to as the “Missing Mom.”  And of the photos I’ve seen in the media, the majority are of her with her kids and family. She is described as a “devoted, stay-at-home mother who volunteers at her son’s school.”

The fact that this 38-year-old woman’s entire existence has been condensed down to the fact that she is now a “missing mom” – almost without a name – is something I’ve found strangely aggravating. I too am a “devoted mom” in my mid-30s; however, while I love my children dearly and being a parent is priority number one, it does not solely define me. If she was a stock broker would the papers read “missing stock broker” and if it was a man with children would it say “missing dad” or would it call him by name?

In trying to understand where Jennifer may be today, I struggle with the fact that a clear picture of who she is outside of her role as mom has seemingly not been told: what does she enjoy doing for herself; with who; and where?  As the country clamors around this case and interest continues to build, I wish that we could start calling her by name – to pay attention to who she is in her own right and potentially understand why she is missing. I appreciate that she is a mom and my heart goes out to her boys, but let’s try to find Jennifer Huston, who is not just a “Missing Mom” but a “Missing Person.”

Inc. magazine recognizes Voodoo Doughnut as one of “Most Audacious Companies”


Great piece in Inc. on Voodoo Doughnut about how the company has earned its spot in history through outrageous doughnuts, word-of-mouth marketing, quirky weddings, and a record label. Love to see Portland businesses making national news!

Changes in The Oregonian’s Editorial Policies to Significantly Impact Local News Content


New expectations for Oregonian reporters

The media landscape has been ever shifting toward the Web, a move that has been seen as reflective of reader preferences and cost savings. As newsrooms are continuing to see massive headcount cuts, journalists are increasingly in a fight for their jobs, which are so often now measured by digital metrics around online reads and shares.

The Oregonian is not immune.

According to documents secured by Willamette Week, the already stretched-thin reporters at The Oregonian have a new set of worries: a quota system is being put in place that calls for steep increases in posting to Oregonlive.com, with beat reporters expected to post at least three times a day, and all reporters expected to increase their average number of posts by 40 percent over the next year. The document goes on to show that as much as 75 percent of a reporters’ job performance will be based on measurable web-based metrics. The Oregonian will hand out yearly bonuses—if the finances of the company allows it—to reporters who exceed these goals. The policy says “final performance ratings will determine merit pay.”

“Digital first”

These changes are not entirely surprising. In October, the publication became a “digital first” outlet, with news stories posted first to Oregonlive.com, then slotted into a print edition the following day. In June 2013, the publication announced it would reduce print delivery to four times per week and that it would cut 100 of the paper’s 650 employees. These layoffs fell disproportionately on the newsroom: As many of 49 reporters, editors, designers and photographers – nearly a quarter of the remaining news staff – were cut.

Outside observers say that The Oregonian’s editorial policies’ online-based standards, coupled with reduced staff, will have a significant impact on the type of news readers will receive.

New York Times business reporter David Carr examined the change the The Oregonian’s editorial policies in his Monday column, “Risks Abound as Reporters Play in Traffic,” in which he said: “And journalism’s status as a profession is up for grabs. A viral hit is no longer defined by the credentials of an individual or organization. The media ecosystem is increasingly a pro-am affair, where the wisdom — or prurient interest — of the crowd decides what is important and worthy of sharing.”

My heart goes out to the reporters at The Oregonian, and as a reader I fear this does not bode well for the quality and integrity of the content they will be forced to produce. As the media world continues to try and find its footing in this new digital environment I’m afraid this shift at in The Oregonian’s editorial policies will later be analyzed in b-school case studies and in the board rooms of media conglomerates alike. Whether or not The Oregonian will be a success story or an epic failure is yet to be seen.

The Oregonian’s editorial policies

ILLUSTRATION: Kevin Mercer, Willamette Week


This past weekend, I had the opportunity to check out ChickTech’s High School Science Fair, held at PSU. ChickTech is a very cool organization whose mission “is dedicated to retaining women in the technology workforce and increasing the number of women and girls pursuing technology-based careers.” The high schoolers participated in a weekend-long set of presentations and workshops, ultimately culminating in a science fair open to the public, where they could show off a technical project they built after the weekend’s explorations. There were custom apps, websites, games, robots, light-up fashions, hardware assemblies—it was all very impressive. And the girls were really excited.

ChickTech’s High School Science Fair at PSU

ChickTech’s High School Program

Learn more about the organization and the annual event at chicktech.org.

As someone who works in front of a screen on a daily basis, I maintain a depressing level of discomfort with certain technology specifics. I work in programs that offer the ability to write robust custom code and yet I stick to the safe “design mode” of the software. Code is tedious and overwhelming. I’ve long made the excuse that “my brain just doesn’t work that way.” But I wonder if my brain WOULD work that way, if I just had a little more tech practice, encouragement, and confidence.

Clearly I am not alone; the statistics show an incredible gender gap in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Take a look at this infographic for a quick breakdown. There are a bazillion facts and figures around it, and hundreds of articles questioning what’s behind this divide. (Interestingly however, according to a recent Smithsonian Magazine article, the pay gap in these fields is not as great a factor as is generally perceived. Read it here.)


Regardless of the reasons women are not well represented in STEM fields (YET), I love that organizations like ChickTech are helping girls build confidence and excitement around technology. By providing an opportunity to explore technological concepts in a no-pressure environment, perhaps more girls will be inspired by what’s possible, and will get the boost of confidence they need to pursue those ideas independently or in their studies. Organizations are springing up across the country and holding events like ChickTech’s High School Science Fair, and even smart toy makers (Goldie Blox is a great example) are emerging to help provide young girls with play opportunities that don’t involve princesses or ponies.

Are you a woman in a technology or other STEM field? What inspired you to pursue it?

The End of Dave’s Killer Bread as We Know It?

dave's killer bread

If you live in the Northwest and you aren’t on the gluten-free bandwagon, you’ve probably tried (and loved) Dave’s Killer Bread. GMO-free, organic, vegan and made with whole grains, it boasts everything that health-conscious Oregonians could ask for. Beyond tasty bread, the company’s message centers on the feel-good story of an ex-con that cleaned up and got on the bread-making wagon, a story that has contributed to its success as much as the great products. That is, until a few days ago when news spread that Dave Dahl was arrested after allegedly ramming multiple police cars with his Cadillac during a police chase in Washington County.

Since we are talking about someone with a considerable rap sheet, the situation is not exactly a shocker and how it will play out in the media could be interesting. So far, the company is meeting the development relatively head-on, taking to  social media to acknowledge the situation. Following acknowledgement of the situation, further posts have thanked followers for support, encouraged discussion and awareness of mental illness and addiction and the latest includes a link to a message from the CEO.

While it’s obviously not great news for Dave, it appears that he has a supportive team behind him. How this plays out and what it will mean for the company will be something to keep an eye on.

The Future of Retail . . .

The Future of Retail

Last night I attended a Portland Design Week panel discussion on the future of retail. It wasn’t quite what I expected, as the discussion skewed more towards what retailers could do to increase value for their consumers through services and technology, rather than the more design-oriented aspect of the retail experience (space, visuals, product display, in-store communications), but it did raise some interesting food for thought. Panelists from Nordstorm Innovation Lab, REI and Ziba discussed everything from the rise of e-commerce, Amazon and dreaded OMNICHANNEL, to technological innovation, their biggest successes and inspirations and what they hope for the future.

The take-home message was that retailers, innovators and designers need to continue to think of new ways to stay competitive by adding more value to the consumer experience. Does that mean that you provide personal stylists that will consult with you via text as you put together your outfit for the evening, a la Nordstorm? Find a way to eliminate check-out lines as the REI panelist suggested, while uncovering new ways to get local influencers to hang out in your store? Do you scramble to implement the latest technology advances that will put you just ahead of the curve? Or do you hunker down, eschew the push to look like the next big thing and create a special community through a really great space, quality products and personalized, friendly service?

I don’t know. But it did make me think about the ways that all businesses, retail or not, should really be thinking about the services and value they provide, the ways that customers experience and interact with their business and how and whether they’re using technology to provide those services. With the lightning fast turnover of trends and ever-increasing technology options, I think there’s real opportunity to be deliberate about what you’re doing, choose your path with conviction, and stick to what’s most important to your business. I’m excited to see what the future of retail will look like, and for that matter, everything else.

Once The Dust Settles, Will The Moda Center Be Worth It?

identity transformation

It’s a dark day in the Rose City.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the home of the Portland Trail Blazers will no longer be called the Rose Garden. In an attempt to bring in more funding, the president of the Blazers announced last week that their home, deemed the Rose Garden in 1995 when the arena opened, has been renamed the Moda Center. The name change comes as a result of a corporate sponsorship with Moda Health (formally ODS), the local insurance company headquartered in Portland.

As you can imagine, this hasn’t set well with Portlanders. Not only have there been social media rants and petitions swirling around the internet, but from a PR perspective, I don’t think it was a great tactic in keeping the community’s support.

An identity transformation

A year ago, the Trail Blazers began their identity transformation with a new president, new general manager and a new point guard. So why not throw in a new name for the arena? This 10-year partnership with provide the Blazers with $40 million, which is apparently significantly larger than multiple naming-rights deals in some mid-sized NBA markets. And after watching a successful sponsorship/name change with PGE Park to Jeld-Wen Field, I can understand why the Blazers thought this could be seamless.

Is money the answer?

But it wasn’t for the Blazers, and it won’t be for a while. So, I have to ask – once the dust settles, will the Moda Center’s money be the right answer for the Blazers? And not just for the Blazers, but for Moda Health and the Rose City? A decade ago, I think the Blazers could have made the change with limited backlash. But in today’s era of social media with instant, overly-vocalized opinions, I think the repercussions may be too large. While it is evident the Blazers need a corporate sponsor, it may not have been necessary to have a complete renaming. This move may go down in Portland’s history as one of those bad decisions we never let them forget.

Party on the River

human access project

The Human Access Project wants to change the way Portland thinks about the Willamette.

Ah, the mighty Willamette. It’s a beautiful river that serves as a landmark, an industrial thoroughfare and an integral part of Portland life. And, if you’re like most people who’ve spent some time in the Portland area, you’re as likely to dip a toe in the river as you are to head down to the sewage treatment plant for a lap swim. We all know that you just don’t swim in the river.

But what would you say if I told you the Willamette River, in Portland, is approved for summer swimming? Officially. I mean, approved by reputable sources like the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and the City of Portland’s Office of Healthy Working Rivers. With the 20-year-long Big Pipe project completed in 2011 (the largest public works project in Portland’s history), the frequency of what is politely called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is expected to drop to almost zero. When CSO is not in action, the river’s approved for swimming and other recreational opportunities. That’s fine and great, but what about public perception? We all know the river is filthy. Ask anyone.

It’s an upstream PR battle, but the Human Access Project is doing what they can to change public opinion and they’re doing it Portland-style. Yes, they’re throwing a party. The Big Float takes place on Sunday, July 28th, and it’s dedicated to floating down the Willamette en masse, to end up at a beach (yes, Portland has a beach now) where bands, food and drink, massage chairs, and possibly a bounce castle will be waiting to entertain the masses and remind them that touching the Willamette, with both feet, isn’t so bad.

See you there?

The End of the Print Era: Where Do We Go from Here?

shake up at the Oregonian

Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian

In 2013, it is no surprise to see a publication move away from print to focus more heavily on online content, but it still stings each time I see it happen. Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian is a good reminder of the ever evolving ways we receive news and as a PR professional, how it’s even more important to define the story we are telling.

For anyone who may not be following the recent news (or are living under a rock), the Oregonian announced it will scale back its printed paper delivery service to just a few days a week and cut more than 100 of the 650 jobs at the publication. While this is a shock to the system, it is a good opportunity for us to step back and reevaluate how we be innovative in this new landscape.

shake up at the Oregonian

The Oregonian Building, which houses the newspaper.

A wake-up call for Oregon?

There’s no question that getting cover in print newspapers is a lot harder than it used to be. With fewer reporters, most don’t even cover a single beat anymore. Also, most newspapers have a much smaller news hole – even when pitching a decent story to a reporter, sometimes there just isn’t enough room. The latest cuts out of the Oregonian is a wake-up call. As the media continues to evolve, I think the PR industry has a good opportunity to be the one innovating and steering the conversation with reporters. Whether this comes in the form of selecting just a few reporters to build strong relationships with, tapping into social media to showcase your news or going down the avenue of contributing articles, it is our job to be influential. If content is king, then PR is queen. What do you do to stay relevant in your relationships with the media?

Portland’s 2013 Fast Growing Companies

2013 Fastest Growing Companies

Last Thursday I attended the 2013 Fastest Growing Companies event put on by the Portland Business Journal and I must say it was a great evening, except for the food. Why all the deep-fried delicacies?

Of all the Business Journal events, this one is hands down my favorite.  It’s always a fun, party-like atmosphere where people feel relaxed and ready to recognize some of the most exciting companies in Portland. It was great being able to celebrate two clients that made the list – DataSafe and ProKarma. Congratulations!

I also want to send a shout out to my friends at Kinesis and The Good for staking their claim in the Top 100. Beyond the companies I know, I realize there are many more that I don’t and am left to speculate about what makes them tick. Don’t we all want to know the secret behind the Ruby Receptionists mojo? Or how about the swankiness that Securus Payments brought to the party? I appreciated that they had the NBA Finals Game 7 playing on an iPad at one of their tables. Making the list is no small feat – especially in a year like this past one when the economy started heading in the right direction and business growth was on the rise. Congrats to all of the 2013 Fastest Growing Companies and here’s to another great year!