Obama on Leadership and Winning the Presidency

Yesterday I caught part of a random IG live with Steph Curry and Barack Obama, just in time to hear his take on leadership and how it helped him win the presidency.

Obama said he didn’t win because he was the best candidate. He believes he won because he empowered his team to campaign for him, listen to the voters and understand them. 

He jumped right into this being about straight up leadership and how it’s something not everyone gets. He said if you’re looking at yourself like “how do I dominate this – how do I stay on top,” you’re not going to be an effective leader. If you empower those around you to do their best and feel good about what they’re doing, it naturally lifts you up. 

I’ve often thought that people who are thoughtful about being a leader tend to gravitate toward this conclusion because they’re purposeful about uncovering what drives the best in people.

The IG session also reminded me of James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty. Although he says he didn’t vote for Obama, he spends considerable time focusing on Obama’s thoughtful leadership. 

One anecdote stuck out to me almost more than anything else in the book. Obama was taking pictures with a family, and the daughters (college age) had their boyfriends with them. Obama subtly suggested taking a picture without the boyfriends so that the family would have a nice picture with the president in case the relationships didn’t work out. 

Obama is a busy man. To consider such a small detail that would be meaningful to a family not his own – wow. 

Comey also talks a lot about how from a young age, he’d always tried to pay attention to leadership qualities that got the best out of him to emulate when he had the opportunity to be a leader. I have probably written and talked about this before, but I think this is some of the best advice I’ve ever read. 

Design Digital Marketing Information Architecture UX

How a Website Manager Prevents a Tragedy of the Commons

Websites tend to be a meeting point where a lot of departments and stakeholders converge with no single entity preventing a tragedy of the commons situation.

Mismanaged content spirals out of control until the company is forced to spend tens of thousands to rehaul the site. Or, they deal with the crappy website and pay for it through staffing to address customer complaints and questions that could otherwise be addressed online. 

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it for the past 10+ years, and as the average internet surfer I’m enraged on a daily basis by being unable to complete simple tasks on websites. You know, such as giving a company my money. That shouldn’t be hard!

Gerry McGovern recently discussed website mismanagement from the standpoint of environmental pollution. He describes one website weighed down with heavy print-quality (vs light-weight web quality) images as “like a filthy, rusty 25-year-old diesel truck, belching fumes as it trundles down the Web.”

McGovern says we need digital designers who “think about the weight of every decision they make.” Yes, digital designers should care, but they won’t care because they don’t have a stake in how the website performs. A website manager does. No one is checking to see that image libraries are clean, make sense and filled with optimized images. But they ARE checking to see if that digital designer has completed the landing page on time and to spec. 

I helped my husband relaunch his company’s physical therapy website that hadn’t been updated in so long it still had a button to check in on FourSquare. The company had a random corporate marketing person develop the website. The corporate HQ was simply hitting copy and paste on physical therapy sites from around the country and adding new images and copy. When I inspected the admin area there were HUNDREDS of (print quality!) images from other websites in one mass library. 

The new website was on page 7 of Google and all of the SEO was simply copied over from a PT clinic in Oregon (we’re in South Carolina). We updated all of the SEO and wiped out all of the old images to make it faster. All of the images uploaded by corporate HQ were giant, print-quality sized images so we replaced them with images sized and saved for the web. Our efforts bumped the website up to page 1. 

What can we do? 

As digital marketers, I say that we own it! Maybe it’s not in your job description, but do it anyway. I’ve found that no one really wants to do it, but it’s a job people will gladly give you ownership. Once enough of us start doing it and showing the benefits it might become a more common in-house role vs one that is outsourced to a poorly managed agency.

What does it mean to “own it”? For me, that looks like regularly scheduled CMS and EMS cleanups. Literally put those on your calendar a year out and invite key stakeholders on a quarterly basis, or more frequently depending on how messy you are.

It also means having a system to properly store images and documents so that you can actually clean those up. It means educating content editors so that they know not to put print quality images on the website.

I could go on, but starting with the above will get you pretty far down the road to owning it!

Leadership Work Culture

Leadership Starts Before You’re a Leader

It’s somewhat painful listening to a CEO on a quarterly earnings call thanking everyone “so much” for all of the “hard work.” It sounds hollow, and it often is. But I’ve been at two companies where it didn’t feel hollow because the CEO took time to make an appearance and learn some names. 

When I was at Midmark, CEO John Baumann took a few minutes a day to walk the floor and learn everyone’s name and their job function when he started at the company. He’s a CEO. He’s BUSY, and it’s a big company. But he made time to take 10 minutes to walk around the building every now and then. When he spoke, I didn’t just listen. I was engaged. I was more engaged with the company as a direct result of one person at the top acknowledging our existence. (I loved this company for many other reasons, but that was a big one!)

At PR Newswire Europe, the global CEO at the time, Ninan Chako, would sometimes visit the London HQ. He knew my name! He even referenced a conversation with me during a quarterly staff meeting. Because that was my first job, I didn’t yet realize it wasn’t a given that executives take the time to get to know the people in the trenches. Still, I felt “famous.” I was highly motivated to do a good job, because I thought I was on Ninan’s radar! I wasn’t, but he made me feel seen. 

In A Higher Loyalty, Comey talks about taking note of great leadership qualities from the time when he was a teen working in a grocery store. What made him feel motivated, trusting and committed? What made him angry? 

I’ve always thought the same thing, and as time goes on certain characteristics have stuck with me, such as Ninan Chako taking a couple minutes out of his day to talk to me and digesting what I said to the point that he mentioned it during a global meeting. I want to be intentional about carrying these traits through my own leadership in the future. 

Food The Rich and Famous UX

Cumulative Layout Shift, Cancel Culture and My Love for Alison Roman

I fell in love with Alison Roman around 6:30am on a November morning in 2019. 

The bright screen on my phone helps me wake up, and I happened to navigate to the Times piece where Alison Roman shows how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny Brooklyn apartment. No longer do I live in a closet in a major city, but I often miss those days of trickery to cook dinner in a communal box kitchen. 

Watching the video made me almost nostalgic for the old days of traditional blogging when healthy living bloggers owned the internet, the days when it was actually enjoyable to visit a food blog. Cumulative Layout Shift as a ranking metric is LONG overdue, and Google’s update in 2021 can’t come soon enough in my opinion.

Since the push to monetize every digital action on the web, blogs have become truly unbearable. Rather than sticking around to read the loving words of a food blogger, I rush in to get a recipe and it’s full body combat trying to avoid the ads flying up, down and seemingly out of the browser. 

Alison Roman gets this (also, isn’t her name just cool? I refer to her by her full name because it’s fun.) She recently posted a non-recipe recipe, and I don’t know if she did this because she, too, becomes enraged when visiting food blogs or if she’s busy being fabulous like the rest of us. 

She was recently embroiled in a bit of cancel culture due to some comments she made that were disparaging toward her fellow female celebs. Well, she apologized for it and went above and beyond in her apology, vowing to respond to any email her fans sent her about how she can do better.

I wanted to email her simply to get an email back and tell everyone that Alison Roman emailed me. Years ago, David Sedaris emailed me after meeting my aunt, who told him I could never afford to attend his readings. He asked for my email and invited me to a BBC recording of his latest work!! DAVID SEDARIS EMAILED ME. From like, a personal gmail address. I also got an email from Sam Sifton once because I light-heartedly complained that he’d implied whiskey was a male pursuit. Didn’t matter what the exchange was, SAM SIFTON EMAILED ME. 

Anyway, I didn’t email her. I certainly wasn’t going to comment on her slip of tongue, because everyone makes mistakes and unlike most people, she handled hers with grace. I sat nervously for days, weeks while she stepped back from social media. I feared that she’d be canceled forever, and end up alone and depressed in her apartment like poor Al Franken. Thankfully, she seems to be doing OK. 

And, yes, I made her caramelized shallot pasta because well, it looked amazing (it was) and when Alison Roman says jump I jump. 

Work Culture

SimTower Taught Me Fundamental Truths About Office Life

This sounds crazy, but a lot of what I learned about work culture and marketing strategy came from playing SimTower as a child.

I will never forget the wrath of my SimTower tenants when I created hastily placed elevators with no schedule. You want to piss people off? Make an elevator that follows no rhyme or reason during rush hour.

Until I recently revisited SimTower on Wikipedia (rabbit hole!) I didn’t realize elevator management was actually a key component of the game:

SimTower, which was built around an elevator simulation program, places a strong emphasis on good elevator management.


I was a kid – I didn’t understand the concept of rush hour, but I quickly learned to understand the complexity of society. Playing the game planted that seed that everything in an office is connected in a careful, deliberate manner.

Every department in a company can easily fall into a silo, and often one of the most surprising schisms is between sales and marketing. Only at one company (one!) have I joined a marketing team that frequently talked to sales.

I had a manager a couple years ago who literally forbade me from talking to sales. He said “they’ll figure it out” and it was a “waste of time” talking to them. Well, as a web manager I need to talk to sales! How else do I know if I’m sending over good leads (among many other things)?

This manager was eventually fired and it turned out, no, we were not sending over quality leads. Only when we were able to work closely with sales were we able to give them what they needed.

In the ten years of my career I’ve reminded myself to keep in good contact with Sims from every department, and I think this has served me well.

Shifting gears here, I read a piece in the Times this week about the future state of elevators in busy office buildings in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. The challenge is getting all of those people up in a non-petri dish way.

SimTower never had a simulation for a pandemic, however, they threw enough disasters our way to prepare us for anything. As Carrie Bradshaw would say, “I couldn’t help but wonder” when I read this article what a SimTower of 2020 would look like.

Would there be a SimZoom expansion pack, complete with Sims who can “see you but can’t hear you” or Sims who join the meeting a week late?

One can only hope.

Discrimination Work Culture

A Gross Gesture of Me Too Failure

In my past there was an incident where a man in a very senior position explained how I was soon going to have data flowing down my throat, which he demonstrated with a gesture mimicking himself jerking off into his own throat, mouth wide open. 

I was deeply uncomfortable and grossed out, but honestly I was unsure if he understood how truly heinous that gesture seemed in a closed room with a female mere feet from his nasty face. 

I never had much contact with this man, so I can’t be sure if something like that would have happened again. He is a highly conservative, very religious man who holds President Trump in high regard. Making assumptions, I’m guessing he’s not on the lookout for inappropriate behavior in the workplace. However, this also doesn’t mean he had ill intentions here.

Incidents like this aren’t easy to articulate, and I feel the Me Too movement still hasn’t given us a clear answer on how to handle this stuff. Does he deserve to be fired for doing something like this? Does he deserve to be reprimanded? Should it even be mentioned if there is no other indication of harassment? Is it simply a question of him being completely clueless of his own actions? 

The thing is, I NEVER hear men tell stories like this. I have never heard a man tell a story anything remotely like this. I am guessing that even if this disgusting gesture was completely accidental, he would somehow refrain from performing such a gesture to another man. 

Ultimately, I didn’t do anything about it. From my perspective at the time, there was nothing I could have done about it. Even though it’s my belief that he didn’t intend to harass or offend me, I still felt grossed out every time I looked at him and always wondered if there was more to it. 

In day-to-day life, I don’t believe Me Too has changed much for the average American working at the average company. Most men don’t believe they’re at fault, because they would never assault or rape someone. And it’s true – most men wouldn’t. But I haven’t witnessed any real action to get men to understand how uncomfortable it is when they make jerking-off-down-your-throat comments. You don’t have to be a rapist to be inappropriate and make women uncomfortable. 

This is where Me Too has failed. Anyone and everyone lost their livelihoods in the face of unchecked allegations, and it’s a shame because it’s a serious problem that still needs serious conversations. 

Photo by Mihai Surdu via Unsplash

Discrimination Work Culture

Combat Racism by Having Uncomfortable Conversations With Family and Friends

I had an encounter with a coworker over racism in 2016 that’s stuck with me and resurfaced in my mind since the George Floyd murder and protests.

I’d read a piece in the Harvard Business Review talking about creating a more diverse workforce and how it isn’t as simple as bringing in more minorities and women to interview. The premise was that if you have five white men and one black person to interview for a job, it’s a phenomenon of difference. People are generally more comfortable choosing something from the majority than an outlier so the minority is still unlikely to get hired. If you have multiple minorities or women to interview it’s less likely they’ll suffer from this “outsider” phenomenon. 

I repeated this to my team simply because I thought it was interesting, and with the company HQ being an hour north of a small city, the workforce was very white. The developer who happened to be sitting nearby somewhat aggressively said, “Well what if all the best candidates happen to be white?” 

This guy was typically soft spoken and not what I’d characterize as an aggressive individual by any means. I was taken aback by his reaction.

I calmly explained that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with our current skill set in the company, and in fact I really love the company. It’s the only company I’ve worked for that is very active in employee appreciation and engagement. However, I was used to working in London, which is highly diverse. One of the first things that stood out when I moved from a major city to a small town was how white the workforce and leadership tended to be. 

BUT. When you don’t have people from different genders, cultures, races, etc., how are their perspectives supposed to be heard? As a global company, how can we truly be global if our workforce only represents the rural Midwest?

The developer got angry. He repeated that there was nothing wrong with people in the county where HQ was, and why should they be punished if they happen to be the best for the job? 

I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t encountered this type of underlying racism suddenly and aggressively thrown out into the open. He was extremely offended at the thought of outsiders taking jobs away from the hardworking people he’d grown up with, and couldn’t even begin to see the benefit a different perspective could bring to a business.

Fast forward four years, and here we are having these same conversations. It’s so encouraging that for the first time, much of the population seems to get it now. My main concern is what happens when the fire calms. What happens when people stop sharing lists on what books to read, where to donate, what black businesses to support?

It’s not enough to educate ourselves and donate to causes. We need to learn how to have uncomfortable conversations with people we love, work with, associate with. I don’t think most people are ready to do this. 

Anecdotally, what I’m seeing on social media among friends and family (as opposed to large-scale “detached” social media like Twitter) is a continued lack of willingness to confront the many forms of thinly-veiled racism. Many of my friends are posting about Black Lives Matter, but they aren’t confronting the people who are posting racism masked as conservatism. 

I have one friend in particular who is white, hyper-conservative and posts only about black people who say there is no such thing as white privilege and discrimination. He’s one of those people whose persona is “see, here’s a black person saying this is fake news.” He’s outraged about the riots but completely unconcerned about the murder of black people or George Floyd. 

It’s not OK. It’s fine to have differing political views and not want to make waves with friends/family/coworkers, but allowing this sort of racism to continue to flow around us is not OK.

I’m not saying we need to start fights with these people, but we do need to start conversations and use our collective voices to let them know it’s unacceptable. Staying silent negates every financial contribution and book read.

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Email Design Email Marketing Litmus

Get rid of ugly alt text on images with this quick trick

One of my favorite little email tricks I’ve learned in the past year is that you can style alt text of images. This is particularly handy for logos or images that contain styled information that you want to remain consistent with your brand.

For example, our email newsletter has our logo at the top:

Full color logo illustrating image display in email.

In some email clients, like Outlook, images often aren’t rendered “to protect your privacy.” Having default alt text is ugly! With in-line CSS added to the img tag, you can easily create a more on-brand situation:

Logo image depicting alt text with styles added to image tag.

I simply added our brand color for pink, the brand font family, and capitalized to give a similar feel to the logo that always appears in all caps. If you’re using a builder, such as Litmus, you can easily toggle the images on and off to quickly see the effect.

Design UX

A note on users and the people who interact with your website

One of the many things that’s made Disney so successful is how they’ve effectively removed any mental association of money with the purchases their customers make. You don’t pay with cash, and now you don’t even pay with credit cards. Rather, you get a super fun Mickey band for your wrist that you can tap on anything and it’s yours! It’s a powerful technique, and it works.

I often think of this dissociation technique when I hear people discuss other human beings who use the products they’re trying to sell. In my case, I am referring to websites and “users.” People are not people in the Web world. They are faceless, nameless users that you don’t associate with real human beings. This is a problem!

It’s not a purposeful technique employed in the same way Disney employs it to make more money, but the effect is there nonetheless. Words and associations matter, whether you’re using them to purposefully drive profit or carelessly using them and succumbing to unintended mental gaps.

Calling people “users” doesn’t as easily allow you to design for the people who are going to be interacting with your digital landscape, whether it’s your website, ad network or social media. Your “user” is someone who can’t figure out how to navigate your site, and instead of blaming the company they blame themselves for not being smart enough. Thinking of people internalizing ineffective, poor design in this way is heartbreaking.

I prefer to say “people” or “customers,” which has the connotation that these are people who are engaging in a transaction with what you’re creating. People are not simply using your website. They are giving you their time, data and money, and that’s a big deal worth correctly identifying.

Digital Marketing Email Marketing Marketing Automation Pardot

How to quickly take email screenshots in Pardot

This might seem like a total “duh” post, but I’m going to come out and say I had a major “duh” facepalm regarding email screenshots – so that means there are others like me!

I was frustrated by the inability to quickly take a screenshot from the email preview pop-up in Pardot. This seems like a major negative of the platform, considering most customers almost certainly need to provide full-length images for approval to their managers or teams.

I’d take a screenshot of half, or sometimes quarters (!), and paste them together in Photoshop to save as one full email to upload to my approvals platform. Then, if any changes are requested, the process had to be repeated. SO TIME CONSUMING.

Then it dawned on me that I could simply save the HTML in a code editor (such as Sublime or Brackets), open that file in my browser and use a full-page screenshot tool (like Fireshot or Full Page Screen Capture). Simple!

I am often hesitant to write about such simple things, but I have found when it comes to Pardot it’s really not simple to find information about how to do anything. Until recently, you’d think you’d found an answer, but once you clicked through from Google you’d be told to update your bookmarks and reference the Salesforce knowledge base. NO.

There are some solid blogs on how to accomplish more complex tasks with Pardot and manage full-scale marketing automation. Within the few years I have used Pardot, however, I have found it to be lacking in the most basic knowledge. It’s hard to get started and it’s hard to feel confident using it because I think you really need case studies vs definitions of the tools. I hope I can capture some of the basic questions I had in the past and explain them in a way that makes sense to new users, whether it’s setting up Engagement Programs, dealing with automation rules or taking simple email screenshots!