Food for Thought with Dana Renee Ashmore

As 2016 winds down, we’re excited to share one last interview in the “Food for Thought” series. This week we welcome Dana Renee Ashmore to the blog. After years as a film and television producer, this inspiring lady used her great eye, florist chops and passion for giving back to found Gratitude Collaborative. The L.A.-based company offers curated gift boxes with a built in donation to provide meals to USA children in need. (It also happens to be the perfect holiday gift source if you’re panicking about what to get your boss/best friend/mother-in-law this year.) Read on for Dana’s insights on social media, creativity and what having a mission means for your brand.

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1. What do you look for when you’re searching for brands to include in the Gratitude Collaborative boxes?

We look at brands that we have tried and tested and love, and we love working with smaller brands and knowing the people behind the items we sell. We also trust our friends and people we work with. Every week we sit down and discuss new brands and see if we can find new ones to bring on.

2. How do you find inspiration when you’re in a rut creatively?

Step away and do something fun. Whenever I spend too much time trying to think of something to do, or feel like I’m in a rut, I just get out with friends and take my mind off of it. I think sometimes over-thinking can really make it worse. It’s really doing what feels natural instead of forced.

3. What are challenges you’ve encountered running a small business that aims to give back?

A couple things:  Our brand is that we are a gift company that gives back by providing meals to kids in the USA. In the beginning, our charitable efforts were well-intentioned but unfocused.  We provided art classes, after-school sponsorships and schools supplies to families that needed it. We still do more than provide meals, but at the time, people were really confused by what we were doing. They knew we gave back, but our brand wasn’t aligned with our mission. I think with a company that gives back, you just have to be clear on what you do, and make it easy to understand.

Second, what to do with the little money you have, and how to get yourself out there. Since your profits are not all going back to you or the company, you have smaller margins. It’s hard to make the right choices to help get your name out there. It’s hard when no one knows you and you are just getting started. It’s hard to try to sell yourself in an over-saturated and overexposed market.

4. How do you make sure your social media content is always on brand?

The best advice I have ever been given is to take 90% of my photos with a digital camera and the rest with my iPhone. That’s not for everyone, but for what we sell, we want the flowers to always be consistent in lighting and colors. In the beginning we tried a few things that didn’t work and then naturally fell into a place where we feel comfortable. I also use an app called Planoly; it helps me see my photos in a grid before they post so I can make sure they match with the other ones. This app has helped so much.

5. If you could speak to pre-business starting Dana, what advice would you give? Is there a piece of common advice given to small business owners that you would tell her to ignore?

Trust yourself and Customer Service is a must. Starting a small business is full of small decisions that can cost you lots of money.  You have to know ahead of time that not everything is going to be a win and leave financial space for that to happen.  As for Customer Service, we have someone that checks emails almost 24 hours a day to make sure we are available. Our customers are the reason any small business is running, and you have to remember that even when you’re tired, frustrated and hungry. Some customers will always think you are Amazon and have hundreds of people working around the clock. Instead, you have 3.

Keep up with Dana Renee at Gratitude Collaborative and on her beautiful Instagram.

Friendsgiving with Tillamook

November is the perfect time to give thanks, and we always look forward to sharing our gratitude with loved ones while happily embracing the excuse to reach for second servings and dessert (without judgment). One of our favorite new traditions however, is Friendsgiving, the chance to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with your buds before or after the family festivities. A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to spend an afternoon with some of our favorite creatives, writers, bloggers and photographers, celebrating #RealFoodSunday with a Friendsgiving Brunch hosted by Tillamook.

Old friends and new were brought together at Light Lab to enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving inspired brunch prepared by Barrett Prendergast of Valleybrink Road while learning more about Tillamook’s #RealFoodSunday movement.

Tillamook launched Real Food Sunday because of their devotion to making food the right way – with the highest quality ingredients, nothing artificial and without cutting corners to increase profits. Real Food Sunday is meant to make choosing Real Food easier for everyone, starting with one day a week. So why Sunday? Sunday is the day when big meals are cooked, families eat together and plans are made for the week ahead. Sundays are special. Tillamook believes Real Food should be a part of that, and we couldn’t agree more.

Seasonal décor styled by Anne Sage provided endless holiday inspiration and major #FOMO.

Guests enjoyed and took home some of our favorite real food goodies that were generously contributed by Alma Chocolate, Bob’s Red Mill, Entube, Health-Ade Kombucha, Hester & Cook, Jacobsen Salt Co., Le Grand Courtage, Mountain Valley Water and QUIN Candy.

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We are so thankful to have clients, partners and friends that value the importance of a shared meal and good food! Cheers to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Team Soda Pop PR

5 Scary Millennial Myths

“Millennial” is the watchword these days. It’s a target demographic for brands, source of confusion for baby boomers and an overall hotbed of opinions. More than half of the SPPR team falls into this carefully studied generation and in honor of Halloween, we’d like to set the record straight by debunking a few millennial myths that are so wrong, it’s scary.

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1. Millennials are lazy: In addition to being an overused generalization made about our generation, this is also the most confusing. While copious articles suggest that we are lazy, it’s also been suggested that we are responsible for vacation shaming and most likely to be work martyrs. The fact is, 47% of millennials in management positions have begun working more hours in the last five years, compared with only 38% of Generation X and 28% of Baby Boomers. Millennials are also more likely to have a side hustle which means pursuing a passion that requires extra work for very little extra money. We’re a hardworking bunch at SPPR and we feel that lazy is a personality trait found in individual people, not entire generations.

2. Millennials are the Most Entitled Generation Ever: It’s true that millennials are a generation with expectations. Most millennials who graduated from college hoped to find a job they enjoyed because we were told by our parents that if we worked hard, this is what we could expect. Millennials may be less willing to do work we find uninspiring but we are also willing to take a pay cut to do work we love. We seek out meaningful work, and like our parents hope to one day achieve “The American Dream,” albeit our own redefined version of this dream.

3. Millennials Use of Social Media is a Liability: We won’t deny it, we’re embarrassingly connected on social media. This sometimes makes us annoying lunch dates and bad at being in the moment but it also makes us globally connected and willing to champion brands and companies we admire in a very public way (91% of millennials make Facebook places and foursquare check-ins public).  You may have seen the stories about career-ruining tweets and public company bashing but we have too. 59% of millennials know that complaining about work is a bad move and 70% of millennials think their reputation at work is more important than their social media reputation. The majority of us are social media savvy enough to present the best version of ourselves (and our jobs) online and we’ve learned to use our social media skills as a professional asset.

4. Millennials Only Want to Work Remotely: At SPPR, we have the ability to work remotely twice a month and company-wide more than 65% of these days go unused. This isn’t because there’s a stigma about taking them, it’s because we genuinely like seeing each other every day. It’s true that many millennials want to work remotely but a recent study found that 42% of millennials still prefer to work from offices. The root of this myth is a desire for flexibility. For some of us, that does mean the option to travel as much as we’d like, working from coworking spaces along the way. Others find that we are actually more engaged when working from the comfort of our own home. However for many of us, we want the option to occasionally seek the inspiration of a new environment by working from a coffee shop or have the option to work from home if say, the dog is sick and we don’t want to leave him alone all day. If you peel away the layers of this millennial myth, you’ll find we’re a generation who wants to be as inspired and productive as possible while we work and has been creative enough to think outside the cubical to make it happen!

5. Millennials Will Leave You to Start Their Own Company:  While our independence and free-spirited thinking does make the millennial generation more entrepreneurial, this myth overlooks one key factor. The days of working at one company for your entire career, even if you really want to, are gone. After watching our parents find themselves laid off unexpectedly due to the recession or “restructuring” we headed into our careers with more fluid expectations. We had back-up plans to go it alone. For some millennials, those back-up plans turn into a full time career thanks to a combination of good timing and serious hustle. We’re inspired to see so many awesome business owners in our ranks but not every millennial fancies themselves the next Evan Spiegel. 65% of millennials say an opportunity for personal development is the most influential factor in their current job and 52% said opportunities for career progression make an employer attractive. Which means that many millennials actually want to grow with you and that’s a serious priority for us.

Food for Thought with Leslie Stephens

We’re back with another “Food for Thought” this week featuring Cupcakes and Cashmere Associate Editor Leslie Stephens. The SPPR team met Leslie over a can of wine and immediately bonded with this friendly foodie. Leslie recently moved from New York where she was a Food52 editor. She now brings her adventurous spirit and an enthusiasm for food, fashion and décor to Cupcakes and Cashmere with fun and fresh coverage. Read on for a real look at what it’s like to turn a penchant for writing and a love of food into an awesome career.

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1. What’s the biggest difference between the NY and LA food scenes?

Historically in New York, the best food has always been equated with high-end restaurants opened by top chefs, like Thomas Keller’s Per Se or Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park, even though there’s recently been a shift towards high-end restaurants opened by previously unknown, young chefs, like Contra and Semilla. In L.A. however, the hole-in-the-wall spots are much more celebrated, which is why you get this amazing culture of street tacos, food trucks, and tiny San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants on Jonathan Gold’s 101 list of best restaurants.

2. What do you look for when you’re searching for Cupcakes & Cashmere content inspiration?

When it comes to writing for a lifestyle blog, content is everywhere. A meal at an amazing taco truck can become an article on the Best Tacos in L.A. the same way a simple, unique tradition can become a whole post idea. Since the blog is so interwoven with our lives, the content is really coming from everything we find interesting and engaging in our own lives.

3. What do you do when writers block hits or you’re in a rut creatively?

I feel like there’s no writer’s block or creative rut a quick conversation can’t fix. Even saying, “Hey, what do you think of this?” to my Editorial Director is often enough to span a back-and-forth conversation that can get me back on the right track or guide me towards a new, more interesting direction. To me, that’s the value of working with a tight-knit team.

4. We heard you’re a Pete Wells fan, anyone else you admire or look up to in the food industry?

Food writers are my celebrities: Kate Krader, Sam Sifton, Andrew Knowlton, Phyllis Grant, Adam Sachs, our contributor, Gaby Dalkin, Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, Dana Goodyear, Jonathan Gold—the list literally doesn’t stop.

5. What advice would you give someone hoping to have a career in editorial? 

Start doing it in any way you can. The hardest part of becoming a writer or editor is creating a body of work you can show as an example at an interview, so if you’re able to write your own blog or even pitch a few freelance articles, every piece of work counts.

Keep up with Leslie Stephens at Cupcakes and Cashmere and on Instagram.

The Importance of Taking Time Off

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Recently, we’ve read a few interesting pieces about “vacation shaming” in the workplace. As publicists, we understand the hesitation to travel when you have a demanding job. It’s hard to take a break from work that you’re passionate about and many people worry that they don’t have enough vacation time or that their company will not approve time off. At the same time, getting outside of your comfort zone is necessary to stay inspired which in turn makes you better at your job. Our advice? TRAVEL. NOW. DO IT! Here are 4 reasons why.

1. Good for your health: Studies show that vacations are just as important as exercise. They help cure burnout and chronic stress that’s epidemic in today’s 24-7 culture. The catch, it takes two weeks to take full advantage of these recuperative benefits. If two weeks away sounds like crazy talk, consider traveling during slow periods. Our boss lady Dyan likes to travel during Thanksgiving when things tend to slow down in the media world. It’s also the perfect time to travel to Paris and Italy if you like to avoid crowds and travel on a budget like we do.

2. Refuels your work: For us, this is reason enough to travel. Our jobs depend on us staying fresh and creative. Visiting cities like Paris, Florence, or Rome and truly immersing ourselves in the culture of these cities – touring the Louvre, seeing the David and St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, spending the day learning more about The Roman Forum and Colosseum, eating gelato, pasta and drinking wine daily – inspires us and provides a jolt of creative thinking.

3. Personal Growth: There is a saying that you can be comfortable or you can grow but you cannot do both at once. Travel forces you to get out of your comfort zone and appreciate the world through other people’s eyes. When you experience other cultures, you learn new ways of doing things and deepen your empathy for the individuals you meet. Expanding your worldview through firsthand experience strengthens decision making and interpersonal skills which are an asset in any industry, as well as your personal life.

4. You’re not alone: Don’t be a “work martyr.” It can be unnerving to let coworkers and clients know you’ll be away. You may experience (or imagine) some surprise or even resentment. But setting boundaries for your time off and trusting your team members to help you while you’re gone gets easier with time. At SPPR, it helps to build vacations into our plans at least three months in advance to be extra prepared. In the end, your teams and clients will benefit from your renewed energy and perspective post-break.

Safe travels,

Team SPPR

Food for Thought with Jami Curl

We talk a lot about food at Soda Pop PR. The team is constantly swapping restaurant recommendations and deliberations for where to order our weekly team lunch start at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. Which is why we’re excited to announce our new interview series “Food for Thought.” Each month, we’ll explore the business behind the food industry and how foodie creatives find inspiration and get through tough times.

This week we’re kicking things off with SPPR client and candy-extraordinaire Jami Curl who is the founder of QUIN Candy- a small-batch, handmade candy company headquartered in Portland. Jami has been dubbed the “new Willy Wonka” by Bon Appètit and is listed as one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business. She is currently working with Ten Speed Press on a book ‘Candy is Magic: Real Ingredients, Modern Recipes.’ For sale in March 2017, Candy is Magic will share Jami’s candy secrets and best stories. Read on to work up a creative appetite.

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1. Staying inspired is EVERYTHING for a creative and we can all feel stuck sometimes. How do you get unstuck?

I am very thankful to have many things going on at once – so, if I’m stuck on something I’m writing, I can switch over to a recipe I’m trying to work out. Or, if a recipe isn’t quite working, I can walk away from it and focus a bit on marketing or something we’re promoting at QUIN.

I do tend to have zero separation between work and home – I work on work at home and I work on home at work. I work all hours of all days – whether it’s 6am on a Saturday or 11:30pm on a Tuesday. Because of this, ahem, “variety” of types of work and working hours, I rarely find myself stuck.

That said, I never give much thought to inspiration. It might just be because of how serious I am about work – but I rarely sit back and wonder or think about what’s going to inspire me on any given day. Not to get too Psychology Today on you, but I think it has to do with the fact that I rarely seek outside “help” for inspiration or energy. I rely only on myself for that stuff. This self-reliance is threaded through my entire life, not just work life. I rarely ask for help, I don’t look to others for happiness, I know in my heart it’s my responsibility to make myself happy, fulfilled, inspired, and motivated. (Note: I am an INTJ (Myers-Briggs) – so that might explain a lot. And, if you haven’t Myers-Briggs’ed yourself, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.) Anyways, all my motivation and ideas come from the inside – not the outside. I basically just keep working and ideas keep coming. I truly hope it stays this way for the rest of my days because there’s really nothing like it.

 2. Can you share one of your first “pinch me” moments when you realized QUIN’s success was real?

“Success” is tricky because it’s a word that is generally controlled and defined by outside sources instead of the internal self. My self-defined version of success is this: that I wake up each day happy. Happy to be where I am in life, happy that my job is this job in candy. I feel successful when I’m fulfilled. When the ideas in my head tumble out and they somehow make sense to others – these moments are my successful moments.

By that definition, I have to say that one of the “pinch me” moments has to be the first day of the QUIN cookbook photoshoot. A group of very talented women surrounding me, I explained a vision – and they set to work making it come to life in photos. On so many levels I couldn’t believe it was happening – it made the book more real, it validated my vision for the candy in the book, it solidified and made visual thoughts and ideas that previously only existed in my head. I wish I could explain how totally crazy that feels – but, let me tell you – IT FEELS TOTALLY CRAZY!

In terms of success for QUIN – I think the “pinch me” moments are smaller moments – little bits of positive news, or a great new account, or a good piece of press – all of these moments add up to this experience that is overall absolutely, definitely a “pinch me” situation. That QUIN works at all, even in our slow times, is still totally unreal to me.

3. You have a very fun, active social media presence. How do you “unplug” or turn off when you need to recharge?

Oh, thank you. I actually think I’m the worst social media person. The first problem is that I’m pretty much a conscientious objector to the use of hashtags. I can’t get over the full paragraphs of hashtags that people add to posts. I 100% understand their usefulness, but that still won’t convince me to do it. Still, I like to have fun with social media and I’m a total weirdo at home, so I share a lot of that.

I spend a lot of time every day unplugged and turned off because I love to read. When waiting for an appointment or meeting to start, for a coffee or for a table, instead of scrolling through my phone, I’m reading a book. I never, ever leave the house without the book I’m currently reading. Those minutes during the day of leaving my phone in my bag and grabbing my book instead – they’re super essential mini-breaks for me.

I also schedule a full hour of reading every night before bed – it’s my favorite part of every day because I read with my little boy – each of us in a side-by-side twin bed, reading our books. I push through each day to get to this most magic of hours, I love it and treasure the time with him so much.

One other thing – I take a long walk (about 5 miles) every morning. I’ll allow myself to listen to a Podcast or music, but I don’t allow myself to check social media during my walks. Walking is the best because it’s really easy, and it’s mindless enough to allow yourself to be mindful (I swear that makes sense if you think about it.)

4. There’s a lot of buzz around the “habits of highly effective people.” What are some of your own personal habits for productive days and helping QUIN run efficiently?

I don’t keep a calendar or a to-do list electronically. I write EVERYTHING down. On paper. I keep a physical paper calendar/planner with me – and I basically just check it often (super often) to make sure I’m on track. I’m pencil obsessed, so that helps, but writing out lists, calendars, ideas, goals – actually WRITING it (not typing it or merely thinking it) helps to keep me on target.

I don’t sleep in. I get up at 6 every day (even on weekends) and try to do at least three things right away that will make me feel like I’m on track for a productive day. This could be as simple as unloading the dishwasher or starting a load of laundry, answering emails or writing a thank you note, organizing receipts or working on book edits – just three things right away – I find it sets me up for success all day long (three things PLUS coffee, that is.)

5. As a veteran of Feast Portland, what are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m excited about the candy we’re doing for Night Market – something we’ve never done before that has our entire staff TOTALLY EXCITED. I love stuff like that – a super fun candy that we can all get behind.

I think it’s great that Feast is five this year and that they’re putting the effort into celebrating that fact. I am also so happy that QUIN is part of the celebration – we created a special candy to help Feast celebrate this milestone birthday, and I was so honored that they even asked us to do it. I think the feeling of celebration is what Feast is all about – celebrating food and creativity and the bounty of Oregon and the people who work so hard to put out great food in restaurants – it all combines and the result is this string of days that all seem like a party. It’s almost like college again – everyone in town is kind of focused on the same thing, and I love that feeling of crazy unity. I’m looking forward to that spirit settling in on the city for a few days, for sure.

Follow along with Jami’s adventures at Feast PDX and beyond here.