As a sophomore at Dickinson College, I entered the fire service as fire fighter. At the end of each fire call, the media would come over and ask, what happened? Could this have been prevented, and how? What should we tell home owners?
My career in the fire service took me to Oregon where I worked for the Forest Service as a wild land fire fighter. The locals viewed the government with disdain, as an opponent who restricted their personal freedom and a imposed on their privacy. Naturally, we fire fighters wanted positive relations with the locals, since we often needed to drive on private roads to access remote fires. To help change perceptions, I worked with the local media to showcase the projects and training we were doing, and how it could help reduce fires on private property.
In the summer of 2004, my crew was dispatched to Arizona to work on one of the largest fires in the country. One day, the information officer was missing and since I had experience, I was told to handle the media until we had been given our assignment.
With ashes falling on driveways miles and miles from the fire, I knew the locals were afraid and turned in to the news, watching for updates and waiting to be told what to do.
At this point, it clicked. I realized that the media is one of the most powerful tools to spread a message, shape consumer beliefs and influence consumer behavior. They told consumers what to think, how to feel, what to buy, where to buy it from, and how much to pay. They alerted consumers when it was safe to stay in their homes and when they needed to leave. If any one could impact thousands of people at once, it was the media.
I left the fire service to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Chicago, where I studied business communications.
While in Chicago, I joined the Civil Air Patrol, which is a volunteer organization auxiliary to the Air Force, and helped on domestic search and rescue missions. Again, the media wanted to know what happened and to whom. I assisted with the media for the Civil Air Patrol and did PR for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Park District.
Upon graduation, I was accepted a position in public relations and marketing with an international start-up. With a single checked-bag, I moved to Calcutta, India to gain a greater understanding of the culture and the company’s international operations. My position grew to include mergers and acquisitions.
When I returned to the United States, my US-partners and I moved to Orlando, Florida where the US-operations were based. At this point, I was informed I would also be responsible for outsourcing and offshoring, or in other words, firing the Americans and hiring the Indians to do their work. This was in 2008, when the economy had just crumbled. Within 24-hours, I drafted and submitted a letter of resignation, for I could not, in good faith, be responsible for firing Americans and sending their jobs over seas.
I brought on a freelance public relations client and accepted a job doing marketing and public relations for a health care company. As much as I enjoyed the work, I missed the variety and ventured to bring on more freelance clients.
Two years later, I left my position and formally founded Publicly Related. Since, I have worked with large and small organizations, government agencies, a mayor’s office, a congressman, churches and non-profits, professional sports teams, solopreneurs, inventors, businessmen and women and entrepreneurs.
As Publicly Related grew, I started building a team. I was looking for people who could speak eloquently, think quickly and show creativity. While interviewing university students and recent graduates, I kept seeing “deer in the headlight eyes” in answer to seemingly simple questions. I knew something was amiss, and I figured I could run a professional development program on a weekend to prepare students for interviews.
I shared my experience with the head of the Marketing Department at the University of Central Florida and asked him to help me shift my expectations. The conversation ended with the idea that I might teach a course on internet marketing.
The department gave me full leeway, so I tossed the old curricula and text books, and created a new syllabus that relied on the most current information and real-world experiences. I taught the elective. It was a huge hit and became immensely popular. The course, which was previously offered every other semester, was offered every semester. Within 3 years, it was made a required course for all marketing majors and offered multiple times each semester.
During one of the lessons, I asked the students where they find information online, how they know what to believe, and their thoughts about the major review networks. Consistently, Millennial after Millennial reported using social media and blogs to find information, and distrusting the review sites.
Tech trends pointed toward video, and transparency from businesses. I knew the students gravitated toward video, grew up communicating with organizations online and expected to hear from them, and appreciated honesty from big brands.
The idea for UpDog was born: a simple app that enables users to use videos to share their experiences on social media, communicate with businesses and watch others’ reviews before spending time or money with a company.
Released in the iOS app store in September 2015, UpDog has been downloaded and used in more than 60 countries around the world.
Today, I run UpDog, teach at UCF, consult start-ups and established organizations on marketing and public relations. Most importantly, I am a wife, mother to a baby boy, friend and a foster-mom to numerous special needs dogs. At heart, I’m an adventurer.