Today I went shopping. The first time away from the house (other than my daily run) since Saturday. It was a pleasure to get away from the computer, to clear my head. I thought - how lucky I am that I'm not living paycheck to paycheck and we have food to put on the table, how lucky I am that I have time to come shop unlike the front line first responders and medical personnel, how lucky I am that I live in town where even with shortages most of the shelves are full, how lucky I am that I was able to shop for my mom when I last saw her on March 10th, how lucky I am that my father keeps a huge store of food and doesn't need to go to the grocery store, how lucky I am the the the clerks and workers continue to work, stay friendly, checking us out and stocking the shelves. There were a few empty shelves. I haven't seen toilette paper on a store shelf for weeks, no alcohol or thermometers, not much pasta or rice, the fresh produce was a little sad today - kale and broccoli wilted, no flour - but the whole chickens were back, and there were a few small bottles of chlorox today. There was more than enough to bring home and keep everyone not just fed, but happy with their favorite things.
I enjoyed the ritual of wiping down the groceries. A little time outside just "doing."
Maybe it's unnecessary. I do the up side, down side calculation. Worst that happens if I wipe it all down - I waste 15 minutes. Worst that happens if I don't - Someone gets sick. Best that happens if I wipe it all down - I save someone from getting sick. Best that happens if I don't wipe it all down - I save 15 minutes. Easy decision.
Yesterday was Saturday. What to do Saturday night? We took a walk around downtown Woodstock, Vermont. Empty as it was, it felt good to get out. We saw surprisingly few people out walking. All the shops were closed, for years as a videographer we took extreme measures to could get photos of storefronts without the traffic and cars in the foreground. Last night it was easy. Many shops are still finding ways to serve (Yankee Bookshop offers porch deliveries, Woodstock pharmacy is serving prescriptions at the door.)
Sometimes attending an event is about taking photographs, capturing it, sometimes attending an event is about the event. This was about the event. The photos, I hope, tell the story in spite of that. A small town, remembering lives lost and honoring the greater principles that give those sacrifices meaning.
There really is nothing better than a sunny spring day on the trails photographing Ultra Runners! Especially when I get to bring my son as an assistant. here are a few of my favorites. There's a collection of about 200 on Peak's Facebook page.
I love these photos because they show utterly normal people fully engaged. Trying their best to understand the issues and make decisions.
Call me an optimist, but democracy might still be alive and well. In our small town (just over 300 registered voters) about 70 of them showed up to spend the morning together.
It wasn't because they like each other's company - some do, some don't.
It's because they believe it's important to show up at Town Meeting. It's a roomful of neighbors taking time to go through the issues facing their town. This year the most contentious was the the fire truck. Do we replace the pumper truck - a 1960 truck with a ‘68 milk tank on the back. It would mean a cost of $200,000. That may not seem like much until you realize the cost will be divided between such a small tax base. It's an important decision, and right or wrong it's discussed and decided by a vote. Democracy.
In 1992 I moved to a town of about 500 people, nestled in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains. In the preceding few years I had moved a lot — Boston, New York City, Chicago, Aspen, Rockport, Maine — I thought I’d only be here for a a season. I was always up for the next challenge and that year I decided staying in the same place would be my challenge. 25 years later I’m still here. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. Some thrive, most can’t hack it. The economy is tough, there aren’t enough people to support most businesses, everything’s closed by 8, it’s a 30 minute drive to the grocery store; and yet I stay.
Life in a small town teaches you surprising lessons: tolerance, humility, self reliance, and to be yourself.
This comes as a surprise to most people. Small towns look pretty homogeneous from the outside. And in many ways they are. But when I lived in big culturally diverse cities like New York and Boston, I chose who I surrounded myself with. I spent almost all of my time with people that shared my interests and thought like me.
When I first moved here I used to joke “I only have 7 friends, and I don’t even like any of them.” What did I mean? I meant that in the outside world I wouldn’t have chosen any of those people to hang out with.
In a small town you become friends with the people around you, even if they’re different from you. That opens your eyes. And then there are the people you don’t like. You may not like them, but you nod good morning when they hold the door for you, and you thank them the first time they pull your car out of a ditch, or find your runaway dog, and you come to see their humanity.
You may feel superior, but you’re not. A small town will teach you that.
I remember the time we called the police and they told us there had been a big crash on the highway and the State Troopers wouldn’t be able to come for a few hours. That was a wake up call. But it’s more than that. It’s a culture of doing for yourself and your neighbors, not waiting for the proper authorities.
I’ve written a lot about our town’s experience in Hurricane Irene (www.floodbound.com,) during that storm 10 homes in a town of 500 people were destroyed and the town was completely cut off from the outside world. The height of the storm found neighbors cutting and clearing downed trees to try to save the bridge, and others cooking and setting up hot food to support them. It wasn’t anyone’s job, it was just something that needed to be done. The town had no school, police or hospital but had acting sheriffs, a school on the green, and a medical center in our one room library staffed by doctors, nurses, PAs and even ski patrollers.
The power company said it would be weeks before they reached us, what they didn’t know was that we would reach them. Our residents stepped up and started fixing roads.
It’s a simple concept. If you see something that needs to be done, and you have the ability, you do it.
In bigger towns I had my work self, my home self, my school self, and probably some others. Remember the Seinfeld episode where “worlds collide?” In a small town there is only room for one version of you. There’s no use pretending. It’s freeing. If they like you, they like you. You as you are. They’ve already seen your mistakes.
Will I stay here another 25 years? I don’t know, it might be time for another change. But whatever I decide, this place has made and indelible imprint on me for the better.
**originally published in Medium**
Abigail Sera is a true Spartan. A friend talked her into trying her first Spartan Race in Killington, she signed up in the open category but ended up with a better time than most of the pros. That didn't change anything for her, she went back to work patrolling Vermont by snowmobile in winter and by boat in summer. Last winter I traveled to her family farm in Vermont to meet and interview her. Now you'll see her in this season's NBC coverage of the Spartan Race series and Spartan's latest lifestyle commercials.
Next time you see me ask me to tell you the rabbit story...
Over a 10 month period this year, I consulted for a gubernatorial campaign on their digital goals, social media training, social media tactics, and managing their paid social media. Here are some of the lessons I took away.
Sometimes You Don't Have the Data You Want
Data is important, but it's not everything. If you're selling a product it's pretty straightforward, you can measure the success of every move you make against the sales of that product. In the online universe, success can be a matter of testing and interpreting the data to hone in on the audience and message that will generate the most sales at the lowest cost. In an election ultimately there's only one measurement that matters … votes. As we've seen in national elections, polling data is not reliable, the only solid data is election results - that information comes too late.
You Still Need Goals
Even though you have uncertainty you still you need to set goals and measure progress to be effective. We learned to set multiple goals and change them throughout the campaign.
Numbers Can Be Deceiving - Look Beyond the Numbers
If your goal is engagement and you see a spike, before you celebrate take a closer look to see if it's generated by positive or negative comments. A high relevance score and a low cost per engagement from Facebook might be misleading. Be sure you understand what's behind the numbers. If you set a Facebook campaign optimized for an action, take a closer look at how often that ad is being delivered to voters. How many voters are you turning off on the way to generating that click? This is why a hands on human approach is so important to paid social.
The Only Constant is Change
Be ready to make changes at any time. Humans just aren't as predictable as we like to tell ourselves. Take your research and make your best guess at what will work, test it and adjust. Then do it again... and again. Once you have it all figured out, expect everything to change as news events develop. Even if you've got the perfect system, if it runs more than a few months there's a good chance your social media platforms will change (for example Facebook added new audience targeting options and lead ads during our run.)
People Love to See themselves
Some of our must popular shares were photos from events our candidate attended. They say all politics is local, that means lots of visiting. The best way to win votes – meet voters. On social media, you can amplify the power of these visits by sharing photos of the candidate visiting neighborhood landmarks and leaders.
We had a fantastic team, and we needed it. Keep a cache of engaging posts at the ready for slow days, there won't be many of them. The rest of the time be ready to react quickly. Responding to voter comments not only allowed us to set the record straight, it gave a good sense of what was important to our audience and made them feel heard.
Sometimes the Audience is Too Small
Common advice about paid advertising on Facebook pretty much boils down to finding the audience that allows for the lowest cost of customer acquisition. Our case was different. There's a finite set of people that are likely to vote. That's the target audience, like it or not. Even a statewide election, in Vermont anything we did to segment that audience by issue, demographics or location usually created an audience so small it became ineffective for Facebook campaigns. If you do define micro audience segments be sure to keep advertising budgets small, it's very easy to over saturate.
So how does all this apply to your next client? Every client is like a puzzle. You start with your gut instinct (informed by the client's research and experience) and then you start testing. It's the process we went through to understand how to effectively manage social media for this political campaign that is the takeaway.
You might not know that Madmotion is located in the tiny town of Pittsfield Vermont (pop 427), and that our town was one of many along the Green Mountains hit hard by Irene.
Many of our friends have been looking for reports on our family and our community after flood damage cause by irene. The damage was significant. In a town of 430 people, 9 homes were lost completely, many other homes and roads were damaged, and the town was cut off from the outside world. We were spared the loss of family, friends and neighbors, and began rebuilding immediately
Hard working volunteers in this town have done amazing things. We cry sometimes because we cannot believe the strength and generosity of our neighbors, sometimes because we are tired and overwhelmed. We laugh, for the same reasons.
Crews have worked day and night to patch roads, reach stranded people, set up a makeshift medical facility, check on neighbors, cook meals, set up "school" every day on the green, get supplies into town, shore up neighbors homes, sort through water damaged belongings, organize propane and gasoline distribution, hand out foor and water, slog through paperwork and much much more.
This community that was always self reliant, strong, ingenious and generous has proven itself (like so many other Vermont towns) to be even more so when faced with challenge. So take that Irene!
UPDATE: 9.6.11 - here's a VPR report from our town today https://archive.vpr.org/vpr-news/pittsfield-still-largely-cut-off-by-road/
"Vermont is a state I love... I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all, I love her because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who almost impoverished themselves for love of others. If ever the spirit of liberty should vanish from the rest of the Union, it could be restored by the generous share held by the people in this brave little State of Vermont." ~Calvin Coolidge, after the floods of 1927
UPDATE: 1-9-12 VISIT www.FloodBound.com to see the Flood Bound trailer.
Last week the Professional Firefighters of Vermont invited me to join them for lunch at their annual convention. They presented me with the 1st place award we won for their Fire ops 101 video at the national IAFF Video Awards. It's been a pleasure and an honor to work with them, and hope for more projects in the future.
We really loved working with the Professional Firefighters of Vermont (PFFV) on their latest project. Two years ago the video we created for them won First Place in the Special Projects category at the International Association of Fire Fighter Media Awards.
This year's project was a great collaboration.
Today our little Tweed River here in Pittsfield was "awful mad."
Enjoy :30 seconds of the raging river that was in our backyard today.
It's fun thinking about some of the themes that keep coming up in our work. Looking at the last few blog posts I see a lot of snow and skiing, but as I imagine winter drawing to a close the themes of Vermont, collaboration, community and creativity come into focus. "Vermont Spotlight" was created from a perfect blend of creativity and collaboration inspired by Vermont. 1 producer (me) + 2 hosts (Doug and Kelley) + 1 musician (James Mee) + 1 Vermont barn = theme music for "Vermont Spotlight."
It's fun to look back, and at the same time look forward to that warm summer sunshine.
[videography & Editing - madmotion] [hosts - Doug & Kelley Lewis] [musician - James Mee]
In Vermont we expect to see all kinds of sights in spring. The streams run fast and ice jams let loose, birds start calling louder, after a spring flood a few weeks ago I saw a man walking a wet, muddy, icy cow along route 100, it probably fell into a high running stream.
One sight I had not expected to see was a steaming Yak. This mother yak stood in the spring sun, icicles hanging from her face and steam rising from her back. It was an amazing site. A few days later I spotted this article about Vermont Yak Company in the Boston Globe.
Enjoy, :10 seconds of a mother yak, warming up in the spring sun.
I am so proud of the 4 Emmy nominations we earned for our work on Vermont Spotlight. In our first year in business as Vermont Spotlight we've created 18 short videos and two half hours shows. We didn't take home a statue this year, but we feel we're off to a great start and are grateful to our friends who continue to encourage us.
We have assembled a great team, it has been a pleasure to work with Kelley and Doug Lewis and with our assistant Traci on these videos spotlighting some of Vermont's gems
New England Emmy Nominations!
Madmotion principal Marion Dane Abrams was nominated in both the Photographer and Editor categories for her work on Vermont Spotlight's half hour show "Resort Spotlight." Also nominated was Vermont Spotlight host Kelley Lewis. Of course the show requires more than just Marion and Kelley to come together. Behind the scenes and making all this possible are co-host and co-owner Doug Lewis, and our super duper all around assistant and fixer Traci Templeton.
What says Vermont community and reliability better than our classic Town Meetings? We partnered with Stowe, Vermont agency HMC to produce this "Town Meeting" spot for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Vermont.
This week I worked with my Vermont Spotlight partners Doug and Kelley Lewis to shoot our first Vermont Spotlight feature! We spent two beautiful days shooting in the Champlain Islands in honor of the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's explorations there.
Have a look at our snapshots from Hero's Welcome general store and Snow Farm Vineyard here.
I'll be speaking with Library volunteer Angelique Lee at this spring's Town Officers Training. We've been invited to talk about our success at Pittsfield's Roger Clark Memorial Library using creative digital solutions. We'll be talking about making the most of our 100% volunteer staff and tiny budget using technology and community building. You can see the presentation here.
On March 27th I was envious of the "pause" to reassess and learn I kept hearing about. I was fortunate enough to still be working, so I committed to a more active blog. This is my chance to think out loud.