Google AdWords 101

What is Google AdWords?

Google AdWords is a paid advertising service that allows businesses to bid on certain keywords in order for their specific ad show up in consumer Google search results. Google AdWords is based on a CPC (cost-per-click) system, where you, the small business, are only charged if someone clicks on your ad. This allows you to optimize search and create effective campaigns to draw attention to your business. In addition, Google AdWords is now more than just search ads. You can also run display ads, YouTube video ads and in-app mobile ads. So how does it work?

1. Create your campaign(s)

Depending on the type of business you have, you may want to create one or more campaigns in Google AdWords. For example, if you are in retail, you may want to have one campaign for shirts and another for pants to separate your budgets for each item.

2. Create AdGroups

You should have multiple AdGroups per campaign that contain related keywords. Each AdGroup will contain one or two ads related to the group of keywords. You can set a bid/price for each AdGroup or individually for each keyword.

3. Choose your keywords

Keywords in each group should be related to the title of your AdGroup. Keywords vary in price depending on other bids being placed on the words, so choose wisely. Don’t forget to choose negative keywords as well! These are keywords you do not want your AdGroup or campaign to be associated with.

4. Set your goals & optimization tactics

Choosing a goal such as increasing website traffic or driving conversions is essential to a successful AdWords campaign, and you don’t have to choose just one! You can optimize based on these goals using tactics such as increasing CTR (click-through-rate) or increasing consumer engagement. As you build your campaign, the Google AdWords platform will give you feedback and tips based on your goals and optimization tactics.

Why should I use it?

So, what? Why will this help my business become more successful? Consumers Google everything. They Google where to eat, where to shop, where to get their haircut, how to get somewhere, etc. Consumers Google so much that “google” is now an accepted verb in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. As of February 2016, Google holds 64 percent of the market share in search, meaning that 64 percent of consumers use Google as their primary search engine. By not optimizing and creating search campaigns on Google, you are missing out on 64 percent of searchers, and if you’re not using search campaigns at all, then you are missing out on all of them. How are consumers supposed to find you if they Google and your business doesn’t pop up? Further, if you are not one of the first five results to pop up in their search engine results, most consumers won’t take the time to scroll down far enough to see your business.

We know how important search is for your campaigns. Need help designing your strategy? Let’s talk.

Why We Had a Meeting About Meetings

A meeting about meetings. Sounds silly, right? Recently, we decided it was time to have an open discussion about the way we conduct our internal meetings – how long should they last? Who needs to attend? Are devices permitted? Should we enforce “no meeting” blocks? What seems like a superfluous meeting topic at first is actually quite tactical. Here are a few reasons why it may be beneficial for your business to touch base on your meeting culture.

The point of having internal meetings is to come together, collaborate and hopefully, come up with solutions. In order for these things to happen, meeting participants need to 1) come prepared 2) come ready to focus. It’s difficult to come to a meeting prepared and focused if you’re slammed with other meetings all day, on top of other work that needs to get done.

To ensure that we’re able to come to meetings well-prepared and focused, we’ve implemented a few new meeting guidelines. Firstly, we decided that for formal meetings that need to cover a lot of ground, agendas are a must. Setting an agenda prior to a meeting helps to maximize the time spent in the meeting by keeping everyone on track and focused on the topic at hand. The more focused your time, the more productive your meeting. In addition to helping focus the meeting, a pre-set agenda helps everyone come ready to discuss each topic. By pre-determining the flow of the meeting, we also hope that this will help us spend less time in meetings as well.

In addition to time management, we’ve decided to spell out whose attendance is required and whose is optional. Meeting invitations will indicate who must attend and who is encouraged to attend. This keeps interested parties in the loop with the understanding that they can decline the invitation if other work needs to take priority during that time. Those who do attend are permitted to bring their devices with the expectation that they will only be in use if it’s relevant to the meeting.

We toyed with the idea of implementing a “no meeting day” once a week. Proponents of this measure argue that it allows for a solid day of uninterrupted work. While many of us were initially drawn to this idea, other team members who have previously worked in environments with “no meeting days” found that this resulted in a couple of days a week where they were slammed with meetings.

To strike a balance, we’re trying out “working blocks” instead. We agreed that for the time being, we will designate the first half of our Mondays and Tuesdays to “working blocks,” as well as the second half of our Fridays. Our hope is that this will result in a balanced meeting schedule throughout the week, with plenty of time to execute on client work.

By employing these simple guidelines, we are optimistic that our internal meetings will become more efficient, more collaborative and more productive. Work smarter, not harder!

Top 5 Trends from IBE New York

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a month since we packed up our bags and headed to the Big Apple for an amazing three days at the Indie Beauty Expo. The expo kicked off with Connect Indie, a day full of seminars on everything from funding your business to PR and marketing tips. The following day was open to the public so beauty enthusiasts could come experience products, talk to brand reps and shop to their heart’s content. Day three was dedicated to buyers, press and industry professionals, like us. The expo went by like a whirlwind, leaving us with sore feet (heels were a bad idea) and some key takeaways to bring to our clients. Below are five of the biggest trends we took away from Indie Beauty New York.

1. Indie beauty is in

There’s a reason the Indie Beauty Expo has grown exponentially over the past five years – indie beauty is huge right now. Increasingly, we’re seeing a shift in consumer behavior away from big beauty brands, like Maybelline, L’Oréal and Cover Girl, toward smaller companies with unique stories and more ethical practices. Buyers are picking up on this trend as well. At the expo, we spotted major buyers making deals left and right with these smaller, primarily founder-owned companies. Going booth to booth, we asked people if they’d had any interest from buyers. Many had talked to industry titans such as Sephora, Target and big department stores. The excitement from owners and founders was palpable; it’s a great time to be in the beauty biz.

The next time you walk through a major store, look closely at the brands on the shelves. The big brands will still be there, but there will likely be a good selection of indie beauty brands on display as well.

2. Everyone loves a founder story

During Connect Indie there were a few press panels where journalists from big names like Allure gave us their treasured secrets and tips to get their attention – every PR person’s struggle.

The biggest theme from these panels in regard to grabbing attention and getting journalists to write a story on your brand was founder stories. Journalists are constantly looking for interesting and unique story angles. A unique and compelling story about how the founder started the business is a great way to get noticed. Another interesting thing to note: journalists are more likely to respond to your pitch and set up an interview if the pitch comes from the founder or CEO themselves.

We met with several brands that had incredible founder stories. One that really stuck with us was the story of Dana Jackson, founder of Beneath Your Mask. Dana started her all-natural, nontoxic line after she was diagnosed with a severe form of lupus. After her diagnosis, she began her life-changing journey towards health. She wanted to reduce her exposure to harmful chemicals and repair the damage done to her hair and nails; thus, Beneath Your Mask was born. Her transformation is incredible. Compelling, right? Hers is an excellent example of a story beauty journalists would love to cover. It’s inspiring and emotional, and getting the word out could benefit many others struggling with skin problems or chronic illness. Read Dana’s full story here.

3. Find a way to stand out

You are likely the 700th hand lotion company to attend IBE, so how are you going to differentiate yourself to grab the attention of that buyer, journalist or shopper? You have to find a way. The booths that garnered the most attention and traffic had some sort of “wow” factor that passersby couldn’t resist stopping to check out.

We helped our client, Source Vitál Apothecary, set up their booth, and let me tell you – it was spectacular. They transformed their small exhibiting space into a beautiful facial cocktail bar, complete with beakers and vials, string-up lights and plenty of product samples for attendees to experiment with. Of course, your product will make or break you, but presentation is everything.

4. The future is digital

If you have an Instagram account, you likely follow quite a few influencers who correspond to your particular interests. Influencers have large, loyal followings and as their name suggests, their opinions carry a lot of weight.

You can have a stellar product, but what does it matter if you aren’t getting the word out about it? Consumers are often looking for the next best thing, so how are you going to make sure your product is it? Digital influencers should be your go-to. Beauty bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers are constantly trying new products to review and share with their audience. Trust is critical in the beauty community. Once an influencer gains the trust of their audience, they go from simply having casual viewers to a loyal following who look to them for sound advice.

By getting your product into the hands of a single digital influencer, you gain not only their support should they love your product, but the attention of their following as well. Don’t underestimate the power of a thoughtful, well-put-together PR package in the right hands.

5. Invest in the right PR team

A common piece of advice we heard during the sessions and panels at Connect Indie was to spend the time and money to develop your brand and get your name out there. Because indie beauty companies are typically small, foundational elements of the business like determining product sales, distribution, packaging costs and shipping, typically take precedence. It’s easy to put efforts like PR and marketing on the backburner when you’re doing everything yourself.

That’s where working with an agency comes in handy. When you’re working with a PR and marketing team you trust, you can breathe easier knowing you and your brand are in good hands. Whether you need help developing your brand story or simply need to get your name out there, outsourcing those efforts will leave you with the time you need to fully focus on your business and everything that goes along with creating amazing products.

Handling Communications During A Disaster

This article was originally drafted for Forbes.com by our CEO, Robbie Wright. See the original here.

Hurricane Harvey dominated the news cycle for weeks and will likely remain in the mainstream media for months to come as we learn more about the extensive rebuilding efforts. In the same week, Hurricane Irma barreled up the state of Florida and there were two other active hurricanes, one in the Atlantic and the other in the Gulf of Mexico.

Like other agencies, we had to have hard conversations with our clients about the best way to respond to these national disasters, walking the fine line between contributing to a charitable cause and self-promotion. While we don’t want our clients to come off as opportunistic; we also can’t remain silent. We have to find a way to add our voice in a meaningful and respectful way.

This matter has been especially weighing on our team and we feel we have a unique point of view to offer. As an agency, our work family was heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Our Houston office was forced to shut down nearly the entire week we were under Harvey’s shadow. Two of our employees were forced to evacuate and one lost her home.

When the storm was hitting hard, I looked out my window to see my street transformed into a river. Feeling uneasy, I sent an email to the rest of the team asking their opinions on (for lack of a better word) capitalizing on hashtags that were inevitably trending. What is the best way to respond? How should we advise our displaced Houston clients? What about clients who were unaffected?

The short answer is: Don’t make it about you.

Use Thoughtful Messaging

Once you’ve got that out of the way, it’s important to remember there is nothing wrong with giving back via a charitable cause. Charities are desperate for resources and business has to go on for you and your clients. Make sure the message you craft is tactful and highlights the charity and how others can help. If you choose to send proceeds of a product or service to a charity, be thoughtful about the charity you choose and how the donations will be used. Make sure your offer is significant enough to warrant your inherent self-promotion or else you run the risk of being accused of profiting off a natural disaster.

Give Back

We have a spa client in the Houston area that thankfully had no damage — employees were able to get back to work there fairly quickly. Another spa in the area offered free services to first responders, which was a great idea, though we knew our client did not have the resources to follow through on that kind of offer. They desperately wanted to give back to their own neighbors, a feeling we now know well, and they chose to do so by offering 25 percent of service fees to an amazing local charity. In their messaging on social media, they came from a place of understanding and comradery, saying they were glad to be back to work providing the city some much-needed relaxation and hoped to be able to give back monetarily while doing so.

While many companies have chosen to take a similar approach in donating proceeds of products or services, we encourage you to think outside the box and find other thoughtful offerings that might be unique to your business. Another client we have in the Houston area is a natural body care line. In addition to monetary resources, shelters had a desperate need for hygienic products. This client was in the unique position of being able to help in a direct way. They quickly began packing bottles of body wash and ended up hand delivering 20 gallons to local shelters.

Be Flexible

Keep in mind any events or plans you or a client have coming up and be cognizant of current events, adjusting as needed. As an agency, we had an opening event for our Houston office planned a few weeks after Harvey hit. Invites had already been sent out and we didn’t want to put this event on hold, though we didn’t want to seem insensitive to the climate. Instead of canceling, we chose to pivot the event. Putting our heads together, we figured out how we could use the event to give back to the community. The event took on a new theme and was largely focused on gathering donations for local charities.

Anyone who has been part of something like a natural disaster knows that anything helps. If you aren’t thoughtful and genuine with your approach, it will show — which could hurt you or your client’s brand. We encourage you to become part of the conversation during trying times, as long as it is in a meaningful and respectful way. Just remember: Don’t make it about you — highlight the charity, be thoughtful and pivot if needed.

Books to Help You Grow in Your Career

Whether you’re just starting your career, looking to take the plunge with a new job, or just need a little inspiration at the office, here are some book recommendations to help you up your game.

Born for This

by Chris Guillebeau

When people ask you the dreaded question of “what’s next?” for your career, your stomach may drop a little. Don’t worry though, Guillebeau’s New York Times Bestselling book, “Born for This,” will help you conquer that question for both you and others. “Born for This” will guide you through figuring out not only what it is you want to do, but what actions you should take to get there.

Grit

by Angela Duckworth

Ever feel like you’re down on your luck? This New York Times Bestseller teaches you that luck has nothing to do with success. Duckworth identifies “grit” – a combination of passion and persistence – as the key to achievement. Filled with personal anecdotes and interviews from high achievers such as Fortune 500 CEOs and West Point cadets, Duckworth shows how far hard work can take you.

Lean In

by Sheryl Sandberg

“Lean In” not only advocates for equal representation for women in business, but encourages both men and women to be actively engaged in their careers. Filled with her personal experience as Facebook COO and data centered around workplace leadership, Sandberg’s book has elicited praise from all over the country. “Lean In” has even lead to a national initiative to empower women in business. If you’re still not sold, check out Sandberg’s 2010 TED Talk that was the catalyst for her book.

Build Your Dream Network

by J. Kelly Hoey

What is networking in today’s digital age? Is it meeting with people for coffee? Messaging someone on LinkedIn? Or maybe networking is even liking a Facebook post. In “Build Your Dream Network,” networking expert Kelly Hoey gives advice on how to network in the business world today. “Build Your Dream Network” includes advice on connecting with people and dealing with always-packed schedules, and is loaded with infographics and charts on how to become a digital-age networker.

How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking

by Dale Carnegie

Being able to effectively and persuasively share information with people is key in business today. Famous lecturer Dale Carnegie, who also wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” has developed other advice and guide books on how people can better work and communicate in business. By the end of this book, any presentation or speaking event will be a breeze!

We hope you pick one of these books to guide you down your career path! What other career-oriented books have you gotten great advice from?

Our Favorite Tailgate Recipes for Football Season

Summer is ending and football season is here. We’re ready for stadium seats, watch parties, and tailgating. If you’re hosting or simply attending a tailgate, we’ve got you covered from kickoff until the final touchdown. Here are a few of our favorite recipes to bring along.

Starter: 7 Layer Bean Dip
A Texas-sized tailgate is not complete without a 7 Layer Bean Dip. This recipe is a classic for a reason. Consisting of a total of seven layers – refried beans, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, tomatoes, green onions, and black olives, this dip is a real crowd pleaser. Ready to layer it up? Check out this McCormick’s recipe and get your tortilla chips ready.

Main Course: Pizza Burgers
Pizza and burgers – arguably the two best football foods. Luckily, there is a recipe to mesh the two, giving you the best of both worlds. The key ingredients are Italian sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, pizza sauce, cheese and buns. You won’t have to decide whether to go pizza or burger on your next tailgate.

Side: Roasted Jalapeño Poppers
If you’re a cheese lover, this poppin’ side dish is for you. This mouthwatering jalapeño popper recipe consists of THREE different cheeses – cream cheese, feta, and smoked pepper or cheddar (whichever you prefer). If you’re preparing for a large group, remember you can always double or triple the recipe.

Snack: Graham Nut Clusters
Every tailgate needs a go-to snack that is always there – a snack that fans can periodically grab by handfuls throughout the game. This simple recipe has honey graham cereal, honey roasted peanuts, chopped pecans, pretzels, and chocolate. Guests will have a difficult time saying no to this sweet and salty snack.

Dessert: Touchdown Turnover
Just the name itself can’t get you any more hyped to be out celebrating the 2017 season. With plenty of touchdowns to come from our favorite teams (come on), this dessert will go right along with the season. This sweet treat is easy to make with biscuit mix, flaked coconut, condensed milk and chocolate.

This recipe guide should last you and your tailgating fans from start to finish while you support your favorite team. Have any favorite tailgate recipes? Please share with us – we’d love to hear them. Go, fight, win, and eat delicious foods this season!

What Role Should Analytics Play in Your Marketing?

Are your marketing efforts working? How can you tell? If you don’t know how you’re doing, how will you improve? WordStream succinctly defines marketing analytics as “the practice of measuring, managing and analyzing marketing performance to maximize its effectiveness and optimize return on investment (ROI).” Understanding what marketing analytics is and how to use it helps marketers become more efficient – maximizing budget and reducing wasted spend.

These days there are ample resources online that can take the guesswork out of your job and make your life easier. For example, Google AdWords is one of the many available platforms that can show you how many people have seen your ad, clicked through to your website, or called you. Through their tracking tools, you can tie your ads back to your bottom line – sales, new clients, or whatever moves the needle for your business.

With this in mind, what are most important metrics to track? There are many to choose from, but here are the top five key performance indicators (KPIs) you should already be tracking.

1. Revenue
If generating sales is one of your goals, you need to make sure your sales exceed your expenses in your campaigns. At the end of the day, sales revenue is the metric that will resonate most with your client or whomever you report back to.

2. Conversion Rates
Is your content marketing effective? Is your landing page traffic making it through the sales/acquisition funnel? Content marketing should never remain static. You should constantly be looking for ways to optimize and improve your content placement and landing pages.

3. Cost Per Conversion (CPC)
There are a few questions you should ask yourself when considering your cost per conversion. How much is each conversion costing you? How many conversions are your efforts generating? Of these leads, how many actually have value?

4. ROI
Here, reporting is key. Being able to report and scrutinize website activity and sources of traffic is crucial to online success. Being able to analyze this data will help you in optimizing traffic sources, which will in turn generate more lead traffic and increase your conversion rate.

5. Social Media Reach
How many leads can be attributed to your social platforms? You should know which social platforms are best suited for your business. The more targeted an approach to social media you take, the more valuable your generated leads will be.
We all want to get the most bang for our buck. Fortifying your marketing strategy with these metrics will ensure you’re able to back up your efforts with solid data and adjust where needed.

5 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Influencer Event

Choosing the Right Social Channels for Your Business

In the age of social media, it can be hard to keep up. As soon as you get the hang of one platform, it changes; or, newer, better platforms rise up to usurp its throne. In the game of social media, you win, or you fade into oblivion.
Part of being able to execute a successful social strategy is choosing the right platforms for your business. Among all the available options, this may seem daunting. However, if you ask yourself a few key questions, you should be able to quickly determine which platforms make sense for your business.

Objectives
The first and most important question involves your social media objectives. If you’re unable to state how and why a specific channel will help you reach your goals, you should probably forgo it.
If your goal is to boost brand awareness, choose well-established platforms with a large user base and avoid newer platforms. Well-established platforms are typically easy to use and have the largest audience. As we move toward pay-to-play, it can be hard to reach your target audience organically. Look into available social media advertising options as well, whether your budget is large or small. If your goal is to increase lead generation for your product or service, platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are your best bet.

Target
You should also consider the platforms your target audience is already using. For example, if the bulk of your target is women, ages 45-65, Snapchat is likely not the right platform on which to be spending your time and efforts.

Be aware of your current demographics to make the best decision. Your audience should inform your decision on where to place your efforts and the content you create. The more targeted your approach, the higher your chances are of conversion. If you don’t already have social channels set up, conduct some demographic research to determine what makes the most sense.

Competitors
Where are your competitors visible online? What is their following and level of engagement like? What kind of content are they sharing? Knowing the current landscape will give you an idea of what you should and should not be sharing. Sprout Social is a resourceful platform with tools for monitoring how you stack up against your competitors on social media.

Content
The kind of content you create depends on your business and goals. If you want to share industry-specific news, company updates or thought-leadership editorials, you want a platform that is B2B friendly, such as LinkedIn. Twitter is also a great platform for industry news and updates, and Medium, Pinterest and Instagram are best suited for B2C businesses that have interesting visual elements. These platforms lend themselves to aspirational visuals and are an excellent place to build your brand’s visual story.

As video content has become more popular, social platforms have adapted to support video content more seamlessly into their feeds. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter tend to have a more universal appeal, while YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope appeal more to younger audiences.

When choosing the channels that are right for your business, it’s important to strike a balance. Utilizing only one platform will likely not be enough; however, spreading yourself too thin will make it difficult for you to make enough of an impact on any one platform.

Need help with your social strategy? Let’s talk!

Books to Read by the Pool

Summertime is meant for sunbathing by the pool with a good book. Although after you’ve read the same Jane Austen novel for the fifth time, you start to question what else might be out there for you. Here are some of our top book recommendations for some easy summer reading.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
By: Mindy Kaling

Are you looking to indulge in a light and easygoing book that will make you laugh out loud? Well, you’re in for a treat with this one. Actress and comedy writer, Mindy Kaling, tells her life story – from childhood to how she ended up in the world of show business. Filled with funny anecdotes, Kaling narrates the novel as if she’s your best friend guiding you through her experiences. From friendships and romance to bizarre Hollywood moments, Kaling is incredibly relatable and will surely entertain you if you choose to spend some time reading her story.

All the Light We Cannot See
By: Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is a New York Times Best Seller that has captured the hearts of many readers. This coming-of-age story follows the lives of a French girl and a German boy during World War II, from childhood to after the war. It has been praised for being so beautifully and vividly written that you might forget you’re in the year 2017 because you will be so immersed!

How to Win Friends and Influence People
By: Daniel Carnegie

If you are a workaholic and feel guilty about reading for leisure, consider checking out this classic self-help book. This novel was originally published in 1936 but is still relevant to the professional world today. Dive into the pages of this book where you’ll find helpful tips on how to be successful in your professional life. Relax by the pool and work at the same time – certainly a “novel” idea!

Sweetbitter
By: Stephanie Danler

Sweetbitter is the story of a young woman who moves to New York City to start an exciting life. This book will give you a peek into the wild world of the New York food industry as a young person in her twenties experiences romance, parties, and a little scandal on the side. Get your fill of drama this summer with a novel instead of a TV screen!

We hope you take time to relax and read a book this summer! What are some of your favorite summer reads?

5 Best Places to Take Your Dog in Austin

Austin is great place to live – for people, and for our four-legged friends! It’s well established that Austin has a delightfully dog-friendly attitude. If you’re new to the city or looking for something fun to do with your pup, you should take advantage of all the great dog-friendly activities the city has to offer. Here are our top 5 doggy-approved activities:

Zilker Park

Zilker Park is an Austin staple. This 350-acre hangout is right off Barton Springs Road and home to Austin City Limits, Blues on the Green, the Austin Trail of Lights and more. On weekends, you will find people out for a picnic, pick-up games of soccer, sand volleyball, and lots and lots of dogs. If you’re not sure where to take your dog first, this is a great jumping off point. It’s off-leash and laid back – just be sure to bring plenty of poop bags!

Vic Mathias Shores

Located downtown off Lady Bird Lake, Vic Mathias Shores (previously Auditorium Shores) is great for pups who like to get wet. Although a bit less roomy than Zilker, Auditorium Shores has been recently renovated with multiple docks your pooch can practice their belly flops from.

Yard Bar

Crack a cold one while your dog gets a workout in! Located off Burnet Road, Yard Bar has a relaxed environment and is the perfect afternoon hangout spot with your pooch. The yard is fenced in and includes picnic tables and agility equipment. Day passes are $5, but memberships are also available for purchase. Please note, all dogs must be 21 and up.

Bull Creek

Bull Creek is ideal for the more adventurous pup. With 32 miles of beautiful terrain, there’s something for everyone here. Take a hike on the trails, or bring a cooler and go for a swim. You can expect scenic cliffs, swimming holes and waterfalls. As there are both deep and shallow areas of water, we would recommend bringing a life jacket for your pup.

The Domain

Is your pup looking for something a bit more posh? The Domain may be the perfect spot! This outdoor shopping center boasts more than 100 restaurants and stores. You will find plenty of water bowls scattered throughout, along with numerous benches for people watching. Most restaurant patios welcome dogs, and many of the stores are dog-friendly as well – just be sure to ask first if you’re unsure.

What are your favorite Austin places to take your pooch? Let us know in the comments!

Incorporating Improv in the Workplace

Improvisational theater or improv is a form of theater in which much of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted. Think “Whose Line is it Anyway?” or shows you might see at your local comedy club. As it turns out, improv doesn’t have to be limited to the stage. There can be many benefits to incorporating improv exercises and principles at the office.

The Power of “Yes, And…”

“Yes, and…” is the golden rule of improv and is all about positive affirmation. For example, if you’re in a scene with someone and they exclaim, “The asteroid is heading straight for Earth!” you wouldn’t respond, “No it’s not, and we’re not even on Earth,” or the scene would effectively be dead. Instead, you’d have to build upon the idea, no matter how outlandish. You might say, “Yes, and we need to build a rocket ship before it hits!”

This principle can be extremely useful when carried into to the office, as it establishes a positive and creative environment where people feel more comfortable contributing their ideas. This is especially true in brainstorm sessions. When no idea is dismissed, but is instead built upon, people are more likely to toss out bolder and more creative ideas.

Boosts Confidence

Taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone is crucial in any improv exercise. It creates a judgement free environment where no idea is shut down or “too crazy.” It can help introverts come out of their shell, while reducing anxiety around office communication. It can also help sharpen public speaking skills and is a great exercise in performing under pressure. This comes in handy in any business, but especially in an agency setting.

More Productive Meetings

Improv is all about being present and in the moment – reacting and listening to what your scene partner is saying. Scenes can quickly derail if one person isn’t actively paying attention to what the other is saying, so focus is key. In addition to greater focus, it can encourage a more open environment, making it easier for people to speak up during meetings.

Prepare for the Unexpected

This can be especially useful for any surprises that pop up at work. If a presentation goes wrong or technology fails; if there’s a crisis that needs to be solved ASAP; or, if you’re asked a question you weren’t expecting – improv teaches you to be calm under pressure and really think on your feet. These skills can also come in handy during a job interview. There’s only so much you can prepare when going into an interview. There’s always that one question that comes out of left field and requires serious improvisation to be able to think of the answer and also tie it back to why the company should hire you.

Games, Games, Games!

Not sure where to start? Improv games are great icebreakers and excellent for getting team members warmed up before a brainstorming session. Harvard Business Review gives some great examples of improv games you can try with your team.

Do you think this is a fit for your team? Give improv a try and let us know how it goes!

Beat the Heat: Best Swimming Holes in Texas

Summer in Texas is a unique experience. Living in the city, brunching at trendy spots and shopping downtown can be fun, but come late afternoon, the 96 degree weather starts to hit hard. Texas heat is very real, but our great state supplies us with swimming holes to keep us cool and entertained.

Barton Springs

This swimming hole in the midst of the city of Austin is a whopping three acres of pool, and is kept at 68 degrees year-round. Considered one of the most popular swimming holes in Austin, this pool is spring-fed and open from 5am-10pm, with the last two hours being free admission. The guests of Barton Springs are a diverse group of people and are a microcosm of the Austin people and culture. You will find yogis practicing on the hill, families splashing around with their children and plenty of people laying out in the sun or jumping off the diving boards.

Jacob’s Well

Located in Wimberley, Jacob’s Well is the endpoint to an underground natural spring that provides clear and cool waters perfect for those hot Texas days. This swimming hole is usually open from 10am-8pm during the summer months, but we recommend calling ahead about hours to plan accordingly. Jacob’s Well is a great place to day trip on a hot summer day off, and has plenty of areas of shade for bringing a picnic and some pals.

Hamilton Pool

Take a drive to Dripping Springs and visit Hamilton Pool, a swimming hole whose natural beauty gives off major lagoon vibes. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes because you will be doing a few minutes of walking to get to the pool area. Expect a beautiful 50 foot waterfall, and a shore area to lay out soaking up sun rays. The times of admission to this pool vary according to weather conditions, so take the time to call beforehand to ensure they’re open and waiting for you!

Krause Springs

Venture into Spicewood and you will find Krause Springs, a privately-owned swimming hole by the Krause family for over 50 years. There are 32 springs feeding into the large natural swimming hole, and the water is kept at a chilly 68 degrees year-round. If you are feeling extra adventurous there is also an opportunity to camp to fully immerse yourself in the Krause Springs experience.

Bull Creek

Another Austin gem is Bull Creek, an entire 11 miles of water, trail and climbing spots. It’s located in North Central Austin, and has been serving as a place for people to cool off as early as the 1950s. This area is dog friendly, and provides areas to bring a picnic and spend a hot summer day outdoors. Swimming in the creek, volleyball courts and walking the trails are all attractions that will make for an entertaining day in the hot Texas sun.

What are some other fun swimming holes to visit in Texas? Let us know in the comments below!

FPSF Artists to Look Out For

Houston is getting hot and heavy – and we’re not just talking about the weather. What else is hot and heavy, you ask? Well … the music scene at the 2017 Free Press Summer Fest Lineup. The annual music festival will be pumping up the jams June 3-4th. Here are the artists to look for during the 2017 FPSF Houston!

Couple Classics

Flume

The Australian band with a heavy electronica influence is ready to drop the beat. With countless remixes and features with other leading artists, the ambient jams they produce are always inventive. Flume’s beat-driven music is sure to get some heads rockin’ and rollin’.

Lorde

This poetic singer, whose songs often tend to point out the obvious societal gap between luxury life of excess and vast poverty, is back on the radar with a new single. Green Light is all the rave, and Lorde never ceases to produce anything but an exceptionally unique live performance.

Forever Folksy

Milky Chance

The German folk pop band’s new album Blossom is circulating throughout the globe. A little more pop and beat influenced than their first album, Sandnecessary, Blossom features instrumentals, layered harmonies, and Spanish guitars, amid an electronica atmosphere. This niche and elaborate combination of influences are sure to make a live performance worthwhile.

Portugal. the Man

The indie pop band derived from the Alaskan wilderness knows how to rock. Indie and alternative, Portugual. the Man seems to produce a sound that feels appropriate for the beach, campfire or, of course, a music festival. The mustachioed lead singer, John Gourley, has bright vocals that will linger in the depths of your music-loving head long after the performance.

Newer Noise

The Wheel Workers

This local band from our very own Houston, Texas, comes with a sturdy and sound lyrical base. Steven Higginbotham has strong vocals that are just as powerful as the political relevancies his lyrics highlight. Heavy on both rock and meaningful topics, the Wheel Workers are sure to make an impactful appearance at 2017 FPSF.

Stick Figure

American reggae is the genre. The Southern California band creates a marriage between reggae and electronica sound, giving them a distinctive niche. The new American reggae sound has dub beats, heavy instrumentals, and great vibes. Get ready to chill out and kick it with Stick Figure.

Keeping Your Skin Healthy This Summer

Ah, summertime. Rest, relaxation, and time spent outdoors with family. It can be easy to neglect our skin when we’re busy having fun. Between sun, sand, chlorine and heat, it’s essential to make sure we’re taking the necessary precautions to protect the largest organ in our body: our skin.

Prevent

UV levels can wreak havoc on unprotected skin, and contribute to wrinkles, age spots, premature aging and skin cancer. Your greatest ally in the fight against these is sunscreen, and lots of it!

There are two types of UV rays that can be damaging to the skin – UVA and UVB. UVB rays are what cause sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate more deeply, causing premature aging. Both are damaging to the skin, so it’s important to pick up a sunscreen labeled as “broad-spectrum,” which protects against both UVA and UVB.

Apply sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes before sun exposure to ensure the active ingredients have time to take effect. Be sure to re-apply every two hours, or immediately after getting wet to stay protected all day. This one from Neutrogena is great – it has a nice scent and is waterproof.

Maintain

While it’s important to prevent sun damage, it’s equally as important to take care of and maintain the skin we’re in. Consistent sweat and sunscreen use can cause congestion in the skin, so you may need to switch to a heavy-duty cleanser during the summer. Try something such as the Algae Deep Cleanse from Source Vital Apothecary to keep pores clear – bentonite clay purifies, while red algae and geranium essential oil soothe the skin.

The skin around your eyes is especially delicate; extra care should be taken in the summer to guard against premature aging. To help prevent crow’s feet, be sure to wear sunglasses outdoors and invest in a good eye cream. We love this one from Mad Hippie – light enough that it doesn’t feel greasy, but seriously hydrating. Pro tip: If you want to up your eye cream game, keep it in the refrigerator. It feels great, and the cold helps soothe any puffiness.

If you find that your skin begins to look and feel dull during the day, you could benefit from using a facial mist. Sprays like this one from Evian are great at adding moisture back to overheated skin.

Heal

Despite our best efforts, sunburns happen. When they do, we need to be prepared. Aloe Vera gel has stood the test of time, and remains one of our favorite ways to soothe and treat nasty burns. Stock up on your own, or keep an Aloe Vera plant at home. Avoid hot showers, and be sure to use gentle products on your skin while it’s healing. If you’re sunburned, it’s probably not the best time to try a new scrub or peel.

What are your summer-skin must haves? Sound off in the comments below!