Outsmarting myself

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As my search for a flight to Greece for my family this summer continues, I literally kick myself every time I click on that Kayak icon on my iphone. You see, someone told me that you have to book this flight in late January or else it will just keep going up.  I did that the last time we went to Greece and it worked.  This time, I looked at the fares and wasn’t happy with them at that time.  And guess what?  Nothing but up.

But there is a strange phenomenon that I have already ranted about.  I can fly from Pittsburgh through Philly to Athens for $1600.  I can DRIVE to Toronto and fly from there to Philly and catch the same flight to Athens. For $1100.  It’s that damned monopoly USAirways has on the Pit-Phl route.

You airlines can’t deny me the chance to go here.  You just can’t.  

So now our choices are to pay out the nose.  Drive to Philly.  Drive to Toronto.  I hate the thought of driving 5 or 6 hours to catch a flight. Actually I hate the thought of doing it on the trip home. So I wait.  And I click on Kayak every 5 or 10 minutes thinking something is going to magically change.  I’m sure it will change.  I’m sure it will keep going up and I’ll have outsmarted myself all the way to a $2000 coach fare.  Thanks again USAirways.

Tuesdays and New Biz

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When I worked for a living (which is what I call my life before striking out on my own) I hated Tuesdays.  With a passion.  Mondays I was fresh and ready to take on the world. I had actually missed my projects a bit while doing all sorts of fun things on the weekend so I came in full of vim and vigor.

Wednesdays were the middle of the week.  Thursday was almost like “weekend eve” and Fridays. Well everybody loves Friday.  But Tuesday.  The novelty of returning to the office has worn off.  Nearly a full week is ahead of you.  People who didn’t have time to torture you on Monday will find you today.  I always left the office exhausted on Tuesday.

But now that I have my own business, Tuesday is just another day.  Saturday and Sunday are too – but that’s another story for another time.  And I look at Tuesdays as a great day to evaluate new business opportunities.  And so I did a little work on that end today.  While I thought that this would be the part of my business venture that I thought I was going to dread the most, I find that it is absolutely the most enjoyable part of owning one’s own biz.

And what has surprised me the most over the years I have conducted business – but more so in the past month – is how willing people are to meet and hear all about me.  Or introduce me to some of their friends and business associates. I guess I have always been that way myself and I hope that means that the good karma I always put out there has paid off with it coming right back to me.  That’s the way the world should work!

I’ve also found that true cold calling isn’t all that scary either.  As someone who has worked in PR and conducted high profile media relations for decades, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.  The enormous level of rejection associated with media relations has prepared me well for this task.  And I get the same rush – maybe even a bigger rush – when someone agrees to meet with me as I did when I got a hit on the Today Show or in USA Today.

I recently scored a meeting with a dream client as a result of a cold call and discussions are continuing.  I was stunned when I got the meeting.  I am stunned today.  I will be stunned if I get the business.  I really don’t take anything for granted and continue to be driven by the abject fear that I may have to go back to work for someone someday with an office, suit and tie and commute.  Wait, I just broke out in a cold sweat thinking about that.

So for those friends, associates, colleagues and acquaintances out there who haven’t yet referred business my way, what are you waiting for?  Today is Tuesday.

FES for KEF: March Madness for a cause

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When I first met Todd Grossman, it was on a business call when I was trying to resolve a problem with a project I had undertaken with his organization.  Todd was the “escalated” call and I was taken by how well he handled a sticky situation.  He was just the kind of person I wanted to get to know better. Not long after, we met in person to see where we could help each other business-wise and struck up a friendship.

When I learned about Todd’s foundation – the Kilimanjaro Education Foundation or KEF for short – that he founded after climbing the mountain and meeting the guides who lived in villages around Kilimanjaro and seeing the great need for help in the region – I knew I wanted to help.  KEF  strives to improve education and to build school facilities for underprivileged children in Tanzania and other countries bordering Kilimanjaro. I volunteered to help the foundation by providing pro bono PR services.

At the same time, I was looking for a way to show my kids how lucky they were – that not everyone has the same privileges – not to mention all the “stuff” they have.  It seemed like a natural fit when I brought Todd to Franklin Elementary School to meet with the principal and the kids and to create a relationship.

Three years later, that relationship endures as the kids of Franklin are working on raising enough money to build and outfit a library at Eluwai Primary School and Noonkodin Secondary School in the village of Eluwai outside of Monduli in Tanzania.  What an amazing sight when we got the pictures of the ground breaking and of the foundation being laid.  Soon there will be a building there and kids in Tanzania will have access to books and other materials that they could only dream of.

The kids at Franklin have embraced the project, raising money through spirit days and selling bracelets.  But the big fundraiser is a yearly “teachers vs. parents” basketball game that will take place tonight.  A different kind of march madnessImage.  I toured the school last year with Todd when we went to classrooms to talk to the kids about the project and to hear their ideas about raising money.  I sat at the assembly where Todd showed pictures of the conditions in the village and showed how the library will help.  I listened to the great questions from the kids who wanted to know everything and connect with the kids they are helping.

If this project inspires only a small percentage of the kids at Franklin – and their parents – to appreciate our way of life more – or to give back to the community through a volunteer project of some kind it is worth it.  And if my kids take nothing more away than that they should help others in a time of need, I will be one proud dad.

Go Franklin Elementary!  Go KEF!

Daffodil Day

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For those who have children in school, you know that there are many crazy, annoying requests from teachers over the years.  When the kids are in kindergarten and first grade, the requests are generally cute or at least they seem to be.  But when the kids get to middle school, the requests are sometimes beyond ridiculous. We had one of those last night.

But earlier this year, we had another favorite which was to “use things you have around the house” for your projects.  You shouldn’t have to buy anything.  Uh. Sorry I don’t have a perfect pyramid or cone or most other geometric shapes necessary just hiding in my pantry. So a trip to Michael’s and $20 later we had everything we needed.  And just so I knew that it wasn’t just me – we ran into at least 3 other seventh-grade families in the store in the 15 minutes we were there.

But nothing will top last night’s request.  Kids, bring in a daffodil tomorrow. You all have them. Just pick one.  We are going to dissect them but if you don’t bring one in, you’ll just have to watch the other students. Really? And – uh…..we didn’t have one. They don’t really grow wild around here and we haven’t planted any.  So after swim team practice we needed to get home to allow my seventh grader to do her homework.  But no. First, we had to go in search of a daffodil.  By now all the florists were closed.  My wife went to one grocery store floral shop – no daffodils.  I went to another grocery store floral shop.  Ditto.

So by now we were all feeling a little frantic about getting a daffodil.  That’s definitely one of the most ridiculous sentences I have ever typed. Should we go to the elementary school and steal one from the flower bed there.  Oh wait, we just drove past a house with lots of them.  Text your friends.  Post to Facebook.

Thankfully a neighbor saved the day by offering that she could have one of her daffodils.  So we drove to the house in the dark and picked up our coveted flower.

Teachers of the world.  Think before you make these silly last minute requests of your students.  They have lives.  We have lives.  And what we don’t have are daffodils growing wildly in our suburban back yards.

Loyalty Schmoyalty

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When USAirways (then just good old USAir) was in its heyday, people in the western suburbs of Pittsburgh merely referred to it as “the company.”  That’s because thousands of residents were employed by the airline which maintained a hub in Pittsburgh and blackmailed the county into building it a showplace of an airport terminal. I know more about this than I wish I did because I worked as airport communications manager for the Greater Pittsburgh Office of Promotion – charged with promoting the new airport opening.  So I actually believed the press backgrounders I wrote and stories I sold to the likes of USA Today, NBC News and countless others. From how the airport would stimulate growth in the new corridor built just for it (still hasn’t happened) to the way baggage would meet you at the carousel before you even arrived (never happened) to the dedication of USAirways to the Pittsburgh market (no comment needed).  So why wouldn’t we all believe that USAir was there to stay?

However, even before 9-11, there were signs of cracking in the hub that was Pittsburgh.  Today, USAirways is an afterthought in Pittsburgh as far as flights that fly anywhere directly.  The beautiful airport has been almost half-shuttered – with a wall blocking off half the gates in each of two concourses.  It’s truly sad to see for someone who was so involved in the airport opening – remembering walking through the construction site before the roof was even complete. USAirways moved its hubs – and all the jobs that used to be in Pittsburgh – to Philadelphia and Charlotte.

Enter Southwest Airlines, now with the most flights out of Pittsburgh.  Allegheny County begged them to come.  Flyers begged them to come.  So they did.  And they grew.  And grew.  But the people of Pittsburgh didn’t really appreciate what this all meant.  The biggest competitive route between USAirways and Southwest was probably Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.  And instead of jumping on the Southwest flight (I know I did every single time I flew that route sometimes for as little as $75 round trip) the people of Pittsburgh let their “loyalty” to USAirways cloud their judgement.  And they flew USAirways. After all, each airline was offering tickets right around $100 round trip.  So what does it matter.  Well. It mattered.

And now, Southwest has stopped that route giving USAirways back the monopoly on PIT-PHL and a pricetag for a random upcoming date of $454. So to all the Pittsburghers who thanked Southwest for coming by continuing to fly to Philly via USAirways, shame on you.

I know this is old news but I’m ranting now because I’m trying to book a flight to Europe this summer and for my family to fly from Pittsburgh will cost more than $300 per person than if I drove 5-plus hours to Philadelphia or Toronto.  And that just honks me off.  When I traveled almost constantly for business I was thankful that I could generally get from Pittsburgh to anywhere I needed to be on a nonstop.  Today, that is largely impossible save for a few select markets that Southwest or JetBlue serve.

Wish there was a fix but I fear that ship has long since sailed and it’s time to figure out where to drive to get my flight to Europe. Given the choices are USAir or Air Canada I think I know which way I am leaning.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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No it’s not what you’re thinking. And it’s not back-to-school as a certain office supply store would have you believe.  It’s March Madness.  It’s spring. It’s college basketball.  It’s the best.

Now I have to confess that it’s not quite as much fun this year because my beloved Pitt Panthers did not have a good year.  But given the fun and joy this team has provided over the past decade I’m not among those who would have you believe the program is doomed.  On to next year for the Panthers and Hail to Pitt.

What I do have this year is my other alma mater – the Ohio Bobcats.  Stand up and Cheer! Odds are stacked against the ‘cats but I am looking forward to watching them play and hopefully pull off a surprise win or two (or five)!

I had the pleasure of attending all four games of the regional here in Pittsburgh yesterday and completely enjoyed the experience.  The Syracuse-UNC Asheville game was one for the ages and I fear the underdogs got jobbed big time by bad officiating.

This is the first NCAA Tournament I’ve gone to without having a rooting interest in the house so I was just able to enjoy the basketball – and the crowd. No nerves about my team winning. Just a great day of hoops – though 3 of the 4 games overall left a lot to be desired in terms of suspense.  What a place for people watching this one was.  Guys in suits who had ducked out of work for the afternoon.  Kids playing hooky from school.  Fans from as far away as Spokane, Washington and as close as the one guy from Pittsburgh who actually is a Gonzaga alum.  A big shout out to the students from Loyola (Maryland) who were the best fans in the house.  They made a late night tip off fun and exciting – if only their team had hung in a little longer.   Bigger shout out to the gritty performance by UNC Asheville which made for the best game of the day or night.  As a Pitt fan, I can say that I wasn’t sad to see the WVU fans head home with their tails between their legs after a lot of bragging about “taking over” the arena.

But what yesterday did most was give me a recharge from the work week, let me enjoy some basketball with good friends.  And dream of next year’s March Madness when I’ll be traveling to whatever venue is hosting the good guys.

Spring Fever

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A 70 plus degree day in Pittsburgh in early March has everyone thinking of spring.  And with spring comes thoughts of rebirth and renewal. 

After six and a half years of running JDC, it was time for a remaking of my look and so I recently launched a new website (www.duroskopr.com) and new logo.  It seems like the perfect time to do it. Maybe it’s all related to the seven-year itch.  

But most importantly it’s a great time to expand the reach of my business – both geographically and in terms of services offered.  I’m looking forward to a great new year with some great new clients – and some potential clients who have me pumped up like I was when I launched JDC. 

Bottom line is that Spring has sprung.  Time to take off the snow tires which I put on just moments after the last significant snowflakes fell in Pittsburgh (of course). Time to use the convertible at every opportunity – celebrate that midlife crisis. Maybe it’s even time to think about opening the pool in early April this year.  

Spring is my favorite season because it means rebirth, renewal and rejoicing.  Rejoice with me!  

Why BizBreaks?

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Never one to be on the cutting edge of a new trend – well sometimes I am – it’s time to blog!  BizBreaks represents a microcosm of who I am today.  I took a HUGE break from the corporate world by putting my money where my mouth was and quitting my job (some would say somewhat out of the blue) six and a half years ago and running screaming from the endless conference calls, mindless meetings and constant HR issues.  I wanted to be a writer again. And a PR guy.

I also wanted to be able to actually see my kids grow up.  I missed months of my oldest daughter’s young life due to the business travel of my last corporate job and it was just time for a change.

BizBreaks also might mean breaking news in my growing communications consulting business.

I’ll also confess here. I am a vacation addict.  There I said it.  And that’s my favorite bizbreak.  Though as an entrepreneur the concept of vacation has changed as I never really get to completely turn off the way I used to try to do when I was a corporate drone. But the funny thing is it doesn’t matter.  Working on my own has reinvigorated my love of the communications business and of writing so those calls and emails while traveling with my family are just part of my new love.  A life that I love.

Now that I have written the first post, I am committing myself to continuing this journey.  I hope you’ll stay tuned.