Spring Break Recap

I need a vacation from my vacation. In all truth, there was very little "spring" or "break" in my spring break. The Florida weather was rainy, cloudy and cold, and I packed my schedule so tightly that I exhausted myself (but for good reason!). Now I'm back in Boston and anxiously awaiting the weekend so I can do nothing, except maybe treat myself to a mani/pedi and my new favorite drink, the Starbucks Dark Cherry Mocha (YUM!). In the meanwhile, I have had many requests for a spring break recap, so here it is!

With a few potential job-related things in the works, it's hard for me to go into too much detail about my break just yet. What I can say is that I had a really fun time meeting with all sorts of people throughout Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in Orlando (my old stomping grounds!), hoping to get a better sense for the variety of roles that exist within the marketing organization and the company at large. In the process, I met with people in brands, Yellow Shoes (advertising), PR, sports, WDPRO (online), operations, CMR (Disney's version or CRM), DCL (cruise line) and more. I also had more than 5 networking phone calls over the week with folks at Madison Square Garden, HBO, MTVN/Nickelodeon and more. Phew! I'm tired just writing it all.

On the positive side, everyone I met with at Disney really seemed to love their job. Most have stayed for many years and consistently reference the plusses of a Florida lifestyle and the ability to come to work everyday and market "magic" and "pixie dust." I also get such a wonderful, homey feeling every time I walk into one of Disney's buildings. I just resonate with so many of these folks because we're all so passionate about the Disney product, the family-friendly imagery and the idea of fantasy and escapism. There are so few brands that pull this sort of emotion out of people of all ages that it's hard not to see this company as a marketing goldmine!

On the negative side, most of my meetings were met with a similar response: "We love your resume and you're a strong candidate, but...there are no jobs." My favorite response was probably: "Well, things are going to be much better a year from now." That's great, buddy, but I'm graduating THIS MAY, not next May, not this fall, or next spring, but NOW. And since a massive car payment, two chihuahuas and a storage unit full of crap officially become mine again on June 1st, 2010, I need an income and FAST. Dear Economy, please recover soon. Thanks, Gabby. I digress.

As I hinted, I did leave Florida with a couple of "seeds planted" so to speak, so some interesting opportunities could very well present themselves in the next couple of weeks. I'm trying really hard not to get my hopes up, but as all of you who follow my blog know, at the end of the day, I'm a total and complete Disneyphile and would be thrilled to go back and work for the Mouse. Now, this is not to say AT ALL that I am giving up on my New York/DC/Atlanta job search, as talk is cheap and I will not stop searching until I have an offer letter in my hand; more so, I'm just excited at the possibility of maybe being employed sooner than I expected. We shall see!

For now, it's back to the grind, finishing up the last few weeks of classes and getting moving on all of my papers and projects. Talk to you all soon!

Reflections from the 6th Annual HBS Retail & Luxury Goods Conference (Featuring Christian Siriano!!!!)

Thank you to Christina for sharing her papparazi-style photos!

Before I can write coherently, I need to get this out of my system: I met Christian Siriano!!!! Yes, the Project Runway winner himself has officially graced the HBS campus with all of his fierceness and I'm in love. Now, if I'm being totally honest, I did actually root for his competitor, Ramy, the whole season he was on PR, but totally admit that Christian (and his designs) deserved the win. And he is so fabulous in person! Ahhh, I'm starstruck! Hahaha...

Ok, now for real:
I was pleasantly surprised by this year's Luxury Goods conference and would actually rank it as my second favorite of the year (with Marketing & CPG first, but then again, I did help organize that one so I'm entirely biased). I actually stayed for the entire conference (shocking since I normally leave after lunch) and found both panels and both keynotes to be very interesting and insightful.

In summary, the first keynote was Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy's (and P-S, he looks like a movie star) who talked mostly about the growth in their department stores and their new model of customer-centric thinking. Some highlights:
  • There are currently 810 Macy's and 40 Bloomingdale's in the US, and last year, the company opened their first international store -- a Bloomie's in Dubai.
  • The company earned $23.5 billion in revenues last year, with 70% of transactions from women (no surprise there).
  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is the third most watched television show in the US (next to the Superbowl and the Oscars).
  • In Feb. 2010, Macy's stock price was up 21.7% as compared to just 8.1% for Saks and 5.7% for Nordstrom.

So basically, they're doing well and hoping to continue that streak by playing to the individuality of consumers (through the My Macy's initiative) at multiple price points.

From there, I attended the "E-Commerce: Creating Compelling Online Shopping Experiences" panel that featured Rachel Shechtman, the Founder of Cube Ventures, Maria Renz, the VP of Endless.com, Darcy Penick, the Divisional Merchandising Managing at ShopBop.com and Mark Weinberg, the SVP of Strategic Planning at RueLaLa.com. The conversation focused mostly on the concept of "flash sales" (with Gilt and RueLaLa as examples) and how competitive shopping is transforming the design landscape. One fact that I found interesting was that even among men's products, women are still the primary purchaser. We also talked a lot about the difference between "low prices" and "great values" in the industry.

The second panel that I attended was called "Luxury for the Masses" and featured the one and only Christian Siriano, plus Luann Via, the President & CEO of Payless Shoes, Adrian Gill, the VP of International Footwear at Puma, Rob Deeming, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Gilt Groupe and Daria Burke, the Manager of Consumer Insights and Customer Experience at Rent the Runway.

To be totally frank, I think I only fully listened when Christian was talking. I was too consumed by staring at him fuss with his hair, glasses or magenta blouse the rest of the time. My bad. But, alas, a few interesting tidbits about his new line at Payless!

  • It's currently selling in 400-500 of Payless' 4,000 stores (so only a 10% penetration, not sure why...) and a customer can purchase the entire collection of shoes and accessories for $400.
  • His inspiration to do the line was to reach a larger portion of his fan base who want a piece of his brand but can't afford his high-end couture designs.
  • Payless will soon be adding beauty products to their line (unrelated to Christian, but still interesting).

Finally, the day concluded with a very inspirational speech by the CEO of Gucci, Patrizio di Marco. Patrizio called the luxury goods industry "a world of selling dreams," and stated that when he first got into business, "I really couldn't stand all the math." Patrizio also recounted the story of his life and the intermingling of his career progression from moving to Japan at age 19, where he had to learn both Japanese and English, to rebuilding the Bottega Veneta brand in 2001 to now leading the largest and most recognized luxury brand in the world (Gucci). Apparently, the company amassed $900 million in profits last year (on $4.6 billion in revenues) and continue to debut seven new collections every year (a new collection approximately every 1.5 months).

Overall, I enjoyed myself, and although I'm not pursuing a career in the luxury goods/fashion industry, I appreciated the panelists' wisdom (and LOVED the goodie bag, which included four full-size perfumes, a Gucci coin purse, a Macy's gift card, a free subscription to Harper's Bazaar and more!).

Now it's time to prepare for tonight's EMC Oscar Party! See you later!

Mid-Semester Course Review

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but am only now getting around to it, so my apologies for the delay! The past couple of weeks have been best characterized by the words "over scheduled" and "under slept." Thankfully, spring break is just a week away, so hopefully it will be a chance to get caught up on life/work/the job search.

Overall, I'm very ambivalent about my courses this semester. Part of this has to do with the fact that my mind is really just elsewhere -- focused on the job search, my papers/projects, my personal life, basically everywhere except the classroom. This is bad, really, because this is my last chance to learn and soak up the wisdom that oozes from the pores of Harvard Business School and yet, concentration seems to be alluding me. With that said, here are my course reviews for the spring semester thus far:

1) Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries: This course is by FAR my favorite this semester, but I admit that I am entirely biased, being an entertainment junkie and all. The cases? SO interesting (I'm talking Maria Sharapova, LeBron James, Marvel comics, Warner Bros Entertainment, The CW, etc.). The class discussions? SO enlightening! Almost all of the students in the class are REALLY passionate about the entertainment industry, so we're able to dive deeper than we would if people didn't know about/have experience with the inner workings. One of my favorite takeaways thus far: the difference between a "House of Brands" and a "Branded House." Example: Marvel Enterprises has always been a "House of Brands" -- you know Spiderman, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man, but (unless you're hardcore), probably wouldn't know that those were all Marvel properties (versus DC Comics). Thus, the company operates as a House of Brands. This differs from someone like Disney. You hear the name Disney and know that Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the like are all brands underneath that umbrella. Thus, Disney is a "Branded House" and you have expectations about the specific brands within Disney based on your perception of the company. Final mention about this class: the professor, Anita Elberse, is awesome. SO knowledgable, funny and passionate. Love her. Course Grade: A

2) Competing With Social Networks: Misiek Piskorski's class on Social Networks and the digital world is a very close second this semester, and is perhaps the class that I am LEARNING the most in (big points for that considering I thought I knew all there was to know about social media/utilities before taking this class and have squarely been proved wrong!). Truth be told, I've been excited about this class since RC year when I met with Professor Piskorski and several other students for a faculty research lunch where he presented his findings regarding Facebook. An interesting point? People spend 75% of their time on Facebook stalking other people's profiles or viewing their own profile. Also, where do men in relationships spend most of their time? Viewing profiles of women they DON'T know!

I digress. The course is really structured well. We spend time talking about the sociology behind the advent of social networks -- what offline failures are these sites/programs seeking to address? -- and classify things according to products aimed at helping people "meet" friends versus become closer with current friends. We also spend a lot of time analyzing the divide between time spent "writing" or producing on these sites versus "reading" as a bystander. We've done cases on Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, Meetup, Mixi, LinkedIn, Zynga and more. Course Grade: A

3) Digital Marketing Strategy (half course): Sadly, I've been fairly disappointed in this course. It's not for a lack of interesting cases (we've read about the JK Wedding Dance and United Breaks Guitars YouTube videos, as well as the interesting business models behind Communispace and Backchannel Media), rather I think it's a combination of taking this course in conjunction with Competing with Social Networks (a lot of the learnings are the same) and the fact that this is the first time the class was taught (meaning we're the guinea pigs set to help iron out the kinks for next year). The professors, John Deighton and Sunil Gupta, are incredibly nice and obviously brilliant. The idea to "team teach" the course was an interesting one in my view, but I personally feel that it fragmented an already short course. What I mean by this is that I think the case method works best when a class is able to develop a rhythm with a professor and get comfortable in their teaching style and expectations. This ability is already compressed with a half course, so when you further segment it with two professors alternating teaching, the students' capability to gel is nearly entirely compromised. I think this affects the learning environment and makes case discussions feel shallower. The other thing I dislike is the fact that we were assigned TWO group projects for one half course. Definitely a lot more work that I expected for a short course. Course Grade: C

4) Managing Innovation: This course is schizophrenic in my opinion. The first module was fantastic. We did some really interesting cases on product design and development issues at BMW, Bang & Olufsen and in the "magic" industry. We also had a really interesting session with NASA, discussing the problems involved with sending astronauts on long-term missions to Mars. And then something happened in the second module where I feel like I am in a completely different course. The cases are boring (Medtronic pacemakers, telecommunications software by Siemens), the discussions lack energy entirely and I don't feel like I'm learning anything new. Granted, we still have roughly 8 classes left, so there is definitely time for things to do another 180 in the last module, but at the moment, I'm feeling very dissatisfied. Course Grade: C-/D+

Since I'm doing a Field Study this semester on Jordan's Furniture (love them!), those are all my current courses. I do start another half course called Retailing on Thursday, so will have to let you know my feelings on that as we approach the end of the semester. I truly cannot believe how fast it is going! That's all for now guys, catch ya later!