WithIt conference aims to improve talents with packed roster of speakers

Alex Lemonde-Gray, October 5, 2012

WithIt PresidentWithIt President Julia Rosien, principal at SocialNorth, welcomes attendees to the group’s 2012 Professional Conference.
Approximately 250 members of WithIt, an organization for women professionals in the home furnishings industry, attended the group's 2012 Professional Conference in Raleigh, N.C., last month.
     "This conference is about members improving their talents, reconnecting with colleagues and having fun," said WithIt Conference Chair Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations for the American Home Furnishings Alliance.
     WithIt Board of Governors member Kim Knopf, CEO of Winfield, W.Va.-based bedding retailer Innovative Mattress Solutions, said she found the event helpful to her business.
     "I first got involved in WithIt three years ago as a way to get more women involved in the bedding industry," she said. "The idea of WithIt and these conferences is to communicate and network with other women."
     Executive coach Gail Blanke of Lifedesigns, a former Avon executive and author of the book "Throw Out 50 Things - Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life," delivered the keynote address on leadership.
     She encouraged attendees
High Point UniversityHigh Point University student Erica Lang, left, was a first-time attendee at the conference and took part in a roundtable discussion on consumer trends led by Katie Hatch, president of Design Intuition.
to develop their personal and professional brands, to be confident in those brands, and to be courageous moving their personal and professional life ahead. Start out by establishing a vision or goal, Blanke said.
     "Don't get bogged down in the process," she said. "We have an insatiable need for more information before we step forward. We live in the information age and it's important, but there can be too much."
     Blanke referenced President John F. Kennedy's 1961 declaration that the United States would put a man on the moon and bring him back safely before the end of that decade. Kennedy's statement wasn't a suggestion and didn't include any qualifying words, but was treated as a statement of fact and that's how people should treat their visions, she said.
     Next, let go of any negative assumptions, doubts or fears of failing.
     Step three is to make a list of the "defining moments" in your life and your work where you were tested and triumphed or simply survived. Blanke said to use these moments as sources of confidence. She suggested companies do this with their employees on at least a yearly basis.
Executive coachExecutive coach Gail Blanke of Lifedesigns, delivers the conference’s keynote address, recommending that people develop their personal and professional brands.

     Pulling from these sources of confidence, step four is to adopt an entrepreneurial spirit and become a risk taker. Then develop your own personal brand by identifying what makes you unique and not trying to be everything to everyone.
     "Remember, if enough people love you, the ones who don't, don't matter," she said.
     Another executive coach, Grace Killelea of Grace Killelea Consulting and a former senior vice president of talent for Comcast Cable, told about the importance of controlling your stress in a talk titled "Stop, Drop and Roll: How to Survive and Thrive in Challenging Times."
     Life coach Bob DeMers, founder and principal of Coaching Works, addressed "The Most Difficult Sale in the World," in which he encouraged attendees to buy into themselves.
     Connie Jones, food insight strategist with McCormick's Food Insight Group, detailed McCormick's process in developing its yearly Flavor Forecast and what flavors made the 2012 edition.
     According to Jones, many themes in trending flavors cross over to the home furnishings industry. Among the six flavor trends this year is Honoring Roots, which describes applying different flavors or influences to a traditional dish without fundamentally altering it
Former WithIt PresidentFormer WithIt President Kelly Peterson, group advertising director at Hearst Corp., sings a snippet of her “power song” during an interactive portion of Blanke’s keynote.
. An example is updating traditional American fare like Buffalo wings with Korean barbecue flavors and seasonings.
     Kent Panther, head of strategic planning at Wray Ward, a Charlotte, N.C.-based full-service creative marketing communications firm, offered the WithIt group some tips on measuring the effectiveness of marketing endeavors.
     "Two-thirds of people in marketing jobs feel they don't have enough information on tracking return on investment (in marketing), so know that you're not alone," Panther told the audience.
     He detailed what factors businesses should evaluate, including types of sales, transactions details and profit. He then presented some of the latest marketing measurement tools, particularly for online ads and social media.
     Panther suggested that large companies with ample budgets use Radian to track in-depth social analytics from Facebook, although Klout is a much more simplified, cheaper option for small companies.
     Pinerly is a new tool for analyzing engagement on Pinterest, he said. Pinerly is currently in beta testing phase and is invitation only, but Panther strongly recommended it. For non-social paid online advertisements, he said his company uses Flashtalking.
     Three 50-minute roundtable sessions followed Panther's talk, with 15 discussion topics to choose from. Topics spanned a diverse range including using social media to promote your company, product design, consumer trend forecasting and balancing your work and personal life.

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