Should Social Responsibility be Selfless?

Should Social Responsibility be Selfless?

by David Hagenbuch – professor of Marketing at Messiah University –
​author of Honorable Influence – founder of Mindful Marketing

While people gave gifts to loved ones last month, the world’s largest pizza chain was providing presents to some very surprised recipients—other restaurants.  True, “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but was Domino’s philanthropy actually aimed at putting itself on the receiving side?

As you may have seen in the 60-second spot from its feel-good campaign, Domino’s bought over $100,000 in gift cards from local restaurants and gave them to its own customers.

It doesn’t take much business background to know that the goal of an enterprise is to build market share for itself, not competitors.  Even Vickie Corder, one of the restaurant owners who appeared in Domino’s commercial, was astonished by the action: “I can’t believe one restaurant is buying another restaurant’s gift certificates.”

Why would Domino’s want to support its competitors’ sales by buying their gift cards, and even worse, giving them to its own customers, making them less likely to buy Domino’s pizza?  Some of the ad text suggests an altruistic reason:  “Domino’s wants to help the people and restaurants in our local communities.”

One might take that explanation at face value.  After all, the firm did fork over $100,000.  However, for a company with annual revenues of $4.37 billion and operating income of $801 million, $100,000 is immaterial.  There’s also some understandable skepticism–Why haven’t we heard before of Domino’s feelings of responsibility for other restaurants?

Instead, some of the chain’s social responsibility has looked more like ‘marketing gimmicks,’ such as its “Paving for Pizza” program, aimed at filling potential pizza-delivery-wrecking potholes, and its “carryout insurance,” guaranteeing free replacements for customers who inadvertently fumbled their pies.

The vast majority of people probably never had a poor pizza experience resulting from either of those issues and never will, so it’s realistic to suggest that in both instances Domino’s was making much ado about nothing, positioning for the free publicity that each unconventional campaign elicited.  So, is gifting other restaurant’s gift cards just another attempt to gain exposure through oddity?

The gift card campaign certainly seems like it could be another gimmick; yet, there are some notable differences, namely that COVID has put unprecedented pressure on restaurants, causing many to shutter their doors permanently.  In fact, Domino’s commercial mentions that “over 110,000 U.S. restaurants have closed since March 2020.”

That to say, unlike the exaggerated ideas of potholes pummeling delivery vehicles and consumers carelessly dropping carryout orders, the pandemic’s negative impact on restaurants has, unfortunately, been very real.

The ad also mentions a related phenomenon that COVID didn’t cause but did increase:  the use of third-party delivery companies.  During the height of the pandemic when most restaurants’ sit-down dining was paused, more and more people started getting restaurant food delivered to their homes and offices by providers like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.

grubhub uber eats doordash

Although selling food, whether for dine-in or delivery, seems like a good thing for restaurants, apparently the math doesn’t work well when third-party delivery companies are involved.  Irene Li, another restaurant owner interviewed in Domino’s ad, affirms the profit predicament: “[Third-party delivery fees] take a huge chunk of our bottom line; all of that comes out of our pocket and goes to them.”

Others have echoed her concern, including NPR, which reported that apps often charge commissions of 17% or more, in addition to delivery fees.  Likewise, the LA Times found that one local restaurant paid $35,000, or roughly a third of its annual rent, in delivery fees, which led the Times to recommend, “The next time you order takeout, call the restaurant [directly].”

Domino’s suggestion that delivery apps wreak havoc on restaurants’ bottom-lines is on-point; however, the pizza chain is also very well-known for doing its own deliveries.  Does that mean that Domino’s is selflessly looking out for others?  Not exactly.

Apparently, some of the many people who have grown accustomed to the third-party apps for food delivery have also used them to place orders for pizza, doing to Domino’s the same fiscal damage described above. In fact, another Domino’s ad has suggested such delivery difficulties, warning consumers that third party delivery firms charge “surprise fees,” but it will reward certain loyal customers who use its app with “surprise frees,” or, free food.”

Likewise, during an interview on CNBC’s Mad Money, Domino’s President and CEO Ritch Allision suggested that third-party delivery apps have, to some extent, stunted the company’s growth.

All this to say, by buying and giving away other restaurants’ gift cards, Domino’s has brought added attention to an issue that doesn’t just hurt its local restaurant competitors.  It also  bruises Domino’s own bottom line.

The question, then, becomes, Is it right for Domino’s to help itself while helping others?

Before considering the ethics of this query, it’s worth noting that Domino’s strategy does seem to be effective marketing.  The unconventional approach gains attention, and the corporate social responsibility builds goodwill.

What’s more, because delivery is both the focus of the ad and a key component of the company’s value proposition, the promotion is more meaningful and memorable.  When people consider Domino’s brand, the company wants them to think of food delivery, which the commercial accomplishes.

So, what about the marketing’s morality?  One consideration could be the amount Domino’s spent on the gift cards ($100K+) versus how much it’s paid for the ads.  Excluding  production expenses, U.S. television broadcasting costs alone, average about $115,000 per 30-second spot, which means the campaign’s promotional budget certainly far exceeded the value of the gift cards.

The extreme imbalance may make some rightly question the company’s motives.  Although Domino’s franchisees did assume some risk by giving other restaurant’s gift cards to their own customers, most people who eat out probably patronize multiple restaurants, making it unlikely that Domino’s lost business.  In fact, free gift cards may have led some of their recipients to reciprocate by buying more pizza.

All said, it’ hard to paint Domino’s promotion as selfless:  The company benefited from the tactics as did the other restaurants and those who scored the free gift cards.  So, is such mutual benefit problematic?

Most business exchanges result in win-win outcomes.  From the clothes we wear to the computers on which we type, we’re usually very glad we have those products and not the money we paid for them.  Meanwhile, the marketers are grateful for our money and don’t want back their products.

Mutually beneficial exchange, in commercial and noncommercial contexts, is a very good thing. Some may argue that such a philosophy shouldn’t extend to corporate social responsibility, but why not?

Several years ago, two colleagues and I conducted research in which we identified three unique types of corporate social responsibility: donation, volunteerism, and operational integration.  In the study we affirmed that helping others was very good, but implementing philanthropic acts that simultaneously furthered the economic goals of the organization was even better.  The positive response to this article and another like it suggests that many others share the same viewpoint.

The reality outside business isn’t much different.  When individuals give of their time, money, etc., benevolence in some form usually comes back to them.  The stories found in the Go Giver artfully describe that phenomenon.

Domino’s did a good thing by buying and giving away other restaurants’ gift cards.  Although it wasn’t a major act of corporate social responsibility, it was a meaningful one.  The fact that the philanthropy also benefited the pizza chain, doesn’t stop the strategy from being “Mindful Marketing.”


National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021

AMA Pittsburgh Members Encouraged to Participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and all members of AMA Pittsburgh are encouraged to participate. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

Held annually, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, but its true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers of all sizes and in all industries are encouraged to participate in NDEAM.

For specific ideas about how AMA Pittsburgh members can support National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit Suggestions range from simple, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive, such as implementing a disability education program. Regardless, all play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.

Social Information:

Website Resources: – Job Accommodation Network – Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion

Image Resources:

Large red text that spells hashtag NDEAM
Image with text that says “America’s Recovery Powered by Inclusion – National Disability Employment Awareness Month”
Image with text that says, in Spanish, “America’s Recovery Powered by Inclusion – National Disability Employment Awareness Month”
The background color of the 2020 poster is royal blue. All lettering is gold. To the left, in upper case letters, is the theme INCREASING ACCESS AND OPPORTUNITY. Under the theme in upper and lower case lettering are the words Celebrating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under this statement is blue space.

At the bottom left are four elements:

Two logos side-by-side: 30th/ADA ANNIVERSARY 75th/NDEAM ANNIVERSARY
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
#ADA30 | #NDEAM75 |
DOL’s logo with the following, in upper case letters, to its right: OFFICE OF DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT POLICY UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

To the right, cascading down to the bottom of the poster, are triangular shapes containing images of people with a range of disabilities working in various settings.
The Evolution of Influencer Marketing

The Evolution of Influencer Marketing

By Dwayne Waite Jr, Marketing Manager- Schell Games

As brands and organizations look at the future landscape of marketing, advertising, and public relations, one thing is clear- having a stance on influencer marketing is crucial in 2021 and beyond. Either you add it into your marketing mix, or you don’t. If not, you have to have a great reason why when supporting your opinion. Let’s talk about where influencer marketing came from, what shifts in consumer consumption and technological advances made influencer marketing easier, and why all communications professionals should evaluate their marketing strategy to see where influencer marketing activities can- or should- fit.

Influencer Marketing is Nothing New

I recently gave a talk during the Indie Game Business 2020 Winter Summit about influencer marketing (video at the end of this article). While I was preparing my presentation, I decided to take a look back through several of my university textbooks to see if I could trace where this concept of ‘influencer marketing’ came from. Not surprisingly, this kind of behavior, consumer looking toward opinion leaders who could then shape their own decision-making, is nothing new.

In the 3rd edition of Public Relations: A Values-Driven Approach (Guth & Marsh, 2006), an executive from the global public relations agency Burson-Marsteller (now BCW-Global) talked about how, in 2006, their team looked to discover whom they called “E-fluentials”.

Through a series of telephone interviews and online research with a panel of consumers, we soon discovered that a small segment of internet users- perhaps no more than 10 percent- were disproportionately more influential than others. We dubbed these online influentials “e-fluentials”, and now know how they influence friends, family and colleagues.

In the 4th edition of Advertising & Integrated Brand Promotion (O’Guinn/Allen/Semenik, 2006), those authors wrote of a trend of tracking ‘reference groups‘, and in particular, the rise and power of ‘brand communities‘, which they defined as “…groups of consumers who feel a commonality and a shared purpose grounded or attached to a consumer good or service.”

The promise of community- not to be alone, to share appreciation and admiration of something or someone, no matter how odd or inappropriate others feel it to be- is fulfilled in online communities.

This information suggests that people have always been looking for a sense of community, and, as Seth Godin would put it, looking to find a tribe and be led. Now let’s consider how technology fueled this search for community and community leaders.

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The Proliferation of the Citizen Reviewer

I distinctly remember my 101 Communications professor at Elon University pulling me aside and encouraging me to enter my paper, “Rise of the Blogosphere”, into the university’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (fondly known as SURF in the Elon community). I was (and, still am) incredibly curious about the boom of blogs, citizen journalism, and most importantly- the insatiable appetite the consuming public had for information from non-experts. This, by the way, was in 2005. Since then, the tide continues to roar, with no clear indication of slowing down.

Online forums are not any different from blogs. Again, at Elon, this time during my Integrated Marketing Communications course, in 2007, our class split into teams to take on a marketing case study featuring a small business in Mebane, NC, a small town about 20 minutes away from campus. There, we learned that there was a HUGE knitting and yarn community in Yahoo! groups. There were even questionnaires you had to answer before you were admitted into the groups. And again, with the rise of technology, we see Facebook Groups, LinkedIn groups, and mobile-first communities like AnimoApps, and more.

Rise of social media is something generations will always remember

Generations to come will look at the years 2003-2015 to research how social media changed society. Social media changed the way we interact with people, keep up with our loved ones (or hated ones), how we work, how we’re entertained. If social media changed all that personally, it is only natural that it would have a profound impact on the marketing and communications industry.

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New Media Matures

We all continue to watch the news, read the articles and follow our own favorite opinion leaders about the latest and greatest when it comes to social and digital media. What was once the wild west is slowly maturing. Now, instead of brands asking the question, “should we be on social media?”, many properly ask, “which social media network(s) should we as a brand focus on?” But, as media matures, we still see iterations to keep our hearts pattering. For example, shareable or ‘snackable’ media, short video or images, is becoming more popular. We can thank the international phenomenon TikTok (and its addictive algorithm) for that.

Another reason why we should continue watching new media, and why influencers have risen to popularity amongst the communications industries, is the (continued) growth of apathy and distaste towards advertising and earned media. It’s interesting to point out, though, that people still use and appreciate advertising in helping with their decision-making. Why the disconnect? There are many variables to consider, but a relevant reason is that person who get their information from content creators believe that these influencers are more genuine than the brand that is advertising. Why?

We need to recognize that communal consumption and digital communities are real, and important to people when it comes to gathering information for products and services. My wife is in a Facebook group for Mothers, and if there is a product or service that a group of mothers are against, there is no way that product is coming into our house- no matter or glitzy the ad is (or even if the group doesn’t have all the information).

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Brands Notice and an Industry Emerges

If a consumer can’t put trust in your advertising, but you need to make sure good and reliable information gets out, what can you do? Brands have been watching this trend for a long time, it was only a matter of the right juxtaposition of need, technology, and timing for Influencer marketing to arrive. To answer the question, brands found a way to empower these opinion leaders, provide them with goods and services to review, using the influencer’s choice of platform, while the consumer enjoys the feeling of community while listening to their community leader.

‘Influencers’ Becomes a Dirty Word to ‘Content Creators’

I pointed out in my presentation on influencer marketing that there ‘used’ to be a difference between ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators.’ Influencers, in its early stage, were people searching for paid opportunities only and reviewing goods and services, and developing a following there. Are there still some of those? Sure. But the cream of the crop and the ones proudly serving their communities are ‘content creators’, people who do a mix of paid and organic (real) content to delight their audience and community. These creators would only work with brands and products they would genuinely use, and have a built an audience because those people relate to that creator. The latter definition is the new ‘influencer.’ We like those people.

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Federal Regulation Appears and The Need for Standardization Emerges

Influencer marketing, in terms of a piece of your marketing mix, is still evolving. For example, there is still no standard in pricing or contracts for brands and content creators. The Federal Trade Commission is lagging far behind in creating regulations that will protect all parties involved with influencer marketing- the consumer, the brand, and the influencer. We are in exciting times to see how influencer marketing will shape up in the years to come.

What’s Next?

Influencer marketing will only get bigger, as new media pushes boundaries in how people communicate and consume information. Brands are getting more creative and competent in using influencers in their marketing mix. And finally, content creators are figuring out how to make a living in delighting their communities, so that’s pretty exciting too.

Sender Beats Subject Line: The Power of Blog Branding

Sender Beats Subject Line: The Power of Blog Branding

By Christopher Gillespie

Originally Posted on 11/20/2020 at the National American Marketing Association Website

Words can’t do everything on their own—a strongly branded blog will entice readers much more than an emphatic headline

Digital channels have grown crowded this year. The events industry is on pause and no small number of businesses have diverted that spend to online media. The resultant battle for clicks is nothing short of epic.

Fifty percent of marketing teams have purchased new tools to address new channels. Paid search and social spend both rose more than 25%, says the IAB, and yet sales still dropped 17.8%, according to The CMO Survey.

The issue has come to a particularly painful head with blogs, where digital content operations were not built to navigate these waters. We’re coming off of the decade dominated by content marketing where good advice was stripped to its bare essentials and repeated endlessly, often incorrectly. The experts all said “quality” but companies heard “volume” and now everyone’s armed for daily, multi-channel content publishing in a world where more is no longer more—it’s all just noise.

Amid this maelstrom, I began wondering: How does my team write more enticing headlines? Ones that actually get noticed? What I discovered was that the key has very little do with the writing itself—a rather tough pill to swallow for many writers. In the inbox or on Google, the person sending the message matters more than what they say.

In short, your blog team would do well to focus a lot less on “emotional” or “strong” words in their titles and a lot more on the blog’s branded appearance, style and tone.

Headline Analyzers Are a False Prophet

Every month, more than an estimated 800,000 writers visit CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, a web tool designed to “optimize” your headlines. It is incredibly popular. Nearly everyone I spoke to in my informal study had heard of and used it.

The analyzer is built on the assumption that adding more strong, novel or emotional words will increase the rate at which people click. The assumptions here are many. Who decides what word counts as emotional? What constitutes a strong word? Where exactly is this data coming from? You might think such a highly-trafficked tool would be based on some analysis of actual headline success, but it seems not to be.

I ran a test and found that the analyzer seemed to disdain the headlines from articles that were among the most successful from publications like Wired and blogs from companies like Google, Shopify, and Whole Foods. None scored higher than 62%. Instead, the analyzer delighted in lingual rubbish: “Rare ecstatic exploit killing it nematode” earned a 76%.

Below, headlines that were hugely successful everywhere but in the analyzer.

How a ‘Diabolic’ Beetle Survives Being Run Over By a Car = 59%

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Storms Twitch = 29%

How Brand Discovery Is Changing for Today’s Consumer = 60%

Building a Niche Board Games Business Through a Million-Dollar Crowdfunding Campaign = 38%

And so on.

If the headline analyzer can’t confirm real-world success, can it really be predictive? And furthermore, why were some admittedly drab headlines from the publications and blogs I discovered still so successful? For example, “What Our Leaders Can Do Now” and “Market Update” were objectively uninteresting, but universally read and shared. It had to be that there was something more I didn’t yet understand.

Containers, Context and Clicks

For my study, I gathered headlines I both liked and didn’t like into a spreadsheet for analysis. When the pandemic went into full-force, I abandoned the project, only to return three months later to find that I didn’t recognize any of the headlines. Some that I’d ranked highly, such as

“What Happened to Lee?” no longer held any interest. It was only upon revisiting the articles themselves, in their natural environment, that I understood.

Below, the deliciously moody thumbnail is what had caught my eye.

What Happened to Lee?

Via Wired

This led me to explore the idea of “containers,” or the context within which all of these headlines lived. Time after time, I found headlines to be far more interesting in their original form. The text, I realized, could not be divorced from all else—the author, the typography, the image, what’s

happening in the news that makes the headline relevant, and so on.

Each of these elements is part of the whole message—the entire blog’s brand. And each matters. The author, for example, can even be their own brand. You may not know what the business Ahrefs does, but if Ann Handley wrote the article they published, and you like her, you’ll read it. At the more extreme end, you may not be an avid reader of The New York Times, but if the morning’s opinion piece is by Jerry Seinfeld and he makes you laugh, you may give it a try.

Do you recall the “objectively uninteresting” headlines from earlier? Below, I’ve added the author and context back in, and you can see why they were successful:

“What Our Leaders Can Do Now” — written by Bill Gates in March 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 scare.

“Market Update” — written by the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, from the same time period.

Once apprised to the idea that sender matters as much as the subject line—perhaps even more—I started to realize this phenomenon everywhere I looked. I click LinkedIn articles because of the person who posted them. Sometimes, I click rather drab titles from otherwise interesting people, assuming they must not know something I don’t. It’s the same in the inbox,

on social media, and in search.

People click for many reasons—a clever headline being only one of them. And that’s led me to the conclusion that the most powerful thing you can do to increase your clicks in a raucous digital publishing environment is not to visit the headline analyzer, but to instead ask, what is our brand communicating that will make people want to click? Then, alter your blog to make that brand clearer.

To Improve Your Blog Branding

I do realize that many readers may not have direct access to their site’s design. Saying, “Just update the blog” may come across a bit like telling someone who’s hungry to start a bakery. It is difficult. But it is, I promise, the most effective thing you can do long term. If you don’t hold the keys to the site, appeal to those who do. Publishing is only growing more crowded and this will only grow more important.

The good news for some is that you don’t need permission from the entire business to revamp your content’s brand. Lots of content teams take an “ask for forgiveness” approach and only after they’ve proven its success, pitch it to the entire company. You can even experiment by branding specific channels to see how audiences react.

Take Duolingo for instance. The language learning app has a mission that’s staid and corporate: “Personalized learning.” But its podcast is a tour de force of soaring, emotional promise: “To help you learn and expand your view of the world.” While the app is full of fake-feeling scenarios like “Let’s find the library,” the podcast interviews people about their lives and covers tough topics like genocide, kidnapping, and gender rights. I don’t know who created the podcast, but it has my undying loyalty, and that transfers onto the parent brand.

A Four-Step Process for Blog Re-Branding

1. Decide what you’re promising your audience

Write a mission statement (what you do) and a vision statement (the change you’d like to see) that are specific to the blog. What do you stand for? How will you achieve it? Who is the blog intended to help?

2. Alter the blog to make your position clear

If needed, rename your publication to fit that vision. (There are no wrong names except, “Blog.”) Add a one-sentence tagline that summarizes the mission and links to an “about us” page that goes into further detail. Then, the design changes. If you are missing any of those pictured, add them to your site. They are crucial for helping readers understand who the sender is and vital if you, the publisher, are to build a relationship that makes them want to click.

3. Devise and uphold strict editorial standards

Where many corporate blogs go wrong is they’re a bit of everything for everybody. Which means that rather than thrill one audience so much they’ll click anything you write, it bores everyone equally.

To uphold your standards, publish a mini style guide, which is easier than it sounds. As you take or receive feedback, collect all of those preferences in one document that serves as a checklist for anyone writing for the blog.

To ensure you publish only the highest quality stories, manage a content backlog and accept only on-brand stories. Then, edit ruthlessly to ensure consistency and quality.

4. Defend the brand

By now you understand the value of clear and precise blog branding. But these topics probably aren’t generally understood within your company and you’ll have to educate others about the necessity of narrowing your focus to increase your effectiveness. Publish a blog guideline which begins by explaining the blog brand and its importance. Then, decline off-brand stories, partnerships, channels, so you can focus on your mission. When you have a strongly branded blog where people recognize you simply by the topics of stories you choose, it will sing.

Leadership and Legacy: Reflections from Immediate Past President, Lauren Norris

Leadership and Legacy: Reflections from Immediate Past President, Lauren Norris

The past four years on the AMA Board of Directors have flown by and as I close out my term as president, it’s cathartic having the chance to step back, collect and reflect on everything we’ve done together to push our chapter forward. 

While AMA Pittsburgh has been in operation for over seven decades, upon my joining the board, the time was ripe for change. With that said, we’ve gone through a restructuring and rebuilding of the board and the way our organization operates, and I couldn’t be more pleased with where we’re headed as we embark on our next chapter.

In the last few years, we have reignited our chapter with new events and brought back signature events, implemented new processes and procedures, created new opportunities for continuing education, held regional collegiate case competitions, and everything in between. Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop our chapter from launching a new virtual event series, Marketing Mondays, to keep our community connected and motivated to propel forward during this time. We’ve learned how to pivot, adapt, and be agile around obstacles big and small.

My vision when I became president for the chapter was to re-establish the foundational elements of our organization to set us up for future success. I felt we could achieve that through re-engaging with our local marketing network, growing chapter membership, creating better partnerships, and reconnecting with our national AMA office by being a host city for the 2018 leadership regional retreat. I am proud that together with my fellow board colleagues, we have successfully achieved those foundational goals. I am confident that our chapter will continue to build on this solidified foundation to further sophisticate what we offer and how to the Pittsburgh marketing community. 

2020 is our chapter’s 75th anniversary of being chartered; August 13, 1945 to be exact. And while our plans of live celebration in August have been canceled, our virtual spirit is at an all-time high. With our board of directors in place to start our new fiscal year July 1st, we already have a future line of leadership legacy identified to ensure the health and longevity of our chapter is here for another 75 years and beyond. The hours our team has put in – whether a three-week series of Saturday morning Zoom meetings to keep our strategic planning moving, or the countless meetings with their committee members, emails and texts and everything in-between – has all been to ensure we are moving forward to help propel both today’s leaders and the next generation of marketers. 

I am better not only professionally, but also personally for working alongside each and every person who’s been part of making AMA Pittsburgh what it is today. It has been my pleasure leading our chapter over the last two years as president, and I look forward to finding new and creative ways to contribute to the future success of AMA Pittsburgh in the spirit of strengthening our community.

All my best,
Lauren Norris