Sheltered Diaries: Heroic Efforts Recognized

Last month, our sister publication – D Magazine – announced that its annual Best of Big D would look a lot different this year.

After all, in the middle of a pandemic, with so many restaurants and businesses struggling to make it, the usual approach was – to put it mildly – fraught with a lot of angst.

So the attention turned to doing something different – honoring the heroic efforts (both large and small) that have been happening on a daily basis since COVID-19 hit the county.

Voting wrapped up last week, and I took the opportunity to talk to brand marketing manager Carly Mann, who is part of the team responsible for creating the campaign, tabulating the votes, and producing the Best of Big D issue – about our non-office life, completely scrapping the usual and deploying a new plan, and what is exciting her about the upcoming issue, which hits newsstands in August.

PN: First, how much do you miss our office? I mean, Teams and Zoom are nice, but I miss being there even more than I thought I would.

Carly: “I would say I struggled more towards the beginning of our stay-at-home orders. I love to collaborate and feed off the energy of others, so it was a bit of an adjustment at first. But to be honest, I’ve started to like working from home. People tend to overcommunicate things while were all working from home which allows me to get to know all different projects and aspect of those projects which feels nice. Audience Development and Marketing are innately collaborative departments, but we’ve been forced to check in more often which opens a line of constant communication that we didn’t really have before!”

PN: What was the conversation like when the idea to change Best of D to honor the frontline and neighborhood heroes came up?

Carly: “Well, to be honest, we were full-steam ahead when it came to planning for Best of Big D Readers’ Choice this year. We were slated to launch Readers’ Choice, where we invite our audience to vote for their favorite food and drink establishments around town, on April 14. An ad promoting the program even ran in the April issue since we shipped the magazine mid-February (whoops). So when Coronavirus hit Dallas hard mid-March, we knew we couldn’t carry on business as usual in regard to our Best of Big D program.

Not only did it feel wrong to pit restaurants and bars against’ one another, we knew we had to do something to help these places that were suffering. So, edit, leadership, and marketing all hopped on a Zoom call April 1 to talk about next steps.

We had a sponsor in place for the first year ever so we wanted to create a meaningful program that would allow us to keep those ad dollars in April. We toyed around with a few ideas like restaurant takeout bingo to encourage people to help their favorite restaurants but we wanted to include more industries than one.

Honestly, during our meeting we kept coming back to our reoccurring feature, Random Acts of Kindness where we highlighted the companies and people who are doing good deeds in Dallas. Each post was its own story people loved it.

We saw high engagement on these stories as coronavirus stories kept getting darker, and the news was getting worse. People were turning to and consuming positive content, which was something we could see consistently in Google analytics as well as Facebook insights.

Plus knowing that these stories were occurring in our backyard made it that much more appealing to our audience. So we thought we could run with this concept and turn it into a bigger program and help spread the word. There are people doing great things in our community, but we needed help finding them.

So what typically takes a few months to plan, Best of Big D’s Heroes edition was up and running nearly a week and a half after that initial Zoom call. It was the biggest team effort brought together by edit, digital, and marketing. Best of Big D was no longer about the best food and entertainment in Dallas but rather the community and how we all came together during this time. Best of Big D truly became a program highlighting the best of us, which was the mission to begin with!”

PN: I know you’re probably seeing some incredible stories now – have there been any surprises?

Carly: “No surprises that I could think of – the biggest surprise was honestly the overwhelming amount of submissions we received … over 900!”

PN: We get a lot of great stories from readers about things people in their neighborhoods are doing during all of this – and I know personally it’s kind of serving as a bit of a palate cleanser sometimes. Are you finding that to be the case? 

Carly: “100%. I think right now there’s bleak, dark news wherever we look, and it just seems to be getting worse. I’ve honestly become so desensitized to coronavirus news these days I have to make a conscious effort to stay informed. So when there’s news out that helps remind me that there is some good coming out of this I find myself gravitating towards it. There are so many great stories out there of people and companies stepping up, helping others, it reminds me there is good in the world.”

PN: What is something you miss? 

Carly: “Having a drink at a bar (Katy Trail Ice House is a personal favorite) to be honest. That, and traveling.”

PN: What is something that has developed out of the COVID-19 response that you hope sticks around permanently? 

Carly: “Getting outside! I grew up in Pasadena, California, with the mountains in my backyard and the beach a quick drive away, so I miss being active outside! I hope people keep exploring the hidden hikes and trails we have around Dallas. I’ve also enjoyed picnicking around town. I’ve been wanting to picnic forever and now it seems like that’s all I do!”

Have your own heroes to recognize? Reach out to us here and let us know!

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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