An 8-year old girl had her birthday party at a Target. Social media wanted an invite.

As if we didn’t already love Target, a store in Georgia showed us why this company continues to get the little things right.

An 8-year old girl wanted to have her birthday party at a Target. Apparently she’s a huge fan of the retail chain. Sometimes you can’t try to understand what makes kids happy. If it’s spending a day with your friends parading around as Target employee, so be it. Kids are weird. If it was Walmart I’d be concerned, but Target makes sense. Great stores, clean, pleasant atmosphere and overall a very easy shopping experience.

The family got special permission from the manager to have the birthday party at the store in East Point, GA. The girl’s niece documented the festivities on Twitter, sharing photos of the birthday girl and her friends drinking Icees, ringing up gift cards in the check out line and living the dream as a Target employee.

“We bought all the kids gift cards to spend on an item of their choice and my niece got to check them out! Seriously Manager Albert was the best!!! Thanks so much Target!” – @RikDrip/Twitter.

Target owes so much to the store manager, Albert, who went above and beyond for this girl and her friends and family. He made them name tags, helped with a scavenger hunt around the store and agreed to host the party in the first place. He could have easily said no, and this heartwarming story would have never seen the light of day.

It came from the kindness of his heart. He had no idea millions of people would see his efforts recognized on social media. It’s these moments where brands can capitalize on the power of a good story. If you create a memorable customer experience, show some compassion and go the extra mile, people will want to share these special moments online.

It was organic, unforced and the best PR money could never buy. For Target, it reinforces their reputation as a creative brand that continues to stay relevant in a congested online and brick and mortar retail sector.

I’ll cheers to that.



Tone Deaf Hallmark and their Same Sex Marriage Ad Disaster

Brands are making a better effort to align their businesses with social and cultural movements. They have a platform and voice that isn’t used often enough, likely for fear of alienating consumers that control their bottom lines.

People support brands that share common values, beliefs and attitudes on important issues facing society. A great product or service will always be important, but customers today are more critical of companies and their political and social stances.

Greeting card and terrible holiday movie company Hallmark learned that the hard way this month. They weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.

Hallmark ran a same-sex marriage commercial for wedding-planning site Zola. Conservative house moms saw the ad and paused their Christmas movies to file online petitions voicing their discontent with LGBT ads airing on their favorite, primarily white and heterosexual television network. Hallmark responded immediately by pulling the wedding ads, then later reversed its decision to ban same-sex commercials because gay rights supporters were rightfully not happy about it. The flip flopping was a horrible look.

Hallmark’s first misstep was a complete lack of awareness toward their target audience, which is primarily conservative viewers with more traditional family values. They had the right intentions with the ad. Same sex marriage should be a basic human right. It’s 2019 and should be a non-issue. But in an attempt to be more progressive, they took a risk and ran these ads to support a cause that clearly conflicts with the values of their viewers.

Their second mistake was pulling the ad without issuing any kind of statement or reasoning for their decision. Social media can make or break a brand, and Hallmark clearly panicked under pressure and made a premature decision to remove the ads. The better option would’ve been to let them air and explain why they chose to air them in the first place. Stick to your guns. Hallmark squandered an opportunity to gain the respect of LGBT supporters while remaining a little sympathetic to their conservative viewership. The ads were always going to offend part of their viewer base, but pulling them just made matters worse.

In full damage control at this point, Hallmark backtracked on their decision to pull the gay wedding ads and fully reinstated them to remain more “inclusive” according to their CEO. How brave.

Hallmark ultimately hurt the very group they set out to support with this ad campaign. I remain confused by the company’s crisis communications approach, but I want to thank them for providing us with another classic case study on how not to react when the internet overreacts.

Carnival Cruise Line is a Sinking Ship

Carnival is the Walmart of the cruise line industry. You will leave each trip with extra money in your pocket, but don’t expect to have your expectations exceeded.

“You get what you pay for” comes to mind when hearing about another problem aboard a Carnival ship. The cruise line can’t escape negative headlines, from flooded cabins and stranded ships to nonstop environmental violations dating back to the 1990s.

The Carnival Corporation recently agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $20 million for environmental violations such as dumping plastic waste into the ocean. It’s paid millions more for other vessel pollution penalties and plead guilty to seven felony charges for violations on five ships starting as early as 2005.

Herein lies the real problem. For a company that relies on the ocean to operate, you’d expect Carnival to fully comply with environmental laws without being forced. It’s been years and the company continues to trash the ocean and its reputation, whatever is left of it.

Paid fines and empty promises from its CEO will not be enough to regain the trust and goodwill it never really had with the public. If Carnival has any interest in turning its public image around, I suggest these steps be taken immediately:

  1. Hold top executives accountable. Whether it’s forced resignations or outright firings, people need to trust leadership and the steps they’re taking to ensure these egregious environmental practices stop. It starts at the top.
  2. Be transparent with regulators and the public on compliance plans, audits and changes the company is making to practice better environmental stewardship. Hold press conferences, post frequent social media updates and focus on environmental messaging. Highlighting destinations and boat amenities is important to attract customers, but don’t shy away from difficult topics. Years of mistakes can be mitigated with a thoughtful approach and honest communication across digital platforms. There’s no more room under the rug. Stop sweeping.
  3. Donate millions to environmental groups. Corporate social responsibility is essential, especially for a company that relies on the environment to exist. Carnival generated over 18 billion in revenues last year. Provide financial support to private companies, government organizations and non-profits working together to clean up oceans and protect marine life.
  4. Change the entire culture that persists at Carnival. From top to bottom, encourage employees to report violations which hopefully results in better practices. Foster a new culture on every Carnival ship that focuses on environmental stewardship. This company is not on a sustainable path. Public opinion is in the toilet and it won’t change if they continue to throw money at problems that could be fixed with more care and common sense.
  5. Let Carnival self destruct because it refuses to adapt in a world that is more environmentally conscious than it’s ever been.

It won’t be an easy road for Carnival. Proactive companies and leaders establish good business practices early on so their brand isn’t impacted even when problems arise. Brand loyalty remains strong even if mistakes are made, and they always are.

Carnival may be the largest cruise line in the world, but no company is immune to the power of public opinion. It can leverage its market share to remain in business, but it won’t survive long-term if it neglects the one natural resource keeping it afloat.

Is it too late for Carnival to fix its public image? Is the brand a sinking ship? Let me know in the comments.

Trashtag Challenge Sets Bar High for Viral Social Media Trends

Viral trends come and go quickly on social media. Their shelf lives are short because most lack the staying power to keep a goal, dream or idea alive. Planking, the Mannequin Challenge, and the Harlem Shake are a few that come to mind, but sadly each fizzled out to be replaced by a new flavor of the week. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took off in 2014 and is another viral sensation that was hugely popular and successful. It helped raise awareness and donations to support the ALS community, with more than 17 million people uploading their challenge videos to Facebook.

The latest trend breaking the internet is the Trashtag Challenge, which first hit Facebook in early March and has spread like wildfire over the past month. The original post is below. The challenge is captivating people all over the world and inspiring the masses to clean up their communities and share photos of cleanup efforts across social media.

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While other online trends lose steam in a few weeks or months, the Trashtag Challenge is still going strong with no signs of slowing. I see daily high traffic posts on Reddit showing people participating in the challenge. This post hit the front page a few days ago and has over 100,000 upvotes with a lot of discussion and engagement. It’s encouraging to see because the challenge is only a month in and social media is still buzzing about it. Attention spans are short online. If the cause is important enough, people will do all they can to keep it growing and thriving.

This social media movement is remarkably different from others we’ve seen in recent years. It involves a topic of universal importance. The environment and its long term health is a shared concern for all. Combine this with social media and there’s power in numbers to cause widespread changes in sentiment and behavior. If the challenge helps raise awareness and encourages people to get involved, that alone is a worthy accomplishment.

“As promised, just finished our 2nd #trashtag challenge. Every little action can have a huge impact, don’t let this challenge die!” – u/goitegi via Reddit

The success of this challenge is also tied to our personal needs to feel admired, appreciated and recognized on social media. People care about the environment, but they also don’t want to see their efforts go unnoticed. It feels good to share something positive that you’re doing, even something as small as collecting a few bags of trash in your neighborhood. One simple post created a ripple effect that has reached communities around the globe. It doesn’t matter what country you live in or what your beliefs are. This call to action is one we can all get behind.

Another important point is people sometimes don’t want to put in a ton of effort or make big commitments. We lead busy lives. It’s better to set low expectations and let people gauge their own involvement. If we can donate money online or share a post promoting a cause we support, that might be the extent of activism for most. The Trashtag Challenge is so incredibly easy and effortless to participate in. Anyone with a phone, internet connection and a little spare time can pick up trash near their home, school or workplace and share photos with a hashtag. Devote the time you want, when you want for any reason at all. As long as you’re involved it makes no difference.

The Trashtag Challenge has the potential to remain relevant on social media for years to come. It breaks the mold of your typical viral social media trend. There’s a strong desire to help the environment, people are motivated from seeing content shared by others and there’s an immediacy to this issue that is palpable. It’s been a continuous cycle of optimism and activism made possible by social networks and their unique ability to connect people and ideas on this beautiful planet we all share.

Elon Musk: Public Relations Wreck or Rockstar?

Companies thrive when effective leaders help guide them on a path to success. Employees look to these leaders for motivation, purpose and direction. Consumers need someone they can trust who has their best interests at heart when making decisions that affect an organization.

Leaders can be found at all levels of a business. At the top, a visible, engaged and connected CEO is important for establishing a long-term vision, fostering a shared mission and steadying the ship during a crisis. It’s necessary to have a leader who embodies all of these qualities. Lead executives should understand how important their role is in maintaining an authentic and open relationship with the public while being the leading voice and face of an organization.

Someone with a wealth of experience as a CEO is Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He doesn’t need an introduction, but Musk is essentially the most successful tech entrepeneur on the planet. His business ventures are changing the world for the better, a goal that drives much of his decision making. There is no doubting his success, work ethic and ability to take his visions and bring them to fruition. He’s a visionary and arguably one of the most influential people of this generation.

Musk has also been criticized for mismanagement, Tesla Twitter drama with the SEC, weed smoking on Joe Rogan’s podcast and falsely accusing a British diver who helped with the Thai cave rescue of being a pedophile. He’s often characterized as wreckless and irresponsible, which are fair assesments given his recent missteps. This behavior is not a good look for any CEO. These actions raise concerns about his ability to lead by example and manage companies that are already under a lot of scrutiny.

As a PR case study, Musk is the perfect person to examine. He’s one of the most well-known CEOs in the world and loved and hated by many. While I truly believe he means well, sometimes his ego and strong personal views get him into hot water.

Despite his problems, Musk is a great example of a leader who understands the value of public relations. He’s active on social media and frequently posts company updates, accomplishments and information for his followers. He set Twitter off when he offered to host PewDiePie’s Meme Review. He did a great interview and factory tour with popular tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee and has been the subject of many articles and think pieces. Tesla model launches and SpaceX rockets and roadsters in orbit captivate audiences around the world and create buzz around Musk and his antics. He’s the quintessential “cool” CEO and is setting a new standard for leadership in the internet age.

A comment on the Brownlee video sums it up best. “Big companies hire high profile celebrities to endorse their product, but Tesla saves that money because Elon is THAT celebrity.” It’s not common to see a CEO in the unique position Musk is. He’s hugely popular, well-respected within the tech community and a business titan who also happens to be a quasi-celebrity.

For communicators, Musk can be your biggest asset or liability. It depends on the day. But to me the good outweighs the bad. For every errant tweet he makes, he manages to come back stronger to show why he’s the best person for the job. There’s nothing wrong with a CEO speaking his mind. People will appreciate the transparency over scripted corporate speak.

If more CEOs were like Elon Musk, it might create some headaches. It would also make our jobs a lot easier as PR professionals. Leaders like Musk can be the most effective tool we have in creating, maintaining, and protecting an organization’s reputation and enhancing its goodwill with the public.

Gillette’s New Campaign Repositions Brand for the Future

P&G and Grey Advertising took a massive leap this week with a brand that has kept their advertising relatively safe and predictable given its target audience and male-dominated consumer base. For 30 years, Gillette’s “The Best a Man Can Get” was a great tagline for selling razors, but the hyper-masculine brand needed to adapt and reposition their brand for the foreseeable future.

This week Gillette launched a new campaign with the tagline, “The Best a Man Can Be.” A YouTube video associated with the campaign has been highly controversial to some and a welcome sight for others. The video addresses issues surrounding toxic masculinity and encourages men to change the status quo when it comes to bullying, sexism and other normalized and unacceptable male behavior.

I applaud Gillette and P&G for making such a bold move, clearly knowing this ad would be highly polarizing. Advertising should change with society. Consumers want to see brands stand for something, any issue that aligns with their own beliefs and values. The backlash surrounding this video is exactly why the world needed to see it. Advertising has become too safe, and companies have been reluctant to align their brands with issues that could affect their bottom line. Along with Gillette, brands like Nike with Colin Kaepernick and Pepsi with Kendall Jenner (kidding) are pushing boundaries and setting the bar high for cause campaigns in 2019.

The Gillette ad is not virtue baiting and is not an attack on males and their morals. Fragile, emasculated men might be a little triggered as evidenced by the nearly 900k dislikes on YouTube,  but if anything the ad achieved its goal of starting a conversation that’s been long overdue. Men CAN do better, and it doesn’t take an ad to remind us of that. The #MeToo movement created a cultural shift in society over the past few years. Advertisers are adapting to a new world where products and services take a back seat to the issues surrounding brands and the consumers with a personal connection to them.

With this new campaign, Gillette is positioning their brand for a future where masculinity and the ‘ideal male’ will take on an entirely different look. If a brand wants to use their clout and online influence to spark real change, let’s give them an opportunity to do it tastefully and creatively. Gillette got it right, and I hope other brands follow suit.

Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

Gone are the days when public relations professionals could pump out a press release, gather news clippings and call it a day. The industry has expanded at a rapid rate, and this transformation pushed practitioners to expand their skill sets, embrace new technologies and adapt in the digital age. Traditional PR practices like press release writing, pitching and media interviews will always have a place in this profession, but we no longer have to rely on conventional tactics to tell our brand story.

Our toolbox has grown, it’s just a matter of knowing the right tools and when to use them. Here are a few you will need to make the most of your communications efforts.

PR Software

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, agency or in-house, it’s important to use software that makes our job easier. Cision and MuckRack are two widely used programs for targeting journalists, distributing press releases, monitoring media coverage across multiple social and traditional outlets and analyzing the performance of earned media efforts. These programs are fee-based, but Cison does have a University Program that allows students to learn and use the software for free if your school is registered. I took advantage of this opportunity during my undergrad and it was a great resource to have as a young PR pro. If you’ve graduated or don’t have access to this software, try and find online tutorials, webinars or classes offered through PRSA or another communication association.

Social Media

These are the most used tools in the box. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube should be in the mix of any communications campaign. We use these platforms in our daily lives, but as a PR pros we need to think strategically about these tools and how they’re leveraged to accomplish different tactics. Twitter is useful in your media relations efforts and building working relationships with journalists covering topics relevant to your brand. Facebook should be at the center of your social media outreach efforts. It has the most active users and continues to dominate the space. Snapchat and Instagram have important roles to play when trying to reach younger audiences with fun, creative content. YouTube dominates online video, but live video and stories on FB and IG continue to grow in popularity. Social apps are creating new features every day to enhance the visual experience for brands and their audiences. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of social media to position your company and brand with the technology and online trends that influence our lives.


Every communications professional should know the basics of photography. We use images in our campaigns and sometimes those photos need to come directly from you. Get your hands on a DSLR and learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera can be intimidating to an amateur with its many buttons, dials and display options, but the hardware is the easy part! Elements like composition, light, story, space and subject are much harder to capture. Try and tell a story with your photos, one that coincides with your brand’s identity and image. I’ve been completing a photography course on Lynda, a great website that offers training and education resources for free if you have a library card. Of course, YouTube is also a wonderful place to learn anything about everything.

I can’t forget about smartphones. We have computers in our pockets and most of them have excellent cameras. They’re convenient, easy to use and great when you’re on the go and need images for social media or other press materials. The smartphone has transformed public relations in so many positive ways. Providing news, apps, photos, videos, audio, notes, search and more, it’s an indispensable tool for today’s PR professional.

Analytics and Monitoring

There are a lot of great paid and free options PR pros can use to evaluate the performance of communications efforts. Evaluation is important for demonstrating the value of your public relations efforts and identifying areas where improvements are needed for future campaigns. Analytics software can track outputs and outcomes and provide data and insights to see how your efforts had an impact on business goals and communications objectives.

On the paid side I really like the Cision Communications Cloud and Meltwater. You can track news coverage, monitor conversations about your brand on social media and gather data to present the impact of your campaign when it’s finished.

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Its high-level, dashboard-type data is compelling for even casual users, and the software offers in-depth data if you need it. It’s a great free tool to monitor how your website is performing, where visitors are coming from and the content and landing pages they’re gravitating to. For social monitoring I really like Hootsuite. It allows you to schedule posts, moderate discussions, scan relevant news and keep tabs on all of your social pages in one dashboard. Buzzsumo also deserves a mention. This software tracks what sort of topics are trending online and can help your brand locate influencers, analyze hot news topics and identify social platforms and users that are receiving the most engagement around a topic of interest. Piggybacking off trending news that’s relevant to your brand is a great way to stay relevant and visible in a congested digital landscape.

Graphic Design

The Adobe Creative Suite dominates this space. Their products are a little pricey, but if you have an opportunity to buy Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator for your personal computer or use them at work then do it! Your office may have a dedicated designer, but it doesn’t hurt to have experience with graphic design concepts and software. Creating logos, infographics, newsletters, website designs and other branded items will likely be one of your job duties if you’re working at an agency or in-house. Canva is also a neat graphic design tool for businesses on a budget. It’s a drag-and-drop program to add photos, fonts, designs and other graphics to customizable templates for social media, websites, blogs, print materials and more. The more design knowledge and skills you have, the more of an asset you will be to your agency or in-house PR team.


Many brands have their own blog. My favorite platform is WordPress because it’s free and easy to use. Blogging is a great outlet to share updates about your company-client or fun content from events, holidays, award ceremonies and other company outings. With blogs, we have a platform to express ideas and information without the rigidness of a press release. The writing style can be more conversational and less formal. You know your company culture best. The culture should be expressed through your blogging efforts. Know your audience, craft content with that audience in mind and write with an authentic voice.

A steady stream of content is key. Before you start writing, identify people who can provide content as regular contributors. Everyone from CEOs and managers to entry-level associates and interns have their own unique perspectives and should be involved in the publishing process. The more people who contribute, the more diversified and complete your narrative will be. Develop an editorial calendar, brainstorm content ideas with your team and set goals and expectations for your blog.


Chances are your company or the brand you represent has a website. People find web content using search engines, almost always Google. With millions of web pages competing for views and visibility, it’s a challenge to organically bring more traffic to your website. That is where Search Engine Optimization can be useful. PR people should have a basic understanding of SEO and how it’s used to create a better user experience on websites. Here are some basics:

  • Identify keywords or phrases. Put them in your headlines and body text, but don’t overstuff your content.
  • Inbound links. Create compelling copy, content that people want to share and link to on their own websites, blogs or social media. Be a thought leader and a reliable and relevant source. Build your site’s credibility and create good content consistently so other websites will be encouraged to link to your content.
  • Research. Find out what people are searching and tailor your content to meet their needs. Good content marketing is about identifying why people need to read your content and what search terms they’re using to find it.

Shooting and Editing Video

Let’s borrow a play from the journalism playbook. Newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are expected to do more with less. That means becoming their own videographer and editor. PR folks should be shooting their own video, editing, packaging multimedia projects and rolling them out during communications campaigns. Budgets can be tight, and having experience with cameras and software is essential for today’s practitioner. For shooting video, I always refer to this list from the Berkley Advanced Media Institute. It’s simple and straightforward with important techniques for capturing quality video. You might have a great story to tell, but without applying proper techniques your videos won’t be polished or professional. For editing, Final Cut Pro is my first choice for software. Many editors also use Adobe Premiere. Both are extensive programs with a ton of tools and features. YouTube, Lynda and other sites have great training and tutorial videos on FCP. If you have access to the software through work or on your personal computer, spend some time learning how to organize your media, navigate the timeline, work with audio, learn tools/shortcuts and streamline your workflow from import to export.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start if you work in the exciting field of public relations. If you have any suggestions or input on the topics I’ve discussed, please leave a comment!

A Security Flaw Brought Down Google Plus. That’s Not What People Are Talking About.

Google Plus was destined to fail from the start. It was late to the game, other platforms had already established their dominance in the social space and it had no competitive edge since the day it launched in 2011. The hype around this new and exciting channel was palpable, but it didn’t take long for users to test the waters and jump ship before the boat even left the harbor.

But I’m not here to discuss the failures of Google Plus. It’s not surprising a tech giant like Google wanted a piece of the social media pie. It had the resources to make it happen, even Zuckerberg saw Google’s foray into social networking as a serious threat to his company, but ultimately the fittest survived.

What I’m interested in is the communications strategy Google and parent company Alphabet devised to let Google+ down easy while staying on good terms with their users and the general public. This week, Google posted on its blog about a security flaw that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users on Google+. They opted not to disclose the issue because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. At the time Google discovered and patched the bug, Facebook was having legal and image troubles of its own when Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased tens of millions of users’ FB profile information from a third-party app maker. Google didn’t want to get caught up in Facebook’s legal and PR problems at the time, so they waited.

From an ethical standpoint, Google and Alphabet should have told the public about the Google+ security flaw as soon as they knew about it. Honesty and transparency are the pillars of public relations. Instead, they wanted to stay in control of the narrative surrounding their social network and remain proactive throughout these events.

In the end, it worked in Google’s favor. They released news of the security flaw along with the decision to end Google+ for consumers. Instead of talking about the data breach, the public was eager to discuss the end of the social network and how it should’ve happened sooner. Google knew plus was a lost cause for years, and they used that dumpster fire as a distraction to lessen the blow over the very concerning security issues.

Some tech news outlets and other mainstream media have covered the story, but the buzz online is mainly focused on the death of Google+. When you control the message, you also have some control over public opinion.

People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Google made a lot of people feel relieved that Plus is gone for good.

My Career with the FWC

It’s been a busy year at the FWC! Here’s what I’ve been up to. In the latest edition of FWRI’s quarterly newsletter, I was featured in the staff spotlight video series. As a social media coordinator, I’m usually the one behind the camera. This was a perfect opportunity to educate staff throughout the agency about my job and the important role social media plays in our outreach efforts at the institute. I’ve learned so much about Florida’s natural resources over the last four years, and it’s rewarding to be able to share this knowledge with a community of people who are equally passionate about fish and wildlife research and conservation. Thank you to everyone who continues to support our mission.

Brands Need a Plan for Facebook Live

As any public relations professional will tell you, strategy, calculation and precision are ingredients guiding every decision that is made during a communications campaign. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals are set, objectives are established and tactics are identified to show how these goals and objectives will be accomplished throughout the duration of the campaign. A well established communications plan will help guide your efforts throughout the campaign, and a similar plan will also help achieve success using Facebook Live, the social media giant’s live streaming video feature. Facebook Live is now available to all Facebook users, pages and brands, and it’s important for social media coordinators and managers to develop a “Standard Operating Procedure” to help your organization remain consistent, efficient and prepared as you begin using Facebook Live to promote your brand.

The FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has been exploring Facebook Live and discussing its potential benefits for promoting fish and wildlife research throughout the state of Florida. As the social media coordinator for the institute, I led efforts to create a framework for Facebook Live as it relates to the overall social media strategy for our brand. Over the past two years we’ve implemented more video into our content plan, and live video offers another exciting avenue to engage our audience in unique and interesting ways. To help other organizations that are making the leap into live video, I’ve included our new communication plan specific to Facebook Live. Instead of going in with guns blazing, we’re building a road map to help us effectively use Facebook Live as a vital brand building tool for years to come.

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