Ketner Group Takes Home the Gold…and Platinum MarCom Awards!

This blog post has been provided by our intern, Meghan Farrell.

It’s been a very exciting few weeks over here at Ketner Group Communications, and it just keeps getting better! Last week the MarCom Awards named us gold and platinum winners for client campaigns.

Our founder and president, Jeff Ketner, shared his excitement about the agency’s recognition and his gratitude for the KG team:

We’re proud to receive platinum and gold awards in such a prestigious competition. It’s a testimony to the strategic and creative thinking of our team, and we’re thrilled to be recognized.”

So, what are the MarCom Awards?

The MarCom Awards international creative competition recognizes outstanding achievement by marketing and communication professionals. Entries and winners range from individual communicators to media conglomerates, Fortune 500 companies, corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, design shops, production companies and freelancers.

The competition has grown to perhaps the largest of its kind in the world, with approximately 6,000 entrants, with 15% winning platinum and 20% winning gold awards.

The MarCom Award program is administered and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), an organization of several thousand creative professionals worldwide. The Association oversees awards and recognition programs, provides judges, and sets standards for industry excellence. As part of its mission, AMCP fosters and supports the efforts of creative professionals who contribute their unique talents to public service and charitable organizations.

A gold-medal eBook

Ketner Group was recognized as a gold winner for the eBook “Health-Conscious Retail,”created for Symphony RetailAI, a global provider of Artificial Intelligence-enabled decision platforms, solutions and customer-centric insights that drive validated growth for retailers and CPG manufacturers. Health is an emerging market trend that grocers must pursue proactively – this eBook helps them to understand health-conscious customers, and how health and wellness needs should inform the retailer’s strategy.

As we’ve found, eBooks like these help B2B vendors create an authentic brand identity and authority among their target audience. Building and distributing content such as this leads to greater engagement and the opportunity to expand existing and prospective relationships.

Social media marketing goes platinum

Ketner Group was also recognized as a platinum winner for its content marketing campaign created for PlumSlice, a cloud-native provider of product workflow automation for enterprise process optimization. The program included sponsored social media promotion of curated thought leadership blogs to highly targeted audiences, emphasizing PlumSlice’s unique approach to improving retailers’ efficiency and profitability in an omni-channel commerce environment.

Staying atop the charts

With our recent name change (Ketner Group Communications), new website, and our “investigative” video release – receiving gold and platinum really was the icing on the cake for a successful month at Ketner Group. Between the MarCom Awards win and our recognition as a finalist for “Best Company Culture” in the 2018 Greater Austin Business Awards, we are wrapping up this year with strong results. As we enter 2019, we will to continue to innovate and produce high-impact work for our clients; whether it receives an award or not doesn’t ultimately matter – but hey, it doesn’t hurt!

INTRODUCING OUR NEW INTERN: MEGHAN FARRELL

This blog post has been provided by our intern, Meghan Farrell.

Hey everyone! My name is Meghan Farrell, and I am a senior public relations major minoring in business at the University of Texas at Austin. I was born in Calgary, Alberta but moved to Houston, Texas about 14 years ago – what a change! I quickly grew to love the U.S., and appreciate that you can’t shovel humidity.

Moving to Austin for school has been an incredible journey, with the city feeling almost separate from the rest of the state. I have experienced so many new things, like kayaking below South Congress Bridge while the world’s largest urban bat colony flies above, and don’t even get me started on the food here – trust me, I won’t stop talking.

My love for public relations began my sophomore year of college when I realized it was all about stories. I love telling a good story to my friends, family, or whoever will lend their ear. It’s progressed to the point where friends will ask me to tell stories for them, even when I wasn’t there. Finding out there was a major where I could do what I already loved was the most relieving feeling, and once I began taking PR classes I felt at home.

Before beginning my internship at Ketner Group, I worked as a student assistant to the Public Affairs Director at UT’s Harry Ransom Center. Some of my daily tasks included drafting media advisories, creating media contact lists, and analyzing their social media statistics. I also learned a great deal about pitching to the media. I truly cherished my time spent there, and I encourage everyone to go check out their vast collections.

When I’m not writing papers, I like to spend my free time hanging by the water, watching Chopped, snuggling my cat Billy, or finding the next great restaurant in Austin. I also love returning to Houston to visit my family especially because of our newest addition to the Farrell clan, my 2-year-old niece Mila.

I am incredibly excited to be spending my summer with Ketner Group and look forward to the stories that lie ahead!

Navigating the Job Market

This blog was provided by our intern, Daniela Ramirez.

As graduation draws closer, reality starts to set in and before you know it, it’s time to venture into the job market. The search can be long and intimidating, but I’m here to share some strategies to expand your network and make what seems a never-ending process, a smooth transition.

Get Involved
First off, get involved early and join student organizations. Joining groups that are of interest to your major will give you experience that you can’t learn in the classroom or by reading a textbook. For example if you are a PR major, join PRSSA but also join other organizations that may have some overlap, such as your school’s advertising or marketing organization. These organizations will give you face time with industry professionals, expose you to different disciplines of the field and leverage your knowledge of the industry a little more.

Network
Don’t just network with other students at your school, attend events put on by local professional organizations to get to know people working in your prospective field. Many schools also offer networking trips. I find this one the hardest to do, but it has also been the most rewarding. It’s crazy how spread out a college’s alumni network is, and you never know when a connection can lead you to your next big opportunity.

Get to know your professors out of the classroom and learn about their experiences and academia. They all come from various professional and academic backgrounds and are able to help you figure out your career trajectory.

Take Advantage of Career Services
Use your college’s career services office and actively peruse opportunities that come through the office. They are a great resource and often serve as the liaison between students and employers. They will be able to help you secure informational interviews and portfolio reviews when recruiters come to campus, expose you to different company information sessions and give you the tools you need to get your foot in the door.

Seek Valuable Internships
Lastly, find an internship that will help you grow and expand your undergrad experience. Join a company that sparks your interest and fuels your brain. Sounds cliché, but your time at school does go by fast and before you know it these opportunities will be gone. For me, joining the Ketner Group has allowed me to grow faster than I ever have before and become more confident than ever that this is the field for me. After all, how cool is it to be able to come into an internship that challenges you everyday?

PRSA Corner: Breaking Through the Noise and Reaching Your Target Audience

ClpsEJ3UYAAqeNFWe recently attended and were the official sponsor of the June PRSA Austin Chapter Luncheon. The luncheon titled, “Media Relations: Insights from the Newsroom,” featured three journalist panelists who discussed how media has evolved over the years, the integration of skills and technology in media relations and how PR professionals can (and should) break through the noise to reach target audiences. Here are some highlights:

Tara Doolittle is the Viewpoints editor for the Austin American-Statesman and is in charge of the editorial pages and online commentary. She began as a rookie reporter in 1997 and has worked with the newspaper’s reporting teams covering education, city hall and lifestyle. As many journalists do, Tara receives over 400 emails a day, which means getting her attention is no easy task. Although she gives first priority to local pitches over others, she tells PR folks to send short pitches, know who you are pitching and focus on the journalist’s interests, and course, always be sensitive to deadlines. Other key take-aways from Tara:

  • For hard news and community engagement pitches, Tara recommends doing research on how other publications (in other areas) report certain trends and how those trends might play out locally. Look for ways to tell the local story. As well, Tara says PR professionals should “think broadly” because the Statesman is not just a print newspaper, but a multimedia content platform.
  • According to Tara, the digital space is the way to go, especially with social media and sharing. She recommends PR professionals think about this when it comes to pitches. Photos and videos are a great way to keep people on the website for longer periods of time – it’s a win-win for everyone!
  • Tara said the biggest struggle she faces as an editor for a daily local newspaper is serving three sets of readers because they all want different things: folks who don’t pay for online content; folks who do pay and read online content; and full subscribers.

Erin Quinn-Kong is the editor-in-chief of Austin Monthly and the editorial director of Austin MonthlyAustin HOME and austinmonthly.com. A Missouri native, she attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism and worked in New York City as an editor at Allure and Us Weekly before moving to Austin in 2008. Compared to the Statesman, Austin Monthly operates with a smaller staff who has to work very hard to keep up with daily and monthly deadlines. It’s a fast-paced environment (with a small staff), which definitely makes it hard for PR professionals to get the attention of the editorial team. Knowing that, Erin says it is critical for PR professionals to know why the story would work in her publication, and know who you’re pitching to and why. Other key take-aways from Erin:

  • Pitches come into play when they make a connection to something that relates to the local area, or that may have appeared “buzz worthy” on social media. That is the sweet spot on pitches!
  • Erin recommends asking them to coffee. As editors, she believes it is part of their job to know the PR people in town. Having the opportunity to be “face to face” with PR professionals is a much better way to connect than an email.
  • Her biggest challenges as the editor of Austin Monthly include creating boundaries between her job and life and the struggle of small budgets and staff combined with high expectations.

 Haley Cihock is Executive Producer for KXAN. With 15 years of experience in broadcast news, she writes, edits and manages a team of producers, anchors, editors and field reporters working on the noon newscasts across two channels. According to Haley, the best stories come from community engagement – listening to the buzz around town, hearing what local citizens are talking about – and then figuring out how to cover the story. She believes that Austin has an engaged audience and people in the city really want to talk. At KXAN, social media is a huge tool for listening for potential stories. Other key take-aways from Haley:

  • Make no mistake, there is limited “on air” time, so Haley recommends that PR professionals pass story ideas and news to the digital side to get more bang for the buck. Using multichannel media is a great way to disperse the message, and it is how stories evolve, especially when it is resonating with people. Haley also says the evolution of media means that things are moving faster and faster, things get lost, so PR folks should try more than one platform to tell their story.
  • As an on-air journalist, Haley has to think of the bigger picture, but often times receives “micro” pitches from PR professionals. Pitches have to be bigger than just one thing. It is important to think beyond your client or your one story – try to make connections that could turn into bigger feature stories.
  • Her biggest challenges as an on-air journalist is always trying to be the first with the story, but to also to get the story right and do it better than anyone else. Erin believes that, for TV journalists, the challenges haven’t changed much, but the ways of approaching them are changing. Her two biggest pieces of advice is to not send video to the newsroom (they have to shoot their own) and to not send gifts to on-air journalists.

The New Adventures of Old Christine

Hey y’all! My name is Christine Hanna and I am the new intern for Ketner Group. I am currently a senior corporate communications major at The University of Texas at Austin. I have lived in this amazing city my whole life and define myself as a true “Austinite.”

headshot christineBefore joining the Ketner team I was primarily focused in the non-profit realm. I spent the past year as the program and development intern for the non-profit Marathon Kids. During my time at Marathon Kids, I concentrated on planning events and managing social media platforms. My love for non-profit stemmed from my first internship at Superhero Kids where my main tasks included planning events for the children at the Dell Children’s oncology unit, staffing volunteers for the annual run, and raising awareness through social media. Superhero Kids will always play a major role in my life.

I think it is crucial to try different avenues of real world experience before you graduate, so during the summer of
my junior year I worked for Carr Development. I loved being a part of the business world, but it made me realize my passion for the communication field.

And that is why I cannot wait to start me new adventure at Ketner Group! It is only the first day and I already can tell that this office is special. To celebrate my first day the whole team went out to lunch together, and they let me pick the restaurant! Yes, the new intern got to pick the restaurant. I can say from experience that not many offices have this warm of a welcome! Like I said earlier I have primarily focused on non-profit, so I am excited to see what the agency life has to offer.

Now, here is the fun stuff and interesting tidbits about myself:

  • I am a twin! But my sister and I look and act nothing alike! I am a tall brunette and she is a short redhead.
  • I am a cancer survivor! I would say this is what I am most proud of. I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer my senior year of high school and had my last doctor’s appointment at MD Anderson during my freshman year of college. I still would not take back my experience, because it taught me so much about myself. That is why the organization Superhero Kids will always play a pivotal role in my life.
  • I am an avid runner. I have completed two half-marathons.
  • Do you have a sweet tooth? If the answer is yes then we will be best friends.
  • I grew up going to Port Aransas, Texas. I LOVE to fish. My dad is the biggest “guys guy”, but he ended up only with twin girls. So growing up, he taught us all his favorite outdoor activities.
  • I am a big FOODIE. My favorite restaurant this month is Elizabeth Street Café.
  • I am a coffee addict!

As I enter into my final summer as a student, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Ketner Team. I can already tell they will teach me so much about the PR and marketing world that you can only gain through firsthand experience.

 

Retail Tech & KG @ SXSW 2015

Media Tech SXSW Image Think
Visual capture of Mashable CEO Peter Cashmore’s featured session at SXSW Interactive

It was a whirlwind of a week for KG at South by Southwest Interactive, and now that we’ve recovered from our java jitters and breakfast taco binge, we wanted to bring you the best recaps and insights on SXSW we’ve seen so far!

Several media outlets had their own opinion on the state of SX and trends we’ve seen become the hot topic

A few tech announcements and launches were made as well, including the rise of Meerkat and the Google Glass cause of death.

For the KG team, we really resonated with several of the gender-focused sessions highlighting the gender gap in technology and how next-generation retail companies are turning that on its side. We also loved this chat on optimizing content for growth!

We live and breathe retail at KG, so of course we hit up the amazing retail sessions throughout the conference. Our esteemed colleague and Editor-In-Chief of RIS News, Joe Skorupa, (who also moderated the OrderDynamics Ghost Economy panel) published an amazing recap of SXSW Interactive.

As well, UK publication The Guardian did a splendid write-up on retail’s growing presence at the innovative convention where retailers meet techies meet investors meet media meet tacos.

What were some of your favorite Interactive sessions this year? How was it different from past experiences you’ve had at the conference? We’d love to hear from you!

Until next year, SXSW!

Connecting Technology and Trust

Technology is a cool thing. I’m realizing this more and more as I become immersed in the retail tech world. Our retail technology clients are able to help retailers become more price-competitive via price intelligence software, others can connect all the enterprise dots of an international, omni-channel retail organization to keep all the moving parts of the company on the same page. On a more personal level, technology has completely changed the way I communicate – because of social media sites like Facebook or mobile apps like Snapchat, I can instantly connect with with friends in Canada or Europe without leaving my chair or having an exorbitant phone bill, which is no fun.

But as the old saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Technology allows you to make all these social and business connections, but what about the flip side of it? The security side of it? You’re sharing your information over this invisible dimension and trusting that no one is going to use this information against you.

Technology connects people across the globe. Facebook is a great example of this, but have they taken it too far? Their messenger app recently received a lot of bad press for reportedly using personal contact information and using spyware-type coding, not to mention it’s a completely separate app from the actual Facebook app. This new application brought up a lot of discussion of terms and service agreements and personal knowledge of your privacy, which is something we should all be aware of when checking that little box. Here is a great read about the app and its permissions.

Trust is a major factor in any relationship made, whether between friends or as a loyal customer. Yet there are so many instances where trust is not enough. Take the celebrity photo leak scandal, or the five million Gmail passwords that were leaked. Home Depot is the most recent retailer to have a data breach with more than 2,000 stores affected and customer data exposed. Retail Systems Research analyst, Paula Rosenblum, recently published a great article in Forbes about the data breach and consumer protection.

Apple just came out with a payment platform, Apple Pay. Will our payment and banking information go the way of nude celebrity photos? Yes, Apple has security measures in place, most prominently not utilizing the traditional magnetic strip, but everything is safe until its not.

Retailers undertake a great responsibility using customers information, be it banking or personal, and if (actually these days its more like when) their systems get breached they have to be willing to go above and beyond to regain consumers’ trust.

Most all retailers have taken huge financial and operational strides to ensure their systems are PCI-compliant as to avoid costly customer data breaches. These are huge undertakings to protect us and maintain our trust, but as consumers, we must also monitor and protect our personal information and be mindful of technology’s capabilities, good and bad.

Four Ways to Refresh Existing Website Content

Gini Dietrich

Guest post by: Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and lead blogger at Spin Sucks.

In late 2011 and early 2012, the Public Relations Society of America undertook the big task of redefining public relations.

Before this happened, the industry was working with a definition that was 40 years old. It hadn’t been reviewed since 1982.

In 1982, E.T. came out. John Belushi died. Knight Rider was a popular television show. Prince William was born. Seven people died from taking cyanide-laced Tylenol. The first issue of USA Today was published. And the Times “man of the year” was the computer.

A lot has changed since 1982. Not only have TV shows and movies grown up, so has Prince William and an entire industry. Social media has completely turned the PR industry on its head and technology is changing more quickly than ever before.

The evolution of technology is so fast, it’s reaching millions -and even billions-of users in no time at all.

Consider this: It took older technologies years to reach 50 million users…and then just a few months as it evolved.

  • Radio: 38 years.
  • TV: 13 years.
  • The Internet: Four years.
  • IPod: Three years.
  • Facebook added 100 million users in just nine months.
  • iPod app downloads hit one billion in nine months.

Nearly every year we have a new social network introduced. Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat. The list continues to grow and it’s not only the job of communicators to keep up, it’s your job as business leaders to stay abreast of the changes so you can lead your team during the digital age.

Websites are about the Customer

Technology is creating some amazing opportunities for all of us, but also causing some distress. You used to have a PR team (internal or external) that focused on employee communications, media relations, reputation management, financial reporting, the annual report, public affairs, and maybe some events.

Today PR professionals also have to be knowledgeable about web development, mobile marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, and more.

The web, it turns out, is extremely important in the job of a PR professional. Much more important today than it was in the previous decade, as new technologies are introduced and companies are struggling to figure out how to add the latest and greatest tool to its overall marketing strategy.

It used to be your website was an online version of your corporate brochure. But times, they are a changin’. Your website now needs to be a living and breathing document that changes consistently (at least once a week, according to a Hubspot study) and becomes less about you and more about your customer.

Refresh Existing Content

The first place you want to start is your website by taking out the French – the we, we, we (oui, oui, oui – get it?!?).

  1. Find the French. Depending on how you like to work, you can either print out every page of your website (not very green, but it works) or you can go into your content management system and do a search. Look for every word that is about you. Look for “we,” “our,” “us,” and similar words. This is the copy you’ll have to rewrite.
  2. WIIFM. What’s in it for me means the copy you rewrite becomes about the customer, instead of about you. You tell them what your organization does for them. You use words such as “you” and “your.”
  3. Testimonials. Update your testimonials. Some of you will have them in text as a quote. Get these on video. We have a client who held a user’s event a couple of weeks ago. They hired a videographer to spend two hours at the conference and the marketing director got users on video talking about who they were, what they do, and how they use the client’s product. The stories ended up being really compelling. One user rescues dogs and finds them permanent homes. He talked about that and then spent 30 seconds talking about the client’s product. Mailchimp also does this really well. Rather than have the customers talk about how much they love the email software, they talk about their own businesses or interests or hobbies and how the product fits into their lives. Very compelling stuff.
  4. Case studies. This is what we’ll call social proof – the reason another person should buy from you. Most case studies are boring text with nothing interesting in them. Make them multimedia. Add images. Add charts. Add infographics. Even think about whiteboard automation. Make them so interesting, prospects can’t wait to buy.

Once this project is complete – and it will take some time – you can focus your energies on other owned media, such as white papers, webinars, blog posts, and videos.

To learn more, check out Gini’s latest book – Spin Sucks – on sale this week!

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Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is officially here!

Why Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar Acceptance Speech Was a Golden Example of Effective Communication

David Torcivia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some people like to make fun of Matthew McConaughey. There are those that think his “simple” speech patterns (read: his charming and cuter than heck southern accent) make him seem, well, simple. Other people recall his days living in a now trendy trailer park on Barton Springs Road in Austin, smoking (leaves) through a bong and playing the congas naked…well after he was a famous multi-million dollar actor. How could an eclectic, naked-conga-playing, Texas-born actor be smart and one of the best Oscar acceptance speech givers of the night?

Answer: Because he knew the art of effective communication, and at its heart is storytelling.

Anyone could have stood in front of a bunch of people and said words. “Thank you to this person, thank you to that person, I’m so honored, etc.” I’m usually looking at their dress or tux—or worse—scrolling around on my iPad looking at Ellen DeGeneres’ Twitter feed, completely having zoned out around second 35. Now I loved Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech and I thought Lupita Nyong’o was gracious and presented well beyond her years, but McConaughey’s speech had me hooked from the first second to the last. It probably helped that he was allowed around three minutes for his acceptance speech; however, this speech had the basic elements of storytelling:

  • A personal and interesting hook
  • A story to which everyone can relate
  • A beginning, middle and end
  • A hero (even if it was his “future self”)

I’ve read mixed opinions on the reception and resonance of his speech that night. The audience clearly loved it. Immediate reports gave his speech high praise, even if it was a little odd that he “thanked himself”—which I think is a misunderstanding and exaggeration. Later, a few critics began to emerge and were, in my opinion, overly harsh, inappropriately critical regarding his opening and too narrowly focused on his quirky movements. However, if we analyze the components of his acceptance speech, we’ll find that it was well organized, genuine and highly entertaining.

 

A personal and interesting hook

Before even making it to the stage, McConaughey shared a loving and intimate kiss with his wife—earning instant brownie points. He opened his speech with the appropriate thank you’s, although notably (and hopefully unintentionally) missing the opportunity to honor the people on which this movie was based, and then set up his story.

“There’s a few things, about three things to my count, that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.”

Now I’m curious!


A story to which everyone can relate
via Adarsh Upadhyay "Oscar" via Flickr, some rights reserved
via Adarsh Upadhyay “Oscar” via Flickr, some rights reserved

His acceptance speech was very family-oriented, and what is more relatable to a majority of the night’s viewership than loving your family? He said his family was the center of what he looked forward to each day, and in talking about this, he shared an endearing story about his father.

“To my father, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear, and he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you dad, you taught me what it means to be a man.”

During this, he mimed the pot of gumbo, pointed to the invisible pie and gave us a little dance, which was extremely entertaining.


A beginning, middle and end

I’ll point again to the story set up he delivered in the beginning of this speech. He let us know there were three things he needed each day, and he delivered stories for each point. As he wrapped up his speech, he reminded us of the story he told—a conclusion to hit the nail on its head.

“So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing.”

To those who thought his speech was scattered—you couldn’t be more wrong. This was a well-thought-out story, and his organized beginning, middle and end proves it.


A hero

Yes, he’s received some criticism for “thanking himself” during his Oscar speech, however, I don’t believe that was the point of his story.

“And to my hero, that’s who I chase. Now, when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say, “Who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’ve got to think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later; this person comes up and says, “Who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “Not even close! No, no, no!” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.”

So you see every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero’s always ten years away. I’m never going to be my hero. I’m not going to attain that. I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

I believe this is McConaughey’s poetic way of saying that he’s trying to be the best he can possibly be. Many artists are perfectionists seeking a level of satisfaction that they’ll never receive from themselves, and to his point, it gives them something to aspire to with every performance. Can he best himself? Since he, like most artists, is his biggest critic, he admits that he will never be satisfied with the best version of himself.

And he’s okay with that. Alright, alright, alright?

What did you think of his speech? What was your favorite acceptance speech or moment of the night?

NRF 2014: The REALLY Big Show

If you could sum up the NRF 2014 show in one word, it would have to be “big.” And this time, as attendees know, it was “REALLY big!”

Our Ketner Group team descended upon New York recently along with 30,000+ other NRF attendees, and the show was big in every way: More attendees than ever. More exhibitors on three different levels of the Javits Center. More social buzz (check out the #NRF14 social  infographic from the National Retail Federation). And for Ketner Group, a full schedule of editor and analyst meetings for our retail technology clients. It was an exhilarating, information-packed, exhausting event that underscored why NRF is THE “can’t miss event” for retail.

What were some of the big impressions we walked away with? Here are some thoughts based on the meetings I participated in, as well as a few other nuggets.

Omnichannel and Big Data were key topics. Despite all the buzz about omnichannel, there was widespread discussion about siloed channels, inconsistent pricing, and an inability to forecast and plan across channels. I came away convinced that true omnichannel retailing is still several years away, at least, for many retailers; one analyst said flat-out that “no one” is doing a good job in planning and forecasting omnichannel demand.

And while nearly every vendor claimed to be leveraging Big Data in some way, one analyst says that only 15% of Fortune 1000 companies will be prepared to use Big Data correctly by 2020. For all of us who make our living in retail technology, it’s a sobering reminder that there’s still a big gulf between hype and reality in some cases.

The really hot topic of discussion at NRF was data security; the Target and Neiman-Marcus security breaches were top of mind, and since the show, the news about security has only gotten worse. Clearly PCI compliance isn’t enough, especially when someone with inside knowledge can access information, as appears to be the case with Target. Suddenly, chip and pin is on its way to becoming a household word – and from my perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.