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Author Archives: Stephanie Shirley

About Stephanie Shirley

Stephanie Shirley is an experienced and sought-after Public Relations professional who serves local, regional and national markets. She works hand-in-hand with businesses of all industries and sizes to guide their marketing and communications efforts. Stephanie is frequently called upon to facilitate and manage the successful development and implementation of comprehensive marketing and public relations strategies. She founded Bennis Public Relations at the age of 23 and has since dedicated her career to assisting local, statewide and national clients enhance their public relations, business development, community relations and event planning efforts, to maximize their resources and outcomes.

7 Tips to Help College Seniors Prepare for the Real World

7 Tips to Help College Seniors Prepare for the Real World

Though it may seem far off for college seniors, life in the real world is coming at you fast. Sure, you may be thinking about your next steps to become gainfully employed, but are you really taking action to prepare yourself? Right now is the best time to put the effort into doing everything you can to make yourself as employable as possible.

Here are seven tips to help college seniors prepare for the real world:

1. Brand yourself.

Your senior year in college is the prime time to create your own professional brand that you can carry with you into the real world. Students often stop at creating a resume and cover letter and maybe doing a little job searching each day. There’s a lot more you can be doing!

For example, create a personal website, polish up your Linkedin profile, create personal business cards (which you can often get for free!) and start a blog. As you make a name for yourself, employers who will be doing their research on you will be impressed by what they find online.

2. Clean up your social media.

Let’s talk a little more about what potential employers may find online. If you’ve really been enjoying your college experience, chances are you have a little social media housekeeping to do. Be your own private investigator and dig deep into your archives of photos and posts. This is everything your employer could find as well. Clean it up!

Though you may never be fully able to dust up every last crumb, let’s make sure you’re not leaving heaping dirt piles lying around. Put some serious effort into scouring your social media profiles and get them ready to be spot-checked by employers.

3. Control your online presence. 

Beyond social media, you also need to be thinking about other photos and content that may appear online that include your name or image. These can be both good and bad for an employer to find. I highly recommend every college senior preparing for the real world to utilize www.brandyourself.com. This allows you to see the highest ranking search results for your name online, and choose the ones that you want to remain associated with you, and work to bury the others. For example, you’ll want to raise the rankings of articles that mention your awards and accomplishments, and remove the ones that shine a negative light or aren’t associated with you at all.

4. Leverage your adult networks.

By now you’ve likely gotten pretty good at socializing with your peers. Now it’s time to shift gears and get comfortable socializing with your adult networks (i.e. past employers, family friends and your friends’ parents). As you approach graduation, it’s smart to issue your own “press release” – which is a more professional take on the standard graduation announcement. It doesn’t need to be formatted like a typical press release, rather think of it as an intelligent message that communicates your education, accomplishments, talents and ambitions. Then, share it by mail and email with your adult networks.

They may not be hiring, and maybe they’re not even someone you’d want to work for; however, combined they know A LOT of other people who could be the perfect connection or you. Don’t overlook this!

5. Be accountable and consistent.

One of the most simplest, yet most often overlooked things that college seniors need to be doing to prepare for the real world is to exemplify their “employ-ability” by demonstrating they are accountable and consistent in their actions. When you meet someone at a networking function or job fair, be sure to follow-up. So many students I have met and spoken with at similar events are so excited to be connected, yet only a fraction use the information on the business card I gave them to follow-up with me. The ones that do really stand out. It’s so important to demonstrate early and often that you are a mature professional who is ready for the real world.

6. Let go of your idea of a “dream job.”

This is an important one, so listen close. You need to let go of whatever idea you have spent the last fours developing as your “dream job.” Foremost, it likely doesn’t exist. I’m sorry to serve up the truth like this, but it’s better that you hear it early.

Refocus this energy on doing your research of what an entry job in your field really entails – both in pay and in responsibilities. Now readjust your expectations. If you begin your job search with unrealistic expectations, you are going to turn off employers and potentially walk away from a really great opportunity just because the pay is less than what you want and the responsibilities are more.

7. Unemployment is not an excuse to be unproductive. 

Until you land your first job out of college, there is always, always something you can be doing with your time to put you one step closer. Unemployment is not an excuse to be unproductive. Aside from scouring job postings, you can be investing your time into creating a blog or digital portfolio to house your work. You can freelance your skills to gain experience. You can also volunteer your time on projects that align with your education and career aspirations. I’ll say it again, there is always something productive you can be doing while unemployed until you find your next opportunity.

Are you or someone you know approaching college graduation this semester or next year? What tip do you find to be most helpful or do you have a different idea to share? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Be sure to share this advice with fellow graduates, too!

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A No Is As Good As a Yes

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


No Word Showing Denial Panic And NegativityThink for a moment how many questions you ask in a single day. There are the simple questions like asking your child what they’d like for breakfast or asking your spouse what time they’ll be home from work. There are then the more complex questions like asking your boss to clarify your responsibilities on a project or asking a potential client if they’d like to move forward with your services. For simple questions, an answer is usually easy to obtain. But for the more complex and sometimes controversial questions, a quick and straightforward answer is harder to extract.

Anyone who has asked enough questions knows exactly what I’m talking about. So often we avoid providing someone with an answer because we think it will upset them or strain our relationship. The interesting reality is that the lack of an answer is more frustrating, and potentially more damaging, than providing a yes or no because it demonstrates a lack of respect for someone’s time.

In business, I often compare waiting for an answer to being in progress purgatory. It’s terrible to have your hands tied and be forced to bring work to a halt while you wait for a response from a client or co-worker. There are certainly instances where a delayed response is understandable. Life has been known to throw curve balls. But when an answer can be provided, it should be provided—as quickly and clearly as possible. Otherwise you may be costing someone else their time and energy as they wait for an answer and put effort into following-up.

I’m sure we can all bring a few examples to mind, maybe even one we’re dealing with right now. It’s that email that hasn’t been answered in over a week or that voice mail message that’s still waiting on a call back. It shows a lack of respect for someone else’s time when such questions or requests go unanswered and it can all be avoided with some simple communication. Immediate responses aren’t always possible or expected, but even when you can’t provide a response, you can provide the communication that you are seeking one. I know I always appreciate a message acknowledging my question and letting me know when to expect follow-up.

The bottom line is that you’re not doing anyone any favors by leaving them hanging. If the answer you have isn’t the one they’d prefer, you likely still have a good reason for choosing that answer. Explain this reasoning as simply as possible and give them the answer straight-up. Even if you can’t give someone the response they want, you can at least give them the ability to move forward and seek a different solution or opportunity. And at the end of the day, that’s a lot better than being stuck in progress purgatory!

Do you agree that a no is as good as a yes compared to not receiving an answer at all? What role in this scenario do you usually play—the one waiting for the response or the one evading the response? Share your insights and input by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Do I Need Advertising or Public Relations?

Do I Need Advertising or Public Relations

It’s a really important question – and one that business owners’ return to time and time again. Do I need PR or advertising to grow my business? The answer…it depends! As like most things in life, it’s situational and really depends upon your goal, budget and target audience.

In this blog, I break down some of the most common scenarios businesses face and whether ad or PR is the better strategy to address each. Let’s go!

I want immediate and guaranteed publicity for my business.

You want to start with advertisingWith advertising, you get what you pay for, rarely will it be more or less. The benefit of guaranteed media placement is that you can count on it showing up when and where you want it to. If your business needs this immediate boost in publicity and can’t risk anything less, advertising is the way to go – at least to start. Where PR can come in, is when you want to complement this with the power of organic media exposure that, when done right, can garner a whole lot of media attention for a fraction of the cost of paid placement.

I have a limited budget, but a great story to tell.

You want to start with public relations. If you have a naturally great story to tell, your business will do well with the boost of some public relations. PR thrives on taking a great story and bringing it to the forefront of media and before your target audience. With advertising, you have limited space to tell your full story, so it might not have the same impact if you try to fit it into a 15 second commercial spot or on a bill board. With PR, you gain the platform, like a featured segment on the morning news, or several paragraphs in print or online to really dig into the meat of things.

I can communicate my core message in less than 8 words.

You want to start with advertising. This is the reverse scenario of what we described above. Maybe your business is able to fully articulate its unique selling proposition in 8 words or less. In this case, you might better be suited for a strategy more focused on advertising. A short message can be easily communicated through digital ads, short commercials, sponsored social media posts and billboards. Once you determine this short message, you can advertise it consistently throughout these various facets to benefit from repetition.

I want to promote the charitable angle of my business.

You want to start with public relations. Even if your business is for-profit, you can still hitch your wagon to the promotional power of charitable giving. If your business or organization has a genuine charitable component (people can easily tell when you’re not being sincere!), this unlocks a lot of PR opportunities. Your story will more easily be picked up by local media and often TV stations or digital community calendars offer free promotion of such activities. Sure, you can also pay for this promotion, but why? When it’s charitable in nature, think PR first.

My business has some negativity publicity it needs to counteract. 

You want to start with public relationsIf you find yourself needing to counteract negative sentiment toward your business, this is a job for public relations. It’s important to add the “human” element to your business in such circumstances. For example, you may want to pitch your CEO for a media interview, host a press conference or issue a press release to address the issue. You can also implement some strategic activities to repair your brand, such as a free community event, open house or giveaway.

People are familiar with my brand, now I need to keep it top of mind.

You want to start with advertising. If you’re an established brand and your target audience is aware of who you are and what you do – congratulations! You’re ahead of most businesses out there. But seriously, this puts you in a prime position to benefit from paid advertising, because what you now need to focus on is maintaining this awareness and staying top of mind. Carefully placed digital, radio, television and/or outdoor advertisements with help you to continue to capitalize on what you’ve worked so hard to create.

What I hope is an obvious disclaimer is that every business and its particular situation is different. While I hope to provide some helpful, general advice and a starting point for your strategizing, it’s important to seek the help of experienced ad/PR professionals who know your market, understand your target audience and can help direct your messaging through the most effective channels.

Do you have another question related to how advertising and public relations are different, yet also work together? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Scale Your Business as a Sole Proprietor

How to Scale Your Business as a Sole Proprietor

As a sole proprietor, you can feel like a “one man band” in your business. While there are certainly perks of running a lean operation where you answer only to yourself,  when it comes to growth, it can be hard to figure out the right way to scale your business.

After all, many people would suggest the solution is simply taking on more employees or infrastructure. But that isn’t your only option to grow. Learn from my tips for growing a business without growing your overhead.

Know Your Target Market

As a business owner, we often look at our target market in the broadest possible sense. But when you feel like you’re just about at maximum capacity for workload, you need to get smarter about knowing who your true target market really is. Quite literally, you need to raise your standards. This means focusing on people or businesses who are most likely to engage with you at a higher level, sign you in to larger, longer contracts and allow you to become efficient in the work you do from them because it’s predictable or residual.

When marketing to new clients, or when prospective clients approach you, it’s important to walk away from something that isn’t a good fit and risks pulling your attention away from clients who are.

Keep Your Bandwidth Clear

I’ve written about bandwidth before and I’ll say it again here. The most common way I see people waste time, and as a result turn away new jobs, is because they allow tasks, that can and should be completely quickly, consume their whole day or week. Every day I outline the core tasks that “must” get accomplished that day in order for everything else to stay on track. Usually this is no more than two or three items – very doable. But I stick to it! I don’t let these tasks slide into the next day just because they technically can. I wrap them up and clear my bandwidth for the next day because, more often than not, a new project comes across my desk and I’m then ready to capitalize on the extra income.

Raise Your Rates

It can make business owners uncomfortable to be faced with the decision to raise rates in order to increase income. In fact, I see most business owners try to do anything else but raise their prices, even if it means using more of their time or decreasing their margins. That doesn’t really make sense!

As I’ve found out from experience, if your project workload is so full that you don’t think you can take on one more client, you need to raise your rates. Why? Because you’re priced almost too competitively if every business around town is knocking down your door. It means you’re a steal of a deal. In most cases this isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. But if you want to make more money without taking on more overhead or employees, you need to get comfortable with raising your rates to naturally eliminate your lower paying clientele.

If you’re honest with yourself, you know that these are the clients that eat up most of your time anyways. By raising your rates, you put yourself on a new playing field where you can charge more for your time and do more of the work you love for you the clients you’re passionate about serving.

Work Smarter

My final piece of advice, and it’s something you’ve likely heard before, is to work smarter, not harder. If you want to create more time in your day, you need to carefully examine your current processes and work style in order to identify the things that are sucking up time without producing results.

Maybe you’re putting way too much time into creating client proposals. Make this more efficient and streamlined! Maybe you’re giving away hours of your day at coffee meetings and networking events. Learn the art of saying no and focus on only the activities that stand to bring in direct income. When you make a conscious effort to clean up your business’s processes, you’ll be surprised by how hard you’ve been working, without really being smart about it.

Are you a sole proprietor or simply a business owner looking to maintain a lean operation? Share the ways you plan to strategically grow your business without taking on more employees or overhead!

 

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How Public Relations Makes Advertising More Effective

How Public Relations Makes Advertising More Effective

When it comes to the relationship between Public Relations and advertising and how each impacts your business, they offer two contrasting, yet complementary opportunities. And when opportunity knocks – especially at two different doors – you are best to open both.

As a business owner you know that nothing should function within its own silo. Everything must be integrated and designed to work together to eliminate inefficiencies and to get the most out of the time and effort you put into a task. This is absolutely true of  public relations and advertising within any given business.

If you’re created an advertising strategy without including a PR component, or vice versa, you could be making a costly mistake that could hinder the effectiveness of the resources you’re pouring into these efforts. First, take a look at the reasons why public relations actually helps to make your advertising go further.

Leverage Relationships

When you’re spending a good chunk of change with any particular media outlet, you grow your relationship with that outlet. They’re there to serve you and make you happy as a customer. Any smart media sales person will do whatever it takes to ensure you’re satisfied so that you continue to come back for me. Use this leverage to your advantage! As a paying customer you have negotiation power to request to earned media in addition to your paid media. Ask your sales rep for the best contact within the outlet to pitch your story to. Ask for them to throw in a social media shout out for your business. Or ask for them to run an op-ed you’ve written. Think of what will be most valuable to you and your business – and ask for it! The worst they can say is no, but remember you hold the check book, and the leverage.

Stroke Egos

Public relations is a great way to stroke the egos of your stakeholders and decision makers. How? When you gain PR opportunities such as a guest spot on a television news show, you can plug in key people who love to be in front of a camera and give them a chance to shine – all while representing your business or organization. By pitching your story to the media and earning a feature story, you now bring real value to your business. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to give sponsors or investors the biggest bang for their buck. What better than to give them a media opportunity they simply cannot buy?

Guaranteed vs. Earned

There is a huge value in paying for your media placement. It’s guaranteed coverage you can count on. You know exactly what will be placed where and when. But this comes with quite a price tag. The beauty of incorporating public relations into your strategy is that this is earned media. If an outlet picks up your press release, does a feature story on your business or covers an event you’re hosting or associated with, you’re not paying for this publicity. Additionally, research shows that most consumers view earned media as more authentic, trustworthy and persuasive than traditional advertising. This isn’t to say one is better than the other. Really, it demonstrates why you need to use both public relations and advertising if you want to take your public outreach to the next level!

Greater Outreach for the Same Price

Another benefit of using both public relations and advertising tactics to promote your business is that you will reach exponentially more people for virtually the same investment. Why? Because advertising has hard costs, while public relations is the earned media aspect we discussed above. Aside from the time you, or someone you hire, might put into implementing public relations tactics to enhance your business’s advertising, there are no hard costs such billboard placement, printing of marketing materials, etc. Rather, the PR component utilizes media channels that are already in place to take your communications to the next level.

Go Deeper with Your Message

Let’s face it. Paid advertisements are very limited. For a billboard, you should really have fewer than eight words. And how much can you really say in a 15 second commercial or radio read? Really, you can only communicate just the basics. But people rarely buy on the basics. They want an emotional connection, and that is really hard to achieve with traditional advertising alone. When you include public relations as part of your overall strategy, you open up the flood gates to communicating your whole story. This can be achieved in a wide variety of ways from op-eds, feature stories, publicity events, community partnerships, blogs and social media and so much more. If you feel like you don’t have the platform to truly tell your story and have the masses hear it, it may because you’re lacking in the PR department. Give it a try!

Do your current advertising and public relations efforts work together to create more effective outcomes for your business? Why or why not? Share your examples by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2018 in Business, Business & Success

 

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How to Stay Focused While Working from Home

How to Stay Focused While Working from Home

It’s becoming more and more common for people to work from home, either full-time or even just a few days per week. If your career allows you to work virtually, it’s likely you’ve found yourself trying to be productive at home only to be derailed by a myriad of different distractions.

For the last seven years, I’ve grown my public relations business while working exclusively from home. During different periods of time, that included juggling work with infant babies at home and trying to schedule conference calls around nap times. The good news is, I survived! And throughout my experience working from home, I’ve developed quite a few tips and tricks to that have helped me to stay focused and productive.

Here are my go-to tips for staying focused and making the most of your time when working from home. Take a look!

Make a Mental Commute

When you work from home you don’t have the benefit of a commute. Maybe you’ve never viewed a commute as a benefit, but think about it for a moment. Physically moving from one place to another gives you the mental separation of work and home. During your commute you can get yourself in a “work” mindset. When you work from home, however, you have to make a conscious effort to change from your “home” mindset to your work one.

One tip I highly recommend is having a dedicated office space that feels separate from the rest of your house. This allows you to “commute” to your office and on that commute you can clear your mental space and walk into your office ready to work.

Stick to a Routine

Sure, working from home gives you extreme flexibility in your schedule, but this can also be a trap. To be effective when working from home, it’s so important to stick to a routine. There will certainly be days where this routine will be disrupted, but for the most part you must establish a core routine and stick to whenever you can.

Pick a routine that fits your personality and workload. Are you more effective in the early morning or do you thrive in the afternoons? Unlike a traditional office environment with a strict 9-5 schedule, you get to set your own schedule. However, once you set one, let it give your day structure and stability.

Set Your Work Hours

Along with setting a routine, you also need to establish your work hours. When working from home, it’s easy for work and personal life to blend together. If you’re not careful, you’ll find that you’re never fully present in either space, because you can’t separate the two. By setting work hours, you’ll know that from 7am until 3pm (or whatever you choose) is the time to focus exclusively on work-related tasks. Outside of that time, you must train yourself to put work aside, stop checking emails and shift your focus to friends, family and yourself.

Resist Chores and Errands

During your set work hours, resist any and all temptations to dive into tasks that are not directly related to work. I’ll admit that when working from home, I’ll throw in a load of laundry, put away dishes and tidy up some rooms as I walk through. These are small and necessary tasks that shouldn’t divert you from more than a few minutes of work time. The tasks I’m addressing here are the ones that can sabotage your work productivity for hours. Tasks like sorting out your closet, reorganizing a room or running personal errands can steal hours away from your day and can reasonably wait until the evening or weekend.

Give Yourself Small Breaks

Although you want to squeeze the most you can out of every work day, you can only accomplish this by giving yourself small breaks. Why? Because no one can be productive 100% of the work day. We all need mental and physical breaks in order to return back to a task and be even more productive than we would be otherwise. Trust me on this one. Allow yourself short, timed breaks where you can get some fresh air, stretch your legs, get a snack or cup of coffee and then return to your desk ready to work again.

Close Up Shop!

Finally and most importantly, when you’re done for the day – be done! Don’t linger around refreshing your inbox and fishing around for people to ask you for something. Disconnect, go offline and enjoy your time off. After all, you’ve earned it! The best part of having a productive work day is that you can close up shop knowing the most important tasks are taken care of and everything else can wait until tomorrow.

Do you work from a home office? How do you stay focused throughout the day? Share your tips and best practices by leaving a comment below!

 

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Embracing the Non-Monetary Benefits of Entrepreneurship

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


no money funI’ve shared my insight before on how fellow entrepreneurs and business owners might choose to price their services. It’s a fine balance between earning what you’re worth and remaining competitive. One of the biggest challenges comes when you’re just starting out. With little to no prior experience and only a small portfolio of work to showcase, new clients often hire you on a hope and a prayer that you’re half as good as what you promise. This situation often requires you to charge far less than market value for your time to even get your foot in the door. Even a seasoned entrepreneur can recall such a time in their career. The glitz and glamour of being a “business owner” can quickly become jaded by the lack of money, time and sleep in return for countless hours of hard work. So how do successful entrepreneurs overcome this starting hurdle? When I was first building Bennis Inc from the ground up, had I measured my success and happiness in income, I may have thrown in the towel before I ever really got going. Instead, I quickly learned that I had to embrace the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship until I reached market value. If you’ve also taken the entrepreneurial leap, focusing on these benefits can help you overcome the “I’m WAY underpaid“ blues.

Flexibility

Even when I was just making ends meet, this didn’t impact my ability to enjoy life’s no-cost luxuries. I was (and still am) able to go for a run whenever I feel like it. I can grocery shop at non-peak hours and enjoy a peacefully empty store all to myself. I can take an early weekend (say, starting on Tuesday?) or grab coffee with a friend who’s swinging through town. With my 9-5 job, I felt guilty even scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the day. Now I can get a haircut whenever it’s most convenient—completely guilt free. Of course, this type of free time and flexibility is balanced by sometimes having to work late into the evenings or on the weekends, but at least it’s at my discretion. When I have work to do, I do it and when I don’t, I’m not stuck chained to a desk. As an entrepreneur, soak this up! Your friends may have chosen a more stable, traditional career, but they likely can’t do work from a park on a sunny summer day.

Creative Freedom

You’re a business owner – that means you also own every decision that’s made. This can be a scary reality, but also an incredibly rewarding one. While you might not be raking in the “big bucks” just yet, remember that the ability to make a decision and not have it be second-guessed or turned down is a luxury most people would place a pretty big price tag on.

Building Something All Your Own

This is all you. When you’re building a business you get to take complete ownership over how every piece comes together. Do you want to steer things in a new direction? Sure! Is your goal to someday have 100+ employees? Go for it! Is your goal to work remotely and travel 10 months out of the year? It can be done! The beauty of building your own business is that you have the ability to make it unique and custom fit to your goals. I have yet to see an example of a corporate job that allows for the same.

Leadership

During my time of really embracing the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship, I found that this is truly one of life’s ultimate leadership experiences. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, trust in your instincts and quick thinking. I always felt like I had leadership qualities inside of me that would shine through when it was required, but as an entrepreneur, leadership is required every day. Some might say it’s baptism by fire, but I think one of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurship is the “leadership boot camp” it provides. You’re forced to step into this role quickly and without hesitation.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the entrepreneurial path for a reason. Hopefully it wasn’t for the money (because that can take many, many years to get flowing) but rather it was for the flexibility, creative freedom, ability to create something new and unique and life’s ultimate leadership experience that is entrepreneurship. Before long, the money will follow, but if you embrace these non-monetary benefits early, the money will no longer be the ultimate goal.

 
 

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