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AGBeat’s top 50 industry influencers

(Business News) In an effort to expand horizons, we have listed 50 influencers that we are inspired by and learn from on a regular basis.



agbeat's top 50 influencers
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Jennifer Stauss Windrum

jennifer stauss windrum smac monkeys[dropcap style=”style1″]I[/dropcap]f you live in Omaha, Nebraska, you probably remember Jennifer Stauss Windrum as a news reporter on Channel 3, but if you live anywhere else, you may know her now as the founder of SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer, which provides tangible support to those battling cancer.

You can read about her massive professional accomplishments on LinkedIn, but she has influenced us and many to focus on the philanthropic opportunities all around us. She’s an accomplished social media expert, but has inspired many to focus on cancer victims.

“Cancer can be a very lonely existence,” Windrum says. “Family and friends can’t always be there. My Mom lived more than 1,200 miles away, making her appointments, tests, scan results and treatments that much harder for both of us. This is why I created SMAC! — to give Mom a “buddy” she could hug to remind her that I am with her.”

When you buy one SMAC! monkey, a second is given to a cancer patient to remind them that they’re not alone. Other charities are already following her lead, influenced by her grit and determination.

Jenny Lawson

jenny lawson[dropcap style=”style1″]I[/dropcap]f you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t follow Jenny Lawson. Don’t check out her book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – a Mostly True Memoir, and whatever you do, do not read her blog.

Lawson used to write for the Houston Chronicle but said she needed somewhere that didn’t censor her, that let her talk about ninjas, and lets her cuss. So she built her own place, and now graces stages across the nation. Lawson has inspired a generation of bloggers to let their hair down and to allow their sense of humor show. Thanks for making the f-bomb more acceptable, Jenny!

Kami Watson Huyse

kami watson huyse public relations social media expert[dropcap style=”style1″]F[/dropcap]ounder of boutique social media marketing strategy and communication firm, Zoetica Media, Kami Watson Huyse is an extremely talented public relations veteran, practicing since 1994 and blogging since 2005.

Huyse asserts that shiny trends may come and go, but people are always looking for ways to authentically connect.

She was a 2010 fellow of the Society for New Communications Research where she pursued a study on how cause marketing in social communities can benefit companies. She is is also the cofounder and organizer of the Social Media Breakfast Houston.

Her ideas are frequently referenced by top social media strategists, and she has influenced the industry in a tremendously positive way, helping people to understand how to communicate effectively.

Laura Fitton

laura fitton[dropcap style=”style1″]B[/dropcap]est known as Pistachio on Twitter, Laura Fitton is one of the original breakout stars of Twitter, founding the first Twitter for Business consultancy (Pistachio Consulting) and has gone on to co-author Twitter for Dummies, and founded which was acquired by HubSpot in 2009.

She has said many times on stage that she believes that everyone can benefit – dramatically – from realtime technologies like Twitter because of their power to overcome isolation.

Fitton is an influential figure not only for being one of the first talents to recognize the value of Twitter, but for her continued efforts to help brands to understand how to be effective, yet never condescending her followers (which isn’t exactly a common trait for someone of Fitton’s caliber).

Liva Judic

liva judic[dropcap style=”style1″]A[/dropcap]s the Director of Merrybubbles Communications, a marketing and communications agency that caters primarily to the technology ecosystem, Liva Judic mentors the next great innovators to go international.

She served for four years as the Head of International Communication at the Office of President of Madagascar, and advised as part of the official delegation at the 1st World Summit On The Information Society.

Judic writes at Wired, VentureBeat, as well as ClickZ and Search Engine Watch – she knows what she’s talking about and has influenced her industry to stay on the ball, and she never lets up on pursuing the truth and illuminating the path for others.

Keep clicking for other influencers you must meet:

The American Genius (AG) is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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  1. Linda Bernstein

    January 2, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    So many terrific people here! I love this list.

  2. Christopher S. Penn

    January 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for including me! Much appreciated.

  3. Ted Rubin

    January 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Honored to be included 🙂

  4. Miriam Slozberg

    January 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Very honored to be included! Thank you.

  5. Amber Osborne

    January 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Honored to be included among those who inspired me to get into this industry. Thank you!

  6. annhandley

    January 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    This list is stuffed full of people I’m lucky enough to call friends, as well as many who have influenced *me*. Thanks for adding my name to the roundup.

  7. Charles E Gaudet II

    January 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for the honor! I’m both humbled and grateful to be included among this least of extraordinary people.

  8. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  9. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  10. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  11. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  12. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  13. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  14. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  15. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  16. AmyVernon

    January 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the honor folks. I’m fortunate to have met many of these folks, and now have a whole list of others I want to make sure I catch up with!

  17. Liz Strauss

    January 2, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Thank you, AGBeat, for the thought and work that went into writing about all of us. You captured the people who have influence not just their resumes, making this fun to read. I’m honored that you included me.

  18. Michelle Poccia

    January 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    This list is chock full of GENIUS! Congrats to all who are on it! And thanks AGBeat for my 2014 Stalker List!

  19. Danny Brown

    January 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Nice to see such a diverse group, and appreciate the fact you took the time to share reasons why people might want to connect, versus a generic “OMG, these guys are just awesome, y’all!!”

    Cheers for the kind inclusion, and Happy New Year!

  20. J Philip Faranda

    January 2, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I hope to meet Michael McClure in person someday! He is remarkable.

  21. Belinda Summers

    January 2, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Gee! A bunch of people I look up to. 🙂 How I wish to be one of them someday.

  22. Matt Hixson

    January 2, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    This was a great way to start the year. Thanks for including me.

  23. Belinda Summers

    January 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

    Gee! A bunch of people I look up to. 🙂 How I wish to be one of them someday.

  24. Lucretia M Pruitt

    January 3, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Some of my favorite people on here… Glad to see AGBeat and I agree on so many awesome people as influences!! Congrats for a solid list and kudos to some awesome folks.

  25. Lucretia M Pruitt

    January 3, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Some of my favorite people on here… Glad to see AGBeat and I agree on so many awesome people as influences!! Congrats for a solid list and kudos to some awesome folks.

  26. Michael Q Todd

    January 3, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Great list and especially great endorsements well done for taking the time and effort have subscribed to you

  27. S. Anthony Iannarino

    January 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Thanks so much for including me on this all-star list! I am honored!

  28. Heather MacLean

    January 3, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Great list. Nice to see some really familiar faces as well as some new ones.

  29. agbenn

    January 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    As the Founder and Publisher of The American Genius, I certainly do not want to sound callous, and text can be so impersonal. We hear your feedback, and have noted it for future reference. When we see people, we see human beings, whatever their race or gender.

    In saying that, our pick if we were considering race or gender ie. a particular Hispanic Influencer, it would have undoubtedly been His Holiness, Pope Francis. However, because we’ve covered His Holiness, several times in the past month, it gave way to another open spot out of hundreds of thousands of potential people we considered one by one. To be quite honest, I actually had to go back and look and read every entry to see if anyone was or wasn’t Hispanic.

    For the record, I am Hispanic, and I am honored to have our team present this list as it is, and with innocent hearts. We do know several of the persons you’ve mentioned and do hold them in very high regard.

    So thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback and encouragement, and we look forward to meeting and getting to know a few on your list. 🙂

  30. Brian Hansford

    January 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    So nice to see some new faces in a list. It gets old seeing lists with the same names over and over just to get SEO juice.

  31. agbenn

    January 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Maya, bless your heart for sharing your kind thoughts and ideas with us. We agree with your sentiments profoundly, and thank you for recoginizing the complexity of what we’re presenting through our lists. We’ll take your idea and have the team bounce it around and see if we can’t do something as meaningful more often. As you know, things become passe when over done, even when done well. For the record, you influence me in thought provoking ways, and that’s not easy to do with a guy like me.

    Happy New Year, and kick 2014’s ass!

  32. tracysestili

    January 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I love listening to Brian Carter speak. He’s not only funny, but real. Plus he presents data in a way that you didn’t think of. Glad to see he made the list and a few of my other faves. 🙂

  33. Eve Mayer

    January 4, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Whoa, I’m so lucky to be on this list! Thank you very much for thinking I’m somewhat as cool as all those respected peeps!

  34. Pingback: Liva Judic on #MindfulSocial this weekMindful Social Marketing

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Business News

Claire’s deep debt may force them into Chapter 11 bankruptcy

(BUSINESS NEWS) Millennial nostalgia reaches peak levels as decades-old jewelry store Claire’s declares bankruptcy.




Poor, sweet Claire’s. The place I got my ears pierced in fifth grade along with countless other tweens over the years. Where nearly all my accessories from age nine to 19 were purchased.

The place I swore to stop shopping because apparently my skin is allergic to every material they use. Looks like losing me as a customer has had a huge impact, because Claire’s is filing for bankruptcy.

Formerly the go-to haven for all things sparkly, cheap, and sold in multipacks, the fashion accessory chain is now suffering the same fate as many other mall-based retailers.

Although inexpensive accessories remain popular, mall foot traffic has slowed significantly enough that Clarie’s and other retailers are suffering from crushing debt.

Claire’s current debt load is $2 billion, with a $60 million interest payment due March 13 of this year. More pressure is added with $1.4 million due to mature next year as well. Their debt load is over 10 times a key measure of their annual earnings.

Filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy means the decades-old store can remain open while a more formal plan for turnaround is established.

The chain has been around since the early 1970s after a merger. Longtime Claire’s owner Rowland Schaeffer founded Fashion Tress Industries in 1961, which at the time was a worldwide leader in fashion wigs.

By 1973, Schaeffer acquired jewelry chain Claire’s, and renamed the merged companies Claire’s Fashion Accessories. For several decades, the Schaeffer family ran the business, with Rowland’s daughters eventually taking over.

In 2007, Apollo Global Management LLC acquired the business from the Schaeffer family for $3.1 billion. From 2010 to 2013, the company added an additional 350 stores, and had over 2,700 stores globally.

Although the takeover was successful in terms of adding stores, it also added a huge debt to Claire’s, from which it has not been able to recover.

Early in 2017, the company withdrew their initial public offering and continued struggling despite operating over 3,000 stores worldwide.

As part of the Chapter 11 agreement, business control will pass from Apollo Global Management LLC to other lenders.

To stay afloat, they plan on selling merchandise in CVS Pharmacies and Giant Eagle supermarkets in hopes of reaching customers outside of the standard mall habitat Claire’s previously occupied.

So while Claire’s isn’t dead quite yet, you may want to stock up on BFF necklaces and 20-pair earring sets while you still have the chance.

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Business News

Toys ‘R’ Us to close all stores by week’s end?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Toys “R” Us just announced they’re dying, and fast. As in SURPRISE, all their stores might be closed by the end of the week fast.



toys r us

Following on the heels of Claire’s filing Chapter 11, the bankruptcy boogie man took things to the next level with Toys “R” Us, passing their fate along to the grim reaper of retail.

Last September, the toy retail giant filed for bankruptcy. A $3.1 billion loan kept them alive for a while, but so far, lenders haven’t issued a debt restructuring, and no buyers have stepped up.

In January this year, the store announced around 180 of their 880 U.S. locations would be closing, affecting over 4,500 employees. Then in February, another 200 stores got added to the chopping block due to poor performance over the holiday season.

Recent closures began in February, and are expected to take place through mid-April. Oh except that actually all of the United States stores may be closing. This week.

According to anonymous inside sources, Toys ‘R’ Us may end up liquidating their U.S. stores if a deal can’t be reached to settle the debt.

A huge portion of corporate staff will also be laid off. Worldwide, Toys R Us has over 1,600 stores that stock major brands, who are also suffering from this announcement.

Hasbro’s stock fell 3.5 percent last Friday, and Mattel took a 7.0 percent hit. Recent regulatory filings from both companies indicate that Toys ‘R’ Us made up nearly 10 percent of their overall sales.

Spin Master, owner of the crazy popular Hatchimals brand, fell 3.0 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Amazingly, even Lego reported their first sales drop in the last thirteen years.

While Toys R Us closing everything would certainly have an impact on major toy companies, fortunately, several other avenues exist for getting products to customers.

Other major retailers like Walmart and Target will likely see a boost to their toy sales, and local toy stores may fare well with at least one giant competitor slain.

So it’s not like you’re totally out of luck if you want to buy the next new thing. You just probably can’t go to Toys “R” Us anymore.

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Business News

3 educational models that apprenticeships are stumping

(BUSINESS NEWS) Apprenticeships are taking off, and disrupting various sectors, including education – but how?




We’re obsessing over the rapidly growing concept of apprenticeships as a way to accelerate careers and give employers meaningful ways to educate and employ. The internship model is often useless and people leave with little more than having memorized a list of coffee orders. One of the few success stories in the apprenticeship game is Digital Creative Institute (DCI), which is headquartered in Texas right near us.

Have a five minute conversation with anyone at DCI, and you’ll see why they’re leading the apprenticeship movement. I recently asked them about how the model disrupts education – they had so much expertise on the topic, that we asked them to put pen to paper, and boy did they.

Below, in the words of Alexis Bonilla at DCI are the three educational models that apprenticeships are stumping:

“Apprenticeship” is the word on the street right now – the hot topic everyone is talking about. You probably know the basics, but we’re sure you still have a few questions. We’re going to try and answer the big, looming question: How does it compare to more traditional learning platforms?

We recently had a conversation surrounding technologists and the best way for them to learn coding. We explored Master’s Programs, bootcamps/coding schools, and teaching yourself while on the job. Then apprenticeships came up, and we decided to talk to the ones who designed the digital marketing apprenticeship here in Austin – Digital Creative Institute.

To sum it up, an apprenticeship is an educational structure where you work while you learn. A few nights a week you’ll take classes and work on projects and certifications, all while holding down a full-time job in the field you are studying. For a more in-depth look at apprenticeships, check out our article, ‘Apprenticeships: How focused training can jumpstart your career’.

Master’s Programs

For a lot of people, getting your Master’s Degree after graduation seems like the logical next step in their career path. But have you ever compared everything that goes into it to what you get out of it? On average, you spend about $60,000 on Grad School and 2 years in the program. The digital marketing apprenticeship structure is $12,000 and only takes one year. Because you’re in a full time role, apprentices graduate from the program with little or no debt and still earn throughout the year. Apprenticeships require only a fifth of the cost and deliver twice the experience.

You get training from the program, but the most valuable experience is what is acquired in the workplace. That’s the big differentiator. Instead of theoretical career situations, you are really experiencing them, and what makes it even better – it’s with the support of peers, mentors, and career coaches.

Of course the downside to apprenticeships is that there is a lack of recognition that exists in the United States right now compared to the more universal recognition you would get with an MBA. In the apprenticeship structure, that is made up for in the presentation of the portfolio work. Instead of simply presenting a degree to an employer, imagine presenting the prospective employer a presentation on how you created an email marketing campaign, how you solved a broken automation workflow, and how you achieved an impressive coding project. Which is more compelling?

Digital Bootcamps

Bootcamps began in 2012, and since then have grown more than 10x. They started off with about 2,000 enrollments and since then have jumped to around 22,000 in 2017. There’s no arguing that this educational model is on the rise, but we would argue that apprenticeships are preparing to make that same jump.

Bootcamps are quick courses on a specific subject that offer some kind of certificate of completion. They are great for getting overviews and basic knowledge, all while being time sensitive. So if you need a quick informational or refresher course, bootcamps are the way to go.

The benefit to apprenticeships is that you get more relevant and in-depth training for whatever it is that you’re studying. For example, the Digital Creative Institute Digital Marketing Apprenticeship doesn’t just look at marketing automation, email marketing, or web design, it looks at all of it and more. You might think you are going into it wanting to specialize in a certain topic, and then learn about something that is much more well suited to your needs and skill sets.

The average cost and timeline for a coding bootcamp is $11.4k for 3.5 months. The 15 month approach to the apprenticeship allows you to apply learning over a longer period of time, that way you have an even greater opportunity for application and personal transformation. A few weeks for a bootcamp just simply isn’t enough to answer all of your questions – some that you may not even know you have yet!

Apprenticeships have the advantage of situational and experiential learning, whereas bootcamps are limited to the examples the instructor thinks of. And because a majority of bootcamps are online, questions are limited as well. The apprenticeship structure allows for a year of personal development and professional training.

Again, it’s pay and pray vs earn and learn. Pray you paid to get the right resources in a short amount of time, or earn a salary while you invest 15 months into your career.

Teaching Yourself

Why not just teach yourself? It’s all on YouTube. There are millions of articles, infographics, and resources. Why pay for something when you can do it without any help?

Perhaps the greatest resources that apprenticeships offer are mentorship and career coaching. This takes your journey from a limited perspective to an experienced one. Coaching gives you direction and guidance from industry leaders in your field, and that’s really hard to put a price on. Forbes did put a price on it, however, reporting that the mean ROI of career coaching is 7x the initial investment. You gain the value of connections, resources, and lifelong relationships as well.

Just one introduction or opened door could be game-changing for your career and in itself prove the ROI of an apprenticeship. In fact, 70% of people in 2016 say they were hired somewhere where they had a connection. In the apprenticeship structure, you won’t have the same teacher week-by-week. You have industry leaders such as CEO’s, CMO’s, authors, and more teaching you specific sections of the curriculum based on their specialized experience. You present work, ask questions, and most of the time, you stay connected long after the class. You make connections it would have been really hard to make otherwise.

So although there may be a lot of time and money saved in teaching yourself certain skills, having the input of industry leaders, peers, and coaches will always be more valuable. There will be more time and money saved in mistake prevention, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the depth of knowledge and wisdom you gain in carrying out your career path.

Apprenticeships are a new wave of education, skill building, and career preparation. They create a learning environment while maintaining a professional standard. Apprenticeships are changing the way we look at education by seamlessly integrating the world of work and learning.


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