When Ponce Duran III graduated from university, the 2008 recession had just hit in full force. Ponce felt blessed to get a job working for a Dallas Congressman, Pete Sessions. One requirement of this job was to join seven Chambers. Seven. Ponce not only grew to love the work, he also rode the digital tidal wave, using a variety of platforms for branding, marketing and communications. Hear what it takes to create an award-winning program as the Director of Communications for the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce
In my current position, I am responsible for . . . Marketing and Communications for the Grapevine Chamber as a whole – Social Media, Websites, Graphic Design, SEO, Content Creation, Photos, Video, Email Marketing, Strategy, Technology and Database.
The thing I enjoy most about my work is . . . Exploring new technologies while promoting the business community.
The biggest surprise for me as a businessman is . . . That many people don’t know they have to innovate and adapt or become obsolete.
One question people should ask me is . . . What are the things that they should know for the next 5 years in biz tech.
My older self would coach my younger self to . . . Be more patient and to rest while always pushing forward.
One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is . . . Don’t wait for someone to tell me what to do, go do and the rest will follow.
Catherine Miller: Welcome to LIFT Speaks. Today I’m visiting with Ponce Duran, who is the Director of Communications and Marketing with the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the top 14 Chambers in the State of Texas.
The other big news about the Grapevine Chamber is Ponce has done a great job with the digital media work and he has been recognized for the work that he’s done. He has several awards with the work that he has done with social media and the process of getting the word out about the Grapevine Chamber and their members.
Specifically, what were these latest awards? I saw your picture flashing everywhere in the news in the area.
Ponce Duran: Yeah. So, the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives is our state trade organization for Chamber staffers and they have media awards that go out once a year and we are an income category based on small chambers and large chambers, and Grapevine, of course, is a large chamber.
We compete against the Dallas, the Houston and the Austin Chambers with their multimillion-dollar budgets and staffs of 50 people. The fact that the Grapevine Chamber can compete and do well and win those awards against chambers anywhere from five to ten times our size is very –
Catherine Miller: It speaks highly.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, it takes a lot of work. But we’re always happy to win.
Catherine Miller: Yeah, and we will dig into that some more later. We will dig into all the work that you do with that. What I would like to do first is for you to take us on a little journey and explain to us how you got into this business and where you are today.
You are a Baylor Bear graduate, Sic ‘em Bears, and you got a degree in poli-sci and history.
Ponce Duran: Yes. So that means I’m trained for nothing. I went into government work straight after school and the recession had happened about a week after I graduated. I got the offer for a job to work for Congressman Pete Sessions, who is on the federal side of the house and I quickly took it.
Catherine Miller: You were joyful.
Ponce Duran: It was very joyful, yes. I had friends who didn’t find jobs for six months, a year afterward. I hopped on that job, and it was a half-political, half-PR, half-outreach job, and it kind of fit the personality and I jumped in from there.
Catherine Miller: In that job, did you do social media work at that point or was it more face to face, shaking hands?
Ponce Duran: It was very traditional, face to face, shaking hands, being the representative of the federal government in the field to the community.
Catherine Miller: Right. OK. So how long did you do that work?
Ponce Duran: I was there for 2.5 years.
Catherine Miller: Quite a while for that type of work.
Ponce Duran: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: Was that your first introduction into Chambers?
Ponce Duran: Yeah, yeah. So, part of my job, of course, was to interface with the business community and the Chambers of Commerce were a natural spot for that. I was asked to join seven chambers in the Dallas area, and that’s how I got my first taste of Chamber life. I kind of always learned toward that entrepreneurial, pro-business side of things, and it was a great fit.
Finding a Niche
Catherine Miller: Wow. Seven chambers. So clearly, you must like Chambers because now your whole professional life is the Chamber of Commerce. So, you worked there and that was an access into businesses and connecting with people. You learned how to leverage and work with people at that point.
So where was your next place? How did you end up from the Chamber piece into the social media piece, marketing, branding?
Ponce Duran: When I was still working for the congressman, I found the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce, and it was a young, professionals only Chamber of Commerce that existed digitally. There’s no staff. There are no physical locations. It literally is website, social media, and manifests itself out of the cloud, and you have events and galas just like any other organization.
It’s based in Uptown, and I lived there at the time. They would have these great happy hours. So of course, I really just went to go get a drink and see who these people are. That was my only entry into it. I worked long hours and getting out was always tough to go meet other people outside the job. But I fell in love with them. I quickly ran their Dallas Police Rookie of the Year Gala for six years, and that was my first entry into the community side of what Chambers do.
Catherine Miller: OK. You were still working for Pete Sessions at this time.
Ponce Duran: Correct.
Catherine Miller: And then you were doing this just on-the-side to connect with people and get to know people.
Ponce Duran: Right.
Catherine Miller: Did you use the digital to connect the group? Is that where you began to dig into the digital world?
Ponce Duran: Yeah, yeah. Managing their largest gala that year as chairman, we really needed the most bang for our buck. Social media had really taken off, and we kind of really started using that to expand the reach of the event, and then a couple of years later, I was president of that organization.
We had full control to do our marketing and branding, and it’s all young people, mainly based in Uptown, with that Dallas vibe.
Ponce Duran: Social media was the way to go.
Catherine Miller: It was the way to go. So, really you were learning with other people. You were sharpening each other and learning how to use the social media and brand your group. Is it still around?
Ponce Duran: Yeah, still around. They’re having their 100th anniversary this year.
Catherine Miller: Oh, wow.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, I tell people it’s just a link in the chain. You know, a hundred years of history is a lot.
Catherine Miller: OK. So, we’re going to skip forward. You went from there to actually working for a Chamber.
Ponce Duran: I did, yeah, yeah. I still worked for several political shops after my job, my first job. My first paid Chamber job was with the Coppell Chamber and that was back in 2013.
Catherine Miller: OK. Was your job with Coppell Chamber marketing, social media, and branding?
Ponce Duran: Correct.
Catherine Miller: You’re a one-stop shop.
Ponce Duran: Yes, and they told me that. It was like, “You are the marketing and communications, graphic design, social, web. You’re the guy.” I was like, “All right. Well, let’s go do this.” We had a great president, Christy Valentine, who gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted, and it was a wonderful experience to be creative and to really innovate something that – you know, Chambers are an older organization. It was just so much fun to take a real organization and …
Catherine Miller: And build it.
Ponce Duran: Build it.
Leveraging Social Media for Good
Catherine Miller: So what results did you get from all the social media work you did with that Chamber?
Ponce Duran: The Coppell Chamber didn’t have any digital branding per se, even in 2013. It was really brand-building. We had really a large campaign to make the community and the business community aware of who we are and what we did. That’s the basis of any quality business product is the awareness that you exist. It’s always helpful.
Catherine Miller: So, it was mostly awareness that you used the social media for at that point, when you first started.
Ponce Duran: It was everything. We didn’t use it for our large events. We’d use it for the branding long term. We used it just to recruit more people into the Chamber, for the membership itself, and then projecting our business product and business services to the targeted business community.
Catherine Miller: Can you give me one example, some ad that you did there? At this point, you’re still pretty fresh in the social media world, right? And you’re trying new things out and rules change. What you did then may or may not work today. Can you give me an example of one social media ad or one social media event that you ran that you were like, “That was surprisingly great”?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. So, it’s very funny. People love pets and in any sense. I think when people think of Chamber, they think of a more formal business organization. Of course, social media goes the exact opposite direction. What do people love the most? Food, cats, babies.
Catherine Miller: Dogs.
Ponce Duran: Dogs, puppies and a lot of that, those translate into marketing to people. I launched this cat meme. It was like a little furry kitten.
Catherine Miller: A real one?
Ponce Duran: Like as a real cat.
Catherine Miller: It was a real cat.
Ponce Duran: I took a picture. And it was, “I’m small and cute. Join the Coppell Chamber and be like me.” You know, you think it’s just a cat picture, right? It explodes.
Catherine Miller: It did.
Ponce Duran: Oh, yeah. We got notice from like the United States Chamber of Commerce about my cat picture.
Catherine Miller: Oh, you did?
Ponce Duran: Oh, yeah, yeah. Like no normal cohesive, business, professional marketing campaign would have ever gotten any notice.
Catherine Miller: But the cat picture did.
Ponce Duran: The cat picture did.
Catherine Miller: Did it drive membership?
Ponce Duran: It did. It did. We got a lot of interest off the Chamber, a lot of awareness and then interest into membership as well.
Catherine Miller: Wow! Off of a cat picture. That is amazing. OK. So what in your learning phase there then at Coppell, what’s the one thing that you look back to and it’s like, “Ah-ha! That was either not a great thing. I won’t do that again,” or just something that you learned from doing that?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. I love innovation, I love technology, and for I guess being a millennial, it comes very naturally to me buying stuff online using websites, social media to communicate. I found out that I couldn’t force some of that technology on the older generation, late Gen-Xers and the baby boomers. That base of understanding and that acceptance for all things digital is simply not there.
We would have large events and people would come in and give me cash or give me a check and I was like, “Oh, you can go online and sign up,” and they would respond, “Oh, I don’t use the internet for buying things.” I would think, “What?”
Catherine Miller: Is that still true today?
Ponce Duran: Yes, there’s still that population. But I mean I think the last five years has been a revolution. Everyone is on Facebook now. Most everyone has mobile phones. Everyone has an Amazon account these days. I think that business acceptance of digital media has come a long way in the last five, ten years. We didn’t have smartphones 10 years ago. So –
Catherine Miller: That’s true. Isn’t it crazy?
Ponce Duran: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: It is crazy because they have changed how we do life.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, it really has.
The Every Day of a Digitial World
Catherine Miller: It really has changed us. So now, you moved into the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce, which I’m biased, I think is one of the great Chambers around in the State of Texas. Today you’re running all the marketing for them as well. Right? But it has about 1200 members. Is that right?
Ponce Duran: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: Tell me what a day in the life of Ponce looks like when you’re using social media and how you’re using social media to drive members to events, and to use social media to see momentum and movement within the organization.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, it’s a huge variety. Some things require a lot of social media push. We have a casino night on August 24th, the Grapevine Casino Night and it requires more than just advertising. We’re selling tickets and showcasing a fun party, and then at the same time, we’re running five different campaigns for different events, different programs. We have a job fair coming up, which is a completely 180 from that. It’s a free event and we’re just targeting people who need to find a job to come to our Grapevine Job Fair.
There’s a giant variety in type of campaigns, target audience, technology we use, even the platforms. I’m running five different things that are completely different all at the same time, which is a lot of work. At the same time, it’s always fresh. There’s always variety and everything keeps changing too. You can’t run your old campaign you ran a year ago in exactly the same way.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Ponce Duran: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: It kind of gives me tired brain thinking about all the things that you manage. I mean how do you stay on top of those things and know that they’re working and know when to take something down?
Ponce Duran: It’s analytics. We rely so much analytics, and I said this before, but like more than we can even process in a real human sense. But we monitor everything from web usage to social media, to views of a newspaper ad that we put in from circulation numbers. We monitor everything. One of the huge benefits of the digital world is you know immediately in real time something is working.
Catherine Miller: But how fast? I mean are you expecting to get 100 likes on Facebook within 15 minutes?
Ponce Duran: Sometimes it’s that simple. Other times we know within 20 minutes that something is working, and then even if something takes a little bit longer, we have an ad running for a day and the analytics come back and they’re bad. We can repost and retarget and re-launch the ad in real time in the field off of a phone. So …
Catherine Miller: So, you’re always on.
Ponce Duran: We’re always on.
Catherine Miller: You’re on 24/7. Give me an example of an ad that you’ve done and how you targeted because you mentioned the different groups of people out there, the millennials, the boomers. And now, there’s the Z people. The Gen Z.
Ponce Duran: The new guys, yes.
Catherine Miller: That’s right. So how do you take that same ad if you’re targeting for casino night? How would you develop and build that, so that it would be different for each different group?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. So, we target demographics very tightly and I think the biggest differentiator right now is actually a generation. So, the type of media and the way that someone consumes a marketing content from a boomer to a millennial to a Gen-Xer, to a Gen-Zer are all so different. I would argue that it’s more different than gender, between male and female. It’s more different than income between high income and low income.
Catherine Miller: Interesting.
Ponce Duran: It’s based on that generational divide and how someone grew up and how they have taken the world really.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Ponce Duran: All of those factors go into our marketing mix. But it’s primarily by age and by generation.
Catherine Miller: OK. So, give me an example. Same ad. Let’s use casino night because that’s something you’re trying to draw people in. Exact same ad. How do you tweak it for the different generations? Do you change the picture? Do you change the words?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. So, we try and target people with pictures who look like them. So, for millennial-focused ads, we use millennials. For baby boomer ads, we use baby boomers. I think that identification, it’s very core at the base of this. But if you see someone like you in a picture or a video, you’re immediately drawn to it. You will be like, “Oh, what are they doing?
It’s the same thing as someone older. It’s like, “What are these kids doing over here? I don’t care about that,” and then the opposite. You have a 20-year-old and they’re like, “Oh, look at these old people. They’re all in their casino night. I don’t want to go to that.”
It’s that immediate identification that – who looks and acts and is in the same age as you. I would argue that age is actually the biggest thing that people look at now beyond color, race, income, gender. They look for it.
Catherine Miller: Their age group.
Ponce Duran: Their age group.
Catherine Miller: Why do you think that? What have you seen in your analytics that have shown that age is one of the biggest deciding factors people look at?
Ponce Duran: It breaks it up by age group. It always has, and we just see such different tendencies across everything that we do, from newspaper ads, to Facebook ads, to website usage. It all breaks down by age, and I think the world is changing so quickly that the way that a generation even 10 years or 15 years ago, the way they have been raised has changed. And, the generational divide is increased by the speed of the world and the speed of business.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. That’s interesting. The goal though of you using the digital social media and the branding is to get people to come, right? To come to casino night. Let’s overlay that onto my business. I have the LIFT Office.
And the goal of the social media is to create community first out there in the digital world. But then to bring them into the event or into the space. So how do you get that leap for the LIFT Office or for an event you’re hosting? How do you go from digital world to getting them in the flesh?
Ponce Duran: I think it’s always you target the right people. The LIFT Office is basically a business services, primarily business to business. You’re looking for professionals to come in and use office space. I think targeting that type of person on digital media is the best way you can get people to come in. I think people don’t target – they have these wild ideas about I will put something out and people will come. They will fill the dreams. If I build it, they will come.
Not anymore. You have to work hard to get the right type of people in, just to have the chance to compete in today’s economy, and I think going after that correct demographic is the key.
Catherine Miller: Is the number one key. If you gave me three tips for building a good social media ad, three – obviously the first one is hitting the right demographic. What are the next two?
Ponce Duran: I would go for community, and I would actually target it – one toward women and one toward men. I think that the way women and men see community is very different based on how involved they are. I think that a lot of people who see a warm community aspect will be drawn to that. At the same time, you can have the exact opposite. You’re going to want a – there’s that personality where you’re an operator, you’re a finance person. You want peace and quiet and order rather than –
Catherine Miller: The party.
Ponce Duran: The party of 15 people around your co-working desk. But that I think I also draws in some of that type too. So, of course, we’re running multiple campaigns for multiple people to try and appeal to all things, which is always hard.
Catherine Miller: Which is always hard. Last question about social media specifically. But what’s your – either your biggest success story with the social media you’ve done recently or the biggest flop?
Ponce Duran: Let’s see. Biggest success I would think was the branding, rebranding of the Dallas Junior Chamber, my first Chamber. It had gotten older and it’s highly dependent on young people. After they turn 39, they’re aged-up into the regular Chamber. That older demographic is simply gone in the younger Chamber. If you don’t reinvent yourself every three or four years, with new blood, the organization quickly dies.
We were in one of those lulls where we had to really bring in a lot of new blood quickly and appeal to them. All of the stuff that was done even 5 or 10 years earlier did not work. And it was 2010. So social media had taken off. Web presence had taken off. The digital jump from 2000 to 2010 was night and day. I was 25 and so I was in the middle of it.
Catherine Miller: So that was fun.
Ponce Duran: That was fun. I enjoyed it.
Catherine Miller: Your most recent though, now that you’ve grown up in social media, what’s the most recent kind of cringey thing that you’re like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that and I can’t take it back”?
Ponce Duran: It’s kind of a problem with our success. Grapevine is doing so well, and we have so much business. Some of our events, we put out to the public to show support for the business community. But they will just go viral. They will explode and it’s really hard to control something. We can’t delete it or remove it. But we’re going to try and have to control how it goes. The Chamber runs the Grapevine Parade of Lights for the Christmas break here in Grapevine, and it’s thousands of people all coming into Grapevine. They’re trying to manage that from a digital side.
You want to make it accessible to increase the brand and to make sure that everyone has a great time at the same time. You have 5000 people who instantly appear that are interested in your event. It’s overwhelming. It’s a victim of our own success.
Catherine Miller: Well, that’s a good problem to have.
Ponce Duran: It’s good.
Catherine Miller: Those are the type of problems that most of us want to have.
Ponce Duran: But it’s a lot of work and a lot of people.
More than Just a Job
Catherine Miller: Yeah. One of the things we talked about earlier is just how many hours you spend, right? You have a policy at Grapevine Chamber that it’s immediate, that you post immediately, the picture immediately. So how much time do you spend doing this work in a day?
Ponce Duran: It’s probably – it depends on of course the program, the day. Everything is always different. But we will go straight for – like today, there will be a 16-hour day. So – and we’re posting everything in the field. We post live streams. We will edit video and pictures on the spot and we will try and get as many people there. But being that relevant, on-time, instant content, I think is very appealing and people want to know. Posting content from weeks ago, you know.
Catherine Miller: Is it required? Is that part of your job? You’re required to have your phone on you and to be on the clock?
Ponce Duran: It’s not required, but it is necessary, I would argue. I don’t think you can have a good field marketing person that doesn’t have their phone on all their social media and web on hand.
Catherine Miller: Twenty-four-seven.
Ponce Duran: Most of the time, yeah. So obviously it’s a little easier during the night. But I mean we’re editing and fixing and update at night, in the morning, all the time.
Catherine Miller: What is it that you’re concerned about? What is it that goes out over social media that causes you to think, “I’ve got to keep my eye on this because it’s going to cause damage”? Because that’s what you’re concerned about – that’s why you feel called to be on all the time, right?
Ponce Duran: Yeah, especially social but all media really. It’s a two-way conversation. It’s always on 24/7 and once that conversation is started, it doesn’t stop ever. I think understanding that you always have to monitor it, even passively. You always have to be aware of what’s going on because you see unprepared brands have these horrible online disasters and there’s no one monitoring what’s going on.
Even if they had someone just looking at what goes out, there would be a lot less social media disasters I think in the world, especially on the corporate side.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. You know, that almost seems like an unreasonable job description.
Ponce Duran: It’s really tough. But to do the job well, I think it is a requirement. I really do. I don’t think you can have someone in today’s digital environment and world completely take their eye off the ball for weeks at a time or days at a time.
Catherine Miller: Well, what about for an evening? Can you put it down for an evening?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. For an evening, I think the breaks are important. I think we talked about that. That little break keeps you creatively fresh and engaged and that downtime is really important to maintaining the level of – that high-level long term. You have to rest. You can’t do it all the time.
Catherine Miller: Yeah, I was reading an article recently about the effects of being on social media 24/7 and it was not positive. I mean it was stress. It was depression. It was isolation. So much different than what you would think it would do. I mean there were several things listed in the article that were like addiction, which in some ways you almost have to be addicted to it if that’s your job.
Ponce Duran: Yeah –
Catherine Miller: What do you do to protect yourself from going down that path and protecting your family time? Because you are married, and you have a six-month-old baby.
Ponce Duran: Six-month-old baby. Yeah.
Catherine Miller: What do you do to protect that time?
Ponce Duran: I think some of that is mental barriers. I think millennials are a little easier with this. They can ID real content and they can also discriminate between, oh, this is – you know, I’m comparing myself. You have to turn that comparison off to you in the world. You have to make sure that you don’t believe everything you see on social media.
I think millennials are good with that and that discerning sense of – it doesn’t immediately impact us mentally I think like it does for older generations. We can scroll through, not like anything and then put it down and we will never think about it again and I think that some of those images and content for a grandmother or a boomer, like I saw this baby crying and they wouldn’t stop crying. It was like, oh, it’s a news post. News post, seen it …
Catherine Miller: You think?
Ponce Duran: It’s much more disposable mentally for that content for us I think. It’s easier just to kind of get away from it. It desensitizes us at the same time. But it allows a better mental filter for all social media, I think.
Catherine Miller: Well, I would think in your job, it would definitely be true that you would have to have that attitude.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, and that you just need that filter to see what’s real and relevant and what’s not. That changes for everyone and where you are in life. But without that filter, you would simply be overwhelmed with images and content and words and everything.
Catherine Miller: Right, right. So, what’s your big goal for what you’re doing with the Chamber? What’s your next step, your next aspiration with the work that you’re doing?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. I think of it on an industry level really. Chambers fell behind. Really did as a business organization and now I think they’re catching up with technology and new programs and new ideas and being at the forefront of that real revolution really for Chambers has been fun. It’s half-disruption and half-technological revolution at the same time. So, it’s a tidal wave and it’s one of these things. You better surf the tidal wave to keep ahead. But it’s always fun. It’s always different. Variety of life, which I always enjoy.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. That’s good. What I really want to know, as a person who is young, married, 2.5 years married, six-month-old baby and a job that – you know, all of us have long days, right? They come and go. So that’s expected. But the fact that you feel like you’ve got to be connected to the internet, to social media, to other people, 24/7 monitoring that, I cannot imagine how that would take a toll on your personal life.
Can you create a habit where you can set your phone down – and your wife, she has a really responsible job as well, right? Where does she work?
Ponce Duran: She works for American Heart Association and she’s part of the Scientific Meetings Team. They’re the large doctor conferences throughout the world really based on cardiovascular health.
Catherine Miller: Right. So, you’re two busy professionals.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, high-demand jobs.
Catherine Miller: With high-demand jobs, right? There’s a lot of busy professionals out there, but some of them have a better opportunity to shut down when they get home from work.
Ponce Duran: Right, yeah.
Catherine Miller: Whereas your job specifically – and I would think some of hers as well – there’s a constant push. Could you really put your phone down? Could you look at each other and say – it’s seven o’clock every night. Our phone is – if we’re home, our phone is down. We’re going to lock it behind lock and key and we’re not going to look at it until 7:00 in the morning.
Ponce Duran: Yeah, I think –
Catherine Miller: Could you do it?
Ponce Duran: I think we could because we’ve been so overwhelmed for so long with media. I think that ability to put it away and to limit the stream of the world news from coming in is easier because it has been so long, and it has been so much overwhelming images and noise for so long, that silence is almost desirable.
Catherine Miller: Right. I would think it would be although it would probably take some training in how to use the silence. That’s a little bit contradictory because you said to me somebody who’s in your position has got to constantly be checking and making sure there’s not some disaster out there. My challenge would be how big could the disaster be really?
Ponce Duran: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: Does it really have to be tended to that closely? Especially when you consider the value of what you’re setting it aside for?
Ponce Duran: Yeah. I think that passive monitoring is the way to do it. If you check your phone once for 30 seconds every hour, it’s really OK. So that connection, it doesn’t have to be instant or moment to moment. It just has to be an awareness of what’s going on.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Ponce Duran: I put my phone down for an hour, play with my daughter.
Catherine Miller: Could you not put it down for 12 hours, from 7:00 to 7:00?
Ponce Duran: You could. But I think it would require some prearranged planning to make sure that my duties were covered by other people. I think that little bit of planning, I would be more than happy to have a little bit of sweet silence.
Catherine Miller: Well, Ponce, thank you for joining us today. You had some good insights on how you grew and the things that you do with the Chamber, and I appreciate you sharing that with us today on LIFT Speaks.
Ponce Duran: Sure, thank you. Thank you for having me, Catherine.
Catherine Miller: Thanks.
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