I’ve received and given my share of client/vendor gifts. But none touched me in the way that a recent gift from longtime client Matrix2 Advertising did. They’re a Miami-based marketing agency (and a darn good one), and out of the blue, they sent me a personalized spiral-bound notebook with my name on the cover and in the corner of every page. Also on the cover is the quote: ‘Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but about how to dance in the rain.” It’s a lovely sentiment, and especially meaningful now—when marketing budgets are tight and clients are grim. But what really surprised and moved me was that on the first page, every member of the staff had taken the time to thank me personally. It was genius, really. They did so many things right. First, it wasn’t the obligatory holiday gift, lost amidst the other corporate gifts. Second, the personalization is always a winner. Who doesn’t love their name on stuff? Bonus points for the spiral-bound notebook—I confess to being a junkie for notebooks of all shapes and sizes. And the hand-written notes just sealed the deal. Feel free to steal this idea and adapt it to your clients. I know I will.
The NYTimes had a piece about the “marketing revolution” in real estate—a fascinating look at how the promotion of Manhattan apartments has changed over the decades. But what really grabbed my attention was this quote from the head of a residential marketing firm: “Back in the mid-’80s, in the residential real estate world, people didn’t know how to spell ‘marketing.’ ” Really? I fell into residential real estate marketing when I joined Boston’s Schneider & Associates as a pretty green PR account exec. It was the mid-‘80s, and Joan Schneider not only knew how to spell real estate marketing, she pretty much invented it. It was Joan who taught me to treat marketing real estate like you would any other luxury consumer product. I learned the art of naming real estate developments, and the craft of creating memorable special events. Mundane real estate milestones such as topping off events were turned into spectacles—an all-tuba concert on the roof of a Cambridge condo, or a lifestyle vignette with mannequins on the final beam of a Malden townhouse complex. There were plenty of challenges, too. Banks were financing construction projects in less than desirable locations; places Joan termed “emerging neighborhoods.” No matter where the developments were, Joan approached each one with the same determination and pluck—we were going to promote the hell out of this condo in the middle of some skeevy section of town, and by god, it would sell.
Beginning with my days at Schneider & Associates, writing for and about real estate has been my forte. From Boston, I headed back home to Miami to work for an advertising and public relations firm that specialized in luxury real estate and resorts. As a freelance copywriter, real estate remains one of my specialties. I’ve been through a couple of real estate cycles now, and the lessons that I learned from Joan have stayed with me. Everyone should have a mentor in their life from who they learn even half as much.
I’m pretty much a “one and done” copywriter. My clients rarely come back to me with edits, and sometimes, with tight deadlines, my copy goes whoosh into layouts before I can even ask, “Any changes?” When it comes to headlines, I usually develop 5, 10, maybe 25 if I’m really stretching myself. And my clients always find one that works. I was feeling pretty smug. Until I read about Sally Hogshead. She’s the author of Fascinate, about seven triggers that help marketers break through the clutter. On her website, she writes about her days as a copywriter on the BMW account. Her rule of thumb: write 100 headlines for every 1 you need. For the new BMW campaign, the client needed 8, so she wrote 800 headlines. Yep. 800. Pretty brilliant, I thought. And it inspired me, too. While I probably won’t be churning out 100 headlines for every headline assignment, it’s made me rethink how I approach developing names, taglines and headlines. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, but I do think that as you develop lots of names, sometimes you’re taken in new directions along the way. Thanks for the lesson well learned, Sally.
Diana Vreeland was the legendary Vogue editor who shaped fashion history like no one else. Influential, opinionated and original, she was the essence of fabulous. Visionaire recently published a series of her staff memos. Cryptic, brilliant, like little haiku jewels, these staff memos were dictated to her assistant from Mrs. Vreeland’s bathroom (how’s that for multi-tasking?). Some of my favorites:
The serpent should be on all fingers and all wrists and all everywhere…
The serpent is the motif of the hour in jewelry…
Nothing gives the luxury of pearls. Please keep them in mind.
Let’s promote grey.
So often clients want to cram copy with every product feature, selling point and offer detail. If you ever wanted evidence that spare, elegant language trumps bloated, superlative-laden writing, just read Mrs. Vreeland’s memos.
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
That was supposedly what Hemingway penned when asked to write a story in six words. SMITH Magazine used the Hemingway anecdote to inspire its readers to come up with their own six-word memoirs. So far, writers both famous and obscure have submitted enough very (very) short stories to fill three books, with another in the works. My favorite is Margaret Atwood’s: “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”
But even more wonderful are those written by teens collected in I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets. Here are a few that I heart:
Hair’s pink to piss you off.
I fulfilled my awkwardness quota today.
My scars: Everybody stares. Nobody asks.
There’s something about paring your life down to six words that makes it more heartfelt and more honest. The exercise is challenging, yet liberating. It’s about making every word count and packing a punch in a small literary package. As for my story, here are a few thoughts:
Not exactly what I was expecting.
From Miami to Austin, so far.
Framed a picture. Changed my life.
Writing as fast as I can.
An anarchist in the knitting circle.
Everybody’s got a story to tell. What’s yours?
I admire poets and their spare, nimble way with words. Me? I’m not so crafty with iambic pentameter but give me the stricture that comes with a haiku (5-7-5) or a cinquain (a 5-line poem with specific rules about word choice or syllables), and I’m all over it. So you can imagine my “squee” when I came across this NPR blog post about Pi-ku in honor of Pi Day, celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th (get it? 3-14) A Pi-ku is like a haiku, only nerdier.* Ready to play?
First line: 3 syllables
Second line: 1 syllable
Third line: 4 syllables
On small cat feet
I know now
I thought I knew
Sweeter than “tweets.”
In a Pi-ku
*Full, embarrassing disclosure: This was the lame cheer we used to root for the MIT crew team during Up Chuck Weekend: Tangent, secant, cosine, sine, 3.14519!
Turns out that when you Build Your Own Pizza online with Dominos, you can choose from “meats” and, in an interesting turn-of-phrase, “unmeats.” Yep, rather than your expected veggies or non-meat, Dominos chose to go with unmeats. I love this word choice in a way that isn’t entirely rational. I mean, I should recoil at the “trying too hard to be hipness” of it all, but it made me smile. And I think that’s the point. Whatever you’re writing, it should be authentic, and sometimes that might mean making up a word or two.
I had a suite-mate in college, a free-spirited modern dancer who invented the word “limble”—a mash-up of flexible and limber. College is but a dim and distant memory, but I still remember Cindy’s uncanny ability to put a fresh spin on language. While there are plenty of new words (including “tweet” and “bromance”) that make me cringe, unmeats isn’t one of them. Neither is kinnearing, which is defined as “to take a candid photograph surreptitiously, especially by holding the camera low and out of the line of sight.” It was coined by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee of the Yarn Harlot blog when she attempted to take a photograph during an encounter with the actor Greg Kinnear at an airport.
So the next time you’re looking for just the right word, maybe it’s because it’s doesn’t exist yet. Go for it, and don’t be afraid to be limble with your word choice.
Apparently the Flower Drum Song soundtrack is being piped into the Dell marketing offices, because that’s the only explanation for their latest campaign for women. Their new website is named Della (get it? It’s Della, a girl’s name), and trust me, once you land on that page, it’s clear that they are targeting girly girls. At Della, it’s all about style, not substance. Their mini netbooks are “another cool gadget to compliment [sic] your lifestyle.” (Yes, to add insult to outrage, there’s a freakin’ grammatical error on the site.) The only problem with their strategy is that I don’t buy my computer based on whether it’s available in “Ice Blue” or “New Cherry Red.” Nor do I need “stylish sleeves” or accessories that combine “a laptop case and designer handbag into one exciting package.” Tech Tips touts tools to track workouts and map out running routes. It’s a good thing I don’t use my computer for business. Oh wait, I do.
Since the site launched last week, the consumer and media response has been blistering. To be fair, Dell has listened, and tweaked some of the content to be less fluff and more informative. Still, Della is a great case study on how not to market to women.
I, personally think that at the end of the day what really matters is that you give 110%. With all due respect, it’s not rocket science to come up with writing that’s fresh and original, or at the very least, fairly unique. Absolutely, it’s a nightmare to slog through writing that’s cliché-laden, and if you’ve managed to read this far, I’m amazed.
Last year, researchers at Oxford University compiled a list of the top ten annoying phrases (I crammed in seven of ‘em in the paragraph above) “At the end of the day” topped the list, and while it’s a worthy contender, I’ve got my own list of phrases that push me over the edge. Some are business jargon, some are trendy, and some are just plain wrong. Here you go:
1. A myriad of (It’s just “myriad,” I promise.)
2. My bad (Please, let’s retire this one.)
3. Basically (as in, “Basically, it doesn’t add anything to a sentence.”)
4. Hunker down (I come from the land of hurricanes, and this one gives me the willies.)
5. Think out of the box (I’m not in a box)
6. Are we on the same page? (… or in a book)
7. Touch base (… or on a baseball diamond)
8. Paradigm shift (Cringe-inducing marketing-speak)
9. Synergy (Double cringe)
10. When all is said and done (then why are you still talking?)
Let me start by saying that I don’t “do” video games. My 13-year-old can quote you chapter and verse about every old school system ever cranked out by Nintendo, Sega or Atari. Me? Not so much. Just put a game controller in my hand to witness the hilarity. That whole eye-hand coordination business? Highly overrated as far as I can tell. That’s why it was so stunning to me that I would become hopelessly addicted to Boomshine. Its premise couldn’t be simpler. You click on the bubbles in order to create a chain reaction. Each level you need to clear a specified number of bubbles. That’s pretty much it. The bubbles are colorful and floaty; the music relaxing. (My son derisively refers to it as a “casual” game.) So, what did I learn after hours online?
That sometimes, in Boomshine, as in life, you need to wait. Clicking madly without a strategy will get you nowhere. Watch and wait, and when the time is right, you’ll know it. That’s when the magic happens.
That making connections is really what it’s all about. Whether those links are personal or professional, chain reactions are immensely rewarding. (As the 1970s Faberge Organic Shampoo TV commercial intones: “you’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”)
Creativity can come from the most unexpected sources. Sometimes when you step away from the work, and give yourself permission to play, you may be surprised at what it triggers.
*With apologies to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee