Great Design Is No Longer a Luxury

In some circles, great design is still considered a luxury. But more often than not, this idea is a fatal flaw for a brand.
Today’s consumer has sophisticated visual tastes created by the most creative communicators in the world. Their reference point for this is not just your competitors—it’s every message they get from any industry.
This is why great design is actually a brand differentiator. Great design provides instant visual cues about your brand that affiliate it with other brands familiar to the viewer—allowing them to decide in as little as a second if they want to further engage with you. The more oversaturated people are with information, the more they rely on these cues as short cuts for adjudicating a product or service. It’s simply an efficient way of navigating information.
Here are some common mistakes brands make when they don’t embrace this important truth:

  • Spend heavily on a media buy, but use so-so stock images and design that send the viewer packing after one look.
  • Spend millions on a new building and cheap out on photography. A top-drawer architectural photographer will bring a wow to your image that will pay off handsomely.
  • Invest in new technology or services, then depict them on a visually inferior website.

It’s better to go with less in other areas than to settle for also-ran design.

Four Things Every Communicator Should Know About Preventing Employee Burnout

According to The Energy Project, the way we shape our workforce often works against our business goals. Humans, they say, have four core goals at work:

  1. Physical health
  2. Emotional happiness
  3. Mental focus
  4. Spiritual purpose

Attending to these creates some rather significant improvement in employee loyalty, life satisfaction, positive energy and engagement. Read that again if you missed it. These are what every employer wants more of.
And this is where you, the communicator, can help lead your organization to a better place. The messages you create can help connect your employees to purposes greater than themselves.
Southwest Airlines understands this, as you’ll see in this video. Grab your tissues and take some time to see how masterfully they help employees connect to their purpose.
We don’t really need a study to tell us this, do we? We know, ourselves, that when we align with a cause that we care about, we experience more energy.
So here’s our challenge for you today. How much of your time as a communicator is committed to keeping your employees energized by purpose?

Who Doesn’t Love a Baby Video?

We chose each element of this maternity services video—the voice, the script, the visual look, the music, the animation effects and the custom baby photos shot by our partner, Tami Wilson—to depict the extra attentiveness our client brings to their patients.
Within the first few days of posting the video on their Facebook page, it had more than 2,000 views.
What ways have you used to incorporate videos and photos into your social media strategy to increase engagement?

5 Deadly Money-Saving Ways to Kill Your Next Ad Campaign

See the difference a professional shot makes. Top photo: We called in a pro. Bottom photo: They should have called in a pro.

Advertising has to work on every level. For many, it will be the only impression of your company or service that the consumer gets—or at least their first impression. So make the effort and investment you put into your message commensurate with the investment you’ve put into your product or service. Often times, companies will hire architects and designers for a new facility, for example, but fail to represent it accurately by saving money on the marketing. They’ll hire and train great people to deliver a good experience, but never connect them with the public due to low quality advertising.
So don’t do it. Avoid these 5 deadly money-saving ways to kill an ad campaign:

  1.  “We saw a campaign we liked somewhere else that we’d like to copy.” Even if it were ethical to “borrow” creative, for the campaign to work everything about their market and your market would need to be the same—demographics, your own organization’s reputation, your ability to deliver on the promise, attitudes and culture.
  2. “We’ll take the pictures ourselves.” Unless you have a professional photographer on staff, this can be a costly mistake. We called in one of our pros to shoot the photo above to move the needle on the “Wow” factor using a myriad of technical and other tricks that could never be reproduced by an amateur. That photo projects a level of excellence for the urgent care center that can’t be put into words. You want to go there even before you read the copy.
  3. “We can’t afford a professional designer.” Companies will spend thousands of dollars on the media buy but cheat the very message by lackluster, unprofessional or simply ineffective design. Before making this decision, ask how much you’ve already invested in the product or service, and whether this relatively small investment in good design will reflect the image you’re looking for.
  4. “We can’t afford a professional writer.” There are all kinds of writers, and they differ in the same way there are all kinds of balls—footballs, golf balls, ball bearings—you name it. They are not interchangeable any more than a copywriter or a technical writer is. Good copy writers know how to get and keep the reader’s attention, and most importantly, how to sell.
  5. “We can’t afford research.” Unless you’re sure you understand the mind of your target audience, this is like buying a plane ticket to a destination without specifying the destination. Underlying any kind of creative are assumptions that, if wrong, will decimate your campaign.

If budgets are too tight, we’d recommend doing less, but doing it better. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Persuade Shareholders

An annual report is one of a company’s most vital communication tools. The colors, design and images in your annual report should all support your key messages—and should inspire confidence among shareholders and readers alike.

Not sure if your annual report is living up to its full potential?

  • See how it compares visually to your top competitors’ annual reports.

  • Grade your photos. If that’s all the readers see, what would they think about your company?

  • Browse it. If you read only pictures, captions, subheads and headlines, what will you know about your organization?

Need some inspiration? >>  

Dress up your presentation in style to convey confidence and success, like this package we helped develop for a CEO’s presentation at their annual shareholder’s meeting. Energetic colors, bold design and a mix of media—to keep the presentation alive—tell the company’s story and build support.

Presentation Video

2013 Annual Report


Investor Capacity Folder

Investor PowerPoint Presentation

Recognize Employees

Recognition is one of the top things employees want in a job—yet too often it’s far too scarce. Yet watch any sport on TV and see how the immediate response of the crowd affects the players.

Recognition not only helps job satisfaction, but it acts as a rudder—steering the organization in its desired direction. Employees focus on what is rewarded and celebrated.

So how can you communicate recognition better in the workplace?

  • Make personal communication specific, like this: “Your ability to bring disparate ideas together really made that meeting a success.”
  • Make it more frequent.
  • Recognize people in front of their peers.
  • Send a note to the person’s boss, and copy them in.
  • Use a picture of them in a corporate communication.

 Need some inspiration? >>

This video celebrates the work of a hospital’s volunteers with photos of them at work. It’s an easy and fast way to say thank you to the people who make your organization successful—and it also can be used in recruiting, to give prospects a sense of your organization.

By showcasing employees talking about what it means to work at their organization, this video recognizes their employees, physicians and volunteers.

Put Your Walls to Work for You

Invest in your culture by using your own facility to deliver stories, iconography and imagery that supports your mission. There’s no media buy—and it takes advantage of free and well-trafficked real estate that reaches visitors and employees.

We worked with Walla Walla University to develop this wall feature that puts faces on their mission and celebrates generations of student life on campus. Photos from today and yesterday draw the viewers in to shared student experiences that depict the vital spirit of this organization.
Wall displays aren’t just for museums. Where else have you seen these used effectively?

Photo Wednesday: Need Some Inspiration?

Natural light. Little boys. Animals. A rural farm. All of these add up to wonder in these images by a Russian mother, who imaginatively plays with light as she captures daily life. These pictures take us into the magic of essential beauty and love around us—the warm companionship of a boy and his dog, the interplay between a child and his rabbit or the stark beauty of a winter scape.

So go there just for a few minutes with us today. What in the ordinary happenings of life are occurring around you today? And how is beauty entering into your life?

Image Source: Flicker:  Elena Shumilova

Image Source: Flicker: Elena Shumilova

Can Good Photos Be a Competitive Advantage?

Absolutely. And with the tremendous growth in photo sharing, businesses should be looking for ways to make photos a competitive advantage.

Here’s what the data shows:


Not ready for Pinterest or Snapchat? Then check out your website, as a starting place, to see if your photos are reason to visit.

Image Source: Published May 2013

Is Your Hero Photo Really a Hero?

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Your website home page is your new front door. For many organizations, it’s the first impression of your brand, and for some online businesses, it’s the only impression.

So stop by your own home page and ask yourself whether your main photo is doing its heroic work of presenting the brand attributes your company lives by.

If your organization is one of those who feels that pictures are a luxury—rather than one of the most critical online Web brand assets—then invite your budget decision-makers to cruise through this site that shows hero photos living up to their names.

Image Source:

The One Big Change You Should Make in 2013

Whether or not you’re using Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube, know this: the customers you’re competing for have developed very sophisticated appetites for images.

Your competition now isn’t just your industry competition, but every visual image from every source a customer is exposed to. So regardless of where you’re telling your company’s story, if you’re using so-so images, you’re going to lose to those who aren’t.

If you’re in a business where more people will visit your website than your actual facility, then put your resources into great—not just good—photos. According to Veer, online articles with a photo of any kind get 70% more clicks than those without. And a great photo will not only increase response but elevate the stature of your company.

This does require a change in thought—and professional communicators need to make the case for exceptional photography to their executives and those who allocate budgets. A simple tour through some “best in class” websites might help you make the case. You can also liken the investment in images to an investment in architectural and interior design—though it’s much less expensive. Or in other words, if you care about your front entrance, then you should care about your images.

Check out a few ideas here.

Image Source:

Five Reasons You Absolutely Must Budget for Better Pictures

Despite the fact that first impressions of a brand are now often made online rather than in person, we’re surprised to see how many companies are still relying on tired, poor quality images to represent their brand. 

Many organizations hire talented architects and product designers to create places or products with visual appeal—then fail to use photographs that live up to their brand, even though it would cost a fraction of what they’ve invested in the product.

If you’re not budgeting for professional photos—relying instead on images taken by amateurs—you’re putting your brand at risk.  Here’s what good pictures can do for you:

  1. Photos are efficient communicators. Because we want to get our information in the fastest way possible, we rely on photos to say in seconds what countless words could never say.

  2. Images are more memorable. A powerful image will stay with you long after the words have exited your mind.

  3. Images are provocative. Great ones can evoke emotional responses that move us to take action—and almost always impact our view of a brand.

  4. Photos can reduce complexity. If what you’re trying to say is complicated, showing a good image can simplify it.

  5. Photos allow us to envision being part of the brand story. We can see ourselves eating the food, experiencing the cruise, wearing the shoes or using the technology.

Make great photos the center of your brand’s visual story—and see how your brand will benefit.

Image Source:

How to Stretch Your Photo Budget

We'll give this a C grade. Lots of busy details detract from its message.

We'll give this an A. Strong focal point, good composition, professional.

Think you can’t afford professional photography? Here are some ways to stretch your budget:

  1. Consider hiring a photographer with a journalistic background who can shoot candids that are compelling. These require less set-up, thereby reducing cost, and add an air of authenticity to your images.

  2. Set up a one- or two-day shoot that attempts to capture a variety of images that can be used in a many ways. These digital assets can be cropped differently, treated differently, and used in different applications—while still giving your organization a professional image.

  3. Mix stock images with custom images to create a high quality piece. If you select images with similar characteristics and lighting, you can give the illusion of using all-custom images.

  4. Negotiate a price that includes full use rights when you do hire a professional photographer. This will ensure that you can use them in various applications.

  5. Plan to update your library every two years to ensure that you have fresh, high quality images with which to work.

Photos create a far more powerful first impression than words. Remember that although you can’t quantify it, there’s a cost to your organization when it appears unprofessional, careless, second rate or outdated because of poor images.

Image 1 source, Image 2 source

Good Photos Are a Marketer's Secret Weapon

Photos say things words cannot.

In the examples here, the photos say professional or unprofessional, friendly or distant, engaged or posed. We see far too many bad pictures in general—photos that actually detract from the kind of message the organization is trying to convey.

Why is this? Well, often it's a matter of vision. Marketers who understand the power of a good photo budget for a professionally-taken collection with which to work. In the same way that hiring the right architect can make all the difference in a first impression for your building, hiring the right photographer can make all the difference in a first impression for your company.

Anyone can take a photo, but it takes a skilled professional to make a photo tell a compelling story—and do it in a way that reflects handsomely on your organization. The black and white photos below were taken for our client St. Anthony North Hospital by one of our partner photographers (we have a small group of hand-picked, top-drawer photographers in the markets where we regularly do work).

Some believe that professional photography is too expensive, but we say that amateur photography actually costs the organization too much in terms of image.

There are ways to get the most from your photography budget, and we'll talk more about that in a future post. But professional photography is an absolute necessity for any organization attentive to their public image.

So now let's hear from you. Based on the pictures below, what kind of impressions do have about the organizations represented?

On Location and Behind the Scenes

In the photo above, our Colorado-based video crew gets one of the interviewees ready for our shoot last week at St. Anthony Hospital North near Denver. The day-long shoot will result in a series of videos that will serve as part of a campaign to celebrate the hospital’s 40-year anniversary.

What happens behind the scenes is so important, and makes the difference between a quality production and an average production.

Here, our make-up artist is putting the finishing make-up touches on before the camera rolls. A good make-up artist plays two roles—creating a natural, healthy on-camera look, and helping the interviewees start to feel comfortable before their shoot. We look for experience, good interpersonal skills (our artist in Colorado has worked on everyone from President Obama to models), and the ability to work without becoming intrusive.

At this shoot, our videographer attends to the details that ensure quality, while our producer conducts the interviews. Both have decades of experience at this, and know exactly the elements required to capture real people in ways that are compelling, believable, and professional.

Conducting the interview is one of the most important roles, as this person plays part psychologist and part producer. It’s an art to get ordinary people to be not only believable, but real and professional on camera. For this kind of interview, we want to capture what the people most care about—so while we invite them to think about some specific questions before hand, we never want them to come prepared with a memorized script. It’s just too hard for people who don’t do this for a living to make it heart-felt and real.

Our producer is not only mindful of the message and emotional tone as he interviews, but is also coaching them on phrasing and thinking about how all of the strands of the interview will come together in the final edited piece—all the while keeping the shoot on schedule.

It's important to us that our crew always is attentive to the demands of the location and the industry—quiet, professional, and able to represent our client well.

We love working in this medium, and have introduced some new methods of making this kind of production much more affordable for our clients. We anticipate much of our work in the future to be in video, and have developed the internal framework to make this a central part of the services we offer.

Stay tuned for more on this campaign that launches in May.

Client’s Annual Report Makes Top 50 List and Garners Platinum Award

Key Technology’s 2010 annual report has been listed in the top 50 winners gallery in the 2009-2010 international LACP Visions Awards Annual Report Competition.

Other winners included companies like Cisco Systems, Munich Airport, Monsanto India, Office Depot Foundation, Direct TV, Xerox and Whirlpool.

The report also garnered the Platinum Award—the highest of four awards offered in each category—for annual reports in its industry. A panel of professional judges scored the project on eight aspects ranging from first impressions to message clarity.

The photo of the executive team, above, appears inside the report and mirrors the cover theme that evokes freshness, purity and quality—all outcomes that Key's product line helps achieve.

We have worked with Key Technology on their annual reports for more than a decade, and must say that they know how to inspire good work. We love helping to tell the story of this innovative, forward-thinking international company.

More than 4,400 entries representing 25 countries were received. LACP is the League of American Communications Professionals that helps promote best-in-class practices in communications.

Beware the Nasty Mug Shot in Your Ads

Think you're saving money by using a photo in your ad that was taken by your personnel department—or someone else in the organization who fancies himself a photographer? We'd suggest you can the ad altogether if you can't produce a good, professional-quality picture.

Whenever you're promoting a professional service, a strong photo of the right kind is imperative. We've seen too many similar ads where the  photo looks like a passport photo or police mug shot—conveying him or her as lifeless, unengaged, unprofessional and even incompetent.

By contrast, the images used in these two ads capture the vibrancy and personality of these physicians. They invite you to trust them with your health, and are warm without being overly chummy.

When we work with health care clients, we insist that physicians wear uniforms or lab coats—sometimes to great resistance. In the same way the public expects a police officer, military personnel or airline captains to be in uniform, they still want to see evidence of this professionalism in the apparel worn by health care providers. If you're inclined to disagree, ask yourself how you'd feel boarding an airplane with staff wearing jeans and polo shorts—or worse yet, t-shirts.