There's No Such Thing as Good Writing

Only good rewriting.

One of my college writing professors drilled this into our heads, and I confess it’s one of the few lines I remember from that class. But it has served me well in times of writing—especially when writing ad copy, where the allocated space is so spare. Every word simply must do its job. Every nuance has to be considered. We often have full-on discussions about a single word or phrase.

Did they clamor or bellow? Was it disturbing or agitating? Did he flinch or recoil?  See how each word has a slightly different meaning?

Writing isn’t unlike gardening, for those of you warm to that metaphor. It takes patience, tending, and lots of weeding (sometimes even replanting). It’s also like cooking. It often has to marinate to get the full flavor.

So don’t be discouraged if the first words out aren’t show-stoppers. They rarely are. But they often give birth to the perfect word, given time and effort. And that’s the difference between ordinary writing and great writing.

A New Year's Prayer

We are grateful to you—our clients and our readers—for inspiring us, teaching us, and exploring the world of ideas with us on our blog.

In the spirit of the season, we offer you this New Year's Prayer for a more compassionate world—and our commitment to strive to do our part in making it such.

We wish each of you the joy of the season, and a new year marked by good health, hope and peace for you and yours.

Client Showcase: An E-card That Makes a Statement

A simple way to distinguish your company is to say farewell to those tedious pre-printed holiday cards and create something customized. This is the time for the little black dress, not the standard pantsuit, if you want people to see your firm as innovative and successful.

The law firm of Gresham Savage hired us to develop their annual holiday e-card, which gave us a great opportunity to tie their centennial year messages in to their holiday message.

While an e-card isn't the place for overt selling, it definitely leaves an impression about your company. In this case, we wanted to link the history of the firm to the history of the community—deepening their bonds and thanking the community for their role in this milestone.

People like to be thanked, and the holidays are a perfect time to not only do this, but create a classy, distinctive piece for your firm that sets it apart. Plan now to make an e-card part of your company's social media strategy next year.

Who's to say what's impossible?

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advancing.” —Orville Wright

Today we commemorate the first successful flights near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in a heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled airplane that was made by Orville and Wilbur Wright on December 17, 1903. May all your dreams find wings.

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Advertising Savvy: Avoid Visual Clutter

Before leaving the house, a lady should stop, look in the mirror, and remove one piece of jewelry.
— Coco Chanel

The single most common mistake in visual advertising is clutter, and when it comes to advertising, less is more. If there are aspects of your design that aren't absolutely essential to delivering the message, get rid of them. Chaotic, overworked ads will never be read.

This ad for children's martial arts classes is a visual assault that tries to incorporate a patterned background, photographs of children, numerous type fonts, building block illustrations, a headline, bullet list, call to action, company name, phone number and url.

Now compare that to this simple, benefit-driven message done by Banda, Bulgaria. It features only a simple background and illustration, a three-word headline and the company logo.

What do your colors say about you?

Do you want to convey power? Innovation? Leadership? Success? Whatever your message, color will contribute to the impression. Color—Messages and Meanings, is a great book from Pantone’s color resource collection that can inform your choices. A lovely little book filled with colors, color combinations, moods, visuals, designs and ideas, it sparks reactions, starts dialogue, and fuels creativity. Get your copy here.

Client Showcase: Hawaii's Largest Health Plan Takes its Story to the People

When HMSA, Hawaii’s largest provider of health care coverage, contacted CMBell Company, they were looking to create an attitude shift regarding their innovative new health care initiatives. We work with them to develop a Power Point presentation that would be delivered at public forums by their capable senior vice president.

To paint the vision for their initiative, we created a fictional character and walked her through the present—and proposed—health system to bring their plan to life. The presentation, they report, has been effective both in terms of getting their message out to the business community and in influencing their intended providers.

The successful combination of a compelling story, presented in person by a credible speaker, can sometimes yield big results for a company. For some situations, nothing compares to face-to-face communication.

Client Showcase: A Direct Mail Piece That Won't Be Ignored

For their 100 year anniversary, the law firm of Gresham Savage wanted a direct mail piece for community leaders, clients and prospective clients that would make an unforgettable statement about their firm’s legacy. For this, we worked with them to create a handsome gift box that paired a brochure with a Gresham Savage pen and five custom-developed note cards that featured historical images of their community.

This allowed us to not only tell their story but to acknowledge the role their community has played in reaching this milestone. The vintage note cards showcase local sites and leave the recipient with a handsome collection of cards and envelopes to use as they see fit. It isn’t often that a direct mail piece delivers something of value to the recipient, but when it does, you can guarantee a higher level of impact.

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.

You Can Be Indispensible

Ever notice how easy it is for all of us to see all that is wrong with the world? Anyone can point out problems, but it's the one who brings solutions to their organizations that stands out.

You will be surprised how quickly you can distinguish yourself by observing this one simple rule. By seeing and addressing the strategic issues that impact the success and future of the organization, you can establish yourself as a visionary, a leader and a valuable member of the team.

More often than not this requires more persistence and positive attitude than it does brilliance. As Albert Einstein once said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

Good Ad/Bad Ad: Don't Make Your Reader Work Too Hard

Ads that work don't make consumers work hard to get their point. If it takes more than a second or two to figure out, most of us will move on unless we're highly engaged in the topic.

Even if you can't afford a formal research project, you can test for this by running your ad by people (more than one) who know nothing about the topic. Make them do a walk-by and ask them what the ad is for, whether they remember the name, and what they could do if they wanted to buy the product or service (is a call to action evident).

Here are two examples of a similar message—one that's effective, and one that isn't. The first billboard:

  1. Is too busy—impossible to read it all while flying down the freeway—so some key messages will be lost.
  2. Doesn't immediately telegraph the problem that I can relate to—a need to lose weight.
  3. Buries the potentially relevant "judgment free zone" message in fussy, small type.

In the example below, by The Johnson Group, the message is both simple and clear. Most of us can relate to the bulge, and the tipped angle of the board cleverly reinforces the overweight message. A URL might have been a nice addition, if it were available—but fortunately, the fitness center's name is dominant enough to remember—and to search for online later, when one has the chance.

Social Media: Can we make it easy, please?

Like most everyone else in this field, I’m still observing, analyzing and sorting through the ideas I read about how to use social media effectively.

One truth seems to be emerging, however. Social media is about creating relationships—not “talking to” or “talking at.” And there are no quick fixes for doing this.

Just like creating face-to-face relationships, these virtual relationships are built over time as two parties assess one another and decide if there’s a match. There’s no value in doing the peacock act—trying to look bigger or better than you are—because ultimately people get to the truth about us or our businesses by observing what we do—not just what we say. It calls us to pay as much attention to who we are becoming as people or as organizations as it does to crafting a message. And that's a tall order.

So the answer to my question—can we make social media easy—is no. We can’t. It’s even less about fluff and posturing and self-promotion than the more traditional forms of advertising or communication, because it opens the conversation up to the crowd, who is now able to collectively pool their observations about our company or product. And it's more like one-on-one relationship, that demands more than sanitized PR messages—and wants something of value.

There is no substitute for substance. Care about your work, your clients or customers, and then talk with and listen to them. Social media is a great tool—but it is only that, the tool. It is not the message, nor is it the deliverables. But it holds great promise for a new kind of truer, two-sided relationships and evaluation of our products and services. And I like that.

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Freedom Isn't Free

I recently came back from visiting Washington, DC, where I spent some time at Arlington Cemetery. One cannot visit this sacred place without a renewed sense of the great price of freedom.

As I stood quietly overlooking that sea of graves, I had an even deeper sense of gratitude for the great sacrifice made by those who have given their lives for this country—as well as those who are presently in active service and in harms way.

I invite you to join CMBell Company in saluting our veterans not just on Veterans Day, but every day. May we live in a way honors their service.

Reaching the 18- to 29-Year-Old

In John Zogby's fascinating book,

The Way We'll Be

, he offers insights into how 18- to 29-year-olds think:

  • They care about more than just themselves—contrary to how they've been depicted
  • They celebrate diversity—and expect marketers to realize that
  • They think and buy globally, and travel extensively
  • Just about everything in their lives is public, and they're far more comfortable with this lack of privacy than their parents
  • Their space is the Internet—and they're easily accessible through social media

Whatever your business, you'll likely need to be talking with (not to) this demographic. Zogby helps start the interesting and relevant conversation about how best to engage them.

Source: The Way We'll Be, John Zogby. Buy it here.

Color Psychology: The Facts About Black

"Black is beautiful." —Huey Newton

Black will always have a presence, not only in the world of fashion, but in all design disciplines. Adding black to a color or design adds impact, depth, weight, substance and even subtlety.

Black wields a strong presence and is perceived as powerful, stylish, contained, modern and yet classic.

Of course, black is often an accent color that takes on variations in meaning based on the color with which it is paired. As you choose black in your design, consider the moods it conveys: power, elegance, sophistication, boldness, mystery, strength, luxury, magic, darkness, seriousness or prestige.

Use black whenever you want to convey these attributes, but remember that quantity and context can influence the overall impact.


Advertising Savvy: Use Visuals that Work

Although ads don't require visuals, research has shown that 70% of viewers will look only at the visual in the ad, where only 30% will read the headline.

Of course, the quality of the visual will also determine who stops to read the ad. Photographs tend to have a higher impact than illustrations. This might be because viewers can relate more to the realism of photography than the conceptual nature of an illustration.

Whether you choose photography or illustration, make sure that your visuals are captivating and arresting. They will make all the difference in getting your ad the attention it deserves.

Lets take a look at two similar ads that promote giving the gift of higher education. The first is quite text-heavy and relies on a rather pedestrian graphic. Which one is more likely to get your attention?

The second, by Red Square Agency, is nearly all graphic, but conveys the message much more clearly.

Let's have an open house!

The good is often the enemy of the great. Consider the special event, for example. Very often, event planning uses extensive internal labor resources while producing returns that don't merit the cost. Since labor costs are often hidden, many times the event's true costs are not identified.

When determining if an event is a good marketing investment, begin by adding up the cost of the promotion, the event expenses, the hours staff spent to organize it (including support departments like maintenance and food service). Then ask what value it brings to the organization. Does it recruit new customers? Change consumer perception about a critical service or product? Does it create the desired goodwill among the right audience?

If the same resources were used for direct sales calls, would the impact on the institution be greater? With time at a premium, make sure that your efforts are focused on enhancing revenue and improving the organization’s image with the largest, most influential groups. And remember that choosing to do one thing always means that you are choosing not to do another.