Do It for the Grammar: Four Commonly Broken Rules

Do It for the Grammar: Four Commonly Broken Rules

Words are hard, and the struggle is real. As the company proofreader, I see a lot of syntactical mistakes. Some of them make me cringe, others make me laugh, but all are likely avoidable. Now, I can’t say when it comes to our lexicon I’m perfect, because I’m human. I do make the occasional mistake myself. But, the following are the mistakes I see most often.

1. Subject-verb agreement

Incorrect: An important part of my life have been the people who stood by me.
Correct: The people who stood by me have been important parts of my life.

We should all know, by now, that “is” is singular and “are” is plural. Simple, right? Wrong. You’d really be surprised by the amount of times this actually gets overlooked by writers when sentences start to get more complex. I know it’s not intentional (assuming you passed 2nd grade).  

2. Sentence Fragments/Incomplete Sentences

Incorrect: The best thing I’ve seen all day.
Correct: This is the best thing I’ve seen all day.

This is probably the most common mistake I see. It might seem cool and all existential to break up sentences, but in formal writing, I’ll assuredly mark it.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I think sentence fragments and incomplete sentences do have their place. Heck, look at Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, E.M. Forster; they all did it. However, if you’re name isn’t well-known in the English (or Advertising) canon, I suggest you stick to the rules.

3. Missing Comma After Introductory Element

Incorrect: Before she had time to think about it Sharon jumped into the icy pool.
Correct: Before she had time to think about it, Sharon jumped into the icy pool.

This one is probably the thing that least gets my goat. While I’m a huge proponent of using commas in the proper places, especially after introductory elements, I don’t get up in arms about it because commas aren’t always necessary. In fact, an overuse of commas is a huge pet peeve of mine—don’t even get me started debating the Oxford/serial comma. If you’re a copywriter or know anything about our lexicon, you know what I’m talking about.

4. Misusing the Apostrophe With “Its”

Incorrect: I don’t believe its finally Friday.
Correct: I don’t believe it’s finally Friday.

At this stage in the game, we should all know the difference between “its” and “it’s.” If you don’t…I feel like I need to apologize for your school system because it completely failed you. You may find yourself writing something like, “its easier for you than it is for me,” but please, save me the headache. If you’re unsure, just replace “it is” and see if it makes sense. That’s a surefire way to keep me from going to town on your project with my pen.

I haven’t listed many mistakes here, but, like I said, these are the ones I see most often. And that’s not to disparage any of our copywriters; they’re all awesome! But I know when you get going, grammar and spelling are probably the last things on your mind. My suggestion is to take a minute and re-read. Trust me, my red ink and sanity will thank you.

Solid Strategy Sparks Surprising Success

Solid Strategy Sparks Surprising Success

We recently had the opportunity to create, launch and sustain a holistic gamification strategy for more than 2,300 hospitality leaders during a three-day conference. The results? An actively engaged group of attendees and lessons in the beauty of strategy and embracing organic growth, especially when it takes on a life of its own. 

Lesson No. 1: Strategy wins.

In keeping the audience at the center of our universe, we knew hotel leaders care most about connecting with people. No way could we put a winning strategy in place that was rigid or complex. Also, let’s be real. They’re at a conference; there’s a lot going on.

So, we developed a strategy that gave attendees ownership and choice. Every action tied back to client objectives and coordinated with activities happening at conference (a.k.a. real life). Attendees could play all or some of the game elements to offer an opportunity for anyone to genuinely engage.

Why? Because we knew that’s what would work for this audience. And it did.

Lesson No. 2: There’s a reason they call it organic growth.

Honestly, it’s hard to predict success even if you check all the right strategic boxes, especially in this setting. At best, our expectation was about 50 percent engagement. Getting half the group to “play along” wouldn’t be bad. Turns out, engagement numbers grew beyond that, landing upwards of 80+ percent — which was exciting and scary. Attendees were engaging 24/7 about every aspect of conference.

There was a myriad of friendly competition. One group decided to meet up (in person) for drinks at conference, dubbing themselves the #originalleaderboard. Players evolved the game rules, which was cool with us. Our team even had to make some on-the-fly adjustments to our own execution tactics.

The organic growth was awesome, but it really took on an uncontrollable life of its own — so much so that an unexpected lesson emerged.

Lesson No. 1 (again), Version 2.0: Strategy still wins.

There’s a certain level of humility that comes with admitting the fact that you didn’t know your strategy was going to result in such an enthusiastic response. Fortunately, the framework in place herded the unexpected growth in a positive direction. Case in point for the power of strategy. All personalities had a chance to participate and engage in the app and, ultimately, conference. That’s a win for the client.

Buying Time… for an Interview?

Buying Time… for an Interview?

Advertising vs. Public Relations.  Advertorial content vs. editorial coverage. Any second-year journalism, public relations, advertising, communications, or business major can tell you the difference.

Traditional social media and blogs have blurred this line a bit in the past decade with sponsored content showing up in places like BuzzFeed or mom bloggers being asked to review products sent to them for free.  We, in the public relations industry, have come to expect this and most outlets cite when content has been “paid for” or “sponsored by” a third-party company. This is similar to the long-standing practice of print advertorials in newspapers and magazines, or on a larger, more obvious scale, infomercials on TV.

For me, those opportunities feel lazy and uncreative as your sole source of public relations coverage. In the public relations world, it’s not simple or easy to gain coverage for clients. We work with the client to fully understand their offering. We develop a researched media list to target, which reporters have covered a topic recently and as it relates to the client offerings.

Imagine my surprise when a television station I’ve been working with for a decade proposed that I pay for a client interview on their morning show — not a commercial, not an infomercial, but a standard interview —that isn’t identified as paid content until a screenshot at the end of the segment. Like many news and lifestyle programs, this show occasionally has cooking segments for which I proposed a quick, healthy snack recipe segment provided by a popular local restaurant. I was told that I’d have to pay for such coverage.

When I probed about what would be free content and what would be charged content in the future, I was left unclear about where the line was drawn. For example: a doctor talking about a public health issue is paid content now? What about a CPA advising viewers about new tax filing information? Or an educator counseling parents about when open enrollment starts to make sure students are registered for classes?

The viewing public relies on news to provide unbiased advice and expertise. Now that these segments are ‘pay to play,’ the unbiased factor is seemingly nonexistent. Providing a public service is now secondary to making a profit.

This feels wrong, right? Unethical? Immoral? Possibly illegal by FCC standards? (I didn’t dig into the research on it, but perhaps I will).

What do you think? Have you experienced something similar? I’m curious if this is how local TV stations are going to make up for lost revenue or if my experience was just a one-off with a specific TV station. Let me know your thoughts.

Pepsi, You Got the Wrong One, Baby

Pepsi, You Got the Wrong One, Baby

This week, Pepsi unveiled its “Moments” campaign and a submission to the “How On Earth Did THAT Get Approved” Hall of Fame with an ad featuring model Kendall Jenner. In the two-and-a-half-minute spot, Kendall abandons a high-fashion photo shoot to join a protest after making eye contact with an attractive protester, who had just ditched his cello performance to join the movement.

Had it ended right there, it would have seemed like opportunistic pandering. However, Kendall then hands a police officer a Pepsi, to the cheers of the crowd. The protest appears to dissolve into a party. Hey, maybe Pepsi is OK!

In a release, Pepsi says the spot “captures the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment. It features multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.”

The ad has since been pulled following overwhelmingly negative reactions decrying it as tone-deaf at best. At worst, it appropriates and trivializes the Resistance movement to peddle soda. Whether or not the campaign accomplishes its objective — “something something millennials,” presumably — it’s a cautionary tale for brands hoping to mine the zeitgeist to sell their products.

A few takeaways:

The Value of an Agency

As much as we lament the client approval process in the moment, the cycle of pitching and presenting and revising helps to safeguard against incidents like these. Creators League, Pepsi’s in-house content studio, is a bold idea. But in all the meetings that must have taken place, did no one speak up and say, “Guys, this might be a bad look?” Immersion is a benefit of staying in-house, but working with an agency creates a distance that’s often necessary.

No Budget Is Immune

Next time I think, “Man, if we just had a little more to work with…” I’ll remind myself that Pepsi has piles and piles of money to spend on research and planning and concepting and talent and testing and so on. It still wasn’t enough, because this ad saw the light of day.

Know the Past and Present

Whether by intention or coincidence, the ad evokes an iconic image from demonstrations in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling. Debuting it on the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. adds another layer of “What were they thinking?” In addition to creativity and technical skill, cultural awareness and general knowledge are essential assets. A little intellectual curiosity might save you from a big backlash.

Lights, Camera, Cupcakes!

Lights, Camera, Cupcakes!

Over the years, we have encountered a variety of photography work involving food, reaching well beyond the brunch photos your cousin keeps posting on Instagram. And like your cousin, you may be thinking, “the food is an inanimate object so how hard can it be to photograph?” Think about the sizzling hamburger or the steaming cup of coffee you see on TV or in a magazine. A lot of work went into making the food or beverage appealing enough to make you look twice.

Here are tips we’ve found that help when planning a food photo shoot.

  1. Source existing imagery that inspires you. Create a mood board to capture the overall look and feel you are going for and make sure this style fits within the brand you are shooting. Photos you compile for the mood board can convey the type of lighting, composition and style of supporting props you wish to capture.
  2. Find a photographer you feel is a perfect match for that project and share the mood board with them. This is a good conversation starter to discuss the style you are wanting to achieve, as well as open the dialogue for the photographer’s input on what they can bring to the table to make the photography unique and captivating.
  3. If the budget allows, hire a food stylist. Food stylists use their culinary and artistic skills to make everything look tasty and fresh. Plus, they come with a bag full of tricks to make hard-to-photograph foods look delectable. Did you know sprinkling a bit of salt into a nearly flat beer helps pull the remaining carbonation out to give you a head again? This is a great trick for capturing that just poured, refreshing beverage.
  4. Composition is key. This lets the food tell a story. Is it a celebration? A specific season? Does it need to evoke a feeling of home? Ask yourself what story are you trying to tell. Use props that help tell this story, but use them as supporting players and keep the food the main star.

Like any photography session, make sure you walk away with a large selection of photos to select from. You’ll want to make the most of your session with a new selection of photos for print ads, social media, brochures and presentations.

Happy snapping!  

Brand Bracketology

Brand Bracketology

Even if you don’t watch or care about basketball or college sports in general, the NCAA Tournament is impossible to avoid. The Cinderella stories, the come-from-behind victories, and the buzzer-beating excitement are enough to soften even a hardcore nihilist’s heart. One of the most inclusive aspects of tournament time, though, is the tradition of filling out a bracket.

This exercise requires zero prior knowledge. Even savvy hoops junkies have to guess a little. Some people pick teams based on which coach is more attractive or whose mascot is more menacing. Choosing is just… fun. That’s why bracket-style tournaments are a content marketing win.       

Brackets allow brands to participate in a trending conversation – even if it’s not quite relevant.

Why should the sports bros have all the fun? This isn’t high school, dangit!  An online magazine with headlines like “The Long Tail of The Attica Prison Riot” doesn’t seem like a place you’d find a tournament bracket. But The Morning News has presented its annual Tournament of Books since 2004. Indie bookstore Powell’s and Field Notes, a company known for its “vintage-styled pocket notebooks” sponsor the tournament, in which the year’s best novels go head-to-head. The ToB’s lasting success proves it’s possible to remain on brand while jumping on the bracket bandwagon.  This year, a potential way-too-soon matchup between The Mothers and top seed The Underground Railroad has me just as riled up as North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA fighting their way through the South Region.

It’s an easy way to avoid trademark trouble.

As with the Super Bowl, the Olympics and other big-money major sporting events, most tourney terminology is trademarked. The names of every round (Sweet 16, etc), “The Road to (insert championship host city),” and even “Dribble” for some reason require approval from the NCAA (which, incidentally, is also trademarked).

You know what’s not trademarked, though? Treat Sixteen, the name of an Easter candy bracket we created for a retail client. Or “March Catness.” Or “Beer of the Year.” Or any other name that doesn’t involve wordplay or cute stylistic devices.  

It generates engagement.

People have strong opinions about, well, everything. Check out this chicken tender tournament:

Fire the entire Chicken Tender Selection Committee. Whoever created this bracket should be disqualified for life due to an obvious unfamiliarity with Raising Cane’s entire body of work. 12 seed? That’s a tragedy. A TRAGEDY. If you disagree, you are insane and I will fight you. Meanwhile, one desk over, Ashley is insulted — nay, outraged — by Wendy’s generous seeding. As I was saying, people have strong opinions. Don’t underestimate their willingness to argue for them. 90% of social media consists of people who believe their opinion is correct shouting over each other. Take advantage of it.


Are Your Brainstorming Sessions Productive?

Are Your Brainstorming Sessions Productive?

Companies love their brainstorming. 

“Let’s get a bunch of people to brainstorm!”

“Oh, we should brainstorm some ideas!” 

“Schedule a brainstorming session. I’ll alert the entire department!” 


I’ll give you some thoughts on what I try to do when it’s time to brainstorm (otherwise known as concepting). These have been successful for me. It may not for you, because there’s not one tried and true method to coming up with an idea. Also, I switch up tactics if the one I’m doing isn’t working for me.

But, I will say this before I get into it: the big group brainstorming sessions don’t work for me. Too many people. I work best alone, at first. Gathering my thoughts. Thinking about the problem. Trying to find a way to communicate originally. Those group brainstorms don’t allow for thinking. Usually, there’s someone in the group who believes their ideas are the best (All. The. Time.), and this is their opportunity to shine! (On a side note, if you plan on sending me a group brainstorm meeting request, sorry, I will decline.) 

To me, a good brainstorming session requires a few things:

A good creative brief

Among other things, the brief allows me to fully understand the problem the client is facing, what they ultimately want to say, what the competition is doing, who the target is and the tone of voice.

Time before the actual brainstorming session

I’m an introvert. I like my alone time. Like I mentioned above, I want to gather my thoughts and think about what’s in the brief before I meet with my partner (or partners — no more than three people in the room for me, please). I want to generate some ideas before we meet, so that we have something to prime the pump and really get the ideas flowing.

Time for more than one brainstorming session

More opportunities to dissect the client’s problem are ideal. One session usually isn’t enough (another knock on those group sessions, which usually are a one-time deal).

A person I’m comfortable talking with

Being that introvert, it takes time for me to become comfortable with people. And if you want me to get to the good stuff, I’m going to say a lot of bad stuff. And I expect the same from you. So I won’t judge, and neither should you. A free-flow of thoughts is the best way to get to where you’re going.

Other things that are helpful:

  • Lots of paper
  • Fresh Sharpie® pens
  • Comfortable chairs
  • The occasional libation
  • Open minds
  • An ego-free environment
  • No filters
  • Blocking out your schedule or going offsite for no distractions
  • Movies, art, music, pop culture knowledge
  • Brainstorm with other people for a fresh perspective
  • Have fun with it. Coming up with ideas should be fun.

With all that being said, doing things other than sitting in a room thinking/talking about the problem can be beneficial. Getting away and letting my subconscious work on the problem has been successful in the past. My advice would be to mix up your techniques and see what happens.

Social Media, Gone to the Dogs

Social Media, Gone to the Dogs

This year, we had the unique opportunity to create a social media personality for one of the longest-running American tennis tournaments on the ATP World Tour based in our hometown to help drive interest from non-tennis fans. Dogs, cats and babies tend to garner broad social media attention so it only made sense that when tennis balls are involved, a dog should be involved too!

Introduced in November 2016, Memphis MO – the official spokesdog of the 41st year of the Memphis Open – made quite the social media and special event splash.  His almost 900 Facebook fans were uniquely engaged with the Memphis Open leading up to this year’s tournament, which ran from February 10 – 18, 2017.

MO is a 6-year-old Labrador Retriever fixated on tennis balls, so he was the ideal Memphis Open representative. MO debuted in support of this year’s Memphis Open to strengthen its social media presence, helping reach a broader audience. His posts garnered more than 12,000 likes, shares and comments over a four-month period. Offering MO’s dog point of view on the Memphis Open was fun and unexpected, garnering more tournament interest from non-tennis enthusiasts than ever before.

He appeared at the Memphis Open Meet and Greet for #1 ranked ATP player John Isner at the Bass Pro Pyramid in November, where he posed for photos with fans. As part of the Memphis All-Stars program, the Memphis Open donated equipment to Hamilton Middle School to make tennis a part of their permanent physical education program. MO accompanied Memphis Open officials to the announcement event and even participated in the mannequin challenge, the social media craze that was everywhere at the end of 2016.

MO posted a special video on his Facebook page on National Mutt Day, helping his featured friend get adopted from the Memphis Humane Society. The video gained almost 9,000 views and more than 21,000 people reached. Nine dogs were adopted from the Memphis Humane Society the three days following the video post, much higher than their average two to three dogs adopted each week. This was such a hit that the ATP ran an article on the doggy phenomenon in the tennis player culture, particularly at the Memphis Open.

MO’s love of tennis, the players, sponsors and local nonprofits brought a persona and story line to the tournament that previously did not exist. In fact, more than 10% of all visitors were directed to the website directly from MO’s Facebook page, contributing to a great increase in website visitors from the previous year.

And really, who doesn’t love adorable dog videos?

Do Marketing Awards Mean Anything to Clients?

Do Marketing Awards Mean Anything to Clients?

It is awards season.  From the Oscars to the Grammys to local awards for advertising and marketing, organizations are crossing their fingers in hopes that the judges select their work for industry honors.

No doubt that national awards for films or music have a direct impact on sales. An Oscar Bump is well documented. What is not documented is whether a marketing firm gets any kind of new business bump from awards won. Or, equally important, did the client the work was done for get any kind of business bump from publicity generated by an award?

Public recognition for an award for a marketing firm is generally no more than one mention in the local media. I don’t discount that at all. After all, I am in public relations and getting my clients coverage in the media is an important part of what I do. I believe there is some awareness benefit from those stories. At the very least, a current client sees it and is reassured that their work is in the hands of a “winning team.” The very best outcome is that someone considering a firm reads it and puts us into the mix because we are a “winning team.” And finally, but not to be overlooked, it is good for team members to see their work recognized as it promotes personal morale and pride.

The impact on the client for which we did the work is harder to qualify. I think there is value in two ways.

First, like the value to us the agency, seeing an award can be self-congratulatory – in a good way. The client can take pride that a good decision was made in hiring the agency and that they are good stewards of their company brand and product reputation when award-winning work is done. It is also good for showing the boss that you are doing a good job.  

Second, promoting the award-winning work on social media, the news section of a website or in trade media creates a chance to talk about the product or service again. Stating why this award-winning ad represents our brand or product is good positioning of the award news. It presents one more opportunity to highlight positive attributes. Again, putting on my PR hat, creating a positive story angle is part of public relations.

So, do marketing awards mean anything to clients? Yes, they should. But it might take a good marketing firm to teach them why and how to do it. Hey, maybe there is an award in that.

Trends, Ahoy!

Trends, Ahoy!

Marketers across the globe are feverishly scrambling to determine what’s next for 2017 and how it relates to their brands. By now, you’ve probably seen chatbots, virtual reality, IoT and 432 other trends dominating top 10 lists all over the interweb. So, what are we supposed to do with this info?   


  1. Well, read it. Not all of them (impossible!), but choose a few reputable outlets and use them as your trend filter. Here are three from sources I trust:
  1. Be selective. Everyone has a budget – even the big guys. So, we can’t reasonably test every trend out there. Work with your team to identify one that is most relevant to your goals and test it on a small scale.
  1. Manage expectations. You’re testing and learning. Trying new technologies and capabilities may not instantly increase the bottom line by 45%, but you should build in a plan to learn and use that knowledge.