Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Armstrong Guilty?

Rob Schoenbeck, current COO at The Cartel Group in San Antonio, just sent this along. It would be a crime not to post it.

y Michelle Faul (Associated Press Wednesday, August 30, 2005; 11:00 PM Paris.)

Lance Armstrong's record setting seventh Tour de France victory, along with his entire Tour de France legacy, may be tarnished by what could turn out to be one of the greatest sports scandals of all time.

Armstrong is being quizzed by French police after three banned substances were found in his South France hotel room while on vacation after winning the 2005 Tour de France.

The three substances found were toothpaste, deodorant, and soap, which have been banned by French authorities for over 75 years. Armstrong's girlfriend and American rocker Sheryl Crowe is quoted as saying, "We use them every day in America, so we naturally thought they'd be OK throughout Europe."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hey, Dude...

Where's my blog format? Those of you that have been reading Signalwriter for a while may have noted that the "About Me" material used to appear directly to the right of the daily posting(s).'s dropped all the way down to the lower right-hand end of the blog. This is [a] annoying, because I would hope that more people will read about what I do; and [b] confusing, because I don't know how to fix it.

When I've republished the format using this set of templates, the same problem re-occurs. when I select a completely different format, the problem appears to fix itself...except that I don't like the other formats as well as this one.

So to start with, if any other Blogspotters can help fix this, please post a reply. Otherwise, I'll try a different (if less formal) format for a while. Meantime, I'll keep posting for your information-focused pleasure.

Monday, August 29, 2005

PR Day

Okay, what does the wife of a public relations expert do when she has insomnia?She rolls over and says, "Tell me again, darling, just what is it that you do for a living?"

BusinessWire’s Melanie Brenneman is giving you the chance to come up with something more…exciting: The Houston Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is throwing its annual professional development conference in a couple of weeks – September 14, in fact, at the Hyatt Regency Downtown. Called "Breaking New Ground: PR Tools for Changing Times," you can hear a great lineup of speakers, panelists and, yes, even media professionals. The day will focus on the most up-to-date PR tools available. (Check out

The headliner is one of today's experts on public relations management, James Arnold, APR, Fellow PRSA and founder of Arnold Consulting Group, Inc. He will host the exclusive Masters' Breakfast for senior-level practitioners (15+ years' experience) at 7:30AM and a keynote afternoon session. If you attend the Masters' Breakfast, you’ll have the opportunity for informal, one-on-one discussion about today's sharpest PR issues and strategy.

PR Day's luncheon will be "Proving PR Value" – a panel discussion moderated by Tony Wyllie, VP Communications for the Houston Texans. Other panelists for the luncheon include:
  • Christine McGee, APR, VP Marketing, Weatherford International Ltd.
  • Graham Painter, SVP Communications, Sterling Bank
  • Steve Stuyck, VP Public Affairs, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • John E. "Ned" Walker, SVP Worldwide Corporate Communications, Continental Airlines.
Any questions? Call Melanie Brenneman at (713) 871-1900. She’ll hook you up. Got a better PR joke? Just send it on to Signalwriter for the ritual posting.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Budapest Dialogue

Many of you know that I have stayed involved in Dialogue International, the European-based network of 20 or so independent advertising agencies (see

I just got the word that the Fall Managers’ Meeting is coming up, featuring a wonderful autumn weekend in Budapest. The actual meeting dates are Wednesday through Friday 5-7 October. The hosts are GreenLight, the Hungarian member agency, and its Managing Director, Peter Sari:

Well, it’s a great city with an unusual National Museum: a place that lets you see all the faces of Hungary – and there have been many. The attendees are going to be staying at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, a phenomenal hotel. This opened after our last visit to the city. Renovated behind a glorious Austro-Hungarian Empire façade, the Grand Hotel Royal won “Best Hotel Architecture In Europe” in 2004.

Barbara and I stayed at its sister, the Corinthia Aquincum, a thoroughly modern hotel on the west side of the Danube, in Obuda. I remember spending a whole afternoon exploring the partly excavated ruins of a Roman town of the same name: Aquincum - 1800-year-old public baths with central heating, houses, and (formerly) covered markets.

I remember the Great Synagogue on Dohany Street, a magnificent Byzantine-Moorish house of worship, with its small Holocaust museum in the basement, one of the saddest places I have ever been.

I remember the happiest ending too, 40 of us spending Friday night after the last meeting, eating, drinking, and dancing to wild music at a hunting-styled restaurant overlooking the city.

Dialogue meetings are always valuable. For years, agencies from all over Europe (and the US) have met and discussed everything from new-business techniques to best practices. Most important: the relationships that have been built over the years and continue to grow. I still count these people among my best friends.

I wish we were going – but we have a prior commitment, a wedding in Minnesota. Can’t get out it. So I hope that several of the attendees will drop Signalwriter a few ‘graphs about the meeting when it happens a month from now.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

ArtWalk Tonight

Elisabeth and Steve Lanier just opened their art-and-craft space on Post Office Street in Galveston ( So here’s what’s going on with this evening’s Galveston ArtWalk and the Laniers’ new exhibit.

The Galveston Arts Center's doing its arts-centric evening of gallery-hopping again in Galveston’s historic downtown district. The date’s today, August 27th, from 6 to 9-ish PM. Brochures listing this ArtWalk’s venues, are available at the Galveston Arts Center, 2127 Strand. Get in your car/truck/SUV and go. More important, see DesignWorks’ “Waxing Abstract: Recent Encaustic Paintings” which also opens tonight.

But first Elisabeth had to explain encaustic painting to me – and thank you very much. Encaustic, from the Greek word meaning “to burn in,” is an age-old painting technique in which pigment is suspended in melted beeswax. Beginning with layers upon layers of wax, these intensely-colored pigments are brushed, sculpted, daubed, coaxed into form by melting, pouring and brushing. The artist may choose to alter the surface with additional layering, etching, burning and reapplying of the pigmented wax. The surface thus created becomes a lambent pool of multi-layered textures from thick impastos of brilliant colors to translucent washes of shimmering hues. DesignWorks in Galveston is featuring two encaustic artists.

Words from Elisabeth (catch me using a word like “metaphysically” in public):

Paintings by Eleanor Schimmel are very much about the seductive quality of color and surface. In this series, variously entitled “Compositions,” she explores planes of light, and the fracturing of those planes, inspired by the angled roof of a Pennsylvania barn as viewed from the window of her studio. Surprisingly, her light-dappled compositions take on a tropical quality while reminding the viewer of the Impressionists’ efforts to capture the elusive qualities of light. More metaphysically, these compositions reflect her preoccupation with the negotiations and compromises we all face in the minutiae of our daily lives.

Works by Larry Spaid are subtly textured, minimal studies in oil and wax medium on canvas. He is interested in creating formal and technical compositions that are, in turn, objects as well as fields of illusion. These pieces are based on a recent study and travel sabbatical in Vietnam and Cambodia, where Spaid had previously served in the Vietnam War. While there, he researched traditional farm building techniques, crafts, utilitarian devices and objects of ritual, all of which inform this present body of work. Although seemingly similar, both artists work in wax using geometry as metaphor. The works are actually striking in their contrast.

It’s a new gallery and new people, people.

Go south. See Elisabeth and Steve – and the exhibit. “Waxing Abstract: Recent Encaustic Paintings” at DesignWorks, 2119A Post Office Street in Galveston’s art and entertainment district. Gallery hours are Monday, 11AM to 6PM; Tuesday and Wednesday, by appointment; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11 to 7; and Sunday, 1 to 6PM.

Friday, August 26, 2005

First Client

Mary Jo Martin has landed her inaugural client in her new corporate existence as Knowledge-Based Marketing. Congratulations. It’s always exciting – a definite milestone – to get the very first client. Herewith, a celebratory limerick:

There was a smart woman in Houston
Whose new-business effort lacked boostin’.
She found yesterday,
In delight and dismay,
That a spanking new client came roostin’.

Okay…it’s awful. But it’s Friday. (And you can forget about rhymes with “Martin” – don’t go there – and “Knowledge-Based Marketing.” Perhaps readers of this blog would be willing to try their hands?)

Well done, MJ, you Goddess of Databases. May this be the first wavelet in a flood of clients. PS: Consider buying Susan Kirkland's new book - see below.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Housewives’ Hit

Don't diss the power of pop culture. I recently participated in creating a direct mail campaign that turned ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” into “Desperate Households.”

Like most advertising trends, everybody’s doing it. Stuart Elliott wrote in his New York Times column yesterday that advertisers and agencies seeking endorsers for campaigns are making belles of the ball of the actresses appearing on the hit ABC series "Desperate Housewives," which is to return for a second season on Sept. 25. Almost every cast member is in an ad, some for more than one marketer, in a rush reminiscent of the ardor to use the actors from other popular shows like "Friends" and "Sex and the City."

(Forgive the absence of attribution quotes – there are too many of them; click to read the whole column – you can register for free access.)

Read the article, and you’ll see that other advertisers are doing related takes on the idea. This ain’t new, Magoo. How many of you had a client who absolutely had to have something related to “The Force be with you” in a sales program or campaign? For those of you that are old enough, “Patton” was a big, big hit on the sales meeting circuit, with the CEO appearing in uniform like George C. Scott in the movie – on top of a platform to boot.

A neat parody appears in the movie “Dave,” when Kevin Kline, playing a common man who happens to look like the President of the United States, makes a ‘celebrity appearance’ at a car dealership, riding into camera on the back of a pig.

It’s okay. That’s what pop culture is for. Give the pop icon a fresh spin, and it helps make connections that would (as Elliott point out in his column) take too much time to explain otherwise. More important, pop culture is a powerful force that can magnify the reach and impact of creative messages.

Use this power only for good. Or outright laughter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Venezuela Bound

A crude tanker had left the Port of Houston far behind on its regular run to Maracaibo. The Captain was on the bridge with his new First Officer when, deep in the Gulf of Mexico, the vessel passed a tiny island.

The First Officer can see a bearded man on the small island who is shouting and desperately waving his hands. "Who is it?" he asks the Captain.

The tanker’s captain replies, "I've no idea. Every time when we pass, he goes nuts."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Port Response

I got this response about yesterday’s post from H. Thomas Kornegay, PE, PPM, Executive Director, Port of Houston Authority. (He uses PHA – and there are several more acronyms explained below.)

“The front page of Monday's edition of The Wall Street Journal featured an article on a port project in Savannah, Georgia, accompanied by a chart sourced from the AAPA that lists the busiest US ports in terms of container TEUs.”

The AAPA is the American Association of Port Authorities. TEU is twenty-foot equivalent units, container-wise, loaded and empty.

“In 2004, the Port of Houston Authority handled approximately 1.4 million TEUs. This was a high amount and yet another record for PHA; however, it was not high enough to place the PHA in the Top 10 of busy ports based strictly on containers.

“Houston's port – including all public PHA facilities and all private facilities – remains sixth largest in the world and ranks first in the US in foreign tonnage and second in total tonnage based on the combined total of all cargoes, not just containers. Cargoes handled at Houston's diverse port facilities include liquid bulk (e.g. petroleum and chemicals), breakbulk, project cargo, steel, automobiles, grains, and more.”

The Port of Houston is 53 miles long. Most of us don’t even notice it unless we’re visiting a client in Pasadena or some other part of the Houston Ship Channel. I’d like to see PHA get even more positive press, so consider this my bit for the Port.

Monday, August 22, 2005

POHA Blues

An article in The Wall Street Journal this morning can’t have made some Houston ad and PR people very happy. The Page 1 article, “Ship Shape: How Savannah Brought New Life To Its Aging Port,” lists the Top 10 busiest North American ports. Houston isn’t on the list. The story’s bylined by Daniel Machalaba.

As many of you local blog-readers know, The Port of Houston Authority (POHA) has put a lot of work into expanding and improving its facilities the past few years. As part of the process, POHA has fueled an aggressive advertising and public relations campaign, with the help and support of a changing cast of communications agencies here.

WSJ – and Houston – may have been snookered by statistics. The article’s Top 10 List is built on the total number of containers landed:

--Los Angeles (at #1, with 7.32 milllion containers)
--Long Beach, CA
--New York/New Jersey
--Oakland, CA
--Charleston, SC
--Hampton Roads, VA
--Tacoma, WA
--Savannah, GA (#10, with 1.66 million containers).

POHA’s Web site ( lists 1.44 million containers in 2004, but that adds up to just 13.96 million tons, out of a grand total of 200 million short tons in the Year 4. According to POHA’s site, this kind of tonnage has made the Port “1st in the US in foreign tonnage for nine consecutive years, 2nd in US in total tonnage for 14 consecutive years, 6th largest in the world.”

Read Savannah’s site. You’ll discover that its grand-total 2004 tonnage was just 18.3 million tons overall…putting the Georgia Port Authority rather farther down a real Top 10 list. (See the press release, 7/26/05,

As closely as I could read the WSJ, no mention of total tonnages appears in the story. So Savannah gets the press (although the story’s not completely rosy), while Houston gets left out again.

There’s no telling when even someone as conscientious as a WSJ reporter will bite on a good story about a scrappy little port doing better. Today's lesson: For what you’re advocating, keep fighting the good fight. Help the real numbers speak as positively as possible.

PS: Will someone please send Mr. Machalaba a letter?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Slogan Power

I have shamelessly stolen the following from, the Web site of the South African ad community. (I did this for you.)

A mother had three virgin daughters. They were all getting married within a short time period. Because Mom was a bit worried about how their sex life would get started, she made them all promise to send a postcard from the honeymoon with a few words on how marital sex felt.

The first girl sent a card from Hawaii two days after the wedding. The card said nothing but: "Nescafe!” Mom was puzzled at first, but then went to her kitchen and got out the Nescafe jar. It said: "Good till the last drop.” Mom blushed, but was pleased for her daughter.

The second girl sent the card from Vermont a week after the wedding, and the card read: "Rothmans.” Mom now knew to go straight to her husband's cigarettes, and she read from the pack: "Extra Long. King Size." She was again slightly embarrassed but still happy for her daughter.

The third girl left for her honeymoon in Cape Town. Mom waited for a week, nothing. Another week went by and still nothing. Then after a whole month, a card finally arrived. Written on it with shaky handwriting were the words "South African Airways.”

Mom took out her latest YOU magazine, flipped through the pages fearing the worst, and finally found the ad for SAA. The ad said: "Ten times a day, seven days a week, both ways."

Mom fainted!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

TxDOT Mystery

Barbara received her Registration Renewal Receipt from the Texas Department of Transportation. This time, the computer-generated receipt has two stickers attached.

One is the more-or-less standard window sticker, the one that (in this state) lets you and the policefolk know when your registration expires – in this case, 8 and 06, August of next year. It has several application instructions such as PRESS THUMB THROUGH RED AREA and REMOVE WINDOW STICKER FROM BACK. It also has a handy diagram to help instruction-challenged people like me know exactly where to place the sticker on the windshield. Thank you, TxDOT.

What has this got to do with communications? Well, that would lead us to the second sticker on the receipt. This is a smaller, 1-inch x 2-inch sticker that has a number and the word VOID in great big letters. The only instruction: PEEL STICKER FROM CORNERS.

Neither Barbara nor I have ever seen one these before. There are no other instructions or indications about where to place this sticker. There’s nothing else about it on the receipt; there’s nothing on the TxDOT Web site. Nothing. TxDOT doesn’t give anything away and Barbara would probably balk at wearing it on her forehead.

I have a suspicion this is supposed to go on the license plate. But…maybe not. TxDOT could have a completely different use in mind. They just aren’t communicating it. If any reader of this blog can give us a hint – or even actual instruction, I’d appreciate it.

Signalwriter’s instruction: ENJOY YOUR SATURDAY.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Aesthetic Jobs

Designer/author Susan Kirkland sent the following:

“Promoting a book is a new experience for me. Being a bit of a hermit (and enjoying it greatly), the thought of casting a line into the public arena feels like a poke in the eye; but you gotta do what you gotta do.

“Some time ago, in an effort to give back to the next generation of designers, I started spending time at design forums, encouraging the little whippersnappers to pursue their dreams. I got bored answering the same questions and decided to put what I knew in a book. I'm not a writer, though after years of correcting the horrid grammar that came out of the executive suite, I've had plenty of practice. Now that the book is out (Start & Run a Creative Business, see August 13 post, and, I find myself wandering back to the forums, perhaps more to keep my finger on the pulse of things (I watch MTV too).

“The eternal argument Mac vs. PC has resurfaced. In an effort to bring more to the table than statistics, the right/left brain argument and the fact that prices have leveled to comparable, I surfed the wave of information to find something new. What I found was a very interesting commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs to the class of 2005 at Stanford University. Seems he dropped out of college and decided to audit courses until he found direction, or in his words ‘what he loved to do.’"

Jobs said, ‘Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.’

‘None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.’

Susan continues, “What started out to be a wild contest of facts and figures, to weigh the scales one way or another, finally came down to pure aesthetics. Things have calmed considerably at the forums because nobody in design can argue against beautiful typography. So it isn't price, wysiwyg, GUI, or screen resolution. Just fabulous characters.”

There is a value to aesthetics. It’s not simply what designers like Susan believe. It’s what moves people – often unconsciously – to make choices about the world around them. This goes for a designer’s audience, an engineer’s audience, and your audience too. Read Jobs’s full commencement address at:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Reaching Editors

If you had gotten out of bed early this morning, you’d have gone to the Business Wire Breakfast Seminar: Judi Swartz’s (now annual) “Meet the Media” event. Judi is Regional Manager for Business Wire. I can’t recommend a better way to hear the straight dope about getting business-related stories into key media in this town.

To prove it, 140 PR and corporate relations professionals showed up at the JW Marriott before 7.30AM. We heard from Loren Steffy, business columnist for the Houston Chronicle; Thaddeus Herrick from the Wall Street Journal; KUHF business reporter Ed Mayberry; and Special Sections Editor Thora Qaddumi of the Houston Business Journal. Lots of questions and answers afterwards…and intense scribbling of tips, editors’ names, and e-mail addresses.

Judi and her gang are not only conscientious businesspeople, but terrific hosts. And although Business Wire hosts a number of seminars each summer, this one tops the chart with a bullet.

You should be on the Business Wire list if you’re in Houston. You might drop Judi a note at and beg to be invited. Meantime, my thanks to Judi, Melanie, Melissa, and Sam – great job!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Jerk-O-Meter Research

Pay attention. This is real: a device that measures how bored you are by a telephone conversation. A couple of guys at MIT are testing software that will analyze speech patterns and, when downloaded to your cell phone or Voice-over-IP, will rate your conversational partner on how closely he or she is listening to you.

For the paranoid, it’s one more electronic nail in the privacy coffin. An Atlanta telecoms analyst, Jeff Kagan, is quoted as saying, “It sounds pretty cool. But if somebody was using it against me, I’d say, ‘How dare they!’” (What’s that old line about paranoia?)

For marketers, researchers, and ad people, the Jerk-O-Meter offers another tool for creating and getting messages to people more effectively. Nevertheless, I’m reminded of those scenes in the Tom Cruise movie, “The Minority Report,” in which interactive billboards scan people’s eyeballs and then start sales-pitching them by name.

You can read the whole AP article if you just Google “Jerk-O-Meter” – that’s easy, it shows up on several sites, including Wired magazine’s. I’ll ask my research-engaged friends to review the article and send me feedback for posting. Meantime, don’t let your mind wander next time you’re on the phone with your insurance agent.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hotel Ads

I stay in touch with my colleagues from Dialogue International, the European-based agency network – I spent two years as the association’s Chairman. I had a nice note from one of my colleagues, Elena Gurovna a few days ago. She’s the principal of Generator, a lovely agency in Saint Petersburg (Russia, not Florida). Here’s what Elena e-mailed:

“I have a question to you. We have a new client - new hotel Kempinski Mojka 22 – a very nice medium size deluxe hotel in early 19th century building in the centre of Saint-Petersburg. They are now launching – there was no official launch, though it is already open, they try to prepare so far all necessary corporate and PR staff including ads in press. I was going to ask you if you are interested to create headlines and copy for the series of ads for the international press.” (See the hotel:

A chance to do ads for a hotel in Russia doesn’t come by every day. So I said Da. Elena sent me further details:

“They started renovation of the hotel in 2004. They position it as deluxe, although it is 4-star. Managed by Kempinski, the GM is an Irish guy.

“The building is overlooking State Hermitage – one of the biggest world art collection museums. The building was designed in 1840s by architect Von Witte; one of the bars in the Hotel bears his name. There are two conference rooms (Neva and Fontanka, named after Saint-Petersburg rivers) and five restaurants – Beau Rivage, Bellevue (top floor), Tea Room, Von Witte (bar), 1853 wine cellar.

“The first time I met the GM and vice -director a year ago, the hotel was under construction and they didn't have office there yet. Then I visited them in the hotel. Mr. GM decorated his office with gorgeous antique clock - he bought it during the auction in Stockholm. Yesterday, when I was delivering first volumes of menus, I saw Tea Room cafe (the one still under construction) filled with oil paintings in huge gilded frames - I was told those were copies from the 18th-19th century European paintings - impressive decoration for a modern hotel.

“Mr. GM had comment about a 19th-century woman on Tea Room menu, that the menu looks 'sexist.' But me and Vice Director, a young woman, commented that in 19th century this would be a place for women only, so it has more historical context than male-female.”

Elena's real objective has been to associate the new hotel with the city itself.

Soon as I figure out how to upload images to this blog, I'll show you the ad - or let me know and I'll send you a pdf. Meantime, according to Elena, I done good: the first headline of the series is NEW HOTEL MEETS CLASSICAL CITY: LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

Elena sent, “The headlines are extremely good and bring us to very high professional level – it is easy to do art direction if you have slogans like this.”

I appreciate the work, Elena – and thanks for the opportunity to make you look good in front of your client.

Monday, August 15, 2005

22 Again

Good Monday. Searching for the Fountain of Youth? Want to recapture the heady days when you’d just started in the business of marketing communications? Erin Bettison has joined Wood Group, so I asked her to draft a few notes about getting into marcom. Here’s what she wrote, fresh from her keyboard:

“Classification: intern. E-mail signature: corporate communications intern. That is what I have been for the better part of the year 2005. I never thought I would be an intern (aren’t they just in law and doctor’s offices?), and as of Monday, August 15, I might never be an intern again.

“In order to graduate from college, I HAD to do an internship. It was required, mandatory, credit hours, nada diploma without it. So I secured an internship at probably any male’s (and many of the fairer sex’s as well) dream place: a Budweiser distributing company. I was a marketing intern, but mostly, I was a paper cutter.

“I did my share of sitting in on marketing meetings, onsite marketing, and merchandising. I even got to help plan the annual company convention. But, for a good two-thirds of my internship, I was in the print shop, standing over a paper cutter or laminator. Such is life and I did indeed learn about all of Budweiser’s products and how they market their beverages to various gender, ethnic, age, etc. segments.

“Then I graduated. Now I would get a job. No more internships, right? I had completed one, and the first experience was not an unpleasant one. I was so scared that I would now waste away my summer searching for that unreachable, but ‘it has to be out there,’ ideal job. Little did I know that an internship would lead me to that position.

“At first I turned down the second internship that was offered. It was only offered as an internship with no opportunity for a continuing position, and my travel arrangements were unreasonable for just a ten-week internship. Fate wasn’t ignoring this naïve, new graduate, however. I received a call that the internship offer had changed. It would now hold the opportunity for a full-time job to follow. I jumped.

“Enter a whole new world: the oil industry. I thought, ‘I can’t write about oil wells and natural gas! I can’t organize events around an industry I don’t even understand!’

“But I did, and I still am. It was rough at first, and the bumps continue to be firmly ironed out. If those ten weeks had served as just an internship I would have been so much more confident if I had to search for another job following it. I have written, edited, designed layouts, had international correspondences, booked flights and hotel rooms, ordered food (of course!), and so much more.

“The internship is over now. I have said goodbye to my mentor and shed my old e-mail signature. My title now reads ‘Corporate Communications Coordinator.’ I never thought I would be 22 years old, out of college, already at a job, and actually using the degree I worked four years to earn. From Budweiser’s golden brew, to the ‘black gold’ of oil, I made it, with two internships behind me.”

The rest will be history. Join me in wishing Erin good luck!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Dorothy Parker

Catherine Noyes, one of the principals of CatalystMoon Public Relations in Houston, wrote back, “Scanned your blog...perhaps some wise words from Dorothy Parker:

Love to have a Martini,
Two at the most.
Three I'm under the table,
Four I'm under the host.”

Have a great Sunday – thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Get Booking

There’s still time left for a good summer read – especially if you’re in marketing communications.
A colleague and friend, Susan Kirkland, has published Start & Run a Creative Services Business. It’s a complete how-to manual for all of us that are trying to make a living in the ad biz (which I hope you’ll accept as shorthand for marketing communications, public relations, and all the other areas of creative services). It’s 174 pages of well-grounded advice, tips, and stories, and the stories are familiar to all of us who have spent years in this business.

Susan has developed (and written very well about) strategies and tactics from beginning to end, from “Getting Started” to “Sage Advice from a Veteran.” I was particularly honored to be asked to contribute a blurb prior to publication, so I admit that you’ll see my name on the back cover. More important, every word I wrote there is absolutely true in terms of the content of Susan’s book.

You should read this book if you’re a freelancer because it will help you make certain you’re covering all the bases – even if you’ve been freelancing for years. You ought to read this book if you’re a corporate communications manager or an agency creative director to remind yourself that the true path to a good business relationship runs in both directions.

Start & Run a Creative Services Business, Self-Counsel Press, 2005, is available online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Or you can visit Susan’s Web site at and get acquainted with her capabilities. You still have time to get hold of it and give it a good look before Labor Day.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bad Pitch?

After a bad presentation…when my life has flashed in front of my eyes…I think of this: An airline pilot wrote that on one particular flight he had hammered his ship into the runway really hard.

The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a "Thanks for flying XYZ airline." He said that in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment.

Finally everyone had gotten off except for this little old lady walking with a cane. She said, "Sonny, mind if I ask you a question?" "Why no, Ma'am," said the pilot, "What is it?"

The little old lady said, "Did we land or were we shot down?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Manual Marketing

When does an instruction manual or a user’s manual serve as a marketing tool? The right answer is…always. A recent project focused my attention on this, and I appreciate the chance to share it with you.

An instruction manual first explains various components of a product or system to its users. (For convenience, let’s just call it a “product,” even if it’s software or lawn fertilizer.) It instructs operators, supervisors, and managers in how to operate or use the product. It helps them remember the various steps needed for successful operation.

You’d think the instruction manual should then be viewed as technical communications rather marketing communications, right? Consider the following: the first goal of an instruction manual is to clearly instruct. I agree.

Wait, though. There’s major brand value to be gained by an effective, useful manual. A very good user’s manual will be recognized by its users – customers - as a useful, even valuable asset of the product. So there’s an element of marketing to it. The how-to manual also “welcomes” users to the working environment of the product and its maker.

Michael Lewis of Australia’s Brandle Technical Communications has contributed an important distinction in the area of user manuals. He wrote, “Technical communication is often taken to be synonymous with technical writing. But this common view misses the fact that writing is a solitary act, while communication is an interactive process.

“Technical communication is not the creation of documentary or textual resources, such as specifications: it is the creation of documentary or textual instruments, such as user manuals.” (I have added the italics here - a user manual is an instrument, not just a resource.)

A descriptive text covers what the product is. An explanatory text details how the product works. But a tutorial text explains how to use the product. Combining this with Lewis’s conjecture, a tutorial is almost completely instrumental. That is, it’s a “how-to” manual.

Most of us are tool-using animals. We instinctively recognize when a how-to manual is good, and when it's bad. (This presumes I read the manual first, of course.) The best how-to manuals involve the reader through an empathic connection between reader and material, tuning the material from ordinary or even clumsy text into interactive instrument.

The reader of a how-to manual is mainly searching for a solution to an immediate and usually personal problem: “How do I use this product to successfully accomplish X task?”

There’s more to it than that. A how-to manual is tutorial, interactively leading the reader by the hand from a problem (I need information to make the product work properly) to the solution (I know what I need to do to use the product successfully).

The text should be written from the point of view of the reader’s need, and therefore from the reader’s point of view. At the same time, it has to focus on the functions and facilities provided by the product. When I’m writing a how-to manual, I want to make certain to deliver content-centered matter in a reader-centered manner.

When I’m successful at this, users will recognize that this is a “good manual.” The good manual becomes another facet of a good brand – and the company behind it. I have sent the right signal and you’ve gained a marketing tool.

Neat, huh? Feel free to comment. Just post a reply.