Early in my freelance career I was working on a way to visualize and describe the Medicare doughnut hole in a “new and exciting way.” In a large group area next to me some junior creatives were discussing the latest episode of Lost. On my second day, I asked them if they could chat in the break room. I was ignored. On the third day I explained to their boss that I couldn’t concentrate. They said, “We can’t do that. That’s our company culture.” On the 7th day, I presented the hole concepts to the agency team and Managing Director, who didn’t dig it. This costly ‘mistake’ taught me to bring earbuds and learn to not listen to the music when I was working onsite.
Open office spaces are a dumb move for ad agencies…or any company where people have to concentrate, innovate, produce or even collaborate. And sitting elbow to elbow in a row may be great for socializing at a lunch counter or bar, but not in a working environment. The idea that open spaces would democratize company culture and encourage creativity and collaboration arose in the mid 90’s. but in the last few years this myth of the open office has been debunked in stories by Forbes, Fortune, The New Yorker, and a 2018 study by The Harvard Business School, as reported by Fast Company, in January 2019.
“Employees hate open offices. They’re distracting. They’re loud. There’s often little privacy. ‘The sensory overload that comes with open-office plans gets to a point where I can barely function,’ says one 47-year-old graphic designer who has spent more than two decades working in open environments. ‘I even had to quit a job once because of it.’ ”
Even great ad agencies can start terrible trends. Chiat Day (creators of the legendary Apple campaign and now the 15th largest ad agency), instituted the “Virtual Office” in 1994, where employees signed their laptops in and out and then grabbed whatever desk was open. It resulted in people just not showing up, according to the Fast Company story.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed quite a change in the open areas of most of the companies I visit. The place is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. People don’t talk to one another, I surmise, so as not to disturb their neighbors and vice-versa. People don’t communicate in these spaces. According to the Harvard study: Open offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%.
When employees are your greatest asset (and one of your biggest expenses), why do companies persist in the open office trend? The Fast Company story goes on to say, “According to commercial real estate association CoreNet Global, the average space allotted to individual employees globally fell from 225 square feet in 2010 to 176 square feet in 2013, and is projected to keep decreasing. This adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars–or more–in savings per year at the country’s largest companies, according to calculations from Erik Rood, an analyst in Google’s human resources department who examines corporate financials on his personal blog, Data Interview Qs.” Fast Company explains.
Working Virtually or Virtually Working?
However, with the new millennium has brought about an even better way to say on office space: remote working. Led by globalization and the tech economy, the movement of employees working away from the office has gained momentum. Globally, 70 percent of professionals work remotely, aka telecommute, at least one day a week; 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week. Some major corporations that have tried it, didn’t like it. However, employees value it, especially millennial staff, who are the biggest percent of the workforce. Working remotely has its pluses and minuses, both for companies and their workers. Once a company offers it, is it a wise move to away the remote working option? Learn more in next week’s post.
I used Divi Builder to make this site. It’s a very popular front-end page builder, which is bundled in Divi Themes. Divi offers beautifully designed themes. So, if you want to use what they give you without much customization, Divi themes is great. However, it you want to customize your site’s functionality, you better know code. Divi tech support helped a lot in the beginning, including providing code snippets. And I called on them more frequently than I care to admit in the first month building this site. But curiously, and perhaps coincidentally, shortly after giving one of the techs access to WordPress, my files got messed up. Additionally, I kept on getting 400 and even 500 errors, such as going over the allotted memory. It turned out the host’s default PHP was not the one recommended by Divi. The memory settings, for one were too low. I’d call the host, the errors would stop, but then it would happen again. I eventually was told that there is a PHP control panel in C-Panel. Duh! I upped from the default PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.0, including upping to the Divi-recommended settings.
I wanted to make the gallery module image grid open in the light box (which I initially thought was a slider) with captions. A couple of Divi’s tech people said it was not possible to do that in Divi. Using the Chrome Inspector, I discovered that Divi gallery module function was “.mfp” Yes, I could substitute a plug-in. But how? I tried a couple of slider plug-ins, including Gallery Slider and Smart Slider 3. Smart Slider was really easy and fun. But it wasn’t built to link to gallery images. I made a new gallery in Gallery Slider, pasted in the link. And voila, nothing happened.
Using the Chrome Inspector, I discovered that Divi gallery module function was “.mfp” — which turns out to be “Magnific Lightbox Pop-Up” I went searching for a plug-in, and found “WF Magnific Lightbox” in WordPress.org. Captions do appear when I click from the attachment page, but not when I click from the Divi Gallery image. I wanted it to work as when I click on it from the attachment page, like so:
Lippincott Home Page
Wolters Kluwer needed an umbrella for its various Lippincott/LWW properties, including the extensive catalog site, nursing sites, and publication sites. Shown is the prototype I created with the copy in place, as the designer and developer worked on the Adobe Experience Manager CMS.
However, there is no documentation about how it works. All I get in settings is:
WF Magnific Lightbox
Here you can change some stuff or leave the default options.
A whole six more months till winter!
Summer Solstice is my favorite day of the year, especially when it’s a beautiful June day like today in Philadelphia. I hope you get outside to enjoy some of it. Good writing advice is to keep your writing concise, avoid jargon and typically, keep it short. However, there are times when a long piece works better than a short post. Here’s a list of just six “longest” factoids that a poet of commerce (marketing communications professional, word nerd, or other creative type) might enjoy. The only scientific, not potentially fake, fact is that the longest day for most locations north of the equator is on or near Thursday, June 21, 2018, which began at 6:07 am in New York. Sunrise to sunset is 5 hours, 50 minutes–almost another 6 hours –longer than on December Solstice. If you miss today, the latest sunset is on June 27.
1. Longest Running Ad Campaign
“Depends” on who you ask. My particular vote is for a Pampers Ad which has run on Zynga games sites for at least 3 weeks, showing up repeatedly after every play. Who knew post-menopausal women were a target for Pampers? Other contenders for longest running ad campaign in the U.S. include:
a) The Absolut campaign featuring bottles “in the wild” comprised over 1,500 separate ads and ran 25 years, according to Hubspot
b) The Jack Daniels ‘Postcards from Lynchburg’ campaign is thought to be the longest running advertising campaign in history, having first appeared in an October 1954 edition of Time magazine. Source:
c) Smokey the Bear. This iconic bear has been preventing forest fires for more than 50 years.
2. Longest advertisement
An Arby’s commercial ran for 52 straight hours in Duluth, MN. Apparently someone in Arby’s marketing department thought running a shot of a hamburger for more than two days straight would provide a good ROI.
3. Longest word in an English dictionary
If you’re a pharmaceutical copywriter, then you’ll appreciate the difficulty and length of some disease and drug names, which it is occassionally our jobs to shorten. I’m not surprised then, that the longest word in the english dictionary is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Also known as the lung disease, Silicosis.
4. Longest PowerPoint Slide presentation
“Lessons from my 20’s” by a startup CEO offers 1,284 Slides for your viewing pleasure. Who ever said millenials don’t have long attention spans was clearly wrong. Inordinately successful 20-somethings have always had an overblown sense of their self-worth, which if not stopped can continue well into their 70’s.
5. Longest URL
Hotels.com has come up with a URL that is 2,083 Characters long, which includes yurts and cabanas, too, to highlight its breadth of accommodations. You can see the entire story on Ad Age, Adweek, Branding in Asia, or the Little Black Book:
6. Longest Blog Post
A preliminary Google search returned many self-titled “longest blog post in the world” entries. Yes, most of these were way too long to read through, and could have been aptly titled “I don’t care. Do you?” like Melania’s coat. But a very lengthy how-to on redesigning the chrome desktop is truly a masterpiece of helpful information, and gets my vote for best in the “longest blog post” category.
Punxsutawny Phil recently decided it’s not going to be spring for a while. He woke up, took a peak at the world, and ran back home. At least that explains the 6 more weeks of winter thing, which seems counter-intuitive to me. I mean, if its sunny outside, we humans tend to think spring is on its way.
If a ground hog appears and no one is there to see it, is there even a shadow? Sometimes we are afraid of our own shadows, and we run and hide. My cat sometimes chases its own shadow. A better move, I think, than running from our shadows. But we humans, unlike Phil, take facts and create all sorts of nonsense interpreting our environment. Take it from me, I’m a copywriter so I’m in the business of making meaning.
So, here’s my point: Many of us are afraid to be creative with our brand and business story, because we don’t really understand how our customers see us. What do you do better than your competitors? If your business is so unique as to not have competition (yet), what is it that draws customers to you? What problem do you solve, or unique benefit do you provide, from your customers point of view? If you have a car wash, for example, do your customers come because your superior service in making their car sparkling clean…or because you’re dirt cheap?
Once you’ve written out a brief sketch of who you’re talking to, and what and who your business is, and your brand “promise”, write down or brainstorm with coworkers or friends some metaphors and similes. For example, if you pride yourself on quick service, terms such as “lightning fast” “cheetah” and “fast cars” come to mind. If the qualities of your business are more abstract, simply jot down the words that describe those qualities — for example, “organized”, “responsive” and “dedicated”. You can use the terms you come up with to do image searches. Since one image is worth a thousand words, you’ll save yourself both time and money by finding the image that best resonates with your brand.
Looking through images this way can help you with your branding exercise, which leads to better branding images — whether your doing business cards, ads, banners or what have you.
How do you handle a personal tragedy in a professional setting? Death is an uncomfortable subject and most of us are unprepared to discuss it. Indeed, death is a subject most people barely speak about even in our personal lives. Pretty much it’s the domain of life insurance salespeople and H.R. But what if you’re not one of those people?
When I learned that my son had died a few months ago, I didn’t know what to do or say to my client. The timing couldn’t be worse, as I was preparing a website preview for a presentation by the marketing director. Talk about inconvenient deadlines. I had to leave the next morning for Asheville. What should I tell my client about my son’s death? On the one hand, I couldn’t leave my client in the lurch with an impending deadline for no good reason. On the other hand, I to make them feel uncomfortable.
Do You Get Bereavement Leave?
If you work for the private sector, check your company’s policy or ask human resources. Most companies provide some leave for the loss of a child or spouse. However, don’t be surprised if when you return from the funeral, your boss or H.R. asks for proof of death: Either a death certificate or obituary or both. It’s no surprise that government employees get better benefits than private sector employees. A federal employee is entitled to use a total of up to 104 hours (13 days) of sick leave each leave year for family care and bereavement, which include making arrangements required by the death of a family member and attending the funeral of a family member. The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) does not require the private sector to provide either paid or unpaid bereavement leave. Eleven of the states has its own version of this law, but only Oregon specifically requires private sector bereavement leave.
A 2016 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management reports that over 80 percent of companies have bereavement policies, with an average of 4 days off for the death of a spouse or a child. An average of 3 days leave is given for partners, parents, grandparents and grandchildren, foster children, and siblings. Two days paid leave is typical for a miscarriage, the death of a relative of your spouse or same-sex partner’s relative. One day is standard paid leave for an extended family member’s death or the loss of a relative of your same sex partner.
Bereavement for a temporary employee, a contractor or freelancer.
If you work through a temp agency, you may want to check if they have paid time off benefits and how many hours you need to work to accrue them. If you’re an independent contractor or 1099 freelancer, it’s best to build bereavement pay into the rates you charge, and budget for time off…including time for grieving. Personally, I was able to jump into meeting three days after the funeral and fully focus on the actual work about a week after that. However, I was working from home most of the time. Working on site is difficult I’ve heard. A friend of mine, an executive at a major corporation, said she felt “raw” when returning to work after her son’s death and retired soon after. Now she has thrown herself into a entrepreneurial leadership position. Although I’m a writer, I find painting a source of comfort. So what did I actually say to my client? My executive friend advised me to tell the client my son had died. I opted to be more vague, emailing them early in the morning that I’d experienced a personal tragedy that would require 3 days off.
- U.S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm
mployment Law Handbook. The Hunt Group. https://www.employmentlawhandbook.com/leave-laws/bereavement-leave-laws/
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Fact Sheet: Leave for Funerals and Bereavement https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/leave-for-funerals-and-bereavement
- Society of Human Resources. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2016-Paid-Leave-in-the-Workplace.pdf
- Payscale. Temporary Employment Law. https://www.payscale.com/compensation-today/2009/11/temporary-employee-laws
When I first started seeing infographics I thought “brilliant”! However, I didn’t get around to actually doing them until recently, working on the introductions for my client’s huge inventory of infographics. I won’t say that a lot of the info on the infographics was out-of-date, which is another story. The assignment is interesting and it spurred me to go make my own. In my search, I found a free infographic maker, Canva. It doesn’t replace a professional designer, but Canva provides a variety of layouts and graphics and typefaces and takes moments to learn. You can even upload and store your logo, photos, etc. So, I tried it and here’s what I came up with for a self-promotion. Granted I didn’t spend hours on trying to be clever. I just found a layout I thought would work, and this concept took shape. So what do you think?
Utilize is increasingly over-used as a word for use. Maybe it started out this way because utilize is a very specific word, sharing the same root as utility, whereas use has many meanings.
Almost every time I see, or worse, hear the word “utilize” it makes me think that the person using it is trying to sound smarter than they appear to be. After all, “utilize” is a bigger word than “use.” Though the two words sound the same, utilize is over-used in place of use. It used to be confined to scientific, technical and bureaucratic jargon. But then it spread into marketing, and like a virus, into everyday conversations. This word is the bane of copywriters and art directors alike, not only because it is wrong, but because shorter words and lines are easier to read and understand and fit into layouts.
The two words, in fact, use don’t even mean the same thing.
According to Dictionary.com, the word “Utilize” means: “to put to use, turn to profitable account”. It is understandable that it can be confused with “use.” But that’s no excuse. Utilize is not a synonym for use. You won’t find it in their Thesaurus.
In Getting the Words Right, T.A.R. Cheney, writes:
“Utilize is not an elegant variation of the word use; it has its own distinct meaning. When you utilize something, you make do with something not normally used for the purpose, e.g., you utilize a dime when the bloody screwdriver is nowhere to be found. If the screwdriver were there, you’d use it, not utilize a stupid dime for the purpose. Use use when you mean use, and utilize only when it’s properly used to mean–to use something not normally used. The computer went off-line, so they utilized Mr. Wang’s abacus, the one he liked to use. Despite the temporary breakdown, the computer’s use-rate was up (not its utilization-rate).”
According to Bonnie Mill’s well-researched piece at the grammar blog, Quick and Dirty Tips: “The word ‘utilize’ often appears ‘in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively. For example, according to the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, you might hear “utilize” properly used in a sentence such as “If a diet contains too much phosphorus, calcium is not utilized efficiently”. So if you’re a science writer, you might find yourself using the word “utilize” usefully.
End note: the next time your staff copywriter is overburdened, utilize the services of a freelance writer like Susan Carroll. You can embed her into your team seamlessly to optimize your copy writing processes.