Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Have a cow

What do you buy for the person who has everything? Or who returns every gift received. Or who is just impossible to please.

Instead of giving them something to eat, wear, watch, play with, or put on a shelf, how about something that should make them feel good while doing good.

Like a cow. A goat. Honey bees.

Now that gift-giving season is upon us, I decided to shun the madness of malls and retailers who started Black Friday during Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, I shopped at Oxfam America Unwrapped. I could just as easily have gone to Heifer International or Give a Goat.

All of them offer ways to give a gift that helps to end poverty and contribute to sustainability in places near and far.

I had the fun of trying to decide whether to buy a “hill of beans” for a subsistence farmer or honey bees for rural farmers. For someone else, it was a tough decision between a goat that thrives in tough environments or helping to start a village savings group.

Beyond animals and implements for better life in remote villages, there are many other compassionate charities that offer the gift of gift-giving to donors:

  • Seva – Sanskrit for selfless service – focuses on the prevention of blindness around the world and on Native American community health. Gifts range from restoring sight through cataract surgery to honoring Native elders to training female health care workers. 
  • Rescue Gifts touts “holiday gifts that save lives.” Its best-selling gifts are warm blankets that go to displaced families and maternal health care for women living in a crisis zone with few, if any, medical facilities.
  • Charity Gift Market allows you to buy real goods that you can give to your loved ones to use or wear. The website provides “socially conscious shoppers with a marketplace of goods created and produced by charities, with all profit returning to the charity to support their work.”
Gift-giving in this fashion – a symbolic gift or one that benefits a charity – seems on the rise. At least that’s the impression I get from the many alternatives found through my web searches. One caveat: always check out the charity before you decide to “buy.” CharityWatch is a good place to start.

Happier shopping…and the happiest of holidays, no matter which ones you celebrate.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Look, up in the sky!

It’s no bird. It’s no plane. It’s...it's…the International Space Station.

And it's speeding over my house.

In the pre-dawn sky, the space station looks about three times the size and brilliance of any planet; its speed faster than any airplane. NASA says it's the third brightest object in the sky, after the sun and moon. 

You may not be able to see Russia from your house, but you can certainly see the International Space Station. That’s because NASA will tell you exactly when, where, and for how long it will appear in your neighborhood.

With its Spot the Station program, you can sign up for free text or email alerts that arrive a few hours before the space station passes over your house. 

I tried it out Saturday morning, having received a NASA alert Friday night. I stumbled out of bed just after 5:00 and parked myself in the driveway. I bundled a winter coat over my jammies and stared into the darkness.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Sore neck. Nothing.

Then, there it was! At exactly 5:33 AM. Appearing in the western sky. Disappearing to the southeast. Visible for four minutes. Just like NASA said.

More than 200 miles above Earth, a space station crew of six men were carrying out Expedition 34, which began November 18 and will end March 15.

On the ground, it was cold, dark, and quiet. I waved and went back to bed, smiling to myself.

There are many ways to engage with the International Space Station. Visit its website for video and audio feeds, to follow the astronauts on Twitter and other social media sites, find educational resources, and play the interactive games.

Space may be the final frontier, but NASA is doing a great job of bringing it to your home and into your living room.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hey baby

When choosing a name for your brand, the rules – both common sense and according to those who know – are pretty basic.
  • Keep it simple and honest
  • Appeal to your customers’ needs and interests
  • Make it memorable
  • Protect it by trademark
There’s one brand I’ve been using since, well, since I was a baby. It complies with the first three branding bullets, and I don’t think it’s suffered from ignoring the fourth: Johnson's.

Johnson’s baby powder. Johnson’s baby shampoo. Johnson’s baby oil.

Only the word “Johnson’s” is a registered trademark – and capitalized. The products themselves have common names and are in unassuming lower case.

Still the power of the brand persists.I know what I’m getting every single time. It looks and feels and smells exactly the same as my earliest memories.

Maybe Johnson & Johnson wouldn’t be so successful in its baby-care product line if it launched them today. Maybe it’s plain luck that J&J got there first and has lasted the longest.

Maybe I’d still buy these products if they had fancier names – something like Johnson’s SkinMagic Oil for Babies and Adults, or Johnson’s SilkySmooth Talc for Sticky Moments.

But I’m glad they don’t.

Baby powder works for me, as a name and as a product. And I'm the only baby in my house.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's a shore thing

Hurricane Sandy hit hard on many of the places that formed my childhood and vacation memories. The Jersey shore. Boardwalks. Long stretches of beach. Boating on the bay. Wading in the waves.

The impact of Sandy is still being felt and dealt with, to varying degrees of success.

Yet, just as the stars aligned to create this Frankenstorm, another set of stars united for an amazing one-hour telethon, Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together.

A constant crawl across the bottom of the screen encouraged contributions to the Red Cross, either by:
  • Texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10, or
  • Going to iTunes, where you could donate in increments up to $200, or
  • Visiting the Red Cross online or at1-800-RED-CROSS.
Only though this last, relatively low-tech option could you give an amount of your own choosing: $5, $500, $5,000. Whatever you felt was right in your heart and your wallet.

It's great that texting has becoming a quick and easy way to support a worthy cause, and if the volume of tweets are any indication, many people chose this option. But $10? Why can't it be just as easy to donate more than the least amount, for those who are able.

Just think about how far $10 will (or won't) get you in a single day at the shore, while the memories created are priceless.

So for those of you fortunate enough to have escaped Sandy's punishment, feel moved to help those who didn't, and have some extra cash, consider making a contribution that falls somewhere between $10 and priceless. Even if you have to be old fashioned about it and write a check.

It's not the least you can do. It's better.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sell the story

While browsing the gift shop of a cultural heritage museum, I found more than a memento from my trip. I found some excellent advice for copywriters. 

I had asked the salesperson a question. The answer required a trip to the back room, which left me at the counter, waiting. I glanced around to pass the time and spied this note to the cashiers:

“Sell more than products; sell a story.”

People don’t walk into museums of Native American arts to buy woven rugs or pieces of pottery. They buy these things because they’ve learned something about the craft or the artist. They’ve listened to the story, and now the objects speak to them.

That’s a point worth remembering in today’s overcrowded marketing environment, where every touch point – in both real and virtual worlds – is another opportunity to make an impression…and a sale.

What I ended up buying at the gift shop was a small piece of folk art. Attached was a tag with a photo and brief description of the artist. This imbued the object with purpose and intent; it created an emotional connection with something that could easily have been just a knick-knack to remember my visit.

I left with both a meaningful memento and a useful reminder about the impact of storytelling. It’s a lesson that applies as much to a gift shop as to copywriting.

I may not be directly selling products, but I’m always selling ideas ... perceptions … reputations. Whether writing an annual report or a feature story for an employee magazine,  I will continue to look for stories that engage readers and create a connection.

I will tell the tale to make my point.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

You 2.0

The new normal for career paths seems to be one of continual growth and reinventing oneself.

A number of people I know have recently left traditional jobs, either by design, buyouts, early retirements, layoffs, or restructurings.

Even as they face a similar challenge in starting over, all are going about it in highly individual ways. Several have talked with me about Phase X of their careers, knowing I've made a go of freelance business writing after many years in the corporate ranks. I learn much more from them than they can possibly gain from hearing about how I set up shop in the dinosaur age, well before mobile and social everything.

Paul Wilke blasted out of the starting blocks in August, founding the strategic public relations firm Upright Position Communications.With feet-on-the-ground experience working on both US coasts and in Asia, Paul is focused on telling compelling stories, garnering on-message media coverage and providing sound strategic counsel.

 Previously, Paul held senior positions at Splunk (where he led communications around one of 2012’s most successful IPOs), Visa, Baldwin Boyle Shand Limited, Siemens, and Ronset (S) Pte. Ltd.

Anne Mueller has had a versatile career that evolved from a scientific background in chemistry and analytical spectroscopy to more applied disciplines in regulatory, corporate, and public affairs, R&D communications, and most recently, research ethics and science policy in a “big pharma” context. This summer, she started a management consultancy group in bioethics and science policy, Applied Bioethics Advisors. She is also a founding partner in the non-profit rScience Central, created to promote open innovation and sharing of pre-clinical research to accelerate the advancement of new medicines and therapies for unmet patient needs.

Jay Nachman established himself in public relations in Philadelphia, working for mission-driven organizations over the past two-plus decades. In planning the next chapter of his career, he is exploring ways to weave social media and new technology into his passions for writing and media relations. One of his latest articles is a humor piece, published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, about “tuning up” his job-search techniques.

It's clear that career paths today take many more turns than ever before. The ride can be a nail-biter at times, but new perspectives are always around the next corner, with interesting opportunities for those passionate about making things happen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Can't touch this

It seemed an unlikely event:
- A concert of funerary music.
- To be performed atop the crypts at historic Laurel Hill Cemetery.
- As part of the Philly Fringe Festival.
- By the Divine Hand Ensemble.
- Featuring a Theremin, an electronic instrument invented in 1919, plus harps, violins, and other instruments that produce sounds described as "ethereal, eloquent and mesmerizing."

So last Saturday, I spent the evening on Laurel Hill's Millionaire's Row alongside a number of prominent names in Philadelphia history who, because they couldn't take their fortunes with them, left behind impressive monuments.

Spending time in the cemetery wasn't scary, spooky, morbid, maudlin, depressing, sad, or weird.

It was surprisingly uplifting.

With perfect weather and a nice crowd, it felt peaceful. A respite from the busy city surrounding Laurel Hill.

I finally got to see how a Theremin works. Not by plucking strings or hitting keys, but by waving your hands near an antenna to control pitch and volume.

The Theremin is an instrument you can't touch to play. An appropriate choice for Laurel Hill, where you can't touch the "residents."

But both seemed very real last Saturday night.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sugar for Rodriguez

It took 40-plus years for Rodriguez to become an overnight sensation in America.

The Detroit musician has been working construction since the 1970s, when his recording career failed to take off in his home country.

Little did he realize he has been an icon in South Africa all these years – bigger than the Beatles or Elvis – with fantastic and premature reports of his death.

Everything changed with the indie film, “Searching for Sugar Man.”  

I stumbled across the movie this weekend, and now Rodriguez and Sugar Man are all I see and hear.
The music may be from another time, but it sounds fresh and new to these ears....and I understand why it's such a revered classic in South Africa.

Great story. Great movie. Great music. And a wonderful example of dedication and second chances.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Business card bingo

On the wall in my office is a plaque that shows every business card I’ve ever had in my career.

Nine cards. Six companies. And today the only company with the same name, same ownership is my own.

So much for corporate loyalty…or business continuity.
  • Before starting AMY INK, I worked for Fisher Scientific International Inc., now part of ThermoFisher Scientific Inc.
  • Before that, I worked for Hercules Incorporated, now part of Ashland.
  • Before that, I worked for ARCO Chemical, which was bought by Lyondell Petrochemical Corp., which became Lyondell Chemical Company, which is now LyondellBasell Industries.
  • Before that, I worked for Bell Atlantic, which is now Verizon.
  • Before that, I worked for Marketpac International, which had been a subsidiary of AIG, but is long since gone.
  • And even though I never had a business card when I worked at SmithKline Corporation, that company was transformed into SmithKline Beckman, then SmithKline Beecham and, now, GlaxoSmithKline.
 At this point, I think I'm set with AMY INK. I can't imagine what would ever get me to change the name. I never even changed my own name, and I've been married to John Greenstine for decades.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Springsteen: 62 and rockin'

Sixty-two. To many Americans, this is the start of retirement; the earliest age for receiving Social Security benefits.

To Bruce Springsteen, 62 is the start of another worldwide tour to support yet another new album, "Wrecking Ball."

Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center
As a born and bred Jersey girl -- especially one from Monmouth County -- I can hardly be anything other than a Springsteen fan. I saw him in the early days, when a few bucks and a handful of newspapers for recycling got me into a college show. I've seen him in more recent years, when I sat in nosebleed stadium seats and could barely hear him over the singing of those around me.

I cried when Clarence Clemmons died last year. While I had only seen him onstage, my father tells the story of playing handball with Clarence one night at Tradewinds Beach Club in Sea Bright, not knowing who he was until later.

All these memories came back in a flash while reading "We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two," by David Remnick in the July 30 issue of The New Yorker.

This is a great read, both for longtime fans and for those who have always wondered what the fuss is all about. Much more depth and meaning is revealed than I ever knew about the man, the band, and the music.

I've been singing along to Springsteen songs since the early 1970s. There have been changes over the years -- in musical styles, messages in songs, members of the band -- but the foundation remains solid. As Bruce says in the article, "I try to put on the kind of show that the kid in the front row is going to come to and never forget."

I was that kid once. And I will never forget.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Going animal for your brand

Naming a company is nothing to be taken lightly. Or  maybe it is. Consider the number of businesses that have decided to go animal for their brand.
  • Barkbox.com delivers a monthly box of goodies for your dog.
  • Dogpile.com is a search engine that combines results from other leading search engines.
  • DuckDuckGo.com searches the Web without annoying filters than can limit search results.
  • Aflac isn't named for a duck, but the company is now synonymous with one, having gained 90 percent brand awareness since introducing the Aflac Duck.
  • Likewise, GEICO is synonymous with a gecko, drawing inspiration for its mascot from a common mispronunciation of its name.
  • Tucows.com (two cows) is global provider of domain names and other Internet services.
  • SnapFish.com offers custom digital prints and gifts from personal photos, and PicMonkey.com is an editing site that touts “fearless photo embitterment.”
  • SurveyMonkey.com offers free online survey software and questionnaire tools.
Like animals themselves, there are many more breeds...er, I mean brands out there with names borrowed from our fine furry or feathered friends.

Still, naming experts continue to tout abstract names, informative names, and even made-up names. I can’t remember reading any advice about looking to your pet for inspiration.

If that were the case, my freelance writing business might have been called Purr-fect Prose instead of Amy Ink.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Picture this

Maybe it’s me. When I think of “social” media, I expect to interact with someone on more of a personal level than, say, a business communication. The difference can be as minor as seeing a picture – of having a face to connect to a name.

True, the headshots can be so small as to barely indicate human versus plant existence – especially on a smartphone – but they’re a start.

What amazes me is how so many people make such bad choices when it comes to their photos. “Bad” as in:

  • Cutting what is obviously a couples photo in half. (We can still see your partner’s arm around your shoulder.)
  • Holding your smartphone at arm’s length and clicking away. (Now we can see your arm, and it looks freakishly out of proportion to your head, thanks to the wide-angle lens.).
  • Repurposing a candid from a wedding or other formal event. (Woo-hoo! You look like you’re having a great time, but your glassy stare says you're having too much fun to drive. You might want to use a different picture for LinkedIn, especially if you’re job-hunting or looking for clients.)
Good pictures are hard to capture, even with the abundance of cameras available on phones and tablets, not to mention digital cameras of all sizes and price ranges. And sitting for a picture can be a painful process. (Is that really what I look like?)

I share your pain. I just went through an agonizing photo session to update my social media photo. At least clients will recognize me when I walk in their door.

It can be tempting to opt out of posting a picture, to prefer the mystery of staying hidden. But it’s hard to take someone seriously on social media when staring at their default no-photo stand-in or Twitter egghead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Being a dog on the Internet

The old joke about being online was that nobody knew you were a dog on the Internet.

Not true, and not even desirable, for a particular Jack Russell Terrier.

Lily is the canine mascot for MtnRanks.com. She loves chasing bikes. And, as you might have guessed, she’s gone viral. Here’s “Lily at Trailside.”

As if that isn’t enough notoriety, she’s been on Facebook since November 2011, as Lily Pad Downard, where she says:
“… I love the outdoors and action sports. I love to chase bikes, hike, tour in the snow, and climb rocks. I love to travel and ride with my head out the car window. In my spare time I love to eat rocks and chase cats.”
So, like many things in life, the pendulum has swung. Being a dog on the Internet is no longer a bad thing or something to hide. These days, it’s pretty cool. And you can sell T-shirts.

Friday, June 1, 2012

DIY music

Who hasn’t dreamed of being a singer in a band? I certainly did, once upon a time.

But it was only a dream. I had no guitar. No band buddies. No singing voice.

Fast forward to today. You don’t need a band, or even an instrument, to be a star. All you need is an idea, some courage, and a bit of talent. Technology can stand in for the rest.

  • THePETEBOX is billed as “one of the world's finest human beatboxers.” With just himself and some recording magic, he produces a rich sound that spins around in your head, sprints through your body, and keeps you moving.
  •  Then there’s Reggie Watts, an amazing beatboxer/comedian/performer. There’s a little bit of all three in his TED talk, Reggie Watts disorients you in the most entertaining way.
  •  And for those of you who ever wanted to be the fifth Beatle, here’s your shot. Paul McCartney’s website allows visitors to remix some of the old faves. It's a hoot; give it a try.
Once again, technology is reframing our reality, creating greater access for greater numbers of people. Many of whom are quite musical...and entertaining.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remembering quick foxes, lazy dogs, and good boys

Driving through a wooded area the other day, I crested a hill and caught sight of a fox. We had a moment’s stare-down before I remembered to brake, and he remembered to scramble.

Through my rear-view mirror I saw him run across the road and disappear into the woods.

My first thought? “I wonder if that quick brown fox will jump over a lazy dog.”

It happens like that. Those memory aids I learned long ago will suddenly pop into my head, and I’ll be able to recite the whole thing without hesitation.

I must have typed the phrase --"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" – about a gazillion times in typing class because it has every letter in the alphabet.

I also know that “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor,” because it helped me remember the musical notes in the lines of the treble staff in sheet music: E,G,B,D,F. (That's about as far as I ever got in my musical career.) 

And to this day, my sister and I can still sing a duet of that mindless jingle about where not to cross the street .

Now, if only I could bulk erase all those old-time memories clogging up my mental cache. Maybe then I could remember all my Internet passwords.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Steadicam, please

I recently went to the movies and was made sick by what I saw. Really. Churning stomach, spinning sensation, headachy sick.

I wasn’t watching slasher flicks or dark tales of sadistic torture. I was watching trailers for upcoming action movies. Make that upchucking action movies -- ones I’ll be sure not to see as full-length feature films.

Maybe move makers think they have to pack all the action into 60 seconds to draw in viewers. Me? I want to know more about the story and the characters; the chase itself has become a given. In fact, I mentally check out during chase scenes anyway -- tires screech, cars crash, things go boom -- as I wait for the more interesting parts of the movie to reappear.

But no matter the movie, it’s the movie-making techniques that are becoming a major distraction. Just because the technology exists to make things swoop and swoon, you really don’t want to make your audience do so.

All the CGI special-effects stuff should support the actors, not become the star. The audience should pay no attention to the wizards behind the curtain.

For my recent night at the movies, I saw The Hunger Games. My two words of advice for the movie makers: more Steadicam. Going for fast and gritty is one thing; inducing motion sickness in your audience is just bad business.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger more, read more

Who isn't into The Hunger Games?
I started reading The Hunger Games Trilogy this week. And, yes, I intend to read all three books.

I was drawn in from page one – or, rather, from the first Kindle screen. The writing is much better than I expected, especially comparing it with another popular series I can’t believe I read: Twilight.

I don’t often read Young Adult fiction. I can barely find time to read any fiction. In the case of Twilight, I plead vacation curiosity. 

Knowing nothing about Twilight in 2008, I found myself in the teeny town of Forks, Washington, where all the action begins in the book. The B&B there was decorated with birthday signs for Bella Swan, signed by Edward Cullen. I was clueless; and the owner was incredulous of my ignorance. So once I was home, I went to the library and started to read. I kept this up through four long tomes just to see how things would turn out, even while putting up with the annoying Bella and all her whining.

By comparison, the start of The Hunger Games has been a delight to read. I’m almost hesitant to go any further, fearful that the writing won’t hold up. I’ve already been told that Book One is the best of the three.

I found the same to be true of the Millennium series. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the best of the bunch, especially on the large screen of the Swedish movie version. But no matter which book of the series you’re talking about, this is certainly no tale for young adults.

When I was younger, fiction series were much more fictional, at least the ones I read: The Clan of the Cave Bear (or, as it’s affectionately known at my house, The Cave of the Clam Strips), The Lord of the Rings, and going way back in the time machine, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Sequels, prequels, trilogies, series. The formula seems simple: create compelling characters and stories, write engaging narrative, publish and repeat. Getting kids to read is a wonderful thing. Creating lifelong devotees of fiction? Priceless.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Living in the future

It’s the first day of April. The magnolias are in bloom and my daffodils are already spent. The lawn is in wicked need of a cut. And the ceiling fans have been on several nights over the past few unseasonably warm weeks.

By all indications, it should be mid-May or later.

Yesterday was the culmination of many months of anticipation in my house. It was the 19th Annual Tyler Arboretum 10k Trail Run, and my husband is the race director. While the event is his baby, I play the supporting spouse. I act as a sounding board, help to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and shoot hundreds of photos on race day. The work is fun and rewarding; it’s the constant thinking ahead to a future date that can create stress.

Living in the future disorients me as much as seeing back-to-school sales in July (which I have) and Christmas decorations in August (ditto).

It’s hard to stay grounded in the here and now when things keep rushing the future.

It makes me all the more eager for yoga class, which reminds me to be present on my mat. To focus on the task at hand. To live fully today. Even as the rest of the world speeds toward tomorrow.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Go out and shop

It was time for a new desk chair. I wanted something ergonomic, economic, and exciting. No small order. But I had all of the Internet at my fingers, and I could cybershop in any store anywhere, which is what I often do.

I browsed and searched and followed links. Finally, something caught my eye. I did some comparison shopping to find the best price and was all set. I was just about to click “add to cart” when I got a nagging feeling.

Maybe I should sit in this chair before I place the order. This wasn’t like a sweater or socks that I could easily pop back in the mail if things didn’t work out. This was a relatively bulky and heavy piece of furniture that required a thoughtful purchase. And that idea started another round of searching and following links to find the nearest showroom.   

I thought I would walk in, have a seat, make a decision – and then go home and order the chair online. To get the best price.

Instead, I entered a small product display area, met with a sales rep, had a good conversation about options, and found I could configure the chair exactly the way I wanted.

And still get the best price.  

I also got something else: unexpected value in the overall experience – in seeing, touching, and hearing about the object I wanted to buy. I had forgotten how nice it was to talk with a knowledgeable, friendly sales rep.

The lesson learned? I need to get out of the house more. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

62,391 emails

I have become a very orderly person. By necessity. When you're a one-woman office, you get all the perks and all the work. Multitasking is my middle name. Laundry and research. Vacuuming and conceptualizing. Emails and teleconferences.

So the first thing I do every morning is check for emails and clean out my inbox. If more than a dozen have collected overnight, I start to hyperventilate, thinking something has gone seriously wrong with a project.

So when I used my father's computer recently and saw an inbox stuffed with 62,391 emails, I was gobsmacked. I didn't think that large an accumulation was even possible.

Now, I do a lot of online ordering, and every order automatically subscribes me to one or more newsletters or emails or other customer-relationship vehicles. This makes me religious about hunting down and clicking the teeny tiny "unsubscribe" links at the bottom of the page. Just about every time I get the immediate response: "Please tell us why you want to unsubscribe."

I never have because I don't know exactly what to say. "You and thousands of others send me too many emails." "I find your constant messages a distraction while I'm working." "I just wanted a pair of jeans, not a relationship."

Now I have the perfect response: "I don't want to follow in my father's footsteps."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writing (still) matters

 I’m not one of those writers who go looking for typos. I don’t point and giggle when I find them. But find them I do, everywhere I go.

You would think that computers wouldn’t allow typos, or misuse of grammar, or bad punctuation. Would Siri? I don’t know; I don’t have an iPhone, much less an iPhone 4S, but she seems like a benevolent computer interface who might let things slide.

Others—real people who live and breathe—aren’t always so forgiving. Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites have several “Poorly Proofed” accounts. It seems there’s no shortage of signs, posters, brochures, menus, and other printed material that need a sharp red pencil taken to them. Or the spotlight of public ridicule.

My own recent run-in came after visiting a new bakery in the area. Thank goodness I wasn’t greeted by the aroma being touted. "Step through our doors and be/ greeted by the aromas of our chefs/ custom cakes..." Without an apostrophe, this could easily be just a bunch of smelly cooks.

And, while we're at it, I’d like a single word or a hyphen for “mouth watering desserts” and to move the comma to the other side of “using.”

So, what did I say to the owner after skimming her brochure?

I’ll have a cruller, please.

It was delicious.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shiny side up, pointy end forward

I’m aware of the irony in going to the Philadelphia Auto Show. We get in our own perfectly wonderful car. We navigate city traffic, where it’s stop-and-go because of all the cars. We jockey for parking, surrounded by a garage facility packed with cars. Then we pay an admission price so we can see more cars.

Ah, but these are shiny, new cars. And my husband is an autoholic. Here, we can touch all the buttons, sit in the seats, and breathe in that heady new-car smell. The Auto Show is even advertised as "a giant metal petting zoo."

My 2011 GTI is now last year’s model. It’s old news, even though there’s only 5,000 miles on it. Already my husband is on to the next new thing, and I think those Mini Coopers are awfully cute. But if past performance is any indicator of future buying patterns, I’m sticking with the GTI for the long haul. I held onto my last car, my beloved BMW 3 Series, for 13 years (and only 80,000 miles).

Considering that my husband just got his dream car last month – a sports car he’s been drooling over since he was a teenager – we’ve got our wheels for the foreseeable driving future. We just have to keep them on the road and safe from wacky, distracted drivers who have cell phones in one hand and hot coffee in the other.

As my husband promises every time he climbs into his 2005 Porche, he’s keeping the shiny side up, pointy end forward.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thanks? You're quite welcome

Friends are often surprised to learn I write speeches for corporate executives. “They don’t write their remarks themselves?,” they ask. My mother has a different question: “Did they thank you for the speech?”

She used to ask that of any project I wrote: annual reports, websites, newsletters, articles.

I’d tell her my thanks came in the form of a check: a fair exchange of work for monetary reward. I expect nothing more.

That’s why I was so surprised to be invited to a client’s celebration of its brand launch and website redesign. Sure, I worked on the project. I put in many hours. And I was paid for my efforts. My only hope after cashing the check was to be considered for future work.

When I got the email invite, I thought it must have been a mistake. My name was on a project list, so I was probably included by oversight. They wouldn’t possibly invite a vendor to a company celebration, would they?

I emailed another vendor who had worked on the project. “Did you get this email from the client? Are you going to the launch party?” He wrote back: “Yup. And you should, too.”

So I sent back my RSVP, cleared my calendar, and went to the party.

I had been writing about the company’s culture of caring and compassion for months. Now I was seeing it in action.

How unusual, in today’s environment of budget-cutting and downsizing, to extend such generosity and welcome to a vendor. It says more than I ever could convey in words about the company and its core values.

Not only was it unexpected to be included in the client’s corporate family, it also turned out to be a lot of fun.

Thanks to me? You’re quite welcome BAYADA Home Health Care.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Laugh out loud bad

Bad movies have never been badder. And riffing on them has never been funnier than when the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K, is on the job.

It seems like only yesterday that I was laughing out loud in front of my TV as the cast of MST3K turned B-movie drek into some of the funniest, memorable scenes ever. But the show is long gone from the airwaves, running from 1988 to 1999.

But it was just yesterday -- well, last week -- that I was once again doing spit-takes and laughing till my jaw hurt courtesy of the MST3K crew. This time, the fun was live and onstage at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

The creator and original cast have resurrected "the tradition of riffing on the unfathomable, the horribly great, and the just plain 'cheesy' movies of the past."

Titled Cinematic Titanic, the show we saw was a double-header of incredibly bad science fiction flicks:
  • "The Astral Factor," featuring a convicted strangler who can make himself invisible, as do Stephanie Powers' pants throughout the movie.
  • "Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks," with a mad scientist, Neaderthals Ook and Goliath, a hunchback cook, a revenge-obsessed dwarf, and two "dead-sexy biology students."

I thought I'd miss seeing the 'bots -- Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot -- but hearing those same engaging voices and sharp wit was enough to recreate the magic.

Good to see the old irreverent gang again: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu (Crow, Dr. Forrester), J. Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo, Dr. Erhardt), Frank Conniff (TV's Frank), and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester).

"We've got movie sign!"