Monday, September 24, 2012

Typos and Twins

I just came across an article on PR Daily called "How to Handle Minor Misquotes in the Press."

This article really struck home for me. You see, before I started here at CGR, I worked as a reporting intern for two very small newspapers in South Carolina. The PR Daily article discusses what a person should do if a reporter misquotes them, responding that they should just forget about it in most cases, assuming the error was minor and in no way damaging. If the error is more serious or detrimental to your reputation, especially if it borders on libel, it should definitely be reported.

As a past-reporter and current freelancer, if there's one thing I know, it's this: typos happen. And, in the case of print journalism, it isn't as easy to fix them. I currently write for a few blogs and contribute one freelance article a week to an online running website, and, for those, it's typically as easy as clicking "edit" or contacting my administrator for the problem to disappear. From my work at the newspapers, however, I know firsthand how glaring an out of place comma or a misspelled name can be when the "edit" button is no longer an option. Reporters, and anyone who contributes the written word, must be extra-careful to ensure that their facts are correct, and their writing polished, because even the smallest error could result in total loss of credibility.

Let me recall one of the last stories that I covered before moving to Charlotte. My editor, knowing that I was a runner, assigned me to write a story on each of the five cross-country teams in the area. I was ecstatic. I soon realized, however, that, not only do all high school kids start to look alike the older you get, they say similar things, as well. This meant that I had twenty quotes from each team about how they love their sport, love their team, and can't wait to see what happens this season, and I had to keep track of which person said which variation of the same.

So you can imagine my distress, when, on one of the afternoons, a coach insisted that I talk to his two prized athletes. Twins. Identical twins. My two best friends are identical twins, and I've never had any problem telling them apart, but it was no consolation to these girls, as I confused their names for the hundredth time, when I said, "My best friends are twins! I know this is annoying!"

Regardless, my interview time ran up because they had to continue with practice, and I was left with a jumble of quotes, unsure which words connected and who said what. Rather than risking a misquote in the article, and knowing I had to meet deadline, I was forced to use only the quotes whose speakers I knew for sure. There were a few really great quotes that I chose to discard because they'd been reduced to less than shorthand in the flustering interview, so I wasn't sure exactly what was said...or even who said it!

Awful. Before this, I'd considered myself a fairly good interviewer for an amateur, but this was easily my worst effort as a report thus far.

So now let me take you through misquotes from a reporter's point of view.

As a reporter, you always want to make the article as relevant and read-worthy as possible, without being a sensationalist article. In the case of blatant, or pointed, misquotes, some reporters lose sight of this. However, in the event of a minor misquote, it is usually the result of a typo, poorly organized notes, or distracted attention. Although as an interviewee, you may feel that the interviewer has the easy job, simply writing down your answers, this isn't always the case.

Interviews need to be held at conversational pace, and, if the conversation picks up faster than the interviewer can write (if, like me, they haven't ingeniously invested in a recording device yet), some vital contents may be lost in the process. It can be impossible for an interviewer to ask you to repeat yourself or slow down, especially in a hurried event.

HOWEVER, what all reporters should do, and what I wish I had done, is, in the case there is any question on a quote, name, or fact, call the subject back and verify. For the most part, people love to talk, and, if it means making sure their voice is 100% heard, they're happy to repeat it.

That being said, and I know I don't speak for all reporters, I see nothing wrong with calling about a misquote. Do so nicely, and, if anything, it will remind both reporters and editors to hone their reporting skills for future articles. As I said earlier, a misquote, or a typo, can completely ruin a news organization's reputation, where much of their communication is written. Who are you going to trust? The article that, although well-written, has an obvious typo, or the one that is polished and thorough?

In relation to marketing and business, I can't tell you how many times I've refused to use a business or a product due to poor grammar or misspelled words. It's not just because I'm a Grammar Nerd (I am), but it also makes me question the legitimacy and professionalism of the company or brand. Just as quickly as a creative design can attract the eye, a typo can push it away.

What are your thoughts on misquotes/typos? How do you think they reflect on a business?

-Hayley Lyons

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Ultimate Conundrum: Trying Too Hard

One of the biggest mistakes people make is this: they try too hard.

Before you kickback in your seat at the office, throwing your feet on the desk to catch a quick snooze, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is that people are so antsy to achieve success and perfection that they end up forcing a mediocre, less impressive final result...just to get it done. People tend to envision a final goal, just to reach it, even if they lose possibilities along the way.

We see this every day. We see it in the singers on the X-Factor, belting out off-key “notes” in an attempt to show their range in a short time. We see it in fashionistas, who, as they endeavor to start a trend, create obscure outfits that, although providing shock value, do not reflect their talent at all. And, in marketing, we see it in advertisements that utilize loud colors, patterns, and designs so thought-out and unoriginal as to be nearly blinding and, in the case of neon, headache-inducing.

In college, I took a visual communications course, where our semester project was to re-brand a communications room on campus. The room was going to be the epicenter for meetings, group discussions, student-led seminars, and a variety of other things, as well as a creative study space for students when it wasn’t otherwise occupied.

It was actually a really cool idea, and I was excited to be a part of it. In a society where competition thrives, we were split into groups. At the end of the semester, a “winner” would be declared, their brand image used. As an English major, and the current in-house writer for CGR, my experience with visual arts and graphic design was limited to the occasional use of Photoshop and personal web design.

As a group, we decided that the best way to complete the project would be to work individually-together. What I mean is that we each decided to create a model for the brand requirements (ie: a business card, a logo, a brochure, etc.), and together we would fuse our favorite aspects of each individual’s design into one final product. We were all happy with this plan, as it would give us each plenty of hands-on work to complete, and we also thought it would give our client the opportunity to choose without limitation.

But there’s always that one group member who rocks the boat.

For us, his name was Jon, and he was the quintessence of this kind of “trying too hard”--aka going nowhere, fast. At the start of each class, two of the other group members and I would congregate a corner in the computer lab, where we would work, show each other our designs, and help each other. It is one of the best group experiences I've had, second to working at CGR. Without fail, Jon would come bursting into the classroom about thirty minutes later, in a red hoodie (every day—for a semester—the same hoodie), mumbling some excuse about how he hated the bus, and take over. He’d shove my hand away from the mouse and restructure my designs, or he would loom over the shoulder of another group member and criticize their work. And then he did this really cool thing where he would interrupt our idea-sharing discussions to say, “That's okay...but I have a better idea--much easier, more efficient.” He also attempted to write our final brand report, insisting, "People like it when you use long words. It makes it sound better. I just make them up to sound smarter."

Hi, I'm all for creativity, but no.

Jon did very little actual work, and his ideas were appalling, as he utilized vulgar humor for the logo and a lack of professionalism and creativity for everything else. His only goal was to finish the semester, to win, and to attract attention…with minimum work and as little exertion as possible because sometimes trying too hard to "be done" is the same as not trying at all.

It should come as no surprise that the other group members and I were sick of it. At one point, we met with the client to show him our progress and to receive feedback. The three of us had a variety of examples of our combined work, as well as a portfolio containing each individual’s examples so that we could cover all bases and give him the power to choose. Imagine our surprise when Jon showed up with his own manila folder and announced that he would be presenting independently. Somewhere in the midst of being late to class and wearing his red hoodie, Jon had found the time to complete his own brand work.

At first I was worried that the colorful, shock value of Jon’s approach would appeal to the client.

But guess what?

The client was unimpressed, calling Jon’s overdone work “distracting”, "unoriginal", and “forgettable”. What he was impressed with, however, was a logo design that the other members and I had made through our combined efforts. We had placed it at the bottom of the stack because it was honestly a creative mistake. It happened one day in class, when we were really tired, and really bored, so we just frantically clicked random buttons on Photoshop. What resulted was something like a tiger slash in the middle of the screen. Did I mention that our school mascot was a tiger?

But a slash. That was it. We couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it, so we included it simply to bulk up our portfolio.

And that’s what impressed the client. It wasn’t the well-planned designs or the perfectly centered logos, and it certainly wasn’t Jon’s “one and done” approach. It was a slash.

In a society where competition reigns, but no one wins, we discovered that, at some point in the semester, our client had secretly planned his own brand design and never intended to use any of ours. Regardless, we discovered something about work: it can be fun. It had been what happened when we weren’t trying too hard or focusing on the end that had given us personal success. It was what happened when we were having fun.

I think we all learned a lesson from that class. Well, all of us except for Jon, who, at the end of the semester, snatched from my hand the large binder we’d spent days organizing and handed it to our professor saying, “All of these ideas are mine; they just didn't credit me" before walking out the door. (I’m not kidding. Luckily, the professor had already told us that Jon would be failing the course based on his attendance and...surprise, surprise...lack of work.)

My lesson to you is this. You should always try your hardest. You should always have a goal in sight. You should be great because you are great. But sometimes you’ll find the greatest success when you take a deep breath, relax, and let yourself have fun because, sometimes, it isn't the end that matters--it's what you did to get there.

Besides, why do lackluster work when you’re better than that?

-Hayley Lyons

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Instagram It!

If I had penny for every time someone I know saw something cool and said, “Instagram it!”, I’d probably have, like, five bucks, which is a lot, considering the fact that Instagram is a fairly new application. (I say fairly new because it was introduced earlier this year, which, in the technology world, makes it middle-aged. Luckily, Instagram frequently adds changes to their app, keeping it mod and up-to-date.)

It took me a while to download it. Social media has already taken over so much of my life that the last thing I need is another outlet. If I want to share a milestone, I post it on Facebook. If I have a philosophical, hilarious, or cynical thought, I post it on Twitter. If I go for a run, I post it on LifeKraze. Want to know about my day? Check out my blog. I mean, I feel like my life has become Show-And-Tell times infinity, except the notes from the Tooth Fairy and rocks found in my backyard were way more entertaining to my Kindergarten classmates than anything I’m doing now. (What? You don’t want to know what I’ve eaten for.every.meal. or what I'm doing every.second.? TWITPIC!)

Last July, however, it all changed. I went on a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina with a few friends from college. We stayed at my aunt’s new vacation house and spent our days at the pool and our nights gossiping and eating chocolate cake from our favorite bakery in Greenville, South Carolina, Brickstreet. One night, I noticed that one of my friends hadn’t started eating her slice of cake, as she stood poised over it, pointing her camera phone at it.

At this point I was rounding the corner of my last bite, when I finally asked, “What are you doing?” I asked for two reasons: one, I really wanted to know what she was doing and, two, if she wasn’t going to eat the cake, I would.

“I’m trying to take the perfect picture to post on Instagram,” she said, as she took her first bite, at last satisfied with the picture. “Now I just need to pick out the filter…”

I rolled my eyes. I was so sick of this Instagram business. People would take pictures of their friends, dogs, or food (that’s basically all Instagram is, right?) and then edit it to make it look artsy. It took me back to my middle school MySpace days, when we would all over-contrast our pictures, or, if all else failed, put it in black and white because everyone looks better in black and white.

Responding to my eye roll with another eye roll, she said, “Of all people, you’re one to judge.”

Guilty, I thought, as I sent a status out to every social media account on my phone.

“Fine,” I said. “Tell me a little bit more about it."

Over the course of five minutes (I’m ashamed to say that’s all it took), she showed me around Instagram, I downloaded it, and the rest is history.

What is it about Instagram, though, that makes it so appealing? Even my friends who have deleted their Facebook accounts or refuse to set up a Twitter account love Instagram.

First, like most social media networks today, it's easily accessible. You can either take a picture from your phone or upload one directly to the app. You can send it to your other accounts at the same time, and then, not only does it post it for your friends to see, it saves it in your Photos folder just for you.

Second, it isn't text-heavy. A lot of people dislike other social media sites because they don't care to read what everyone is doing, and they don't think that their life is interesting enough to put into words. With Instagram, though, it's as easy as point, shoot, and post. You don't have to pick a filter if you don't want one, and you don't even have to post a caption. And, from the viewpoint of checking out other friends' postings, all you have to do is scroll and look.

Third, pictures are more appealing than words; it's the show, don't tell school of thought. You can tell me how delicious your dinner was, how last night's sunset was the most beautiful you've ever seen, or how much fun you are having with your friends, but telling me doesn't have the same effect as showing me.

Why do you think Instagram has gotten to be so popular?

-Hayley Lyons

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"I'm Not Creative": Myth Debunked

“I’m not creative.”

This kills me. Whenever people say this to me, I’m tempted to patter on about how “Everyone is creative”, “You just have your own sense of imagination”, and “Creativity isn't limited to art”, but, despite the fact that these are my true beliefs, I know that it comes off as nothing more than a sales pitch, with a side of motherly advice. At least I don’t include the tag “in your own special way” at the end of my pattering. Right?


I mean, I, for instance, could easily say, “I can’t paint.” But that’s not true. Despite what fellow classmates in a painting class may have told you, I can put a paintbrush in my hands, dip it in some paint, and slap it on a canvas. Voila. I painted. What I should be saying is, “I won’t be recognized for my painting.” Oh, well. For whatever reason, people tend to believe that they aren’t creative if they don’t get paid, if other people aren’t ‘entertained’, or if they're unable to receive outside approval.

Why, oh why, would you let other people determine your creativity? Have you seen other people lately? Miley Cyrus cut her hair to look like Draco Malfoy (if you know what I’m talking about, virtual *high five*), they’re bringing sideburns back in style, and, on a personal note, I can hear my next-door neighbor serenading her chihuahua through the walls. It seems to me that these ‘other people’ may not be the end-all-be-all determining forces in discovering your creativity.

Oh, and it’s your creativity—emphasis on you.

Still don’t believe me? Well I’ll help you with the first step right now.

What is something that makes you happy? No--more than happy. I hate that word, anyway—it never seems strong enough. So what gives you that indefinable, indescribable feeling of happiness, euphoria, joy, and bliss all in one. And then, what does it inspire you to do? For me, I can best describe it as a chai tea latte after a refreshing run in brisk autumn weather, with Joe Purdy playing in the background. And then, when I get that inspirational inclination that others describe as “happy”, I write.

What is it that you like to do when you’re inspired?
I’m not asking what inspires you (although I am interested in that, as well). I’m asking what do you do when you’re inspired?

You may not paint, sculpt, perform, write, or take pictures, but creativity is not limited to the expected outlets. Maybe you have a favorite sport, and, when you’re inspired, you want to play a game, or a match. You thrive on the competition, both with yourself and with opponents, and you push to better yourself each time. Or maybe you've started your own business, and, after years of searching for your purpose, you've found it. You go into work each day with new ideas to improve the business, and, although you’re physically tired at the end of the day, you secretly look forward to tomorrow, your motivation remaining strong. Poetry isn’t always on paper, after all. Sometimes it’s in the kick of a soccer ball or the innovation of a business.

A friend of mine believes that he isn’t creative.

“I just wasn’t born with it,” he says, insisting that his strengths are “strictly logical”.

But I’ve seen him build six-foot tall shelves, without taking a single look at the instruction manual, fix chairs that were labeled irreparable, and even untie the knots of necklaces that were considered to be permanently tangled. And, I know what you're thinking, he isn't even Superman! Kidding aside, he is able to look at building, creating, and repairing in a way that most people can't.

Can his creativity be put on paper or burned to a mix tape? Maybe not. But not all creativity has to be mainstream. It’s 2012; don’t we reject the mainstream anyway?

So the next time you try to say, “I’m not creative”, please reconsider: Anything you do, especially that which you feel inspired to do, is creative and unique to you. Maybe you’ve improved a homemade cake recipe. Maybe you have perfect comedic timing in everyday conversations, which, although it may not take you to SNL, makes your friends and family laugh. You might give really good advice or know how to make people look at basic situations in a different light. Or maybe you’re one of those people who sets your shampoo bottles upside down, so that the shampoo is already at the lid when you’re ready to open it--By Jove, I think you're onto something!.

Okay, maybe I was reaching with that last one, but you get the idea. Creativity can sometimes be found in the mundane. And, for my last bit of motherly advice, I believe in you!

Get creative!

-Hayley Lyons

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New: A Couch Story

I recently moved into a new apartment. Almost as soon as the lease was signed, I began to plan its interior design to the point that I considered pitching myself to HGTV for an interior design show because, you know, there really aren’t enough of those already. I’m only partially kidding. The only thing holding me back from this endeavor was the fact that I know next to nothing (and less) about interior design. That being said, I am convinced that my interior style, termed by others as “tacky” and “confusing” (thanks, Mom), will one day be “in”. This generation just isn’t ready to combine Moroccan with Country French, which, according to my aunt, is exactly what I’ve done in my apartment.

First on my list of things to get was a couch. The couch I had been using had been in my parents’ first home, before they gave it to an uncle, who passed it on to another relative, and so on. It was eventually bestowed upon my brother when he was in college. He gave it to my sister. She gave it to me. It spent its off years in storage units, in the depths of dark basements, and in the far corner of the garage with the rest of the junk, which we intend to eventually organize…eventually (when we get around to it). Always, however, the couch has managed to find its way into the heart (and seat, I guess) of a new owner.

Being the most recent inheritor of the couch, I found that I’d grown especially fond of it. Although I’d disguised its bright blue and green plaid upholstery with an ill-fitting slipcover, the equivalence of a paper bag for unsightly furniture, I've always appreciated its history. In a family without a specific heirloom (unless a sweet tooth counts), this couch seems to have lived and grown with my family from the very beginning. It is the couch that has been used in “first apartments” and “first homes”. Although seemingly a placeholder for a new and improved couch, it actually represents the start of something new, of new beginnings, of a new life. Not to mention the fact that the cushions have been worn down to perfection; it has never refused me the perfect nap, nor I it.

These clearly over-sentimental feelings for a couch caused me to be torn in the weeks before my move, when relatives and friends asked which couch I was taking. When I told them, reactions varied, if by “varied” I mean that everyone was really against it. They all feared what my new neighbors would think of me if they saw an old couch with a broken armrest; the word “weird” was thrown around a little too loosely. It took some convincing, and the promise of frozen yogurt, but after one trip to the furniture store, I decided to buy a new couch. It was beige, with a fun, colorful trim and came with a trendy ottoman, and don't even get me started on how fluffy the cushions were; I was too stubborn to admit it, but it was love at first sit.

The long-winded point that I’m trying to make is that sometimes, a lot of the time, change is good. My old couch worked for me. It was, in the most basic sense of the word, comfortable. The same can be said when marketing a business. You may use the school of thought “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, when what you should really be thinking is, “If it ain’t broke, fix it before it is.” This may sound like a cynical approach, but the truth is that things change quickly. What attracts people to your company one day could bore or even go unnoticed by them the next. My old couch, for instance, is the perfect exemplification of the past. It worked, sure, but, to be truthful, the cushions had been worn to near flatness, and the slipcover didn’t even fit, causing glimpses of faded plaid to peek through. I opted for change and embraced a new idea, and everything has been better because of it, especially naps (I mean, metaphors aside, I am still talking about a couch). Creativity, uniqueness, and ability to change are the triad to success.

That being said, even though I got a new couch, I didn’t set the other one on fire, or send it to a black hole in space, never to be seen again. I left it at my parents’ house, where it first began its journey, to come full circle in its life because, just like everything else, it has a cycle and may just reemerge again when the new stuff becomes outdated.

-Hayley Lyons

Friday, July 27, 2012

From Blackberry to iPhone

If five years ago you told me that touch screens were the next big thing, I never would have believed you. Even as touch screen cell phones were starting to become popular, I had zero interest. I figured they wouldn't work as well as buttons and the typing must be impossible. I was a die-hard Blackberry user and swore that I'd never use an iPhone... that didn't last long.

One by one, all of my friends got iPhones, and I began to count down the days until my contract was up. I couldn't wait to get an iPhone. As I switched from my beloved Blackberry to my new iPhone, I felt a little bit nostalgic. I had really loved my Blackberry. A few weeks later, I was addicted. I loved the big screen and the ease of my new iPhone. I loved all of the apps and I loved Siri.

I can't imagine using anything but my iPhone, and I am excited to see what the new iPhone 5 can do. The internet is swirling with rumors about what it will look like. So far it is rumored to have a bigger screen, thinner appearance, and a smaller dock connector. I'm hoping the new iPhone also has an improved Siri. Sales for the iPhone 4S are slowing, as Apple gets ready to release the iPhone 5. It's rumored that the new iPhone will be released in October. This is all rumor, of course, but until then, I will be anxiously awaiting the release of the new iPhone.

By:Lauren Menichella

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pinterest and Pins and Boards, Oh my!

One of my personal favorite social media sites is Pinterest. I have always been more of a visual learner; looking at pictures and writing things down has always made more sense to me. Pinterest appeals to this need because, after all, my favorite part of Facebook and Twitter are the pictures that other people post. With Pinterest, I am able to scroll through the "Pins" that the people I follow post and the "Pins" of the entire Pinterest community. I choose to follow other Pinterest users that have similar interests to me, so I want to look at their "Pins". Looking at these "Pins" gives me ideas that I can utilize in my real life, may it be for an outfit, a new recipe, a home design idea, or some sort of craft. Pinterest allows even the most uncreative person to feel creative. It can be addictive, and I could spend hours on this site. It acts like a virtual scrapbook for all of my favorite images. Each user's "Pins" are categorized into Boards. Boards can be as general or as specific as you want, and there is no limit to how many you can have. One of my boards is a "Style" Board, and I have used it to pick out my fall wardrobe, even though it is only July. Pinterest is also great if you are busy or on a budget. Pinners post a lot of workouts, quick and healthy recipes, and budget ideas. As a college student, I am always finding new money saving ideas on Pinterest. Unfortunately, whatever budgeting tricks I find stop applying after I've pinned a few outfit ideas.

I'll admit, Pinterest does appeal more to the female demographic, but it can also be useful to implement into your own business marketing plan. It can be a great place to showcase your own work without feeling intrusive to your audience. You get to interact with your audience by re-pinning from them, and they can re-pin from you. Also, all of your new "Pins" will show up on their home page, so will see your pins with little to no effort. One idea is to show "behind-the-scenes" at your business. Let your audience feel like they are a part of your community. This looks genuine, and customers feel a connection to you. Another good idea is to have a board dedicated to related topics. Show your follows, other topics, or products that they might be interested in. For example, if you are a pool retailer, have a board for pools toys or outdoor furniture.

Pinterest is invite-only, but they accept everyone. I suggest you check it out, regardless of what you plan to do with it. You just might learn something new.

By: Lauren Menichella

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yeah, Well, You Know, That's Just Your Opinion, Man

Recently, Oreo has made public their support for gay marriage with a Facebook post and photo of a rainbow stuffed Oreo cookie. The image and post got a huge response from Oreo followers, but not all of it was positive. While some people praised Oreo and Kraft Foods for coming forth and supporting same-sex marriage, others have stated their displeasure in Oreos views, even saying that they will never purchase Oreos again. Oreo isn’t the first company, or the last, I am sure, to make public their standing on same-sex marriage.

JC Penny came under attack back in May for running an ad that featured a lesbian couple with their kids. The attack was lead by the group One Million Moms, an online group dedicated to cleaning up “harmful media” that they feel is having a negative effect on children. OMM didn’t seem to faze JC Penny however, who recently ran a Father's Day campaign featuring a gay sex couple with their two kids.

Other companies such as KY Products and Gap have featured gay couples in their ads as well. Even the Green Lantern, a DC Comics super hero, has been re-released as a gay man. Is all this public support for gay rights good for business? Is that even the point?

During the months leading up to the vote on Amendment One in North Carolina, all of the big NC based firms, like Duke Energy or Bank of America, stayed silent about their views on the issue. It appears this was a good decision. Replacements Limited, a company based in Greensboro made large donations to the same-sex marriage cause, sold shirts in their stores, and sponsored a billboard on an interstate near their headquarters.

The result? Many orders were dropped, and the company received many negative emails, letters, and phone calls. It appears that in North Carolina the issue of same-sex marriage is still a topic that will earn you as many enemies as friends. It may be better to keep out of controversial topics, at least when it comes to increasing the bottom line in North Carolina.

If a company is willing to take losses for standing up for what they believe in, I guess more power to them. What I am more interested in is:

First, is the reaction people would have if Oreo (or some other brand) came out and supported that same sex marriage should remain illegal.

The second is how much a company can lose in supporting a controversial topic.

I am willing to guess that a person is more likely to stop purchasing Oreos because they do not like what Oreo stands for than one is to start purchasing them for the same reason. Those who strongly disagree with the brands views may decide to find a new type of cookie or perhaps start buying the knock off brand. I am certainly not going to start buying Oreos now because Oreos and I share similar views one marriage.

What is your take on a brand showing support for a controversial topic? Should companies make vocal their opinions, or is it better for business if they stay quiet? What would be the response be if Oreo had come out and stated that they didn’t support Gay marriage?

*The opinions of this article do not reflect those of the company, either way.*

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tech Dependence

Last week I tried to bring up an important email on my phone only to find that I couldn’t log into my email. My G-mail account had been hacked recently, forcing me to change my password quickly and without putting much thought into it. I had been using my old password for almost nine years now, a terrible habit, but I had grown comfortable with its familiarity. Now I stood outside my meeting, unable to access this important email, because I was unable to remember my new password.

Sure, I had written it down, but the sticky note on the bottom of my desk was no good to me, as I stood outside the conference, furiously typing in possible combinations of numbers and letters in a desperate attempt to break into my own account. I ended up going into the meeting without the numbers I wanted off my phone, and surprisingly enough the world didn’t end. The situation did get me thinking, however, about how dependent I had become on my computer and phone remembering things for me. I can’t even imagine the kind of wreck I would be if I were to lose my phone or computer and the data on them for good.

As the conveniences of modern technology have grown, my powers as a mental storage machine have begun to regress. Back in middle school, I had many phone numbers of friends and family memorized. Now I sometimes stumble when reciting my own phone number. Why waste brainpower remembering anything these days? Our cellphones save hundreds of contacts and our computers can automatically fill out our log-ins and passwords for us. This system of entering all my information at once and then forgetting about it has been very convenient up until now.

Last week's email debacle opened my eyes to just how easy it would be for me to lose years of collected data. With all the advancements in collecting, storing, and sharing information, how much of this data is going into our long-term memory and not just a bookmark folder on our desktop?

For me, it appears that most of what I think I know is reliant on a fully functioning phone or computer. Often, I find myself saving online news articles to read at a later date, only to delete them the next time I clean out my bookmark folder, the articles still unread. Technology has made it so easy to find and store information that I fear we spend more time searching than we do absorbing what we find.

Everyday we are bombarded with emails, text messages, conversations, commercials, television shows, new acquaintances, and news stories. All this information is coming at us in a constant torrent throughout the day, and we are expected to take it all, process it, store what we find important, and quickly move on to the next item of business. We have become so greedy by the stimulation of new information that we now even create and horde daily happenings on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. It is no wonder I can’t remember a password I made up with only a day ago; it is buried under a pile of never ending information. I have grown too accustomed to having all this information and technology saved for me, data that I can lose with a simple hard drive crash or stolen phone. How easy it would be for me to lose all my music, emails, contacts, bookmarks, and passwords in an instant. Yes, I have everything saved on a back up drive, and cloud sharing systems are making this less of an issue, but just the thought of all the reliance I have put into technology is a little frightening. My inability to access my email, it seems, has shaken me awake from this digital dream, opened my eyes to just how much I could lose if something happened to my computer or phone.

Our ability to find and share information will only continue to improve in the years to come. Unfortunately, the unaltered human system cannot hope to contain all the data that we are able to access. It's important for us to develop ways to filter the constant stream of garbage that is thrown at us each and every day, storing it not only in our electronic devices, but also in our memory. I am not saying down with the machines, throw down your web-enabled devices, and go back to living in the woods; I just think it is a good idea for us all to slow down once in a while from our constant hording of information and actually absorb some knowledge.

By: Embra King

Monday, May 7, 2012

Creative Marketing is Effective Marketing

I recall reading an article about word-of-mouth marketing used in California. Movie studios were hiring attractive people and models to stand in public areas and crowds and discuss movies and how much they liked them. This marketing strategy works on many levels. For the point of this article it is both creative and effective because it is a fresh approach to breaking down the barriers of immunity to marketing that customers inherently have.

This form of marketing uses attractive people, as others will better value their opinion by wanting to associate with them as successful looking people. It is just a fact that the messages of good-looking people or people with power are more appealing and likely to take root. This was just a small aspect of the approach but worth mentioning.

The true power of this approach is what I am writing about here and the most effective part of this approach. By using this creative undercover marketing approach and having the message seem unintentional, the message takes deeper root. When you think the idea to listen to their conversation was yours, you better value the message. You may even find yourself repeating the message. You may later say to a friend, “I heard that movie was cool”, or “I heard the ending was amazing”. There is a good chance you don’t even mention or recall where you heard this fact, but you did. If this had been a radio ad or web ad, you would never repeat it. You just made this viral because you trusted the source. You trusted the source because you thought it to be a candid and honest conversation.

Would you have thought of this type of approach or calculated how its effect could go viral, due to the source being trusted over traditional advertising methods? All this leads back to why you need a creative and inventive approach to marketing. Working for CGR Creative, I have been exposed to many professionals with diverse backgrounds and real hands-on experience in trying what works and learning what doesn’t on our own time. You can be sure that you will be presented with ideas and approaches you would never have thought of. The marketing ideas you are handed will be tested and have a plan as to why they will outperform the traditional methods your competition is using.

My personal background is in SEO and online marketing. I didn’t attend a seminar or a 2 day course, I spent 9 years building websites for affiliate programs, ranking sites that depended on ranking to make an income stream. I spent 9 years needing to be successful to eat and pay the bills. I was constantly under fire to produce creative approaches to selling traditional products.

Now working with the staff at CGR with award winning graphic designers and community leaders in social and business circles, I am part of a team of like-minded, outside-the-box producers. CGR is a design team focusing on many fields and many different cultural target consumers. CGR's experience with their customers has led to one-of-a-kind creative marketing approaches for each and every project we undertake. A client needs a new approach to their marketing to accompany the traditional methods they expect. Use our graphic, print, media, and online approaches but, at the same time, let us bring your social and online PR presence up to modern standards with ideas your competition has never thought of.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review Sites Creating A Problem

The good news is that review websites have provided a forum for customers and businesses to exchange and discuss their sales history working together. The bad news is that the intended use for review websites has completely failed. Review websites, like Google reviews, Yahoo, Yelp, YP, Mechantcircle, Superpages, YP, and others, may have had good intentions but have created a mess for small business.

I am certain the true intention of these review pages was the bottom lines of the sites that host them. If you can create an excuse to have a separate page for every single business on earth, you have just justified 1 billion new ads displaying revenue-generating pages for the review sites.

It may be argued that this is a win-win situation, since the reviews sites, like and YP, get to make huge gains in pages to display ads while businesses get free publicity. This would be nice if it was true.

The review sites have turned into a free for all of fake positive reviews and malicious competition targeting bad reviews. Here in Charlotte, we can easily point out examples of local businesses and services that spend hours every week attacking their competition with negative reviews. These review sites require nothing other than an email account to allow you to post high-ranking, anonymous attacks on your competition. The review sites themselves have no vested interest or financial connection to the validity of the reviews. Ad-displaying pages make the same revenue for these sites with accurate or fake reviews; there is no motivation for these sites to try and insure integrity.

The down side is that the only way this sort of phenomenon resolves itself is through becoming obsolete. Until these sites see less users counting on them and the revenue impacted, they will not change policies to protect businesses. Until that time comes, many of these have become an easily accessible medium for slandering competition and misleading customers. ME

Monday, April 30, 2012

Exact Match Domain is King?

So any SEO worth their paycheck knows that exact match domains are a big part of the SEO game and the top search results, but what exactly is the science behind that?

If Google has the advertised 200 factors being considered when coming up with 100% of the final figure that determines the order in the SERPS, how much of that is exact matching a domain?
An exact match domain is basically the domain name for your exact search.

If you are a customer searching for the finest Charlotte web design company, you may type in Charlotte web design. This is a high volume, high competition and high skill level search result. You will find here companies making a living putting good, usable content. But, as in most searches, you will also find the guy who used the incredible skill of “buying the name first”.

Why would this be such a heavily weighted factor in Google’s quest for the most relevant and fresh quality content?

Google beats us over the head with their message of “content is king” and telling us to “write good usable content for you customers not for search engines". Google then goes out spidering sites and gives perhaps 10%? 20% consideration to the guy with the domain name purchased fastest?

Remember 20 years ago when anyone that was selling car insurance could easily be found by customers under their OTHER name “AAAAAInsurance”?

SEO of 20 years ago consisted of putting a lot of AAAA’s before you company name to appear first in the phone book. The phone book had an algorithm of exactly one factor, Alphabetical.

Now 2 decades later we have the world’s most advanced search technology yet it still seems to decide contextual relevance by the name you put on it. If I write “War and Peace” on the front of a phone book does that make it an award winning novel?
Todd Kron

Friday, April 20, 2012

Online PR Company Approach

So what do you mean when you say online PR?
Had the pleasure of meeting one of new clients last night at the 2012 Vision Award in Charlotte put on by the Center City Partners, and the title above is a question I got.

What exactly is online public relations and what do you do for me?

If you know me you know I absolutely love SEO, Marketing, selling online and watching SERPS and the trends online. I am very analytical and would really do this for free or on my day off.

I answered this with a lot of overlap from Defensive SEO and strong dash of social media.
“Public relations” is defined as the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by an organization or a famous person. PR is the state of the relationship between the public and a company or other organization or a famous person.

Online we must often be reactive in a practice sort of way. We do not always get to “wag the dog” when dealing with the world of searchable content. Very often a customer will search for what they want when they want to. In other forms of PR and marketing people like me take pride in telling people what they want and doing it in a way where they don’t know why they wanted it.

Does anyone really remember what was so great about Cabbage Patch kids or Teddy Ruxpin?
Now we can track customers and searchers to within a micrometer of what they are thinking and this is almost as good as telling them what they want. With Google analytics and other social media tracking tools like Pagelever allow us to know what works and doesn’t work in real time.

Still in this situation we don’t know when the trend will change until it does. The solution to this is often preparing ahead of time with defensive SEO, a tsunami of online press and covering every page a person may find in conjunction with a clients name.
We want to do all of the basic things like create a great Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Linkedin presence of course. We want to make all of those pages tempting to join with motivational calls to action for any visitor. Our thinking here is that when we do all this work to get a searcher to your page we don’t want them leaving empty handed.

I want your social media presence to be like the candy in the checkout aisle. Who can say no to “free newsletter, EBooks and updates only takes one click on my LIKE BUTTON?”
Not really PR, but the residual PR you get from having an active relationship with thousands of fans and followers is he most effective part. When someone sees you r message on your wall it means only so much, but when they se your message on their best friends wall who is your follower….means much more.
Searchers are not on Facebook searching though; they are on Google, Bing or Yahoo. And when they enter you name what do they see? The searchers can often end a search for your service on just the snippets Google provides. If I search for CGR Creative where I work as Online Marketing Director I see nothing but the great things we do for our community. I see Press releases covering our activity in the community and I see rave reviews from valued clients past.

In a past article I point out how over 80% of searchers do not go past page one in their searches, but that doesn’t apply to reputation defense when I do it.
If I am searching for a web design firm in Charlotte I likely won’t go past page one if I am a casual searcher. But now I have picked CGR for example and am considering the phone call tomorrow to them. My next step is to search them specifically and in this scenario most searchers will go 2,3 or 4 pages deep. Searchers curious about your business reputation are not looking for top 10 or the Google chosen “best”, they are looking for the bad news. Searchers looking for bad news tend to go much deeper into the results.
When’s the last time you search some old friend or enemy just for fun? How many pages deep did you go? Enough said.

Now go search CGR Creative Charlotte and go back to page 4, this is what I can do for clients.
We make sure you have a good reputation online which gets you a much higher conversion rate on raw leads who are kicking tires online. You have spent so much time building your name up with positive public relations; one single bad piece of news that is accessible to the world on Google 24/7 will lose all that faith in your next perspective client.
We build content and press for you through 40+ Press websites, cover all review websites including industry specific ones and local search results, respond to anything negative and work to minimize or remove it. We will make sure you perspective clients hear nothing but positive things and build faith in your business that they will turn around and pass on to their friend with confidence. Word of mouth and what people see what their own eyes is very effective in selling your brand long term.

Todd Kron
Online Marketing Director
CGR Creative Design - Charlotte, NC

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Types of SEO Agencies and Approaches

Had an interesting discussion today with Jason Ramsey of CGR over lunch. We were discussing a long list of experienced Charlotte SEO ’s we have come into contact, with a few varying philosophies of how SEO for your website gets done. I am the Online Marketing Director for CGR Creative in Charlotte with a decade of experience in SEO, affiliate marketing, and Adwords PPC management and have met many SEO's and their company's models as well.

We were not coming to any conclusion about what is right or wrong for everyone. Clearly every project has different demands and ratios of on-page and off-page needs, depending on where it is in the SEO life-cycle, so no right or wrong fits all. We did agree the situation of being a complete marketing firm and design agency with it's own SEO and PR team provides unmatched flexibility to the clients of CGR.

For those starting at square one on this article, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the art or skill of designing, structuring, and interlinking a website on the web so that it best represents the keywords you covet in the eyes of search engines. An easier way to say this same thing is that SEO is everything that goes behind making your company show up first in Google searches (no offense Y and B).
Basically, Google has about 200 factors they observe when judging which sites to rank first and establishing the order of results. This is beyond important to businesses that exist from web traffic because it decides who grows and excels and who goes out of business.
So, with the 101 stuff out of the way, the discussion was about the best way for a company to approach this need in business. If you are at the point of knowing what it is, why it is important, and choosing how to go forward, here are a few observations from two experienced experts in Search Marketing and Web design respectively.

An In-House SEO Position refers to a company hiring a skilled internet marketer to work from their office with the single goal of working on their behalf. This type of SEO position is considered by many to be the “holy grail” of SEO jobs from the search marketer’s position. This type is very appealing to experienced, independent SEOs like me. My experience being from many affiliate programs and generating traffic for income or referral income means a lot of changing markets. This is a great way to learn every niche and all things that work but the comfort of a single focus and single project is appealing to many SEO’s. The in-house jobs are often the best pay and benefits as well since the company covets your skills as the only person tasked with a lot of jobs related to the website.

When I say Agency SEO, I mean an SEO who is also you web designer. This sounds like a bad idea to those who know SEO, but there are more coming. 

Any SEO’s worth their weight know that a person who does web design then sells you SEO as a way to get residual income and an afterthought may not be the best choice, but that’s not the person I refer to here. In agency, I mean the design agency that has an in-house SEO staff. This is what I would see as an ideal situation for both the SEO who is job-seeking and ideal for the clients and web designers as well. Here you get the smaller number of clients, which the SEO likes; you also get the chance for more complete SEO.
An in-house SEO has the advantage of working directly with designers which makes it possible to be part of the site, structure, and construction process. A large part of the battle later on will be the way you decide to map out a site, the folder structure, and the URL structure. An in-house with the agency SEO works alongside the designers. This situation makes on-site changes, pre-design brainstorming, and creative updates or changes much easier to implement.
The last type of SEO is what I have heard referred to as “the grinder”. The pure SEO agency is often the lowest paying and highest volume workplace for the SEO looking for work. This situation generally has about 6-8 project managers perhaps, based off the Charlotte SEO grinder agency I am thinking of. Each of these account managers may have 8-10 accounts they are responsible for and doing SEO is all they do. This will encompass PPC, social, and both on and off page work. Now, let’s look at the problems with working with a pure SEO agency as opposed to a design firm that has its own SEO department, like CGR Creative. 

#1 problem with SEO only companies : Competing clients
Bet you didn’t know there are SEO agencies that only do a single field of SEO? Check out Surgeons Adviser. This is a Miami area SEO firm that does SEO only for surgeons and plastic surgeons. Now if you read through their client list, you will see overlapping areas of coverage. Also, a Charlotte Plastic surgeon of worth, like Dr. Hunsted, draws in clients from 2000 miles around. If your SEO agency has clients in the same field as you (which they do), then how can they be doing the absolute best on both of your behalf? This also happens a lot with Real Estate specialists in SEO. Real estate does require a skilled SEO with real estate experience, as it means a lot of smart IDX Integration. Perhaps David Kyle in Charlotte for that kind of specific background. But if you choose an industry specific SEO agency, ask to see their client list and decide for yourself if you are comfortable with the amount or lack of overlapping markets.

#2 problem with SEO only companies : No access to the original design of the site
I covered this above when pointing out the strengths of choosing a firm like CGR Creative that has a department for SEO and is a web design agency first. If you bring a site that is complete to a SEO only agency there will be limitations to what on page SEO they can perform.
Now there are people who will deny this and say they have plenty of design experience to implement any changes they may need. This assertion is generally true, but they also work on hours per month schedules and the changes they make will come out of your time. Also, no matter what kind of remodeling you do there are always limitations to what can be change after the fact.

#3 problem with SEO only companies: Lack of desire to build more
Now here is another up for opinion. An SEO only may also be thinking SEO only. Part of SEO is growing the presence and not just streamlining the presence you already have. A firm that has a design relationship with you has the ability to pitch new site ideas and new websites you may want to build to compliment what you have.
If you have an informative website that isn’t designed with clear call to actions or to convert leads well, you may need a separate one with that separate goal in mind.
A design agency that has daily conferences with the SEO department like we do at CGR has a place where one person can dream up what is best in theory and one department that can put that plan in action from scratch.
All your eggs in one basket is finally good advice when you need to make sure the eggs are done correctly from start to finish. Changing who is handling the development of your online strategy midstream is not worth the risk. CGR has attacked this problem by offering a full service web design and marketing agency with it’s own in house department dedicated solely to SEO and internet marketing like social media management and PPC.

Todd Kron
Online Marketing Director
CGR Creative, LLC

Shaping the Urban Century

April 19, 2012 - Tonight the Center City Partners will be hosting The Vision Awards Sponsored by Presbyterian Healthcare and Wells Fargo. The event is put together to honor, recognize, and celebrate the contributions of individuals, businesses, and organization that have made the Center City a more vibrant urban core.  Jim Rodgers, Chairman & President of Duke Energy is among those who will be receiving honors tonight. Owner & CCO, Jason Ramsey will be attending the event tonight, as well as Annetta Foard of the Community Building Initiative.

The Vision Awards will be held in the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 South College Street. The event will be filled with many surprises and unusual twists, as can be expected from a CCCP event. CGR Creative is honored to be a aligned with such a great group of organizations. The building, strengthening, and progression of our Charlotte is something that we hold very dear to our heart.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Site Structure Must Be Step One

I have seen many sites lately that lack direction. Websites that are not built with proper on-page SEO generally are the king of mediocre. In this I mean the sites have a lot of information and content but lack a format that breaks it into topical pages and sections.

These sites generally are established businesses with sites that possess a good amount of link juice and natural reputation in Google’s eyes, but at the same time haven’t given Google what it needs on each page to rank top 10. You can count on good content and good links to your site to get you to the top, or you can make the changes to maximize that chance. It’s just common sense that if you have a person search “What’s new in blue widgets?”, even the #1 blue widget site online may be at page 3 if 20 other sites have addressed this topic specifically.

So you are selling Blue Widgets in Atlanta.

·Are you writing about them on every page? (Too many?)

·Did you take your top 10 keyword list and make sure each one has a page specifically addressing it?

·Did you do the obvious, like make sure your heading and title tags line up with each page’s intended keyword?

·Did you pick a target page to represent each variation of  keyword specifically?

·Does your homepage identify your target regions?

·Did you include other commonly searched usages, like “How much are blue widgets"?

·Did you include comparison phrasings, like “Why Blue Widgets are better than Red Widgets”?

·Did you include pages to target your competitions customer base, (Blue Widgets Jacksonville?) without diluting your own website’s region?

·Did you build a social following and social footprint for your website with RSS feeds and account?

·Did you make sure to section your site off by region you serve so you can build links to each section with the proper city name keywords?

·Did you make sure to move your best converting keywords to the homepage where they have the most juice?

·Did you eliminate links that have useless terms in the ALT tags or anchor text, like “click here” and “learn more”?

·Did you eliminate repetitive sidebar content, like feeds and welcome messages that appear on every page and reduce the originality of every page?

·Did you utilize a Q/A section so you can rank on page one for people typing product questions?

If you don’t have all of these thoughts in mind when you first lay your site out, you may be playing from behind for the next 10 years to the guys who did.

This list is about half complete of the checklist a site designed by CGR Creative will keep in mind for your project. If a single sale pays our cost as Charlotte SEO’s for your business, and you are confident you can convert the leads you receive from being on page one. This is a no-brainer to pursue for your business.

Todd Kron
Online Marketing Director
CGR Creative

Monday, April 9, 2012

Charlotte Defensive Search Marketing

What is Defensive Search marketing?
Defensive SEO is the process of filling the top 20 spots for your name with positive items about your business and you mission towards your clients. This process includes:
·       Producing public pages highlighting a professionals skill set, contributions, what their philosophy is and anything else we can create that presents and highlights positive things.
·       We continue to flood their name with these items to occupy as many top 10-20 spots as possible.
·       We create pages, blogs, Blogspot, Wordpress Free blogs, Tumblr accounts, guest books and anything online to create as many results with positive references as possible. This keeps anything negative from getting an easy ride to page 1 and becoming damaging.
·       We also monitor and add review sites and local search reviews if there is any reason to. By maintaining high reviews on all review sites we protect the star rating of your business as it shows in the form of bright yellow stars next to your name in searches every day.

What happens when someone gets bad press to land on page 1 of google?
·       We would provide or repost the good reviews to drive it down the page and always keep ALL you review sites at 4+ stars.
·       We would seek out other review sites, large Q/A sites like Yahoo Answers or use public forums like craigslist or city-data to write about your company and get your name above them to drive them off page #1. With about 86% of users choosing to click on page one of Google and this negative publicity will not damage you livelihood.
·       Contact the website to get it removed.
·       Comment beneath it in response to show good customer service and explain the view of the company.

What makes this so valuable to a local business?
You are currently working hard to build your rank. Search positioning gets all of the publicity and is the goal of any business that is online. You need to also pay attention to what to do when they do find you. Any established business or business that has long-term plans and goals needs to understand that a lot of their business will not see their website first.
With the growing numbers of review sites, public forums, and rising blog ownership the chances that you won’t get to state your case to clients is going up as well. We all know the sayings about first impressions, and this is how you control all sources of those first impressions. A good plan means accounting for all sources of clientele to your business. You need to control the top 10 spots for your name and your business reputation at all times. **86% of all searches end on page one of Google, so to control those spots for your name and livelihood is imperative. 
Being proactive is the only way to be sure that you get to decide how you are seen by online searchers and shoppers; it is as important where you are located in searches to decide what they read when they do find you.

And what they don’t read when you are busy doing your job.

by: Todd Kron

Charlotte Reputation Defense

What is reputation defense?
Reputation defense is the monitoring, control, and improvement of a person, professional, brand, or company’s name on the internet through the eyes of their prospective customers.
Reputation defense involves monitoring social media accounts for the company. It also means monitoring the search terms that are often referring customers to the company on social media and search engines.
A large part of the modern local search involves monitoring review sites on your behalf. Sites like Yelp, Google,, YP,, and Yahoo all provide reviews with very little protection for the business owner.
A bad review on here will be highly visible and can damage your business without you knowing it exists. Business owners are at risk of bad press without a chance to respond in many cases. This is why we watch all avenues and make sure a response and a resolution or removal happens fast every time.
Examples of Reputation Defense:
For a local restaurant we would monitor the review sites, monitor sites like city-data, city based search sites, food review blogs and websites,, and mentions of the restaurant by name in newspapers and blog searches. We would monitor social media for customers commenting on the quality, cleanliness, or service, as well as anything with your name or market mentioned.
In the case of bad reviews, comments about staff or service, or other issues, we would reply to the comments, report the bad press to the site owners and put higher positioned good comments and reviews above them to drown them out for a quick fix.
We could also use the company’s loyal customers on Facebook and twitter as a tool by encouraging them with social posts to go to that page and share their good experiences to drown out the bad.
If your company has a newsletter, we could call on that to drive traffic to the review website and provide dozens of great reviews in a matter of days.

Reputation defense has become a mainstream industry, and in professional fields it is even more prominent, where bad publicity can hurt for years if someone is spiteful or has a billing issue and decides to rant about it online. Doctors, lawyers, and high-end professionals cannot risk the professional reputation they spent years achieving.
A public page can last for years; it is important to address it quickly and either get it resolved or get it removed.
Negative posts on a lot of social or public sites can go to page one very fast on sites like yahoo answers, review sites, BBB, complaint report sites, and other sites that rank very well and update very quickly. This is the reason having constant monitoring is important.
A business owner can go months without seeing the bad publicity and in that time could lose hundreds of customers due to the angry comments of one bad experience online.
One other way we lessen this bad news, if or when it happens, is through defensive search marketing.

by: Todd Kron