In the battle between Canon and Nikon, both camera companies are trying to cram more and more megapixels into their sensors. And people are buying into the more is better theory. Although some photo pros need these advances, the majority of the population can save their money and stick with fewer pixels.

I used to carry a 21-megapixel camera with me everywhere. It was rare to see me without it. But something strange happened about a year ago. I started seeing some amazing photography by pro Chase Jarvis. That is nothing new. He is a world-famous commercial photographer. What surprised me was that the shots were taken with his 2-megapixel camera phone. After seeing such awesome photography, I started thinking, “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.” So I began shooting with my iPhone daily, trying to capture better shots. I shoot anywhere from 1 to 50 shots a day. And I truly feel that it has helped me become more creative, which carries over to my commercial photography assignments.

The purpose of this story is to get you shooting. It doesn’t matter if you are using your camera phone or a Hasselblad with a 50-megapixel digital back. The more you shoot, the better you will be. And it will show in your photos.

Social Media as Conversation
Social Media as Conversation

While people spend countless hours each day checking social media sites, their reasons for doing so aren’t always as “cutting edge” as those of us in the marketing world would like to believe. A recent study published by Pew Research Center found that 91% of people active on social media sites say that simply staying in touch with friends is their motivation to use.

Too many marketers refuse to acknowledge that the way those of us in the communication industry use social media isn’t typical, as compared to the average consumer. If companies and brands using social media are really looking to drive ROI through these channels, they need to start offering information as valuable as a post from a friend.

Early in October, I received a call asking me to handle the marketing for an event at The University of Alabama. Seven UA departments were collaborating to bring Soledad O’Brien to campus, and if you haven’t guessed already, the first issue brought up was how social media needed to be the main component in our marketing strategy.

The primary social media channels being used were UA Ferguson Center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, which had significant followings of more than 3,000 students. My challenge was to figure out how to engage students with the Ferg to drive the desired result: a packed house for the night of Soledad’s speech. I did a little research and found that most students were looking to feel like they got some sort of one-on-one time with Soledad during her visit.

After this discovery, I made two very simple additions to the marketing strategy that drove positive results on both social media accounts—not to mention a standing room only crowd on the night of the event:

I. We asked students to submit questions for the Q&A session held after her speech via Facebook and wound up with hundreds of submissions.

II. We set up and promoted a Twitter hash tag so students who weren’t able to attend could still participate. We had over 50 students tweeting on our live chat the night of the event.

These simple tweaks were not only effective in engaging students for the Soledad event, but have served to revitalize the Ferg’s social media presence. Tweets per day are at their highest level ever, Facebook comments and unique page-views are higher than they have been in months and we even had students solicit our team via Twitter asking to write a post on the Ferg Blog, which rarely sees any activity outside of UA employees.

Why not take this example to heart and show your online community that your focus is on what they want rather than what you’d like to tell them? Try sharing information they see value in rather than the self-serving, one-way marketing updates we are all guilty of sending out far too often.

The Branding of Paula Deen
The Branding of Paula Deen

By now people all over the world have heard at least some part of the scandal that Paula Deen is embroiled in. Whether or not you’re pro Paula, one thing should be taken away from all of this. Her brand is now tarnished.

Paula Deen is much larger than her individual self. She’s a brand. She worked on it, cultivated it and watched it grow into the empire that she now enjoys….or did.

Branding works on feelings, perceptions, images and beliefs. There are certain expectations behind a brand experience. As we tell our clients, your brand is everything. Perception is reality. End of driveway talk, social media and a myriad of other things can make or break a brand. How people view your brand can hurt or help you. Brand trust or believability, in this case, has been damaged.

A brand is an inherent promise to consumers. There is a saying that “your word is your bond”. It’s the same for a brand.

Will Paula come back from this debacle? She probably will but it’ll be an uphill battle. The take away from this? Protect your brand, shape it, mold it and above all, guard its integrity.

Finally, advertising makes a rebound
Finally, advertising makes a rebound

These days it’s difficult to escape the heavy-handed and negative media reports regarding our economy, consumer confidence and the recession. We constantly hear off-putting reports and statistics on unemployment, real estate, the stock market and a myriad of other social and economic issues.

The advertising industry has also seen its fair share of negative press. We’ve witnessed media conglomerates collapse, 65-year old magazines dissolve and national mega-newspaper corporations suffer. However, in this massive sea of negativity, it seems as though things might be headed in the right direction.

According to data recently published by Kantar Media, total advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1% from a year ago and finished the period at $31.3 billion, marking the first increase in quarterly ad spending since the first quarter of 2008 and the largest gain since the first quarter of 2006, as the ad market finally experienced a long-awaited rebound.

The study tracked 19 types of media —13 of which increased from this time last year. Network TV, Cable TV and Spot TV all increased significantly (11.6%, 8.2% and 22.0% respectively), as well as Internet (display ads up 5%) and Local, National and Network Radio (4.6%, 19.0% and 3.0%). As a whole, print media recorded a slight decline in 2010 (an average of -3.4%) except in Sunday Magazines (13.7%) and National Newspapers (9.1%).

While we continue to follow the ups and downs of the economy, we can be encouraged by studies like this that provide us with an indication that the ad market is moving forward. With the political season approaching this fall, we anticipate these numbers to increase further as inventory tightens and media costs rise. As I’ve recently prepared media plans for several clients, I’ve noticed a renewed confidence in our vendors that I haven’t seen for some time. I think we’ve seen the bottom of the media market and the only place to go from here is up.

The poorest country I know
The poorest country I know

In March, I traveled with a group of our staff to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to look for potential sites to build the first Joseph School. The idea was to send a video and still photography crew to document our time there. I will attempt to describe what we saw, but most people reading this will never be able to grasp the desperate living conditions for 98 percent of Haitians.

First, a little about The Joseph School. A good friend of mine, Jim Bryson, asked our company to help spread the word about a concept he developed while working to assist after the Haitian earthquake disaster. Most Haitian children are forced to live in orphanages because their parents simply cannot afford to take care of their basic needs. For generations, the country has found itself in a self-perpetuating situation in which the majority of the country is uneducated and has no hope of finding jobs to sustain themselves. Children in orphanages are basically turned out into the streets after 5th grade and face a career of panhandling to try to find a meal for the day. In Haiti, there is no long-term hope for “bettering oneself” as we are so accustomed to here. In Haiti, the long-term dream is to simply find sustenance for the day. Period.

Jim’s concept for The Joseph School is to establish a school that can take the 5th grade children and provide them with a free education all the way through 12th grade. His concept is, for the first time, to give the children of Haiti a chance to become leaders, a chance to find a real job and a chance at a future.

All those plans and dreams sound great when you are hearing them in the lobby of an upscale Nashville hotel. They take on an entirely new meaning when you’re riding in an open truck down a main street so embroiled in chaos it is hard to imagine that it has ever been deemed a “society.” Trash is piled everywhere because there has been no trash pickup since the earthquake (a year ago, really?). Trash is piled into every possible place: streams, the sides of the roads, etc. There is no sewer service, so the same stream that provides sanitation to one person is providing the source for cleaning clothes for another, or worse still—drinking water. The entire city of Port-au-Prince smells of burning garbage since that is really the only way to get rid of any trash at all.

The streets are full of dust, dirt and garbage, and untold diseases are kicked up in the air with each passing car. Traffic could easily be the situation one might find if a major city such as Los Angeles was to endure a nuclear attack; there is no real order – the rule of the day for traffic is to stick your nose in and hope it doesn’t get taken off. But somehow they never seem to hit one another. It is truly amazing.

The United Nations has a large presence, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they are doing. They drive around in tanks with machine guns. I suppose they are “establishing order.” What we wish they were doing is trying to rebuild this country. It looks exactly the same today as it did the day after the earthquake over a year ago. Buildings are still piles of rubble. Many still hold the victims of the earthquake inside them.

But it is against this backdrop of utter chaos, hopelessness and despair that we discovered the most wonderful thing; the resiliency of the Haitian people. In a country that most people would agree has perhaps the worst luck on the planet – the world’s worst poverty, hurricanes frequently rake the country, few if any natural resources left, mudslides in the low-lying areas of the country, and now a catastrophic earthquake and a disastrous epidemic of cholera —we find smiling, embracing, joyful people. People who put on the best clothes they own every Sunday and walk miles to worship a God that most people would assume has turned his back on them.

If these people can have faith and hope living under such extreme circumstances they are faced with, I would contend that Haiti isn’t the poorest country on Earth. They are perhaps the richest. They live purely. They live for the day – thankful that they have been given that day to live. They remain hopeful while living through adversity that those of us who have lived a life of privileged excess can’t begin to imagine. They accept their lot in life with an attitude of thankfulness. They care for one another.

We, on the other hand, would never make it in this kind of environment because we would try to blame someone – anyone – so that we can satisfy our sense of entitlement. We wouldn’t deserve this kind of treatment and because we are Americans, we don’t have to take it. Not us, no siree.

Upon returning home we were profoundly embarrassed looking at our world, because we have lived a life of excess. We’ve gotten pretty much everything we have ever wanted. We live in houses that in Haiti would shelter 100 people. We never have to worry about whether we’ll eat today. In fact, we’ll all complain that we don’t have enough. There’s always that next something we don’t have. We’ll continue feeling our sense of entitlement and we’ll continue to make our life about Us. Life for the typical American is just that way; it is comfortable, it is excessive, and that’s just the way we like it.

So which is the poor country and which is the rich one?

Well, I can tell you that we are going to do everything we possibly can to make The Joseph School a reality. We are going to try to refocus the world’s short attention span on this country that is so desperately in need of the most basic services. But at the end of the day we hope we can bring home some lessons about life – for the country we live in.

The poorest country I know.


Okay, I admit it. I am hooked on Snapped, a true-life crime show on Oxygen, the network that encourages women to “live out loud,” which in this half-hour of programming is defined as first-degree murder. Despite the title’s promise, no one ever explodes into an ax-wielding frenzy. These homicides are premeditated, usually motivated by jealousy, greed, or boredom, and carried out in such a ham-fisted way that Helen Keller* could probably solve the case. But I do have to give these ladies props for their courage, even if they do end up as sunken-eyed inmates with bad hair.

Lesson #1. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
A note pad, a spare afternoon and boxed sets of CSI can be a literal lifesaver for someone looking to get away with murder. Case in point, the fate of the ladies on Snapped. How might their lives have been different with tips, such as: Don’t dispose of incriminating evidence in your own trash can. When staging a burglary, break the window from the outside. Homicidal motorcycle gangs are extremely rare, especially in suburban Connecticut. And my favorite: after murdering your husband, don’t plop into your hairdressers chair and say, with a giggle, “Guess what I’ve been up to?”

Lesson #2: Always do your homework.
Inappropriate behavior during a 911 call is an immediate red flag in a criminal investigation. When reporting an emergency, most people tend to be frantic, terse, and unguarded. Unlike the callers on Snapped, they seldom laugh, make jokes, answer call waiting, attempt a British accent, sound as if they’re reading, or ramble on as if chatting with a girlfriend while folding laundry. “So I was making chili for Troy’s Scout meeting (many minutes later) and my husband is bleeding from the neck.”

Lesson #3:
Use the appropriate tone when communicating with your target audience.

* Note: No offense to Ms. Keller, who would be the first to admit she is not qualified for police work.


The new Edelman Trust Barometer Study is out and causing quite a stir among marketing people. The buzz surrounding the report is primarily because it shows a significant one-year decline in the perceived value of “friends” as a trusted source re: brand trial and preference.

Many pundits are gleefully quoting this single datapoint as evidence that the social influence “fad” is starting to fade.

I think this is a big mistake.

For starters, words matter and the term “friends” has been severely cheapened and confused due to the social media lexicon. Real friends will forever remain a source of trust and confidence for Americans. We are greatly influenced by people we know and admire, and as media fragmentation continues, our reliance on these sources will increase.

Secondly, it is important to remember that brand “conversations,” as we define them here, have never been limited to or framed by the social influence movement. We don’t endorse a cannibalizing view of social media and we openly reject the “advertising is dead” mantra.

Instead, our position is that “we do work worth talking about,” no matter what the media. This is not a new position for our firm, nor is it an attempt to promote ourselves with a social media spin.

We are marketing communications experts who are passionate and gifted at stimulating, measuring and sustaining brand conversations — which is vital in an era of “always on, always accessible” media.

Therefore, while the term “conversations” may become a casualty of the social media debate, what should not be lost is a singular focus on helping customers better connect with and through a client’s brand.

This has always been the strength of great agencies and it will never lose its value.

See the good.

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On December 1, at the Annual Recreation Vehicle Industry Association International Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, Lewis Communications helped Tiffin Motorhomes unveil their newest model, the Allegro Breeze. The Breeze is a 28′ Class A diesel-pusher that isn’t just a new product, but creates a whole new category in the RV industry. Just as luxurious as Tiffin’s high-end models, the Breeze is smaller, more maneuverable and fuel efficient.

In an industry where in the past bigger almost always meant better, a teaser campaign was developed with the tagline, “This is BIG.” The campaign targeted dealers and industry media letting them know Tiffin would soon be unveiling something brand new. The Tiffin website homepage included a countdown clock promising something huge at the industry’s leading annual show. Direct mail and social media posts also helped spread the word of Tiffin’s big news leading up to the show.

The actual unveiling at the RVIA show included an oversized curtain with fake wheels pushed out to create the impression of a vehicle almost twice the size of the Breeze.

When the curtain was dropped attendees were surprised to see a luxury RV half the size of what was expected. Miniature pocket-sized brochures were handed out and the wording on the side of the display changed to say “Small is Big.”

The Breeze was named Best of Show for the RVIA Expo and was featured in RV Business and MotorHome Magazine.

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An integrated campaign themed “Never Settle” to promote the Birmingham Addy Awards was itself honored with a gold National Addy in Arlington, Virginia, June 6. The call for entries made use of candid photographs of the messy desks of top advertising creatives in the city, encouraging people not to stop at the first good idea. Elements included a giant piece of crumbled paper atop a downtown building and a microsite, keeptrashing.org.

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