The Best Urban Revitalization Formula for 2018

Neighbors Uniting + Nature and the Great Outdoors + Empty Lot Beautification = Urban Revitalization! 

creating-more-with-less-imageIts happening everywhere in the U.S. now–and even in Akron, Ohio!

I was so honored to write this article highlighting this formula for TURF DESIGN-BUILD magazine a few months ago.  Here it is in its entirety:

Opportunities To Green Up Small Urban Spaces












Five reasons why you need to hire a freelance contract copywriter now

vice tighteningGood News for 1Q/2Q 2015: Pent up demand for marketing communications projects letting loose!

Bad News for 1Q/2Q 2015: The vice is tightening to get it all done.

Okay, I will admit this from the beginning, as a long-standing freelance or contractor copywriter, this blog is a little self-serving.

But, listen up all you marketing managers, creative agency directors and non-profit presidents responsible for your organization’s marcom:

If the vice is tightening on your promotional needs: Hire or contract freelance copywriters... without going through the hassle and time crunch to hire more full-time staff.

Most businesses like yours are pulling out of the recession and handling pent up demand for marketing communications services. Managers have more items on their promo plate than they have hours in their day. Since business is growing, all those shelved communications proposals and marketing plans are being dusted off and implemented. Is the vice tightening up enough yet?

Then, outsourcing your many writing projects–large and small–to freelancers is one of the smartest, most economical decisions you can make. Hiring someone to write your sales collateral, blog posts and web copy can free you up to do your job and provide you with better ROI.

So,with this in mind, here are the TOP FIVE reasons why hiring a freelance contract writer makes more dollars and sense:

  1. Experts in their field. You are a fantastic manager and creative individual, and you may even be a great writer with considerable training, but do you have the time or focused expertise to sit down and write a polished professional piece from start to finish? Your time is money. You don’t need to spend entire afternoons tweaking brochure content or creating press releases. Think of how much money you are worth per hour and multiply it times the amount of hours it will take you to finish writing that instruction booklet or product description.
  2. Flexibility. Working with a freelancer provides you with flexibility. You can work out an agreement that meets your specific needs within your budget, whether it’s on a per project, contract or long term basis. Freelance writers offer better rates because of the flexibility they offer in terms of working arrangements.
  3. Save time and money. Freelancers are a more cost effective option when compared to hiring because you don’t have to spend money and resources on the hiring process, training, benefits, and the cost of continuously employing someone. You can work out a service agreement based on a specific budget number. Better still, professional freelance writers meet deadlines and go above and beyond expectations because they are hungrier and want to renew your business more so than any permanent employee who knows a consistent paycheck will always be there no matter what their deliveries may be.
  4. Eliminate overhead and HR bureaucracy. When you hire freelance contractor writers, no need for office space (unless you already have it), insurance benefits or paid vacation. They want to build a long term relationship with your company without the insistence of full time work. Freelance writers focus on the project at hand. They are not distracted with office politics. And you deal with one person for everything. No agency protocols to mess with.
  5. Bring in fresh outside perspectives. You’ve spent hours thinking about your business and tweaking your products and services. You can probably recite your current brochure in your sleep. Because freelance writers have most likely worked for your competitors at some point or already taken on a similar project under another roof, they have more diverse thinking and are more capable of generating new ideas and thinking out-of-the-box to make your products and services sound even better.

A Word to Communications Majors Entering the Real World: Network First, Cover Letter/Resume Second

English Major SymposiumHow many English/Communications/PR/Journalism majors realize that 70-80 percent of jobs available are never posted on traditional job sites or posting boards?

I was honored to present to a group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduating English majors from Ursuline College, Walsh University and Mount Union College last Saturday as part of  a group of professional writers giving a little reality therapy on what to expect when entering the real world of job seeking and the workplace after (or while) earning that hard-earned degree.

It was a brilliant move on the part of Dr. Ronald Scott, Walsh University Division Chair and Associate Professor of English, to bring about 100 students together for a half-day focused on An English major? What job will you find with that?”

During my presentation, it was a show of hands for how many have ever attended a professional networking activity (i.e., IABC, PRSA, SPJ, NEOSTC):  I believe I saw 2 hands go up.

A show of hands for how many had a profile on LinkedIn.  It looked like 3, maybe 4.

A show of hands for how many have put together a portfolio to take out to interviews and post on personal website.  Again, it looked like 3 or 4.

And finally, a show of hands for how many have had or looked into corporate or company  internships.  That looked like a good half-a-dozen at most.

A good portion of the symposium was spent on presentations by college career center coaches on how to “perfect” your resume and cover letter.  Don’t get me wrong–this is a very, very important step and needs to be handled.

Yet, I hoped to get another message out there loud and clear on the importance of getting out there and networking, too.  And how to make it a priority and elevate it to a high art.

Listen up you starter millennials, whether majoring in English or not:   It’s who you know. It’s how you stand out. It’s how you relate to business professionals one-on-one.

To succeed in the art of networking, that means:

1. Maintaining eye contact and leaving your smart phone in your pocket on silence.  Okay, okay, smartphones can come out when typing in contact information or showing something from your online portfolio.  After that, shove it back in your pocket…and keep it silent.

2. Asking a lot of inquisitive questions about others and their struggles and challenges on the job– it’s really not about you at first–in fact it seldom is.

3.  Instead of trying to fit in and following the rules–get outside your box and take chances.  Find your gimmick, schtick, juice…and let ‘er rip. Don’t be annoying, just charming.

Scary? Yeah, maybe at first, but it fades quickly.  If you reach a level like me where every day you go out there, make a fool of yourself somehow, someway…and in the end no-one really cares.  Get out there and stand out a little–that’s what counts!  And in fact, by doing this you will most likely endear yourself to someone who will want you more than anyone else.

And…let’s not forget the most crucial element in the art of networking that will jettison you to the top because only maybe 5 percent of job opportunity seekers will do this:

networkingFollow up!  Keep sending appropriate, clever, focused, awesome correspondence that will keep you top of mind when an opportunity arises.  Don’t be a pest, just persistent.  Believe me, you’ll eventually nail it!

What’s Trending for “Goin’ Green in 2015”?

What’s the best news about Green Trends in 2015?

Nearly every industry seems to be trending toward environmental responsibility, more companies than ever are setting up or adding to their in-house “greenprints” and most consumers are demanding green products and services at home and in their communities.

Here’s the “Top 6″ of what’s most trending for “Goin’ Green” in 2015:

DSC_00351.  Urban farming. In response to the swelling demand for fresh, local food, expect to see integrated gardening projects becoming commonplace. People are beginning to reject the idea that farming is necessarily a rural pursuit. Community gardens are cropping up in the ever-increasing vacant city lots from abandoned home teardowns. Backyard chickens and goats are taking up residence as a result of eased-up city ordinances. Food forests are taking root from increased funding and resources from community foundations and non-profits.

In Akron, look for increased use of vacant lots in Summit Lake, West Hill and North Hill and around the Zoo for accelerated urban farming practices.

ms-julies-kitchen-9109562.  Increased sustainability in dining. The National Restaurant Association has identified sustainability measures as one of 2015’s hottest industry trends. Watch for more sustainable fish and seafood options, more responsibly-raised and free range meat and poultry served and more locally-grown ingredients added to major entrees. More restaurateurs will be partnering with local food advocacy groups to decrease food waste through composting, and conserving energy, water and other resources.

In Akron, look for increase in food waste partnerships between locally-owned restaurants and coffeehouses and composters.  

alpaca sweaters3.  Demand for natural and non-toxic materials. Already trendy, especially when locally- sourced and increasingly health-conscious.  Think zero-VOC paints, low-VOC carpeting and natural fiber insulation. Materials such as limestone, alpaca wool and local pine lumber are increasing in demand. More and more options for sustainably produced, socially responsible clothing and furnishings are all around us. We’ll see green lines from both high-end designers as well as moderate retailers like Target’s Tom’s collection and BeGood.

In Akron, look for alpaca insulation available for home energy retrofits and increased consignment stores identifying natural materials and locally-made  goods in their mix.

filtrexx living wall4.  Living roofs and walls. These “lively” roofs and walls are becoming increasingly popular not only as green home features, but also cropping up as strip mall/commercial office building adornments. Besides conveying energy efficiency benefits and helping regulate surface water runoff, they protect a building’s interior from electromagnetic radiation. Green walls and roofs not only improve aesthetics, but also moderate temperatures around buildings.

In Akron, look for a new terracing systems on hillside community gardens and living walls and green roofs on new and renovated commercial buildings.

passive haus5.  Investment in greener homes. Smaller footprints and greener features ranked at the top of the trends list among NAHB survey respondents with 74 percent saying their next homes are smaller; and 68 percent saying their homes will get greener in 2015—far surpassing the other trends on the survey. According to Green Home Builder magazine, homeowners are ready and willing to live in greener homes even for extra money. Builders are rising to the occasion with more energy-efficient new construction and water-conserving plumbing without premium pricing. Net zero, water smart and passive houses are increasing in demand.  With the increasing affordability of solar power (and even geothermal and wind) for individual consumers, this type of home is likely to explode in popularity over the next year.

In Akron, look for a new Passive House to be built by new home developer and more efforts in solar panel and wind (in the form of windpod) installations.  

Bike blog : cycle freight : Outspoken delivery6.  Cargo and e-bikes. There’s a revolution rolling down our city’s streets, and its symbol is cargo bicycles and e-bicycles (aka electric bicycle using batteries–many solar-powered). E-bikes utilize electric–even solar– batteries to offer a boost when needed for pedaling up hills. These two new-wave bicycle types are the #1 health trend identified for families in ParentMap.  Okay, the cargo bike is slow and heavy, but it transports several bodies on one vehicle and over-sized goods that once was the sole transport option belonging to the automobile. More than any development in the past few decades, these two bicycle transformations fulfill the promise of integrating bicycling into our daily lives.

In Akron, look for bicycle grocery delivery service to be offered by non-traditional grocer and more bicycle commuters mounting e-motors on their rear racks.


Recyclebank: The List: Green Trends to Watch For in 2015

ParentMap: #1 health trend for families  

National Association of Homebuilders

Green Homebuilder magazine

National Restaurant Association

#1 Marketing Trend for 2015: Quality Information Content

professional_writer_buttonQuality writing still matters… and now, it’s more important than ever!

Here’s why:

There are more social media venues for marketing than ever before, and the ever-increasing desire to segment and personalize requires quality copywriting and content creation versatility.

Today,  your business relies on its online reputation. Ongoing quality correspondence and professional sales collateral supports that reputation.  Hiring a professional writer is a great way to maximize your company’s online and offline branding potential.

With this mind, here’s the Top Five Reasons why you should invest in an expert writer:

  1. write stuffYour website represents your entire company. If your site features well-written, engaging content, you promote a high-quality entity. Remember that in most cases what you write is less important than how you write; therefore it’s mandatory to collaborate with a content writer who can put facts, feelings and an effective call-to action into words in an ideal manner.
  2. Connect to your clients more effectively. Professional writers know how to write for different audiences. Trained writers know how to analyze audiences and then target them with various writing strategies.
  3. Google values fresh content. If you don’t have a full-time writer on staff, chances are your website content rewrites and blog posts are afterthoughts. To maximize your SEO potential, you need to frequently update your website and blog with quality information. Good SEO practices will help your website rank higher in search engine results, draw more visitors and enhance the popularity of your website, ultimately generating increased revenues.
  4. Concise social media content reaches more people. People are far more likely to share information via social media when it’s engaging. Professional writers have been trained to write effective headlines and titles, which is an important skill for managing any company’s social media accounts.
  5. Completing projects more efficiently. With a professional writer on hand, you can plan and implement group projects much more quickly. Communication is key when developing long-term plans, and your writer can help you develop tangible goals that everybody understands. The professional writer knows how to work effectively in a team with graphic designers to make the images and visual style work with the words.

damn good writing

“The Need for Quality Information Content as the Most Important Marketing Trend” is based on research conducted by Washington, D.C.-based TorchLight Hire, one of the nation’s largest  marketing and communications recruiting and staffing firms.

Ever had a work project that drove you crazy?

RV Tour1One of the few times in my life when I was unable to complete a work assignment, definitely due to lack of skills, was the time when a unique media relations project landed on my desk while serving as Information Officer for the State of Minnesota’s Tourism Office.

I was told to host a group of recreational vehicle (RV) travel writers on a six-day excursion throughout the state. The purpose was to feature the state’s finest RV campgrounds with adjacent tourist attractions for the travel writers to experience, ultimately resulting in a splash of positive feature articles that would appear in popular RV publications.

This particular tour proved unique in that I had to be the official driver of travel writers experiencing the state first-hand in a RV donated by a local dealer who also happened to be a top supporter of the Minnesota Governor. Overall, I was excited about the assignment, but a bit nervous about the fact that I had no previous experience driving “oversized” and “over-elevated” vehicles. This inevitably became my downfall!

Here’s how it all went down, down, down:

On Day Two, I sheared the large antennae and AC cover clean off the RV’s roof while driving under a local bridge without enough clearance. On Day Three, I backed into a parked delivery truck, taking the rear bumper off the RV and annihilating the truck’s passenger side. On Day Three, I forgot to set the parking brakes when stopped on a steep bluff, resulting in the RV rolling backwards downhill, pitching over an embankment and lodging into a grove of mature pine trees.

Needless to say, the RV was totally trashed. Halfway through the tour, I decided to cut my losses and dispatched a passenger van to drive the writers back to the airport so they could fly home early.

Back at the office, the aftermath was brutal. I had to explain everything to my angry superiors and RV owner–as well as the Governor himself. Not only had I run up tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages to the outside of the vehicle and the ill-fated delivery truck, but I also destroyed the engine, forgetting to re-fuel with diesel instead of regular gas. Luckily, the RV was insured, engine replaced and body repaired.

travelwritertour1I wasn’t fired. Believe it or not, all of the resulting travel articles were overwhelmingly positive, although they did include mention of the misadventures and mishaps of an untrained and unlucky chauffeur.

The only lasting consequences were acquiring the nickname of “Crash Crain” and only allowed to drive a small and cheap 15-year-old state-sanctioned Chevy Nova while on any official business.

IABC Heritage Conference 2013 Elevates My Game

IABC Heritage Conf TitleLast month, I had the privilege of attending the International Association Business Communicators (IABC) 2013 Heritage Region Conference in Indianapolis.

At first blush,  I wasn’t much enamored with visiting a city in a “Red” state nicknamed “India-No-Place” nor do I spend much time sports fanning (conference theme was “Elevate your Game,” and Opening Night Reception was held at the NCAA Hall of Champions).

But, whIndy Canalen I found out  that my fellow IABC Cleveland/Akron Board Member Kavita Sherman was one of the instrumental conference organizers;  that I was being offered a nice stipend to cover the majority of my costs; the location was just one state over and less than a five hour drive; and that coincidentally I could “Priceline” a top hotel overlooking the Central Canal Culture District that I covered in a recent article I wrote on “stormwater management”  for Turf magazine,  I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m pleased to report that my preconceived notions about the conference were blown away quickly after experiencing the incredible hospitality of the city and conference hosts together with the quality of the conference programs and presenters.

Chapter Leaders Forum

IABC Cleve logoMy first encounter at the conference was attending the Chapter Leaders Forum.  Here,  I picked up a lot of great tips for working on building and retaining memberships serving on the Board as Membership Director for the IABC-Cleveland/Akron Chapter.*

Key Take-aways:  Try “Tour and Talks” by holding your meetings at members’ workplaces; keep age differences in mind when programming; consistency (time, place, etc) and quality of speakers is paramount; mentoring and buddy systems for new members; guest coupons; robo reminder calls mixed with personal calls; assign special short-term projects for members to feel involved and special–joining Board can come later.


 McClearyWhat’s Your ‘It’   Tim McCleary, The Involvement Practice, Sandy Hook, CT.

Tim was backed up by “graphic recorder (aka mindful artist)  Breah Parker,  who continually synthesized verbal content into detailed graphic charts, bringing the words and interactions in the room to life for participants– way cool as I never experienced that before. Key Take-away:  When influencing, your constituents will only remember 50% when you dialogue, 75% when immersed, 90% when involved.

SiteLogoWhats in it for Me?  Cindy L. Graham, Goodwill Industries, Indianapolis, IN.

Key Take-aways:  The customer is the boss; be available to the customer 24/7 and reach them wherever they are on multiple channels; the customer conversation never stops; create communities where they can dialogue with you back and forth; people love loyalty programs.

 Break-out Sessions

SmithJump Start Small Business Communications  Will Smith, EScreenz, Entre Computer Systems, Rochester, NY.

Key Take-aways:  Small businesses with small marcom budgets represent 50% of working population and generate 65% of the new jobs for marcoms.  Spend time and money on making a killer world-class website with lots of links; use the newswires.  Case studies:  Small bank offered community free meeting space, Manufacturer developed fan base for snowplow lovers with killer YouTube videos and online chat sites.

 WilliamsWhy Reptation Risk is More Than a PR Issue  Sean Williams, Communication AMMO, Cleveland OH.

Key Take-aways:  Technology, data security, regulatory compliance are types of risks; the “reputation” economy is growing all the time; Good measures of reputation include (1) direct feedback from relevant publics (2) positive share of social media (3) positive share of media coverage; Communicators notoriously fall flat on knowing numbers, regulations and business; content analysis is too much on “boiling the ocean.”

ImmEleven Ways to Rock Your Communications Career  Tracy Imm, Charm City Chicks, Baltimore, MD.

For someone like me in “Career Mid-life Crisis,” clearly experiencing age discrimination in job searching and straddling the two worlds of corporate employee (though part-time) and freelancing–I was at full attention sitting in this one. I walked out with no less than a dozen books and blogs I need to read in order to keep moving forward! Key Take-aways:  Discover your “Why”  and don’t start with your “What”; check out Ralph Marston’s “Power of Purpose” and subscribe to his “Daily Motivator”; the reason you may be unhappy at work is that you have a “Values Conflict”; Be an early adapter, stay relevant and never stop learning–at least one hour a day!; luck happens when prep meets opportunity; ask the universe for what you want, own that room and then you’ll be sure to get it.

 EnslenWrite Normal  Samantha Enslen, Dragonfly Editorial, Tipp City, OH.

Why can we not write like we talk?  The best writing is simple–like you are targeting it to a clueless kid–but most writers can’t do that.  Key Take-aways:  Use “The Universal Story” template and you can’t go wrong–“Once Upon a Time,” then “Suddenly,” then “Luckily,” and finally, its “Happily Ever After;” readability needs to be at the 7th grade level; vary the length of your sentences.

 DemoBarattanstrating ROI: How Public Relations & Social Media Drive Business Metrics  Melissa Baratta, Affect, New York, NY.

Key Take-aways: 30% of us are not tracking ROI; Setting realistic goals include grounding in reality, knowing the limitations of resources and commitment from executive leadership; you’ve got to keep a good mix of PR, social media and marketing going; Social media audiences–LinkedIn is for the B-B commercial and industrial, Twitter is for small business tips and Facebook is for consumers; quality over quantity.

Student Involvement: Key to IABC’s Future?

On either side of the conference, I had the opportunity to taxi a Kent State University student to and from the conference.  She was put through the ringer by competing on one of three student teams whose challenge was to come up with a full-fledged marketing communications campaign for a new sports service within a few hours. She indeed survived the challenge and had a great time at the conference. But. she was the last student standing for our Cleveland/Akron chapter and was now checking out for good.  I learned from her that IABC needs to ramp up student involvement.  Makes sense–after all, they are our future!

* The Cleveland IABC chapter hasn’t officially “slashed on” Akron, but since half the Board works and lives in Akron, and we’re re-introducing programs and focusing on recruiting there, I add it on whenever possible.