Maintaining an on-brand message during a crisis.

Due to unavoidable built-in wiring that comes installed free in all humans, we will each at some point during a time of crisis, be overcome by the part of our nervous system that in an effort to protect us, shuts down everything we don’t need in an emergency. Despite how much we might wish to use them, while in “fight or flight” mode, triggered by stress, panic, or surprise, our brains will be momentarily closed for decision making.

With a few slow, deep breaths, your brain will kick back into gear. And with it your ability to think wisely about how to proceed with creating the necessary messaging to communicate with your teams, partners, vendors, and most importantly, customers.

Four things to keep in mind while you navigate communication during a pandemic, that will serve you always:


Empathy: We are all experiencing a loss of some sort. Keep this in mind while you frame your intended message.

Information: There are so many rumors and so many rules, it is hard to keep the facts from the assumptions right now. Stick to what you know, keep it as brief as possible, share the most crucial information each type of audience needs from you, in the simplest form.

Optimism: We are bombarded by bad news on a normal day, let alone during a pandemic. Unfortunately, this causes more stress on the nervous system and consequently more stress on the immune system. Incorporating positivity and forward-looking optimism into your message is one way to support the health and wellness of your tribes, at no cost to you.

Consistency: When you know someone well and have a sense of comfort and fondness in your established relationship it is shocking when one day that person shows up with a totally different hairstyle or accent, or tone of voice. The same is true for your brand. In any message you are sharing, stay true to your aesthetic – the visual side of your brand, your color palette (or lack of one), and the language you use to communicate. The more you look and sound like yourself while sharing information, the more normalcy, comfort, and possibility for connection you bring.

For more information about how to create compelling and on-brand messages during a crisis or anytime, send us an email at We’d love to help.

Word of the moment: CONNECTION. What can you do about it?

As in fashion, home decor, art, and architecture, trends exist in the words brands use to talk about what they deliver. A notable promise ubiquitous today is the idea of a brand delivering “connection”. We are guilty of this as much as anyone, so let’s talk about what this really means and where it works.

Customers are bombarded by the messaging, ads, and calls to action, in the physical and digital realm at a rate of about 4,000 ads per day. Studies have shown that the number of messages can increase to 20,000 for those who are perpetually online.

Everyone wants connection, and brands know this, so they have turned connection into part of their value proposition. Promising that if you engage with their offering, you will experience a greater sense of connection, to yourself, or to others. But do these promises of connection really bring about better connection?

Can promises of connection be backed up by actions and results? Are brands researching and discovering better ways for customers to live a more meaningful and connected life by engaging with their product? Or are they just leveraging the latest brand buzzword in an attempt to win more eyeballs and dollars?

We are challenging our clients to let go of trying to achieve connection by talking about it and instead represent it, facilitate it, be part of making it happen.

Here are some places to start:

  1. Connect to your community by donating time or a percentage of your profits to local homeless shelters, food banks or schools.
  2. Invite young creative talent in local schools to decorate an open public space, plant a garden or perform on a weekend afternoon.
  3. Invite actors or performers to put on workshops for your tenants and the surrounding community – who doesn’t want to learn to chat more comfortably at a cocktail party or how to use humor as a tool for better networking and relationship building.
  4. Host a mini TEDx style lecture series. 
  5. Get out and talk to people to discover something your community needs. Put a task-force together to tackle it. 

Taking positive action to benefit your community has to power to elicit positive feelings, make real change and indelibly imprint a brand in the minds of users more than any combination of words and images.

Ready, go.

Happy International Women’s Day to all.

In thinking about which women have been part of my evolution and success, in  the many places I have lived, learned and worked, I have to share that in addition to the women who have been there, there are also many men. Men who alongside women, recognized my strengths, showed patience and respect and continued to believe in my efforts and champion me forward.

In working toward a future where more women are at the table, I think we have to invite everyone to take a seat.

To those who have pulled a chair out for me, thank you:

Bruce Adlhoch, John Bishop, Paul Burmeister, Jeremy Burns, Ace Burns, Debbie Cantu, Hilary Crahan, Clare DeBriere, John Dolab, Nord Eriksson, Shaun Fenn, Grant Herlitz, Mark Hoglund, Debbie Karnowsky, Chris Keller, Chip Kettering, Charlie Long, Liz Mason, Colum McCartan, Tracie Mills, Mrs. Palmblade, Jeff Pion, Vinny Picardi, Wayne Ratkovich, Arnold Schuchter, Chuck Sullivan, David Weinreb, Josh Weltman, John Zanetos.

Real stories: Confessions of a Barbie loving CEO.

I just opened my updated version of Word to see that it now offers pre-made resume templates designed by Moo. Brilliant cross-promotion. But I cannot use Moo templates. I run a design and branding business. I love Moo. The clean graphics, the neat still-life shots of stacked business cards and simple design solutions. I’ve thought about picking one of their templates to use for my own but as the head of a business that offers design as a service, that seems wrong. Or does it show that I am great at appropriately distributing capital resources? That is CEO talk by someone who has never truly been comfortable putting those three letters after her name. When it comes to ideas and bringing them to life for clients, I’m confident but that CEO thing, however much it was my vision for myself when I was a kid, feels like an ill-fitting jacket.

It’s funny thinking about being a kid and having a vision of myself as a businesswoman. I clearly saw the briefcase, the shoes, the power suit and the ‘bring home the bacon’ hair and glasses transition dance I was going to do at the end of the day. So many people will tell you that when they were eight they wanted to be a fill in the blank here and now there they are on Oprah living it and telling their story. Like the time that Katie Holmes told Oprah how her childhood dream was to marry Tom Cruise. How did that work out? The idea that we knew it when we were children and it happened like magic is misleading. Some people do have a vision and they hold it firm, work hard to become it and live happily ever after. Others hold that vision and become it and it’s not at all what they envisioned so they leave their job as a lawyer and become a taxidermist.

Childhood visions are meaningful, but how literally should they be taken? The visions I saw screamed, “Must run company.” When in actuality, those visions might also have been saying, “You have a vivid imagination.” Or, “You are a writer or an illustrator, someone who can invent worlds and armies of people having conversations and living lives who do not and will never exist.” They also told the truth about where I stood on being in charge.

Growing up I loved playing Barbies. I could do it for hours. But did aptitude tests in the 1970’s ask kids what kind of play they enjoyed most? “Can you play Barbies for 8 hours at a stretch?” or “Did you totally redesign your Barbie’s wardrobe, because you felt she deserved better?” “Yes! Yes, that is me! That is what I do!” And then I would have trotted out Barbie in her tailor-made pants and dresses. Another great question, “Did you create a home line for your Barbie’s house, with pillows, artwork, vases, and sheets?” I would nearly hop out of my seat with excitement at having been asked a question that I could answer so passionately. At having someone understand me so well. To know there were others who couldn’t bear to put Barbie down for the night on a hard rectangle of pink plastic — not comfortable or cozy at all! She needed a mattress, a fitted sheet! A blanket made from soft cloth! Vases made from toothpaste caps, pillows in the corners of the homemade couch, artwork on the wallpapered walls. Magazines! I wanted to move in with her and Ken so we could eat popcorn together by the paper fire and have parties and drama in great outfits and bedding sets.

Make-believe was so important to me and the worlds I created were so real in my mind. All I wanted was for them to be real in life. That would explain the demise of a group of Barbie-sized dolls called the Sunshine Family, that I accidentally destroyed because I needed their camping trip to be more real, and so I added fire. When my Sunshine Family decided to go camping, they packed a stove in their hatchback. They were prepared. I loved that stove because it was tiny and metal and had holes in the top where flames could come out. A candle from my mother’s dining room drawer, placed underneath the stove made it all the more real. Until the day I joined a friend as she roller skated by. When I got back all that was left was a grey pile of ashes in the dirt under the treehouse. As I surveyed the damage my mother walked toward me looking grave and concerned. “What on earth happened here?” She asked, completely flummoxed when she saw flames from her kitchen window. I don’t think I ever explained the cause of the blaze. I was too embarrassed by my carelessness and sad about the loss of my little plastic family with their hip clothes, relatable hair, and cute baby.

That’s the thing about realism. It has real consequences. And now, the imaginary world I occupied through my Sunshine Family was over. Poof. Thinking about it now, I wonder if the heavy feeling I had was less about dolls and more about the end of using them to create a place where I was in charge. I was God. And a fashion designer.

But I needn’t fret. My vivid imagination continued to play out and insist on having a role, whether appropriate or not as I made my way through high school and college, art school and every job and moment of my life that followed. And that brings us to now. Where I am a CEO. Not the one I imagined, but another kind altogether. One who uses imagination and creativity to help clients and inspire team members. A CEO who has always had an odd sense of humor and way of looking at the world. And that is a good thing.

This story is brought to you by our observation that being real and sharing truth is something marketers talk about a lot, but don’t really do. So we’re doing it. We’re sharing our truths. About what we think, feel, and experience. What is your truth? We challenge you to be brave and tell it.  

Small opportunities to make big connections with customers.

How do you ensure that your brand and all that it stands for radiates out memorably to all who come in contact with you, your space, your services and your people? There are infinite touch-points to consider but let’s start with one that is easily overlooked: Passwords.

When guests arrive, settle in and ask, “Do you have wireless?’ or “What is your password?” This is an opportunity to not only provide a helpful amenity but also to convey something positive about the personality of your brand. What does your password do to help your messaging?

In 2016 I visited Copenhagen, a city that amazed me by the kindness of its people, innovative and efficient systems of travel and transportation and an almost indescribable sense of impish whimsy and joy beneath the surface. At one hotel, when plugging in for an afternoon lobby work session, the password was simply “Welcome!”, which, despite its simplicity and perhaps obviousness, made me smile and feel just that, welcome.

Later in the week, starving and a little damp after getting lost on my trusty hotel bike, I ducked into a restaurant a few minutes before closing and was excited to get a seat. The server was quick to share the specials as he placed utensils and the many dining accessories one never knew one needed before me. Along with a few delicious oysters and a glass of crisp wine, he met my question about wireless with a simple, “Yes you can.” which was both the answer and the password. I loved the place instantly.

How do you want your customers to feel when they walk into your space? How are they greeted by you, by your staff? What small but simple things can you do to make them feel welcome and as at home and at ease as possible? What warm and clever way can you add to their experience and leave a lasting and positive impression?

A look at your wireless password is an easy place to start.