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posted by Apprentices Jun 30,2011 @ 10:55AM

Making Volunteering Work for You

The Fourth of July is the day in which we celebrate our country’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In the spirit of this holiday, let’s break out as well and change the way we think about volunteering. Volunteering does not have to be a one-way street where you all you do is give, give, give. There is so much you can get in return when you volunteer. (And I’m not talking about that warm and fuzzy feeling that you get, although that is my favorite.) We understand that it’s hard to give away your time freely in this economy, so here are a few tips to make volunteering work for you this holiday season.

  • Network: You’d be surprised at how many professionals make time to volunteer in their community. What could be better for your career than networking while helping a good cause?
  • Create references: A good reliable reference is hard to find, but because you helped their cause, they want to help yours too.
  • Fill the gap: Employers don’t want to see a six-month gap on your resume. They want hire the go-getter who keeps busy. So why not fill in that gap with some social good.
  • Lastly, there is that warm gushy feeling in your heart that could give this year’s Fourth of July fireworks a run for its money.

It’s time to make volunteering work for you and increase the percentage of Americans who participate in this act. Currently 73% of Americans don’t volunteer... and frankly, that’s just un-American.

-- Jody Courtney

posted by Apprentices Jun 28,2011 @ 11:00AM

Moe's and Social Media: The Fast-Casual Options

Working with our client, Moe’s Southwest Grill, has helped convert me into a social media believer. Moe’s has a very distinct brand identity. Their messaging is very tongue-in-cheek, pop culture affluent and slightly irreverent. They remain popular with the school-age crowd, but are tailor-made for families with young mothers, who appreciate the fun while keeping it family friendly. All of this means social media is the perfect avenue for Moe’s to communicate with its customer base. Social media is decidedly informal and playful, and lends itself to instantaneity.

We help keep Moe’s highly active on the social media front, posting witty (well, depending on who you ask), timely updates not just for the purpose of advertising a daily special or promotion, but to stay top of mind and engaged with our audience. Customers typically respond very well. In Columbia, we’ve cultivated a fan base of nearly 13,000 followers, many who respond to our posts and proclaim their affection for the Moe’s brand. It makes sense: the young, social-media affluent, typical Facebook and Twitter user falls in line precisely with the Moe’s customer base. It’s a match made in heaven. And when something does interrupt the love-fest—say an unpleasant dining experience or an unredeemed coupon—we can receive feedback, pass it along to store managers, and remedy the situation at the blink of an eye, a speed only accessible with social media. No need for customer complaint cards, 1-800 hotlines or formal corporate responses. We acknowledge the error, fix it at once and compensate the affected party for their trouble.

While Facebook and Twitter fit Moe’s like a glove, social media is not the most suitable means of communication for all brands. I see car dealership commercials lately encouraging viewers, “Follow us on Twitter!” or, “Like us on Facebook!” I appreciate the effort to get with the times, but buying lunch and financing a car are two different things entirely, requiring completely separate levels of seriousness. Facebook has never been admired for its formality. A brand selling big-ticket items needs to acknowledge this truth and realize Facebook and Twitter do not lend the necessary gravity their services require. To these brands I recommend: stick to traditional media. But to those existing in a more playful market niche: embrace social media. It is not a trend or passing fad. It is the principal tool of the new consumer—informed, empowered and opinionated—and it will serve you well as a means of engaging your customer base for years to come.

--Pete Anderson

posted by Kevin Smith Jun 27,2011 @ 09:56AM

The Great Insecurity

Are things getting better? It’s hard to tell. Advertising is selling again. TV and radio stations have little to no inventory. Meanwhile, the jobs picture remains bleak and the stock market is sideways at best.

If “The Great Recession” has waned, I suggest that “The Great Insecurity” has begun.

Americans are, quite literally, in the process of settling a steep debt. Household budgets remain tight. Even the unscathed among us now live with a steady trepidation that things could get bad in a hurry. There is that little mess in Greece that keeps lingering. And while household debt is being slowly retired, rising government debt is the source of debate threatening to stall the world’s economy.

Given this backdrop, it’s understandable that charitable giving has taken a beating. Charitable giving requires some “disposable income,” and our current climate has made every household dollar essential. People need to feel secure to give.

As a result, nonprofits need to closely examine messaging. Many are tempted to amp up the cause, the direness of need. This is a mistake. Consumers have cause fatigue, and they tune out what seems beyond their control.

Success lies in a highly distilled message that states in the simplest possible terms why your nonprofit exists. Done well, it should also be positive.


The American Cancer Society’s “Birthdays” campaign hits the perfect note. Sure, star power helps, but the message is the organization’s mission, communicated in the most positive manner possible. It speaks to consumers without the desperation to which so many causes resort.


posted by Cathy Monetti Jun 23,2011 @ 08:00AM

The power of unplugging

As you’re reading this, I’m miles away from the office. Nearly 2000 miles away, to be exact. (Thanks to the magic of the Internet.) It’s time for a family vacation, and my husband and I have gathered our three kids and headed off for an adventure.

In the week before I left—which was as busy as my return is sure to be—I worked my way steadily through a to-do list in preparation for one thing: a week in Sedona. Colleagues asked me, “Will you be checking your email? Will you be available?”

After a pause, I answered, “No, I’m totally unplugging.” And that was that.

Our world has changed since I started an advertising agency in 1987. Over the years, it became increasingly easier to stay connected. Enter today, when we’re all one email, text message, or tweet away. It’s always been tempting to take the work home with you. It’s even more tempting now that work can fit in the palm of your hand.

But there’s something necessary about disconnecting. Whatever your job—“creative” or not—your brain needs an occasional refresh to keep producing your best ideas. Research documents that our brains often solve problems or generate new ideas when we’re not thinking about them. Creating mental distance by unplugging allows you to truly experience the things that enrich your creativity anyway—sunshine, laughter with your family, the luxury of uninterrupted sleep. All the while, the work you left at work is simmering in your subconscious.

You might not be at the Grand Canyon for a week, but you can leave your phone at your desk during lunch. You can go home from work, make a nice dinner, and eat it on your porch instead of at your laptop. You can declare the occasional email-free morning.

And when you return, you can tackle your work with fresh eyes. In this business, sometimes a pair of fresh eyes is exactly what you need.


posted by Ryon Edwards Jun 22,2011 @ 03:24PM

Behind the scenes: photo shoot

Last week I was in Northern California for a photo shoot for a new campaign we're developing. Northeast of San Francisco and close to Napa Valley. I know, bummer location.

Enlisting the talent of photographer George Fulton and working with an amazing in-house marketing team, we went to work scouting locations and lining up talent. We shot images that showcased a mix of activities and lifestyle opportunities in the area. We had a few hiccups along the way -- some equipment rental issues, a flight delay and one location issue, but in the end we worked long hours to capture the best light and came away with some beautiful shots for the new campaign. Overall, a great experience.

Here are a few snapshots from behind the scenes.

posted by Julie Turner Jun 22,2011 @ 09:35AM

Give your brand a fresh coat of paint

In meeting a few weeks ago, I listened to a conversation that revolved around a logo. A glance revealed the existing logo was dated, but the client was interested in a refresh, so there was a plan to show the client a three-step journey. The designers showed a range of logo options that took the mark forward ever so slightly, then two steps forward and then just a little further.

What a smart thing to do for a brand to do: take a step forward.

In 2010, the world witnessed the Gap-tastrophe that was the new Gap logo and "brand." Shortly after that unfolded, we witnessed the Starbucks micro-refresh which was discussed ad nauseam because of its unfortunate timing on the coattails of the Gap disaster.

At what point does brand equity turn into a detriment? If your logo looks like it fell out of 1982, what does that say about your company? Do you wear the same clothes you wore ten years ago? Are the walls of your house the same color they were in 2001? You’re probably not even living in the same house. There’s no denying things and people change—sooner than we probably like. Still, I find it interesting that many companies are resistant to evolution.

I’m afraid they confuse internal equity and external loyalty, hanging on to an identity or mindset they like and feel invested in rather than one that could give their brand a lift with the people at the heart of the matter: their customers.

When a brand establishes rock-solid principles reflected in their actions, that’s equity that should be off limits. A company’s basic platform should deliver far more mileage than the mark that identifies their business. After all, that’s what the company is built upon.

posted by Teresa Coles Jun 20,2011 @ 01:19PM

Nonprofit content: Tips versus Truth

How many times have you seen it? The nonprofit Facebook page chocked full of tips, factoids, data, etc. All great information about a great cause that someone spent a lot of time researching and posting.

And it just sits there. No likes, no comments, no nothing.

Because no one (other than professionals who get paid to spend their days immersed in your cause) has time to read all of that info.

What would happen if — instead of spending all that time digging into data and trying to convert us to their cause with all that information — nonprofits just showed us what their work is all about? What if we could see how they’re working, who they’re serving, and how they’re making an impact? Can’t that compel us to act?

If you doubt that it can, consider this video from charity: water, one of my favorite organizations. They are doing so many things right, from developing cause-related marketing strategies featuring celebrities who donate their birthdays to harnessing the power of free agents to pull off the first-ever Twestival.

The power of a story:

Kristen Bell visits Northern Ethiopia from charity: water (special donors) on Vimeo.

I could go on and on in homage to their brilliance, but I digress. The point of this video is that it shows what the cause is doing in a way that is simple, human and profound. For example, I was especially moved by Kristen Bell’s emotional response to the outpouring of donations made in her name. That’s real stuff there, and its power transcends any amount of intellectual case making you can develop and distribute. And by no means does it have to be hard to produce. It just has to be well considered.

The next time you’re tempted to distribute data as compelling evidence for your cause, think about what really moves you. I’m betting it won’t be a spreadsheet or bullet points.

posted by Apprentices Jun 17,2011 @ 06:00AM


What did you wear to prom?

Cathy Monetti
Pepto bismol pink

Pete Anderson
Black rental tuxedo, white shirt, lime green bow tie and vest.

Julie Turner
Bad dresses, bad boyfriends and huge hair. Every. Time.

Katy Miller
I borrowed a dress from a "cool college" friend.

Kevin Smith
Standard black tuxedo with black bow tie.

Kathryn White
A low-backed dress that caused quite a scandal at the conservative homeschool group "prom."

Teresa Coles
Alas. My school was too small to prom.

Maria Fabrizio
Strapless, floor length, pink, sequins that started at the bust and cascaded down to the floor.
White corsage.

Yanti Pepper
The only lasting memory I have of prom night was my boyfriend's car. He took me to prom in his old Chevy Malibu that he was refurbishing. It was in mid-transformation so the entire car was still in that gray primer paint. And as if the cherry bomb exhaust wasn't noisy enough, the doors squeaked really loudly when you opened them. Our prom was at the prestigious Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Imagine the look on the valet's face when we pulled up in that ride...

posted by Apprentices Jun 16,2011 @ 09:56AM

Social Strategy: Make Yourself Useful

Last month, I jetted off to the West coast to explore Portland for a long weekend. I didn’t stay at a hotel. Instead, I rented my accommodations from Airbnb, an online service that allows regular individuals to rent their private residences to travelers. There are a number of reasons to choose Airbnb over a traditional hotel when traveling, but here’s the most appealing to me: its innately social nature makes traveling a totally different experience.

The experience varies with the host, but generally, Airbnb hosts (and guests) are interested in sharing highly personalized recommendations. In Portland, I got to stay in the heart of the city, with people who know the city intimately. They pointed us to the best food trucks in town, gave us an insider’s tour of the Oregon coast, and chatted with us over locally roasted espresso. It was a pretty perfect introduction to Airbnb. I'd recommend both my Portland host and Airbnb to my friends. But let's say a casual college acquaintance of mine decides to visit Portland next year. I probably won’t even know she’s going, so I won’t be able to tell her where to stay in Portland. Enter Airbnb’s latest smart decision: Airbnb Social Connections.

Now, when you browse Airbnb, you can choose to link your Facebook profile to Airbnb search. Instantly, Airbnb will generate a list of accommodations that are personally connected to you. You can view fascinating connections like hosts who are friends of your friends, places your friends have stayed, or people who attended your alma mater. I linked my profile and found the results amazing. I was connected to people I have never met in Barcelona, San Francisco, and more—all via my real life Facebook friends. Genius.

This was a brilliant move by Airbnb because, most importantly, it adds a layer of trust to the search for accommodations, an element that’s missing for first-timers. But more than just putting wary travelers at ease, Social Connections was a good decision because it’s social in all the right ways. Rather than just yammering about themselves on Twitter or Facebook, Airbnb’s social strategy focuses on the people who are actually using their brand.

Integrating Facebook to Airbnb search is smart marketing because it quietly encourages people to travel more while raising Airbnb brand awareness. However, what makes Social Connections so great is that it actually benefits consumers. It’s a social networking function that makes using Airbnb easier. And when your social strategy is about making people better at something they want to be better at, you’re headed in a good direction. If you want to build a strong social network of brand champions, stop focusing on the latest gimmicks to attract more followers. Instead, ask yourself: how can our brand add value to our fans' lives? Then get busy on that.

Airbnb, you’re doing it right. Let’s all take notes.


posted by Kevin Smith Jun 15,2011 @ 10:30AM

Incumbent Brands

With our somewhat tepid economic recovery, consumers are continuing to reconsider every purchase and pattern. To that end, I suggest a shift in mentality and language from “leading brand” to “incumbent brand.” As people continue to trade-down and flock to house brands, incumbent brands have to justify their customers’ ongoing preference.

One way to do this is through corporate social responsibility.

Maxwell House’s “Drops of Good” campaign highlights their commitment to building stronger communities. The program, which concludes later this month, has had 1.9 million people participate thus far. Maxwell House has localized a national brand, and given coffee drinkers a reason to continue to choose Maxwell House over less expensive alternatives.

Nonprofits have much to learn from incumbent brands. Many fall into the trap of a marketing strategy solely based on direness of need. The point is that you are helping. People follow organizations that make an impact, not organizations that are causes unto themselves.


posted by Teresa Coles Jun 13,2011 @ 11:07AM

Nonprofit Marketing Opportunity: the power of free agents

Let’s say you’re having an event for your nonprofit. Invitations are mailed, received and RSVPs are staring to trickle in. Then one day, you get 12 phone calls from people who did not get the invitation, but would like to come anyway. What on Earth happened?

Perhaps your nonprofit was the recipient of a social leg up: a Facebook status tagging your organization or event. Not only does someone like or plan to attend your event, she’s excited about it. So excited, she’s shared it with a thousand social connections.

According to The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, this new socially minded benefactor is what’s called a free agent. If you’re familiar with the concept of free agents in sports, you’re close. These fine folks, however, are people who work from outside organizations or groups to organize, mobilize, raise funds or communicate to others about their chosen causes, passions and organizations. They have zero contractual obligation to support your nonprofit and may not even have a tangible link to your organization at all. But they may and will likely prove to be among your most valuable constituents.

In days gone by, these people had little clout or even the means to connect. But those days are past. The social mediasphere puts instant connections in the palm of your hand 24/7.

Networked nonprofits understand that free agents are not competition; they are allies. Free agent engagement can attract numbers of new people to your event, organization and cause. Work with free agents to spread the word and help them share the good work you’re doing. It’s one of the most effective, cost-efficient marketing opportunities we have as nonprofits today.

How does your organization engage with your free agents?


posted by Apprentices Jun 10,2011 @ 05:05AM

Day Job.

What would your job be if it weren't this one?

Maria Fabrizio
one of the following : maker of handmade greeting cards / museum curator / figure painter

Kevin Smith

Kathryn White
editor of a top literary review

Julie Turner

Pete Anderson

Cathy Monetti
English professor at a snooty private college

Rebecca Jacobson

Teresa Coles
landscape designer

What about you? What would your job be?

posted by Apprentices Jun 08,2011 @ 12:53PM

Designers as Leaders AIGA LEADERSHIP RETREAT 2011

This past week I had the privilege to visit Minneapolis, Minnesota for the 2011 AIGA leadership retreat. This was my first trip up north to Bobby’s world, and it was also my first time at the leadership retreat, attending as the South Carolina Education Director. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the city or the retreat.

I’ve come home to the sticky South with new cityscape on my mind and the inspiration to be something I never thought I was: a leader.

If you aren’t familiar with AIGA, it is the professional association for design, committed to advancing design as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. I joined AIGA in 2005 as a sophomore in college and it was probably the best 50 bucks I’ve ever spent. AIGA has allowed me to understand my profession, have lunch with the top designers in the field, and hear lectures from people who wrote the books I learned from. And it allowed me a network of invaluable friendships.

The leadership retreat is an annual meeting of all chapters, AIGA staff and the national board. I walked into a very well designed (of course) ballroom at 601 Graves hotel and I walked out inspired and unafraid. This statement seems over dramatic, I know, but the experience was transformative. To see Debbie Millman give her last talk as president, to hear Ric Grefe — who just waltzed up to the podium with no prepared notes — speak eloquently and then answer questions from a crowd of 250 designers, was truly inspiring. It was motivating to see what other chapters, including Austin, Alaska, Detroit and Minnesota, are doing to better their communities and the design profession.

I’m typically shy, flushed red and stammering. But after watching these (and many other) designers take to the microphone to share their passion, describing the diligence with which they approach their craft, and in doing so demonstrating true leadership, I no longer feel afraid. I need the microphone and the stage to make change; I am committed to pushing our tiny chapter and a message of design's power into our community.

More specifically, I learned what I can do to help young design students as well as those transitioning into the workforce. It is so important to continue to provide the students and professionals of today what AIGA has provided for me in the past. I learned “How to Hold a Successful Meeting” and even attended a session about CreateAthon, which of course Riggs Partners founded! Between the 7:30am breakfast call of mushroom and asparagus frittatas, the countless sessions and meetings, an open bar reception hosted by Shutterstock, and partying in Debbie Millman’s penthouse until 1:00am, I came home excited and exhausted. And thankful to be part of such a wonderful organization furthering design to actually change our world.

Below, a little sampling of the trip:

posted by Julie Turner Jun 06,2011 @ 12:40PM

CreateAthon Season Starts to Simmer

It is still months away, but I am already excited. With each day that passes, CreateAthon is one day closer.

CreateAthon is a national nonprofit assistance initiative that was born right here in Columbia, SC. During CreateAthon, partner marketing, advertising and public relations firms provide pro bono marketing services for select nonprofits. I have been lucky enough to cry through a number of presentations to very deserving nonprofits who year after year accomplish so much good with so very little means.

The brainchild of Riggs Partners Cathy Monetti and Teresa Coles, CreateAthon has grown from a lone, local effort into nationwide network of partners. If you’re interested, there’s still time to become a partner or a participating nonprofit.

In the weeks leading up to national CreateAthon week, September 12-16, follow the excitement in real time on the CreateAthon blog and on Facebook.

CreateAthon is an amazing experience and I look forward to volunteering each year. No sleep. No showers. No egos. It’s 24 hours of pure marketing insanity that I wouldn’t miss for anything in the world.

posted by Apprentices Jun 03,2011 @ 04:46AM

Don't use that word

The words we hate most:

Pete Anderson

Julie Turner
Who hates words? What did they ever do to you?

Teresa Coles

Cathy Monetti
Can't say it here...

Maria Fabrizio
Procure. It just sounds so pretentious. Why use procure when you can say "I'm goin' to get that."

Kathryn White
Armpit. Or spittle.

Kevin Smith
Being "realistic"

Rebecca Jacobson

posted by Kevin Smith Jun 02,2011 @ 10:00AM

Passing Trends

The housing bubble, gold at $1,545 an ounce and silly bandz have one thing in common. All seem completely reasonable in the moment.

I see trends as momentarily curious absurdities just prior to obsolescence. This brings me to Groupon. Billion dollar rumors abound. I cry foul.

From the consumer’s point of view, the group coupon trend is a win. At the same time, businesses are forgoing up to 50 percent of their sales for the volume Groupon and Living Social can deliver. Working twice as hard for half as much money? It doesn’t make good business sense to me.

If this equation yielded consumer trial, followed by a long-term relationship with a brand, it would be different. Yet Groupon and its peers are breeding a consumer who demands extreme discounting -- one that will merely move from one discount to the next.

I met with a restaurant owner last week who lost $1,200 after implementing a group coupon tactic. It doesn’t have to be this way. Incenting trial through discounts and creating a sense of urgency are worthy goals. Just don’t give away half your sales in the bargain.

Take a cue from my local garden center. I came home Friday afternoon to find a flier under my doorknocker.

It’s nice to see someone getting it right.

  • Know your customer: The garden center had delivered to my address before.
  • Establish urgency: I wanted to be one of the first twenty customers who got a discount.
  • Drive preference: Why would I go to another garden center when I had the possibility of a discount at this particular one?
  • Be impossible to ignore: I was forced to interact with the promotion. It was under my doorknocker.
  • Get people in the door: Even if I went and didn’t receive the discount, I would still be in the store ready to shop.
  • Make a sensible investment: The first 20 customers got $10 off. That’s $200 in merchandise, or $100 out-of-pocket for the store’s owner, not 50 percent of the store’s total day’s sales.

What a welcome dose of smart marketing amidst the chaos of current trends.

posted by Guests Jun 01,2011 @ 10:22AM

Mast General Store and Environmental Stewardship

By Rebecca Jacobson, project manager

Downtown Columbia scored a major economic victory last week with the opening of Mast General Store. With their vast selection of shoes, clothing, home goods, gifts, ole-timey toys and barrels of candy, it’s a fun, feel-good kind of place to shop, and city leaders and residents alike are all hoping it will be the catalyst for change in downtown Columbia.

What we believe makes Mast Store an even more exciting addition to Columbia is the fact that they are a company with values deeply rooted in corporate social responsibility (CSR). All the way back to their original store in the late 1800’s, Mast Store has always maintained a culture of contributing to their local community.

If you just consider their business philosophy of locating in cities where they believe the store can be a catalyst for Main Street revitalization, as was the case in Greenville, SC and Knoxville, TX, that in itself is a pretty significant way to make a difference. They are an employee-owned company, supporters of United Way, very active in promoting community events, and they hold several annual projects to benefit local food banks, shelters and others in need.

What I’m really excited about and energized by is Mast Store’s commitment to the environment. Their sense of environmental stewardship runs deep and is evident in these very progressive programs:

  • Green Power – the company purchases carbon credits in North Carolina and Tennessee to help offset the impact made by their delivery trucks.
  • Recycling – all stores recycle plastic, glass, paper, aluminum, bi-metal cans and cardboard, and their shopping bags have a special additive that quickens the decomposition process (I mean really, who does that?)
  • Mast Transit – employees earn incentives for carpooling, riding their bike to work, walking to work or taking public transportation (If only I could get an incentive for carpooling my daughter to school the past couple of years!)
  • Local Land Trust Day – the first Saturday of every June, Mast Store donates 20 percent of the day’s sales to their partner land trust in the community of each of their stores; think about it, on this one day, 20 percent of the sales from every store goes back into the local community specifically to support land conservation – I’d say that’s some pretty impressive CSR.

The Columbia partner for Local Land Trust Day is the Congaree Land Trust (CLT), a small organization that has conserved more than 27,000 acres of land in central South Carolina. CLT board members, volunteers and staff will be on hand all day to educate shoppers about land trusts, conservation easements and the status of land protection in central South Carolina - something you might not have ever considered it weren’t for Mast General Store and their tremendous sense of corporate social responsibility.

If you’d like your shopping dollars to have an impact on the local community, head downtown to Mast Store this Saturday, June 4 and see first-hand this great company that has moved in on Main Street in Columbia.

-- Rebecca Jacobson




By the numbers

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