see all

posted by Michael Powelson Nov 24,2015 @ 08:00AM

Smart brands embrace a human rhythm

They are the very first sounds you hear on the record. And if the story surrounding them is true, the man responsible may still cringe every time he listens.


In 1982, Kenny Aronoff was a classically trained percussionist who’d declined posts with prestigious symphonies to back up a stalled rock-and-roller with a phony last name. In the studio to record the singer’s third, and possibly last, album, Aronoff was struggling with perfection in a very rare way:  He’d attained it, and it was ruining everything.

Years of regimented instruction had turned Aronoff into a metronome, his sense of timing so impeccably precise that it now sounded artificial to his boss. This is when John “Cougar” embraced his inner Mellencamp and gave a seemingly ridiculous order.

“Put the hi-hat on the left,” he told his drummer. This completely reoriented the percussionist’s tools in a way that intentionally put him at a disadvantage. Aronoff, who’d been right handed his entire life, was being told to play lefty.

Listen to the first six measures of “Hurt So Good” and the result is a visceral one.  How else should a salute to youthful indiscretion begin? The song is recklessly alive before a single melodic note is struck, and it’s because Aronoff has been pushed to the edge of his abilities. He’s simply trying to hang on, and the resulting tension sparks a current of wild abandon that surges all the way through American Fool. The album will go on to sell more than five million copies and change the lives of all involved. It isn’t perfect. It’s indelible.

As someone who makes his living leading a creative team in developing memorable, unexpected brand communications, I find some valuable lessons here about the benefits of stretching beyond your comfort zone. But for other business leaders, I think the takeaway of authenticity might be the larger pearl.

That’s because the most common mistake I see business communicators make doesn’t stem from a fear of pushing themselves or trying new things. It comes as a result of their attempt to be perfect.

Moreover, the marketing industry isn’t doing a lot to help them. Turn your attention to the nearest commercial break, corporate website or glossy print ad and odds are you’ll run smack into messaging that strikes utopian chords few of us living in the real world can identify with. Still, the biggest problem with feigning perfection isn’t disbelief. It’s boredom. As anyone who’s spent time in a coloring book or romantic relationship knows, perfection is hopelessly dull.

Why? Because human beings are drawn to things they relate to. And no matter how aspirational we claim to be, flawlessness isn’t one of those things. It’s no surprise that the most successful businesses are those that have stopped trying to be everything to everyone. Or that the brands making some of the biggest strides are the ones who have dropped the Stepford act, resisted Madison Avenue’s default conceit and allowed themselves to be exactly what they are: well-meaning, imperfect, contradictory, temperamental human experiments. In other words, mirror images of the customers they hope to attract.

So, be it on a website or in an elevator, the next time you communicate on behalf of your business, consider putting the hi-hat on the left. Lose yourself a bit. Speak from the gut. Be passionate. Be vulnerable. And trust that if you show your audience something real—that less-than-perfect, honest-to-god essence of your brand—they’re a thousand times more likely to see themselves reflected in it.

Remember, people want a heartbeat, not a metronome.



posted by Apprentices Nov 18,2015 @ 12:34PM

CreateAthon Flood Relief: Our Deepest Thanks

This year, our 18th annual CreateAthon fell just two weeks after the historic flooding that ravaged Columbia. In addition to our 24-hour pro bono marathon for eight local nonprofits, we launched a campaign to help raise money for the Central Carolina Community Foundation’s Flood Relief Fund. We called upon our friends and neighbors to donate on our behalf for each hour we’d be working during CreateAthon.

We’ve never done a fundraiser like this in association with CreateAthon, so we really didn’t know what to expect. Our best guess was that we could maybe raise $800 if each CreateAthon volunteer received just one donation of $1 per hour.


Our families, friends and colleagues responded beyond our wildest expectations. Donations on behalf of CreateAthon volunteers combined with a matching gift from the Lipscomb Family Foundation totaled $10,617 for flood relief in the Midlands. Extraordinary!

We are so grateful for each and every person who sponsored a CreateAthoner to help raise money for this worthy cause. Gifts came from near and far – from down the street in West Columbia to as far away as Japan, and everywhere in between. Donations came not only from friends in the Columbia area, but also from people around the country who have been touched by this tragedy and who felt compelled to help us help our community.

We are absolutely astounded at the impact generated by this effort. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, we were blown away by the strength of our community and the sheer power of good that we witnessed. Weeks later, members of our community again demonstrated their ability to go above and beyond for people who have lost so much.

On November 16, Governor Haley announced her endorsement of the Community Foundation’s flood fund and renamed it One SC Flood Relief Fund. The money raised by the fund will go toward grants for nonprofit organizations that have provided relief and recovery assistance. Your donations will help provide long-term flood relief to those in need.

Once again, thank you to everyone who gave to this effort – for your support of CreateAthon and for loving our community so steadfastly.

posted by Kelly Davis Nov 11,2015 @ 02:32PM

The Role of Public Relations in Brand and Reputation Management

I have a story I tell college students when I am trying to illustrate the point of how far technology has come, just over the course of my own career, in helping public relations practitioners do their jobs.

I share with them that when I first started working in public relations in the mid-1990s, I would often stand in front of a fax machine for hours at a time, sending news releases to media outlets around the state.

At this point in the story, their eyes glaze over because most of them have never seen a fax machine.

Then, I tell them how our practices changed when we got email and started communicating with reporters that way. This often generates a raised eyebrow, because they can’t imagine a time when people didn’t have email.

Finally, I talk about social media and how it has changed not only the way that public relations professionals communicate with journalists, but also in the way that online communications opened the doors to enable us to take our messages directly to consumers and constituents. While we continue to work with traditional media outlets, and greatly value those relationships, we also have new vehicles, avenues and devices through which to speak directly to our intended audiences.

At this point in the story, the students often perk up a little bit, because now I am speaking their language.

As a profession, public relations has evolved significantly over the course of my 20-year career – most substantially in just the past five years. While media relations remains an important component of our work, it is but one tool in a very broad toolbox of communications strategies and tactics that we use to develop effective programs and campaigns for the organizations that we represent.

It is important to note that it’s not only the tools themselves that have changed. Indeed, we live in a fast-paced and “always-on” world in which a photo, a video or a story can be seen by thousands of people in a matter of seconds. While that may be a positive step when one is proactively promoting a brand or organization, it also creates challenge and anxiety when an organization is thrown into a negative spotlight.

It is incumbent upon public relations professionals to manage brands, issues and reputations using a wide variety of strategies and tactics. Whether online or offline, brand communicators must constantly monitor conversations and issues, and evaluate all of the ways that their marketing messages could be construed. As the traditional gatekeepers of organizational reputation, public relations practitioners must be deeply involved in the development of brand and message strategy as well as ongoing, day-to-day reputation management both online and off.

One doesn’t have to look far to find very recent examples of brands that have been thrust into the spotlight either through their own actions or the actions of others. With their reputations on the line, the manner in which they responded to these crises, and whether or not the response considered and incorporated all facets of their communications and marketing, will ultimately determine whether or not the brand’s image will recover.

It is not unusual for clients – and even communications professionals themselves – to view public relations as a “traditional” and “offline” discipline. However, public relations must be viewed and practiced as a fully integrated brand and reputation management function. This begins with strategic planning that underpins the brand’s core identity and messaging, followed by continuous brand monitoring and management across multiple marketing disciplines using a variety of online tools.

Companies must anticipate, plan and rehearse every imaginable scenario that could cause damage or undue attention, and they must ensure that multi-disciplinary teams are represented when communications plans and tools are developed. Public relations practitioners are key players at the table when those decisions are made.

Even if they still rely on the good old fax machine.

posted by Courtney Melendez Nov 04,2015 @ 11:32AM

A Serious Case of the Feel-Goods: A CreateAthon Recap

There are certain things in this world that give me the warm fuzzies. Quality time with family and friends. Hugs from my hubs. Rainy day naps. Puppies. And CreateAthon.

 Oh CreateAthon – that crazy 24 hours akin to a youth lock-in except with piles of costumes, tons of food, way too much caffeine, and a bunch of volunteer creative rockstars. Every year it blows my mind. Inevitably somewhere around the midnight check-in the panic sets in. The “Oh my God we’re more than halfway how the heck are we going to finish what if we don’t have anything to show the client” kind of panic. So I did what any self-respecting account manager would do. I hid behind a ninja mask, and reported that we had a lot of really good ideas in the works. Which was only a half-truth. Spoiler alert: it all worked out splendidly. It always does.

It took me two full nights of sleep and the best chicken biscuit on the planet to feel normal. Now, about two weeks out I’m in the solid feel-good stage. And I’m (almost) ready to do it again. Here’s a snippet of one of the projects I had the pleasure of working on:

Able SC, a Center for Independent Living (CIL), is focused on empowering people of all ages with all types disabilities. This year, they tasked our CreateAthon team with developing a statewide campaign focused on communicating the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

We developed a series of direct mail pieces targeted to HR & hiring managers. Our goal was to highlight the strengths that people with disabilities bring to the table, while planting a tiny seed of doubt that they may be overlooking the perfect candidate. Social media ads, and trade show banners rounded out the deliverables for this client.


Our friends at Able SC told our team that this is exactly what they needed, and they can’t wait to deploy the plan. Smiles all-around!





By the numbers

youtube is 2nd largest search engine