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Alexandra Frazier

A recent graduate of Washington and Lee University, Alexandra joined Riggs as a writing apprentice in 2014. A creative spirit with a keen eye for detail, she has a passion for translating ideas into text
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posted by Alexandra Frazier Jan 14,2016 @ 07:36PM

On brands that take their sweet time

A large stone fireplace dominates my aunt's keeping room. During family visits, there is no better way to greet the morning than to curl up on her leather loveseat and read one of the half-dozen cookbooks that tend to pile the end tables. Fire blazing, a steaming mug of coffee in hand and her furry smudge of a dachshund in lap, the space invites savory journeys of the imagination. 

It was here, a few months ago, that I began flipping through a Napa bakery's guide to recreating its most popular pastry and desserts. From the sundrenched photos of layer cakes and lemon squares to the author's description of her shop's temperamental brick ovens, it was easy to envision the bakery's perfect treats coming from my own less-than-perfect kitchen. 

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And yet, despite the book's many calls for ungodly amounts of European butter, there was nary a greasy thumbprint among its blush-colored pages. I asked my aunt about this—no cookbook worth its literal and figurative salt should be so pristine—to which she replied that the recipes, though lovely, were too long and labor-intensive. Too much effort, she said. I asked to take the book home anyway.  

As a maker of both baked goods and branded content, I can't help but connect the prep work and precision required of baking to the process-driven means by which we bring brand strategy to life. In the office and the kitchen, we plan, mix, wait and bake until we've created a product worthy of consumers' attentions and appetites. It's not easy, exactly. It takes effort.

My aunt was right in that the recipes I've tested so far are long, and they do take time. Lots of it. That said, the resulting confections have been decadent, intensely flavored, and frequently Instagrammable. More importantly, they've been worthy of sharing with the people I care about. Perhaps there's a lesson there. 

We live in a world that values convenience over quality, a place where food is fast and technology faster. The pressure to take whatever shortcuts necessary to keep pace is intense. But, just as your taste buds can tell the lovingly homemade from the pre-packaged, audiences can quickly discern original thought from canned content. Only one merits sharing. 

When what your brand says aligns with what it stands for, when its purpose is the star ingredient of all your communications—that's when your audiences will take notice. The real stuff takes longer, obviously. However, if you're doing it right, consumers will always come back for second helpings.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jul 29,2015 @ 04:09PM

notes from a wordmonger

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Note: these are not my hands.

Yesterday, I took a dip into the ether of my web browser history. It's a curious thing, to be curious about what you've been curious about. It's a more curious thing when you can evaluate the shape of your workday interests through the lens of Google search.

In addition to a daily perusal of news articles (I take my morning coffee with a side of current events) and a hundred client-related research queries, there's no shortage of fodder up for interpretation.

Highlights from the past week include atmospheric refraction, fiduciary responsibility, love and ketchup, Mr. Wonderful and the definition of nyctitropism. Predicate adjectives and the merits of "more proud" versus "prouder" make the list, as do balding medieval babies and an exploration into how hot chicken really happened.

Scroll a little farther down the page, and there, sandwiched between the oddities, you'll find no small number of visits to this idiom dictionary. Of all the revealing 500+ word procrastinations in my web history, the dictionary stands out and apart.

As we move into a more human era of branding, it feels only natural to seek out and take inspiration from everyday language's most suggestive turns of phrase. Just witness the longevity of Allstate's "You're in good hands," and you can begin to fathom why idiomatic expression might help bridge the messaging gap between what a brand wants to say and what an audience is willing to hear. And yet, leave it to Virginia Woolf—a woman who surely existed in that easier place before brands—to articulate the potential dangers of this approach.

In Woolf's superb 1937 essay, "Craftsmanship," she espouses that the moment we cherry-pick words from their natural habitats is the moment they lose their human realness and nuance. Worse, she writes, is that when the words become unreal, "we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers."

Phrase finders, not readers. Ouch. But what a perfect reminder that, long after we've tested the weight of a pen in our hands, someone else will have the choice to read or refuse what we've put to paper. All it takes is a trip through our own data-clouded wires to see Woolf's maxim reflected in our histories.

We are readers first.

posted by Alexandra Frazier May 13,2015 @ 08:59AM

i carry your heart

"Keep going." A pause. "Keep going."

            My mother, sighing, "Surely this is enough?"

"Don't stop until I say so. Turn it white."

We may be standing in my mother's kitchen, but sauce is Bigi's domain. As he keenly watches over her shoulder, my mama shakes more garlic powder into a Dutch oven gurgling with tomatoes, onions and spice. Good sauce never truly simmers—it galurps and bursts and plops unevenly as sunglow-colored grease bubbles cluster along its edges—and today's pot is no different from the countless others two of my favorite people in the whole wide world have prepared together.

Bigi looks behind her, winks at me, and then nods his satisfaction when the garlic snowcaps are finally to his liking. He hip bumps her to the side of the gas range, gives the sauce a stir, then slurps the slender wooden spoon against his lips. His gnarled hands cupped under the bowl-back so as not to cause a spill, he holds what's left out to my mother. She swallows, smiles, and rolls her eyes.

"Bean, you want a taste?"

He wiggles an eyebrow at me, and I practically skip to the stove. He's right about the garlic powder—he always is.

This was my grandfather. Always right. Stubborn to a fault. Never a minute late. Fiercely independent. And yet, exacting as he may have been, ingredients were never measured nor recipes written down. Food was my grandfather's means of creative expression, and in his world, all spoons were communal. Dinners were leisurely. And love abundant.   

My stubborn, willful, utterly perfect grandfather passed away last year. After a week in the hospital—the result of a bad fall and broken pelvis—his kidneys failed and his too-big heart just plain broke. He died the morning of October 22nd, the day before Riggs Partners' CreateAthon XVII. It was my first CreateAthon, an event I'd been looking forward to ever since I joined the agency that January. But, after my world had been tipped on its axis, I wasn't sure I would have the mental capacity to string sentences together, never mind good sentences on behalf of The Arts Empowerment Project, a nonprofit that connects at-risk children with transformative, life-changing arts experiences. I briefly thought about not coming.

But my grandfather, the man who wouldn't miss Christmas with family come hell or double hip replacement, the WWII veteran whose photo must be printed alongside Webster's definition of pluck, would have pushed me forward. He had always taught me to honor my commitments, and he did so until the day he died. Tempted to stay home, I could still hear him:  Keep going. Don't stop until I say so.  

When I arrived to the WECO that cloudy October morning, a few people—those who knew—said kind things I didn't really hear. I stammered a thank you or two, and then I got to work. Selfishly, I craved the distraction of a challenge apart from that inconvenient thing we call grieving. 

That said, distractions are temporary by design, and they never completely divert our attention from the tasks we hope to escape. As the hours ticked past and night blanketed the WECO, the memories came unbidden:

My grandfather's slight form hunched over the stove as he taught me to whisk together polenta. The great delight with which he accepted my applesauce Bundt cakes, even when over or under baked. Quote, depending on circumstance, "I like a crispy outside," or "It will stay moist longer this way."
Books, newspapers, and large-print copies of Reader's Digest arranged in neat piles throughout my grandparents' house, all of which I was welcome to read whenever I visited.
His strong voice gliding over the crests and valleys of a hymn (for much of his life, he sang in both a barbershop quartet and the church choir), and a stronger shoulder to lean against when I inevitably got sleepy at midnight mass.
Countless car rides to ballet lessons across town, after which he'd help tame my unruly locks into a sleek bun, twisting and pinning according to my 7-year-old self's most authoritative instructions.

How lucky I was to have shared with him so many of my creative interests. How empty life would have been without his guidance, encouragement, and example these past 23 years. And in that, a kernel of understanding.

Perhaps because my heart was bruised, my grandfather gone and my headspace in vulnerable territory, I finally grasped what the gift of arts exposure could do for a child achingly familiar with life's harsh realities. For a productive spell between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., I too was just a little girl in need of the therapeutic power of words and writing to heal her broken places.

I had been told CreateAthon was an experience like no other. I was prepared for so many things—client tears, impossible deadlines, the sad truth that my hair would look like it had been combed with a porkchop—but I wasn't expecting the bear hug to the soul that came with working for a nonprofit whose very purpose helped put in perspective not what I had lost, but how much I had to be thankful for.

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He was my granddaddy, but he was everyone's Bigi, and I'd like to think he watched over all of us intrepid creative spirits that night. As Riggs and co. begin to accept the next batch of CreateAthon applications, I can only hope he'll be there too, helping us push through the night with grace, grit, and a little extra determination.         
         
                                                                                                                                                                       In loving memory of Elio Joseph "Bigi" Bigiarelli                                                                       

Riggs Partners 2015 CreateAthon applications are now available. Apply here.

 

                                                                     

posted by Alexandra Frazier Mar 25,2015 @ 01:09PM

a lesson in simplicity

A few bare-shouldered days, the first dapples of pollen along my windshield's edge, the ammonia-laced scent of Windex… these are spring's true signifiers.

The urge to spring clean is perhaps the most instantaneous, the most bewildering effect of spring's first blush. Through the winter, I make peace with the disorder of my desk and closets. Stray papers and forgotten tchotchkes go unnoticed, or perhaps excused as yet another layer of insulation against the cold. It's only when the season turns and the evening light lingers that the charming disorder is illuminated for what it really is—a mess in dire need of fixing.

In my own march toward madness, clothes are boxed for donation, surfaces scrubbed, shelves dismantled, dusted, rearranged. And so it happened that I found myself deep in the dust of college keepsakes last night.

Between empty folders, old photographs and half-filled composition books, there it was: one thick, two-inch binder containing every upper-level English lit paper I had ever written. Including one particular critical theory essay with the following comment scrawled toward the bottom:

There's a kind of reliance here on your own good writing that both saves your essay and prevents you from examining the question more tellingly.

Put another way, "If your sentences weren't quite so prettily strung together, you'd be in a heap of shit."

I've always been particularly adept at manipulating language. I love the way crepuscular crinkles and ameliorate stretches like taffy. I love the crests and troughs of English, the fussiness of its rules, and the ability of well-placed punctuation to lend starch to a sentence. I know how to use these rhythms to my advantage. What I like to forget is that all those lovely syllables should add to a meaningful thesis.

As we work our way through no small number of annual report assignments, this reminder to examine the challenge at hand couldn't come at a better time. It would be easy enough to write a few "Look at all we accomplished!" pages on behalf of our clients. But to accurately put the year in review, to tell a story unencumbered by needless superlatives and bloated prose, takes a little more effort. It takes an unsentimental eye for what's worth keeping and what doesn't need to be there. And, maybe, just a little seasonal zeal.

As for all those old essays, professors' comments scribbled down margins and in between paragraphs, I think those I may just keep.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jul 31,2014 @ 03:30AM

the [cross]road ahead

Is this worth it? I could do hot yoga. I could go to a normal gym. I hear Piloxing is a thing. My ponytail is a mess. Good lord, even my hair follicles are sore. Maybe it's time for something different.

I hit the floor for yet another burpee during today's WOD (for the uninitiated: workout of the day). If I were to stretch my arms wide and wiggle, I'm fairly certain that I could create a shadow angel out of my own sweat. I push up, halfheartedly clap my hands above my head, repeat, repeat, repeat … I'm tired, and I just want to get this done.

It wasn't always this way. I fell in love with CrossFit fast and hard, the way I imagine all cultists do when they find their raison d'être. I've never developed runner's high (I find little joy in forcefully separating my shinbones from their tendons), but I regularly experience the CrossFit delirium. An intoxicating cocktail of Olympic weightlifting, high intensity interval training, and metabolic conditioning, CrossFit demands a lot of its devotees. That said, it's also a hell of a lot of fun. With its climbing ropes and rows of colorful medicine balls stacked like candy buttons, my box is essentially a jungle gym for big kids.

But what happens to the little girl who, after one too many falls from the monkey bars, becomes disenchanted with the jungle?

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In answering this question of disenchantment, I find myself comparing the personal and professional, one not-quite-new-anymore experience to another. I joined CrossFit nine months ago; I began work at Riggs Partners shortly thereafter. Although the challenges are different—writing perfectly crisp copy is hardly equivalent to a series of hanging squat cleans—postgraduate life and gym-goer ennui make interesting bedfellows.

My first few months at Riggs were nothing short of wonderful, albeit occasionally overwhelming. Every week, I grappled with a distinctive new challenge, a new learning opportunity, a new means of stretching my creative abilities. By contrast, the last few days have blurred together, one round of client edits into the next conference call into the next staring contest with a blinking cursor on a white page. I've begun wondering if I've finally settled into a certain rhythm and familiarity with the work, or if I've just settled. The writing comes more easily now than it did in January. But is it better? Have I embraced my most recent projects with the same intensity and curiosity that characterized my approach to earlier assignments? Has getting it done taken precedent over doing it well? Is comfortable synonymous with complacent? I don't know, exactly.

What I do know is that some projects, much like some workouts, are more challenging than others. I know that sophomore slumps are real. And I know that meaningful self-evaluation is a necessary exercise in jumping this most recent hurdle. Perhaps the way to achieve something different is to forge our own gauntlet, to challenge ourselves to meet a higher standard. Perhaps we're complacent only when we stop asking questions.

Disenchantment, then, is a misnomer: in freeing ourselves from the illusion of the new and exciting, we reach a place of greater honesty and a better vantage point from which to view the playground. We're a little smarter, a little more experienced, and our eyes are open to the magic in the everyday.

So, here's to disenchantment. And magical storytelling. And sweat angels. Here's to the projects that are worth it.

 

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