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Teresa Coles

With a heart for social good and a brain for marketing strategy, Teresa combines the two to provide counsel to nonprofits around the country. She has been a lead strategist at RP since 1992. - See more at:
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posted by Teresa Coles Oct 19,2016 @ 05:14PM

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Riggs on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

What a little vision and a lot of believin' looks like

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are.

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are.

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy.

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I'm grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 13,2016 @ 04:34PM

24 hours, 24 dollars. That’s all it takes to change the world.

This time next week, we’ll be burning the midnight oil over at Riggs Partners during CreateAthon 19. It seems like only yesterday that we pulled our first all-nighter for good, working 24 hours nonstop to deliver pro bono marketing projects for nonprofits and the important causes they represent.

As you may know, CreateAthon has grown organically and exponentially since we founded the program. We’ve served more than 150 different nonprofits in South Carolina. Plus, we’ve recruited more than 100 different marketing groups throughout North America as CreateAthon partners, all of whom have hosted CreateAthon events for nonprofits that otherwise would not be able to afford professional marketing services. To date, the program has delivered over $24 million of pro bono marketing service to the nonprofit marketplace.


What you may not know is that CreateAthon has recently become a national 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. Moving forward, the goal is to generate $100 million of pro bono service to nonprofits by 2020. That’s a big calling, and it needs human and capital resources to make it happen.

That’s why we’re asking for your consideration in pledging $1 an hour for each of the 24 hours our team will be working during CreateAthon next week. All of the proceeds will go to helping us bring more CreateAthon events to nonprofits in the US and beyond.

To pledge, just visit the RP Power of 24 fundraising page. You may choose to make a gift directly from this group page or make separate pledges on behalf of your favorite CreateAthoners!

Thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement of our efforts to serve nonprofits through CreateAthon. Together, we’re putting creative super powers to work in some pretty remarkable places!

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 06,2016 @ 03:10PM

The Coming of CreateAthon 19

Two weeks from this very day, the WECO building will transform itself yet again from the quiet workplace of Riggs Partners and truematter to the Mother Ship of CreateAthon. To be exact, this increasingly natural phenomenon — fueled by the transference of creative superpowers for good — will begin at 0800 hours on Thursday, October 20 and will remain in effect until 0800 hours on Friday, October, 21. ish.

Like every year, we here at RP are in full-on tilt mode, onboarding the newest class of CreateAthon clients in an effort to fully understand their work, determine how effective communications can help move that work forward, and scope out a plan of attack for producing strategic and creative deliverables within the 24-hour marathon.

From the moment we encounter these fine souls, we’re instantly awed by the impact of their work and their willingness to answer the call to community service. For that reason, and many more, we’re happy to introduce you to our newest CreateAthon clients and sure-to-be dear friends:

Friends of Harbison State Forest: Works to preserve the recreational and educational aspects of Harbison State Forest as an urban forest resource, with an emphasis on planning, designing and building a sustainable trail system.
Gun Sense SC: Raise awareness about gun violence as a public health crisis in South Carolina and inspires communities and lawmakers to work together toward sensible gun safety solutions.

Healthy Learners: Devoted to removing children’s health barriers in South Carolina so they may be healthy, happy and learn to their full potential.

Homeless No More (formerly Trinity Housing Corporation): Seeks to eradicate family homelessness through a holistic, community-wide approach to providing emergency shelter, transitional services and long-term affordable housing solutions.
NAMI Mid-Carolina: Advocate for mental health awareness, education and resources in order to improve the treatment options and quality of life for people affected by mental illnesses. 


Palmetto State Base Camp, Inc. Provides transitional housing services to homeless veterans as well as employment support and access to additional community resources.


At a glance, you can readily see that these organizations — and the people behind them — are about the business of changing life as we know it here in South Carolina.

As the days leading up to CreateAthon unfold before us, we know our lives will be changed, as well.

We invite you to come along with us.

posted by Teresa Coles Aug 01,2016 @ 03:03PM

Believable Brands Believe in Something

Your business is doing just fine. Profits are more or less steady. Customers appear to be satisfied. Employees are not complaining, at least openly. Sales and marketing teams have all the busy work they need.

You’re holding steady. Or are you?

If this sounds like your organization, the unfortunate reality is that you’re losing ground every day. What may appear to be a healthy status quo is nothing more than a cry for movement out of the ordinary, into a space that is ripe with meaning and impact for all parties involved. One where success is fueled by a brand strategy and product/service experience that is a complete and uncompromised reflection of your company’s belief system.

Call it Corporate Culture. Organizational Health. Understanding Your Why. What matters most is that your company or organization must have a point of view that sets you apart externally and inspires you internally. To effectively harness this strategy is to connect your company’s belief system — what it stands for — to a brand that is imminently believable in the marketplace.

Evidence is mounting every day to support the importance of building purpose-driven organizations and brands, and it starts from the inside. Consider the prevailing mindset of today’s employees as it relates to understanding what their companies are all about, beyond their day-to-day job functions:

  • 56% say their company’s purpose is not clearly conveyed to all employees
  • 68% don’t think businesses do enough to instill a sense of meaningful purpose in their work culture
  • 81% consider a company’s corporate social responsibility practices when deciding where to work

On the flip side, data indicates that employees are much more likely to be engaged with a company, act as brand advocates and stay longer with a company that openly and consistently leads with a strong sense of purpose. When team members cultivate a shared belief system, the odds of accomplishing more meaningful and productive work grows exponentially.

The profile among consumers as it relates to a company’s purpose is equally compelling: 

  • 71% would help a brand promote their product or services if there is a good cause behind them
  • 91% of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause
  • 90% would boycott if they learned of a company’s irresponsible business practices; 55% have done so in the past 12 months

Like employees, the connectivity and control that exists among consumers gives them a front-row seat to the character and practices of an organization. Given their finger is on the proverbial button of influence, it’s easy to see the strategic advantage of building connections between consumers and brands that stand for something larger that the specific product or service. This kind of goodwill is pivotal in helping brands withstand the temporary setbacks that may result from issues associated with product or service dissatisfaction.

Where and how does purpose show up in brand marketing? Take a look around, and it’s easy to see leading brands that are calling both internal and external audiences to arms through shared beliefs.

Of note is the #LikeAGirl campaign from Always, which debuted in 2014. As a company whose purpose is to empower and instill confidence in pubescent girls, the Always brand created a movement designed to keep girls in sports, noting that 50% typically drop out at the onset of puberty due to a plummet in their confidence. The brand dispelled the myths associated with “like a girl,” turning the language on its side to reflect the spirit, skill and confidence that exists in young female athletes.

Calling on your company’s belief system as a strategic differentiator is by no means a soft or nice-to-do strategy reserved for the Fortune 500 set. Leading a company through a shared sense of purpose can benefit organizations of any size, from improved team dynamics and accelerated product innovation to market-altering customer service experiences. Align this kind of inspired performance with an external brand that reflects the ideals of your company, and you’ll find yourself with customers who are ready to believe in you. That’s a one-way ticket out of the status quo.

*This article originally appeared in the July 18-August 16 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.

Edelman GoodPurpose Study
Havas Media “Meaningful Brands” Global Report
Deloitte Core Beliefs and Culture Survey
Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study

posted by Teresa Coles Feb 01,2016 @ 04:38PM

Long live the communicating arts

I can’t recall the exact date this little gem popped up in conversation, but it stopped me in the proverbial tracks.

“She’s not a writer; she’s a content developer.

It was all very innocent, a casual didn’t-you-know-that’s-what-it’s-all-about-now comment made to me by a colleague several years ago. Nevertheless, it cut to the core. Not because someone corrected me in my assumption over the proclivities of a potential hire. Rather, it was a moment that threw my head, heart and gut into a tailspin over the potential demise of the communicating arts.

If I sound overly dramatic here, know that is my objective. As one who has been in marketing and communications since the hot-waxed type, proportion wheels and rubylith days, I bring a longstanding appreciation to the craftsmanship that is the hallmark of effective communications.

Since the day the MacSE entered the marketplace, followed closely by online stock photography, we as marketers have been lulled into the belief that technology is the new currency of our profession. And that if we use it to make more and more marketing stuff, people will immediately notice us, hire us or buy our wares.

It’s a well-meaning, yet dangerous notion.


The enemy here is not technology, but the lack of intentional thinking behind it. The way we’ve allowed the beast and its mouse to marginalize the essential ingredients of effective communications: A well-turned phrase that can ignite action. Intuitive design that captures eyes, ears and hearts. Imagery that belongs to one brand, only.

What are we to do to protect ourselves from this slippery slope? I urge you to consider three truths that separate making marketing content from mastering the communicating arts.

The right words, in the right order, matter.

Don’t confuse this with an argument for flowery prose or corporate narrative. The technology that drives modern communications forces us to be more selective with our language than ever. Gifted writers are adept at articulating a brand’s truth with relevance and brevity. And it’s not because they have a big vocabulary or well-worn thesaurus. It’s because they have the imagination to transport themselves to the consumer’s point of view, and to speak with honesty and clarity.

This skill is increasingly important as we’re faced with the need to engage audiences within content marketing programs. Effective writers know how to shape artful conversations that are centered on consumers’ needs and interests, as opposed to producing an endless stream of it’s-all-about-me content from an organization.

Design controls the eye and moves the heart.

Brands are fighting for their share of attention in a world of stimuli that runs roughshod over a consumer’s brain. Each of us is paralyzed to some degree by an overabundance of news feeds, emails, texts, digital and mobile ads.

Thoughtful and intuitive design is not worthwhile merely because beautiful is better. As the palette gets smaller and smaller every day — from television to desktop, tablet and mobile — the designer’s understanding of visual flow, typography and color becomes more critical than ever. It demands more — not less — judiciousness from trained and talented designers.

No one person can do it all, well.

While the appetite for content developers — those who can seemingly write, design and command marketing technology at the same time — is at an all-time high, marketing managers will be wise to align their expectations with these combined skilled sets. To believe one person can command all three skill sets equally well is to short-change the power of effective brand communications.

So what’s the answer for a marketing leader seeking to balance the scales of content volume with well-honed communications? Consider the resources you have available to support your marketing program and determine where you can make the highest and best use of distinctive marketing talent. Then give your team the time and space to approach their work as purveyors of the communicating arts.




By the numbers

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