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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 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.

posted by Teresa Coles Dec 09,2015 @ 09:00AM

Thoughtful communications essential in M&A environment

The ever-widening world of today’s business is driven by a quickening and erratic heartbeat. Markets call for warp-speed ROI. Technology dares us to master it. Customers expect us to solve tomorrow’s problems, yesterday. It’s an environment that often causes companies to consider a merger or acquisition as a means of building the scale needed to move forward at this pace.

Whether it’s a marriage between global corporations or local companies, thoughtful communications are essential in a successful merger or acquisition. I’ve yet to meet anyone who does not agree with this truth. The trick is in understanding that external brand communication is but a part of effective communications in this scenario.


Now before you put a wet washcloth on this brand marketer’s head, let me assure you I stake this claim from a very real place. It’s based on first-hand experiences I’ve had helping clients navigate the murky waters of merging organizations, cultures and brands.

With that, I’d like to offer six steps in support of successful M&A communications.

MA_Environment_Linkedin_Pulse.pngStep 1: Align with your vision

Sad, but true: All too often leaders fail to articulate why the M&A activity is important to their organization’s vision. If staff is engaged in the company’s vision and can understand exactly how the merger or acquisition impacts their role in that vision, good things are bound to happen. If employees can’t make this connection, the door to uncertainty is wide open.

Step 2: Align with your strategic plan

Leaders must effectively express how the M&A activity is tied to the company’s existing or evolving strategic plan. Allowing the plan to serve as a part of the communications framework lends context to the decisions that are being made around the merger or acquisition. For example, leaders must be very clear about setting new performance expectations for the combined organization, as per the strategic plan.

Step 3: Align with your culture

This is perhaps the most important consideration. Understanding the culture of both organizations and ensuring they have similar values is critical. That doesn't mean comparing the language on your mission, vision and values posters. It means taking very deliberate steps to study the psychological behaviors that drive each company, articulate real common ground and develop communications and engagement strategies that bring people together.

Step 4: Align your operational systems

Too often, companies focus on announcing the merger as quickly as possible, before taking the time to have internal conversations about how the evolved organization will operate. While it will never be possible to have all functional decisions in place before the announcement, it’s important that there be a baseline understanding of how and where operational shifts are going to take place. Chief among these concerns are the human systems that define the workplace, from reporting structures and compensation to changing job descriptions and performance expectations.

Step 5: Align your sales forces

This may be No. 2 behind culture if yours is a sales-driven organization. Bringing together different sales teams with different sales styles and philosophies is hard enough; motivating them to meet newly formed sales goals in a new environment is another thing altogether. Leadership must engage with the sales force in open, honest and consistent communications, reinforcing any newly formed corporate expectations and providing the resources needed for the combined sales force to succeed.

Step 6: Align your brand

When the impact of the merger or acquisition has been clearly shared throughout the organization — and a new sense of direction is in place — it is then time to look at refining the brand externally. The due diligence undertaken in steps 1–5 will directly inform that evolution, creating a surefooted path for a brand that is better positioned to connect customers and constituents to actions that support the organization’s strategic objectives.

The moral of this M&A story? Take the time to focus on communications that align internal systems between merging organizations before attempting to rebrand them externally. Your staff, customers and shareholders will thank you.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 21,2015 @ 01:25PM

The quiet gifts of CreateAthon

Eighteen years later, and it’s CreateAthon Eve yet again. As with Christmas or any other holiday, it astounds me how quickly the calendar pages roll off to unveil our 24-hour pro bono marketing marathon. The weeks of how will we ever fit it all in preparation at Riggs Partners have come and gone, leaving us with a few quiet hours to situate our hearts and minds on what matters most with this endeavor.

Without question, we will have our A-game firing on all cylinders to produce meaningful marketing and communications strategies for eight nonprofits. We’ll meet the Herculean challenge of delivering inspired creative materials that execute the vision behind those strategies.

But that’s just here at Riggs Partners. Thirteen other agencies across the US and Canada will be holding CreateAthon events right along with us, bringing the pro bono marathon movement to their communities. All told, CreateAthon partners are serving 98 nonprofits this week. Ninety. Eight.

CreateAthoners circa 1998, during the very first CreateAthon event

Then there are the stories that will be told this week, of how CreateAthon has grown from a side project here at Riggs Partners to a sustainable nonprofit organization. You can check this national story out in none other than the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an article released just today. I can assure you this kind of national attention never crossed our minds when 11 of us pulled the first all-nighter for charity in our old Lady Street offices.

This friends, is just the surface. In these last hours, I’m reminded of the five things CreateAthon really accomplishes inside of everyone who bumps into this 24-hour vortex of good.

  1. Connectivity: CreateAthon has given us a door to interact with some of the world’s most exceptional people, those nonprofit folks who devote every day of their lives to social causes we too seldom consider. Imagine our lives without these friendships. 

  2. Self-Discovery: We come to know a bit more about the stuff we’ve made of during CreateAthon. Most importantly, how the right energy within us can help us transcend any challenge that’s staring us in the face. 

  3. Empathy: CreateAthon brings us to the doorstep of humanity, forcing us to open ourselves to a vulnerable, emotional and passionate state of mind. This is where the truth resides, and where meaningful communications are born. 

  4. Humility: We understand this is not about us, our strategic expertise or our creative prowess. It’s about service to a cause that is bigger than ourselves.

  5. Love: CreateAthon teaches us to see clearly the gifts that we all bring to the table. It abolishes titles and departments, and catalyzes us as teammates in ways that can impact the way we work together the other 364 days of the year. 

So to every CreateAthoner far and wide, young and old, veteran and virgin: I bid you a peaceful night, and the promise of a day that will forever change you.

posted by Teresa Coles Sep 23,2015 @ 05:11PM

The social company as bedrock for success

Open any business book or magazine these days, and you’re likely to encounter narrative around the benefits of being a “social” company. In fact, there are no less than 131,960 book results on Amazon under this exact heading.

What's that all about? And how could there possibly be this much fodder around the concept? Corporate social responsibility and the use of social media appear to have grabbed the microphone on this issue, given the prolific conversations in each of these two spaces.


The path of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has made its way from a self-regulatory construct for major corporations in the 1960s to an element of the “triple bottom line” in the 1990s. Practices include a wide range of endeavors, from environmental sustainability and product innovation to skills-based employee volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. In 2011, the concept of corporate social responsibility was identified as a driver to creating shared value (CSV) by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School fame. This advanced model seeks to link economic and societal factors through conscious decisions that:

  • Identify unmet human needs.
  • Inform new products and services.
  • Optimize productivity in the value chain.
  • Build economic development clusters.

Social media, the great connector

The skilled use of social media has been credited as a catalyst on a seemingly endless list of strategic corporate objectives: trend and product launches; long-term brand influence; short-term sales; customer service; venture capital; crisis management; recruiting, and many other areas. While there’s no denying the impact of social media on these business imperatives, some thought leaders contend that the deification of social media can sometimes become a crutch for corporate leadership and effective decision-making.

 Which brings us to the third — and I submit, most meaningful — definition of what it means to be a social company.


Social core, social company, social brand

Social companies are those in which culture, products and services are in complete alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision and mission. These corporate beliefs impact everything in the company, starting with internal behavioral systems. For example, employees in social companies behave in a way that is highly collaborative, self-sacrificing and committed to group interests. Employees in companies that are more transactional — as opposed to social — typically are less collaborative and guided by their own self-interests.

The business world has become familiar with the characteristics of social companies through the work of leading authors such as Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Terrence Deal and others. They’ve exposed us to the social infrastructure that has defined success for companies such as Amazon, Google, UPS, Hewlett Packard, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Trader Joe’s and many others. Their research has yielded data that clearly connects social companies to higher performance levels; one study indicates that social companies consistently perform at three times the Standard & Poor’s average.

Social companies achieve this kind of outward, quantifiable success by connecting their cultural expectations to exceptional product and service delivery systems, then bringing those to market through highly authentic brand marketing. There’s no question that the Patagonia brand is a direct reflection of Patagonia, the social company. Newer companies like Warby Parker and Harry’s are bringing fresh interpretations of what it means to be a social company, and their performance is there to back it up.


Size does not make social

Being a social company is in no way restricted to Fortune 500 corporations or national retailers. Any company — no matter the size or type of market — can apply the principles of social business. All it takes is the willingness to stop and consider three important whys:

  • Why your company really exists.
  • Why defining your belief structure is important.
  • Why the way you deliver your product and service is key.

Understanding these three concepts paves the way to an effective internal culture and an external brand that resonates with the market.

I believe American business is on the precipice of creating more value for humankind than ever before. As a marketer, it’s my great pleasure to work with companies that realize this and are building cultural and operational systems that support it. The social company knows its core, nurtures it and demonstrates it in the market. Executed well, success is the only outcome.


This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 20,2014 @ 08:00AM

Sustaining Our Seniors: Creating scale around senior care

Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve. Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve.

According to the most recent Census data, 1 in 8 Americans (13% of the population) are 65 or older. This is projected to grow to 1 in 5 (19.3%) by 2030, the year all members of the Baby Boomer generation will have turned 65. By 2050, seniors will make up 25% of the population.

Staggering numbers, to be sure, with a significant projected impact on the US economy, healthcare system, housing market, and all manner of other areas that affect quality of life for Americans. Perhaps the more profound consideration is the impact the “silver tsunami” already is having on individuals; older, often fragile adults who increasingly find themselves making difficult choices: food vs. prescriptions; heating bills vs. transportation; dental care vs. pet care.

It’s the type of perfect storm Sustaining Our Seniors of South Carolina is seeking to manage. This new nonprofit will serve as an intermediary designed to connect interested volunteers and financial supporters to qualified senior-serving organizations throughout the state.

“Senior citizens and vulnerable adults need a champion,” said Coretta Bedsole, president of Sustaining Our Seniors board of directors. “We want to be that champion by identifying resources, information, guidance and service options to improve their quality of life.”

Connecting people to organizations in the way of donations, hands-on service, and skills-based volunteerism can help build capacity for the many senior service programs already in existence throughout South Carolina. Leaders from Sustaining Our Seniors are quick to point out the organization is not designed to replicate services, but to help build scale behind those services in a way that will enable them to deliver even more assistance to South Carolina seniors.

The RP CreateAthon team has the privilege of helping this organization develop foundational strategies such as product design, organizational development, and brand marketing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an organization from the ground up, and look forward to helping this organization connect people with a heart for seniors to opportunities for service and support.




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