No cell hell

Every semester I ask my students to unplug from social media and then write 500 words about the experience. Over the years, the assignment has become more dreaded as social media has become more ingrained in daily life. The student essayists used to wax on about how calm they felt during their unplugged sessions and how revitalized they were by the brief respite from their devices. Now, they compare the four, cell free hours to heroin withdrawal. This semester, my class of college students seemed to take the assignment in stride. They reviewed Katie Roiphe’s essay about the Freedom App and viewed, TED Talk’s Sherry Turkle and came to their own conclusions. Some were confounded by unexpected consequences of relying on a cell phone for everything from telling time to predicting the weather. Most didn’t even attempt to set up a social engagement requiring pre-planning. “Nobody plans ahead for anything,” they say.  One common thread was how conscious they were of being out of step with everyone else, including their mothers and grandmothers. “It’s like the Walking Dead, everyone’s brains are disconnected from their body and connected to a digital device,” says one bemused student. A few report the “phantom limb” syndrome where they felt non-existent vibrations in their pocket.  Many report the unfounded but dreaded, Fear of Missing Out, more commonly known as FOMO. Unfounded because the actual missing out is greatly exaggerated while the fear of it is most likely underestimated.  All of them were relieved to have the assignment behind them.

I allow them to vote on keeping or ditching the assignment for next semester. They unanimously vote to pay it forward.  I don’t know if it’s because they want the next class to grow or to suffer.

My goal is not to diminish the intrinsic value of social media or beat the same dead horse about how overly connected we are. I’m no Luddite and I take pains to steer them from crafting their story to fit a preconceived notion of what I’m looking for. Rather, the mission is to immerse them in an experience that’s uncomfortable enough to give plenty of fodder for thought. Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

Mostly, I want them to live consciously rather than be controlled by constant distraction. “It’s the most fun they’ll never have,” wrote one student last semester when he voted for this semester’s no cell hell.


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Demise of the Digital Sign-Off


Dear Digital Sign-Off,

I’ve never liked dealing with you and your trendy tendencies. It’s always been a struggle to strike the perfect exit strategy without the softening benefit of facial expressions or tone-of-voice. I’ve been accused of being abrupt, dismissive, short, unprofessional and flirtatious when all I ever really wanted out of you was to say, “buh-bye.”

The evolution of the digital sign-off in my own life

                                The early years

Love = Spouse, members of my family I either birthed or gave birth to me

XXOO= See above

Love ya= feeling particularly warm and fuzzy toward spouse or members of family

Fondly= family I loved but didn’t like or non-work friends I liked a little more than general acquaintances

Sincerely= Everyone else

Cheers= People I might hang-out in a bar with

                                 Later years

Best regards= Work people who played well with others

Regards= Work people who were a little high maintenance

Warm regards=  People who are close enough that best regards would sound too distant

Best= Best of luck, best regards, best get this email sent

Carry on= cringe

Peace out=cringe

I’m just say’n=work related

Over and out= eek



Thanks! = Work people who completed a task, or anyone who took the time to answer an email

Thoughts? = Short for what do you think about that?


None =  And now, I have finished my thoughts to you and if you would like to reply to them, all of my information is comprehensively and (somewhat exhaustively) digitally expressed and appropriately corporately branded. If not, please assume this conversation ended cordially, warmly, fondly and with great and sincere pleasure. C-ya (wouldn’t want to B-ya)

P.S. How do you sign off? What’s the worst way to sign-off?

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How to find really great stories in the least likely places

I was interviewing a construction contractor for a content marketing piece when I realized that I had come up against a concrete wall. He was a terrific source because he was running a successful business in a terrible economy and also happened to love the client’s brand. But as we talked, I realized his story didn’t meet the criteria for engaging, sharable content.  And yet, as he spoke with such great passion for his industry, I figured I was not asking the right questions. I needed to discover something unusual about him, a conflict/resolution or a contradiction of some kind.  That’s when I decided to pull out my reporter tricks for getting sources to reveal the good stuff.  A few sneaky questions later, I had my hook. This cool guy had been in business for 27 years and had never used a written contract with a client.  Instead, he sealed the deal with a handshake and told me that with only two exceptions over nearly 3 decades, the deal was a solid as any legal document.

I found that simply amazing. Who seals deals with a handshake anymore? Where in this this digitally connected world does anyone actually ever meet their supplier and know him well enough to shake on it?

I’m a tough critic. I gravitate toward the weird, twisted stories of people obsessed by their interests. This guy, who works 70 hours/week and seals deals with an old fashioned handshake, intrigued me. Even though I only had 300 words to tell his story, (and 100 of them to associate him with the brand) I felt drawn to the story behind the story. He stuck with me and I plan to go back and find out more about him. I’m thinking, video, articles, blog posts, twitter tips, quotes and even an infographic about the lost art of the handshake deal. The possibilities are endless.

Storytelling is easy when you find a source with a great story. But finding the source, connecting with him, discovering what makes him interesting, associating him with the brand and hopefully making the reader shake their head and say, “who knew?” comes with experience, luck and a fantastic database of your brand’s targeted audience.

Oh wait. You want my secret, never fail, reporter tricks for getting a source to open up?

Nah, no you don’t. You’d rather hire my company to do it for you.

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 BusinessBests_openerLandscapers are jumping on the social media/marketing bandwagon. One of my favorite marketing ideas I heard while writing this story was from the landscaping company that hosted the “Ugliest Front Yard,” contest in order to drive audience and create a buzz. The “winner” received a free lawn make-over! I would totally submit my yard for this contest.

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Give Peeps a Chance

Peeps in hot chocoalateI admit it: I am a Peepophile, consumed with an obsessive interest in Marshmallow Peeps. Like other Peep freaks, I am devoted to the sugary, marshmallowy confections and follow their research, marketing and consumption with great zeal. Over the years, I’ve converted nonbelievers, doubters and smug, holier than thou-ers who dare compare Cadbury chocolate eggs to the yellow Peep. For the record, I like my Peeps slightly stale which puts me in the more trendy “Peepster” category. I also like to plop a PeepsaritaPeep into my hot chocolate and am considering serving Peepsaritas to my book club.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the confections made by Just Born Inc., in Bethlehem, Pa., this new ad by Peeps agency, Terri & Sandy Solutions is a 30 second sweet spot that opens Easter morning when two brothers race downstairs to check out their Easter basket. The older one excitedly list all the things that can be done with Peeps and the screen fills with clickable links to read more about how you can eat ’em, smash ’em, microwave ’em, deep-fry ’em, roast ’em on a stick. He goes on to breathlessly describe historically accurate Peeps dioramas, Peeps golf balls, Peeps tattoos, Peeps pop art, Peeps topiary, Peepshi and Peeps in a Blanket, and so forth.

peep_jousting_1A little more Internet searching uncovers ways the Easter Bunny probably never intended Peeps to be used such as “adult” shaped Peeps, Peep porn sites, and even my favorite peepshow, Microwave Jousting, a battle that pits teams of Peeps armed with toothpicks in a fight to the gooey death. Of course, where there’s a trending topic, there’s a Peep for that which explains a recent proliferation of Papal Peeps
peep conclavealthough I like the Monkey Cages’s “Peepal Conclave.” the best.

Let the jousting begin!

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How to use elements of fiction writing to tell your company’s story

story tellingInstead of making your brand’s story about the product or service you are selling, consider using these elements of fiction writing to star your customer as the hero in your brand’s journey.

The best stories involve characters/plot/conflict/conflict resolution and have a beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t matter if your story is a movie, book, play, video or marketing piece; it has to tap into the reader’s emotions and evoke strong response.  A good writer can uncover your customer/character story and tell it in an engaging, compelling way that also generates brand awareness. Tom’s Shoes ( is one great example of powerful storytelling where the customer stars in their own philanthropic quest.


One of the most common plots in fiction is: boy meets girl, boy wants girl, boy either gets girl or loses girl. A catalyst propels the hero to progress through complications and obstacles, reaches a moment when all seems lost, then (climax) overcomes obstacles and resolves conflicts. According to Christopher Booker, author of The 7 Basic Plots, there are 7 story archetypes: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth.


The main character, (your product’s featured customer) has a set of emotions, beliefs, attitudes and actions.  You know him by what he says, what he does and what others say about him.


You character wants something: increased profits, more brand awareness, more leads, better fuel mileage, truck drivers, seasonal workers or a new pick-up.


These obstacles stand in your character’s way: financing and the economy, crowded markets, fluctuating fuel prices, shortage of drivers, immigration policies and cash flow.

Conflict resolution

Your product/company offers a solution: financing, giant awesome branding message, app to find cheapest fuel prices or software to measure driving habits to maximize fuel economy, guest worker solutions, financial services for increased cash flow or big data on cool new pick-up trucks.


Character gets what he wants and reader connects to both the character and the brand and they all live happily ever after

The End

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I used to work from home but now I work from work

womensworkOnce I was on a crowded flight to Miami when a well-tanned man with sun-bleached hair sat next to me. I don’t really like to chat on planes but he was determined to tell me his story.  It seems that he was a fly fishing guide for high-powered, captains of industry, who flew in for his ultra expensive Florida Key’s fishing trips. They would tell him their velvet handcuff woes and end up reminding him he was living the dream.

But that’s not why he was flying to Miami. It turns out that he had a job interview with one of his fishing clients.

“I want a real job where I put on a suit and get a paycheck, health insurance and a yearly bonus,” he told me.

I get that. In fact, after years of writing stories from my basement, I have emerged, blinking in the sunlight, to start a new job where I do my writing from an office. With a desk and a paycheck and health insurance.

When my kids were little and I told people I worked from home, they took it to mean, she doesn’t really work so she can be the home room mother and coordinate the bake sale. Then there those who told me it was their fantasy to do what they perceived I did, work all day in sweat pants and keep the kids and house running smoothly.

This is the thing. I loved my freelance writing gigs but working from home was never all it was cracked up to be. There were no weekends or coffee breaks, no sick days or personal time off. For me, it was a crushing calendar of multiple deadlines for a wide range of publications.  A typical set of gigs included writing pieces about my dog,  homes and gardens, travel, beauty tips, running shoes and then feature stories in the trucking, construction and landscaping industry. I would spend the morning interviewing truck drivers about life on the road and the afternoon writing book reviews. Vacations were always consumed by travel writing and commentary.

I went to work full-time around the same time Marissa Mayer sent her memo calling in the far-flung Yahoo’s. While most of my work friends raged against the injustice, I kind of had to agree with her because, really, you can be more productive when you interact with actual humans.

I can’t believe how much collaboration goes on before and after meetings and by the mythical water cooler. I don’t think the quantity of my work has changed but the quality of the projects has improved by harnessing the joint brainpower of my talented colleagues. The quality of my non-working life has changed too.

I meet friends for lunch. I spend weekends unplugged. I wear blazers and buy shoes that don’t lace up. About the only drawback is that my work pants are not as roomy as my basement dwelling sweat pants.

If all goes well, I may go on a fly-fishing trip one day.

One never knows.

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