TV Commercials; Or, has the river gone up since you scouted that location?

Last week, we shot new television commercials for our largest client. The shoot for two commercials took 25 hours over a two day period.

We contended with rain when it was supposed to be dry, no rain when the outdoor scene called for rain, two kitchens, a hike upriver with all our gear and an overnight shoot at a local grocery store.

There were also nine actors, a food stylist, a wardrobe stylist, a makeup stylist and somewhere around ten guys who’s jobs were lights, camera and miscellaneous.

All for a grand total of 60 seconds of TV… well, actually something like 50 seconds of TV when you take into account the art cards and stock shot at the end.

The end result we’ll see next week, but I think they’re going to be really great. I was reminded of how much making TV is a team effort, and that while the Creative Director comes up with the overall concept, there are a thousand little decisions made by all those people that lead to the final product.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Why is getting a project started always the hardest part?

I have a number of big projects waiting in the wings and I know that once I get them started I will be obsessed with finishing them. These are truly the types of projects I love to do.

But I always have the hardest time getting them started. I procrastinate. I clean, I cook, I write blog posts and yet there those projects are, waiting to be started, finished and invoiced, and I just can’t seem to do it.

I told myself last week that if I could just get through that crazy week at my day job, then this weekend, I would have hours upon hours to dedicate to these projects. Then yesterday, I told myself that if I could just get this basic housekeeping work done (a proposal that needed finishing, a couple of profile sites that needed basic setups, grocery shopping, Target, a new windshield wiper blade for my rear window – see, I really know how to procrastinate), then I could get started.

Now it’s 6pm on a Sunday night and, while I feel like I accomplished a lot this weekend, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough for these clients. But maybe if I just have dinner… then I can focus…

I hiked so hard I broke my boot

Today, I hiked. I woke up to a beautiful, warm, Western North Carolina morning (the first one we’ve had on a weekend I’ve been in town all year) and I decided to put aside work (yes, work on a Sunday… blurg…) and head for the trails.

I chose a challenging trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of town. The guide book said the trails can be quite muddy after a rainy week like we had, so I laced up my trusty hiking boots and headed out. It was hard, it was long, and it was amazingly fun. Several times while hiking, I thought to myself, “this is the reason I moved here.”

About one mile to go on an eight mile hike, I felt like something was dragging on my left foot. I looked back and saw that the sole of my boot had almost completely detached from the shoe. I flipped and flopped out to the trail and thought about all the good times I had in those boots, which I’ve owned for about 10 years. They were sturdy but comfortable (and bought on sale!) so I just never saw the need to replace them.

But sometimes you have to replace things that are old, outdated, broken, or just plain falling apart. In business and in life, you have to think about the tools you’ve “always used” and decide if they are still the right tools for the job. Just because I build sites in WordPress and use Dreamweaver, Coda, and Filezilla every single day, doesn’t mean those will always be the right tools to use. Part of succeeding in life is knowing when it’s time to retire some of those things.

And so this week, I’m boot shopping.

What is Branding? A Video

Ad Week highlighted this video a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Produced by David Brier of DBD International, it has just the right combination of clean design and digestible information. I hope you agree.

Do your clients give good feedback?

Clients come in a variety of sizes and experience levels. Sometimes I am working one-on-one with a client to develop a new website. Sometimes my client has more people in their marketing department than I have working with me at the agency.

Regardless of the client, one thing that we struggle with is how to encourage clients to give good feedback. That is, feedback that is helpful to the designer, developer or creative, and feedback that accurately reflects the client’s views on the project.

Setting the tone and standards of feedback early is key. Once a client has devolved into a bad habit (say, completely rewriting my copy minutes before the print deadline), it’s hard to break them out of that.

So here are a few things that I tell clients early on in the relationship to encourage constructive feedback:

1. Tell me why: You may not like this color or that image, but please, tell me why. How does it make you feel? What feeling were you hoping that element might create? What is your goal in changing that element?

2. Tell me early: Feedback is best when it comes early. When you see the wireframes, if there’s something you want to change, it’s much easier to change in that stage that it is once I have built your navigation. Same thing with more general feedback on the feel, styling, and substance of the end product.

3. Tell me straight: The number one thing I hate that clients do is to sugar coat their criticism. My graduate school professors can tell you I have never been a fan of the compliment sandwich. You are not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t like something. I am a grown woman and can handle it, so please don’t water it down for me. The only thing that accomplishes is creating another round of edits when I thought I made the changes you requested and you think I have no idea what you said.

4. Finally, Let me explain: You hired me because I am the expert at what I do and you are not. So let me explain to you why I made the choices I did. They are almost always based in research, data analysis, or best practices. You and I may ultimately agree to deviate from those standards, but let me explain to you why I did what I did so that you can make a decision based on all the facts.

Continuing Education

Part of the reason that I love the work that I do is because it is always changing. Just when I think I’ve mastered a technology or a technique, something new comes out that changes everything I know.

Because of this, it is crucially important to refresh my skills from time to time and to learn about new technologies before they become the industry norm.

Now, I was one of those people who loved school. I mean loved it. I went back to school after being out in the workforce for four years because I loved it so much. I loved that so much that after only about three years out, I’m starting to think about going back for a Ph.D. so that I can teach and never leave school again.

How do I maintain this kind of schooling when I’m not formally enrolled in classes? Well, lucky for me there are a number of web-based tools that can help me refresh and expand my technical skills.

Codecademy is a great place to start. It’s also a fun place to go back to when you need a quick refresh on some coding skills. And it’s free.

Lynda.com is a low-cost way to continue to expand my knowledge. I particularly like their “updates” series, which covers just what’s new in updates of software like Adobe Photoshop. And the “Up and Running” series that gives you just enough knowledge of a technology or application to dig in on your own. Lynda now covers everything from Adobe software to strategies and philosophies of design, marketing and more.

Google Developer Tools has a number of high-quality, free tutorials that you can use to learn about web development, Google Analytics, and other products.

And finally, the applications themselves often have extremely good support, documentation, and even interactive tutorials of their own. This is especially true for open source applications like WordPress, but is also true of MailChimp and other proprietary software/web apps.

A Return Journey

This weekend, I am returning to D.C. for a visit, something I haven’t done since I left over a year ago. In fact, by the time you read this I will already be there (the joys of scheduled WordPress posts).

I am looking forward to catching up with old friends, most of whom know I am really, really bad at staying in touch, but won’t hold it against me.

I am also hoping for at least a little bit of good weather fortune, as we’re supposed to get something between snow and freezing rain here in Asheville over the weekend, and DC’s forecast looks just about as bad. I’d like to get to some different parts of the city in my brief, 48-hour stay, but the weather might not cooperate.

Still, it’s not a tourist visit or a work visit. The trip is about seeing people who I love and if we spend all weekend camped out on someone’s floor, that’s probably OK too. But I will refuse to leave if I don’t get a cupcake from Sticky Fingers – so consider yourself warned, D.C.

#jonasreturnstodc

Central New York is Cold and They Know It

You may have seen this latest marketing gambit by the city of Ithaca, N.Y. and their travel and tourism website. It involves and unlikely message for most travel marketers: “Don’t come here, go to Florida, instead.”

As someone who spent four cold years just 30 minutes north of Ithaca in Syracuse, let me tell you. They are right. February are dark days for central New Yorkers. It’s been at least a month since they’ve seen more than a day above freezing. They’re digging out from yet another snow storm that would grind any other area of the country to a full, week-long halt. And the sun, when it makes a rare appearance, seems to only make things colder (All former or current CNY residents know that clouds are actually positive because they trap what little heat the area has).

And so, the Visit Ithaca site decided to have a sense of humor about all of this and gently suggest that maybe this isn’t the best time of year to visit. Maybe you might want to consider a warmer climate for your February travels. Oh, and, by the way, it’s a great place to visit in Spring, Summer, and especially early fall, when the gorges that the area is famous for (Ithaca is Gorges t-shirt, anyone?) are lit up with fall colors.

Most tourism bureaus would shy away from this, seeing it as a risky move. But honesty and integrity go a long way, and so has this campaign. It’s now trending in some areas on social media, and people who never even knew where Ithaca was are visiting the site and poking around. Next time your agency suggests something a little out of your comfort zone, don’t be so quick to say no. You might just have the next viral campaign on your hands, or at the very least, you might have the ability to convey that you have a sense of humor about yourself and your destination/brand.

And no one will hate you for that.

Owning Up to It; or, how not to model your customer service after the airline industry

Yesterday morning, I was laying in bed, wishing that I somehow got a miraculous second Sunday instead of having to haul my butt into the cold and go into the office.

To kill time (re: make myself impossibly late to the office), I was looking through my twitter feed on my phone and came across an article that had unexpected connections to my life.

This Washington Post Article, by Travel Columnist Chris Elliott, outlined how airlines use the “force majeure” excuse to prevent them from owing passengers any compensation for flights that were cancelled or re-routed. In the past, airlines used this excuse, which essentially means “due to forces outside our control,” for weather related events, or political events (i.e. war) that affected flights. Some call this the “act of god” excuse.

Now, it seems, airlines are deploying this excuse even when the cause for delays, cancellations or reroutes are seemingly in their control – maintenance issues, employee strikes, etc. The columnist, who often acts as an advocate for jilted passengers, notes that travelers do not have to settle for this excuse and can often get past it simply by asking “why?”

And so, everyone hates the airlines. Even passengers who have generally good experiences hate the process and experience of flying. Seriously. If you’ve ever sat in an airport waiting area during a flight delay, you know this is true. And I think part of the reason is because the airlines are increasingly refusing to take responsibility for their role in any delay or cancellation, because they owe passengers compensation for events that are their fault. And so passengers feel like the relationship is adversarial, rather than a customer service transaction like it should be.

The lesson here is this: don’t be like the airlines. Take responsibility for events that were in your control and let clients know that you will work to do better next time. No one is perfect all of the time, and the vast majority of clients would rather have a hearty apology along with a plan to improve than a million excuses on why it’s not your fault.

Treating the client-agency relationship like a partnership rather than a battle earns trust for those times when you do have forces outside your control that affect projects. For example, my car this morning looks like a glazed donut – there is a thick layer of ice that has totally encased it after a storm last night. That, combined with a slick, steep driveway, means I won’t make it to the office today. But clients know that I don’t use excuses like this often, and so their trust in me allows them to laugh at my iced-in car with me, instead of feeling like I’m just making excuses not to make my deadlines.

If the airlines went back to their policy of only blaming weather/geological events on “force majeure,” they could probably go a long way toward earning back the trust of their passengers. After all, we’re all in this giant airborne metal tube together, and we just want to get home safely.

Hosting Your Site or Why Your Developer Really Wants to Handle This For You

A few months ago, I attend WordCamp in Raleigh. One of the earliest sessions discussed how to turn this whole web design and development hobby into an actual, pay-the-bills kind of job. The head of that session explained that he handles the hosting for most of his clients – not actually physically hosting their sites on his own machines, but he purchases and administers the remote hosting from reputable third party companies and passes along the cost to the client.

At the time, the only think I could think is why would a client pay you $60 a month when they could easily set up a hosting account for somewhere around a fifth of that cost. It felt, frankly, like a little bit of a money grab and was, in all fairness, explained as a great source of passive income. I quickly forgot about that as an option and moved on.

Fast forward to the last three weeks, during which I have fought tooth and nail for clients to give me access to their FTP and hosting accounts so that I could make significant changes to websites. (P.S. why does everyone suddenly want a website facelift in January? Is this a new resolution trend, like going to the gym more and trying not to eat exclusively from the office snack machine?)

The first client involves a third-party go-between who doesn’t understand exactly how this all works. The second client hosts their site themselves and was extremely hesitant to give me access to their servers. Because of these back and forth and a general misunderstanding of how websites actually work, I am now three weeks behind on at least one of those projects.

And so I say to you, person who wants someone else to handle their website, please allow me to handle not only the design and development, but also the hosting. I promise I won’t gouge you on prices, and you get the added benefit of me being the person that handles server issues, instead of someone in IT, or even you yourself.

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