All you dads out there know what it's like to be without a paddle. This is why Fatherly, the wonderfully snarky on-point parenting resource, should be your life preserver.
You'll know from first read that Fatherly's for "Men who want to be great fathers without turning into cliches." And then you'll sign up for the newsletter and see this slice of realness:
I love this signup form for 3 reasons:
1) The adverb *Actually* is a promise.
You're not signing up for fluff. You're signing up for hands-on solutions that'll get you through whatever kind of crazy your day has devolved into, at any given moment.
2) The confirmation button doesn't merely say Sign Up.
"Give Me the Goods" is deliciously on tone.
3) The return to the blog link (Ahhh freak out ...) is a reminder of what life will be like if you do not opt-in to the newsletter.
The definition of insanity, my friends.
So whether you have time to read useful advice or not, happy Father's Day to all you dads out there aspiring to greatness.
It may not be high on your list of site release priorities, but 404 and 500 error page content are excellent opportunities to further extend your brand to engage site visitors. After all, mistakes happen, and error pages are definitely part of the customer experience.
Rather than going with default error pages that often look like robots are running the joint, show your customers your human side. Check out how Fandango's folksy brand voice endears its customers with this 500 error content:
I don't know about you, but reading this content only made me love the Fandango brand even more. The silly image, the copy, the punctuation — it all works so well together.
No one likes throwing an error because it means taking extra time, but why not turn it into a positive customer experience by making your site visitors smile?
And don't forget to provide links to other areas of your site so your customers can get back on track!
Oftentimes, you'd have to visit a company's website or browse a print brochure to be introduced to its core values. It's not everyday those values stare you in the face while you're choosing a Pick 2. Here's the refreshing transparency I spotted on a recent visit to Panera Bread:
As the photo of the in-store signage displays, the company's core values — referred to online as its Food Policy — are as follows:
+ We're advocates for clean food.
+ We're committed to menu transparency.
+ We're dedicated to having a positive impact on the food system.
It doesn't get more transparent than proudly displaying your core values in huge font for all to see as they pick out their menu items.
Bravi, Panera execs!
I love being surprised and delighted by a they-thought-of-everything interaction with product packaging.
This new natural gum, Simply Gum, was a find for me, after having tried so many natural gum brands on the market. Then one day, long after purchase and having opened the packaging and using the gum several times over the course of a few weeks, I spotted a short line of copy that at first I mistook for a directive to post an update about the gum: "Post Chew Wraps."
It dawned on me that the company had built in tiny wrappers for discarding the chewed gum (we wouldn't it to sit in our stomach for 7 years, you know). What a cool product feature! It only made me love the product more.
As for the mildly confusing line of copy, I'd solve it with a simple hyphen: Post-Chew Wraps.
Tell me in the comments about a cool product packaging feature on one of your favorite products.
P.S. Look what fun wordplay pops up when I visited the website!
I was handed one of these the other day and it instantly transported me to my childhood:
It's amazing how I could have gone my whole life without thinking of this product again. But the moment I spotted the "cartoon skyline and art deco font" making a comeback, I was suddenly running up to my dad as he was carrying a box of them, jumping up and down and grabbing at his jacket at the promise of a sugary refreshment. I texted my siblings to share the memory with them.
What's cool is that the soda is made with cane sugar, like they were back then, before high fructose corn syrup took over in nearly ever similar product.
Can you remember a time when a product reboot evoked an emotional response for you? Please share in the comments!
The copywriting team at Starbucks knows how to set the pace with some strong punctuation.
Slow [stop] down [stop] and [stop] enjoy [stop]. Mmm ...
This copy makes me want to add lounging on pillows as a hobby for 2017.
Which products give you a cozy feeling?
Talking about grief and loss may be uncomfortable for many, but grief affects each of us at some point or another. I wrote the song "Go On" to help a friend heal from the loss of her mother, and it was recorded and published in Canada in 2012.
Friends offer up their kindness.
But all you hear is silence.
You're trapped within a world without.
This year, "Go On" was chosen as the theme song for The Grief Dialogues, a multimedia gathering of voices that offers a new conversation about dying, death and grief. The piece includes a short film, theatrical works and music and is slated for a full production in Seattle in September 2017.
You're standing two years later.
Your life's been good on paper,
But there are days you just can't breathe.
The song's message is that grief comes in waves, and we each grieve in our own way and our own time. And most importantly, any way you choose to process your emotions is completely fine. I'm honored that Elizabeth Coplan, founder of The Grief Dialogues and a published playwright, connected with the music and lyrics in "Go On" and invited me to be part of the piece. I'm also honored to be serving on the show's Advisory Council.
Songs about grieving and loss are moving to the forefront, and perhaps the most prominent album of late is Liv On, combining the talents of singer-songwriters Olivia Newton-John, Beth Nielsen Chapman and my friend and collaborator Amy Sky.
Listen to the song demo below, and visit the show's site to share your story.
Having lived in NY for 14 years, I knew my next move would need to be a city with a strong theatre scene. I found that in Seattle, where theatre — and musical theatre, in particular — is thriving.
I had heard about the 5th Avenue Theatre's planned production of PAINT YOUR WAGON and was instantly intrigued by the idea of rewriting the book to a classic musical with a memorable score. While speaking to 5th Avenue Artistic Director David Armstrong, I got an idea to interview the production's librettist, Jon Marans, and pitched it later that day to The Dramatist Editor Joey Stocks via Twitter. Joey had the brilliant idea to make it a panel and bring Craig Lucas (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA) on board. Then a colleague suggested I add GOOD NEWS! librettist Jeremy Desmon to the mix, and the panel was set.
It was sheer joy talking shop with these brilliant writers and hearing their amusing and insightful anecdotes. Due to space, the magazine couldn't print the entire interview, but members of the Dramatists Guild can read the expanded version online. If you're not a member and you live in NYC, you can pick up a copy at Drama Book Shop; if you live in Boston, you can get it at Trident Booksellers and Cafe. You can also call the Guild to order a copy.
The phrase that'll always stay with me when future me thinks back on June 26, 2015? It is so ordered. Immediately following Justice Kennedy's eloquent marriage ruling, the four words "It is so ordered" set into motion our country placing supreme value on love, freedom to marry and, most of all, human dignity.
I've always been a big fan of love. I've always thought it every person's right to choose with whom they wish to navigate this life. Rom-coms always pull me in, no matter how cheesy the dialogue. I adore hearing stories of friends and family who found "the one." And I've always been taken by stories in which two people from wildly different backgrounds love each other wholly and even though they're prevented from being together in a conventional sense, find one way or another to do so. Think Romeo & Juliet, or even Aladdin. I root for the lovebirds from the get-go and am usually a happy crying mess by story's end.
To decide to marry is huge. My wedding band has an inscription, "He chose me ..." That ellipsis replaces words much too long to be placed on a piece of jewelry: "... out of all the people in all the world." It amazes me that my guy chose me out of everyone he could possibly have met. And it equally astounds me that so many people on this planet still don't have that power of choice.
At my UU congregation, I spotted these rainbow-colored words on the wall. I believe in it all, and am proud to be a part of this community of people who treat each other with equal dignity, and see the value in human connectedness.
It is so ordered.
I'm thrilled to announce I have a new title to add to my bio: Broadway lyricist! A song for which I first wrote the lyrics in the BMI Workshop (and have rewritten many times since!) is in Broadway's new musical comedy IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
Under the direction of David Hyde Pierce, the hilarious and heartwarming musical stars Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Sierra Boggess and Lisa Howard. The cast also features David Burtka, Montego Glover, Chip Zien, Josh Grisetti, Adam Heller, Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler and Edward Hibbert.
The show was written by composer Barbara Anselmi and lyricist/librettist Brian Hargrove. Four additional lyricists, including myself with the song "Perfect," have one song in the show: Jill Abramovitz ("What They Never Tell You"), Michael Cooper ("I Never Wanted This) and Will Randall ("It Shoulda Been You"). A fifth additional lyricist, Ernie Lijoi, has two songs in the show ("Beautiful" and "Love You Till the Day").
The song Anselmi and I wrote ("Perfect") is sung by the powerhouse voices of Howard and Boggess, who play sisters in the show. Watch them perform it on YouTube.
IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU was first conceived by Anselmi while enrolled in New York City's premier musical theatre training ground, the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, She asked a dozen or so of us BMI lyricists to contribute a song to her second-year project about a wedding. The five songs she wrote with the show's additional lyricists lasted through years of development, and, I have to say, there is nothing quite like seeing a long-term project through to its beautiful completion.
And now that our work has been nominated for both Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards, we're all award nominees!
The show is loads of fun. You know the acronym LMAO? I have never in my life seen an audience roar with laughter the way IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU audiences do. And the next thing you know, they're choking back tears, because the show is also beautifully moving.
Go see it. You'll have a wonderful time!
For tickets, info, pics and buzz, visit itshouldabeenyou.com.
There's nothing like a deadline. And having a baby in a few days is certainly a formidable one!
Actually, it's more like I had a list of stuff I've always wanted to get to, so waiting around for baby to arrive has its advantages.
This week, I took to Pinterest to start some projects I've always envisioned but never found time to tackle.
Designing Song Lyric Excerpts
First up, I wanted to present my original song lyric excerpts in a fun and engaging way, and then link them to the songs themselves. Thus, my "Lyrics to Live by" board was created.
My hope is that people who are unfamiliar with my songs will be intrigued or moved by the excerpts and want to read all the lyrics, or even listen to the songs.
My design skills are limited, but it was a blast to express my artistry as a songwriter even further in this manner!
Compiling Clever UX Content Writing Examples
Always seeking to balance out the two aspects of my professional life, my next project was to take the folder of screenshots of content writing samples that have impressed or amused me over the course of the past year and link to their respective websites of origin. The result is my compilation of Clever UX Content Writing.
Even the most seemingly insignificant content on your website can go a long way in creating a fun experience for your users, members or visitors.
You'll smile and/or laugh at some of the silly, even snarky, ways companies interact with their customers. Like Groupon giving you a chance to inflict pain upon a staffer; it's all in good fun, and all to build a rapport to put you in a good mood and keep you coming back.
As both a writer and a customer of these sites, I admire the decisions to express themselves and their brands in engaging ways.
Take a look; what you see just might inspire you to do similar things with your site content!
What kind of boards will you create to stretch your artistic muscles or help others discover your work?
From Business Owners to Musicmakers, Mind Your Messaging
The first time I got an email from a music industry colleague with 64 words — yes, words — in the subject line, I figured it was an anomaly. The person was surely in a hurry, forwarding another misguided individual's email. Then I received a second one. And this week, another.
Verbosity gets you nowhere. No matter the content, recipients will hit delete almost immediately when a long-winded or overly formatted email hits the inbox. You could have an exclusive interview with Guy Kawasaki, but if the subject line is a paragraph and the body text is set off in 7 different colors, your readers will pretty much lose interest immediately. Point is, it would have to be pretty startling stuff to make me open an email that previews in my pane in a pain-in-the-tuckus kinda way.
For effective email marketing, avoid these common mistakes:
1. Lengthy Subject Lines
64 characters is more like it. Better yet, the industry-standard 52. That's including spaces. I copy and paste my subject lines into a Word doc and go to Tools > Word Count to see how many characters I've got.
Tip: Don't include the date. It's already built into the email header, so it only takes up valuable space.
2. Everything Can't Be Bold
Each detail of your event or topic is not equally important. Formatting tools like bolding, caps and exclamation points are for emphasis — for the non-readers who scan emails before taking action. Use these tools judiciously. Text in all caps not only looks like shouting, but also makes you, and whatever it is you're promoting, lose credibility.
3. Facebook Tagging People You Haven't Met
Call it lazy networking — tagging people in Facebook posts without ever introducing yourself. While social media makes it easy to reach out to many people at once with bare-minimum effort, nothing compares to introducing yourself in a private message or an email first.
Keep in mind that those you're tagging may have their settings configured to notify them whenever they are tagged in posts, perhaps even via email. So if you're posting once or twice a day, it can get time-consuming to check each and every status update you're being included in, not to mention crowd your email inbox. Yes, the tagging feature has morphed beyond its original intention of saying that you're with someone — as in, sharing the same physical space — but not everyone will think that your every update is important enough to be part of their timelines too, especially people you haven't met yet. Practice moderation, and if you really want to make an impression with someone, introduce yourself first.
4. Automatically Opting-in Newsletter Subscribers
Joining people to your newsletter without them opting in is another email marketing don't. I got an e-newsletter from someone I'd met at an event, and it wasn't a case of my requesting upon meeting them to be added to their list. This person had my business card and just joined me; no other contact was initiated. Like the Facebook tagging described above, it's frustrating to get a mass communication without ever having any sort of personal follow-up.
If I like the person's content, I'll follow in some way — maybe on Twitter, maybe bookmark his or her blog, etc. Let people choose to subscribe or follow your content in whichever way works best for them, not forcing your way into their already-crowded inbox. It's better to have fewer subscribers who find your content valuable than to have a ton of subscribers who hit delete each time.
10-Second Takeaway: Play to shortened attention spans. Keep your emails snappy and streamlined, and you'll retain subscribers who really want your content, and perhaps want to share it with others!
Next month, I'll be attending the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference in Hollywood. As a songwriter looking to get my music placed in film and TV, this will be a terrific opportunity to learn from and network with the best music supervisors, editors and producers in the biz, plus have a blast with likeminded creatives. Christina Aguilera and L.A. Reid are keynotes, so it promises to be amazing.
I'll be tweeting from the event, using the conference hashtag #filmtvconf, so if you're attending or want to follow the action, let's connect. I've also started a Facebook group for NYC-area songwriters to share resources, info and tips, so if you're a songwriter in the Greater New York Area, give us a shout.
It's been 7 years since I've been in LA, so I'm also looking forward to seeing friends and family this trip!
Though I've always been interested in the Olympics over the years, the London Olympics were the first time in my adult life that I regarded the Games as Must-See TV. These last two weeks took on a March Madness-type feel for me, as I watched at least 10 different sports every chance I got — as much as my workweek allowed — on my NBC iPad app, which thankfully had replays for the times when deadlines loomed.
Witnessing both the glorious, jaw-dropping moments and the empathy-inducing heartbreaks, I reflected on the way athletes work, and how I can apply that to my own work philosophy and operations as a freelancer. Perhaps you can, too.
My top 3 takeaways:
1. Make Like a Gymnast & Concentrate, in Short Bursts
What I found most fascinating, hands down, is the incredible concentration of gymnasts. All sports take intense concentration, but some enjoy the luxury of having the crowd fall silent out of respect for not breaking that concentration (you could hear a pin drop when athletes competed at Wimbledon). Gymnasts, more often than not, perform their routines while other routines are happening around them. It was amazing to see teenagers launching into their dismounts on beam or halfway through tumbling passes on floor unfazed by a sudden roaring crowdburst from a nearby gymnast's vault landing or a wild trick on the uneven bars (or that buzzer I could never make sense of, the one that would go off at inopportune times). It takes incredible mental strength to stay focused in such a work environment, just as we sometimes have to work next to a noisy co-working neighbor or within the din of a crowded cafe.
Luckily, gymnasts only have to use this superpower for a few minutes at a time. It made me think that applying that level of focus into my project work for shorter stints may prove far more effective than bigger chunks of time, when energy starts to fade or my mind wanders, itching to check email or social media, etc. Small bursts of concentrated work, like the Pomodoro Technique suggests, might be my 25-minutes-at-a-time ticket to gold-medal delivery!
2. Professional Isn't a Designation — It's a Behavior
In 1986, the International Olympic Committee ruled to allow professional athletes to compete. This was hotly debated especially at the 1992 Games, when the NBA Dream Team began dominating their opponents (and have continued to do so ever since). The word professional pertains to an "occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain." But another definition reads "a person who is an expert at his or her work." To me, this defines Olympic athletes. To compete at that level, you have to be an expert. Even when I was befuddled by dressage — gymnastics for horses — a friend was quick to point out that while the sport is odd and little-known, it still requires learned skills and rules, a great deal of training and demonstrated expertise, just like any other.
American swimmer Missy Franklin won five medals in London (including four gold) and broke two world records as well as an Olympic record. Missy is a student; she's 17 years old and will start her senior year in high school in a couple weeks (with the ultimate answer to "What did you do on your summer vacation?" in tow). Much has been made of the decision she'll have to make later this year as to whether to go to college or go pro, but to me, she's already a pro. She's an expert at her sport, and even though it's not her current occupation, she swam those laps like it was her job. The word amateur hardly seems appropriate for for someone with five Olympic medals. When watching her give an interview, I could tell right away that the amount of focused training she puts into her passion is so great, it naturally flows into how she conducts herself — like a champion.
We freelancers and solopreneurs can exude the same level of professionalism in all aspects of our work, from prospecting to final product. Even if working from home, for example, we can still shower and get dressed when we wake up in the morning, just like those who commute to work do, instead of working in our pajamas. (Besides, what if we get called into a last-minute video conference?) The professional is prepared; the professional is ready.
We can make sure we have the proper equipment and space to clearly hear and be heard on conference calls. We can keep our hard drives backed up and our files tidy for easy access when a client requests an archived document. Heed advice from the Time Management Ninja and take 10 minutes a day to improve your systems, to keep your project work flowing smoothly. If we infuse professionalism into even the most administrative ways we work, it will show in our deliverables.
3. Flukes Happen; Keep Going
My heart fell for U.S. runner Morgan Uceny, who was tripped from behind in the last lap of the 1,500 meters final, causing her to pound her fists repeatedly on the ground out of sheer agony. The same thing happened to her last year in the World Championships, after which she got up and finished the race, in 10th place. This time, her fall caused injury, so finishing the race wasn't an option.
To have something like that happen in the two biggest races of your career is inexplicable. It's a fluke, and these things, unfortunately, do happen. Can you imagine training to compete all those years at this level and not being able to compete due to a mishap? I'm sure Uceny would've been much more at ease about this race had she come in last place than to lose this way.
We all experience setbacks, perhaps not on an Olympic scale, but setbacks nonetheless. Setbacks that affect our business — just when we think we've landed a new client, the job falls through; seasonal allergies cause a sinus infection so bad we can't even look at our computer screens, let alone work; or a family matter overtakes us, making scheduling meetings with clients and vendors impossible. Setbacks are awful, but we can learn from them as best we can, if nothing else than how to roll with the punches.
What should we do? Like Sinatra sang, "You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." We keep on keepin' on. It sounds simplistic, but we must remember, the world won't come to an end if we have to push back a site redesign by one week. When flukes happen to you, mind your hard deadlines, of course (especially when they've got promotional tie-ins and planned events), but see if there's any give on your other projects. Communicate early and often, and you may find that an occasional request for push-back isn't the capital-A Ask that you thought it would be. People understand. After all, those people are professionals as well.
Onward, my fellow professionals!
My first foray into writing high-end retail product content is the recently launched site copperfieldsdesign.com.
New York artisan Sam Spano creates handmade outdoor copper planters that add instant charm to your home or garden. It was a pleasure to craft copy for such a gorgeous product.
An added bonus is that Copper Fields uses sustainable materials like reclaimed ipe in fashioning their decorative planters.
Visit the Copper Fields site to browse their collections of copper planters, planters with trellises, copper furniture, window boxes, vases and more!
Congratulations to Sam and Suzanne Spano on the site launch. I so enjoyed telling your product story!
Super excited to have finally hopped aboard the SoundCloud train! If you're a songwriter, musician, DJ, singer, voiceover artist, etc., you can use SoundCloud to house all your tracks, from mastered recordings to works-in-progress. And the best part is, SoundCloud provides you with a direct URL for each of your tracks! No more asking fans to go to your page and scroll down to a specific tune; you can now provide the direct link for each and every tune or file you share.
SoundCloud is also a social network: You can follow other artists and interact and share media! One of the coolest interactive features is that fans can add comments to ANY portion of the file. For example, say someone listened to my latest tune and dug the key change that happens at 3 minutes and 14 seconds in; that person could add a comment at 3:14 to say so! And I can do the same for any tunes I listen to uploaded by the people I follow.
I'm using SoundCloud to share my first major-label cut, "Go On" featuring EMI artist Amy Sky, and the rest of my tracks from my recent demo of songs for film & TV. Soon, I'll also use SoundCloud to share my newest tunes not yet recorded, so stay tuned! And as soon as "Go On" is available on iTunes (currently only available in Canada), I'll let you know!
Love and music,
Joe Acocella, the late town clerk of Harrison, N.Y., who passed away in 2011 at the age of 30 while awaiting a kidney transplant, was an inspiration to everyone he encountered. A double amputee, he never let the obstacles he faced affect his accomplishments, which included becoming the youngest member elected to the Harrison Board of Education and the youngest town clerk in New York state history.
Since his tireless work spanned many initiatives at a breakneck speed, it's a Herculean task to encapsulate Joey's short life. Many journalists and friends have done so in prose, and I was asked by the Acocella family to do so in song (listen to the song here), as a way to both honor his legacy and raise awareness for Donate Life, the organ donor registry initiative (and one of his near-and-dear causes). Joey was the recipient of a kidney transplant at age 18; ten years later, he found himself in need of another transplant to sustain his life.
Your future hangs on a wish You're a name on a list. You deserve another chance, You deserve more than this ...
THE WRITING PROCESS Already a registered organ donor, I was honored to also donate a song, which will be unveiled in a video about Joey's life at the Give to Live Fundraiser on April 26, scheduled to be an annual event to raise money for Donate Life and Joey's other beloved charities, such as animal rescue shelters and support for our troops.
For the song, I collaborated with NYC singer-songwriter Brenda Rudzinski. Together, we delved into the stories of those seeking a second chance at life from those who donate living organs and those who register to give organ, eye and tissue donations when they pass on. The research moved us deeply. We decided to focus on the importance of spreading the word, whether sharing it publicly or sharing with friends and family in a quiet way. Each helps the cause. You can listen to the song here.
Brenda also lent her beautiful voice to the tune, which was recorded by producer Adam Harley at Gnome Music Studio in Larchmont, N.Y. The gorgeous guitar parts were played by Justin Gild. My husband, Thomas Fisher, also contributed to the song's arrangement. This truly was a group effort.
The song was premiered on "Harrison Live" on WVOX on April 19, by Dennis Nardone and his co-host Tonny Guido. We are thrilled to honor Joey's incredible life as well as spread the word about a need that affects so many throughout the world. We hope that the song moves enough people to get those registry numbers up! Kleenex in hand, we look forward to seeing the song paired with the video at the fundraiser.
For more info on organ donation, visit the Donate Life site. To donate to Joey's charities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And feel free to comment below. Joey was all about making the most noise, so let's help make some noise and carry on his good work!
Spread the word,
Shout it from the rooftops Make the message heard If you believe in second chances, Share life with the world. It only takes one person at a time who wants to give. Help spread the word and Give to Live ...
The musical IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, which started out in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop eight years ago, is now opening its second full production, at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington. The show is directed by Jon Kretzu.
The show is written by composer/creator Barbara Anselmi and lyricist/librettist Brian Hargrove, with a handful of additional lyricists on the show. Barbara and I wrote a song called “Perfect,” which has been rewritten almost in its entirety for this production. After many meetings between Barbara, Brian, myself and the director of the show's world premiere, David Hyde Pierce, I think we've made the song serve the scene even better!
While I won't be able to attend the Seattle production, I'm told the cast is fabulous and that the preview last night went wonderfully! I also had a chance to see a musical at the Village Theatre over the holidays and I was super impressed with the production values and the level of talent. For more information or for tickets, visit the Village Theatre website.
The world premiere of IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU took place last fall at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., a sold-out production starring Tyne Daly and helmed by Pierce.
Head over to YouTube to hear “Perfect” in its original form (as a solo sung by Mamie Parris). If you're a performer interested in singing the piece, please contact me to purchase the sheet music.
Break a leg, Village Theatre cast and crew!
Love and music,