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Visual May Not Be So Superficial After All

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Screen shot 2013-11-09 at 9.38.32 AMIn the mid 1980’s, Billy Crystal famously portrayed a fictitious Latin talk show host named Fernando on SNL, and immortalized a catch phrase, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

It was all a joke, of course. Our recognition of the ridiculousness and vanity of the statement was what made us laugh. Yesterday, as I watched a viral video that is gaining popularity, it made me wonder about the relationship between feeling (and being good) and the look of something.

Degage Ministries sponsored a makeover of homeless Army veteran Jim Wolf of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wolf, disheveled and downtrodden, is shown plainly, staring stoically into the camera as a time-lapse sequence reflects a dramatic transformation:

This morning as I read the news, I found a compelling article in The Wall Street Journal that shares the results of a study on adolescent photos, and whether the expression of a subject (specifically, the smile or disposition) could possibly determine things like future success, happiness, divorce rate, etc.

For someone who has worked in visual design for brand and marketing over the past 30 years, I’ve spent a lot of time belaboring the relationship between strategy and design, the importance and order of form and function. I’ve been in my share of meetings where design was relegated to its place as “implementation” or “execution,” far behind the research and strategic planning functions.

Yet, I know how much tangible value we have imparted with a smart, appropriate redesign, a simple, instinctive overhaul of the visual representation of brand. There were plenty of times when our client managers simply did not have the resources for front-end research, or even very much in the way of strategic planning.

Each day, I see existing client communications and marketing products that, given the chance, I am absolutely certain — with 100 percent conviction — we could transform, showing an immediate, drastic improvement in performance for our clients. I know of at least ten flagship brand products at this very moment that would benefit from an Iridium-led redesign and relatively speaking, it would not need to cost a great deal. The improvement in engagement-factor alone and resulting business benefits would far outweigh our modest fees.

Strategy is, of course, critically important. But a design firm with an experienced, team of proven, skilled, specialized professionals can deliver game-changing value to an organization. As with Jim Wolf, the right visual design can make the entire enterprise behave differently. It can impact business value. We make marketing and communications more engaging and compelling, more easily read, more inspirational. We find ways to bring sleepy brands to life.

Smart, appropriate design can add credibility to organizations. We can revitalize communications with exceptional content that, so often, are not earning the same trust through their existing presentation and delivery of information.

These days, many of us are so focused on social, digital, research, and metrics — on simply populating content across multiple channels — that we seem to have lost altogether the importance of the actual experience for customers.

The experience of a brand for the end-user is sometimes considered an automated function of expression, the result of an internal team that executes through template tools as a routine. A thoughtful, responsible challenge to that process — to the look and feel of how you express who you are, what you believe in, and what you deliver — can yield a substantial, important difference for the entire enterprise. And it can energize the internal team as well as external audiences.

Sometimes, as it turns out, looking good truly can have a dramatic affect on being good.


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Waking Up

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Naga Pearl Farm tourism destinationsEverything is a brand.

I see it all around me: Behaviors and actions, misaligned with need; exceptional executions with the wrong strategy, companies focused like a laser on customers — when their internal brand needs work. I see whole organizations, semi-lost, on auto-pilot or even drifting off course, refusing to ask the tough questions about relevance, preferring to execute something — anything — as opposed to challenging the convention, understanding changing markets and realizing the actual opportunity, the true need.

*     *     *

I recently had an awakening. It’s something that I’ve mostly kept out of sight from the professionals that I work with daily and the client managers I am so thankful to know. I compartmentalized — bifurcated between a deep, heartfelt suffering and my work. Whether it was out of professionalism or not, I remained private about a painful emotional loss that ultimately served as the perfect catalyst to awaken and prod me into asking some hard questions. In the words of the band, Fun, “What do I stand for?”

We all sleep, and I’m not referring to nocturnal rest. Organizational brands sleep, professionals in them sleep. . . people sleep in their own personal lives all the time. We execute appropriately as we always have, as we believe to be the accepted course of behaviors and actions. But could we do better, if challenged?

I meet each week with existing and prospective clients about their brands and mostly, unless that obligatory “triennial” initiative has been handed down, the answer is resoundingly, “We’re not interested in reviewing our brand strategy. We have no plans to challenge our current marketing.”

They might as well just tell me that they aren’t interested in performing any better than they are.

An awakening is just fodder for a Blog or an entertaining film until you go through the transformation and truly open yourself to embrace personal change. I know. Over 19 years of managing IridiumGroup, it would have been difficult to bring an A-level of self-awareness and market-analysis to bear on a daily level. I drifted, sometimes for whole months. Organizations do the very same thing. The only misfortune is when they cannot see what they could become.

I once led an enterprise-wide rebranding initiative for a global organization with nearly 1.5 million members. We had a vision and saw the opportunities and fortunately, the client team was open and willing to listen. Change is hard, but I sensed something special developing. Within 2-3 years, that organization had transformed and invigorated its image holistically and dramatically. The effect reverberated internally and externally. Donations increased significantly and everyone associated with the brand had a renewed sense of purpose. We all felt part of a special community, lucky to be able to contribute to this unique organization, and there was absolutely nothing fake about what transpired.

*     *     *

I love the story of how pearls are made. The formation of the pearl begins with a foreign substance slipping into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s akin to the oyster getting a splinter. The natural reaction by the oyster is to protect itself, so the man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.

Is change easy? Of course not. It’s scary and it’s hard work. I’m thankful for that disruption in my life that made me ask even a few difficult questions. Am I the leader that I could be to my family, my company, and my clients? Have I always invested my full attention? Have I challenged myself and others to perform better? To the best of my ability, have I built a winning stage for the professionals I employ? Finally, at 51, have I been an appropriate representation of the Iridium brand? Have I always comported myself as well as I could? Have I honored myself, truly committed myself to excellence — not only in my career, but also personally?

I’m rolling along and feeling confident these days. I know that I’m grounded, working hard again and dedicated for all the right reasons, to the right purpose and mission. Personally, I’ve hired a trainer and I work out daily. I’m trying to learn about things I was always curious about, and I’m not beating myself up for sleepwalking, just as I’m not congratulating myself for sustaining my life and operations through a difficult period in my life. We all go through it sometimes.

For any organization or professional, any person who would dare to challenge themselves to do better, to ask the hard questions, an awakening is truly an amazing thing.

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OrgCentric Formed to Serve Nonprofit Organizations

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

I rarely use this Blog to make personal or professional announcements, but I am so proud and excited by this news that I’ll make an exception. As of today, I’ll be a principal in a new venture called OrgCentric, a company created exclusively to serve nonprofit organizations and deliver expertise across three inter-related disciplines – strategy, branding, and communications. More information about OrgCentric can be found at the OrgCentric website.

With offices in Washington, DC and New York City, OrgCentric will be a partnership of two respected and accomplished firms – IridiumGroup and McGill + Partners – that have served more than 200 leading nonprofit organizations and commercial companies. Through OrgCentric, the collective experience, creative energy, capabilities, and resources of the two parent firms will be focused on delivering innovative, best-practices solutions to meet the strategic, branding and marketing, and communications challenges of member organizations, associations, foundations, charities, and institutions.

Principals of OrgCentric are: Frank McGill, Chief Strategy Officer; Dwayne Flinchum, Chief Branding Officer; and Gary Dolzall, Chief Communications Officer. A team of 13 professionals with expertise in strategic planning, branding and visual identity, communications and messaging solutions, media (digital, social, mobile, print, and event) channel integration and monetization, Web and interactive design, and marketing systems will provide a valuable and highly tangible resource for the nonprofit community.

“Our firms, working collaboratively, have had the privilege of effectively serving a wide range of leading nonprofit and member organizations,” said McGill, “and the formation of OrgCentric demonstrates a further commitment to and, as our new name conveys, a singular focus on assisting and serving nonprofit organizations.”

OrgCentric’s three aligned and inter-related disciplines are:

  • Strategic Planning: OrgCentric helps organizations develop an energetic vision; define organizational missions, goals, and objectives; map a scalable approach for tactical implementation; and establish metrics to measure success.
  • Branding and Visual Identity: OrgCentric brings brand attributes, messaging, visual identity, and marketing elements into alignment to demonstrate the values, brand promise, and tangible benefits of an organization.
  • Communications: Through communications audit, strategy development, and integration of channel and platforms, OrgCentric helps optimize member and constituent engagement, increase advocacy and policy impact, and enhance communications and media contribution to non-dues revenue.


I invite anyone who would like to learn more to email, call or even make plans to meet. Follow us @orgcentric and like us on Facebook. I’m enthusiastic and eager to continue my work on behalf of nonprofit organizations, to ensure that their strategic plans, brands and communications are relevant and best-practice applications.


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Crazy Mad Nostalgia

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

cover mad men eraIt’s almost impossible for many of us to think about chauvinistic advertising of the 1950’s and 1960’s and not think of Don Draper and Mad Men. Taschen has just released a two-volume showcase, ‘Mid-Century Ads: Advertising From the “Mad Men” Era’ (Taschen, 720 pages, $59.99) In recent years, we don’t seem to be able to get enough of the culture. To some degree it is certainly due to a fascination with the show, which has stirred a kind of resurgent interest in the post WWII days of high living, promise, glamour, and a sense of nationalism. It’s almost as if an entire nation moved into a collective consciousness for the first time, likely through the advances in communications, specifically television at the time.

The print ads that were curated for this massive two-volume book are a testament to that zeitgeist, a compelling snapshot of an era where marketing communications began to define and represent the mores of the day. And it reminds us of how much our culture has changed, what is acceptable, and what isn’t. Suffice to say, it’s been written about ad nauseam, so I’ll post some of these visual treats which pair clever, albeit socially inappropriate images and copy.
Taschen’s Shows Off The Best of Mid-Century Advertisements Photo-Op: Ad Infinitum














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Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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