Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why Blog?

Every time I sit down to write, I ask myself that question. What have I got to say that is timely and valuable?

According to, the number of blogs indexed by Technorati since 2002 is 133,000,000. The average number of blog posts in a 24 hour period is 900,000. That adds up to a lot of people wondering what to write about.

Are you selling something? Advertising a product? Promoting a new service? A blog is a great place to introduce something to your customers.

But what if you’re not trying to sell a thing? What’s the value of a blog then?

There’s only one answer. The value of blogging is in building relationships. Why would someone do business with you in the first place? As much as we all want to think we have something unique to offer, your product or service is, no doubt, offered in hundreds of other places. Your customers are actually choosing to do business with YOU. It IS personal, no matter what you hear. Who you are, what you stand for, is what they’re coming for.

Blogging is a great way to let your customers get to know you. It’s the cornerstone of all social media. It puts a face and a voice on your products, your tweets, and your way of doing business. It gives people something to hold on to and keeps them coming back.

So sit down at the computer and start typing. What comes out will be you and that’s all it has to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Much Does a Website Cost?

I know at first glance a column about how much a Web page costs isn't exactly a "Leading Edge" kind of thing. But for those of us in the day-to-day slog of building these things, on the leading edge of the business if you will, what we should charge is pretty darn important. If you're on the client side, the cost of a Web page is pretty important too, particularly if you're don't want to get caught with your virtual pants down when it comes to establishing and holding to a budget your boss assigned you.

As a public service, then, I'll break it down and help you, dear reader, understand exactly what things cost. There are a lot of assumptions in here: assumptions on profits, assumptions on hourly rates, assumptions on overall time to complete the project I'll describe. I've tried to ground them in some solid, verifiable averages and reasonable expectations that tend toward the conservative side.

For example, the salary numbers come directly out of the AIGA 2006 salary survey, which may have questionable numbers (they seem a little low to me) and questionable job titles (they don't always match up with what I've seen people in these positions called). At least it represents national numbers of a significant scale. In terms of calculating the hours people work in a year and how those hours translate into reasonable billing rates, I turned to an excellent article on the subject by Neil Tortorella. It seems to have reasonable assumptions. As for the project I'm going to describe, estimating is always a black art, but the numbers seem to make sense when you break them down. They match well with my 12 years of experience on getting these things done. Could the job be done in less time? Perhaps, if you've got the most efficient shop in the world, a client who doesn't know the concept of revisions, and a structure in which your account person, or "senior producer" as the AIGA calls him, never has to talk, e-mail, or meet with clients.

Yeah. Right.

Here's the situation: you're launching a new campaign that will use a combination of tactics: banners, text links, search marketing, and e-mail. The actual mix is irrelevant because what we're really looking at is where all these things point to: a landing page. The landing page is a one-page form with a couple paragraphs of copy, some images, and a form that integrates with a lead-capture database following a client-side validation to ensure all the information has been entered correctly. After the lead data are captured, the user gets a thank-you page and can move on.

Simple, right? Probably something we've all dealt with a gazillion times. It's simple and relatively uncomplicated so no one needs to get down into the weeds of all the variables that go into making a full-fledged Web site or rich media campaign. It's a page. With a form. Period.

Most clients would look at this and say, "Hey, it's just a page! That should take about five hours to build, right?"

Not even close. Here's why.

The team that builds this page is made up of the usual suspects:

* A "Web strategist" who might be an owner-level person offering strategic guidance: $80,000 a year

* A "senior producer" who's the account manager: $54,000 per year

* A "creative director" who leads the creative development: $80,000 per year

* An "art director " who does the heavy design lifting; $61,000 per year

* A "Web designer" who puts the page together: $48,000 per year

* A "Web developer" who's really the programmer who makes the form work and integrates it with the database: $60,000 per year

* A "copywriter" who writes the copy for the page: $65,000 per year.

Those numbers come from the AIGA, and the team seems like a reasonable mix to get the job done. The salaries seem low to me but represent median salaries across the country for these positions. Your mileage may vary.

How much do these people need to be billed out at to make a decent profit? If we assume the average reasonable billable time for people is 1,428 hours per year (the Tortorella article offers detail), agency overhead amounts to about 67 percent of salary (again, a reasonable number according to Tortorella), and a 25 percent profit is reasonable (an assumption, but a percentage many of us shoot for), then following billing rates make sense for the positions above:

* Web strategist: $107.56 per hour

* Senior producer: $49.85 per hour

* Creative director: $73.85 per hour

* Art director: $56.31 per hour

* Web designer: $44.31 per hour

* Web developer: $55.38 per hour

* Copywriter: $60.00 per hour

These numbers seem conservative, but they're what we've got for this exercise. We'll assume an average hourly rate of $63.89, just to keep things simple and conservative.

Now let's look at the tasks necessary to get this single page completed. There's the concept phase, when the page is planned. We need account management of the project, page design, page production/layout, copywriting for the page, inquiry form production, and the programming that goes into the form. Makes sense, right?

There's not enough space here to go into all the details of individual tasks and hours, but let's assume these are reasonable numbers for the tasks if you include client meetings, a couple revisions, and the usual back-and-forth that always takes place:

* 5 hours of creating the concept = $319.47

* 5 hours of account management = $319.47

* 6 hours of design = $383.36

* 7 hours of production/layout = $447.26

* 12 hours of copywriting = $766.72

* 7.5 hours of form production = $479.20

* 4 hours of form programming = $255.57

* 46.5 total hours x $63.89/hour = $2,971.05

There you go. Nearly $3,000 for a page and about nine times the number of hours the client assumed when they first heard about the project. Amazing, huh? You may quibble with some assumptions, but I've tried to be pretty conservative. The hourly rates are probably about half of what most companies I've encountered actually charge. Heck, when's the last time you ran into a creative director at a midsized to large agency who only makes $80,000? If you have, please have him contact me. I may have a job for him.

The bottom line is Web development is expensive, involves lots of people, lots of management, and lots of back-and-forth with the client. Except in the rarest of cases, none of us ever builds just pages but complicated applications and Web presences that often involve hundreds of pages, databases, multimedia, tons of content, multiple forms, and lots and lots of client meetings and approvals. Unfortunately, few of us walk our clients through really understanding the process (and the hours) that make it all happen

The next time you encounter someone with sticker shock when handing him an estimate, don't dismiss him. Walk him through what needs to be done and see if he still thinks that page can be whipped out in a couple of hours. It's an educational opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

By Sean Carton, ClickZ, Mar 19, 2007

Help Make A Reporter's Life Easier!

The press release is a time-honored marketing strategy to capture free publicity for your business. Publishers of daily newspapers, ezines, and newsletters are especially in need of vast quantities of information to fill up space and provide "newsworthy" and interesting information for their patrons. Much of a reporter's time is spend just trying to find stories to tell that are compelling and will interest the readers.

And you've got a story to tell. Did your business donate money, time, products, or services to a worthy cause? Is your administrative assistant a part-time disc jockey from Hong Kong, who speaks nine languages, plays the tuba, and rescues animals in her neighborhood? Why is your service or product unique from all others? Find something, however small, that makes your business interesting and out of the ordinary.

Then get to the business of writing it.

1. Use an attention-grabbing headline.

2. In the first paragraph, answer: Who, What, When, Where, & Why.

3. Slant your press release to your audience--make it important and "newsworthy" to them.

4. Focus on the benefits your business offers.

5. Don't use big words, slang, "legalese" (which few people will understand), or overused phrases.

6. Quote statistics whenever possible.

It should be short - not more than 2-3 consise paragraphs. At the end, reiterate what makes your business unique, or this story unique. Remember that reporters are actively looking for things to write about. Make it easy for them to find and use your article!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Corso: The Last Beat

One of our clients is Gus Reininger, the writer and director of a new film that will be submitted to the Sundance Film Festival this year. It's the story of "Beat" poet, Gregory Corso, who went from a New York street kid to a maximum security prison to poet in residence at Harvard. We saw the film this week and it's inspiring and fascinating. I'm including an article from the Chicago Chronicle. Watch for this one!

Alumnus Resurrects ‘On-The-Road’ Journey of Lesser-Known Beat Poet
By Josh Schonwald

Gus Reininger said he blames Doc Films for “subverting” him. Reininger (A.B.,’73) quit a successful career as a globe-trotting investment bankerbecause, he said, “I learned in talking with film types in New York that, thanks to Doc, I know more about film-making than film-school grads.” The economics major’s Doc-derived film knowledge paid off, when he impressed Miami Vice director Michael Mann and NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff with a seemingly unusual pitch: “Let’s do a version of Rainer Maria Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz about the Chicago mob.”

Reininger, perhaps best known for the fruit of the Fassbinder pitch, the late-1980s NBC drama Crime Story, is returning to the place where he became a cinephile to get feedback on his latest project—a decade-in-the-making examination of the life of the Beat poet Gregory Corso, who along with fellow writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, changed social and literary history.

A free, private screening of Reininger’s “Corso—The Last Beat” will begin at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, in the Max Palevsky Cinema. After the screening, Reininger will answer questions from the audience. The film will not be publicly released until December 2009, after it has toured international film festivals. For Reininger, previewing “The Last Beat” at his alma mater is a natural move. “This is not a film for baby boomers to relive their glory days. It’s for young people. It’s to introduce the icons of the Beat era to a generation that may not know them. I want to show young people how the Beats changed American society, paved the way for youth culture, the sexual revolution, even hip hop.”

Though best known as co-creator of the cop-mob drama Crime Story, Reininger has nurtured a long interest in the poetry of Corso. His interest started when a priest at his Jesuit high school in Cincinnati named Corso as a “good Catholic writer.” Though this was, Reininger would soon conclude, a highly unusual characterization of Corso, the tip spurred Reininger’s interest in the Beats. “Corso was my first beat,” recalled Reininger, “then there was Ginsburg, Kerouac, which led to (Bob) Dylan.”

It wasn’t until the ’90s, though, that Reininger became interested in the Corso project. He appreciated the contributions of all the Beats, but Corso, the least-known figure, was his favorite. “He was the ancient poet,” he said. “He had this great preoccupation with ancient Greece.” Corso’s poetry, for Reininger, provoked flashbacks to his undergraduate days as a student of Herman Sinaiko, Professor in Humanities and the College.

It wasn’t easy persuading Corso to participate in the project, but after successfully answering a series of questions from the erudite Corso (such as “What is the first book ever written?” “Who is Gilgamesh’s best friend?”), Reininger earned his confidence.

Reininger calls the project more than just a film. “It’s a bit of a resurrection,” he said. Unlike Ginsberg and Burroughs, Corso sold his papers contemporaneously. As a result, they were scattered all around the United States, Italy and France.“Any Ph.D. student who might find Corso a great dissertation topic, as he’s so under curated, would have a very difficult financial time traveling to so many libraries,” said Reininger. “Hence, there’s been a dearth of serious scholarship.”

With a research grant, Reininger and his collaborators hired a librarian to travel to 30 universities to find Corso’s papers and letters. A bibliography was constructed. The first product of the “The Corso Project” was a book titled, An Accidental Biography—the Letters of Gregory Corso. The project also assisted author Deborah Baker in her book, Blue Hand, The Beats in India. The project has recovered unpublished manuscripts, artifacts and photos, and has completed more than 300 hours of interviews.

But ultimately, Reininger’s chief objective is beyond scholarship. He is eager to introduce young people to the Beats, the role they have had on the current zeitgeist, and he hopes to introduce the world to the story of the most uncelebrated member of the group. “Corso overcame abandonment, a life in the streets as a child of the Depression,” said Reininger. “He read his way through maximum security prison, ended up as a poet in residence at Harvard, and ultimately met Alan Ginsberg and started the Beat movement. It’s a story of human triumph.”

Earlier screenings of “The Last Beat” with youth audiences at Harvard and Yale universities have been positive. “It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see students reach for a tissue when they see this story,” said Reininger. “It’s an enormously gratifying project.”

For more information on "Corso: The Last Beat", please visit

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What To Do In a Bad Economy

Yes, the economy is in bad shape. The economy goes through cycles and we're in a down one at the moment. It happens every 15-20 years and it's pretty unavoidable.

Of course, this could be the big one - the Roman Empire ended, didn't it? It's highly unlikely, but possible. If that's the case, there's nothing you can do. It will either come back over the next year or two or die. But one thing all the pundits seem to agree on is that it will get worse before it gets better. Big businesses will tighten their budgets, followed by the medium size guys and finally the small businesses will have the wind knocked out of them as everyone slows down.

So what's the best thing to do? Start a business!

You've got to be kidding, right? I'm not, and I have good reasons.

1. Less Competition

Right now people are struggling just to maintain the status quo. If they have jobs, they're bending over backwards to keep them. If they don't, they're praying their unemployment insurance will last as long as they will need it. Only the most confident are aware that this market is perfect for starting a new business. That means a clearer field for those who believe in themselves.

2. The Guys Who Think It's Easy Quit Early

Starting and running a business is hard work. The hours are long, the learning curve steep and profit uncertain. The rewards are also great, but those who go into business thinking it will be easy to make tons of money get out when times get tough. Again, less competition for those that stick with it.

3. Seedlings Grow Slowly But They Grow Steadily

Your new business will likely grow slowly, no matter what the economy. It takes time to develop a customer base, gain their confidence and build a reputation. If you start now, put your infrastructure in place and create systems that work, you'll be in exactly the right spot to grow rapidly when things turn around.

4. A Great Team Is Just Waiting To Be Found

When there are layoffs in the big companies, more talented players are searching for a place to land. This is a great time to put together a team of dedicated people who want to work and are glad to have a place to do it.

5. Think Worldwide

A weak economy means that you have suddenly become a worldwide commodity. Rather than outsourcing to other countries, they can now utilize American ingenuity for less cost. If you make it easy for them to find you and concentrate on building international business relationships through on-line networking groups and organizations, it's easier than ever to compete on a worldwide level.

6. Sell Luxury, Beauty & Ease

Okay, in this economy people may put off buying that new car or moving to a bigger home. Those big ticket items may be postponed. But people still want to indulge as their circumstances allow. So now, it's a pedicure instead of a weekend at the spa, an ice cream cone instead of that expensive night out. Maybe they have their house cleaned once a month instead of once a week. Maybe they call a decorator to move their furniture around instead of buying new. Use whatever you have to appeal to their pocketbooks and their desires.

The economy is in bad shape. Celebrate! Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Don’t spend hours lamenting and ruminating. If you have ever thought about starting a business, do it. Be smart, talk to business people you know, find professionals to help you, but do it. There has never been a better time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What Story Do You Have To Tell?

From the time we're old enough to understand, we love stories. They engage us, fire our imagination, let us experience fear without risk, loss without pain and the hope that anything is possible. They instruct, they teach us what to do and what not to do, they share wisdom.

The only thing that has changed is the media through which we tell our stories. Instead of sitting around a campfire we sit in a movie theater. Instead of sitting around the kitchen table, we sit at the computer and chat online.

So how does this relate to your business?

If you've been in business for any time at all, you've got great stories. A few days ago my friend Diane Henry, who is a Mary Kay consultant, told me about being invited to teach make up and skin care to a group of men going through the transition to become women. Great story. Another friend, Sue Koch the owner of told me about a client of hers who was desperate to leave her corporate job but didn't know what to do. Now she owns a popular gym and loves her life.

Great stories. What do you do with them?

Never underestimate the power of a press release. There's a general belief that a press release is for new products, big companies, or executive promotions. But the press release is the best possible place to tell your story and the return on your dollars can be tremendous.

Reporters are always looking for ideas and inspiration. They need them like you need sales. What they're looking for may be exactly the story you have to tell. So here's what you need to know to be effective at telling your story in a press release.

Make it compelling. Focus on the personal. Make the person reading feel what it was like for the people in the story you're telling. It's the ability to see ourselves in the story that makes us connect.

Keep it succinct. Tell the story in no more than three paragraphs. Don't embellish but don't leave out anything. Have a beginning, a middle and an end. Then tell what you did that made the story happen. Don't sell.

Be excited about the outcome. If there's a triumph in the story, let the reader feel it. Use words that convey those emotions.

Make it easy for the reporter. They are looking for your story. Make it easy for them to find it and choose it. Give them as little work to do as possible. Know their schedules. If the deadline is at 11 am, don't wait until 2 pm to email them. Send the story at 5:30 in the morning.

Get your stories out there. They give you credibility and visibility and add to your press kit. And they bring in business.

Of course, you can always call us and we'll handle all of that and get you great exposure.

More about press releases later.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Brochure... Soho feel?

This is a new look for one of our old favorites. Thought you might be interested in seeing it.