Advertising Experts

Daily life forces us to become experts. Walk into a big box store and ask an employee about a product and you’ll get a sales spiel, but no information. We can’t be experts in everything, but most business demand that we act like we know what we are doing. Most of us are horrible at writing our own ads, creating a marketing program, or putting together a website or brochure. We aren’t professional marketing designers, even if we are artists and can write.

Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something new, but it does mean you shouldn’t put your businesses’ growth in inexperienced hands.Even if you have some experience, you are too close to your own business goals to handle your own ad writing. Turn it over to an expert. It’s the biggest present you can give yourself this holiday season.

The strongest ads and marketing materials are created by experts in the advertising and marketing fields. You don’t have to hire the biggest agency in town, but you do have to use experts—people who have experience in your specific field. You wouldn’t cut your own hair, you wouldn’t set your own broken bone, so think of hiring an agency to write your ads and marketing material as a smart move, not a lack of skill.

“Advertising doesn’t work,” I’ve heard clients say. “I ran an ad once, and nothing happened.” No wonder. One ad can do nothing. An advertising expert knows that it takes several exposures to an image to get people to think they’ve seen it before. And several more before they act on it. An advertising expert knows that a good ad appeals to a need with an answer. An action. A good ad has a call to action (call, write, buy, protest are all calls to action) and fills a need. A good ad explains features (characteristics of your product) and benefits (how that characteristic can help your clients).

There are many beautiful ads that don’t work, don’t create sales. The best ads do both. How do you know if you are working with an expert? An expert knows your business, knows your audience, and brings the two together in a series of ads placed in publications your audience reads.

Here are questions you should ask a potential ad agency:
1. Are you a product agency? (A product agency handles everyday items that are sold to clients. It is different from a business-to-business agency or a marketing communications agency.)
2. What products do you handle? (They should be the same or similar to items you hope to sell).
3. How long have you been in business? (Agencies come and go as quickly as restaurants, choose an agency with a good track record).
4. Why did you lose your last client to another agency? (There should be no blame directed at the client, it’s not professional.)
5. Who will work on my account? (Junior people are traditionally assigned to small accounts. That’s not necessarily bad, but you don’t want someone inexperienced to be working unsupervised on your business.)
6. How do you charge? (Agencies charge in different ways, including by the hour, by the project or on a monthly retainer. Know what you get for your money.)
7. What is included in the fee? (Most agencies will make small copy changes for free, but every time you change the scope of work, you are paying for it.)
8. What clients that you already have are similar to my company? (Let your company benefit from experience gained somewhere else.)
9. What is your goal for us? (Beware of agencies that tell you that an ad campaign can quickly bring you income. Your product has to be good, clients have to recognize its value and it has to be priced right, you have to have a way to deliver it and your store/gallery/website has to be easy to find.)
10. What’s the timeline? (Success takes time. An agency that promises you too much too soon is unrealistic.)

On your part, you should be ready to answer questions the agency asks you—who are your clients—demographic and geographic information; which items are your most and least popular ones and why; your budget for advertising.

When you are ready to work with an agency remember that they are not magicians that can create clients for you. The best ads can increase traffic in your store or to your website, the rest is up to your product and your sales staff.

Tip of the moment: The best ads focus on your clients and answer their pressing question, “What’s In It For Me?”

Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer, teacher, and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to We do make an effort to answer your questions, either individually or in future columns.

Rest in Peace, Ruth

Ruth Bell Graham was 87 when she died, and she lived a life most women of today can’t imagine. Or don’t want to. At 21, she graduated from college and was set on returning to China, where she had grown up as the child of missionaries.

When Billy Graham asked her to marry him, it was with the admonition there would be no China. “Woman was created to be a wife and mother,” he told her. Today’s woman might have smacked him with a trout for that answer, but today’s Billy may not have used that quote, either. They lived in different times.

Ruth GrahamAnd that’s the point. For a woman who was a helpmeet and in the background, she was a powerful force who should be spotlighted for her own wisdom. She wrote 14 books and advised Billy Graham to keep him on the path to success. “Ruth kept Billy both loved and honest,” said Leighton Ford, brother-in-law to Billy, and also an evangelist.

it was Ruth who advised Billy to turn down an ambassadorship to Israel offered him by Richard Nixon, and Ruth who told Billy to decline endorsing Nixon for office. Perhaps she just didn’t think religion and politics were a good mix, perhaps she could see Nixon for the disgrace to the Presidency he would become.

Ruth focused on keeping Billy true to his gifts of public speaking and witnessing. William Maratin, Billy Graham’s biographer said, “Ruth knows who she is, while Billy is always auditioning.”

She was a force and a partner in the best sense of the word. Every day was not happy for her, but each day had a purpose. She was not a martyr, but she was, in a very big way, a feminist before her time.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach, and journaling instructor. See her work at (c) 2007. All rights reserved. Image:

Right Bag for the Write Job

After years of buying purses, messenger bags, and totes–none of which worked all the time, I got tired of changing bags. After spending tons of money on tons of bags, I finally decided to have one custom made. I’m a writer, teach writing and journaling classes, am a creativity coach and speaker.

MacClay leather bagThat means I schlep an amazing amount of small pieces: pencil for sketching, pen for writing, index cards, rollabind notebook, books, wallet, glasses case, sometimes a camera. And then all the stuff women carry– lip pencil, chapstick, brush, bandaids, Aleve, and gum.

I called up MacClay leather, from Pennsylvania. I’ve seen Clay’s work at shows, and he is meticulous. His work is beautiful and the leather he uses is rich and wears tough and long.

The bag has to be a shoulder bag and a messenger bag because I ride a motorcycle and it has to come with me. No problem. The strap is adjustable to hang over my shoulder or across my body. The clasps are brass–sturdy and easy to operate.

I wanted it lined in a light material. So many bags are lined in black and you can’t find anything. No problem. A pale tan nylon is waterproof and just the right color for hiding a bit of schmutz and light enough to find things.

purse MacClayThe bag had to have two outside zipper pockets on one side (shown with 4 x 6 index cards to highlight the zippers) and a slide pocket on the other. In addition, the big open pocket has to have a smaller pocket to hold the Metro card, cell phone or receipts. It went into the design.

The inside has pockets lining one side, and a long zipper pocket on the other. The stash pockets hold the checkbook, glasses case, cell phone when it needs to be zipped away, gum, and a brush. The zippered stash pockets holds the airline tickets and receipts when I travel, and the ever present book or magazine that’s always with me so I can read while I wait.

The bag is tough and still formal enough for me to call on clients without looking like a rock climber who’s lost her way. It was not cheap, but it sure was cheaper than buying bags for different purposes. And I’ve saved money in time just carrying one bag. It’s a great bag. I’ll bet MacClay leather will make one for you, too, if you ask.

(c) 2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Words as Art

Because I’m a writer and an artist, I’m always looking for ways that other artists put words in their art. Yesterday,  I found Stephie Calle, who used a Dear Jane letter and created an entire art project around it.

Today I came across the Word Count project by Jonathan Harris. He’s an artist whose entire body of work exists on computers. Part of Harris’s mind is an engineer’s mind, part is an artist’s mind. Harris created a list of the 86,800 most common words in the English language. He sorted them and posted them.  The most common word is “the” and its number is ‘1’ . “of'” and “and” are in places 2 and 3. You can look up a word to see where it is or type in a position number and see what word it is.

Looking at them turns you into a Talmudic scholar.  Click on “666” and you get the word “easy.” There is some wonderful divine justice in that. “God” at number 376, is between “began” and “top.” It starts to make sense after a while. “Death” (number 454) is between “church” and “sometimes.”  There are words in sequence that make sense. “Running” and “Feet” and numbers 698 and 699. “Contagious” (2159) is just one over from “Feverish” (2161).

Harris wasn’t finished yet. He started a count to see which words people looked at most often and created another list–the Query List. What’s the most common word people looked up? Of course,  “sex.”

Have some fun. Type in your birthday, your age, some special number. See what comes up. Words are art. In many ways.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. See her work at (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Prove You Care

There seems to be an alarming trend in email links, just when I thought we had conquered linkrot and instilled the importance of permalinks. (Permalinks take you to a specific blog rather than the home page, you get them by clicking on the blog post title, then copying the url.)

In the past week, I’ve gotten several “special offers” from organizations to which I belong. In each case, the prices were hidden. I clicked on the link in the email, couldn’t find the price, and then flailed around the website, to no avail. When I wrote the organization, they sent me a patronizing reply, and a link, which they tell me “I could have easily found” but don’t tell me how. Twice, the price wasn’t on the linked page, either. If I want lousy customer service, I’ll call Verizon.

Vinland mapAren’t we supposed to make things easy for the client? Neither of these organizations were puzzle-creators or map-makers. One of them wrote back telling me that if price is a concern, I probably wasn’t the right person for them, as they wanted to “partner” with people who cared about outcomes, not price. Who wrote that script? Former est-seminar leaders? Do they think I have such low self-esteem that I will sign up for something without knowing the price?

They must be related to the catalog phone order takers who often take a list of items, then don’t tell me what the total is. In fact, they tell me they CAN’T tell me what the total is because shipping is added later. OK, call me later and tell me. At least tell me the product total so I can see if I’m being scalped by the shipping charges. They can’t do that, either. I have to add up the items before I call and then check the shipping price when the item arrives.

Am I the last person on a budget in the universe? I’m also the last person in the universe who cares about how I spend my time.

I used to have a boss who, every time I updated him on a project, would add to the scope of the project. I once asked him how to spell the name of a personal contact he wanted me to call, and he told me to get the company’s annual report and look it up. The annual report wasn’t online, and it took a week for it to arrive. Meanwhile, he’d played golf with the contact twice, but was too busy to spell his name for me.

I thought I’d gotten rid of that aggravation when I opened my own business, but not at all. Yesterday, a company called me about a training course. When I asked for their phone number, the woman said, “It’s on our website, on the ‘contact’ page.” It would have taken her less time to give me the phone number than send me to look for it.

Is this a new power sign? Is the new attitude, “I can order you around because I have the information you want?” Or is it a massive laziness that, when discovered, is blamed on the asker?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches Plain English, how to write effectively, and hates to use the word “partner” as a verb. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Art Imitates Life

Your boyfriend dumps you. He does it in a rude and self-serving way. You are an artist. How do you take it? Do you hide and nurse your hurt until it is over? Many artists would, but not Sophie Calle. She’s a French artist who work is the talk of the Venice Biennale.

Calle is one tough cookie with an eye for art. She turned her job as a Venice chambermaid into art by taking pictures of the personal disaray people leave behind in rooms. That should have been the tip-off for the cad who dumped her.

calle take care of yourselfCalle sent the email to 102 people to interpret it–editors, psychologists, etiquette experts, even Talmudic scholars–and assembled the answers and insights into a large installation. On the left is a photograph of “Emma the Clown,” part of the exhibition. (See photo credit below.) The exhibition is called “Take Care of Yourself,” after the ending line of the email. There are videos, too, and the entire event has been gathered into a book she’s selling for a well-worth it $100.

What makes this so wonderful is the fullness of life that Calle let herself experience and the healing that came from it. It makes an engaging project, a completely new view of life as art, and an interesting (and new) definition of art.

Image: from the Washington Post, which carries the cutline and photo credit: Sophie Calle’s “Emma the Clown” interprets a breakup e-mail that Calle’s ex-boyfriend sent her, in the artist’s installation “Take Care of Yourself.” (Galerie Emmanuel Perrot; Arndt & Partner; Koyanagi; Gallery Paula Cooper)

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and personal creativity coach. See her work at (c)2007. All rights reserved.

Creative Playtime

Time to bring out your sketches, your photographs, your cool journal pages and give them away. No, no, not get rid of them, distribute them to friends. Flickr, the photo-file people, developed MOO cards. They are the size of a business card, and you can create a pack of 100 for less than 4 gallons of American gasoline [price today, 6/12/07, $3.10/gallon]. MOO cards last a lot longer, and are far more fun to share. You can use many of your pictures, but just one back per set. Details on MOO cards are here. Check out the pictures, too!

If you haven’t got a stash of your artwork at hand, book a playdate with Art Unraveled in Phoenix, AZ, August 6-12. Don’t worry about the heat in Arizona in August, all the classes are in a hotel. At this amazing retreat, there are scheduled art classes, make-and-take rooms, late night project rooms and an Art Unraveled Store in the hotel.

Preview some of the talent that’s teaching: digital and fine artsit Sas Colby, outsider artist Katie Kendrick, and book artist Dorit Elisha. There must be 30 teachers giving courses during that time.

Art and Soul retreats were in Hampton, VA and Pienza, Italy in May,  but you still have time to catch the October retreat in Portland, Oregon. Collage artist Claudine Hellmuth will be there. If you can’t be there, stop by the website of Dan Essig and check out his amazing books. He does Ethiopian Coptic bindings of such complexity, they’ll take your breath away.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach and journal-writing teacher. See her work at 

Creativity Lessons from the Bike (cont’d)

We were off to a dim sum brunch in Falls Church. Mark’s Duck House is not beautiful, but it has a great dim sum.

It was clouded over when we left, but the chance of rain was small enough for us to take the motorcycles. About two miles from the house, the first drops hit. I never understood people who say it’s romantic to walk in the rain. Your clothes stick to you and you look like an unloved in the rain

More important, in the first 15 minutes of a rainstorm, the oil and gas trapped in the nooks and crannies of the road float on top of the water, making driving anything less safe. Driving in the rain requires different braking and steering. I was hoping for a near miss, but the rain picked up. Enough to get the front of my legs wet.

You get wet in odd ways on a bike. The part I like the least comes from the helmet. It’s round, so the water heads downhill, and everything on the front drips into your lap. All the water that accumulates on the gas tank slides toward your lap, too. To put it clearly, your crotch gets soaked first. This does not make a good impression in polite company.

The Rolling Stones song lyric goes “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you might get what you need.” No one needs a wet crotch from riding a motorcycle. But it did make me think about the things we get and what we do with them.

Often, when something doesn’t go the way we thought, we shrug and say, “It wasn’t meant to be,” as if lack of trying can successfully be transfered to a giant Franklin Planner in the sky.

Artists try a technique, and perhaps it’s messy. Or doesn’t give the right result. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad technique, it just means that it didn’t head in the right direction. You can grumble and abandon it, or you can take a look at it and see what you can salvage from it. There might be a flicker of an idea or part of a technique, that, when combined with something else, will work well.

Real art is hard work. It’s not shortcuts and fast results, it’s trial and error, thought, and application. It helps to keep notes and figure out that when you are on the receiving end of results you weren’t expecting, what you have to do to steer through it and brake carefully.

Your reward is the sun breaking through the clouds, drying off and feeling the wind blow around you again.

Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer, and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved.

Phone Spam

Get ready. Your phone is not your own. I got my first text message spam yesterday. It was one of the cheap-pharmaceutical kind, for Viagra. When you own your business, you publish your phone number. When you publish your phone number, it’s hard to keep it private. But I never expected that. Verizon, my phone provider, is, of course no help at all. I’ve seldom seen a company with worse customer service.

There is no way to block numbers on my cell phone. All I can do is erase the message–that I paid for. That’s the killer. I have to pay for incoming text messages, and I’m sure this was just the first.

I can’t hide my business number, but I may have to invent a way to post it that doesn’t let web spiders pick it up. Maybe putting the area code behind the number. Anyone else have a good idea? I’m not looking forward to sifting through messages and paying for spam.

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved. See Quinns work at

Summer lunch

In early summer, there is an open-faced sandwich that brings a smile to my heart and a crunch to my mouth. It’s not hard to make, and it’s worth the extra items you may not regularly carry. The sandwich has three ingredients: a wonderful dark bread, unsalted butter, and radishes. That’s it.

radish sandwichAny dark bread will do. I especially recommend the very flat, dark bread that looks like seeds and grains pressed together. Yoga bread, a dark loaf studded with sunflower seeds and cranberries is good too, as is a fresh, dark pumpernickel. White or wheat bread just won’t do. Part of the delight of this treat is the way it looks, and a pale bread doesn’t carry any contrast.

About the butter: it has to be real butter and it has to be unsalted. Margarine won’t work, and you don’t want to eat the chemicals in it, much less taste them. Ugh.

So, fresh butter it is. Unsalted is best because you can add as much salt as you want on top of the sandwich, but a salted butter spoils the pure flavors about to greet your mouth. Leave the butter out of the refrigerator until it is easy to cut, but watch out that on a hot day it doesn’t get too mushy.

french breakfast radishThe radishes should be the red kind. French breakfast radishes, red with white tips, and elongated are good. That’s a picture of them on the left. Make sure they are fresh. Old radishes are hot, and not what’s called for here.

Take at least five radishes, wash and trim the root off. Float them in a small bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes. Slice them thin. You can use a mandolin if you like, but stick a fork in the end of the radish so you don’t cut yourself. (A mandolin is a flat piece of wood or plastic with a long blade flush mounted at an angle into the surface. Looks innocent but will take a finger right off.)kitchen mandolin

Take a slice of bread, butter it to your liking, add sliced radishes, salt with kosher salt if you like, and enjoy! Summer is here!

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. See more about life- and creativity coaching, writing, daydreaming and artwork at Radish image: Mandolin: Sandwich: