Two lessons from an effective brainstorm

BrainstormingA few weeks ago, one of our agency clients brought us in for a brainstorm. It’s always a hoot to jump in on one of those, partly because it gets us out of the office and into a different environment (always a good thing), but mostly because of the energy in the room.

A great brainstorming session is invigorating. It’s amazing to see how far an idea can go — and how simple it can become — when it’s being pushed and prodded by different people with different perspectives. But it has to be pushed and prodded properly.

Challenge. Don’t criticize.

The difference between challenging and criticizing is subtle, but it makes all the difference in a brainstorm. Criticizing is pointing out what’s wrong. Challenging is pointing out what could be better.

Most brainstorms start off with someone in the room saying something like “there’s no such thing as a bad idea.” But if you’ve been in a brainstorm before, you know that’s not true. Lord knows we float our share of stinkers in every session. But the thing about those less-than-awesome thoughts is that people don’t see them as such when they have them. They’re already too close to it because it came from them. Criticizing it right away immediately puts its creator on the defensive. Challenging invites the creator to reconsider a few things. And approaching a bad idea positively makes it easier for everyone in the room to see if it’s worth pursuing or scrapping — especially the creator.

“Yes, and…”

Imagine you’re jogging down the street. It’s a gorgeous day, you feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and everything’s awesome. You close your eyes and take a deep breath and then…WHACK! You slam into a brick wall. Momentum gone. No sun. No wind. Just a bruise.

That’s what happens when someone drops a “no” in a brainstorm.

“No” is a momentum killer. The person who says it is essentially saying “I don’t like what you’re saying and I’m not going to participate.” And it leaves the recipient with an ego bruise.

Instead of “no,” challenge yourself to respond with “yes, and…,” then add to the idea:


“What if the pants got up off the shelf and walked themselves to the change room?”



“What if the pants got up off the shelf and walked themselves to the change room?”

“Yes, and what if the pants didn’t walk themselves, but were serendipitously dropped in front of the change room door?”

“Yes, and what if the line was something like ‘Let great style come to you’?”

“Yes, and what if we changed it to ‘Where great styles comes to you’?

See. Momentum.

You too can create a social media holiday

Dr. Evil making air quotes with the caption "Let's create a 'social media holiday.'"When marketing managers come to us for copywriting, we like to give them ideas that jump off the page instead of simply words that live on it. Creating a social media holiday would most definitely qualify. We can’t say we’ve managed to create one yet that stuck, but by-George we’re not going to stop trying because how cool would that be?

Why create a social media holiday?

Why not? There’s never a bad reason to celebrate, right? That’s one answer. The other answer is a crazy amount of brand awareness if you do it right.

Let’s say you head up a small marketing team at a credit union and you need interesting content for your social channels and blogs. The reality is that there’s only so much excitement you can whip up about credit unions. And if you had the time to blue-sky stuff, maybe you could come up with some more. But between budget meetings, chit-chats with business leads and preparing to present the results of your last PPC campaign, there’s no time for that.

Enter the social media holiday. Something like #NationalCreditUnionDay. Now you’re inviting people around the globe to talk about credit unions. And you can lead the charge with a few pieces of lead-up content to get people talking.

“Hug a Credit Union ’cause they’re not a bank.”

“Put the social in socialism — celebrate #NationalCreditUnionDay”

We could go on.

But more importantly, other people could go on too. And on and on and on, giving you tons of content to play with on your holiday and beyond.

Social media holidays are all about the stories.

Every traditional holiday has a great narrative, from the three wise men to the eight days of light. (ed. note: that would be Christmas and Hanukkah). Thing is, for those holidays, you kinda have to believe. But with your social media holiday, you can fact yourself into relevance. Here’s how:


In the case of our Credit Union holiday, the first North American credit union was established on January 23rd, 1901. Et voila, we have our date. We dug a bit more to find out that not only was that credit union established in Canada (the Caisse Populaire de Lévis in Quebec), but it was started with 10 cents. Now we have a date AND a symbol for our holiday ¾ the noble dime. And we have more directions to go with our content: what can you do with a dime, the dime that changed the world, where the word “dime” comes from.


Of course, to amplify our holiday, we’re going to need more than a date and some interesting content. We’ll need a brand with some clout to jump on the bandwagon ¾ which is to say we have to give that brand a reason to jump on and share the holiday with their followers.

So we go back to the research and we find that the Caisse Populaire de Lévis still exists, and is owned by Desjardins. Well, isn’t that convenient? Because all we have to do now is toot their horn a bit. They’ll toot (or tweet) back and bring their 7K+ followers with them. And then if those people bring their people, and those people bring their people….

Everyone likes a good social media holiday

The world’s a bit depressing these days. And it’s getting cold. And January sucks. So if our credit union can be the reason someone out there smiles on January 23rd, learns a bit of Canadian history and maybe makes it on to the credit union website for a top ten list of credit union wins, our marketing manager’s done their job ¾ and probably had a lot more fun doing it.

**Addendum:  We’ve just been informed that there already is an International Credit Union Day on the third Thursday of October. But January 23rd works WAY better.

Write better emails: 4 little things that make a big difference.

Three years ago, Inc. Magazine (a publication we quite like) predicted the demise of email by 2020. It’s a well-written piece and the points made are salient and well-researched. But with respect to the piece’s writer — and to the magazine — it’s hogwash.

According to a 2017 Radicati Group study from January 2017, better than 3.7 billion people actively write emails today. And it’ll jump to 4.1 billion by 2021.

So as long as you’re still emailing people, why not write better emails? We asked around, and most people said these five things would make all the difference in the world.

Reply All

If 15 people are on a thread, you have to assume they’re on it for a reason. And unless you started the thread, it’s not for you to ask why. So if you’re not directly told otherwise, just hit “reply all.” Don’t worry about blowing up people’s inboxes. Let them decide what they need to follow and what they need to ignore in the moment. And if they need to reference the thread later on, they’ll be happy to have it.


When you forward an email to someone else, let them know why — especially if it’s a loooooooong thread. It’ll take you seconds to highlight the important part, delete what isn’t necessary or include a short note at the top. But it’ll save your recipient so much more time.

Image-free signatures

Annoying is downloading all the attachments in an email and getting little social icons as part of the package. Every. Single. Time. We’re all for using your signature to drive traffic to your social channels, but do it with words and a hyperlink (Control-K). If you want it to stand out a bit more, use a different font or size.


TLDR. Too Long Didn’t Read. It’s the number-one reason information is missed. But sometimes you just have a lot to say and that’s okay if you make it easy to digest. Bullet point your thoughts. Break up any sections. And try to keep yourself on point. A good trick is to keep paragraphs to three lines. The space gives your thoughts room to sink in.

Think about what else you could be doing to write better emails and model it yourself. Maybe you’ll get people copying you, and we’ll all be better off.

Three questions to ask a translator before hiring them

If you need a translator, you need a good one because language police dogs are always sniffing around looking for slip-ups. Offending the wrong person with a poor translation could lead to negative PR you don’t need or, or worse, a lawsuit you probably won’t win.

So as you source translators, what should you be looking for? Price is obviously a factor, but don’t make that your be-all and end-all. Because if you’re only interested in saving a few cents per word, you’ll wind up spending a lot more to redo a poor translation.

Here are three questions you should ask a translator before deciding whether or not to engage them in a translation project:

What language do you think in?

Even the most competent translator will have a mother tongue, which is to say they’ll have a penchant towards the nuances of that language. You want your translator to think in the language you’re aiming to translate into. So if you’re looking for English-to-French (E2F), you’ll want a Francophone translator. They’ll be able to understand the English well, but they’ll write the French perfectly. If you’re presented with an Anglophone translator for an E2F translation, you may want to rethink that.

Have you worked in my industry before?

A terribly time-consuming part of a translator’s job is hunting down the correct translation for industry-specific words. Since most translators charge per word, this effort won’t affect price, but will definitely affect delivery times. And if you’re rushing to meet a drop date, you can’t afford lagging. A translator with experience in your industry will already know these words (smart translators keep records of industry terms).

Can you commit to taking the job right away?

This is a bit of a trick question because the only answer you should be expecting is “let me take a look at the text and I’ll let you know.” An experienced, savvy translator knows there are far too many variables, like text complexity and subject matter. You’d rather have a translator who can take the time to confirm than one who says they can do something they can’t.

Once you find a solid translation partner you can trust ¾ and if you can’t verify the translation yourself, you have to trust them ¾ you’ll have so many fewer hassles and no risk of run-ins with the language police.

4 Tips for Small Marketing Teams

Help t shirt

The small marketing teams we work with all have the same problem: time. It’s impossible to do it all, but in today’s world, you kinda have to: inbound, outbound, social, experiential, trade shows, content, blah b’blah b’blah. And every day, the list grows because every day there’s a new way to get the message out. Keeping up during the day is what’s keeping them up at night — mostly because they don’t leave the office.

So how does a marketing team of one or two stay ahead? By doing these four things:

Setting SMART goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed-upon, Realistic and Timely. And doing anything else will put you in hot water with everyone else in the company. Let’s look at them in reverse order.

Timely’s important because it’ll keep the momentum of your efforts going. If you don’t give yourself hard deadlines, you’ll push everything off. Timely will also keep your organized, which, if you’re running lean, is so hard to do especially with everything you have to juggle.

Realistic keeps you from promising the moon and only delivering a few clouds. They key here is to know what’s possible in a given timeframe. This’ll be different for every marketing team depending on their size, experience and contacts, but the approach should be the same: don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.

Agreed-upon is the CYA portion of SMART goals. Once you get organizational buy-in, no one can come back and accuse you of under-delivering — unless, of course, you do, which shouldn’t happen if you stick to timely and realistic.

Measurable gives you a target to strive for. Without it, you’re just firing arrows in the air and hoping for a bullseye.

Smart comes from having time to sit down and think about things. Which is the one thing you don’t have. This leads us to the second thing all small marketing teams should do.

Making the most of free social media

Small marketing teams are usually saddled with small budgets. Sound familiar? It should. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average company spends 7.5% of their revenue on marketing. Once you factor in salaries, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for anything else.

In this way, social media can be your best friend if you use it right. This means offering clever, thought-provoking content on a regular basis. Does this mean you have to blow your brains out on every social media channel out there? No! In fact, the opposite is true. You want to pick one or two channels that make sense for the audience you’re targeting and kill it. Spreading yourself too thin will lead you back to the “no time” conundrum you’re trying to avoid.

In the interests of time, you’ll also want to schedule your posts in advance so you’re not scrambling for something to share. Booking a block of time every week to do it will save you a ton of time throughout the week.

Before you pick your channels, it’s important to know what channels your ideal customer frequents. And they may not be the most popular ones. That’s okay. Twitter’s not for everyone. And if it’s not for you or your customers, don’t waste your time on it, especially since best practice is tweeting 10 to 15 times a day.

Once you pick your channels, get to know everything about them: how they work, how people on them like to be engaged and spoken to, and how to get your content out there organically. The most successful social marketing isn’t about outspending —  it’s about outsmarting.

Thinking about problems

It’s easy to market the solutions your company offers. You know them like the back of your hand, you can recite them to anyone who asks. But unless you present a problem your ideal customer can relate to, presenting the solution is a waste of your time.

And problems evolve over time, even for the same customer. In our case, for example, our editing service used to exclusively solve the “I don’t want to have to spend money reprinting misspelled materials” problem. It since evolved into “I have so much content to pump out that I don’t know if any of its good anymore” problem.

The only way you’re really going to know your customers’ problems is to ask them. We suggest bi-annual check-ins. Literally ask them what’s causing their hair to turn grey. We do it all the time and our clients are more than happy to tell us.

Knowing what you don’t have on your team and outsourcing it

Even the marketing teams at billion-dollar agencies farm out their work — mostly to hot-shot ad agencies. But if you’re a small team at a small to midsize business, you probably can’t afford the big boys’ price tags. Fortunately, the streets (and the Internet) are lined with small, specialized companies that can do what you don’t do. We’re a good example of that. Our clients hire us to write what they don’t have time to write, edit what they barely had time to write so it doesn’t feel rushed through, and translate what needs to be translated because they don’t speak French. The benefit of looking outside is both qualitative AND quantitative: the work gets done by experts in their field and you have more time to do what’s actually part of your job description.


Good advice for parents buying children’s books

Children’s books are written and illustrated to be read over and over again. Some colleges have courses dedicated to teaching the best ways to drill letter and pattern recognition, phonics, syntax and basic communication through repetitive reading of the same book. And if you read a book enough times, you’ll see your little one start to memorize some of the pages and recite it with you. It’s so much fun when that happens.

But there comes a time in every book’s life when the thought of gouging your eyes out with lemon-doused oyster shells is far more preferable to reading it again. And to be clear, this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. We’re HUGE Nick Bland fans. We have every book about every bear he’s ever written about. But even those started to wear.

The good thing about quality kids’ books is that the quality always shines through a second time around. So when you get to the oyster shell point with a book you know is good, just put it away for a bit. Don’t give it to a friend because you’ll never get it back. But think about making a book bin where your favourites go. Every so soften, do a swap and bring a few of them back into rotation.

What you’ll see clearly is how well your kids retain the information from a good book. They’ll remember the dancing Wild Things, the details of Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day and roughly where Waldo is on every page.

And if we could be so bold as to recommend a new book for your rotation, check out The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. You might get sick of it a bit quicker than other books, but it’s totally worth it for the first read.

On a related note, B.J. Novak is also an actor and co-starred in Inglorious Basterds — one of the greatest movies ever made. That’s him on the right. You probably know the guy on the left.

B.J. Novak and Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds


A shout out to the WWE scriptwriters

We belong to the fortunate generation that got to experience the best eras of wrestling at exactly the right ages.

In the mid-eighties, we were pre-teens and no one was cooler than Hulk Hogan. No one was friendlier than Andre The Giant. And no one was more dastardly than Rowdy Roddy Piper. And the story lines were simple with easy-to-recognize good guys (faces) and bad guys (heels). That’s really all ten-year-olds need.

Then, in the late ’90s, we were in our early ’20s, questioning authority and looking for anti-heroes — people who stuck it to the man like we all wanted to. People like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker.

And the savvy marketers they are, the WWE creative team gave us disorder in spades. The line between heel and face was blurred. Stone Cold was a good guy, but he was an asshole. Triple H was a heel, but he was so over-the-top charismatic that we loved hating him and found ourselves cheering for him, even though he represented everything we hated. And The Undertaker was just so goddamn cool.

So who cares? We do because the scriptwriters and story editors made it all happen. The catch-phrases. The story arcs. The interviews. The build-ups to big matches. No one does it better than the WWE on a more consistent basis. They know their characters. They know their performers and they write to the strengths of both.

Now, of course, it all rests on the mic skill of the wrestler because no amount of good writing can save a crappy performance. But when you get a natural like The Rock (you might know him better as Dwayne Johnson — today’s highest-grossing action movie actor) and give him a few well-crafted lines to throw down, well…

Side note: The WWE is a dream client of ours. We’ll work with them one day.



Speechwriting tips from a speechwriting expert

A picture of Rick Kotick, head of competitive intelligence at RBC

Rick Kotick

We write our fair share of speeches, but Rick Kotick, Head of Competitive Intelligence, RBC Global Asset Management, writes more. He speaks at least twice a month to investment advisors and mutual fund wholesalers across the RBC network, MBA students at York University’s Schulich School of Business and members of the Junior Achievers of Central Ontario. And he’s a Toastmaster. He sat down to talk to us about his process, managing stage fright and how he overcomes what he thinks is the hardest part of speech writing.

Re:word (RW): Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

Rick Kotick (RK): It’s my pleasure.

RW: First off, how long are your speeches generally?

RK: My presentations to advisors are generally 20 to 30 minutes with Q&A at the end. The workshops are 90 minutes and when I give speeches at my local Toastmasters club, they are 5 to 7 minutes long.

RW: What’s your research process like? Where do you go for content and inspiration?

RK: Online sources are my first port of call. As part of my job, I also regularly read industry research reports on market trends. In general, you can get inspiration on content from anywhere. YouTube videos, chats with friends and family, etc.

RW: So once you have your angle and your information, where do you generally begin the speechwriting process? Do you go sequentially or do you sometimes start in the middle or the end?

RK: I’m sure everyone’s different but I’ve found that the best way for me to write a speech is by creating on outline first. It helps me organize my ideas, set the material in a logical form and shows me the relationships among ideas.

Once I have the outline, I list the key points, arrange them in order and expand on each one. Then I develop the intro and the close. Once you have a well-structured outline, with key points listed in a logical order, you’ve got 80 percent of your speech already written. The introduction and conclusion should flow naturally after that.

RW: Do you have people look at your speeches before you give them? If so, who?

RK: I practise my speech in front of friends, colleagues and/or family members. I’m fortunate enough to have people I trust and whose feedback I value. There’s no such thing as a perfect speech so I try to incorporate their feedback before I go “live.”

RW: Interesting that you say there’s no such thing as a perfect speech. But some must be better than others. How do you know when it’s killer?

RK: I never know until after I deliver it. People aren’t shy about giving you their feedback or sharing their views on your topic. During your speech, though, you can tell if your audience is engaged and listening to your every word. That’s a pretty good indicator that you’re holding their attention and haven’t put them to sleep.

RW: Speaking of audience, is there anything specific you like to know about them as you prepare?

RK: Other than the basic demographic information (age, male/female ratio, occupation and education), I like to know things like political orientation and what they generally like to do for fun. It helps me weave in some anecdotes I can use to connect with them.

I also like to know what they know already so I don’t waste their time. That’s probably the worst thing you can do in a speech. Especially these days when it’s so easy to lose people’s attention to their phones.

RW: Well, you’re clearly doing something right, given the profile you have. Is there something notable you’ve learned over the past few years on the speaking tour?

RK: It seems intuitive but practice makes perfect. It’s exceedingly rare to find someone who can wing a speech or prepare it the night before and pull it off with ease. Effective verbal communication is rare yet essential in any line of work.

I’ve also learned that soft skills are a differentiator. Many people have the right mix of technical skills and education but they can’t effectively convey their ideas to a general audience. The best way to set yourself apart is with the ability to communicate smoothly, succinctly and effectively.

RW: Does the practice and prep help you get over stage fright?

RK: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Anyone who tells you they don’t battle their nerves before giving a speech is lying. I’ve read about and researched famous orators, stand-up comedians, politicians and musicians and the one thing they all have in common is a feeling of nervousness before they perform. Having butterflies before giving a speech is not a bad thing. Everyone has them. But making those butterflies fly in formation can help you harness your nervous energy.

RW: Speaking of nerves, what’s the hardest part of speech writing in your opinion?

RK: Getting started is without a doubt the biggest obstacle for many people. But using a simple structure like an outline can get you over that inertia. The outline is also a way to beat the procrastination bug ¾ and that’s something that every speaker battles with, no matter how much experience they have.

RW: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you this one last question: does having a well-written speech make giving the speech easier?

RK: It’s not what you say but how you say it. Delivery will determine how good your speech is. One study on communication effectiveness that I reference often states that tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of your speech effectiveness, and non-verbal cues account for another 55 percent. In other words, your spoken words only account for 7 percent. Again, it’s not what you say but how you say it.

RW: That’s not exactly the answer we were looking for.

RK: Fair enough. But I can tell you this: you can’t hide behind crummy content. If a speech isn’t well-researched, if it doesn’t have strong salient points and if it doesn’t leave the audience with something to think about, it won’t matter how well it’s delivered.


A word is worth an infinite number of pictures

What’s more powerful, a word or an image? It’s a hotly debated topic in creative circles and cases have been made for both. Here’s our case for words:

When you read a word, your mind pictures the subject. Take “horse,” for example. Are you picturing a white horse or a black horse or a brown horse? Is it a stallion? A mare? A Clydesdale pulling a Budweiser stagecoach? Is it a racehorse? And if so, is it a thoroughbred (jockey on top) or a standardbred (jockey in a chariot behind)? Or maybe you picture horse the basketball game or horse the slang for heroin?

Point is, a word activates the mind and lets it go in any direction. An image is designed to contain no ambiguity. Yes, it’s helpful. But is it more powerful? Sure, everyone experiences an image differently, but they see the same thing. With a word, everyone sees something different.

So what can a good copywriter do with words?

In a word (two, actually): thought guidance. We use these words to elicit the right picture in the reader’s mind and the right emotion in their hearts. We get them to see the ideal state: the easier life, the better day, the more productive hour, the prettier date, the larger boat or the better food.

And then we use our words to create action. Pictures can’t do that — they can attract eyeballs but they can’t move hands. Only words can do that. The right words. At the right time. Arranged in the right way. And shown to the right people.

Think about this the next time a banner ad,  brochure or billboard catches your eye. Think about how it made you feel, then think about what made you feel that way: the way it looked or the message it delivered.

Here are a few that caught our eye over the years. We wish we wrote them all:

A print ad for De Beers that reads: Remember when you got that variable speed hammer drill? It'll make her feel kind of like that.

Directed at men. Celebrating the way men think. Perfect.


A Porsche ad that reads" If you could choose between world peace and a Porsche 911, what colour would you want your Porsche to be?"

Fantastic subhead. Full of attitude, but classy. And you’re probably picturing your new ride right now.


A print ad for Avis rent a car that reads: "Avis is only No.2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try damned hard. (When you're not the biggest, you have to.) We just can't afford dirty ashtrays. Or half-empty gas tanks. Or worn wipers. Or unwashed cars. Or low ties. Or anything less than seat-adjusters that adjust. Heaters that heat. Defrosters that defrost. Obviously, the think we try hardest for is just to be nice. To start you out right with a new car, like a lively, super-torque Ford and a pleasant smile. To know, say, where you get a good pastrami sandwich in Duluth. Why? Because we can't afford to take you for granted. Go with us next time. The line at our counter is shorter.

122 words to completely change the way people saw Avis — and the now former #1 Hertz.


An ad for Hoover vacuums with an image of an airplane window and the line "For a product demo, break the glass".

The image sucks you in. The copy gives you the feeling of being sucked out. And you get it. 100%.


An Economist ad that reads "To err is human. To er, um, ah is unacceptable."

The Economist is the best for clever. It’s true in their magazine AND their advertising. No image necessary. You can picture The Economist reader and their level of intelligence. And you want to be like them.

The Suzanne way

We get back to people promptly. We even allude to it as part of our email signature, which looks like this:

Re:word Communications
Choose your words wisely™
416-800-9257 • 1-855-800-9257
Visit the new It’s a fun read.
If you don’t think this email is for you, please let us know. We hate to keep clients waiting.

It seems like a no -brainer, but yet we get so many people thanking us for a quick callback as if they’re not used to it. It strikes us as odd that more companies don’t follow the first rule of customer service:

Treat every customer like the first customer.

We remember the day we published our first website, which looked like this:

This is the old Re:word website.


It wasn’t awesome but we didn’t know any better. We were happy to be out there living the dream. Then on day 3, a request came in from Suzanne who needed her company’s shareholder report edited. We were ecstatic. We were about to make our first official dollar. We called her back right away, took the brief and ran with it. The final product was delivered on time and it was “perfect…so much better!” — Suzanne’s words.

There’s the work. And then there’s the experience.

Responsiveness. That’s what made Suzanne feel better about choosing us. Because, if we’re honest, any editor worth their hourly would have been able to do the work well. But she was our first, and more than making a good impression with the work, we wanted to show her we really wanted her business. Because we really wanted it. So we took the four calls she made in the six hours we spent editing her piece. We delivered when we said we were going to deliver. And we explained the choices we made.

And as for Suzanne, we wound up doing three more projects with her at that job. She’s since moved jobs twice and continues to reach out for copy editing from time to time. And we always call her back promptly — every time she calls.