McCain camp needs Visual Rhetoric 101

First things first: I am not endorsing either candidate with this post.  And I was inspired to write this after reading Presentation Zen: John McCain’s background visuals.

I watched the McCain speech on TV and yes, I was really bothered by the green screen behind him. And the blue screen.  Of course, those in the live audience could see that it was not a green screen, but an image of what we now know as Walter Reed Middle School. Pundits have speculated that the campaign meant to show a photo of Walter Reed Army Medical Center – either way, I want to know why no one thought about how the background would look to the TV audience and more importantly, what it had to do with McCain’s speech.

The McCain camp was quoted as saying that “it’s [the Walter Reed Middle School image] simply a generic photo, like others used and it had no specific meaning.” I hope that the PR person running the campaign doesn’t really believe that because it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our cultural communication.

Images ALWAYS have specific meaning. That’s what they do. To brush off a photo used in the biggest speech of his campaign as “generic” is incomprehensible to me. These background images should have been carefully chosen to support McCain’s message. We live in a visual culture. You can’t slap something up on a 52×30-foot screen during a nationally-televised speech and not think about what message the image conveys.


MSU PW alum has worldwide media hit

Katie McAlpine, an alum of the Professional Writing program at Michigan State University, is becoming a rising star thanks to her creative use of social media.

Katie, who also majored in Physics at MSU, has been working as a science writer at the European Particle Physics Lab in Geneva, Switzerland, where part of her work is to create educational videos to help people learn about physics.

One of her videos was showcased in The New York Times in July and has recently gained the attention of numerous media, including the Lansing State Journal, NPR, and Wired.

“We love the rap, and the science is spot on,” said CERN spokesman James Gillies.

“I have to confess that I was skeptical when Katie said she wanted to do this, but when I saw her previous science rapping and the lyrics, I was convinced,” he added. “I think you’ll find pretty close to unanimity among physicists that it’s great.”

Katie used what she learned in her advanced web authoring class and other PW courses to create this educational and fun rap video about science. We’re excited to see professional writers being recognized for their talent, so be sure to check it out! Congratulations Katie!

Social media marketing

I’m in the beginning stages of planning a social media marketing campaign at my day job. I want to use Facebook and Twitter to communicate to college students about events happening where they live. I want to create a sense of community in an online space and hope that it helps them connect with the people they live around who they may not have  met face-to-face.

I’m trying to be careful and thoughtful about this plan, but I seem to be outpaced by the students themselves. Groups for their residence halls and hall governments are springing up left and right. So, I ask myself whether I need to reinvent the wheel and create new groups or if I should befriend these kids online and try to sculpt their already existing message.

Clearly their enthusiasm to create the Facebook groups themselves shows that there is a need for such connections and communication via social media. And because this new tactic doesn’t fit so well into my carefully thought out social media marketing plan, I’m feeling a bit like a rogue agent. I suppose it’s better to roll with the punches than to try to bend nature backwards. Isn’t listening to your audience and customers part of Marketing 101?

Here are a few good sources for social media marketing that I’ve been reading lately:

Putting Meaning Back in Social Media

Facebook Marketing?

AMC Mad Men Twitter Take Down

Comments and suggestions from your own experiences are appreciated.


Shifting gears

This week I received a call at my office that caught me off guard, but probably shouldn’t have. It was a clear signal of the shifting change that is occurring in my professional life.

I’ve made the move from editor/graphic designer to communications manager, and after only three weeks, the contrast is obvious. It has taken some adjustment, I will freely admit that. I’ve had to alter my perception of what “work” means and the way that I think about projects – it’s a much bigger picture now and it’s taking some getting used to.

So, back to this phone call. It was from a radio reporter looking to do a quick interview about an upcoming event. My immediate thought was one of panic, but I quickly regained composure and remembered that this is my job now. All in all the interview went well. It was quick and relatively painless, but it got me thinking. Media relations is a whole new ballgame for me and I need to polish my act. It’s the sort of stuff they don’t teach enough of in school. I did take a 100-level media relations course in college and we did one TV interview that semester, which was horrifying, but I now realize we should have done one a week just to get comfortable.

The next day I joined PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). I need all the support I can get, and I’ve been wanting to join a professional organization for awhile now, I just wasn’t sure which group was the right fit. With time and practice I think I will hit my professional stride and find situations like this to be commonplace.

How have your handled professional change? What kinds of professional development measures have you taken to support your new or changing role? I’m happy to hear your comments.

Call for usability testers

On behalf of a former classmate and colleague:

Local software company looking for people interested in participating in usability testing during the week of week of Aug. 25-29.

Usability tests involve meeting with a researcher one-on-one to give feedback on a software product by trying to use it and answering some questions. Sessions are one-on-one appointments and take about an hour. Participants would be given a $50 gift card as a consideration for their time.

Qualified participants are Mac computers users who have experience with making screen recordings and video editing. Participant must be able to travel to Okemos, MI to participate in the tests.

If you would be interested in participating, please send an e-mail to

Mid-Michigan Networking Events

There are two upcoming, back-to-back networking events for our readers living in mid-Michigan.

Grand River Connection
August 26, from 6-8 PM
MSU Spartan Club at Spartan Stadium

Mid-Michigan Tweet Up
August 27, starting at 5 PM
Dublin Square, East Lansing

I’ve previously attended events for both groups, and had a very nice time chatting with young, up-and-coming professionals. If you have past experiences with these groups that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. Are there other groups out there that you’d like to see promoted on beyondwords? Let us know!

Bursty workers or workaholics?

I’m tired lately. And by lately, I mean for about the last two years. Since I graduated from Michigan State University and began my professional life, it seems I am always working in one way or another. I have my 8-5 job, but also side projects such as freelance editing and consulting – and there is also the looming (and massive) archiving project I’ve committed myself to for the last year. It seems 40 hours a week is just a myth.

It’s a situtation I’ve completely and totally created for myself. I can’t help it. I’m like an addict – if someone asks if I am interested in consulting, editing, whatever the side work may be – I can’t say no. The extra cash is nice, and I typically enjoy the work itself. The real problem becomes when I stop leaving my 8-5 life at the office door. I think about my day job a lot in the evenings, mostly just because I need to process my day. And a lot of the times, creativity doesn’t strike strictly between business hours. For instance, last Monday after an evening walk with my dog, I was hit with a “burst” of ideas about how to incorporate social networking into our marketing plan. It was 9 p.m. and I was sitting on my bed scrawling notes on a legal pad.

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Good stuff I’ve stumbled upon while packing up my office

I’m starting a new job next week. This has meant that the last two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time wrapping up projects, cleaning out my desk, organizing, and cleaning up files on my laptop. It also has meant that I’ve had a much slower pace at work than I am typically used to. It’s been a nice change of pace, though I fully realize it’s merely the calm before the storm. This time next week I’ll be up to my elbows with meetings and introductions as I begin to settle in at the new place.

This atypical lull has left me feeling slightly uninspired, as most of my blog fodder comes from my work and the fast-paced thrill of it all. Then it hit me — during this time I’ve become very good friends with my Google Reader. I’ve nearly doubled my subscriptions since boxing up my desk and hauling it all home.

So this is some of what I’ve been reading lately. It’s all beautiful, useful stuff, even if it’s not directly related to professional writing. I’ve found that some of the fashion and interior design blogs are a great source of inspiration for color palates and patterns.

Here are five of my favorites:

black eiffel

death by kerning
Death by Kerning

Oh Happy Day
Oh Happy Day

Girl Meets Business
Girl Meets Business

Damsels in Success
Damsels in Success

What new (or just interesting) blogs or sites have you come across? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Farewell, Angela

We have some exciting news to report.

Angela Shetler is moving to Japan! She leaves this weekend for Tokyo, where she will begin orientation for her new job teaching English at a senior high school in Koriyama, Japan. I’m very excited for Angela, although I will miss her while she is gone for one year (maybe longer) abroad.

Angela and I have been colleagues for sometime, starting way back when we were both interns for the creative non-fiction journal Fourth Genre and consultants at the MSU Writing Center. I’m very thankful that we were able to keep in touch and eventually launch beyondwords. Luckily, the internet allows us to forget time zones and we can continue our professional development together despite the miles.

Angela has already begun chronicling her journey, so I hope you will check in on her adventures from time to time.

Please join me in wishing Angela well on her new endeavour!

Survey for People Who Make Websites

A List Apart has opened its second “Survey for People Who Make Websites“, which is a fantastic opportunity for professional writers, editors, designers, students,  and hobbyists who have a role in web design to share their experience with the field.

Calling all designers, developers, information architects, project managers, writers, editors, marketers, and everyone else who makes websites. It is time once again to pool our information so as to begin sketching a true picture of the way our profession is practiced worldwide.

There are 44 questions for the survey (which may vary slightly depending on your answers) and it took me less than five minutes to complete. So take a few minutes today to contribute to the field of web design, and then be sure to keep an eye on A List Apart for survey results. In the meantime, you can also check out last year’s survey results to see what was learned.

2008 Survey Participant