The best text msg: You’re published!

What is my favorite kind of text message, you ask? The kind that tells me I’ve been published.

Congratulations to my friend, Ara Bagdasarian and the debut of his firm’s publication, Critical Mass: The Omnilert Journal. Thank you for including me in your inaugural issue. Check out the full article below.

Omnilert Journal
Introducing: “Critical Mass: The Omnilert Journal.”

First crawl, next walk, then run to campus emergency response excellence

This isn’t the “stop, drop and roll” of yesteryear.

Campus safety is top of mind for students and faculty alike, which means if your college or university wants to be at the forefront of emergency response – it needs to have a plan down pat. This is no longer a game of choice. Congress amended the Jeanne Clery Act in 2008 to require higher education institutions to adopt and disclose summaries of emergency response and evacuation plans. Annual drills and exercises that involve the coordination of efforts across a range of departments and services are required.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Captain Lawrence Wright, the Assistant Director of Public Safety at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. UMES leads the way in campus emergency response because of its thorough approach to pre-planning, which is a critical stage of the Crisis Continuum.

“I would recommend establishing a timeline and start to planning at least 9 to 12 months in advance.

Review your emergency plans and test your plans by conducting drills and tabletop exercises, which will allow you to determine what additional resources will be needed, prior to conducting a full scale exercise,” Wright says in an interview with Omnilert.

Crawl, walk, run

In Spring 2015, UMES gathered local fire, police and EMS and campus personnel to participate in a full-scale hazardous material response drill. The goal was to “crawl, walk then run” in order to learn wherein lies each department’s weaknesses and strengths, says Warner Sumpter, Chief of Police and Public Safety Director at UMES.

Crawling is the first stage when the concept of the emergency response effort is introduced. The team then “walks” through the “table-top exercise” as a verbal run-through.

“The table top helps the leaders to, on a tactical level, make a plan. When you implement the tactical solutions and the on-the-ground people getting their hands dirty, that’s when you find out where your weaknesses and your strengths are” says John Barnette, Senior Field Instructor at the Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute, who participated in the full-scale drill.

Once the emergence response team is fully studied up on the plan, they must take a graduation examination of sorts in the form of the full-scale drill. Full-scale is all hands on deck spanning all departments, plans and technologies and thereby testing their communication and teamwork.

Responding in real-time

Captain Wright served as a member on the UMES Emergency Crisis Management team during the planning, preparation and coordination of the drill. He was there when the allied first responders held monthly meetings and gave walk-throughs of campus facilities to identify all UMES hazardous materials, and more.

In the event of an emergency, the university’s Office of Public Safety is primarily responsible for sending out notifications, largely from having firsthand knowledge of an incident or circumstances for sending out an immediate notification without delay and to meet compliance with the Clery Act requirements.

During the exercise, Wright set the notification system in motion after receiving the 911 call into the UMES Police communication center. The e2campus emergency notification system instantaneously informs everyone on campus through so many channels that it would be almost impossible to miss.

E2campus sends out the alert via text message, email, desktop pop-up alerts, alert beacons, display monitors and the outdoor emergency siren and public address systems.

The e2campus has proved valuable in real-life scenarios.

“It was used to notify the campus community members about the stabbing homicide death of UMES student in 2013,” Wright says.

Within the parameters of the exercise, however, right’s role became dynamic. He discovered that he had to step into the role of the on-scene Incident Commander who was expected to respond in real-time to Fire, EMS and Hazmat personnel and administrators. He also had the honor of sending out the “All Clear” message to resume normal activity.

“Nothing beats going out there and actually physically touching and doing stuff and seeing how the plan works,” says Tim Jerscheid, Senior Field Instructor, Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute.

“What came out in every segment was communications. Communications is so important, and we just reinforced what we already know. Years ago, fire, police, EMS, all used the same radio system, so that’s not part of the problem. It’s taking those devices, and us as humans, putting the verbiage in there to share our knowledge … so that everybody knows what’s happening,” Sumpter says.

Why less is always more in marketing emails

What differentiates a good marketing email from a bad one, in your mind? Perhaps it’s the imagery or the use of fonts. Maybe it’s the copy – or lack thereof.

My theory of “less copy is more money” was proven valid last week in one of my company’s sponsorship emails.

The entire email is an image with strong calls-to-action.
The entire email is an image with strong calls-to-action.

This is an example of the email for our upcoming event, SSOW. The subject line was simply (Your company’s) Involvement in Shared Services & Outsourcing Week. 

This is why I thought this email was so great:

  1. The calls-to-action are extremely apparent
  2. The use of colored fonts against a dull background really pop aesthetically and are very professional
  3. There are no block lines of copy – because that is really all that’s necessary!!!
  4. It treats the reader with respect – want to see the agenda? Click there. Want to see the list of attendees? Click here. Want to Register. Click here. The imagery and words are implied, therefore we don’t need to tell them what to do, which leads me to …
  5. The epitome of great writing, and therefore great marketing emails, is to “show” and not “tell.” What does this mean? We’re showing them how to navigate the email and more importantly, we’re showing them the value they’ll receive at the event through easily digestible tidbits.

Anddddd….. drumroll please.

How did it perform??

The marketing manager says,

While still aesthetically appealing, the reader is drowned in copy here.
While still aesthetically appealing, the reader is drowned in copy here.

“There were three things that we did differently with this email that we were a little bit worried about:

  • No downloadable links. Only requests that pop up to an email
  • We had only TWO items they would request: Spex Prospectus and Current Attendee List
  • A image based email with hardly any text. So almost like sending an infographic. And of course making it look fabulous and pretty :)”

All three test  had very positive results:

  • 19 actives. 7 of these we received in the first 10 minutes.
  • 21% open rate

Compare that to the previous email (on the right) that had:

  • 1 active
  • 11% open rate

Well done, well done.

Create great copy: Things to remember

Who says that writers don’t know science? Writing is a science! If it weren’t, then anything that was ever written for marketing or advertising purposes would do its job and make you fast cash.

Know your audience.

The more you know, the better targeted and relevant your copy will be. Ask yourself:

  • —What does their everyday life look like? Who do they work with? What websites do they read?
  • —What are they passionate about? Hobbies?
  • —What past products/services have they purchased and how does your offering compare? Once this is identified, however, it’s ineffective to use comparison words in the copy itself. For instance, instead of saying “Our vacuum cleaner is better than the common household brand.” You identify how it is better, ie., “Our vacuum cleaner has five times the suction as other brands.” Now you’re showing them, not just telling them.

Identify key motivators.

A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in
A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in “-ing.” Awesome cartoon courtesy of

Great copy motivates people to feel, think or do something. One way of achieving this is by addressing them personally.— I don’t mean to say that you should call them out by name – I mean that they need to trust you. They need to like you.

  • —You can reach users by speaking directly to them – be conversational and as specific as possible. Avoid sweeping statements.
  • —Don’t use passive voice — write in the present tense (avoid gerunds, or, the “ing”)
  • —Short, Simple and Sincere (one way of doing this is by avoiding adjectives)

Layout matters.

The way you position words, pictures and paragraphs in your website copy or email are important.

  • —Indent sections & number paragraphs
  • —Capitalize and BOLD sparingly. Does anyone underline anymore?

What’s next. 

—Include a testimonial.

  • It’s always better to have someone else say how great you are so that you don’t have to. A brief and convincing quote from a respected source adds credibility to your campaign.

—Keep your copy clean and concise.

  • Cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas.
  • Have someone else read it to see if they understand the message.

—Avoid weasel words.

  • Weasel words include: may, maybe, hope
  • Instead, use words that emote power and prestige:  will and can

Virginia is for lovers, but I love New York

My hair required the full 30-block walk to air-dry into a limp shag. I had fresh bug bites trailing up my arms and I was wearing flats. It was Halloween morning and my first day on the job in my office at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

Hurricane Sandy had made landfall in New York three days earlier and mere hours after I hopped off my bus with a single suitcase from Virginia. My apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I had to stay in a Greenwich Village hotel. By hotel, I mean hostel, as my room was the size of a galley kitchen and I had to share a bathroom at the end of the hall with the other guests.

As the storm rolled in Sunday night, I sat alone watching Mayor Bloomberg on TV as he warned of impending mayhem. And then he repeated himself in Spanish. I was impressed.

Occasionally, I would measure the storm’s severity against the state of a single tree planted on the rooftop of a nearby a high-rise building. As the sky darkened around the potted sapling, it would continue to bow back and forth with growing effort. This is the last image I saw before everything went black.

The transformer supplying power to lower Manhattan caught fire, shutting down the electric grid south of 34th Street and left half the city without power for two weeks. Later, aerial images of the city reflected a brightly lit and barely touched Upper Manhattan, while its lower half was barely visible. It kind of looked like a black and white finger-shaped cookie.

There would be no charging my phone, no hot showers, no hair drying, no warm food, no TV. I was effectively camping in the greatest city in the world and paying hundreds of dollars for the pleasure. I had 40 blocks to trounce in order to plug my phone into the outlet behind the cash register at a deli. I cried.

On Survival

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “

Goodness, New York will beat you down until you’re humbled beyond even what you think you deserve.

Virginia is for loversA born and bred Virginian and a native Loudouner, I’ve been told my entire life that I belong in New York. I’m no longer clear on what this says about me. My first job was as a newspaper journalist for the publisher of this magazine. When I left after five years, I left my mark as a glowingly successful magazine editor with a critical eye and a talent admired by young girls near and far.

New York saw me coming and laughed in my face to the tune of Sandy’s strong winds. I’m not the shit, this much I now know to be true.

Sandy launched a long and relentless initiation into the ebbs and flows of this city. The good news is I’m less offended now. I no longer notice when a simple request isn’t cushioned between a “please” and “thank you.” There’s no time for filler words when we’re all existing in varying degrees of survival mode. Just get it done.

I never knew the meaning of a deadline before New York. My new title is “digital content director,” which essentially means I’m still a writer even after having sold my journalism soul to the marketing devil. Such as it is, I now produce more content in one week than I could have ever churned in one month in Virginia.

My ambition hasn’t changed; but my expectations of myself and others has reached such a high level because I now exist in a culture of healthy competition and collaboration. Not only do I want to sharpen myself against my coworkers, but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a daily game of better, faster, stronger. Sometimes I win, oftentimes I lose.

On Manners

“Southerners are nice on the outside, but hard on the inside. New Yorkers are hard on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. “

A Mid-Westener shared this with me. Here in New York, we from the South, Midwest and, well, basically, anyone who was born outside the borders of the tri-state area — we are different.

The fact of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t have time for pleasantries and some people don’t appreciate that. Smiles are sparse on the streets as a means of self-preservation. The rule is: Do not engage.

They’re not rude; they’re just not opening themselves up to the crazies. I no longer feel guilty for not asking “How are you, today?” to the my coffee guy. On the other hand, Southern hospitality really gives me an edge. When I need something from a coworker, I still lead with “How was your weekend?” or “What’d you get into last night?”

It still gives me pleasure to see them lean back, their body physically shift into a more comfortable position to engage in a chitchat session– like I’m winning at making people softer one day at a time. A manager made a point to commend me for planning a happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. Is that all it takes to move up the ranks here? Am I working late for no reason when I could just bring in some snickerdoodles instead?

A man once stopped me in the office lobby.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile to themselves before,” he said.

I still smile. People still stare without engaging. The implication being I’m likely batshit crazy.


There’s a saying that you’re always in search of three things in the city, “A better job, a better apartment and a better boyfriend.”

Gone are the days when a person will spend his or her whole career advancing through one company. It may be generational, but a New York employee is considered to be loyal if they stay with a single company for longer than six months.

I love nyI only know a handful of people who are happy in their current role. Sure, this is a symptom of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but in New York there’s also the knowledge that there are thousands upon thousands of other jobs out there waiting on the other side. There’s always the next step. There’s always a new opportunity. I’m not sure what this says about the state of our happiness or contentment, but I know the feeling is mutual because companies here don’t reward loyalty. If you’re underperforming, you’re gone. It’s as simple as that.

The struggle to be a woman working and living in New York is real, as the kids say. The truth is the insecurities I felt about my career and talent remain the same – it’s just that now the self-doubt reflected back in a larger mirror. I still don’t know if I’m making the right career choice. I still don’t know if I’m any good. I still don’t really want people who know me to read my stuff.

There will always be better writers. People work way harder than me and they’re much more creative and have better grammar skills. They write without curse words.

I ask myself the almost-daily question as to why the hell I’m here. I don’t really know, other than that New York is all the while accepting of my shortcomings. Knowing that there will always be someone better than me means that I have nothing to lose.

It also means I really have no other choice than to put my fingers to the keyboard everyday. New York allows the room for me to believe that any storm can be faced if I show the ability to bow back and forth and not break.

George Saunders on the writing life

George Saunders published an essay in The New Yorker on the influence of his teachers throughout his writing life. Here are some notable excerpts from the piece:

Writers are often seen as reclusive, shy, keep-to-themselves types. While at Syracuse, George learned a different and perhaps more valuable lesson; that writers are supposed to be interesting to the people they meet. If they’re not interesting in real life, how are they supposed to be interesting in print?

  • “We are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only allowed to think about audience, we’d better. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms.”

Writers are professionals at rejection. A majority of people can’t handle rejection in any form, but imagine putting in hours and hours of time and brainpower into a piece only to have it dragged through the mud by a reviewer, or worse, not have it see the light of day at all? George recounts a time when his college professor, and published author, Doug Unger faced a bad review with grace:

  • “Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.”

And a few other poignant lines:

  • “I’d forgotten: literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.”
  • “Good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit.”
  • [On providing someone undivided attention while they speak and/or share with you] “He is, with his attention, making a place for her to tell her story—giving her permission to tell it, blessing her telling of it.”

Listen. Learn. Write. Repeat.


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