Championing Creative Custom Content

Louis Postel by Valery Rockwell

 

We provide custom editorial solutions using as many C-words as possible — branding stories that are simultaneously creative, clear, and compelling. If that sounds copasetic, give us a call: 617-435-4792.

Over the years we have written and/or produced feature articles, columns, captions, custom magazines, niche magazines, blogs, blurbs, advertisements, even a few films.

Credits include: Showboats International, New England Home, Robb Report, Wynn, Boston Magazine, Worth, and Design Times.

Our columns for New England Home and Showboats International have been running for almost a decade and are going strong.

 
  • Our Cheryl Tiegs exclusive in Design Times
  • Our client sampler
  • Mario Russo's place in Design Times
  • We write for Showboats
  • We write a lot about design and architecture
  • Our' portrait of an artist
  • We write about mega yachts
  • We co-founded this super successful magazine
  • We featured Jane Seymour in her UK palace
  • At Design Times we covered leading designers
  • Louis Postel by Valery Rockwell
  • We produced this fashion spread in DX at Home
  • Just another Design Times cover
  • We created Design Times 1986-2002
  • From our portrait of Lady Churchill
  • We write for New England Home
  • We cover the latest interiors
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  • From our column Trade Secrets in New England Home
  • More of the Lady Churchill spread we did
  • From Design Times
  • Our Mario Russo spread in Design Times
  • We produced the Cat Club ad Creative Director Rodney Underwood
  • We specialize in articles for high end shelter magazines -
  • We contribute custom content online and in print
  • Our Associate Jerry Danzig has cool accounts
  • from our articles in New England Home
  • Our favorite client is Mochi
  • Our dog in a client collage
  • Rob Hartz, Jerry Danzig, Louis Postel and Mochi
  • We write about innovative manufacturers
  • Part of that Cheryl Tiegs spread
  • Our Cat Club poster
  • from Design Times
  • We write about innovation
  • We defended "An appeal to the Great Spirit"
  • We just wrote about Greg Marshall's Disco Tender Garage Spa
  • We created the Official Guide for the New York Design Center
  • The Merchandise Mart commissioned us to create a guide for the Decorex UK debut
  • Associate Rob Hartz Fidelity with mission and marketing
  • Associate Jerry Danzig started out at Ogilvy and Mather

 

 

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Has traditional marketing hit a dead end?

Upscale, discriminating consumers zip through TV advertisements. Listen to commercial-free online and satellite radio. Check Caller ID before answering a telephone. Deploy ever more effective pop-up blockers and spam filters.

That’s why one old/new form of marketing has proven so valuable at breaching the shields put up by today’s hype-weary and hyper-wary shoppers.Continue Reading

It’s custom media and content: custom publications such as magazines, blogs, brochures, direct mail and inserts; also known as branded editorial, branded media, custom marketing, strategic content, branded content, and, lately, social marketing.

Whatever the label, few can deny the growing effectiveness of custom editorial. After all, this most welcome and subtle form of marketing invites but never intrudes on customer awareness. It provides useful and timely information. Plus, it makes use of today’s most captivating and convenient media, from blogs, websites, and smart phones – to custom eBooks, magazines, and brochures — to targeted social media and corporate events that end up as brand-building stories in the media.

And no company is more adept at planning and providing custom editorial solutions than Boston’s Postel Ink. 

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At Postel Ink, we specialize in branded editorial addressing the luxury market, drawing sales and repeat business from the most discerning and demanding consumers on the planet. La crème de la crème.

We have produced breakthrough results for entrepreneurs involved in real estate, publishing and media, schools and universities, finance and high-tech, as well as retailers and wholesalers. We especially cater to the needs of growing businesses, offering big-league expertise at little-guy prices.

And unlike many other custom editorial providers who boast of astronomical click-throughs — or the infinite share-ability of blog posts — we have the know-how to deliver ten well-heeled repeat customers rather than a million page views from window shoppers.

The result is affordable editorial and design solutions that lure discerning customers and drive sales month after month, season after season, year after year.

We invite you to see how we can put the power of custom editorial solutions to work for your company. Now more than ever, it pays to use Postel Ink. We look forward to hearing from you.

Jerry Danzig, Associate, Postel-Ink

Growing businesses in Boston since 1986 with unique editorial solutions

  • On budget custom publishing and design: magazines, blogs, brochures in print, web and multimedia
  • Clutter-eliminating story-telling, selling and information
  • For a free initial consultation contact us at 617-435-4792
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The Value of Editorial Solutions

Here custom-editorial strategist Louis Postel and direct response copywriter Jerry Danzig have an animated conversation about the value and history of custom publishing, design and editorial.They discuss copy length, the quest for credibility, and why it makes sense to take extra good care of your very best customers.Continue Reading

Jerry:         

Jerry Danzig, Postel-Ink Copywriter

Jerry Danzig, Postel-Ink Copywriter

                       For years in direct response, I would hear people say, “Why is this letter two pages or four pages or whatever?  Why does it go on so long?”  Because it works.  I mean, people scan, but when they’re interested in something, they will read.  So on the net today they say, “Chunk something, put it in chunks.”  So there are small pieces on the page; you don’t frighten people away.  But your best prospects will click on those chunks and read and read, because they want to make an informed decision before they buy something.  And that is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

I think we were talking yesterday about David Ogilvy.  Ogilvy was from his earliest days a great proponent of direct response and long copy, and in fact, he was the guy who wrote a famous ad for Rolls-Royce.  I wonder if you remember this one from way back when; it had a very long headline.  I think it had 16 or 17 words in the headline, which is unusual.  And the headline read something like, “At 60 miles per hour, the loudest sound in a Rolls-Royce is the clock ticking”.

Louis:         

"Portrait of Louis Postel by the Water" by his wife, Valery Rockwell. Mixed media 2012  Valery Rockwell,  mixed media, 2912

“Portrait of Louis Postel by the Water”
by his wife, Valery Rockwell. Mixed media 2012
Valery Rockwell,
mixed media, 2912

                      Oh yeah, right.

Jerry:                                It was a huge success for them.  Obviously, not everybody goes and buys a Rolls-Royce every day of the week.  You have to have some pretty good reasons (and a lot of cash!)  And this was really a startling fact, and apparently it was true.  But back in the 60s, you may also recall that Shell Oil was one of the earlier proponents — or practitioners — of custom content, with their Shell Answer Guide campaign, which I believe Ogilvy was instrumental in creating.  How does one gas station, one chain of gas stations, differentiate itself from another?  Well, they gave useful information.  Here’s how to prepare your car for winter.  Here’s how to keep the tires running the longest.  Here’s how to get the best gas mileage.  All that kind of good stuff.

It was very cheap for them to make these little booklets, and you may remember these.  These were small and yellow — they had a bright yellow Shell color — and we all know that yellow is the marketer’s favorite color!  There was a whole series of these.  And obviously it was cheaper to print these and give them away at the stations than to give dishes or bronze sculptures or whatever else somebody else might have been giving — or green stamps.

It also positioned Shell as authorities on all matters automotive.  You may recall as well that they had a campaign back then, they talked about a magic ingredient in their gas called Platformate.  Does that ring a bell?  Do you remember that?

Louis:                               No.

Jerry:                                Well, it turns out that every gas had that same ingredient, but only Shell gave it that name, and I don’t know if they put a little more of it in their formula than others or not, but I do recall they had ads where their car would go an extra half a mile on the same tank of gas.  I don’t know if trickery was involved or not.  I don’t know if they had lighter-weight drivers in their cars or what!  Anyway, they claimed that it was the magic ingredient Platformate at work.  But again, all gas had that stuff.  It’s just that Shell gave it a name and called it out!

                                          So anyway, these days another custom content sort of format which people are familiar with is the infomercial on TV.  Those 30-minute-long commercials, disguised as programs.  They’re just chock-full of information, with audiences in many cases and people calling in and lengthy demonstrations — and they’re very convincing.

So again it seems like the wheel has turned again, and a lot of this stuff is back in vogue, especially in the day and age of the Internet, where there is a lot of misinformation as well.  Here’s a chance to really lay out a truthful story.  Hopefully with some customer testimonials and what all and to tell it and sell it, as you put it the other day.  And we know from direct that the more you tell, the more you sell to your very best customers.

I don’t know if these are the exact figures, but I used to hear that 25% of your customers give you 75% of your sales, or something like that.

Louis:                               Right, yeah, close, yeah.

Jerry:                                Your very best customers are the ones whom you need to cultivate and keep — and really spend time and make sure they fully appreciate your knowledge of the category and your ability to deliver as promised.  And this is the kind of credibility that custom content gives you.

Louis:                               Yeah.  I mean, maybe one of the turnoffs you’ll have for custom content is I think it’s been pitched as a commodity where you’re going to get Google search engines to find you.  It doesn’t really matter what you say, who says it.  Just hire somebody in an English-speaking country — a low-wage English-speaking country preferably — who can whack out something he could write.  You know you must have seen ads promising, “We’ll pay you five dollars an article”.

Jerry:                                Well, yeah.  As to the quality of the information, it’s also about knowing your audience, knowing the idioms that your audience speaks.  Which some of these splendidly English-speaking people in other countries, you know they may not appreciate all the American idioms in the same way that I might not know the idioms in France or wherever.

Louis:                               I think that it’s interesting that people say gee all this social media, nobody’s replying.  There’s no answer.  You know, it’s sort of like people talking to themselves, companies talking to — are we talking to ourselves, or are we saying real things to help people?

Jerry:                                Well again, in direct we know it’s a fact — when we would get that objection about does somebody read all this copy, we know that your best prospect does read it, assuming that it’s interesting, it’s well written, it doesn’t repeat itself, and it’s to the point and on target.  You know if it isn’t those things, then no, all bets are off.  But if the copy is well written and it’s addressing the needs of the reader – yes, they will read every word, and whoever tells them the most or has the most credibility — and then if there’s a sale to be made — that person is best suited to follow through on that sale.

Louis:                               Mm-hmm.  So how does that work with the prevailing wisdom that people don’t read anymore?

Jerry:                                I just don’t believe that.  Again, look at all these people reading these little 140-word tweets or whatever.  I can’t believe that all those text zombies that I see here in Midtown Manhattan walking at half-speed and almost walking into trucks, I can’t believe they’re all reading tweets!  No, I’m sure they’re reading emails and websites and blogs and all kinds of stuff.

Louis:                               Yeah, sure.  You told me that you’ve been commenting on Amazon a lot.

Jerry:                                Yes.  I’m a top-thousand Amazon reviewer, and I’m also a reviewer for what’s called the Amazon Vine program, which is a thing where they actually send you products for free and you write about them.  Those reviews at Amazon, that is actually like custom content generated by the customers.  But those are incredibly valuable, those reviews to other customers.

Some of these products, you look for something with as many reviews as possible, and yes there probably are a few that were written by the company itself or a rival trying to knock a product.  But you really read the aggregate, and you know you will see a common thread.  You know either this a good product and it holds up, or no this is junk and it busted in two weeks.  So I find those reviews very valuable and, like yourself, I’m a gadget freak so I love writing about stuff.  I can’t help it.

Louis:                               No, it’s true.  Don’t you notice when you’re looking at reviews, like if you’re about to buy something and you’re looking at reviews, I almost always skip the short ones because when they just say, “This is cool”… “Loved it”… whatever, it doesn’t mean much to me.

Jerry:                                Exactly — you’ve got to read a bit to find out if they have the same concerns as you.  Often if I can compare two products that I have enough experience with — another one that’s well known — that’s a useful thing because many times, I wonder if it’s as good as the one I had last year that broke in six months!  Oh good — it’s better than that one, great.  So as you say, yes, the context is very important.

Louis:                               What are some of the things you’ve been commenting about?

Jerry:                                Oh gee, just about everything.  I mean I love gadgets, but I’ve also written about books, and I’ve spilled my guts about movies, and actually I do a lot of that on the Redbox site as well.  Do you have a Redbox near you?  Do you know what that is?

Louis:                               No.

Jerry:                                It’s a DVD rental service, and they’ve also now been cultivating their reviews.  Their reviews are shorter, but hopefully there’s enough there with enough of a slant, so that somebody can read your review and know if you’re on their wavelength or not, whether they should listen to you.

                                          Again I find user reviews very useful, and as we’ve both seen, it often seems like the big critics, I don’t know, they all go to a screening together or something — and if nobody’s laughing in the room and it’s a comedy — they all give it a bad review; whereas perhaps it’s raining, and they’re all not having a good day.  So it’s useful to read what real moviegoers feel.

Louis:                               Yeah.  Well, that’s a very interesting point about creating these marketing communications.  Sometimes they seem more truthful than what you read in the newspaper.

Jerry:                                Well let’s put it this way: we all know that in recent years, if there’s one thing and one thing alone that I can agree with Sarah Palin on — it is that the mainstream media definitely in many cases have become the lame stream media.  Also, I don’t want to get too political, but during a certain aggressive invasion of another country performed by our country not too long ago — where were the media looking out for our best interests?  They were nowhere.

                                          So yeah, I think the media in recent years have lost a lot of credibility.  And so we, the common man, must be called upon to restore that credibility.  And so I think advertisers would do well to use custom content that is full of good information, well researched, well written, in-depth stuff to really restore this credibility.

Louis:                               That’s interesting.  You mentioned the war, I was mentioning the untold millions of pages printed about the real estate market, about investments, and there was only one person — was she at Fortune magazine? — who got whiff of the meltdown.

Jerry:                                Yeah.  That’s a very good example.

Louis:                               I get a magazine from Costco, and I don’t throw it away because I like Costco.  I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t be pretty straightforward.

Jerry:                                You also made me think of an electronics catalog — I’m not sure if they have brick-and-mortar or if they ever did — but you probably heard of the Crutchfield catalog?

Louis:                               Yeah.

Jerry:                                One of the ways that they distinguished themselves for many years, and I think continue to do so — and their prices were not the best in the market — but they gave you tons of information, I think in just about every category of products.  They would give a guide about what to look for, how to buy, and what are the features you want, which are the important ones.  Almost like Consumer Reports.  I think it enabled them to charge a bit of a higher price and still keep their customers, by giving them that extra hand-holding and the best information.  And positioning themselves as being very credible.  As I recall, they also had very good customer service and return policies and that kind of good stuff.

Louis:                               Right, yeah.  Any site that has unedited negative reviews going onto it, it’s got credibility right away.

Jerry:                                Yes, and whenever you hear a whiff of sites that are editing stuff or removing negative reviews, that’s really bad news, as you know.

Louis:                               Yeah.  It sort of changes the paradigm totally.

Jerry:                                What always amazes me is those pharmaceutical ads on TV that, I don’t know, give you a couple of quick benefits and then there’s 30 seconds of all the negative side effects and stuff.  I’m just astonished that that doesn’t get people screaming, running away from their product.  But somehow I guess people just tune all that stuff out, or “My doctor will explain this to me,” or something.  So I don’t know what to make of that.

Louis:                               Well yeah, but you know you don’t, I guess the idea is you want to sell, but you want to make sure that when they buy it they hold onto it.

Jerry:                                Well as I think of it, maybe that does give credibility, because there’s so much negative stuff they tell you.  It’s like, “Well gee, I guess they’re telling me the truth, because there seems to be 30 seconds of the negative stuff versus 15 seconds of the positive images.”

Louis:                               You know, Jerry, I always said that was just legal so they don’t get sued.

Jerry:                                Oh absolutely, sure it is all legal, yeah.  Or maybe it’s due to the FDA or whatever, I don’t know.

Louis:                               Right.  But what was that old saying people had about advertising, “Treat people like mushrooms: feed them shit and keep them in the dark”?  I heard that so many times!  That only lasts for… well you know I think one of the big questions you brought up is does advertising work at all?  And it makes me think of the automotive industry in the States in the 80s and 90s trying to sell bad cars.

Jerry:                                Oh brother.

Louis:                               And they spent billions, and it didn’t do them any good.  No one wanted a car.

Jerry:                                Yes, well as you know, it’s the same thing as the movies.  Everybody knows that word-of-mouth is the best selling tool.  You can open big on the first day and maybe suck people in with a flashy campaign, but as soon as that first audience comes out and says, “This movie sucks!” it’s going to fall off after that weekend.

And as you were talking that mushroom thing, I do recall that David Ogilvy, who was a gentleman and a scholar, he used to say, “Don’t talk down to the consumer.  She’s your wife.  Treat her with respect.”  And that’s the very best part of advertising, which I think is where custom content is coming from.  Treat the consumer with respect and tell them the truth — and tell them nothing but the truth and in great detail.

Louis:                               I appreciate that.  Because certainly, well I don’t want to circle around to what was untrue, but I know that in the last presidential campaign, there were a lot of concerns about some real untruths and also enormous sums of money broadcasting these untruths.  And I remember getting emails all the time about this one raised this much money… we’ve got to match it, we’ve got to beat it.

Jerry:                                Oh every day of the week, yeah.

Louis:                               Right?  But didn’t you feel like, wait a minute — If you’re not telling the truth, you could spend all the money you want and it’s going to look a little off.  People won’t know why it’s not the truth, but somewhere they’ll feel it.  Did you get that impression?

Jerry:                                Yeah.

Louis:                               I felt that about Romney.  I thought, you can spend all the money you want on this guy.

Jerry:                                And remember he was torpedoed by that video that guy took of him.

Louis:                               Right.

Jerry:                                Talking about the 47%.  I mean that just spoke such volumes of truth.  It was kind of a peek behind the scenes, and there was just nothing you could say against that.  He was caught in the act.

Louis:                               Right.  And that little video got millions of views. I mean, you couldn’t pay for something like that.

Jerry:                                Right.  It was all over YouTube.

Louis:                               And all over the networks, right, over and over again.

Jerry:                                That is the true viral marketing, I guess.

Louis:                               Anyway, then we just keep getting hoodwinked again.  So can you tell me some of the things that you’ve been doing for clients who are going back to custom content, that is emerging as such a powerful way to connect?

Jerry:                                I do a lot of publishing work, selling subscriptions to publications, and things go away and they come back again, you know seven-year cycles or whatever it is, and one of the formats that we’ve used successfully over the years has been something called the magalog.  It also could be a sample issue, kind of a mini issue of a magazine with perhaps even a wrapper on the outside, and it has a subscription offer and a bit of sale copy.  But one of the best tools always is a free sample of something.  Either the product is going to speak for itself or it’s not, and obviously you need a strong product.  If you don’t’ have a strong product, this is not going to work.

                                          Magalogs have been very useful and also in catalogs — I’m thinking of the Crutchfield model now — a lot of the space in their catalog was devoted and probably still is to this informative stuff, a box or a panel explaining how to choose, how to buy, what you should look for, what denotes a quality product, that sort of thing.

Louis:                               Just let me interrupt you for one second, because let’s say you’re selling Esquire magazine, and you put on the outside of the envelope, “An exposé of the banking system” or something, but I’m not interested in that.  I want to see pictures of pretty actresses, say.  How do you decide what you put on the envelope?

Jerry:                                Well in direct response, we never know – until we test.  In fact, even focus groups or mall intercepts, these various research formats, they have major flaws.  I mean people in a room, especially if there is one loud character or whatever, that loud character can really drive the discussion and literally drive opinions in that room and give a very false reading of what people think of a product or service.

                                          Whereas in direct mail or direct response or online, in any of these situations where somebody is alone in a room, whether it’s reading a catalog or interacting with the Internet, using the laptop in front of them or on their smart phone or whatever it might be, it is the moment of truth.  Are they actually putting their credit card down and buying something or not?  Are they responding or not?  And that is the real moment of truth, so sometimes traditional advertising research can be very misleading.

And sometimes often the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater for no good reason.  So in direct what you do is test and test again.  You can have a supposition, but you really could be surprised.  I was telling you about that format that surprised me for a literary magazine.  Here’s a literary magazine that’s doing very well with a little mail format that is a minimal read.  It actually gives you paragraphs from the magazine.  So it’s almost like giving you little mini chunks or a free sample, but with minimal sales copy.

And yet it sort of defies the normal thinking that these are literary readers.  They usually like to read a lot of copy.  And yet this format was very successful, and personally I think that maybe this little bite-size format was opening a new audience, bringing in people who were not traditional literary fiction readers.  They were getting sucked in by this appealing format and the little bitty samples they were seeing, which were very carefully chosen, I might add.  Really, oh my God there was one about a guy whose dog had died.  And I can tell you — anybody who’s ever had a friendship with a dog could not read that paragraph without bursting into tears.  It was just amazing.

Louis:                               But Jerry, what’s the difference between bite-size and chunks?  The chunks you were critical of.

Jerry:                                Yeah, back to that again.  I’m working on a website with another guy, and he was interested when I was telling him just how important it was.  Actually this gets tricky in the web now because of all these different formats.  And I had asked the web designer what is our line character count on this?  How wide can we go, because I want to keep the paragraphs short — about three or four lines max — for eye appeal, which is so important.  And the guy said, well the best count I can give you would be for traditional desktop or laptop, which is probably the largest screen people will be reading on.  But when it goes to a tablet or a smart phone, it automatically gets reformatted to fit that screen; hence the paragraphs get narrower and much longer.

So the best I can do really is fit the copy to the big screen of the laptop and desktop and keep those as short as possible, knowing that yes they will get longer on the other formats, but at least in one format they will look very appealing to the eye, and hopefully the text readers make allowances — or their nose is so close to their little screen that it’s not a problem.  I’m not entirely sure, but once again we’re saying the right thing at the right time to the right people.  Those people will read.

Louis:                               Right.  Yeah I kind of –

Jerry:                                Plus on the web now you’ve got video and audio making a remarkable interactive format.

Louis:                               Right, right.  And you know there are ways to read a lot on an iPhone.

Jerry:                                I wanted to mention some historic examples of custom content.  Actually Travel and Leisure magazine started as custom content.  I think that was one of the most prominent and successful examples.  I think it was Ogilvy & Mather that cooked that up for just one advertiser — it might have been American Express.  What they were really doing was selling travel, which obviously causes people to charge a lot of stuff on their American Express card or buy American Express travelers checks, all that good stuff.  And so they cooked up this whole magazine and all these wonderful destinations and ways to travel and the whole nine yards.  That’s where Travel and Leisure came from.

I think John Deere was one of the early practitioners of custom content as well.  They had a magazine that started in the early 20th century called Furrow, I believe it was, which was basically selling John Deere tractors and all the accessories to farmers and showing the modern ways of farming.  I’m not even sure what they charged for the magazine, but apparently it did very well, and they sold a lot of John Deere tractors!

Louis:                               Right — and it established them as not just guys who are putting nuts and bolts together.

Jerry:                                But someone who knows the whole farmer’s experience and what they need, yeah.

Louis:                               Right, right.  And of course you know if you walk into a shoe store, that’s the salesman you want to find, the one who is a runner and has tried 40 different shoes himself and is an authority.  It’s invaluable.  I’ve come across clients who say direct mail is out.  It’s too expensive.  Magazines, any print is just… we want to go digital.  We want to just pay by the click.  How do you respond to them?

Jerry:                                Well once again there are times that print is still reaching people in places where digital has not reached yet.  Even in the same way that, believe it or not, there are still a lot of people who have VHS tape recorders.  As lovely as they are, DVDs have not entirely overtaken the video market yet, although they will someday, I’m sure.  And even streaming hasn’t knocked out DVDs yet.  So it seems as if there is a certain overlap that you can depend on.  Actually, as I think of it, how about all these kids who are back into buying vinyl records again?  I can’t explain that for a minute!

Louis:                               Yeah.  Well but I can explain, for me, for my gut, if someone’s printed something, the fact that it’s printed, it has more immediate credibility with me.

Jerry:                                And some people still say they find print easier to read.  They find it easier to navigate.  Within print you can really see the context of the entire piece and get a feel.  I mean I must admit I love e-books in terms of not cluttering up my house with books, and yet they’re not easy to navigate; they’re still not.  So I don’t know.  I personally see print and digital coexisting probably for some time.

Louis:                               I hear you.  It’s just I know that the beauty of digital is it’s fast and cheap in many ways.

Jerry:                                That’s so cool if you can incorporate some video or audio if appropriate to whatever you’re talking about.

Louis:                               Yes, absolutely.  That is, as you say, layering.

Jerry:                                For example, I was looking at some websites, working on a project for a guy who coaches executives and helps them with their communication skills.

And one of his rivals had something that I thought was really genius, where he had a top 10 best speakers of the year and top 10 worst speakers, which obviously would also make a wonderful press release.  And when you went on that guy’s website, he gave click-through examples that took you to YouTube showing the very best speaking style at work or showing somebody who was not good.  And boy was that effective, and I was asking my client is there any way you could do something like that?

Louis:                               Yeah, I mean there, you can’t do that in print.

Jerry:                                Right, unless you incorporated a disk bound into a magazine or something.  But as you said, in digital somebody can click on that immediately and see that in seconds.

Louis:                               Right.  You know everyone learns in a different way, and I sort of learn by reading.  On the other hand, I wanted to detail my car and I looked up Meguiar’s products and they explain, you know there’s 12, you know there’s so many steps you got to take.  Wipe this and squeeze ib that.  But when I really understood it is when I clicked on the video on YouTube.  Then I got how you’re supposed to do it, and I didn’t think I ever would if I just read it.  You know rub on a little piece first.

Jerry:                                Right, you could actually see the guy doing it.  You can see the motion of it, how much stuff he puts on, the whole thing.

Louis:                               Yeah, yeah, and so I sort of got it…Thanks to some very custom content.

 

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The MFA Minus the Magic

We defended "An appeal to the Great Spirit"

from Trade Secrets by Louis Postel first published in New England Home, 2011

Home for art or office park?

It is not for us to argue that taste is a moral issue.

Still, what’s with this handful of nervy designers knocking Boston’s spanking new, $500 million dollar American Wing at the MFA? What side are they on in Boston’s bid for cultural supremacy and tourist dollars? How will their critiques brace us for the brutal battles that lay ahead for the honor of hosting blockbuster shows of Monet, Mummies, and Mapplethorpes?

The anti-Wing designers’ argument boils down to this: the new wing is a lost opportunity, an unexceptional box interchangeable upscale malls, hotel lobbies and corporate headquarters anywhere in the world.  They say Guy Lowell who master-planned the 1907 MFA would have croaked had he foreseen that such an anonymous structure would someday force itself upon his neoclassic Palazzo.  We can certainly understand this position, but can equally sympathize with the pro-Wing designers insistence that it’s time to abandon the pretentious, musty and pseudo-aristocratic Palazzo fantasy  and move on.

One anti-Winger recalls how as a young girl habitually late for her art class she was scampering along the MFA’s palatial five hundred feet of freezing, wind-blown granite facing Huntington Avenue. The Indian, the Great Spirit of Creativity beckoned her with outstretched arms. Up the marble steps to John Singer Sargent’s luminous rotund she sped. In the rotunda she found herself entranced, marveling at how she had been transformed from a shivering waif in Boston’s February dusk to an Italian princess! It was magic.

No such magic was in store in the MFA’s New Wing for our princess waif. This particular anti-Wing designer/architect complained bitterly about the stairs leading to the new galleries brought her to an inauspicious set of fire doors and a tight landing where she was to confront the steely jaws of a freight elevator. This was nothing she would even dream of doing. “Creating a welcoming transition from one space to another is an essential part of the design vocabulary,” she explained.

Now let’s transition from this pro and anti Wing controversy – this tempest in a Paul Revere teapot  – and consider how design vocabularies are extending themselves to the home.

What a challenge: creating change from room to room, outside to inside, public to private that is warm, welcoming and rational. The pressures on built space to perform per every square foot, to “maximize its potential” are huge.  How often are we going to descend palatial staircases in ball gowns, anyway? The design vocabulary keeps changing to reflect these realities.

Jeff Stein is currently on sabbatical from his position as Dean of Architecture the Boston Architectural College.  Like Thoreau, Stein quips, he’s now mainly at home by Walden Pond with some months to think and write.  Stein, for one, heartily approves of the transitions and treatments of space in the New Wing. “It’s not like the usual faceless, darkened galleries with stuff in them. I enjoy its scale – how it allows for many different views.”

“A transition is not like slicing an apple in half. Now you are in one place and then you are somewhere completely different. It needs to evolve.  You recall that house we did for your folks in Cambridge: front yard, porch, house reaching out, inside a place to take off your boots. The black and white tiles made it a little formal. It was welcoming but did not presume an instant intimacy. A curved staircase brought you to the second floor living area over your mother’s studio. The staircase itself was narrow. There was a feeling of compression going up. Then it opened on this brilliant space filled with light from a long, exposed south wall. You were a different person than when you were outside a minute ago.”

An appeal to the Great Spirit before the MFA

An appeal to the Great Spirit before the MFA

After an arduous decade turning around a spy satellite company, Carey Erdman changed careers five years ago to interior designer.  Guests transitioning to his roof deck in the South End are often amazed at what they find — a lush container garden Erdman created “like a whole extra floor.”  In his clients’ homes, he has used botanicals in other ways to mark transitions:  One example: “We can alter the perceived depth of the space by placing dark, coarse plants in the foreground beckoning you into the room and fine textured, lighter plants on the far side.  Some coarser plants might be a large fiddle leaf, split leaf philodendron or even a hybrid banana; the more finely textured, lighter leaves might include dracaenas or aralias. We can signal a change of purpose or energy in a space with botanicals, as well: grouping lush, tropical plants around a soaking tub for a spa-like, private feeling; or bright, blooming plants in a breakfast gazebo to provide a sense of fresh energy as you start your day.”

Wendy Valliere and friends

Designer Wendy Valliere has offices in Stowe, VT and Nantucket while spending a lot of time in Europe. “We just did a large apartment on Boulevard St. Germain in Paris and now we’re totally restoring a Georgian castle on a 1,000 acres outside London.” Valliere offers her own way of creating a welcoming transition: “I love to introduce a home with a ‘view corridor.’ That is to say, a clear visual trajectory from the front door to a significant feature: a beautiful outdoor space, a grand staircase, a fantastic fireplace. From there, it’s important to have flush thresholds throughout the home, so as not to punctuate the space unnecessarily – as well as to have consistent surfaces. Colors and textures work best when they move quietly from room to room, all the while propelled by a common thread (such as an animal print, crewel, a wild shade of green) that harmonizes with the feel of the entire home.”

Sandy Lawton is a Builder and Architect with Arro Design as well as a teacher with Yestermorrow Design/Build school in Warren, Vermont. Lawton is part of the avant-garde that is using tough fabric in which to pour concrete for architectural structures instead of the hard-to-recycle, rigid plywood forms we are used to seeing.  One fabric-formed house Lawton is doing with students on the Yestermorrow campus was uniquely curvaceous and inviting, even half-finished. What stood out in particular was the transition from outside to in, marked by the front door casing.  Lawton or his students had imprinted a Baroque, burnt out velvet into the fabric form itself, perhaps on a simple whim – but the pattern left behind was as welcoming as concrete has ever been.

PRISM Award-winning designer Michael Cebula sees less concrete and more color:  “When transitioning from one room or space to another, it’s important to maintain certain similar elements, particularly regarding color and lighting. In terms of color, repetition of key hues creates an atmosphere of comfort and calm. A color-scheme evolution can maintain a feeling of continuity by featuring the same colors in different aspects. For example, if a foyer was painted in an earthy red tone, an adjacent room could present that same red in a printed fabric or decorative accent piece. This technique ensures harmony between the studies, while allowing them to be part of a larger progressive plan.

“In much the same way,” adds Cebula, “lighting choices should sustain a level of relevance to each other, not only in style, but also in degree of brightness. A steady, soft light makes differences less jarring and eases one into a new design environment. It’s also advisable to illuminate some chosen art pieces. This method of presentation not only creates a mood in the space, but its continued use throughout the rooms will tie the design concepts together.”

In addition to color, lighting and art, Kristin Drohan’s design vocabulary accentuates French doors.  “They’re a relatively inexpensive way to communicate a transition, yet feels luxurious,” says the Concord, MA based designer.  “French doors define the space and diffuse sound without visually shrinking the dimensions. This can be done in unexpected places.  Recently, I added double French doors inside a master bedroom to define the sitting area from the sleeping.  The doors also served as one extra threshold this mother of four little girls could use to escape the household mayhem.  On another project, we installed French doors in a wide upstairs hallway.  Doing this in a hall feels quite grand and again diminishes noise.  I regularly install French doors at an entrance to a finished basement. Adding light accented art beyond the door beckons one to explore something special on the other side. “

IFDA Rising Star Rebecca Wilson of Needham, MA starts with first impressions: “When I’m designing the entryway, I keep in mind how it will set the tone for the rest of the home.  It should be warm and welcoming, and to create that mood I imagine what a guest would need in the space: adequate lighting both general and soft lamp light,  a good quality rug to absorb moisture and spare the floors, an umbrella stand, a place to sit and take off wet or snowy boots, a surface to put a purse or gloves on when removing coats, a mirror to check hair and makeup.

“When transitioning from the first to the second floor I look for ways to draw the eye up – an art series along the stair wall, a piece of furniture, a painting or a pretty mirror at the top of the stairs.  This gives the sense of being carried along from one level to the other. “

 

Indeed, Ms. Wilson a pretty mirror would work to draw the eye up. From that perspective, it’s a simple step to imagine transitioning from floor to floor by way of the MFA’s Grand Staircase. One’s eye is inexorably drawn up by Sargent’s MFA murals: Orestes and Hercules, Science and Philosophy unveiling Truth. Or, as fans of the New Wing might prefer, one can step up to the unaffected and perhaps more honest transition of fire doors and a freight elevator.  Taste, after all, is not a moral issue.

 

NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

 

Residential Architect magazine short-listed Hutker Architects this January in its first-ever tribute to “Architects we Love.”  We are fine with this as long as it’s remembered that we loved him first, naming Cape & Islands- based Mark Hutker to New England Home’s Hall of Fame way back in November.

 

For the second time in two years, Nantucket-based interior designer Kathleen Hay won “Best ­International ­Interior Design” in the 2010 International Property Awards.  The World’s Best awards – sponsored this year by Bloomberg Television, Google UK, Kohler, Maserati, The ­International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times – had over 60,000 entries from 110 countries in the twenty-one categories. A glance at Hay’s “Off-Shore Breeze” project with architect Lisa Botticelli in the September/October 2009 New England Home bears out designer’s “World’s Best” title. http://www.nehomemag.com/article/offshore-breeze

 

Let no one accuse Habitat for Humanity International of giving out easy grades or honors. Of its 1500 US affiliates just two a year receive Habitat’s Clarence Jordan award.  This year one of the coveted Clarences  went to  Green Mountain  Habitat for a passive house project in Charlotte, VT. Design credits go to architect JB Clancy of Boston’s Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects where NEH 2007 Hall of Fame inductee James Volney Righter is  senior partner.

 

 

 

2007 Hall of Fame inductee James Volney Righter

James Volney Righter is the senior partner of

 

Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity has won a national award for its first home under construction in Charlotte, honoring the home’s innovative character, creativity of design and affordability.

Habitat for Humanity International gives the Clarence Jordan award annually to just two Habitat affiliates — offices serving a specific area –out of about 1,500 in the United States.

The award, named after a man who built affordable homes in partnership with poor families in Georgia in the early 1970s, is unique because winners are chosen by vote of Habitat’s other affiliates, making it an acknowledgment by peers who know the work involved.

Architect J.B. Clancy of Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects Inc. of Boston developed and donated the home’s design in partnership with Schneider and Green Mountain Habitat. After the home’s modular structure was delivered by Preferred Building Systems in September, a network of volunteer individuals and businesses continued to donate work, materials and money. Green Mountain Habitat Passive House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Well Is Our Community Service

“They laughed when I sat down to write a résumé…”

 Working together on a great design

“Then I got a good-paying job…”

How do you feel when a job application asks you to “tell us about yourself,” or an advertisement requires you to email a résumé and cover letter? How comfortable are you writing a memo to your boss, a report, or proposal?Continue Reading

If you are nervous about it, you are not alone. That is why you often hear about professional writers suffering from “writer’s block.”

Nevertheless, finding and holding a job today increasingly depends on writing good, clear English — English that produces the results you want. The good news is that you don’t have to have a degree to write clearly. (An advanced education can sometimes, in fact, get in the way, producing jargon few understand.)

Instead, simply attend “Write for Reentry,” a job readiness program launched in December, 2013 at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham. We’ll show you a few steps that can be learned by anyone at any educational level. Follow these steps, and responding to “tell us about yourself” on a job application will feel more like an opportunity than a chore.

Guaranteed.

Materials needed: bring a notebook and pen

  • Text: William Zinsser – “How to Write Well” — 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Certificates of Completion awarded
  • Workshop led by experienced writers, editors, employers, and entrepreneurs

 – Space is Limited – Good Time is Possible

Inmates contact your Program Director for details.

A community service project by Louis Postel, as an individual separate from Postel Ink. Copy by Jerry Danzig

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