Cropped image from Itch outdoor campaign by NOW

Itch – Killing It Right. NOW.

London Creative Agency’s Campaign is Long in the Face

This advertising campaign in the London Underground stopped me in my tracks. Not literally – the posters were on the walls along the fast-moving escalators down to and up from Underground stops – but definitely in terms of snagging my attention.

Maybe it’s the eyes, so expressive of adoration and love, discomfort and sometimes even mischievousness.

Maybe it’s the noses. I can almost feel the cool dampness.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that they’re dogs and cats, for cryin’ out loud.

For me, it’s all of those, plus the clever use of the animals’ breed names in the headlines.

Love it.

Whatever makes it so arresting, the campaign is for itch., which develops and sells flea and other treatments for humans’ best friends. The company developed the campaign in collaboration with London-based creative agency NOW.

Not only did it grab my attention, but it made me stop and think about our dog and whether we’ve treated her properly. Which is the point.

“Charlotte Harper, Chief Marketing Officer at ITCH, says: ‘ITCH was launched with the aim of infusing the pet care market with a massive dose of personality, whist offering pet owners direct access to the best personalised flea products for their pets… We wanted a unique, playful and unforgettable ad and NOW have really delivered on our brief to delight and scare us!’ said Charlotte Harper, Chief Marketing Officer at ITCH.”

Check out  itch.’s Instagram for better images and more of them, read more about it in the Marketing Communication News and check out what NOW has to say about bringing out the brilliance to kick out the fleas.


Forgive the quality of the images. Like I said, the escalators were really moving.

Poster of Shih Tzu for advertising campaign
















Poster of Labrador advertising flea treatment


















Poster of cat advertising flea treatment
















Poster of Whippet advertising flea treatment

Image of woman thinking. Words next to her are: "5 Keys to Effective PR Writing"

5 Keys to Effective Public Relations Writing

If you work in public relations, or if PR responsibilities fall to you by default in your company, it’s a good idea to keep these keys to effective PR writing in mind.

Think First, Write Later

Ideas should precede expressions. Let yours bang around your brain a while before putting anything on paper. Answer these questions:

  • How does this relate to members of my audience?
  • Why is it, or should it, be important to them?
  • How can I grab and hold their attention?
  • How can I best engage and persuade them to be concerned or take action?

Develop a “Creativity System”

A lot of creativity – some would argue most creativity – is the result of building on an idea that’s been around a while or combining two existing ideas to make something new. Borrow systematically and keep files of good materials. Make notes when ideas hit you and so on.

There’s a caveat here.

Creativity for the sake of creativity is not only wasted time and effort, but could actually detract from your message. Your idea might be amazing, awesome, never before seen, but if it rubs your customers’ or your clients’ customers the wrong way, it could have exactly the opposite effect from what you intended. If it’s bad enough, and if you’re a PR service provider, you could lose your client. I’ve seen it happen.

Be creative, but only in the context of what appeals to the target market, and make sure the creative complements the overall communication strategy.


Keep It Simple, Stupid.

It’s amazing how hard it can be to adhere to this rule, especially if you have a boss or client who insists on including every last nitty-gritty detail in the ad, press release, video, e-blast, social media post… whatever. I call that kitchen-sink marketing. When you throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the ad, press release, video, e-blast, social media post… whatever… your main message is lost. And there goes its effectiveness.

Another part of this involves the most basic of basics. Understand what motivates the members of your target audience, write to them, cut out unnecessary words and paragraphs, avoid industry jargon, off clarifying examples and so on.

Love the Draft/Comp

As much as we’d like to believe we’re the best communicators in the world, that the first draft or comp is right on the money, we’re not. No one is perfect; it’s not likely any of us gets it exactly right the first time. Perfection is achieved through the process of retakes, revisions and rewrites. So write, shoot, design, then revise, revise and revise, then revise again.

Less is More

Keep it short, sweet and to the point. The public relations materials you produce will be stronger and more memorable. Most importantly, they’ll communicate your message more effectively and spur more people to the action you and your boss or client desire.

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* Based on “4 steps to better PR writing,” by Fraser P. Seitel.

Image of fist being held over an employee.

“Shoulding” is Messy

Let Employees Contribute and Thrive

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from the pastor who performed the wedding ceremony for my lovely bride and me. We met with him several times before the big day for pre-marriage counseling.

I don’t recall the context of our discussion that particular day, but I remember clearly what he said:

“Don’t ‘should’ all over yourself.”

Here’s what he meant:

Spend your time obsessing about the things you should do, should have done, shouldn’t do and shouldn’t have done, and you’re never going to be happy. In fact, you’ll box yourself into a life of frustration. 

Of course it’s important to set goals and create plans for achieving them. Of course there will be things you wish you would’ve done, or done differently. But it’s equally important to not be too rigid or beat yourself up over those things.

Live well, be kind, apply The Golden Rule and so on, and things will work out. More importantly, you’ll be happier, more content and more open to possibilities.

He also suggesting “shoulding” on others, in this case our soon-to-be spouses, should be avoided. Doing so causes them to be less happy, can make them crawl back into their shells and likely will make them dislike, or even despise, you.

This advice applies just as appropriately to work and employee-supervisor-employer situations. We’ve all heard the old cliché – “Happy employees are more productive employees.” They’re also more dedicated, driven and creative employees, all of which can be important for any business, and especially in my line of work.

Here’s another cliché for you – “Clichés are clichés because they’re true.”

In work situations, “shoulds” not only box people in; they stifle creativity and drive, two things that can be very beneficial to a business and its bottom line.

Consider the following statements:

  • “You should approach the project this way…”
  • “You could approach the project this way…”

See the difference? 

The second is more a suggestion than a directive, and therefore is much less threatening or likely to cause employees to withdraw, crawl back into their shells and play it safe. The substitution of “could” for “should” leaves the door open for other, potentially better, ideas and ways of doing things. 

Here’s a third option that’s even better yet:

  • “What do you think is the best way to approach this project?”

Employees are the most valuable assets of any business, if they’re freed to contribute and thrive. Managers and owners hire them for their brains and abilities; it doesn’t make much sense to shut down their potential before they even get started.

Don’t “should” all over them.

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BankNorth TV - BankNorth in South Dakota: Values-Based Banking by Fredricks Communications

BankNorth in South Dakota: Values-Based Banking

For the first time in its nearly 115-year history, BankNorth has moved beyond the borders of its home.

BankNorth TV - BankNorth in South Dakota: Values-Based Banking by Fredricks Communications

Click image to watch TV spot.

Today, First State Bank of Warner, S.D., opened its branches in Aberdeen and Warner, S.D. with its new name, BankNorth. The acquisition announcement is supported with print, radio and television ads, media relations and direct mail. Fredricks Communications provided connecting, scriptwriting, art direction and project management services.

The message –

“First State Bank of Warner is Now BankNorth, and we’re excited about the direction we’re headed. We’ve been First State Bank of Warner for a long time, and over the years, honesty, loyalty and integrity have been our guide. We’re still the same people in the same locations, and those same values still drive how we work with you every day.”

The acquisition announcement is part of a larger rebranding campaign for BankNorth, which was formerly First State Bank of North Dakota. Check out additional campaign elements and the new BankNorth website.

Thank you to BankNorth for allowing Fredricks Communications to be part of this project, and to all Fredricks Communications partners who helped pull everything off so beautifully: Bock’s Office Transformational Consulting, Creative Monke, Kelner Communications, Knight Printing, Midco, Solberg Design and Video Arts Studios.

coffee beans superimposed with words "comped cuppa"

Caribou Love

A little love can go a long way… sometimes even to a comped cuppa.

Screenshot of Fredricks Communications tweet

This morning I was waiting in line at Caribou Coffee off of 25th Street South in Fargo. It wasn’t a very long line, but I figured I had enough time to put together a tweet.

My middle-aged fingers are pretty slow with the tapping (as my kids remind me every day, it seems), so the line dwindled while I pecked away at my iPhone keys. I wasn’t paying much attention, and just as I was finishing I heard a voice saying, “I can help you here, sir.” Of course I was keeping the barista waiting and there was a line behind me.

I stepped up to the counter, apologizing and explaining that I had been “…giving you guys a little love on Twitter.” 

“Really?” he said. “What’d you write.”

So I showed him. He was saying how cool that was and thanking me when the manager overheard. The manager took a quick glance. “Comp his drink,” he said to the barista.

And that’s how I got my free cuppa joe this morning.

How cool is that?

Here’s to the fine folks @cariboucoffee off of 25th Street South in Fargo, N.D., who’re over there working their butts off right now. If you get a chance, go show ’em some love. You might not get a free cup, but the people and the coffee are great.

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BankNorth print ad - "Values-Based Banking. Always."

BankNorth – We’ve Always Been Headed This Way

BankNorth logo


BankNorth is moving forward in a new direction. But the brand has always been headed this way.

For nearly 115 years, First State Bank of North Dakota has served customers and communities in rural North Dakota with honesty, loyalty and integrity. It’s been Values-Based Banking.

FSBND became BankNorth on July 20, 2018. And it’s still Values-Based Banking.




Congratulations to Fredricks Communications client BankNorth, which has officially changed its brand name from First State Bank of North Dakota (FSBND). FredComm is proud to have played a role in the rebranding and reintroduction effort.

For more on the renaming/rebranding process, check out the FredComm BankNorth page.

A huge thank you to FredComm’s project partners for your fantastic work: ock’s Office Transformational Consulting, Creative Monke, Kelner Communications, Knight Printing, Midco, Solberg Design and Video Arts Studios.

Of course, the greatest kudos go to BankNorth’s internal team. Well done!

The brand transition messaging will continue to evolve through the end of the year. Stay tuned!

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Driver behind the wheel

Copywriting: Remember the Passenger

Copywriting is Like Driving

At the most basic level, the goal of both copywriting and driving is to get people from one place to another.

  • A to B
  • Clueless to aware
  • Uneducated to informed
  • Disbelief to acceptance
  • Wet behind the ears to experienced
  • Making do or using your client’s product or service

How well you perform along the way ultimately depends on what your passengers – target market readers – take away and how they assess the experience.

The Open Road

My father taught me about placing the passenger at the center of the experience when I was 14 years old and had my learner’s permit. He kept his patience, somehow, as I slammed us through hundreds of jerky starts and chin-to-dashboard late stops.

“The safety of your passengers is your responsibility,” he said, “and one way you’ll know you’re doing a good job is if they’re comfortable on the ride.”

He told me to begin slowing for stops early so the other people in the car would never be pressed into their safety belts. Don’t slam their backs into their seats; ease into accelerations so they don’t notice. Make easy turns instead of sharp jags.

“If you’re doing it right, they’ll forget they’re in a vehicle at all,” he said.

Easy Riders

Copywriting and driving are both journeys.

The product of a good writer is so smooth that readers have no clue as to the challenge it was to make the narrative seem so.

The best writers paint word scenes so vivid that readers see the pictures on their minds’ movie screens, or even imagine they’re in the scenes themselves. I’m thinking now of some of my favorite authors, masters like John Steinbeck and E. Annie Proulx. Reading their novels, I forget I’m reading at all.

Advertising and marketing copywriters don’t have the luxury of pages upon pages to paint the vision, but we can strive for similar effect in shorter form. Usually it’s about getting readers to imagine themselves working with your client’s company, using their products or taking advantage of their services.

Along the way, we not only take their physical comfort into account, but their emotional ease, as well. We’ll use words and phrases that arouse something in them, directly point out the benefits of what we’re suggesting, give them unspoken (unwritten) permission to take the next step in the buying process.

It’s like turning up the heat in a chilly car, tuning the radio to the type of music our passengers like, inviting them to sit right up front where the action is or take it all in more passively from the backseat (a.k.a. addressing pain points, leveraging motivators and highlighting differentiators).

Easy, Not Dull

At the same time, copywriting can, and often should, be more disruptive than a smooth Sunday drive through the countryside.

From time to time the writer can purposely give passengers a jerky start or a stop-short, face-flat-to-the-windshield revelation. A screeching burst of rapid-fire clauses. A pause that affords a glance in the rearview. A sharp swerve that screws their hairdos straight up into the roof upholstery.

In other words, sometimes a copywriter’s fun can be the readers’ fun, too.

There Already

Take your passengers on an easy ride. Keep them interested and wanting to travel farther down the road, deeper into the brand story. Give them an abrupt halt when it’ll help them see things more clearly.

Remember, target market members’ comfort is the copywriter’s responsibility. Be an exceptional chauffeur, and when the experience comes to an end your passengers will ask, “Oh, are we there already?” Sure are.

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Tip Tuesday – The Magnificent Seven of Copywriting References

Old-style ink pen writing "Tip Tuesday" on paper


“Which reference books should copywriters have on their bookshelves?” I often get this question when I speak to groups. The quick answer is always, “Depends on the copywriter.”

As for this copywriter, I wouldn’t, and sometimes couldn’t, do the job without these seven magnificent tomes:

  • Dictionary – Once upon a time, this one was obvious, but with the advent of online resources like and, many writers have ditched their big, heavy, bulky dictionaries. Not me. is great for making sure I’ve spelled words correctly, and for identifying synonyms I already know but have slipped my mind. But for alternative or deeper meanings, or spelling variations, I keep the ol’ Oxford American close. Granted, I don’t use it very often, but when I need it, I’m glad it’s at hand.
  • Associated Press Stylebook – Thanks to a former NDSU journalism professor, Lou Richardson, I learned how to use this invaluable handbook. Most news organizations in this region, along with many across the country, adhere to AP style, so I’ve referred to mine nearly every day of my writing career. AP purists will realize that I don’t follow it religiously from what they’d consider AP style errors in this post. All I can say to that is, marketing writing isn’t always the same as journalistic writing.
  • The Gregg Reference Manual – The Gregg is handy for just about anything you either can’t find in the AP or when the AP rules don’t apply, like formal business communications.
  • The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer
  • The Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnik
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
  • The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly – This is a great primer on marketing writing for the beginner and the seasoned veteran alike. I read it cover to cover – twice – before I started my first copywriting gig, and I still look back at it occasionally for specific thoughts, ideas or direction.

While there are more books on my shelves that I reference from time to time about advertising, brand development, copywriting, marketing and sales, like –

  • Newswriting from Lead to 30 by Metz
  • Positioning by Ries and Trout
  • Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage
  • Masello’s Roberts Rules of Writing
  • Made to Stick by Heath & Heath
  • A Kick in the Seat of the Pants and A Whack on the Side of the Head by Von Oech

– the seven at the top of this post are what I find indispensable in my day-to-day writing life. They’re my Magnificent Seven, constantly protecting me from the Malevolent Mistake Gang of bandits.

But only one copywriter really matters, and that’s you. Find the references that work for you, and for your purposes, actually read and use them, often, and your work will be better for it.

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Assure, Ensure & Insure – What’s on Second in Your Marketing?

Screenshot of Abbott & Costello, "Who's on First," YouTube


Assure, ensure and insure are some of my favorite tricky words. When I see them in marketing materials, they remind me of the hilarious Abbott & Costello “Who’s on First” routine.

  • “To assure against natural disaster…” – Who?
  • “We ensure you that we know what we’re doing with…” – What?
  • “We insure exceptional quality in all our products and…” – I don’t know?

You don’t insure your boss you’ve given her accurate information. Granted, there are days when some of us think (or dream) we’d benefit from our boss’s death; unfortunately, you can’t purchase an insurance policy to guard against her untimely demise.

The word is assure – “I assure you, boss woman, this information is accurate.”

  • Assure means to provide some level of confidence.
  • Ensure means to make certain. 
  • Insure means to protect against loss.

You insure your car and house, ensure the bills are paid on time, and assure your clients your creative ideas will cut through communication clutter and be effective.

When I see advertising, marketing or public relations that wants to insure me I’ll get the best service, assure the best raw materials go into a company’s products or ensure clients against unforeseen circumstances, I smack palm to forehead, feeling sorry for the poor copywriter who doesn’t understand the difference between the words.

Forget who’s on first in your online and offline marketing materials and your organization will look just as laughable as the great comedic duo.

* Click the image above to watch “Who’s on First” in its entirety on YouTube.

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Why, How and Other Questions About Writing a Press Release


One of the most basic tools of marketing is the press release. With a well-thought-out, well-written release that’s thoughtfully distributed, you can gain extra exposure for your company, product or service.

So how do you do it?

First Thing’s First

This post assumes that, before you even start thinking about a headline or lede (we’ll get to that in a minute), you’ve done all your research, gathered all the pertinent information and interviewed the right people.


The most important questions for a press release, just like a news story, are Who?, What?, Where? When?, Why? and How? We’ll also get to those in a minute, too.

Right now, I want to focus on a different Why? –

Why write a press release at all?

There are lots of answers to that, beginning with the obvious one, to get more sales. It’s true that a well-written and well-placed press release can garner extra exposure for your brand, your products and your services. It can also be a step in a longer process that ultimately leads to more sales.

But here’s an even better answer: do it right, and aside from a relatively modest investment in time and/or money, the exposure for your brand, your products and your services will be FREE.

Unless I’m sorely mistaken, that’ll sound pretty doggone good to every business owner and marketing manager on the planet. And it’ll sound like angels from heaven if your business has limited funds for marketing.

Reasons for Press Releases

I’ve written all kinds of press releases during my career. Here are just a few types:

  • New company / organization
  • New facility / location
  • New president / CEO / manager / employee
  • New product/  service
    Improved product / service
  • New money- or time-saving process
  • Annual report release / annual meeting announcement
  • Official statements
  • New company / organization name
  • Event
  • Endorsement

The most important thing about any of these types of releases is what’s called the “news hook.” This is the result of one or more of the answers to the previously mentioned Who?, What?, Where? When?, Why? and How?

Which brings us to what’s called the lede. (That’s journalistic jargon for lead, or first, paragraph. By the way, never use industry jargon in a press release.)

The 5 W’s and the H

My background is in journalism, and I’ve found it’s useful, not to mention effective, to craft press releases in the same way I would a news story.

Now, finally, about the Who?, What?, Where? When?, Why? and How? and the answers that will establish newsworthiness.

  • Who – Who is the newsmaker? Who did something worth reading about (think person or company) or to whom did the news happen (think earthquake or wildfire)?
  • What – What did that person or company do that’s worth knowing?
  • Where – Where did it happen?
  • When – When did it happen?
  • Why – Why did the person or company take this action?
  • How – How’d they do it?

You don’t necessarily have to include all of the 5 W’s and the H in your lede all the time. In fact, including them all in your lede will make for a mighty long paragraph. For example, sometimes where something happened isn’t crucial to a reader’s understanding of the story, i.e., the message you want to convey. If that’s the case, leave it out. Same goes for any of the other 5 W’s and H.

Other Newsworthiness Cues

There are other criteria, but in my experience they almost always come right back to one of the 5 W’s or the H.

Search the Web for “newsworthiness” and thousands of entries come up. The answer in a blog post from the State University of New York, Nassau Community College is as good as any. Here are some of its criteria, paraphrased for our purposes:

  • Impact – How many people are affected, and to what extent?
  • Proximity – Is it happening close to the audience, either geographically, demographically or in terms of industry sector?
  • Timeliness – Old news stinks like the proverbial fish wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. If your press release isn’t relevant right now, don’t waste your time writing it.
  • Prominence – People like to know what the big names in their industries are up to, whether the big names belong to people or companies.
  • Novelty – “Firsts,” “lasts” and “onlys” are news. New products, services, and in public relations, new BENEFITS, are all newsworthy.
  • Audience – Which of your target markets are you trying to reach?. If it’s not going to be news to them, don’t bother.

With those answers in mind, you’re ready to tackle the all-important paragraph.

The Lede

This is where you either hook or lose your two most important audiences:

  • Gatekeepers – Editors, news directors, bloggers and anyone else who will decide whether they’re going to run your release, or some edited version of it, in their publications or on their sites.
  • Target Market Members – The people you actually want to reach with your message – customers, prospective customers, investors and other stakeholders.

Think about it. With all the messages each of us is bombarded with every day, hour, minute and, with our mobile devices, every single second, you’d better make the first sentence or two pretty doggone compelling or you’ll lose the reader you so dearly want to influenece.

You need to grab attention, and that’s the job of a good lede. Keep it clear, concise and interesting – creativity can come in here, too – and make sure you give them the most important information first. That might be all they read.

Which brings us to release structure….

Upside Down is Rightside Up

You want people who read your release to take something away from it, preferably that’s going to help you form a stronger relationship with them. It needs to convey that your product, service, company or organization is better, easier to use, less costly, more deserving of their support and so on.

They have very little time; when they see your release in their favorite trade pub or online, they might read the headline and the first sentence or two.

If those are good, really good, they might read on. If they’re not, they probably won’t.

Given that, it’s critical that you start with the most important information first, in your lede. Continue with important, but not key, information in the body, along with supporting or clarifying information. Save your brand / company description or overview (known as “company boilerplate”) for the end.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what your first audience – the gatekeepers – want. They’ve been trained to write, edit and judge the quality of news stories in exactly the same way.

It’s called the inverted pyramid –

Fredricks Communications inverted pyramid for press release post


The Workhorse of Your Release

What doesn’t show up in the inverted pyramid is the headline.

Send a release with a bad headline, and the gatekeepers are going to toss it in the round file.

To get them to read on – to sneak one past the goalie – make sure you dedicate enough time to writing a good headline.

In my experience, the best headlines are straight-forward, factual and clear. There’s always room for creativity, but don’t get too fancy. If there’s ever a question in your mind, stick with the facts.

I usually wait to write the headline until the very end of the process. By that time, I have a really good feel for what’s in the release and how it flows, so I’m more apt to come up with a better headline. It might be different for you, with the headline you develop setting the stage for writing the press release.

Do whatever works to get you where you want to go – an attention-grabbing headline.

And don’t sweat it if a gatekeeper changes it. This happens all the time. What’s most important is your release makes it into print or online.

The Goalies

Editors, news directors and bloggers deserve a few more words.

As the gatekeepers to their audiences, they take their responsibilities very seriously.

If they don’t like your release, for whatever reason, they won’t run it and you won’t get to the audience you really want to reach – your customers, potential customers and other stakeholders. If you haven’t demonstrated newsworthiness for their audiences, your lede is buried in the fourth paragraph, you haven’t followed their preferred style and it’ll take too much time to fix it, you’re trying to get more news about something they’ve already written about before, hello circular file.

Aside from a good headline and a great lede, you can get closer to their good sides by making it easy to find key information:

  • Company logo and your contact information at the top.
  • A dateline. This is a line at the top of your release, usually right in front of the first sentence, that includes the place and date the release was written and allows the gatekeeper to find that information immediately.
  • A release instruction, i.e. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or FOR RELEASE NOV. 3, 2018.
  • Proper grammar and make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly.
  • Proper style, such as Chicago or Associated Press. (The vast majority of publications and editors I’ve run into over the years have followed AP.)
  • Information flow. Make sure each paragraph is connected to the previous one with transition statements, that all the paragraphs related to one point, product aspect or service benefit are grouped together, and that it’s easy to read and understand.

These examples of releases Fredricks Communications has done for clients should give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Who Again?

Let’s focus on a different Who? for a second, as in Who is going to write this press release?

Truth is, writing press releases isn’t difficult. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can get it done.

The real question is how good, and how effective, do you want your release to be?

If you want to sneak your release past the gatekeepers into the hands and heads of your target markets, and ensure the information sticks once it’s there, I recommend working with a professional PR writer.

If you decide to write your press release yourself and run into a snag, give me a shout.

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