Stop. Because I’m Crying Again.

Sniff, sniff, snuffle.

Oh my goodness.

What a twist, what a change of heart, what a positive message after all! I truly hope that you were able to experience this commercial, a true-meaning-of-Christmas gift from Apple.

A teenager, seemingly glued to his phone, seemingly bored out of his mind by this family Christmas gathering, is in fact creating a most marvelous gift to celebrate the love he gets and gives, but, at this awkward age, just can’t express (I’m tearing up now just thinking about it – are you?).

My 20-year-old daughter, infinitely better at snark than sentiment, stops everything to watch this commercial. She sits in a veil of tears and exclaims, “Look how he really loves his family! It’s so beautiful!” Her friends, a lovely, lively but logical bunch, also stop and watch and sigh and cry. My husband murmurs, “Well, isn’t that nice?” My whole family room is awash in happy tears when this commercial airs.

Apple has hit the goldmine of marketing here. They have bonded the product with the audience, they have shown its benefits and they have made you want an iPhone, so you can make such an incredible gift yourself. There are only smiles here, only positive associations, only warm, happy feelings, an affirmation that Apple can make your life better.

With all this embedded in our psyches, I’m thinking Apple will have a very happy new year.

Hoping YOU have a very happy new year too!

Please. Make It Stop.

Gawd help us.


If you’ve watched any television this holiday season, you’ve been subjected to this commercial, or some version of it. And odds are, you’ve cringed.

Social media is atwitter (get it?) with “I’ll never buy a Honda” and “Honda, these are the most annoying commercials ever” and “I was thinking about buying a Honda but that commercial killed it for me. Toyota, here I come” — all because of Michael Bolton. Turns out he doesn’t necessarily appeal to Honda’s chief purchasing demographic.

The smart marketers at Honda know that. I’m sure they meant this whole campaign ironically – they meant it to be aggravating and maddening and over-the-top and downright annoying. They are delighted at the outpouring of exasperation and displeasure.

Because everyone is talking about these commercials. Everyone is deriding Honda’s decision to use Annoying Man for its Songperson this holiday season. At my annual holiday gathering with girlfriends, “Honda” was mentioned over and over and over as women clutched at their hair and wished laryngitis upon Michael Bolton. Facebook is covered with nasty memes. As horrible and dreadful and awful as this Honda commercial is, it put Honda in the shining spotlight this Christmas.

But it is horrible and dreadful and awful and there is absolutely no solid reason for that. Advertising that is memorable, creates a buzz and makes people talk shouldn’t be uber annoying. That truly defeats the purpose.

A positive message, something that makes people feel good about the product and its benefits is always always always a better choice. Those good feelings create a happy bond with the audience and positivity just lasts longer, meaning the happy audience turns into a happy customer, which is exactly what truly good marketing is supposed to do.

It’s All About Finding The Right People

Dr. Asad Zaman and Zmedi were referred to us when they were adding a new physician to their staff, Dr. Georgios Karanastasis. Dr. K is from Greece and is fluent in the language (besides, of course, being an outstanding physician). Zmedi was hoping to promote Dr. K to the Chicago Southland’s Greek population, but was unsure how to go about this.

We pulled a mailing list of people of Greek heritage, through fraternal, religious and professional organizations that cater to that community in tight zip codes, within easy reach of both the Hazel Crest and Tinley Park locations. We then designed a direct mail card and posters that introduced Dr. K in a brief but effective manner, concentrating on his birthplace, his inspiration (he was born on Kos Island, also home to Hippocrates, the father of medicine) and his education and credentials. Posters were placed near the new Zmedi clinic in Hazel Crest’s Waterford Estates, at Advocate South Suburban Hospital where he is affiliated, and in appropriate churches.

Turns out, we all found the right people. Zmedi was so pleased with the success of our work for Dr. K’s introduction that we’ve become their go-to agency. Watch for other Zmedi media and promotions, so you can see how we’re helping to take their brand to a whole new level.


Getting Enthusiasm Down On Paper

Reenu Varghase, NP-C is a bundle of intelligence, energy, smiles and professionalism. Speaking with her just brightens your day and makes you want to smile yourself – and be a part of her passion. Reenu is the founder of Zmedi’s House Calls, about which her enthusiasm in boundless; an outstanding medical professional who really and truly makes good old-fashioned house calls. Reenu, with Dr. Zaman, was getting House Calls off the ground and called us in to help. 

Because the bulk of her patients come from referrals and word of mouth, she needed a professional business card and brochure, something that would accurately depict her energy, explain the practice and still tie strongly into the existing Zmedi brand. Inspired by Reenu’s passion, we designed a simple but eye-catching logo in Zmedi colors and put that on a business card with all Reenu’s contact information. 

The brochure again reflects the Zmedi brand, featuring Reenu as the health care professional your patient will see. Energy, in the bright colors and “bouncing” boxes, jumps off the page. The brochure is meant for both referral and patient audiences, so it speaks broadly, to explain exactly what House Calls can offer homebound patients. We included cheerful photos and the copy is also bright and friendly, conveying Reenu’s enthusiasm for this offering to the reader.

And when Reenu received the materials? “No words except ‘Gorgeous'”. Well, Reenu, we think your unbridled passion for House Calls is pretty gorgeous too!

The Bieber Blackhawk Blunder

Justin just doesn’t get it.

Justin, ya big dope.

If you’ve ever been to “You Need A Brand, Not Just A Logo,” presented by yours truly, you know the story I’m about to tell…and you’ll understand why Bieber really blew it.

The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the all-time best logos. Behind that logo, that graphic symbol, they have one of the all-time best brands. The Blackhawks logo – their brand – actually makes people change their behavior. In the locker room, players walk around that big head on the floor. Reporters walk around it too. No one steps on the logo. No one disrespects that brand.

Is this passion, this commitment, this brand loyalty, exclusive to the inner Blackhawks circle? Most certainly not.

When my son was in high school, his room, most of the time, looked like an explosion in an underwear factory. Socks, t-shirts, jeans, pull-overs all partied with sneakers and lacrosse uniforms in infinite, boy-smell-soaked tangles. Often, it was like a B-movie set of a cartoonishly messy boy’s room; all that was missing was the pizza box under the bed (we drew the line at food in bedrooms).

However, there were some things that were taken care of in this room. Pristinely. Finely. Like a museum archive.

Anything with that Blackhawks logo was maintained with love and respect. T-shirts were folded. Jerseys were on hangers. Sweatpants were stored neatly. Hats were placed on the closet shelves. Socks were even folded! This otherwise absolute slob would not allow anything with the Blackhawks logo or team name to touch the floor, to be dirty, to be sullied in any way. I was even compelled to remove a microscopic pinpoint of spaghetti sauce from a jersey once, as he hovered over me to make sure the colors didn’t bleed. This child lived and breathed the Blackhawks brand.

That is the power of the Blackhawks brand – that it can change the behavior of a messy, unorganized, sloppy 14-year-old.

Now, if only Hanes or Fruit of the Loom could develop a brand like that, his room would be spotless*.

So how do you get a brand like that? There are three main keys:
1 – Protect your brand.

Get it trademarked, patented or copywrite protected. (Call Nancy DuCharme to make this happen!)
2 – Honor your brand. 
Be responsible, ethical and trustworthy in all facets of your business.
3 – Treat your brand as an investment.
Advertising and marketing is vital to the strength of this, your most valuable asset. Investing in your brand results in long-term cost savings because it effectively communicates your story. Make sure your marketing materials are up-to-date, attractive, accurate and engaging!

*Today, the son’s room is spotless, because he is new graduate of Loyola University and living in Chicago, as close to those Blackhawks as he can possibly get.  

Who’s In Love With Your Brand?

Ovaltine and IBM

A few months ago, I was in the grocery store, considering which hot chocolate flavoring to purchase. Usually, I’m a Hersey’s syrup kind of gal, but for some reason, I was in the coffee and tea aisle, with Nestle’s Quik in one hand and Ovaltine in the other, reading the labels for sugar, sodium and fat contents.

A woman in her late 50’s was trying to pass and I murmured “excuse me” and stepped toward the shelf. She saw what I was holding and said, “Oh, buy the Ovaltine.” I smiled at her in return. Encouraged, she said dreamily, “Ovaltine means so much to me. When I was little, I had terrible trouble sleeping because I was ill for a long time. Every night, my mom would make me a hot mug of Ovaltine and read to me until I fell asleep. Ovaltine makes me think of my mom and the way she helped me.” Her face was far-away, lost in nostalgia, thinking of long-ago bedtime stories, a mug of hot chocolate to soothe an ailing child, and most of all, her mother’s beautiful, patient expression of love. For her, that’s what Ovaltine is all about.

Well, of course I bought the Ovaltine.

Later that week, someone mentioned IBM, saying something about “Big Blue” and how that might just be the most internationally-recognized, powerful brand on the planet.

And that’s when it struck me full force, like a bag of quarters in the kisser; while brands have a carefully constructed and communicated message managed by their internal and external partners, for many people, that message has nothing to do with their own perception of the organization.

Because, you see, to me, IBM is not about computers. IBM is about my dad, who worked for that company his entire professional life.

Hearing “IBM” makes my nose instantly remember that Bud-Rollins aroma of WD-40, dry cleaning fluid and newspaper ink. I can really, truly smell it. I can see his felt hat appearing in the alley at the end of his walk home from the train, I can feel the wool of his suit as he gathered me for a hug. IBM is the heavy briefcase filled with tools, middle of the night departures when a machine went down and Christmas parties at the Museum of Science and Industry.

And the really crazy thing? When I called my brother and asked him what he thinks of when someone says “IBM”, he replied “Dad and that IBM smell, you know what I mean?” Yes, Rich, I know exactly what you mean. Our brand of IBM is all about love too.

So what does this all mean to you? It means, to certain individuals, your brand has nothing to do with your carefully constructed message. No matter how much you promote outstanding customer service, unless it really is, 100% of the time, there will be someone out there whose personal experience brands you as having horrible service. Your brand is influenced by your messages, but it is determined by your audience.

That’s why thinking and acting in terms of the brand, for absolutely every single person in your organization, is vitally important – 100% of the time.


Do you prefer Ovaltine or Hersey’s? The twentieth person to let me know gets a lifetime supply of their favorite!*

(Yep – that’s my dad in the photo above, Harold “Bud” Rollins, Senior Customer Engineer with a mad comb-over installing a 2470 terminal)

*Not really. But I will send you one bottle or can!

We Know Direct Mail Like Arborist Knows Ash From A Hole In The Ground

Ed Ritzema was really bummed about the lack of response in his direct mail efforts. He spent alot of money, mailed to alot of people and just didn’t see the return on his investment. He is passionate about saving ash trees from the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), now gaining ground faster and faster in the south and southwest suburbs. “People need to understand that I can save that heritage tree in their yard. The injections are cheaper and you get to KEEP YOUR TREE.”


Having lost two of my trees to this voracious invader before we could take steps to save them and feeling that pain, I couldn’t understand why people weren’t responding to his offering.

Then he showed me the card he was mailing.


The card was a hot mess of everything that Ed, a certified arborist, could possibly provide – including lawn care! Everything was just about the same size. There were multiple promotions and discounts offered. Recipients were completely confused about what this company did, why they should call and how 4 Seasons could help.

But the biggest barrier? Most people don’t know types of trees are planted on their lot!

So we created a mailer that zeroed in with laser-focus on Ed’s biggest mission – saving those white and green ash trees. The call to action is simple – Ed will identify every tree in your yard for free, no strings attached. There is information about the Ash Borer’s size, hole shape and symptoms, but the overriding push is that you can’t save a tree if you don’t even know what it is.

With Ed’s assistance with identifying about 10,000 homes in neighborhoods known to have EAB, we mailed even more cheaply than EveryDoorDirect by using postal route discounts. (Our mailing house ROCKS).

Ed’s phone started ringing and he’s now meeting new customers and saving their trees! Even better? Even if responders don’t have an ash tree, Ed has personally introduced himself, he’s now their expert resource. That homeowner now has a trusted arborist, one they can turn to for pruning, for emergency services – even for lawn care.

Interested in direct mail or other forms of response-driven advertising but oh so wary? Give us a call at 708-614-9766 or send us an email. We can help.

I personally recommend Ed because he’s worked on my trees.  I think of him as an Ent because he is indeed a Keeper of the Trees, deep in his heart. If you suspect you have the EAB, or just want to get to know your trees a little better, call Ed Ritzema at 708-371-5439 for a free tree identification!

Mission Accomplished!

Gardening Book Is Combination of Eye-Popping Photography, Instructive How-To and Poetic Observation

Result of year-long project is love letter to nature, family and growing things


Most year-long experiments are extraordinary sacrifices of inconvenience and toil – living biblically, eating locally or cooking an entirely new recipe every day. Rebecca Palumbo did something that one third of Americans might accomplish without any cost or resources, but that has never been done before. Beginning on the first day of spring and concluding on the last day of winter, she photographed, observed and wrote about the growth and evolution, the sex, the beauty, the violence – the entire Other World – right outside her door.

Written in exquisite detail and beautifully photographed, A Year In The Garden: Incredible Beauty, Explosive Sex and Violent Death in One Suburban Backyard ( – $14.95) documents an average Midwest (Zone 5, for those keeping track) suburban garden for an entire lunisolar year. Through Damn Rabbits, prolific insects, disappointing watermelons and more, readers will not only learn how to divide perennials, build chicken-wire fence panels and control powdery mildew, they will learn how life in the garden mirrors real life, including the joy of a happy marriage, the recovery of the author’s son from depression and her daughter’s approaching adulthood. The book, jam-packed with educational information, reverent, telescopic observations and just plain fun, is truly a window into the soul of a gardener.

Gardeners will love this book to watch the progression of each plant and bed as it unfolds in photographs. They will learn and reinforce concepts of plant care, garden care and pest repellents. For many, the most important tool will be the comparison of their own garden’s progression to the author’s garden.

Hope-to-be-gardeners will enjoy planning the possibilities for their own yards. Learning curves will be shortened as they learn from these successes and mistakes. Because of the photographs, they will truly understand the cycles of a garden and set reasonable expectations for their own, including their own time commitment to achieve the desired results. They will get a true sense of what it means to really be a Gardener, to feel that your slice of earth is a little part of the vastness of this universe, that the garden is not just about seeds and weeds, but that it’s about thought processes and personal growth.

Apartment and city dwellers and those who can’t garden will revel in this as it transports the reader into the garden, exquisitely, throughout the year. There is no need to sigh over asphalt, sealed windows or aged knees – reading this memoir and viewing the photographs will take them right into the garden – throughout the year. Each chapter is a mini-vacation to a paradise and for the reader, that paradise becomes theirs. They will get an understanding that life in the garden is mirrored by life outside, that a small garden is a microcosm of the world at large.

Beyond the “nuts and bolts”, readers will also find an almost divine experience in the verbalization of the spirituality we all feel when we’re in the garden. This book hits so many nerves – the need for nature, the need to grow things, the need to solve problems as we dig in the soil.

Since Rebecca Rollins Palumbo could hold a trowel, she has been gardening – first as her mother’s oft-reluctant assistant and now for her own joy and satisfaction. She has gardened in the frustrating full shade off the patio of her first apartment, in the troublesome full shade of her first house and now in a perfect combination of sun and shade in her present home, the subject of this book. She wrote a column about nature and gardening for the Chicago Tribune. She is a certified Master Gardener and her garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Rebecca earned a Bachelor of Art from Northern Illinois University with a concentration in photography and a strong emphasis in English and writing. She is Creative Director of Rollins Palumbo Creative, a design and advertising firm in Chicagoland.  She resides in Tinley Park, Illinois, a southwestern suburb of Chicago, with her husband, Tony, two “young adult” children, two dogs and a betta fish named Sundance.


Just Hand It Over And We’ll Handle It All

You don’t have to start all over again to start all over again.

Dr. Kidanu Birhanu is a physician with decades of experience, with multiple fellowships, certificates and recognitions achieved (including one of USA Today’s Top Doctors in 2011). In shifting his practice to concentrate on weight loss, anti-aging and sexual health in both women and men, he needed our help. 

His first need was a name and slogan for this new focus. We brainstormed dozens of ideas and presented him with a list of about 8. From this list, Dr. Birhanu chose 3 that he felt completely comfortable with. We created a focus group of women within our networks, both business and personal, formulated a brief survey and got input, feedback and results to tally, analyze and confirm. The name “ReNewYou” won by a considerable margin. That affirmation build a foundation for Dr. Birhanu’s success. The slogan was also determined by research, worded in such a way as to inform viewers of the entire practice subtly, with professionalism.

We went to work on a logo, again presenting Dr. Birhanu with many options. His three selections went in front of our focus group, in different color formats, to ensure that what we were planning on putting out there really answered what patients would recognize and respond to. When the logo was identified, we put together his website, selecting images, designing and writing the copy.

We’ve also created business cards. As Dr. Birhanu begins to market his practice through seminars (we’ll help him there too), he can leave behind a wonderful resource with a long shelf life, a bookmark. We’re helping with social media construction and with content, working to build Dr. Birhanu a following (Please LIKE on this Facebook page!)

Uninspired by your current marketing materials? Give us a call at 708-614-9766. We can help.

Do you know someone requiring design, advertising or marketing savvy, either starting from scratch or starting over again? Just forward this blog.

If you’re looking for a patient, thoughtful and attentive physician – who will really listen –  to help with general health and weight loss/bariatric surgery challenges, make an appointment with Dr. Birhanu via email or telephone, 708-229-1395.

Sometimes, It’s Best To Let The Client Do The Talking


“I just wanted to send you a quick note to say thank you for helping make our 2013 tax season a success. I was hesitant to implement another postcard campaign because I attempted one in 2010 which was not very successful. I did not like the postcard the company created…it was a little cheesy for the type of clients I wanted to attract.

However, the postcard you created has helped our firm create a professional image and attract higher quality tax clients. Everyone that came in with the postcard liked it. Majority of my new clients this tax season were a result of the postcard mailing.

I am considering another campaign this summer to promote financial planning and proactive tax planning. Thanks again for your assistance, it is much appreciated.”


While we stop blushing, you think about your next marketing outreach program. We can help!

Anyone you know looking for a unique image within corporate requirements? We provide design, advertising or marketing that fits that brand.

If you need accounting, tax planning or financial services, visit We promise she’s as professional and accomplished as she is complimentary.