Two great agencies have become one! Henry Russell Bruce (HRB) and ME&V Advertising have merged to create a combined company of more than 50 people with offices in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Quad Cities. The combined agency represents more than 200 clients across 10 states and offers branding, marketing, public relations, and advertising services in healthcare, higher education and banking, corporate communications and nonprofit fundraising. Take a look around →

HRB's previous site can still be accessed below.

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Brad Maxwell Brad Maxwell wrote:February 6th, 2014

“Cut it Out” – Why Jargon and Clichés Don’t Belong in PR Writing

Here at HRB, our staff loves catchy phrases and quips as much as the next person. But there is a fine line between catchy and cliché, and for PR professionals, this is a “slippery slope” (pun intended).

Technique gets noticed
We revisit the age old question, “What components embody strong PR writing?”  PRSA highlights clear, concise, and strategic writing as essential components. Clearly the list goes on, and of course, every situation varies. The structure and tone may seem obvious, yet clichés and jargon phrases continue to creep into many forms of public relations writing.

Communicators can quickly catch clichés, but how easily can you spot them in your own writing? We hear them all the time, so naturally they become the first words that come to mind. Consequently, the more familiar a phrase is, the more likely readers skip through it and skim your content. “Easy come easy go” right?

Avoid the cliché trap
You’re on a tight deadline…  I know the last thing on your mind is revising a press release for the hundredth time. However, I give you a few points worth considering before hitting that distribute button.

  • Cut down sentences.  Why use 20 words when 10 will suffice?
  • Avoid industry jargon.  Your audience often lacks the insider knowledge about the business or product.  Remember who you’re trying to reach.
  • Keep it relevant.  While you may be “delighted” or “thrilled” to deliver the news, your job is guide the reader to this feeling, not tell them.
  • Audiences are people too.  Keep your writing simple, interesting, and understandable.  Your audience is not a robot, (though it may occasionally seem that way).
  • Know your client. Some clients and executives may look for a more complex and wordy message to build credibility. Be on the same page to best fulfill their needs, but also explain the value of simpler content.  

If your audience is looking for a laugh, let them breeze through the comics or surf YouTube.  Remember your key objective is to deliver clear and concise content that your audience can engage with. Giving them a novel of clichés and/or a book of company jargon will only distract from your key message.

Ultimately “time is money” and public relations writing is “neither the time nor place” for endless clichés.

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Shelby Kraus Shelby Kraus wrote:May 22nd, 2013

A Sandpiper to Bring You Joy

What can a communications professional learn from a graduation ceremony?

I was in a unique position this weekend as I attended my oldest son’s high school graduation. Not that I am the first mom to have this experience or the last, but as a person who works in communications I was pleasantly surprised at how well the student speeches were at the ceremony. The four seniors each had their own personal touch on the message they wanted to share, but you could tell they had prepared. This got me thinking about my participation in high school speech. Speech class was one of the best activities I participated in to prepare me for college and the “real” world. I believe everyone should participate in such a class, because I learned:

- How to enunciateThe benefit of Speech Class

- Pentameter for speaking

- Eye contact

- Looking up and around the room, not just at the paper

- Emphasis to make a point or draw an emotion

- Practice makes perfect

- Telling a story and tying it all together

- Facial expressions matter

- Breathe (sounds silly, but nerves can take away your breath making the delivery off)

I was fortunate to participate in State Speech for prose and have taken that experience with me throughout my career. However, I learned that at Benton Community it is not just speech class that gives you these skills. My son has never taken speech due to class and other activity conflicts. However, he has been very active in FFA. In Ag Sciences, speeches are a large part of the program. That came in handy during his college communications class. During parent-teacher conferences his instructor shared that he was an excellent speaker.

So the point I am trying to make is that confident speaking is very important in all aspects of adult life (however you learn it). If you weren’t fortunate enough to participate learn these skills and feel nervous about presentations, find professional help, practice in mirrors, go online and read more about techniques and find your Sandpiper to Bring You Joy.

Shelby Kraus
Vice President, Public Relations
Account Manager
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Megan Jasin Megan Jasin wrote:November 12th, 2010

Success: A Synonym for "Effective Communicator"

Words make the world go 'round. Learn to be an effective communicator.Since my diary-writing days I have been obsessed with words. English was always my favorite subject and reading my favorite pastime.

Throughout college that passion has developed into a love for all types of communication, whether it be through magazines, blogs, social media, hard news, the spoken word or networking events. I’ve taken classes in non-fiction writing, literature, public relations, marketing and interpersonal communication, revising my relationship with the English language along the way. But even when my Type A personality and penchant for details get the best of me, I continue to write because I know that words make the world go ’round.

Without words, we couldn’t read. If we can’t read, we can’t write. If we can’t write, we can’t communicate. And if we can’t communicate, we’re in danger of being uneducated and therefore prone to misunderstandings. Words are not only vital for the advertising copy that educates us about news, issues and brands around the world, but they’re crucial for creating and maintaining relationships between people.


My favorite blogs from this week focus on how words influence people and actions:

If You Were Facebook®, Would You Let Google® Make You Open Your Contacts List? Company spokespersons are authorities of the written word. So perhaps Google® and Facebook® should end their “war of words” and figure out how to communicate betterboth in real life and via the Internet. The SocialTimes and I agree that there’s a definite untapped potential for growth here. It’s a shame that the spokespersons for both brands just can’t stop quarreling.

Make Your Press Materials User-FriendlyA report from the Nielsen Norman Group asserts that there are 5 basic reasons why a journalist visits a press page. Not surprisingly, most of these reasons have to do with spelling and grammar.

The Tech Industry’s PR Problem This article by PRBreakfastClub argues that tech people have no clue how to talk like normal humans when describing the value of their products or services. Why is this and how can they fix this problem? Technology is a growing industry and it’s hard to sell something if the public doesn’t understand what you’re offering.

What Every PR Rookie Ought to be Doing One of the skills that Manny Otiko suggests for PR rookies is, of course, to keep their writing skills fresh. With thousands of job losses in the publication industry since 2008, many editors are turning to PR professionals to write content. Practice makes perfect, right?

Word Vomit: Topics That are Better Left Unsaid If you’ve ever attended a networking event, you know that what you say and how you say it is a direct reflection of your intelligence and sense of professionalism. This brief list from blogger Christina Khoury suggests topics you may and may not want to bring up during your next chapter meeting.

That’s it! Check back next Friday for more interesting reads!**

**As always, feel free to check out my team member page to read my other blogs or share your thoughts in the comments section below. I also share my favorite blog posts via my Google Reader account (Jace122) and my personal Twitter handle @IowaHawkeyeMeg.

Megan Jasin
Public Relations Intern

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Shelby Kraus Shelby Kraus wrote:November 2nd, 2010

Journalists Are Not Gods, Nor Do They Live on Mt. Olympus

Don't fear the media. Research and understand their needs before reaching out to them.Journalists hold the key to the success of so many public relations professionals, businesses and organizations. Still, they are not “creatures” we should fear, like Greek gods on Mt. Olympus. They are insightful people wanting to share with their viewers or readers a well-rounded story that is relevant and happening now in his or her community. So why do so many people not understand how to work with them?

Here is my theory. “We” (meaning the collective) only want to push out the story we want to tell. That in itself is all right, if done correctly. So why does everyone feel the need to pontificate and profess their company’s prowess in its market, its industry or with its product? Beating your chest to tell the world about yourself only makes your CEO feel better about what they are doing, not those who will buy or believe your service.

I understand that we professionals need to write to appease our bosses, but you’d make great headway in several ways with the media if you could:

  • Leave out the overused adjectives such as “the largest,” “the only” or “the oldest.” Leave that for the boilerplate.
  • Find a tie to a national story.
  • Find research in your industry or with consumers that is relevant to your product or service and write a lead that way. (Read my blog on well-researched media lists for a better idea of what I mean by this.)
  • Step outside your bubble and stop thinking “me” and starting thinking “them.” What do your customers or potential customers want to know?
  • Don’t be annoying and call the media to say, “Did you get my release?” Have a purpose to your call (i.e. more information, a client to interview, etc.) and journalists will be more willing to listen to you.

It is not that reporters are gods, they are accessible and open to ideas. However, it is getting harder for communication professionals to listen to their audiences (and sometimes that’s because “the boss” could be related to Zeus).

If you have any other tips or best practices in working with the media, share them here and I’ll post them in a future blog.

Shelby Kraus
Vice President, Public Relations
Account Manager
800-728-2656, ext. 125

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Shelby Kraus Shelby Kraus wrote:October 22nd, 2010

What We Can Learn from Schoolhouse Rock

What did School House Rock teach YOU?I know this post shows my age, but how many of you remember Schoolhouse Rock!? A friend and I were talking about our favorite episodes and I got to thinking about how relevant these shows are even today.

Every week, as a child, I waited with much eagerness for the next episode, and despite all the courses I’ve taken over the years, this is where my journey began with the written word. In an entertaining fashion, I learned so many things such as a comma to separate an interjection, understanding what is a predicate or how to use a conjunction.

Grammar can seem like a boring topic, but if you want to make it in public relations, English, journalism or the corporate world, doing it well will separate you from the pack. And for those of you in the first three disciplines, knowing AP Style is even more important (too bad there aren’t fun videos for that).

I know that teachers don’t always make it fun to learn grammar, and they should. So to spark some interest in grammar, I encourage you to go to YouTube® and revisit the Schoolhouse Rock library and get on your conjunction junction (one of my favorites)!

Enjoy!

“Conjunction Junction” video by Schoolhouse Rock

Shelby Kraus
Vice President, Public Relations
Account Manager
800-728-2656, ext. 125

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Megan Jasin Megan Jasin wrote:October 8th, 2010

This Week's Top PR Reads by @IowaHawkeyeMeg

Interns: Get your experience in BEFORE you graduate!Here are some of my favorite blog posts from this week. Feel free to check out my team member page to see my own blogs and share your thoughts with me in the comments section below.

*NOTE* I also share all of these posts via my Google Reader account (Jace122) and my Twitter handle (@IowaHawkeyeMeg).

PR blogs to check out:

You’re Only As Good As Your Clipbook… — I agree with PRBreakfastClub® bloggers that a clipbook is a great conversation starter and coffee table accessory, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all demonstration of your skills as a PR representative. You should also be able to demonstrate excellent communication skills, an engaging online portfolio, knowledge of current news issues and a passion for literature and reading.

Five Ways to Not Screw Up Your Next Networking Attempt — If you’re a journalist or public relations counselor you should know Peter Shankman. I admit I’ve become slightly obsessed with scanning his HARO® e-mails to learn what types of stories journalists are looking for and to improve my own pitching techniques. Read this post to learn why networking should always extend beyond that first online conversation or conference call.

Building Social Media Bridges — Danny Brown discusses why it’s important for community managers and everyday social media fans to maintain meaningful relationships and “clean house.” I found this post to be very helpful because I struggle with weeding out which social media marketing connections are helpful or harmful to my personal brand.

The Discipline to Write Daily — Chris Brogan never fails to inspire me. Like running, writing requires strength, curiosity and drive. What’s motivating you to write consistently?

National Book Foundation Announces 5 Under 35 Honorees — Anyone that knows me is aware that I’m a huge sucker for reading work by novice writers. Check out this list from the MediaBistro® website – it’s proof that my generation is making a difference in the writing world & it’s also a great testament of the power of PR.

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Intern blogs to check out:

Ad Imagery: Why It Can Make or Break a Creative Project — Great post by former HRB Intern, Allison Maze, on why creatives should always match images to a brand, not vice-versa.

Informational Interviews Are Important — I’ve been following the Internweb.com blog since I was a sophomore in college and I think there’s a lot to be said about interviews that don’t lead to a job. They not only help you network with professionals in your field but they can help you learn what NOT to say in an interview.  (Remember, interviews are just as much about the company being a fit for you as it is about your fit within the company. You may find that the company is a great resource but perhaps not the best employer.)

Do You Know How to “Live on the Web”? — My latest blog post on why listening is the new marketing.

LinkedIn Helping College Graduates Find Their Career Path — LinkedIn®’s new “Career Explorer” tool is helping students connect with others on LinkedIn according to their educations, specialties and career goals by industry and title.

That’s it! Check back next week for more interesting reads!

Megan Jasin
Public Relations Intern

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Megan Jasin Megan Jasin wrote:October 8th, 2010

Why Writing Skills Are Crucial for a Successful Career in Business

Ohhhmmmm....Be one with your typewriter.Since beginning my internship in May, I have participated in numerous client meetings, pitched press releases to the media and strengthened my strategic thinking skills by contributing to client proposals. Each task has its own challenges and rewards, but I think the biggest test I face is being concise with my words.

Whether I’m writing service reports, blogs, social media updates or other marketing copy for HRB and its clients, I find that I struggle more with composing a message than with the arduous promotion efforts that follow. Is this because I have a background in English literature and creative writing or because I never take the time to think about my intended audience? More importantly, what can I do to show my current and future employers that I’m capable of writing on deadline and within word limits?

In my journalism and communication courses at Iowa we were always given word limits and strict writing guidelines. Professors would deduct huge points for grammar, punctuation, formatting errors and writing outside the page limit. I feared and respected these professors for giving us specific requirements, because it taught me and my classmates how to follow directions.

My English classes, on the other hand, were a whole different story. We were encouraged to be creative when writing stories or assignments about the literature we read. I was never afraid to go over a page limit because there never really was one. I would write to my heart’s content, spending hours thinking about the right word or anecdote. The emphasis was focused on how your story made your audience feel rather than the content of what you wrote.

Writing copy as a Public Relations Intern has been a struggle for me simply because I’m not used to writing on deadline, abiding by word limits or having my work edited numerous times before publication. I understand that my work needs to be reviewed not only because I’m young and inexperienced, but because editorial intervention helps me stay consistent, concise and focused on the message of the brand, product or service I’m writing about. That said, I want to be the best writer that I can be. I want to show my company and the PR industry that I am a strong writer and a profitable employee.

I know that most college writing courses are focused on theory rather than application, but I’m curious if any other interns out there are struggling with the transition from creative writer to AAE. What resources do you use to stay on top of AP guidelines and news from the media? Is there a blog about writing practices that I should be following? Is there an e-mail newsletter or alert I should be subscribed to? What can I do outside of my internship to become a stronger writer?

Feel free to add your comments below this post, contact me via Twitter or e-mail me { Click here to view email address }.

Megan Jasin
Public Relations Intern

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Shelby Kraus Shelby Kraus wrote:October 1st, 2010

10 Ways Advertising and Public Relations Agencies Can Thrive in Today’s Economy

Is the press release dead, or has it just been repurposed?Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk budget reallocation. I’ve also read a lot of online buzz about the “death of the press release” (see Simon Dumenco’s article in Advertising Age online).

I have to disagree that it’s slim pickings for agencies today. I believe businesses are more willing than ever to allocate budgets to advertising, PR campaigns and social media. And I definitely don’t think that agencies or the press release should fear extinction.

The only thing agencies need to fear is fear itself.

Take HRB, for example. A few years ago we reassessed our clients’ needs and considered the importance of the growing symbiotic relationship between traditional and alternative forms of marketing. We merged with The Internet Marketing Group and began offering Web services for our clientsincluding e-mail marketing, social media marketing and Web design, to name a few. We established our company as a full-service strategic marketing firm that utilizes a combination of advertising, public relations, media buying, branding and Web efforts.

Not only do our offerings help us stand out among our competitors in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor, it helped us win the “Best PR & Advertising Agency” award from Corridor Business Journal™ readers this year. The variety of departments and obvious commitment of HRB’s team members is  inspirational and admirable; and, it’s the reason the company is successful.

In essence, we are all reinventing our businesses and if we want to remain pertinent in our industry the employees need to learn and adapt their knowledge of new media.

Here are 10 ways that advertising and public relations agencies can thrive in today’s economy:

  • Offer a diverse and unique set of skills and departments. Are you offering services that your competitors aren’t offering? If not, host a team meeting to assess your competition. Create new templates, new email marketing campaigns and new added values in your media buying proposals. HRB’s Growth Division is a testament to this.
  • Encourage your employees to work longer hours. This isn’t unheard of in the advertising and public relations industries, but spending a few extra hours on an ad design, Website layout or press release shows that you’ve truly considered and reconsidered your clients’ branding needs. They will thank you for this by extending their contract with you or recommending your services to their own business contacts.
  • Keep up with social media and Internet marketing trends and tools. This will help you stay ahead of your competition and discover fresh design and grassroots marketing ideas. At HRB, for example, we post a combination of industry, company and client updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages, proving that we’re able to think outside the box and that we’re good listeners.
  • Hire young talent. HRB welcomed 3 new interns for the first time since the Flood of 2008. How many new employees has your company invested in? At HRB we welcome young talent and believe that fresh ideas are invaluable to the growth of the company. Hire college students that possess a high level of creativity, are extremely motivated and possess strong communication and computer skills. According to an article published by Sacramento Business Journal on September 3, the employment outlook for public relations specialists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2016. If you’re willing to take the hiring plunge your company can reap many long-term benefits from this extra help .
  • Be proactive and continually seek out RFP opportunities. Companies today expect you to come to them, and if you want to be the best agency in your city, state, nation or the world you need to act like it. Build a competitive sales team then educate them about the services you offer and what kinds of businesses they should be prospecting.
  • Update your blog and Website on a daily and weekly basis. I can’t stress enough how crucial this is to the survival of your agency. Most agencies today have sections of their Website devoted to their blog, company news releases and their social media profiles. Review your competitors’ Websites and determine what they’re offering, then go beyond that to engage with your own audience. Add your company’s social media icons to your newsletter, Website and social media profiles and post updates whenever you make a change to these sections.
  • Stay humble. One of the reasons I prefer working for smaller companies is because they’re humble about the awards they win and the strong relationships they’ve built with their clients. There’s no need to brag about your company online or offline and it’s much better rewarding to let your work speak for itself.
  • Attend industry events. Encourage your employees to attend trade shows and conferences, seek out higher learning opportunities or earn their APR or their Master’s degree. If you’re able to afford it, reimburse your employees for continued education.
  • Host seminars. HRB offers free seminars every other week in both Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. I have had the pleasure of organizing and attending these seminars and can tell you that our team members are experts in their field. Not only do they offer free business advice but they answer attendee questions and concerns about the subject they’re presenting.

Shelby Kraus
Vice President, Public Relations
Account Manager
800-728-2656, ext. 125

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Allison Maze Allison Maze wrote:July 27th, 2010

5 Tips for Harnessing Creativity

There is no “right way” to harness creativity, but even as an intern, it is natural to occasionally succumb to its slums. Every person has their own “method to madness” when it comes to making ends meet, and many artists, Web designers and writers have overlapping tactics.

Here are five practices that I rely on whenever I find myself in a creative rut:

Quit Waiting Around

Don’t wait to be creative until the last minute. Rushed work in any form rarely achieves its most polished, complete state and it’s frustrating to freeze up when deadlines are tight. Besides, it never hurts to budget for an “off” day. Curb the creativity crisis by keeping a running list of ideas and research resources for inspiration—even if they are unrelated to the task at hand. Tear out magazine pages or find an organized way to archive Website pages, perhaps by using a bookmarks folder or a Website like Delicious. This type of filing system is great to fall back on when your creativity needs a jump-start.

Play Games

Thumb through a magazine and find a few designs that catch your eye, then conduct a brief, informal analysis of each piece. Ask yourself some questions to focus on the design concept: what initially captured your attention? What visual elements really accentuate the design and what would you have done differently? Consider what words come to mind when you see a particular image or image sequence and how they connect with the overarching message or campaign.

Go Online

Blog surf or seek out other Creatives on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Take the time to discover what other professionals in the creative industry are coming up with. Many artists showcase forms of inspiration via different Web services for both their personal and audiences’ benefit. Why not take a gander and see if some creativity results? Better yet, join the conversation! Designers are a very active online group and many use social media to market their products and raise brand awareness. Additionally, there are numerous blogs that teach, provide resources and offer inspiration. Get involved in a professional network to stay in tune with industry trends.

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Get Moving

Take a break from your workspace if desirable solutions aren’t coming fast enough. Get some exercise if you’re able to escape for a bit. Exercise improves cognition and gives you an energy boost that lasts for a couple of hours afterward. If you aren’t in the position to get away or simply do not have enough time, take a lap around the office or step outside for some fresh air.

Dare to Doodle

In the computer age, it’s often a million times easier and more aesthetically pleasing to draft ideas in Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign rather than sketch things out by hand. But if you’re like me and often find yourself abusing the “apple + z” keyboard shortcut over minute imperfections, it might be a good move to switch things up. Unglue your eyes from your monitor and revert to the good old-fashioned way of working with a pen and some paper (See Steve Erickson‘s blog post, “The Power of ‘Old Tech Knowledge“). Allow yourself to sketch whatever comes to mind and see what happens when you visually map out your ideas. You might just surprise yourself. 

Allison Maze
Creative Intern

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Allison Maze Allison Maze wrote:July 14th, 2010

When Spell Check Doesn't Save: Why It Pays to Know How to Write

Impress your boss and client by avoiding careless mistakes the first time around.Technology has come a long way in recent years. For centuries, people relied on sheer memory or ink-and-dead-tree dictionaries to disseminate their messages. They didn’t have the luxury of spell check, online dictionaries, Grammar Girl or the AP Stylebook. But strangely enough, even with today’s myriad of writing resources available at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to give into laziness, to assume that technology will fix our mistakes for us.

This may be attributed to society’s growing reliance on mobile text messaging, automatic spell check and short-handed e-mails…but are these tools serving less as guides and more as crutches?

The other night I was in a heated Scrabble match with my dad and younger sister when I snatched up a triple word score with the word ‘feign’…except I accidentally spelled it “fein” and was given a tremendous amount of grief for it.  Embarrassed, I blamed it on the fact that this summer I’m not taking college classes,thus I haven’t had any weekly paper assignments to help me practice my spelling skills.  My dad attributed my mistake to my constant use of programs with automatic spelling. I think he was right.

Our yew shore you’re spell check is write?

Tattoo fail.

Have you ever noticed that spell check pinpoints incorrect words and sentences, but misses more pertinent mistakes like the difference between “insure” and “ensure,” “flew” and “flu” or “to” and “too”? Yes, even spell check can be wrong—really, really wrong.

Can you imagine being this tattoo artist? It’s a careless mistake—one that spell check could easily make—but this time it can’t be deleted at the press of a button. Furthermore, put yourself in the client’s shoes: tattoos are decently painful, sometimes pricey and essentially permanent. Now Ms. Sweet Pee has your idiocy inked on her back and 800 of her closest Facebook friends and Twitter followers are about to hear all about it. Big whoops.

Ink responsibly: Watch your back

Whether you are a journalist, designer, public relations executive or somewhere in between, the ability to write well and communicate clearly to others is a valued skill in almost every profession. You are so much more credible, marketable and interesting if you can write in addition to your usual line of work.

Writing also serves as a great way to share your expertise, gain brand exposure and build a professional or personal community, but it has to be done right. In other words, don’t bother sending that quick e-mail or posting that blog update without proofreading your work. Considering the tremendous amount of time, energy and expertise invested in your title and your business, taking the time to review your work is a crucial step that shouldn’t be ignored.

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In this day and age, everyone is an author of some sort and it is usually by means of various Web services. It’s becoming more and more popular for professionals and businesses from all sorts of backgrounds to blog, generate regular newsletters and host seminars as they constantly search for new ways to engage their audiences. Regardless of your professional role, the importance of knowing which witch is which is likely to spring up at some point in time.

Always watch your back, otherwise your brand’s credibility could be at stake…or worse, wrongly tattooed.

Allison Maze
Creative Intern

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