Growing up in South Carolina, my parents would always drag me and my sisters to look at model homes and resale homes. My sisters and I would entertain ourselves by making up games and hiding in all the empty spaces.

It wasn’t that we were constantly moving. My parents just loved looking at the homes. And soon I did, too. I started to imagine what it would be like to live in this house or who would live in that house. What would their lives look like?

As I got older, I began traveling more and I noticed how much the homes changed from place to place. The formal spaces we grew up with in our home (which were only used on truly special occasions, like Thanksgiving or Christmas) didn’t exist in most of the homes I visited in foreign countries. Unless you count include Versaille, but in Versaille every room is formal.

At our family’s home in Egypt, where we spent summers, we had a formal living room and dining room, and our culture dictated that we welcome guests with the utmost hospitality. But we didn’t have a playroom and we just ate in the kitchen.

As I traveled, I’d create stories for the people I encountered — where they lived, how they lived, what they did. I still do this today when watching “House Hunters International” and working at NDG. So, it isn’t a big surprise that I really get inspired by people and their stories.

I love touring our clients’ homes and communities and then imagining the lives of the people who will live in there. How would they use this space? Who would this house work for? Who would want to live in this community? Working with our clients at NDG allows me to constantly engage this fascination of mine.

I really enjoy testing my stories against the market research and the actual traffic, and I enjoy shifting these stories to account for things I may not have imagined. Envisioning who will live in the homes and communities helps me pull together a marketing strategy and find the messaging that fits our prospects’ life story and their aspirations.

In a Letter from the Editor in the current issue of Architectural Digest, Margaret Russell signs off with a statement about Cuba and how “spirits are bright with hope for a better life. That’s a goal we can all aspire to, no matter where we live.”

I believe this is true in any of our clients’ communities and homes. Everyone wants a better life. If I can imagine what their better life looks like, I can help our clients make it a reality.

Late nights and 80-hour weeks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner eaten over a keyboard.

These are all things commonly associated with life at an ad agency, but we’ve learned that these are rarely things associated with great work. Creativity demands energy and inspiration. At NDG, we know that the lives we live outside our office fuel the work we do inside it.

A game-changing idea might find us halfway through a bag of popcorn, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or halfway through a marathon, enjoying a runner’s high.

Our commitment to a great work-life balance is one of the reasons we’re able to find and keep top creative and programming talent on our team. We take the work we do for our clients very seriously, but we understand that there’s more to life than just work.

When we hire you at NDG, we tell you upfront what’s expected of you. We expect you to come to the office every day, work hard and work smart. Sweat the details, so the big picture takes care of itself.

When the work is done? Go home. Be with your family, hang out with your friends, do whatever makes you happiest.

Our creative director, Mike Metz, checks out in the evening and heads off to coach his son in youth soccer. He even plays in an adult league. We always know when he had a game the night before because he shows up limping the next day.

Abigail Witten, our media manager, dabbled in roller derby when she started at NDG. Now she’s starring as Margaret in a production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It’s not all fun and games. Social Media Coordinator Jackie Snyder takes night classes as she finishes the final credits toward her master’s degree in public relations. She’s a hard worker and never once has tried to claim that her dog, Chunk, ate her homework. Even though it seems plausible.

We’re not saying we never work late or that we don’t bring our laptops home with us on occasion. When it’s necessary to deliver the best work to our clients, we do it and we don’t ask questions. But late nights should be the exception to the rule.

Our goal is to keep our employees longer than most because we treat them better than most. Some of our best ideas find us when we’re off living our lives. Then we come to work refreshed and ready, as the giant sign on our wall says, to win the day.

We love it when a client comes to us with a big idea.

Brookfield Residential, a longtime partner and one of our favorites, approached us last year to tell us about a new, exciting project at the Avendale community in Bristow, VA. It’s an experimental home designed to test the latest eco-friendly technology, products and building methods.

Brookfield wanted to find out what really works and whether these energy-efficient features can be integrated on a larger scale into the homes it builds across Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

The idea was in its infancy then, but they were excited about it. And that got us excited. The marketing push is now peaking. We’ve had a great time with it because it’s one campaign that involves team members from across NDG and draws on so many of our marketing capabilities.

Boiling it Down

First things first: We needed a name. We kicked around dozens of ideas, we mixed, we matched, and finally we settled on “The PureBlue Home.” It highlights the all-encompassing approach and ties it back to the company’s existing Brookfield Blue energy-efficiency program.

Then we debated the best way to explain such a unique, complex project. During a long brainstorming session, someone finally said, “It’s basically like a BMW concept car, isn’t it?”

That was spot-on. PureBlue is a concept home.

Talking it Up

With a widely understood reference point to anchor our messaging, we got to work.

We filmed a promotional video. We built a landing page. We created email blasts, banner ads and brochures. When visitors come in the door, they can use our touchscreen display to learn more about Brookfield and PureBlue. As they move throughout the home, they’ll discover iPads that reveal photos, videos and descriptions of the innovative features in the room.

We’re now in the midst of a strong public relations push, for which we’ve created multimedia press releases and news stories. We’ve launched a social media campaign to engage prospective homeowners, as well as interested media and industry professionals.

Of course, we’ve planned big events at The PureBlue Home for journalists, Realtors and home shoppers. The Grand Opening last weekend was a huge success.

The PureBlue Home is pretty amazing. And it all started with a big idea.

NBA Hall of Famer and accidental comedy legend Charles Barkley recently was asked whether it was possible to rely solely on statistics, not conventional wisdom, to build a championship squad in the NBA.

“I’ve always believed analytics was crap,” Barkley scoffed to a desk full of his amused television colleagues.

I’m sure Barkley was just trusting his gut. But according to John Hollinger’s well-respected Player Efficiency Rating (or PER), Barkley ranks 10th. Out of every pro basketball player who ever stepped on a court.

That’s right. Barkley doesn’t believe in the validity of the formulas that have rated him as the 10th-best player in NBA history. Take a moment to let the irony sink in.

I’ll be brave enough to disagree with Mr. Barkley (who is 6-foot-6 and once threw a man through a plate-glass window) and say confidently that statistics teach us so many valuable lessons. A famous statistician with a flair for the literary once declared, “In God we trust. To the rest, bring data.”

As an NDG Senior Marketing Manager, it’s my job to treat our clients’ marketing and advertising budget as if it was my own paycheck. I rely on analytics to know how to spend their money wisely. And how to make sure we’re never wasting it.

Tools like Google Analytics and NDG’s own RealResults homebuilder sales and marketing system give us the raw data to differentiate what works and what doesn’t. As successful marketers, we must adapt or perish.

The moral of the story about Charles Barkley is that truths aren’t based upon what’s in your gut, or what you believe—they’re based upon what’s in your reporting and analysis. When you eliminate the guesswork in your marketing strategy, the rest is a layup.

Tim Hoepfl joins NDG from our nation’s capital, where he worked at the IP law firm of Kenyon & Kenyon LLP. A paralegal in the firm’s International Trade Commission practice group, Tim assisted with casework for clients such as Apple, Sony and Robert Bosch. Tim graduated cum laude from Salisbury University with a B.A. in Writing and Rhetoric and amazingly, he hasn’t lost a single debate he’s been involved in since. His favorite things include his son Langston, a good book, his Baltimore Orioles, the way your feet feel in a brand new pair of socks, and listening to Al Green on vinyl.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” —  Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A good writer grabs the attention of the reader at the beginning of the story. This holds true for advertising, fiction writing, reporting, letters or anything else that involves the written word. A reader must be drawn in and want to read more from their first look at your first words or they’re already lost to you.

Great books begin with a memorable first sentence. This is the what sets the tone for the rest of the story —  your inspiration, crystallized.  The first line can be a distant look or a close-up, but it encapsulates everything that the story is about. Ads are stories too, and work the same way.

The design team builds the story of an ad with pictures and fonts and colors, using images to evoke emotions and tell a story through visuals. I just get a few words. So, I have to make them count. I have to be able to find those perfect words and tell my client’s story in a fresh way.

I have to engage my reader at a glance with an intriguing headline. That headline has to make them want to know more about what makes my client’s product or service special. Then I have to tell the whole story to my reader, and make them want to read through to the end and learn more about what my client has to offer.

From start to finish, you have to get the most mileage out of the least amount of words. The first line of any story is the key point at which the writer engages the interest of the reader or fails entirely. If I can start with a good beginning to my ad’s story, then I can be sure my reader will see it through to the end.

5 Great First Lines of Stories

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.  — Stephen King, The Gunslinger

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. —  J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

Amy Gardner McNeal is a writer and editor from Baltimore, MD. A voracious reader and dedicated student of history, her passion for the written word is sometimes expressed in overly elaborate verbiage. Amy has worked as a freelance reporter for newspapers, websites and magazines, including The Washington Post and CBS News, as grant writer for nonprofits and as a freelance writing and marketing “jack of all trades” for clients in law, finance, technology and more. She lives in Bowie, MD, with her husband, Gerard, 3 adorable cats and lots of medievalia.

“What if …?”

That’s where my inspiration begins.

Those two simple words spark imagination and get our internal cogs moving. I’ve often heard people say, “I am just not the creative type.” But what they fail to realize is that creativity isn’t just art. It’s problem solving. “What if …” can build upon itself and spark others to join in to make things bigger, better and more efficient.

For example, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, his original intention was to develop a device that would allow his deaf wife and the deaf children he worked with to hear sound. He built on that idea and discovered he could send sound waves to virtually anyone in the world. Fast-forward 140 years, we now have phones in our pockets. Phones that take photos, record video and play music.

All because someone asked himself, “What if …?”

As a designer, I enjoy working with type and imagery. I love creating compelling, beautiful things, but really my job is to solve problems. If you need someone to buy your product or raise money for a non-profit, you have to understand the problems in order to connect with your audience.

Graphic design, by definition, is the practice of communicating a message visually and contextually. You have to connect with people emotionally as well. When people can relate to your message, it makes your work feel genuine. The most inspiring designs to me are the simplest. The easier the message, the easier it is to understand.

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

That’s what inspires me. And when I’m stuck, I simply ask myself, “What if …?” Sometimes I’ll keep it simple, sometimes I’ll go crazy. More often than not, those two simple words lead me down a path toward unexpected, positive results.

Brad Flaherty has officially been a designer for more than 13 years, but he has known that this is what he has wanted to do with his life since he was a kid. His career has taken him from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Chicago and back home to Southern Maryland. His wife and two kids know him as the lovable goofball, but Brad knows when it’s time to get down to bid’ness. There is no issue with Brad connecting with people. His passion for design and his outlook on life allows him to relate to people in a genuine way.

We are fortunate. In so many ways.

We come to the office every day and we get to do creative work for a group of clients we deeply respect and whose missions we believe in. At the end of the day, we return to nice, warm homes with plenty of food in the refrigerator. As the holidays approach, we’re each looking forward to spending special moments with the ones we love.

So many people in this world are far less fortunate. So many people have no place to call home.

So this year, on behalf of our clients, colleagues and friends, NDG Communications is honored to make a holiday donation to World Vision. The contribution, though modest, will provide homes for five families in dire need.

We hope you’ll take a moment to visit to read our stories of what “Home for the Holidays” means to us. You’ll see why we chose World Vision and this cause, and why we think it’s such a fitting way to honor all those who partner with us at NDG.

Thank you and Happy Holidays.

NDG clients were some of the big winners at Thursday evening’s Great American Living Awards. We were honored to be there with them to share in the excitement, and we’re proud to have worked with them on these award-winning projects.

First-Place Winners:

Brookfield Residential

Sales Display (Wilson’s Grove Interactive Sales Center Touchscreen)
Online Ad Campaign (Be Brookfield)

Colonial Forge (By Beazer Homes, Drees Homes and Augustine Homes)

Individual Ad (Fly the Flag. Live the Dream.)

Awards of Merit:

Bishop’s Landing (Beazer Homes)

Print Ad Campaign

Brookfield Residential

Integrated Builder Marketing Campaign (Be Brookfield)

“The boy is sad.” -Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Our Faith

While words allow the imagination to create a story, images directly place a pre-dictated story in front of you. The famous communication theory philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s maxim rings in my ears, “the medium is the message.” What this means is that the same message, when sent through different mediums, can convey completely different things based on how they are perceived through the medium.

An example of this is texting the word “okay” versus excitedly speaking “okay” paired with an enthusiastic smile. Same message, but sent through different mediums; words versus imagery. The medium itself holds so much weight that it ultimately is the message.

This is why advertising on Pinterest works, why Facebook posts with photos get 53% more likes, and 104% more comments, and why Snapchat became a viral sensation overnight. Imagery conveys an instant message and plotline to the viewer.

“The boy is sad.”

“The medium is the message.”

This specific image has stuck with me for years because it shows the value of effective imagery in a way that statistics, words and even my own thoughts can’t explain. Images have a strong appeal to pathos, to our emotions, which is why graphics and images tend to resonate with an audience in a more memorable way than words.

Let me give an extremely relatable example.

Working in social media, I always hear debates about whether or not social media is “good” or “bad.” I tend to think that you can’t blame the medium itself, but the content that is put behind it. That content sent through the medium ultimately becomes the message. This is why people become disgruntled when they find out their best friend is pregnant through Facebook, even though the content shared with them had it been in person, or over the phone, stays the same.

As the saying goes, choose your words wisely, but I would like to interject beyond that:

Choose your imagery wiser.

And choose your medium wisest. 

Abigail Witten is the charismatic Social Media and Public Relations Manager at NDG Communications who lives in what’s trending. Typically found with a cup of java in hand, she is always full of caffeine, great conversation and a drive that will knock you out like a redeye. Abigail graduated from Southern Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Communication. Previously, Abigail worked for a non-profit and ran full-scale marketing campaigns for a small business.

A challenge was given to Ernest Hemingway.
Tell a story in six words.
Challenge accepted.

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

OK, so those six words—the saddest classified ad in history—may not have actually been written by Hemingway. But that’s the way I heard it a few years ago during a writing seminar led by Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

He was talking about the power of words and how a few of them, well chosen and precisely placed, can do just about anything. They can lift you up. They can break your heart.

That lesson stayed with me and resonated even more when I traded journalism for marketing and landed a job as a copywriter. In modern advertising, you get only a few words. You’ve still got to tell the story, and you also must compel the reader to do something, buy something. Maybe even something life-changing, like a home.

I come back often to those six words. Their power lies in the sudden and the unexpected. If you didn’t feel like you’d just been punched in the stomach, you don’t have a pulse. Those six words remind me what’s possible and remind me not to settle.

In homebuilder marketing, it’s easy to fall into a routine, recycling the same ideas, the same promotions, the same words over and over. If you want your message to stand out, to linger in the prospect’s memory and motivate them to walk through your door, it helps to tell your brand’s true story simply, in a way they didn’t see coming.

It helps to know that words are powerful and anything is possible.

Derek Turner is the Senior Copywriter at NDG Communications. Before joining NDG, he spent more than a decade as a journalist, writing and editing at newspapers in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He also served as Senior Editor in the USO’s Marketing and Communications Department.