“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 NDGholiday.com 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.

We’ve got a lot of multi-talented people at NDG, but we never thought to hire an interior designer.

That would have come in handy, because we’re kind of winging it.  We’re rearranging furniture and adding desks to accommodate our growing team.

We’ve been fortunate to welcome new clients and new opportunities in the past year. To meet the challenge, our staff has grown by nearly 50 percent.

Our Five Keys to a Great Hire

At NDG, the team is everything. It’s how we’ve gotten this far and it will drive any future success. So we’ve taken some time to step back and define the qualities we want in new NDG team members.

Ultimately, we’re looking for five things: talent, character, drive, attitude and energy.

The work we do requires a lot of different skill sets. We’re a creative agency, obsessed with analytics. So we’re fun and methodical. We’re artists and digital wizards and everything in between.

We don’t insist that new hires have years of experience doing the precise thing we need them to do. If they have talent in their field, they can adapt to the job they’ll do here. If they have the other four traits, they will excel because failure is simply not in them.

Come to Work with an Attitude. The Good Kind.

An advertising agency—any business, really—is one big science experiment. It’s all about chemistry. When it’s good, it’s a beautiful thing. When it’s not, you’re just trying not to catch the building on fire.

We need people who thrive in a team environment, people equally excited to learn and to teach, to innovate and inspire.

What we ask is simple: Bring your talent and your passion. Get to know the talents and passions in every corner of the office. Pull them together to create something amazing.

If you like the sound of that, hey, we’re still hiring.


Email marketing is fast, efficient and effective. It’s almost too easy.

That’s why so many homebuilders fall back on it to stir up attention for a sluggish spec home or struggling community. Rather than seeing email only as a quick fix to your problems, think first about how you can serve your prospects.

Think slow courtship, not a one-night stand.

A recent Inman News blog post on revamping your email strategy included these telling statistics on the types of emails prospects want to receive:

New listings that match what they are looking for — 82 percent
Info on a specific home they’ve saved online — 43 percent
Alerts of upcoming open houses in their search area — 40 percent
Update on local market conditions — 35 percent
Monthly newsletter with seasonal tips, recipes and local market news — 12 percent

Builders are all over the first one. Everyone loves listings emails. But there’s plenty to learn from the rest of the options.

Info on a specific home: When a prospect shows interest in a home, keep it fresh in their mind. Email them with reminders about features and energy savings or send them new photos of the home.

Alerts on upcoming open houses: In new home communities, sales centers are open on weekends, so why not treat each one like an open house. Provide a few refreshments to step up the hospitality. Once a month, send a promotional email to give prospects a gentle nudge and subtly suggest competition and urgency.

Update on local market conditions: A periodic update on the local market not only establishes authority, but those insights can spur action. Still, be careful to treat it as a genuine service to the consumer and not a scare tactic.

Monthly newsletter with seasonal tips, recipes and local market news: Quality content elevates your brand. Make it useful and shareable. Encourage prospects to email it to family and friends or post it on social media.

The bottom line?

People like to be served, not sold. Take care of your prospects first and the sales will come.

Here’s some great news to get the week started: NDG has been chosen to represent the Colonial Forge community in Stafford, VA. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, beautifully located, with a wide selection of homes from three of the top homebuilders around.

We couldn’t be more excited. Check out the press release below to see why.

Date: May 12, 2014
Contact: Tom Nelson, NDG President

NDG Communications Hired to Lead Marketing Efforts for Colonial Forge

LA PLATA, MD — NDG Communications is proud to announce that it has been selected as the agency of record for Colonial Forge, a new home community in Stafford, Va., offered by a trio of prominent regional and national homebuilders.

Beazer Homes, Drees Homes and Augustine Homes combine to build single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums in Colonial Forge, a highly regarded community in a popular suburban area south of Washington, D.C.

“We’re extremely grateful to be chosen to represent this neighborhood and these three well-respected builders and developers,” NDG President Tom Nelson said. “When you visit the community, it’s easy to see everything that makes this place so desirable—the gorgeous natural setting and thoughtful home designs, not to mention the friendly, close-knit feeling. We’re excited to get started and help more homebuyers discover such an amazing community.”

Once completed, Colonial Forge will include 538 homes in all. Just more than 20 percent have already been sold. The community will also include a variety of amenities, including a clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and nature trails. 

Colonial Forge sits on a beautiful piece of rolling countryside with a 100-acre wooded backdrop. It’s right next door to Colonial Forge High School and a short drive from other great Stafford County schools.

NDG will begin work for the community immediately and will launch a redesigned website in the coming weeks at ColonialForge.com.

Beazer Homes is a Top 10 homebuilder nationally with more than three decades of experience and a footprint in 16 states. Drees Homes has been family owned and operated for more than 85 years and builds in 11 major U.S. markets. Augustine Homes, a well respected land developer and luxury home builder, has been a good will ambassador to the community for over a quarter-century and is credited with bringing to the area some of the most sought-after communities like Colonial Forge and others in Stafford and surrounding counties.

NDG Communications is an award-winning advertising and marketing agency focused on the homebuilding and real estate industries. The agency serves its clients by acting as a true partner and delivering real results through a measured approach to advertising, branding, digital development, production and media services. For more information, visit NDGcommunications.com.


It’s the end of a long day and you’re just getting home. You stop at the mailbox, open it and reach inside. What do you find?

Fifteen years ago, you’d be holding a thick stack of bills and greeting cards and sales letters. If you had the energy or the inclination, you might half-heartedly flip through, looking for something important, or even better, something interesting.

But this is the digital age. Our bills are automatically withdrawn, our birthday wishes come via Facebook and the mailbox is a lonely place.

This is what opportunity looks like.

Seize the Moment

We’re in a golden age for direct mail marketing, something many builders overlook. When a prospect picks up their mail, your DM will stand out because the competition has thinned out.

No one denies the value of online marketing. It’s here to stay and it’s not optional. But more than ever, there’s something about holding mail in your hands.

Direct mail recipients become the most engaged website visitors, spending more time on the site and visiting more pages. It’s common for a single mailing to produce five or more home sales.

Prospects are motivated to read direct mail, especially when it’s well targeted and compelling. If it’s an invitation—a VIP event, an open house, a grand opening—all the better. Ask them to do more than just show up. Ask them to RSVP. Start the conversation, or rekindle it.

Seal the Deal

Want an even better response your direct mail?

Pay a little extra and put it in an envelope. Use a stamp rather than a bulk mail imprint. We’ve tested this idea with multiple clients and found that prospects who receive direct mail inside an envelope are more likely to take action.

Time and again, our clients see people walking into their sales centers carrying the direct mail piece. They pulled it from their mailbox and held on to it. That’s a motivated prospect.

That’s the enduring power of direct mail.