Recent Posts

A Few Tips to Stay Out of the Grammar Slammer


Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

Book review by Michael Premo, Content Strategist


In her book, “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen,” Mary Norris, a long-time copy editor at The New Yorker magazine, has found a way to make reading about grammar interesting and fun.

I know what you’re thinking. How can a book about grammar be fun? Well, it is and especially when she writes about quirky coworkers and famous writers, who argued with her over the use of commas, hyphens, and other grammatical rules. In her book, she tackles big questions, such as when to use a colon or semicolon and devotes entire chapters to spelling, dashes, and other parts of speech that often confound us.

Over the years, I’ve grown to understand most of those rules, committed them to memory, but it’s still frustrating as ever. There are aspects of the English language, especially within our lexicon, that can be mindboggling. Spelling is one of them.


Spelling, Ugh!

In grade school, I was a horrible speller and hated diagraming sentences. It didn’t help that English is a rat’s nest of contradictions—exceptions to the rules and phonetic madness. Algebra seemed easier or at least more straight forward than learning parts of speech and punctuation.


“The English language is full of words that are just waiting to be misspelled, and the world is full of sticklers, ready to pounce” – Norris


Norris points out that “A misspelling can undermine your authority.” This is absolutely true. There really is no excuse for a misspelled word, especially with autocorrect. Yet, spelling mistakes do happen, and homophones are usually the culprit.

Even for the most attuned with this crazy language, spelling can be elusive because we may be a little too confident. While editing a story, Norris admits to changing terrine to tureen. Both are, in a way, similar, but tureen is much more common. “I had a skeptical streak and an ego,” writes Norris. “and at some level I thought that if I had never seen a particular word it didn’t exist.” Confusing one word for another can happen to the smartest of us.


“Spelling is the clothing of words” – Norris


I thoroughly enjoyed Norris’ telling of historical events that surrounded the orthography of the American dictionary. Samuel Johnson was England’s lexicographer; Noah Webster was America’s. Much of our language today rests upon their efforts centuries ago.


That or Which? Who or Whom?

Many writers fall into the trap of using that for which and which for that. It took years for me to understand their proper usage. Their definitions are fairly clear, but according to Norris, and some of the greatest writers of our time, when to use them is more ambiguous. She devotes an entire chapter to deciphering this conundrum through instructing us on what exactly a restrictive clause is, and what an independent one looks like.

The same can be said for who and whom. To know the difference, you’ll need to understand that who is used as a pronoun for “the subject or the predicate nominative, and ‘whom’ when it’s a direct object, an indirect object, or the object of a preposition.” A predicate nominative? The object of what? You’ll understand them better once you’ve read this chapter.

Yes, we should understand the difference and use them properly; however, as Norris points out, there are situations that are not as cut-and-dry as we’d like to think. There is also a movement to use “they” and “their” for a singular-genderless pronoun. My takeaway from these chapters was that we shouldn’t get so down on ourselves if we make a mistake when using pronouns because it’s not as easy as it seems.


To Comma or Not to Comma

The serial comma (aka The Oxford comma). Our teachers made sure we use the serial comma or else suffer those dreaded red marks. The Associated Press style guide says it’s okay to leave it out unless it causes confusion. I want to leave this one open for comments because my opinion can be swayed either way.


“One test for whether you need commas to set off a group of words is to see whether the sentence will stand without the phrase or clause between the commas” – Norris


Norris explains how some of the most famous American authors, specifically Melville and Faulkner, used commas as pauses of breath. “Charles Dickens is a prime example of a writer who punctuates by ear,” writes Norris. They were comma-philic. Their editing skills wouldn’t jive with today’s standards.


The Grammar Slammer

Sure, we’ve all read those jumbled sentences and understand what they say, but try that in an email to your CEO. I think not! You’ll end up in the grammar slammer.

While working in a professional environment, your credibility is on the line with each email that you write. There are grammar sticklers everywhere because proper grammar is the foundation of clear and concise communication.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss because the more you learn about grammar, the more complicated it gets. You start second-guessing yourself. You search the internet for a definitive answer on a tricky question, yet come up with too many opinions. Just remember that it’s a learning process, one that lasts a lifetime. Don’t believe me? Then read Norris’ candid book about how grammar has evolved over the centuries and how it may look years from now. I promise you will learn a few things about our language and reinforce your knowledge on things you already know. Plus there are some laugh-out-loud moments. Norris’ book gives us a personal and informative look at the American language in a very unique way that makes it fun and interesting.

Pinstripe Book Shelf: “Why Is Your Name Upside Down?”

A couple years ago the Pinstripe team attended an event hosted by American Advertising Federation of Tampa Bay. Held at the Art Institute of Tampa (always a wonderful place to visit), the event was called “An Evening With David Oakley: Stories from a life in advertising. By an award-winning creative director.”

When you don’t know who the person is that is presenting, you don’t know what to expect. We definitely didn’t expect David Oakley, at 6pm on a Thursday night in Tampa, to be an incredibly charismatic creative person who told some of the best advertising stories we’ve heard. He was simply hilarious. And to top it all off, he gave everyone a copy of his book, Why Is Your Name Upside Down, which we just finished after losing it in the shuffle and recently rediscovering. This turns out to be a good thing, because it reminded us all over again just how funny David Oakley is and how much we aspire to his lighthearted irreverence, passion for serving his clients, and ability to turn just about any project or proposal into a joyride for all involved.

Why Is Your Name Upside Down, David OakleyThe book recaps in short story form some of David Oakley’s best stories of his work with his own agency, the well-known and respected Boone/Oakley in Charlotte, NC. Seldom does one person possess the ability to both WRITE a great story and TELL a great story, but Oakley shines in both formats. He writes the way he speaks, which somehow works in his case. The stories are easy to read and you can put the book down for a couple weeks and not worry about forgetting where you were. Just pick up at the next story and you’ll remember why you loved this book in the first place.

If you’re an agency pro or work in advertising and marketing at all, you’ll appreciate the anecdotal accounts of the mishaps and successes of his agencies. Even if you’re not in the industry, you’ll get a kick out of his wild ideas and execution, his ability to create buzz out of blunders, and his seemingly tireless sense of positivity.


Pinstripe Bookshelf: Creative Quest

I have never considered myself a creative person – at least in the traditional sense. I’m not a writer, designer, photographer, painter, songwriter or chef. In my career, I rely on my creative problem-solving abilities, and the “I know it when I see it” side of creativity when directing marketing projects, but I’ve always admired truly creative people. Those who create.

In my efforts to cultivate creativity, I often listen to podcasts and pick up the latest books on the subject like The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Cutmull.

I’ve found my new favorite. Questlove’s Creative Quest.

I have been a fan of Questlove for a long time. Most people know him as the leader and drummer of the hip hop band, The Roots. In addition to their role on The Tonight Show, he has written several books including a memoir, has the most encyclopedic knowledge of music, has designed products, teaches, and is apparently quite the foodie. He’s one of the people I’d invite to my celebrity dinner party.

Creative Quest is an insightful journey through the creative process and the work of being a creator. Through personal stories and those of his famous creative friends, Quest covers finding inspiration, overcoming blocks, and honing the tools to not only be more creative, but to create better work. He thoughtfully explains the value of finding great mentors and building a creative network, and perhaps most importantly for artists, how to deal with criticism which can be “destructive to the creative ego.”

The first step in creating is re-creating – making a version of something that already exists. The first time I saw The Roots play a popular song with classroom instruments on The Tonight Show (I think it was Call Me Maybe back in 2013), I thought “how fun! how creative!” and with the millions of views these videos get on YouTube, I’m sure they’ve introduced new music to a lot of new listeners by making the songs fun and approachable. My favorite is the Sesame Street theme song.

One of the book’s insights that really hit me is the notion that we don’t know how to be bored anymore. We have access to entertainment in the palm of our hands 24/7. We’ve lost the ability to be quiet with ourselves and embrace boredom, which “represents pure, undiluted time in all of its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.” Wow. What a concept.

I was also struck by a study he references that indicated that the more rested and alert a person was, the LESS creative they were at their task. When the mind is sharp, it is less likely to be creative. Huh. And all this time I’ve been defending my eight hours a night!

I am so glad I decided to get the audio version of this book as Questlove provides thoroughly entertaining narration that had me laughing out loud in my car. I can’t remember the last audio book that I ‘highlighted’ the pages of (pausing and making notes on my phone so I could go back to those sections). One of my favorite lines was when he told a story about D’Angleo and his songwriting, saying, “If you x-rayed his creativity you would find those songs in there glowing from his bones.” What a visual!

Everyone who will listen to me has heard my recommendation of this book. If you are traditionally creative or, like me, wish you could sharpen that skill, I encourage you to download the audio and treat yourself to some tools and inspiration. With a few chuckles on the side.

After you’ve listened, I’d love to hear your thoughts.



Pinstripe Book Shelf: Self-Made by Nely Galan

self made nely galan inspiration_news

Don’t Buy Shoes, Buy Buildings: Lessons from Self-Made by Nely Galan.  Back in October of 2017, the Pinstripe team attended the Women’s Conference of Florida (read the recap here.) One of the most memorable presentations of the conference was the very first one – Nely Galan. This vibrant, exciting woman gave us energy, confidence, and drive. We walked out of that room feeling empowered! She’s one of those people with an infectious energy – she makes you want to take your day by storm. Her parting gift to the entire audience – a copy of her book, “Self-Made: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich in Every Way.” Needless to say, after that presentation, we couldn’t wait to read it.

Self-Made – The Woman

Nely Galan, daughter of hard-working immigrant parents, built her career on engendered hard work, positivity, and by learning from her mistakes every step of the way. She gave herself solid role models and was goal-oriented; she was constantly setting her goals and asking herself the question, “will this get me closer to my goal?” about every move she made. Sometimes she took a step forward through her decisions, and sometimes a step backward, but she always kept her eye on the target. She also continued to update her goals to keep up with her own growth – here is one important lesson from Nely: check in with your goals often – you may find that they change over time and as you grow.

Self-Made – The Book

Her book is essentially an expanded version of her presentation – each chapter contains a lesson or a self-realization goal and a series of stories from her own life explaining how she achieved or learned the lesson. Many of the chapters also feature stories about other women succeeding using similar techniques or approaches. Overall, the book is just like Nely, energetic and full of positivity.

A few lessons:

  • Channel a role model (even if you’ve never met them) – in tough situations, ask yourself, “what would Michelle Obama do?”
  • Buy buildings, not shoes – Nely is all about being smart with your money, in particular investing in real estate
  • Failures are lessons – don’t be afraid to fail
  • No matter where you come from or what your background, you can become a powerful, self-made woman
  • Revisit your goals often
  • Don’t rely on a hero or Prince Charming to save you or support you – be self-made!
  • Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can offer freedom

One problem with a book being like a person is that Nely has a certain presence that is charismatic, her voice is uplifting, and her energy is palpable and contagious. The book alone would not have had the same impact if we had not seen her in action. I am not usually a self-help book reader, but Galan’s presentation compelled me, irresistibly, to read this book. So powerful were her words and spirit that even a skeptic was led to spend precious reading time on a genre outside of my preference. I was not disappointed, but not astounded either.

To sum up this review – if you like self-help books and need a boost of positivity and energy, I recommend reading this book. If you can see Nely Galan presenting in person to supplement the book, even better. There are no Earth-shattering secrets, no profound lessons in this book. It is refreshing and fun to read, but it can get repetitive and reinforces many things we likely already apply to our daily lives – work hard, work smart, have confidence in yourself, and spend/invest wisely.

Cultivating the Best Customer Experience

cultivating client relationships

There are satisfied customers – those who have received their products or services and are content with their purchase; there are dissatisfied customers – those whose expectations have not been met; and then there are off-the-charts fans of your business – those clients who have received memorable, exceptional customer service and products. Can you think of the last customer service experience you had that made you a raving fan? Creating this type of memorable experience for your customers does not have to be difficult.

Use Failure as an Opportunity to Improve

We all set out to make our clients happy with the work we do, but we don’t always succeed. Failure to make a client happy with your product or service is not a failure at all – rather, take it as an opportunity to create an even stronger impression. Think of client dissatisfaction as the best time to show just how resilient, patient, and cooperative your company can be. Use negative feedback to improve your future operations and customer service. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you will only get better.

cultivating strong client relationships

Say it with a smile – being personable and passionate goes a long way in great customer service.

Customer Experience is a Part of Your Brand

Great customer service should be a part of your package, not an afterthought. If you find yourself constantly patching up problems and messes, then it’s probably time to re-evaluate your approach. Think of good service as a part of the product you are selling – people are buying your product or service over others because you offer the complete package – a great experience in addition to a great product. Win more sales with great products, win customer loyalty with great service. Be passionate about customer service and show your customers that you care. Find a way to build excellent customer service into your process from the very beginning.

Leadership Leads Good Customer Experience

Realize that good customer service starts at the leadership level. If treating your customers to a good experience is not valued by leadership, then that will be reflected in other positions. Other hindrances to good customer experience are apathy, disorganization, and disengagement of employees. All of these are problems that can be solved by good leadership. Executives should provide training, assistance, and perks for good customer service. A solid client-centric program should have guidelines for providing good service, as well as protocol for addressing problems when they do arise. In the case of Zappos, for example, if clients don’t like the shoes they ordered, no problem! Just return the items with free shipping both ways. The problem of customer dissatisfaction is virtually erased, since they can return the product without worrying about being charged. When you have a great customer experience, it’s because that experience is built into the very culture of the organization, beginning at the top.

Check out a few of our favorite books on the topic of customer service:

The New Gold Standard – The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company

Zappos: Good to Great