9 rules for effective creative meetings

creative meetings
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By Adam_McLaughlin

Remember when you were little and playing a game with the neighbor kids, then they change the rules and say “oh yeah, I forgot to tell about…” or if you’re learning a new game with some friends and they say “I’ll start with the basic rules so we can get the game going, and I’ll fill you in as we go on the details.”

I get frustrated in a situation when I can’t contribute my best because the parameters aren’t clear, and when it comes to our creative meetings, our team has found some really effective ways to maximize our productivity and effectiveness in a short amount of time – the reason: we’ve all agree to play by the rules.

These rules are not meant to limit participation (like saying you can’t touch the soccer ball with your hands) but are rather to give us a clear playing field so we can get to (in my opinion) the fun part of brainstorming and creating an execution strategy.

This list is not the 9 ways to have a perfect meeting, or 9 ways your team has to do it.  Each team is different, has different players and is playing a different game (if I may continue that analogy).  Take these ideas and figure out what they look like for your team, how they get applied and what your team needs to add to be most effective.

You may be asking “Adam, what does this have to do with marketing?” My answer would be that effective meetings will help you achieve results. Not sure what I mean? Try these on with your team…

I’d love to hear how you’ve implemented these or what you’ve added.

1. Invite only the relevant players

If you’re playing football, and it’s the offensive line on the field, don’t invite the defense to the party. If your conversation requires one person, have a one-on-one meeting.  If your conversation requires everyone on your team except one person, honor that persons time and let them know why you’re not bringing them in if necessary, but don’t bring them in to sit in an irrelevant meeting. If you have a set meeting where everyone on your team comes together, then only discuss issues relevant to everyone, and save the others for later.

2. Have an Agenda

Be clear about what you want to discuss and who needs to be in the discussion about those topics.  Be clear about the order. Decide that information before you call the meeting.  Sometimes you may want to share that agenda before the meeting, and sometimes it’s relevant to get everyone’s initial reactions at the same time.  Whether you share it ahead or not, have an agenda.

3. Start on Time and End on Time

I find it odd that we used to talk about when the meeting would start, but not have a clear plan about when the meeting would end.  Based on inviting the right people and having an agenda, take a guess at how long the meeting will be and set an end time… this way people can schedule their next appointment or goals and tasks for the day after that meeting.

When that time arrives, END ON TIME!  If there is more discussion to be had, book a follow up meeting with some or all of the relevant people.

4. Everybody contributes

If you’ve hand-picked who will be in the meeting, they’re here for a reason. Everybody contributes.  We have some people on our team who are louder and some quieter. Some who process out loud and some who sit and think.  Some people who want their opinion to be considered, and others who are happy to find a way to support whatever decision is made.  Regardless of those factors, everybody contributes.  After discussion and when a decision has to be made, go around the table and ask everyone what they’re suggestion is.

If you have a team member who likes to process, ask them last, once they’ve heard everyone else’s input.  “Whatever the team decides” is not contributing, because if that’s your answer, you didn’t need to be in the decision meeting.

You could help that person by asking “If the decision was yours, what would you choose?” or if they say “I pretty much agree with everyone” then ask “How do you see yourself participating in implementing.” or “What would it look like if we made a different decision?”  Learn to hear what’s not being said and draw the input out of that person.  They have a unique perspective that is valuable to the team.

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What is brand personality?

What is your brand personality? Hint: It’s not your personality. It’s not your team’s vibe. It’s not the look and feel of your product. It might not even be what you had in mind when starting your company.

Start by describing your brand as if it were a person. Make a list of keywords that describe the personality and how your want your brand to be perceived by your target audience. How do you want to make your audience feel? Often a brand’s personality is similar to that of the target audience.

You can take a quiz to help determine your magazine’s brand personality. There are a lot of free quizzes. Here is one.

Before choosing a brand personality, do some research. You need to know who you are, what your product is, and who your target audience is. Then brainstorm options like what kind of voice relates best to them. Once you have the voice, a brand guide will help keep everyone on track and create a consistent brand personality throughout every aspect of your magazine.

The below graphic from this website describes the process of describing your brand personality, and can help you get started on this simple, fun and extremely powerful early branding exercise, which is best done together with your team.


Personality vs. Identity

As you think about brand personality, don’t get it confused with brand identity. Personality is the emotional and human, association to a brand. Identity is the image created and used by a company to relate to consumers. An identity can include all forms of communication and visuals such as logos, colors or fonts.

But the two work closely together. A brand’s identity should be part of its personality. A fun voice and personality mean nothing if the logo and images are all very formal. It is important to create both a voice and visuals that work together.

Once you determine your personality, it’s time to start designing around it. Create a set of visuals that show off that personality and style. The key visual elements are color, typography and imagery. Just as words create voice, so do the visuals. Certain colors can make you feel happy or sad, fonts can be seen as feminine or masculine, images can be dark and mysterious, or inviting and happy. Other elements can be seen as emotionless.

Here are a few common elements from this website and their associations:


Warm color: Happy, inviting, stimulating, active

Cool color: Calm, relaxed, serene

No color: Stark, bleak, simple

Complementary color: Harmonious, soothing, trustworthy

Contrasting color: Bold, active, impactful, chaotic, energetic

Saturated: Intense, bold


Serif typefaces: Formal, trusting, mature

Sans serif typefaces: Informal, agreeable, modern

Script typefaces: Typically feminine, elaborate, special

Uppercase type: Impactful, bold, pushy

Lowercase type: Informal, relaxed

Titlecase type: Trustworthy, solid, expected


Images with no borders: Informal, fun, surprising

Images with heavy borders: Strong, impactful

Images with fine borders: Expected, mature, honest

Other elements

Square elements: Formal, expected, mature

Rounded elements: Informal, fun, casual, modern

Alignment: Common alignments are more formal (left and justified), while right and centered alignments are more casual and chaotic

Space: More space creates a sense of organization and harmony while tightly packed elements seem cluttered and chaotic

Now that you have your brand personality figured out, go further with these 20 questions to consider when creating a brand identity.

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By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

I was struck by a line in the obituary for Simin Behbahani, an Iranian poet. “The danger, she knew, was in doing the censors’ work for them, by heeding the voice in her mind that had begun to warn her: ‘Don’t write this, they won’t allow it to be published.’” (The Economist, August 30, 2014, p. 78)

To be honest, I was unaware of Simin Behbahani prior to the news of her death. But I am thankful for her voice, and the voices of so many writers who have been compelled to share their thoughts from countries and cultures that attempt to squelch honest human voices. One of my favorite movies of the past few years is Wadjda (2012), written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female director in Saudi Arabia. Her work is both praised and condemned for addressing taboo topics. Wadjda is the story of a young girl coming of age in Saudi Arabia who pushes against the restrictions of being female; she wants the freedom to ride a bicycle, like the neighbor boy.

Those of us who write from cultures that value freedom of expression have no idea of the actual risks that creative voices encounter in being true to their calling in the midst of real restrictions. However, I wonder if everyone who engages in creative work is in danger of listening to the censor in her mind. Whether it is the novelist who wonders if his characters are too religious or too secular or too assertive or too much of any one quality that might offend some segment of society, or the artist who puts paint to canvas and reveals a juxtaposition of symbols that pushes the boundaries of acceptable society, each is in danger of self-censorship.

The dangers to creatives in some cultures are physical and potentially deadly, and I don’t want to trivialize the risks they take in sharing their voices. But even for those in freer societies, the danger of listening to the censor in the mind is benign sameness and safety. We are in danger of creating books, plays, movies and art that won’t get banned by any committee, but these works  won’t make people wonder and think and question and grow.

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By Nzandi Murry

English is my second language. That means I need to do extra work to keep my writing from getting stale. Over the years, I have tried many tips and tricks to become a better wordsmith. Here are some that have really worked for me:

Thinking with ink

Before I begin reading, I wear my thinking cap and keep a diary to jot down as many new words and phrases as I can. Then, when I am free in the evening, I revise my notes over a cup of green tea. For difficult ones, I make sentences in my mind or say it aloud, until they make it to my memory bank. This is especially helpful with phrases, verbs, and adjectives. For nouns, I google the images and register multiple pictures in my mind. This ‘thinking with ink’ approach works well for me.

Quizzing myself

This is the fun part. After I finish reading a book or any online articles, I ask myself some questions:

  • Why did I enjoy or not enjoy it?
  • What style did the writer use to catch the reader’s attention?
  • Are there any tips I can incorporate into my writing?

Self-assessment improves knowledge retention.

Variety is refreshing

While I have a list of favorite genres, I also like to add new topics to my reading plan. This calls for discipline and focus as I tend to get distracted when I read new genres that I am not very interested in. But, the return for sticking to my plan and finishing is a long-term reward. For instance, many years ago I read the Elsie Dinsmore series by Martha Finley even though I am not a fan of fiction. I loved it so much that I ended up reading L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables. I was going too fast and my friend had to tell me to slow down. I often surprise myself by enjoying genres that I thought would never make their home on my bookshelf. Variety is refreshing.

Just write

I write for a living, but even outside of work I write whenever I get an opportunity. Be it a product review, a devotional for church, Sunday School curriculum, or even helping high school students with a poem summary, I always seize the opportunity. I also journal a lot and write letters to my near and dear ones. Nothing can replace experiential learning in writing, I think.

Have more tips to add to the list? Please share in the comments below.

Note: MTI asked Nzandi Murry to tell us how she keeps her writing fresh. Nzandi is communications associate for Expressions magazine in Bangalore, India, where she is responsible for content creation and editing of the organization’s publications. She attended MTI’s recent online writing course.

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Making the leap from taking photos with a point-and-shoot or your mobile phone to getting serious with a camera body, lenses, a tripod, and other gear is serious business.

For starters, photography gear can be expensive…really expensive.

And secondly, there’s simply a ton of gear out there to choose from.

That means it can be hard to narrow it all down to the basic essentials of what gear you need as a beginner photographer.

That’s where the video above comes in.

Have a look, and follow along as professional photographer Benjamin Jaworskyj offers his tips for the first five things you should buy.

For a quick reference summary of each item, click on the link below:

  1. A Wide Aperture Prime Lens

  2. Backup Battery and Memory Card

  3. Tripod

  4. Camera Bag

  5. Image Editing Program

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Do you keep hearing different vocabulary terms about writing, but aren’t sure what they mean exactly? Get “in the know” with these definitions:

  • Analogy: A comparison drawing parallels of the concept being written about with a concept that the reader is familiar with, used to help the reader understand.
  • Angle: Indicates the major subject that is to be emphasized.
  • Anecdote: An illustration which is used in an article to help the reader picture an idea or to give life to an individual. A short, real-life story, usually used to illustrate one single point.
  • Article: A non-fiction composition, usually for a magazine or newspaper. An article has four basic elements:
    • lead – The opening paragraph, crucial to capturing reader interest. A short summary that serves as an introduction to a news story, magazine article or other copy. A good lead clearly sets forth the problem or situation the article deals with and demonstrates (directly or indirectly) why the reader should read the piece.
    • theme (thesis statement) – The point a writer wishes to make. It poses a question, or centers around a human problem.
    • body (plot, elaboration) – The body is the series of events that proves or disproves the theme. It develops the theme using case stories, quotes, and statement of facts, by organizing your points in order.
    • conclusion – Should relate back to the lead in some way by concluding the opening anecdote, by answering questions raised at the beginning or by summarizing the main points.
  • Audience: The people to whom you want to communicate.
  • Cliche: An overused word, phrase, or expression.
  • Copy editing: Editing the manuscript for grammar, punctuation, and style as opposed to content.
  • Deadline: A specified date and/or time that an article or news story must be turned into the editor. The writer’s deadline is important in the editor’s production schedule, which may include a copyeditor, a typesetter, a printer, and other personnel.
  • Description: The art of showing the reader how a person, place or thing, looks, tastes, feels, sounds, smells or acts. It is more than an amassing of details; it is bringing something to life by carefully choosing and arranging words and phrases to produce the desired effect. Description cannot be objective; it always delivers a specific and intentional graphic message to the reader within the context of the work in which it appears.
  • Editing: The art of generating and selecting, compiling and revising literary material and making it suitable for publication.
  • Editors: They are the “gate keepers” of publishing. They solicit and read articles (manuscripts) and decide what is publishable.
  • Essay: A short, literary, non-fiction composition (usually prose) in which a writer develops a theme or expresses an idea.
  • Illustration: An analogy, anecdote, or example that helps the reader understand a concept.
  • Interview: A research method in which the writer talks with a primary source. The writer should have some background knowledge of the topic (Preliminary research), know the interviewee’s official title, and be aware of the interviewee’s status in his field.
  • Mass communication: A process by which professional communicators use mechanical media to give out messages widely, rapidly, and continuously to intentionally bring across meaning to large audiences in an attempt to influence them in some way.
  • Metaphor: A figurative comparison that usually uses some forms of the word is, although the verb is not absolutely essential to a metaphor. It is generally considered a strengthened simile. “He’s nothing but a bag of wind” or “She’s a doll” exemplify this technique.
  • Proofreading: The process of reading composed copy to identify and correct errors in that copy.
  • Query letter: A letter asking if an editor is interested in seeing the article you would like to write. Briefly outline your idea and how you propose to handle the subject. Be concise, but complete enough so the editor knows exactly what you have in mind. Tell the subject, how you plan to write the article and what conclusion you will come to. It is not necessary to query about fiction.
  • Quotes: Quotes from printed material must be reproduced exactly as they appear on the page. Words may be omitted with the use of ellipses points—as long as the context is not changed—and incorrect spelling or usage may be acknowledged by placing (sic) after the word or phrase in question. When quoting material from a live interview or speech, the writer faces the decision of whether to correct faulty grammar or insert words for the sake of logic. When quoting published material, the writer should be aware of the restrictions imposed by copyright law.
  • Research note taking: When gathering material from printed sources, writers take time to digest what they read and then note key ideas in their own words. During this process, it is essential that the writer note page numbers, magazine issue numbers, titles of books, and other data so he can later supply an editor with his sources without a time-consuming search.
  • Rewrite: After you have written your article or story, you should go back at least once (usually several times) and tighten sentences by deleting excess words or changing the structure to make them read more smoothly. You also may have to change paragraphs, add anecdotes, take out ideas that don’t contribute or include material that will help your work have more impact on your readers.
  • Side Bar: A small article that accompanies the main article; it usually provides background or another angle on the subject.
  • Simile: A figure of speech based on comparison. In a simile, two things are compared to each other, generally using either the word like or the phrase as. . .as. The two things or person and thing being compared must be dissimilar in more ways than they are similar, since one purpose of the simile is to make the unfamiliar immediately familiar to the readers. For example, in his description of a student’s rented room, John Irving used this simile: “It was a cheerless place, as dray and as crowded as a dictionary. . .”
  • Slant: Slant distinguishes one publication or publishing house from another. It includes the types of materials used, theological differences, or the way articles are written to meet the needs of readers.
  • Tone: Set by the author’s attitude toward his characters or subjects; he chooses words and literary techniques to create the atmosphere he wants.
  • Transition: A passage in the story that leads from one section to another. It serves to give the article cohesiveness and logic. It can link either sentences, paragraphs or sections and is often accomplished by inserting words or phrases into a sentence or paragraph to connect it smoothly to the preceding one.
  • Verbatim: A term that means “in exactly the same words.” The term is often used in relation to direct quotations.

Get these definitions and much more in our manual on writing.

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We love to hear about your magazines! One of the ways we can connect with you is through our one-of-a-kind online directory of Christian magazines. Not only do we get to hear about your magazine, but we can connect with you and pray for you.

Here Are A Few Reasons To Join The Directory:
  • It’s free.
  • It’s easy. Just fill out this form.
  • It allows our visitors to get an accurate picture of Christian magazine publishing around the world.
  • It helps us learn more about your magazine, which allows us to better meet your training needs.
  • Writers looking for magazines to submit their articles to can find your contact information in the directory.
  • Seeing a list of magazine in your country or region encourages other publishers that they are not alone in the struggles of publishing.

Create your listing

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By Carla Foote

As an editor, I spot mistakes regularly – in the morning newspaper, on grocery store signs, on websites, and in brochures. Mistakes are everywhere.

Once I’ve spotted a mistake, I have to decide whether or not to point out the mistake. It is tempting to always point out mistakes, but that can make editors annoying friends.

If the mistake can be easily corrected, then I will point it out. Mistakes on websites are quick and easy to fix. When I saw an issue on a brochure that is going to be used for a year or more, I let the responsible person know so that when he reprinted it, he could correct the mistake.

However, when there was a typo on a flier that would only be relevant for a few weeks, I let it go. The organization was not going to reprint the flier, so it wasn’t worth pointing out the error. But the mistake still bothered me – I can’t un-notice errors.

If there is a process improvement that will prevent future mistakes from occurring, then I do usually point out errors. I might even mention that I am available for contract work!

During a beach vacation, I spotted a glaring error in a message scrawled in the sand. I just couldn’t resist, I had to add the missing letter. My husband still teases me about never turning off my editorial brain.

Read more from Fine Print Editorial

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It can be a struggle to keep up with emergencies and disasters around the world for accurate reporting. However, the website for Emergency and Disaster Information Service is a great resource with an interactive world map that allows you to click on icons that represent events such as cyclones, earthquakes, fires, etc. Each icon gives you the opportunity to obtain more details about the event.

Check out this resource on crises.

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Are you looking for some recommended places for continued learning about writing and editing? Check out these resources:



  • Poynter.org (lots of good training–much of it free–about reporting, writing, and editing, especially through a journalistic lens)
  • Copyblogger.com (this is for marketers, but it often contains some real gems about thinking through content and ideas and execution)
  • Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips (lots of good tips, insights, and thinking about grammar)