Fresh Content: TPG Delivers Magazine to Lumina Foundation

The latest issue of the Lumina Foundation’s FOCUS magazine, “Friendly Forces,” explores challenges encountered by military veterans who make the transition from battlefield to college campus. The Pulley Group was involved in every phase of the project, from conceptualizing and planning the issue to gathering information on college campuses in New Jersey, Texas and Arizona. TPG wrote all the copy, collected audio clips embedded in the online presentation and coordinated photo shoots:

In the winter of 2008, Ricardo (Rico) Pereyda prepared for his final mission with military precision. Behind the walls of his boyhood home, Pereyda placed blankets on the floor of his old bedroom. He wrote a letter of apology to his estranged wife and his parents, June and José. Then he lay on the floor, cocked a 9 mm handgun, placed the barrel of the weapon in his mouth and rested his finger on the trigger.

Pereyda hadn’t been himself since returning from combat in Iraq. A member of the U.S. Army Military Police Corps, he and his comrades performed dangerous security missions in Baghdad, Fallujah and elsewhere in and around the region’s Sunni Triangle. Pereyda’s platoon operated at a “high ops tempo,” the military term for a relentless pace of deployment. Teetering on the bleeding edge of war, Pereyda did his job and hung on. From February 2004 through March 2005, he encountered improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ambushes, mortar attacks and firefights. He bore witness to death and suffering at close range.

“It was a hellish, violent year, far beyond anything I ever experienced in the streets,” says Pereyda, who grew up poor in Tucson, Ariz. “You name it, we got hit with it.”

The unrelenting assault shattered Pereyda’s psyche. Once back in the States, he began having panic attacks. Pereyda sought relief in drugs, alcohol and isolation. “It was a miracle if I could get out of the house,” he says. “I would get panic attacks just thinking about going outside. … I had an enemy inside.”

His wife left him, and he lost his house. With nowhere else to go, he moved back home.

Lying on the blankets, he shifted the handgun from his mouth to his temple and back again. Unable to fire the final round, he flung the weapon across the room, curled into a ball and sobbed. He couldn’t bear the thought of his parents finding his lifeless body.

Read the entire issue at

Posted in Uncategorized on 08/06/2013 at 8:24 pm by John  |  Comments Off on Fresh Content: TPG Delivers Magazine to Lumina Foundation

Pink Slimed

Diction matters.

By now we’ve all heard about pink slime, the reclaimed beef product made from meat trimmings that are heated, separated from  fat, treated to kill bacteria and added to ground beef. Federal food inspectors have deemed the stuff safe. People have eaten it for years without harm.

Now, two months after ABC News reported on pink slime, the company that makes it is in a tail spin.

Beef Products Inc. announced this month that it was closing plants in Kansas, Texas and Iowa and trimming manpower at its corporate office, the Associated Press reported. It is drastically curtailing production of what it calls “finely textured beef.” Despite the absence of a health risk, the public’s focus on pink slime has been more damaging to BPI than the Gulf Oil Spill was to British Petroleum.

The big takeaway? For some observers, it’s the power of social media to galvanize millions of people around an idea and radically change public perception and behavior.

Fair enough. The Internet is a powerful medium. I suspect, though, that a similar series of reports aired when network television dominated electronic media might have caused people to recoil in a similar  way–if those reports called it “pink slime.”

Whoever coined the term, made of two simple, single-syllable words–a common adjective and noun–did so to devastating effect. People are first and foremost emotional animals, and the term “pink slime” delivered a ninja blow to the emotional solar plexus of millions of people. Hamburger eaters everywhere gagged.

BPI has made a rational case for its product, which is safe and environmentally friendly, in so far as it reduces waste. Logic didn’t stand a chance, however, and neither did finely textured beef.

This is a powerful lesson for communicators. To reach and persuade an audience, choose the right words and make an emotional connection.

Posted in Editorial on 05/15/2012 at 5:37 pm by John  |  Comments Off on Pink Slimed

An Inconvenient Truth

I received a telephone call earlier this year from the communications staff at a large association that represents and lobbies for some of the country’s most prestigious organizations. (For the sake of the association, I’m being intentionally vague.) They were calling to inquire about The Pulley Group’s availability to produce a cover story for the association’s flagship publication.

I was flattered. Then they mentioned the deadline, and I was terrified. They needed the piece in two weeks.

Upon regaining consciousness, I accepted the assignment. Two weeks later, exhausted, we delivered a well-reported, well-written cover story. The client was pleased, yet I was stumped. Why would a world class organization commission a cover story two weeks before deadline?

A few weeks later a third party shared with me the back story, or what raconteur Paul Harvey referred to in his inimitable way as the rest of the story. Long before the association had called on The Pulley Group, it had arranged with a freelancer to write the cover story. My source, who knows that person, told me that the writer withdrew from the project two weeks prior to deadline for unknown reasons. As fate would have it, I happen to know this person as well.

I don’t know why the writer called it quits, and I won’t speculate about the last-minute withdrawal.

There is, however, a clear moral to this story: Choose carefully the people who create your publications’ content. For many associations, foundations and alumni groups, the magazine is the primary means through which constituents know them. Don’t entrust creation of this vital communications channel to just anyone.

The issue here is about more than missed deadlines. More frequently, it’s about missing the mark. Is your publication’s content smart and professional or boring and mediocre? Do the stories engage readers or leave them cold? Does the editorial quality of your publication enhance your organization’s brand or detract from it?

If you are unhappy with the answers, perhaps you should do something about it.

Posted in Editorial on 03/27/2012 at 8:03 pm by John  |  Comments Off on An Inconvenient Truth

Damn Good Advice

A Madison Avenue maverick who served as the model for Mad Men’s Don Draper has good advice for advertising’s next generation of pitchmen. Building brands is about more than simply wowing consumers with powerful images on Retina displays. Somehow, words still matter.

So says George Lois, one of the business’s enduring geniuses. He showed up on NPR this morning to promote his new book, Damn Good Advice:

Even though the synergy between words and images is crucial, Lois always tells people just starting out in advertising that when concocting a great ad, the words must come first. “They look at me stunned,” he says. “They say, ‘No, no, you create these powerful visual images. Why would you think of copy first?’ I say, ‘Because, a line, a slogan should be famous.”

Words resonate. Stories move people.

Lois’s observation about advertising is no less true of other forms. Whether you’re publishing magazines or producing movies, eye candy will only get you so far.

Posted in Editorial on 03/19/2012 at 9:22 pm by John  |  1 Comment

Sweet Sixteen: Birmingham-Southern College

[During the next few weeks, we will post excerpts from our new book, Sweet Sixteen: Great Colleges of the South.]

Birmingham-Southern College

If Birmingham-Southern’s academic program is the foundation for students’ success, then faculty members are the pillars upon which nascent aspirations ascend. “This place has a native genius in the way faculty, programs and departments reflexively reach out” to young scholars, says Mark Schantz, the provost. “Students learn to become more intellectually adventurous while here.”

During a comprehensive orientation program, faculty and staff introduce students to the wide array of learning experiences available to them. “Faculty help students to find their intellectual connection to the college, to begin to navigate their career path and their new passions,” says Kathleen Rossmann, an associate professor of economics and vice president for enrollment management, who maintains contact with far-flung former students enrolled in graduate programs at places like Michigan Law School, the London School of Economics and the University of Arizona. “When we write recommendation letters, it is obvious we know the student. Those letters show the depth of our interactions with [them].” …

“There is a particularly close relationship between faculty and students,” says Susan Hagen, Mary Collett Munger Professor of English and director of the Harrison Honors Program. “Faculty are generous with their time in training students to do research with them.” …

Professors routinely help students navigate academic and career pathways. Ryan Melvin came to Birmingham-Southern to study religion and philosophy before going into the ministry. As a freshman, however, he took a physics course taught by a professor who recognized in Melvin “an interest and aptitude” for the physical science. “BSC helped me to decide what I really wanted to do,” says Melvin, who declared a major in physics while continuing to nurture his original academic interests.

“Physics is what I do,” he says. “Religion and philosophy keep me up at night.” …

Professors don’t simply guide students on their academic paths. They also walk with them. In the arts, that can translate into the college’s voice teachers giving a recital on campus or Michael Flowers, chair of the college’s theatre department,  playing the role of Claudius in a production of Hamlet. “Faculty don’t just teach what they do,” he says. “They do what they teach.”

Posted in Editorial on 03/13/2012 at 12:54 am by John  |  8 Comments

Sweet Sixteen, Indeed

The Pulley Group’s first book, Sweet Sixteen: Great Colleges of the South, rolled of the presses last month.

We couldn’t be more thrilled, for ourselves and our client, the Associated Colleges of the South.

The book profiles ACS’s 16 members institutions–arguably the best private, liberal arts colleges in the American South. ACS undertook the project as a means of bolstering the national profiles of  its member institutions, institutions o fpost-secondary education that had attained peerless regional reputations.

The challenge was to differentiate a group of institutions that had much in common. In general, small, private liberal arts colleges look very much alike, and they tend to market themselves as offering a more intimate education than is found at large research universities. To make their case, they point to smaller classrooms, professors who know the students, and opportunities for undergraduate research and study abroad. At small colleges, they say, students don’t fall through the cracks.

So what makes Sewanne: The University of the South different from The University of Richmond? What differentiates Hendrix College from Washington and Lee University? To answer those questions, we took what we came to call The Barbecue Tour, a southern swing that took us to the campuses of all 16 institutions. We spent time on their grounds, visited classrooms, met with presidents, faculty members and students. We got a feel for the places.

We learned that Sewanee’s campus includes 13,000 contiguous acres on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. Known as The Domain, the swath of Appalachia informs much of what happens at the college. The University of Richmond, tucked in a corner of Virginia’s capital city, thrives on contrasts. It’s a place that offers the “intimacy and engagement of a small residential college and the complexity of a university.”

We found that fraternities and sororities dominate the social scene at Washington And Lee University, yet at Hendrix College, in Arkansas, there are no Greek organizations. There are hundreds of similar examples.

On-the-ground research yielded the information that differentiated the institutions. In the writing world, finding the “telling detail” is like panning for gold.  In a crowded education marketplace, differentiating your institution from a universe of competitors is essential. In either case, hard work pays off.

To read or buy the book, visit ACS at

To read book samples and

Posted in News on 03/06/2012 at 4:15 pm by John  |  1 Comment

The Necessity of Editing

This is one of my favorite newsroom jokes:

An editor and a reporter are in a plane that crashes in a vast desert. They are the only survivors. When it becomes apparent that no one is coming to their rescue, the two men begin walking. Many hours later, they resort to crawling. Just as they are about to abandon hope, they spot an oasis. With their last bit of strength, they pull themselves to a cool, crystalline pool of water. The reporter dips his head and gulps madly, stopping only when he becomes aware of an odd splashing sound. Craning his head to the right, he is horrified to spot the editor, a short distance away, urinating in the water.

“What are you doing?” the reporter cries.

Replies the editor with confidence: “I’m making it better.”

A reporter/writer obviously wrote this joke. The truth is that writers and editors need each other, much the way rock singers and lead guitarists do. In both cases, however, the alliances can be uneasy. (See Jagger/Richards) Writers frequently carp about editors who alter their copy in the interest of “making it better,” while quietly acknowledging editors who have saved them from embarrassing mistakes –or worse. 

The larger truth is that clean copy doesn’t just happen. It is the result of a process that involves numerous revisions and, often, the efforts of multiple contributors.



Posted in Editorial on 03/02/2012 at 7:35 pm by John  |  Comments Off on The Necessity of Editing

Hello, World.

Welcome to The Pulley Group blog.

Our website went live yesterday, February 28, 2012. Our first post hits the blogosphere today, Leap Day. My intention is to post more frequently than once every four years.

The blog will have two primary goals. The first is to build a community of writers, editors and journalists and to maintain a conversation about issues of interest to them: grammar, editing, writing leads, story architecture, industry trends, etc. I look forward to a spirited dialogue.

The second goal is to apprise readers of news events. I’ll file these posts under “news.”

We look forward to hearing from you.

Posted in Editorial,News,Uncategorized on 02/29/2012 at 6:54 pm by John  |  Comments Off on Hello, World.