Category Archives: online

“Driving Light” and the future of driving: New blog post for Plymouth Rock Assurance

Here’s a new blog post for Plymouth Rock…see more at

Questioning our car culture: “driving light” and the future of driving in Boston and America.

Given the high price of maintaining an automobile, the potentially negative environmental impacts, and the growing hassles of driving, isn’t it time we started questioning our car culture?

The Boston Globe recently published two op-ed pieces by regular contributors Paul McMorrow and Tom Keane on whether or not Boston can be less dependent on cars. See Can Boston be car-free? Click here for Paul McMorrow’s view; click here to read Tom Keane’s rebuttal.

You can have your car, and drive it too.

Should developers be able to respond to market demand for car-free (and potentially less expensive) urban housing? Evidence suggests that across the country there is a clear, long-term trend towards driving less or “driving light”— a new phrase popularized by Jackie Douglas, the executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, and mentioned in a recent Forbes article by Micheline Maynard, Consumers are ‘Driving Light’ by Choice and by Accident.

Massachusetts is leading the way when it comes to “driving light.” As Maynard and Douglas pointed out on RadioBoston, less than half of all trips in Boston are by car, compared to 84 percent for the rest of the country. Massachusetts, in particular metro-Boston, also has one of the lowest obesity rates in the country. Coincidence?

There are many factors behind this growing car-free trend, and not all of them are the lingering economic byproducts of the 2008 recession. Car ownership is down, especially among Millennials, the generation of young, technologically-savvy Americans born between 1982 and 2003. See the recent study by U.S. PIRG: “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future.”

Technology is changing our driving habits.

Younger Americans are using social media and other technologies to rethink their transportation choices, and the implications are fascinating for the rest of us. Online shopping, car sharing, and a host of new apps, from taxi services such as Uber and Hailo, to others that make it easier to plan trips using public transit, are catalysts for a car-free or “driving light” existence, as highlighted by U.S. PIRG’s “A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less.” Besides, taking public or shared transit allows us to stay glued to our smartphones, something not usually allowed while driving.

The future is here. Are we ready for it? Stewing in a massive traffic jam is not time well spent during a daily commute. So it may make sense to opt for a faster, cheaper, cleaner, quieter, less stressful way to get around. We’re hoping the trend to make city centers more people- and bike-friendly is here to stay, and hopefully policy makers and  developers will take notice. In Boston, anyway, they may have to, because it doesn’t seem  physically possible to accommodate the projected numbers of travelers driving in cars—and parking them in our city.

Will Millennials opt for cars as more of them have kids? Tom Keane, in his op-ed piece believes that’s when the siren call of the minivan can be harder to resist. Will they leave the city in droves? Or will they clamor for more street-side parking and fewer bike lanes?

If you build it, they will come (and stick around)

Business man commuting on a bicycle

Commuting on a bicycle

It’s doubtful that Millennials will abandon the city for the ‘burbs just yet. Once you experience the convenience and empowerment of living in a walkable city, it’s hard to opt for a more car-dependent lifestyle. Especially if cities continue to do more to improve their residents’ quality of life with more late-night trains and buses, smaller, more affordable housing, more bike lanes and other bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. Baby boomers and retirees, too, are discovering the joys of urban living.

Our story. Our Gen-X/early Boomer family made the move from the suburbs to the city with kids a few years ago, and we feel very fortunate we were able to make this lifestyle choice. The move enabled us to downsize from two cars to just one, and buy bikes—along with monthly T passes and Hubway bike share memberships—with the money we’re saving on a second car’s gas, insurance, car payments, and maintenance. We could easily add a car-share membership to the mix if we were so inclined—and we just may soon enough.

Because our kids live in an urban environment, and we don’t ferry them around by car—they’ve become quite independent. They ferry themselves, or come along with us by bike, on foot, train, or bus. We do use our car, say, for shopping expeditions or day trips—but more often than not, it sits quietly in our driveway.

Multi-modal transportation. You don’t need to look very far beyond the screaming headlines aimed at amplifying controversy to see that the reality is not about cars versus no-cars. It’s about the gradual, long-term shift toward a wider and healthier range of transportation choices that include a variety of transportation options including walking, biking, public transportation, shared rides, shared cars as well as privately owned and driven automobiles.

Get out and about, mindfully. Many people own cars and live in urban areas. But more and more urban households—by choice and by economic necessity—own one or no cars. Many of us are keeping our cars, however we are using them more mindfully, taking a second to stop and think “oh wait, maybe I can walk/bike/T there instead; it’ll be easier/faster/cheaper…” before grabbing the keys and getting behind the wheel

No matter how you choose to get around, we think it’s fascinating that this car-free trend is on people’s minds. What do you think? Are you driving less, and if so, why? Do you feel that “driving light” is just a fad, or does it signal a more permanent shift in how we get around?

Headquartered in Boston, Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation provides auto insurance to personal and commercial auto insurance customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Plymouth Rock is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in auto and homeowners insurance throughout the northeast.

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Filed under blogging, consumer / B2C, insurance, online, social media, web

7 Quick Bike Riding Safety Tips: blog post for Plymouth Rock Assurance

Sitting is the new smoking: So get off your bum and on your bike!

I’ve blogged about being a passionate urban cyclist before. I like to volunteer my time by writing for Livable Streets Alliance, an advocacy group that works hard to make metro Boston’s streets a safer, saner, healthier place for people to live, work, and play.

In that spirit, here’s a recent blog post I did for Plymouth Rock Assurance on how to navigate Boston streets safely on two wheels. You can read the post below, and visit their blog at

Why blog about cycling for a car insurance company? Less cars on the road = less accidents = lower premiums (provided cyclists ride safely, too, of course).

7 Quick Bike Riding Safety Tips

Cycling isn’t just for Spandex-clad roadies on fancy lightweight racing bikes anymore.

Businessman_On_A_Bicycle.jpgPlenty of people are riding bikes in business attire or in regular street clothes to get to work and run errands in and around metro Boston. Some of us (myself included) are even biking in heels…after all, it’s easier to bike in heels than walk in them.

If you’ve been out and about in Boston lately, you may have noticed how many more cyclists have been riding around our beautiful city. It’s not your imagination: there’s been a big jump in bike ridership. Bike riding in Beantown is up nearly 82% since Mayor Menino famously declared “The car is no longer king” at the launch of BostonBikes in 2007. We’ve seen plenty of positive changes since then: Hubway, Boston’s bike share program, recently celebrated its second year and one millionth ride. The city has also installed more than 2,500 new bike parking spots and over 60 miles of bike lanes, with more on the way. Yay!

To celebrate, why not get your bike tuned up (or hop on a Hubway shared bike) and come out for the 9th annual Hub on Wheels on Sunday, September 22nd? You can choose from a leisurely 10-mile loop or the more challenging 30- or 50-mile rides. All three course options start and end at City Hall in downtown Boston. Storrow Drive will be car-free, and you’ll be free to explore the city’s historical architecture and enjoy views of the Harbor (the “Hahbah!”) from your eco-friendly, two-wheeled perch.

In the meantime, here are seven quick bike riding safety tips:

  1. Signal your turns. Guess what? It’s okay to use your right arm to signal a right turn on your bike. It’s good to let drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists know where you’re going. Which brings us to tip #2…
  2. Be consistent. Real life bike riding is not a video game: Don’t bob and weave haphazardly through traffic. Stay on the right, or take up a full lane (if safe to do so), especially in intersections, which can be dangerous to navigate and can leave you vulnerable to vehicles turning right. Stay behind the big guys: if you can’t see truck and bus drivers looking at you in their mirrors, slow down, stay back and give them plenty of room. Chances are good you’ll still get there before they do, thanks to city traffic.
  3. Ride nice: Put a ring on it. Get a bike bell or bike horn. Let people know you’re coming up behind them by ringing your bell (nicely). You can also announce “On your left / on your right” (also nicely) when you’re about to pass someone on foot or on another bike. Be sure to slow down and give them plenty of time to react first. Smile and say thanks when they get out of your way…being polite is good karma.
  4. Follow the rules. Obey traffic laws (see tip #2 on being consistent). Want to get a head start on a long line of cars at a busy intersection? Get off your bike and walk it through the traffic walk sign. Stop at stop signs and check all ways for cars before you start to ride. And signal your turns!
  5. Watch out for opening doors. Be alert and observant about what’s going on around you at all times. Take those ear buds out and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t get doored: Give parked cars some room if you’re in a bike lane or riding in traffic. Drivers are still learning the rules around cyclists too. Drivers, truckers, and taxi cab passengers: please check for bikes before you open your door! You could save someone’s life.
  6. Bright lights, big city. Light up your bike like a UFO landing atop a Christmas tree on wheels. And skip the all-black urban attire, or wear a safety vest at night – NYC’s woman-owned Vespertine has some stylish, made-in-USA, safety accessories.
  7. Protect your most valuable asset. Show your brain and all that it does for you some love. Wear a helmet. Always! State law requires anyone 16 and under to wear one: No ifs, ands, or head butts.

Riding a bike is green in more ways than one. Many car insurance companies, including Plymouth Rock, offer low mileage rating factors, which can save you money on your car insurance. If you’re driving less, you may want to talk to your insurance agent about how low mileage rating factors work.

Have fun and ride safely! See you at Hub on Wheels…


Filed under blogging, consumer / B2C, insurance, online, social media, web

cheat sheet: writing style guide for Plymouth Rock

Here’s a quick how-to writing style guide I suggested Plymouth Rock hand out to all of its employees…the 10 commandments of writing, if you will. The plan is to create a one-sided piece that people can stick up in their cubes and refer to when they have to write something. This mini-guide is a companion piece to a longer, more traditional brand guidelines book–I wrote the sections on branding and writing in that as well; this little baby is an offshoot of that. Some cute writing spawn for the corporate masses.

Kinda cool, right?

Now the company will have a quick way to stay on-message and sound consistent (and smart) when they’re communicating to the outside world about the wonders of Plymouth Rock Assurance. Yay.

Cheat Sheet_v2To see a bigger version, you can click this pdf link: Cheat Sheet_v2.

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website for Le Gourmet Factory Cooking School

Chop chop! It’s nice to mix it up and take a break from writing financial and insurance stuff.

Check out this fun and fabulous website I wrote for LGF Cooking School.

The link is right here:

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 4.12.40 PM

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Filed under consumer / B2C, cooking schools, flash, food, online, restaurants, sales, web

Client Conference website: Eagle Investment Systems

“Driving the Continuum” wasn’t my choice for a title. It doesn’t mean much to me (my reaction was: “the continuum of what?”) but: besides the title, I wrote the website copy for for Eagle’s upcoming client conference. You can visit the site (and even sign up for the conference if you want to) at:

2013 Eagle Client Conference

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5 fabulous blog posts, and a smattering of social media strategies

I’ve become the chief blogger (bloggista? blogger-in-chief?) for Plymouth Rock Assurance and Bunker Hill Insurance. I’ve managed to shift their editorial calendars and voice to talk about interesting topics that impact car and home insurance customers: how transportation policy shapes our economy and our quality of life; how LED lightbulbs can be sexy (not by throwing a red cloth over the lampshade–that’s a fire hazard, hon); and “Are you getting hosed? Washing Machine Hoses 101” (I can’t believe Legal let me keep that title!)

Check out the links below for some examples of some of my most recent corporate blog posts:

Creating a transportation plan for 21st Century Massachusetts
Plymouth Rock & Thinking Outside the Parking Spot
Seven things you can do every day to stay safe on the road
Building a better light bulb: the new technology for lighting your home
Are you getting hosed? (Washing Machine Hoses 101)

A few thoughts about social media for business…
As the direct voice of your business, blogging is a great way to build more informal relationships with your customers and establish yourself as an expert in your field. This is your chance to think outside of the cubicle, to be more creative than usual and not so boring and buttoned up (yes, sitting in a gray carpeted cube all week will do that to you). If an insurance company can do it, so can you.

A couple of things to remember:

1) Be consistent about your social media broadcasts: aim to blog at least two times a week and tweet 5 times a day at a minimum. And…

2) Don’t go overboard. Don’t bombard your audience with too many posts and tweets, and make sure your digital missives are spot-on. Your web audience has a finely honed B.S.-detector, so having original, interesting content is a must.

3) Don’t be haphazard about your social media planning. It’s not something random to pawn off on your intern to do, because they’re “young and they get this stuff.” Do it right: hire someone who gets all things social media and loves doing it, or don’t bother.

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infographics tell the story

You’re the type to stay on top of the latest trends. Right? I don’t need to tell you that infographics are red-hot right now. Ooo-eee, honey! No matter how grown up and sophisticated we get, people still like to look at pictures when they read something. Graphics help us process information faster, especially now that we’re bombarded with endless amounts of data and news.

Infographics help companies look on-trend as they present otherwise dry information in easy-to-digest nuggets—kinda like the chicken nuggets of news (only without the pink slime). Infographics are also a lot more fun to write (and read) than more traditional print pieces, like brochures. Here’s an infographic I did recently for Plymouth Rock about why insurance matters, and why consumers need to have it. Click on this PDF link to see a more readable version:

[Designer: Julie Miller]


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Hello there! Thanks for stopping by.

How would you rate your marketing materials: your blog (do you have one?), tweets and posts, website, brochures, sales letters, presentations…be honest!

Do your pieces emphasize your business more than your customers’?  They shouldn’t.

Who is your audience? How are you trying to reach them? What are you trying to say?

What you write, and how you write it, is often the first impression your clients will have of your business. And ineffective or bad writing will be their only impression. Not to freak you out or anything, but your marketing is a reflection of you and your business–and how you do business.

Since 2002, Mercury Communications has specialized in writing and editing for businesses and financial services companies. My clients range from small independent retailers to some of the world’s largest corporations: hotels, banks, insurance companies…Check out my work, read my blog, and feel free to contact me to learn more about how I can help you and your business.


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July 25, 2011 · 8:44 pm

Merrill Lynch: “An advisor who knows…” series, Part 2

Those Merrill Lynch Wealth Management folks really get it. They care about who you are and what makes you tick; they know exactly what financial issues keep you up at night. MLWM advisors take the time to learn all about you and your family—but not in a creepy, stalkerish way, of course.

Besides knowing what accounts you have (and what you have in them), they know your phone number by heart.  They’ll be there for you and your family over the long run. And they’re not shy about calling you and keeping in touch—but only as much as you want them to…

copy targeting local markets (617 = Boston metro area phone exchange) for banner ad, possible signage

Here’s another banner ad targeted to high net worth individuals looking to give back, either by embarking on a second career, maybe for a nonprofit instead of at one of those evil giant squid firms where they made their money, or perhaps pursue their philanthropic interests full-time:

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Merrill Lynch: “an advisor who knows…” series

It’s pretty damn hard to get someone to click on a banner ad.

In this series by Digitas for Merrill Lynch, I tried to appeal to the emotional side behind the rather overwhelming business of saving and planning for your retirement…by trying to make a stressful situation and process seem more “zen.”

I wanted to convey the fact that ML advisors are real people who can help you achieve your long-term goals so you can enjoy the present moment even more—and who also probably happen to like frosted donuts. Alot.

The creative director forbade us to use the dreaded “Learn more” on any of the call-t0-action buttons, so “What’s your plan?” hopefully will prod YOU to push the button and get on board with your retirement planning…with a ML advisor, of course…if you’re an appropriately high-net-worth(y) individual, that is.

Here is the same copy for a national elevator ad campaign (so business people have something to focus on during those awkward, crowded elevator rides):

Looking at these delicious ads is giving me a serious craving for coffee and donuts — I wonder why?!

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