A friend of mine asked for help rewriting a profile for her online dating page. So, as with my marketing clients, I began by asking questions.
"What have you tried before?"
"What results are you getting?"
"What makes you so special to a potential suitor?"
"Who is your target audience?"
And there were many others, of course, until I had the full picture. She wanted better quality guys. Intelligence. A professional. Ones who would actually READ her profile. Ones who wanted a RELATIONSHIP, not just... well, you know. And then I asked her to send me her photos... to see how she was presenting herself.
They were nice clear shots, in a variety of poses... some fun, serious, whimsical, one with pets, and even a full body pose, to show her physique. All good choices.
"So where are the CAPTIONS?" I asked.
"Captions?" she queried back.
"Yes, captions. That's what most guys will only read. They will look at your photos, and then read short captions, if they're interested."
It's true. In fact, not just guys, but ALL of us are conditioned to look for pictures and then, if we want to know more, read a short caption. Not a huge, long verse. Just enough to accentuate the positive.
Yet we spend HOURS crafting every little word and nuance of the paragraphs we tweak over and over... paragraphs that probably are not even ranking an eye scan by most.
In this day and age, we are conditioned to cut to the chase. Look for the visuals first. A single picture DOES speak 1000 words.
But when you want to REEL THEM IN, and reinforce a point... give it a caption. A main headline. A single thought.
Why? Because the old advertising adage is still true: PICTURES ATTRACT. COPY SELLS.
It's a timeless rule of marketing. Images and videos lure you in. The short captions get you closer to saying "yes" or "no." Whether it's a date, a car, diet pills, a puppy, plumbing services or logoed fidget spinners. Captions seal the deal or get you to the next level, the next click, the next screen in the sale process.
So take good photos. Write upbeat, short captions with benefits, not just features. (And if you don't know the difference, get a good copywriter who does. Wink!)
It could make a world of difference between meeting your soulmate, or spending another Saturday night at home. Alone. Again. (Unlike my friend who's now happily dating "one of the good ones.")
Your ever-loving Captioneer...
My Dear Son,
In just a few short days or weeks, your whole world is going to change.
When they place that new baby angel in your arms, something amazing happens.
There's this primal, overflow of gushing love that will erupt from your core like Vesuvius on its absolute best lava day. You won't be sure where it comes from. Where it was hiding. But out it streams when you see her tiny squinted face, her delicate lashes, her perfect little... everything.
You thought you had protective instincts before? It's nothing like what you already feel about protecting your wife, your friends, family and even your country. This is your daughter. She will rule your heart and drive your decisions from now on.
You'll be DADDY. And an amazing one, I'm sure. You've had that kid vibe since YOU were a kid. You helped the quiet ones blossom. And calm the hyper ones. Now you'll have one of your own.
I am sure you're hearing - as I did when I adopted you - scads of advice that parenting won't be easy. It's not. But it will be the most rewarding, demanding job this side of Boot Camp. With even worse hours. HER hours.
And not only will she have you stepping to her schedule (at least in the beginning) but she will be WATCHING YOU constantly. From that first day, until your last.
You are now an example of what she will be, could be. You are teaching her the good and the bad.
You will be her guidepost… her starting-out place for choices she will make in her life. Choices that will determine her happiness, her well-being, her habits, her safety, her goals. Yeah, you’re in the parenting Army now… and you’re training this little soldier on HOW to live the right way, just by how YOU live. Scary, huh?
Not really. Because you’re a good man. With good values. Good disciplines. And you have a fantastic wife. You’ll both be great examples. You both are united in being the best parents in everything you do. Even when you both don't know what to do.
This parent thing is a whole new gig. No experience you’ve had … no army drill sergeant, physical training masochist, play-off driven coaches, SAT-score-crazed teachers, come-to-Jesus Sunday school lecturers or one of my loudest Banshee parental rants... will ever prepare you for what happens when the doctor passes this new beautiful life to you.
Because when her little hand grips your finger, it’s really your heart. It's hard to discipline what you love most.
But you'll learn to. For her sake and yours and Maura's. Because the best kids have firm boundaries, just like the best soldiers. But you'll figure that out, among many other things.
You won’t be perfect. You will make mistakes. But as long as you do what you feel is right in your heart, and you communicate and gain consensus with Maura, you will be just fine.
You will both be just fine. In fact, much better than fine. You have support. And love. And each other. Plus, a legion of family and friends who want to help. So don't do this alone! Speak up! Reach out. You asking for a break will be our joy, our precious moments with her. And you get to be that individual, that athlete, that movie-lover, that couple again, which is so important for your happiness and sanity.
Time will zoom by. You’ll wonder what happened to all those little moments you cherished. When she’s nestled on your chest. Playing in your lap. Riding horsey on your back. Wrestling with you on the floor. Gripping your hand to cross the street. Tugging at your car keys. Walking the aisle on your arm. And the whole time, held within your adoring gaze. At every stage of life.
Savor it. Savor HER.
And when you hit that rewind button on your life… you will mark some of your happiest moments as those surrounding HER. Sometimes the big things. But often just the little things that only you and she will know. Now that you will know the absolute bliss of this secret club called Parenthood.
Welcome to the club, my son. Welcome to the world of absolute joy that I entered when YOU were placed in my arms 28 years ago.
You got this.
With unending love and joy...
Your adoring Mamacita
Back in 1973, I was a wide-eyed Catholic school eighth grader who trekked to see her first high school musical at the "boy's high school" in our part of town. My best friend's sister was in the play... My Fair Lady that year. Being a South Philly city kid, I had only ever seen one other musical, when our 7th grade class bussed to New York City to see Jesus Christ Superstar the year prior. I was hooked, mesmerized. I wanted to be a part of a production like that.
So here we are, in the boy's high school theater auditorium, fiddling with our program, thinking this show won't compare to what I just saw on Broadway. But then the curtain rose, and we were taken on a magical musical journey into an English linguist's study, serenaded by spectacular singing actors, a live orchestra and a robust dancing chorus that resulted in two standing ovations. (And not just because their kids were IN the show. Because it was just that good. Were these all high school kids?)
Afterwards, we met the cast, and witnessed the flurry of post-performance joy swirling around the players... hugging, spinning, dancing, and crying the good tears.
At the back of the long hallway, there was a line of fans waiting to salute the larger-than-life director of the show - Frank Perri - and his always sunny sidekick wife Josie. To her bubbly contrast, Mr. Perri was a bulldog of a man, stately, proud, yet gruff with rippling jet-black hair and severe eyebrows to match. A strict teacher at Bishop Neumann High School, we learned he had also earned the reputation as a tough director who consistently transformed ordinary high school star-struck theatrical singers, musicians and dancers into Glee quality performers.
I HAD to be a part of that.
So, on a rainy Fall day in my first high school freshman year, I appeared - butterflies in tow - at audition day for the Neumann Players. I practiced show tunes all summer, belting out a duet with Barbra Streisand from my cassette player to her soundtrack of "Hello, Dolly," the next year's chosen show. Knowing that the audition also included dancing - the waltz and the polka - I coaxed my father to dance with me round our tiny row home living room for HOURS. Luckily, he didn't mind. One-two-three-and... one-two three, and... around and around.
So after hearing my name, there I stood, center stage - blinded by the glaring spotlight - squinting at the audition team, anchored in the center by the master show architect himself, Mr. Perri. He peeked at me over his jumbo 70's style framed glasses, sizing me up. All I could think of was, "Oh, God. You're a chubby freshman in a sea of gorgeous leggy talented upperclassmen, many who come back every year. You better sing like Barbra, girl!"
And so I sang. Then I danced with a partner - the waltz and the polka. Then I read some lines. And then it was over. "Next!" he belted. I clip-clopped down the stage steps, back to the herd of auditioners (to check out the rest of the competition.) Crap. These other girls were GOOD. I left feeling doomed.
The following week, a phone call. One I thought would never come. I made the show, as a member of the chorus!!!! No winning lottery ticket could have ever competed with that news! I would be on stage, as a FRESHMAN... a real Neumann player, among all that talent.
Enter rehearsal day one. A welcome speech from our director. As I began to discover, this man was part king, part marshall, and part ringmaster all in one. A seemingly stern, calculating, critical, and relentless showman who often stopped rehearsals because our performance wasn't up to par, we weren't paying attention, or we didn't know the song lyrics, or lines, or dance steps as we should.
That look of his said it all. The furrowed brow. The crossed arms. The critical stink-eye. His booming "not loud enough" jeers. His intense shushing when we got too loud in the wings. Or the reality check lectures when we were just too distracted. Too lethargic. Too robotic. Too timid. Too weak.
"Not good enough!" he would blare. "Do it again!" he roared. He was tough to please. Feared. But he was respected. Because he brought out the best. In everybody.
And when he did let his guard down - on holidays, at celebrations, during lay-back stage crew nights (while the elders played jokes on the newbies when they asked us to bring back a bucket of steam, or 30 feet of fallopian tubing...Ha-Ha!) - you saw the caring, humor-loving, giving man that he was, the appreciative and tender husband he was, and adoring father he was to his daughter Franny. (For a few minutes, anyway. Then back to work! Because the show must go on!)
As it did for 50 years. This man and his wife directed the Neumann Players for half a century. Even when the girl's school joined with the boy's to create the Neumann Goretti Community Theater, the Perri legacy lived on. He kept directing the productions long after he finished his formal teaching post.
But the Perri's provided much more than volunteer work for half a century. They created a home and haven for us theater kids to grow, thrive and be our best selves. A refuge from conflicts at home, at school. A forum to express ourselves. Exposure to the Arts. Skill-building. Team-building. Character-building. And the best friendships of our lives. (For me, my best and dearest lifelong friends Jerry and Vinny - who gave me away at my wedding - came from that first show.)
Ask any Neumann Player. They will tell you that the Perri's helped to create the very best HAPPY high school memories still cherished today. The kind of happy times we wish for our children and grandchildren.
Tomorrow, Mr. Frank Perri will be laid to rest at age 86, just a year after the Neumann Players officially closed its final curtain. I know he can still hear us. (He always did have an extra set of ears and eyes in the back of his head, didn't he?) So, thank you. Mr. Perri. You were an extraordinary man of mountainous talent, drive and dedication, who helped shape the performer I am today in all aspects of my life. For the funny and endearing stories you and Mrs. Perri and my fellow cast members added to my circle of friends. For the lifelong friendships that grew from the roots you planted in all of us. And best of all, for the shining example of what can happen when you GIVE... thousands of us have blossomed into solid performers on the stage of life, exuding the kindness, creativity and collaboration we learned because of you.
Take a bow, sir. And enjoy that heavenly curtain call right now with your beloved Josie at your side again. Well done!
Mary Ellen Pahlka Sokalski (Palkie to you, Mrs. Perri!)
Forever Proud Neumann Player
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.