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Archive for April, 2008

Well, it snuck up on me yet again, and I barely had time to shop. I am referring, obviously, to Creativity Day. A revered tradition ever since I discovered it in a Google search three days ago, Creativity Day is celebrated in 46 countries across this world of R’s. It began in 2002 and is generally celebrated around the week of Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday.

I attended an ITVA conference (bonus points if you remember what that means) in Seattle many years back. Looking ahead, I realized I didn’t want to be hoisting 300lbs of video gear around airports when I was 40. So I decided to start developing my writing, which I had neglected since college.

I signed up for a seminar on Fostering Creativity. It turned out to be an hour-long tribute to Yoshiro Nakamatsu, the Japanese inventor whose name always seems to come up in these discussions. Dr. Nakamatsu is the Japanese answer to Thomas Edison (if Edison didn’t spend the second half of his life suing people’s asses off for patent infringement.) He is credited with inventing the floppy disc, the CD and the digital watch, and 3200 other things.

The details of this seminar are lost in time, but I do remember a few things. In his house (stately Nakamatsu Manor) he has a room made entirely of metal, a room of wood, an arboretum, etc. He meditates daily in each of these rooms, challenging his brain to adapt to each of these different environments. He also shakes up his routine, like taking a different route to work every day.

I recall an exercise that has stuck with me forever…and this was at least ten years ago. Try this… cross your arms, but don’t look. Which arm is on top? Whichever arm it is, that is the one that is ALWAYS on top. You don’t even think about it. Now, cross your arms and purposely place the other arm on top. It just feels WEIRD. That feeling, according to the mad doctor, is the sensation of new neural pathways being formed. Or something.

And so, there is a message of hope on this joyous Creativity Day. When the ideas refuse to flow (or maybe only flow in little clots) shake up your routine. It certainly can’t hurt. As for that dream of not hoisting 300lbs of video gear at age 40? Well, it was a nice dream, anyway. At least the equipment has gotten smaller…thanks to guys like Yoshiro Nakamatsu.

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Flesch-Kincaid, that is. I don’t remember when I first heard of the idea of “metrics” for copywriting. When I was younger I don’t believe I would have ever put the two concepts together. Of course, back then I didn’t consider myself a copywriter, but A WRITER, as in my (unfinished) novel or my (almost but not quite) optioned screenplay.

Sigh.

Anyway, however I discovered The Flesch-Kincaid Index, I have definitely embraced it. I don’t understand how it works, but it has become standard tool for me. It’s a benchmark I can point to, either for my own edification or to reassure the client.

If there’s one thing Japanese Continuous Improvement has taught me (more about that in a future post) it’s the importance of baseline measurement. So I write the first draft. Then, I hit F7 (spelling and grammar) and take the baseline. 12th grade level? 29% readability? Yikes! Then I go looking for the culprits. Sometimes they are evident. When they aren’t, I will run the tool on individual paragraphs or even sentences to narrow it down.

The same goes for client-supplied copy, and this may be where it really comes into play. Sometimes the client, who totally had to be sold on the idea of an outside copywriter in the first place, refuses to see what Mister Fancy Word Guy brings to the equation. That’s when I say, “Look, Hemingway. I’ve taken you down three grade levels, increased your readability by 50% and completely eliminated the passive voice. In your FACE, dude!”

I find the client appreciates that kind of passion.

For all you Flesch-Kincaidians out there, today’s numbers are: 4% passive, 66.8 readability and 6.7 grade level. I’ll take those numbers for a Friday!

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This is only vaguely related to copywriting, in that I write at my desk, looking out at the vast potpourri of nature that is Goose Creek. Anyway, this morning I noticed one of those big-ass crows swooping down to street level-then another, and another. Around here that usually means that some critter “up and got dead,” to use the scientific parlance, and now it’s snack time.

So check it out…

Snake
I did a quick search on teh intarwebs, and I am pretty sure this is a snake. Satellite imaging suggests it is about four feet long. Yeah, I guess you have to travel to Charleston to witness this level of natural, um, beauty. The closest I ever came in Cincinnati was having a rat cross my path as I sat in the drive-up line at Burger King!

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I’m new here, but making a living in video production in Charleston seems to be something of a scramble. And it doesn’t pay to be proud. I know established high-end pros whose typical schedule might include editing a corporate training video on Tuesday, videotaping a segment for Dateline on Thursday …and shooting a wedding on Saturday.

It follows that your client’s budgets will be all over the board. And there are times that you must get creative if you are going to make any money at all.

One of my clients had a thing for cue cards. From 8.5″x11″ to poster size, handwritten to 72-point font Word files. And, of course, it never worked, for all the reasons you can imagine. The need for a TelePrompter was obvious, but the budget never allowed it.

Once, with a shoot coming up on my schedule, I began to brainstorm the possibilities. I could rent a prompter system here in Charleston for $300 a day. I could try to choose from dozens of confusing software options to purchase. There were also several paper-based prompter systems to choose from, but it would definitely be a last resort. I still get nightmares about paper-prompting in the TV newsroom in the (late!) 1980s. Remember, where the long conveyor carried the hard copy past the single-tube black and white camera? At times, it was just like Lucy Ball in the candy factory!

As it turns out, the solution was even more low-tech than that–and definitely more portable. I built my own–see illustration!

The $29 Special!

I saw basically this same thing on the web for $250. I studied the picture, made some drawings, and then headed to Lowe’s. PVC pipe, some aluminum bar, some screws and a turnbuckle (I love that word!) Voila! Prompting goodness for the low price of thirty bucks, and it works perfectly. Sure, it looks like it will give you tetanus–but it works perfectly!

So, all you Tim Taylors out there-share your crazy invention stories with the rest of us!

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When I enter into a professional arrangement with a large corporation, I cross my fingers that an internal Project Manager is waiting for me on the other end.

The project manager is a corporate in-house gatekeeper to whom the various marketing, merchandising and training mangers turn. The PM is a “creative resource wrangler” that serves many functions beneficial to the company and the freelancer.

From the company perspective, the internal project manager:

  • Compiles, vets and maintains a roster of qualified creative talent
  • Matches projects to the appropriate vendors
  • Can field vendors’ general questions about company history, policies, philosophy and, equally important, politics!

From the freelance writer or producer’s perspective, the internal project manager:

  • Helps the writer or producer prioritize competing internal projects
  • Can be a vital sounding board when the project hits its inevitable bumps
  • Is a more credible figure when it’s time to poke or prod the client for a variety of concerns, including: payment, invoicing, getting paid, remuneration, gettin yo moneyz, and so on. (This is exactly what happened during a recent hair-on-fire emergency!)

It is a tremendous convenience to have a single reliable resource looking out for you in a huge corporation. And it is definitely a two-way street. The internal PM has many clients depending on him or her to provide them with a talented, professional creative solution. He puts his credibility on the line and chooses you. You return the favor by not only doing a great job but by keeping him in the loop at all times-during the highs and lows-so that he is absolutely up to the minute. This is professional courtesy, but it can also help prevent any he said/she said if things go rotten!

So, look for an internal project manager to empower/count on/whine to. If one doesn’t exist, help create one. Almost every marketing assistant is looking for a way to stand out and gain more responsibility. Making headaches disappear for managers and directors is a golden opportunity to do that.

I’d love to hear your experiences working with a big corporate client!

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Get ready for a mind-blowing revelation: Copywriting or video production for large corporate clients–companies with a marketing department as opposed to a marketing guy–can be rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Thanks, genius. What’s that mean?

The benefits are numerous. The corporate marketing or merchandising manager usually know pretty much exactly what they want to say-they just need a creative way to express it. All of the research you need usually arrives in a compressed folder or a UPS envelope. The typical MBA knows how to delegate tasks and, if you have earned their trust, they usually stay out of your hair. Best of all, with a Fortune 1000 company you usually don’t have to wonder if that $700 check is going to clear!

I sense a “but” coming…

On the other hand, when things veer outside of those “usually’s” it can get challenging. These managers are busy people, multitasking to the extreme. This script, website or brochure may be Priority One for me, but it’s more like Priority Seven for the manager. Getting your questions answered may prove difficult at times. And yes, you will get paid, but I didn’t say when. Remember that your invoice has to be signed and coded and sent to Accounts Payable by that very same harried manager.

So, um, yeah. That first example sounds better. How do you steer things in that direction?

Tune in tomorrow, or whatever the web equivalent of that is!

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Every now and then, I get the frantic call for an “emergency” video script from one of my corporate clients. Such a call came on a Monday about six weeks ago. Actually referring to them as “911 hair-on-fire emergencies,” the marketing manager wanted to shoot two videos in four days’ time.

You may ask, how many big important marketing videos, or brochures, or presentations pop up out of nowhere, to be delivered in four days? And given the liability and regulatory hassles these days, would such a script possibly make it through all the internal approval channels in that time? A cynical person (sometimes called a freelancer) might also ask, “Will that red alert sense of urgency include processing the invoice?”

For those playing at home, the answers are A) not many, B) not likely, and C) I laughed so hard that milk came out of my nose.

But what do you do? It’s one thing if “crying wolf” is their standard procedure. But if this is an otherwise dependable, regular client you treat it like the emergency they claim it to be. In this case, I dropped everything to deliver two first drafts in a day and a half. I included a note that said “send me your changes and I can get final drafts to you by end of day.”

That was six silent, lonely weeks ago.

Would you handle this situation differently? Let me know!

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