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Archive for January, 2009

A while back I wrote that “A Copywriter Never Says No”:

Out of a sense of adventure…and economic necessity…you never say no to a copywriting project. This can lead you off in some interesting new directions. And you never know when a weird little one-off project will come back to be the basis of “my deep understanding of the industrial powder-coating process” on some future bid.

I am sure all of our resumes are full of these little “experience equations” that resulted in some opportunity down the line. Such as…

Produced videos in a medical supply factory

+ Did TV news in college

= Job producing daily newscast for Toyota manufacturing.

I once wrote web copy for a microencapsulation supplier. Hey, I don’t even have to explain that one, and it already sounds like science!  ME (for short) is the science of encasing one ingredient in a sphere of…hell, I don’t know…wax or something, and dumping the wax balls into another ingredient.  Then, at just the right moment of time or temperature, the wax melts and the ingredients blend perfectly. Ta-dah!  They use it in food, cosmetics, paints, etc.

Anyway, mastering that concept just well enough to explain it to potential customers and investors was the basis for another current web project. I can’t really talk about it, but “bio-engineering” sums it up…and sounds wicked-cool!

Once, at an agency, I did minor rewrites…or maybe it was just a proposal, for an existing electronics client, a very famous Belgian manufacturer of video monitors.  This, plus basic general experience with electronics from years of video production, led to an interesting current opportunity: writing  a website and PR for a really interesting (but secret) consumer electronics thing that could open up a whole new genre of home entertainment.

The point is not that I had a bunch of super-relevant experience to bid on a project like this. I simply spoke enough of the language, and had worked at the edges of a project for a famous name…which gave me the CONFIDENCE to bid.

I guess I am saying, reiterating really, it’s important to go after every bid you can. No experience is ever wasted. Don’t shy away from the unfamiliar… pursue it! Pursue it even if the learning curve means that it takes 40 hours to do, but you’re only getting paid for 25.   Especially in these times!

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Have a good weekend, and enjoy the Big Game! Of course, I’m referring to the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.  I have $100 on the Jack Russell terrier!

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I am never one to jump on the bandwagon. No, I am usually the one running at top speed trying to catch the bandwagon long after it has passed by.  There are too many examples to name, so I will just stick to the topic at hand: Social Network Marketing.

I didn’t get into the whole Social thing until it was my job to do so, back in the spring of 08.  In that position I:

  • Wrote fake blogs on various consumer topics to support advertisers’ websites
  • Commented on those fake blogs, as well as real blogs, and directed people back to my advertisers’ sites, and
  • Spammed the heck out of people’s MySpace pages for advertisers like bars, clubs and radio stations.

During that time I joined social sites like facebook and LinkedIn, primarily because it was part of the job…apparently a part of that job I didn’t stick around long enough to do.

Since returning to this vale of tears known as freelancing, I have been  passively noting the Social goings-on…what the kids might call Lurking. I have friended, linked, lived, loved and learned… but never really saw what it had to do with me professionally.  I have made a few observations, however.

  • The people who I have seen on facebook for months, yakking at all hours of the day about the weather, playing trivia games and posting pictures of their cats are the same ones now crying, “Laid off! Can U believe it? So unfair!”
  • The weird, competitive drive to have the most friends is present even on LinkedIn, which I always thought was the more mature, professional site of the two. Specific example: an agency guy I have been trying to hook up with for six years, but who has never answered an email.  A month ago, HE links to ME. But he still won’t answer my emails.  However, his friend count increased by one, so…hooray?

On the positive, useful side of the coin, I see people working the system to their advantage. One guy in particular, an agency friend in Chicago, has a tendency to note on LinkedIn everything he is doing…working on budgets, timelines, strategic frameworks and so on. Now, I don’t really care and, as a result, I thought he was wasting his time. But now I get it! He is on there so much that he has that elusive top-of-mind recognition, and is certain to be the person you call whenever you need…whatever it is that he does.

OK, I don’t have it all mastered just yet.  But I am taking the first step. I am posting this entry, and then heading straight to LinkedIn to promote it.  That’s right, I have finally caught the bandwagon! This can only mean one thing: Social Networking is officially obsolete.

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feast-or-famineFeast or famine…it never ends.  Lately I have been wondering what sort of control we have over the business cycle.

You see, back in the spring and early summer of 08, it was definitely famine.  It was so faminely faminatious that I actually took a full time gig pulling a giant oar on an ancient wooden ship, feeling the sting of the bullwhip whenever my efforts flagged for even a moment.

Crappy job, but I got to work with Chuck Heston

Well, not that, actually…just its copywriting equivalent. That gig sucked so hard that, even with no other prospects lined up, I bailed after a month. I did get to keep the iron collar and loincloth, though.

I bring this up because it’s definitely feast at the moment, and for the immediate future.  I’m grateful because I know that God is looking out for me. But I also know that He expects me to do everything I can on the ground to keep the ball rolling.  Lately, though, it seems I finish some web assignment at 1:30 in the PM and I’m like “nap time!”  Or I finish up my corporate newsletter on Thursday evening and decide to take Friday “off.” And I see that, once again, I am becoming lax in that ongoing effort to “keep the pipeline full.”

I don’t need a prophetic dream of 7 skinny cows devouring 7 fat ones to tell me that these current conditions won’t last forever.  But, with no bullwhip for motivation, I have to force myself to remember what actions helped bring me into this current time of feastish feastitude. Then I open my trusty Excel spreadsheet and start harassing everyone on my list.

Every video production house, ad agency, web designer, programmer, and hosting solutions genius in Charleston, Columbia,  Charlotte,  Myrtle Beach…you get the idea, should be expecting to hear from their old irritant “Freelance Writer Seeking Opportunities.” I can see the giddy anticipation on their faces as they open Outlook, see my name and groan, “Oh man, has it been three months already?”

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For your weekend reading, please to enjoy some previous posts on this same tired topic.   Mmmm…feasty!

Self-promotion: It Never Ends

Mr. McGrumpy’s Copywriting Reality Check

The Self-Marketing Game

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It is an historic day. That’s not to say we haven’t had our share of history in the past few years…but it’s nice that this is something positive for once.  Today we will inaugurate our first African American as president.  I admit that, politically, this was not the result I was hoping for. But for America, given our history, it’s a pretty cool thing.

Now, I’m no champion of race relations. I’m FOR them, sure. I guess I have always taken the Christian-slash-Republican-slash-property owner -slash marketplace view, a confusing but workable philosophy that says:

  • We’re all God’s children
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Keep your yard nice and we’re cool.

Basic “human decency” stuff…I’m certainly no Freedom Rider.  I’ve tried to do my (very, very , VERY) small part by casting actors of color in almost every industrial video I have produced in the last 20 years. I have wondered why Friends and Seinfeld and Raymond and Frasier and a thousand others couldn’t have done the same. I watched with smug satisfaction as the marketing manager from TinyTown USA went flush with terror upon entering my studio to see that I had hired a black woman as her spokesmodel. And I cringed in sympathy as I witnessed a white auto industry executive complimenting a black auto industry executive for “being SO well spoken!” …not in 1979, but 3 years ago.  (I turned away before he could pat her head or give her a Milk-Bone.)

So, what does this mean to, or say or prove about America? Hell, who knows?  But a LOT of people said it would never happen, and here we are.

One thing’s for sure…the world is a tough neighborhood, and we can’t afford to fail. That’s why, despite my political leanings, I will be saying a prayer for President Obama today. I urge you to do the same.

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Snakey, wingy medical thing

Snakey, wingy medical thing

OK, I’m stumped. What makes a post popular, i.e., get hits? Is it the topic? The right mix of key phrases? Something completely accidental?

WordPress has some nice metrics hiding behind the curtains, but they don’t tell you a visitor’s intent.  Sometimes they don’t have to. For example, my film review of a certain little movie about a nice guy who falls in love with a lifelike s*x d*ll is still getting hits after 5 months…I won’t say for the wrong reasons, but not the ones I intended!

Or this next example: my post on healthcare communications, my most lucrative professional niche. This post from August 4 ’08, reprinted below, has been on fire lately.  Someone, or several someones is even using the illustration “caduceus”…the snakey, wingy medical thing, as a search term.

So, to my anonymous healthcare fans I would like to say, first, thank you for teaching me the name of the snakey, wingy medical thing.

Second, why don’t you cut  the secret admirer bit,  pull the trigger and actually hire me for a healthcare communications gig!!

Anyway, here’s the post in all its reprinted glory. Have a great weekend!

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…I traveled to over 100 hospitals in over 30 states. I interviewed healthcare personnel including executive level, nurse management, environmental, purchasing, floor staff, maintenance, and so on. The result was several dozen testimonial videos built around the timeless question, “Would you recommend this product?” Pretty standard fare, but which offered the opportunity to learn about issues and circumstances that affected their daily lives, and their buying habits…issues such as rising acuity, tightening reimbursement, patient and caregiver safety and so on.

LivelyExchange Health Care Communications Page

Everyone develops a niche, whether you intend to or not. For me, it’s health care communications.  Medical manufacturing, hospitals, nursing homes, home health, pharmaceuticals, insurance… I’ve had a long, complicated but fruitful relationship with healthcare as a copywriter, video producer, director…and even, briefly, a convention exhibits manager.

To me, a niche is a nice base of business; familiar but, hopefully, never stale. Like, when I’m stressed or under the gun or I have four projects going on and I couldn’t possibly handle another, but…oh, it’s healthcare? I can handle that.  I’ve done the research.  I know the players, the audience, the politics and so on.

Of course, there’s the potential of getting lazy or complacent. Or thinking that I know more than the client, just because I have been doing this since Mr. MBA was in junior high.

So, it remains a challenge… a comfortable challenge, if that makes any sense. Like I said, it’s complicated.  So, that’s my useless advice….develop a specialty. Be the best at something, if possible, or at least strive for it.

By the way, is healthcare one word or two? I’m trying to look authoritative, here!

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einstein-never-assumedThis is a preliminary follow-up to my last entry on the corporate newsletter. I say preliminary because the story isn’t over yet…but it did just get a little more interesting.

Previously on Battlestar Galactica,  I was told that two additional business units would be joining my client in contributing to the weekly newsletter. However, they would be doing their own writing and editing because “they have no money.” (Once again, cue the sad trombone!)

I resolved not to be a crybaby, and offered to help the new folks get started, free of charge, hoping that this good will might be repaid if and when budget money became available. I then sat down and blogged this episode, thinking that this “maturity” and “forethought” were the day’s lessons.

And then it hit me…Why was I was assuming these new people knew my rates?  Had they discussed rates with my contact?  Thinking for a moment, I doubted she knew my rates (I won’t bother to explain why…it’s a big company.)  Most likely, the new folks were just assuming that they didn’t have the budget for editing services.

Time for some edu-muh-cation!  So I wrote to my contact and laid out the basic numbers, as well as some generous incentives for the new folks to hop aboard.  Basically I could double my billing, which the three entities could split between them, and allow my original client to save about  30%.  What’s not to love?

My contact replied that she had no idea what she had been paying, and would be letting the new folks know, and I quote, “how affordable it was.”

There’s no happy ending yet, as this new information is still making the rounds.  Regardless, the lesson here is obvious: I assumed they knew my rates. They did not, but assumed they didn’t have the budget.

As Einstein would say, “Wir sollten das nicht getan haben!”  Or, I reckon we shouldn’t orta done that!

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pressTo recap: As I have mentioned once or 16 times, I edit a weekly corporate online newsletter.  The gig began about 18 months ago. It has its light periods and its heavy periods (I lose a lot of iron but, fortunately, I take One-a-Day.) In general, it is a relatively steady, and greatly appreciated average 10 to 12 hours a month.  Of course, I wouldn’t mind it being more.

So the email from my contact at the corporate newsletter definitely caught my eye. It started out most promisingly:

“Starting next week two other business units will be contributing to our newsletter…”

I started doing English-major math: one…plus two…is, um, three!

She continued, “I told them all about you, how you punch it up and make it all sound like one person wrote it…”

Yes, concise, entertaining, singular voice. Go on…

“…but they said they have no money.” (Cue sound of sad trombone.)

Sigh. When I originally sat down with the marketing director those many months ago, this was the hope. That our little exercise in value-added awesomeness would inspire other business units in this big multinational to start up their own newsletters, hopefully with me on board.

Hey, half a loaf, right? More like none of the loaf because they aren’t asking me to do anything.  My contact is going to add my stuff with the other people’s stuff. So, while this doesn’t hurt me financially, I am dead certain it is going to hurt the product. We are right back where we started…the classic corporate newsletter that is written by six different people of varying writing ability. The singular voice is no more.

What do you do in a situation like this? Well, here’s what I did: the mature, business-y thing.  I told my contact, “if these folks need any help getting started, any tips on style, send them to me…no charge.”

I figure, build some good will. Help them get off on the good foot. Take some pressure off of my contact. And, who knows? The purse strings may loosen eventually. In the meantime, I can only hope that my contact will tell her boss about my courageous, selfless act of value-addedness.

Hope, hell…I’m going to request it!

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