Archive for February, 2009

I learned a big lesson this week. I took on an unfamiliar topic and an unfamiliar work habit at the same time, on the same project. As Sheriff Taylor might say:


I was all happy about tackling this new biotech client. Big new client, new subject matter…just new, you know? And I have had some success in the past boiling down complex subject matter for regular folks.

In my enthusiasm, however, I ignored one important element of that past success.  You see, one thing I like to do when I write web content, is to nail down the introductory page. Whatever you call it – Landing page, Home, About, etc – this page is a microcosm of the entire site. It has all the DNA (so to speak) of the rest of the site, boiled down to 200 words or so.  So, I usually like to nail that one down, submit it, and then wait.  I don’t write another word until they tell me I have at least captured the essence of the company and their message on the landing page. This way, if it’s a complete air ball, I have only wasted a couple of hours.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen this time.  For whatever reason (maybe the client was blasting off for a long business trip and wanted to read on the plane…not unreasonable) they wanted to see as much as I could get done by a certain date.  I knew this was a bad idea. I should have pushed back, but did not.  So I sat down to write.

And, of course, it was all wrong. Eight web pages and 12 hours of wrong.  To his credit, the client was gracious as hell, not angry or suddenly doubting the decision to hire me.  And while it was depressing to see all the red ink on the pages coming across the desk at me, I could only blame myself for not following my instinct and doing it the way that works for me.

As I see it, clients aren’t just hiring talent and experience, they are also hiring a work style. Like I said a couple of weeks ago about taping and transcribing the discovery meeting: useful or wasteful, it’s what I do. I budget for that time, I bill it, and the client is aware of it.

So, consider this to be the latest instinct that has made the jump to an official work habit. “The writer will compose and submit a representative page that encompasses the client’s company, industry, ideals, etc. The writer will submit that page only, and wait for critique before continuing.”  BOOM!

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Have a good weekend. Enjoy the Oscars, but remember, Sunday is a school night (for everyone but ME, suckers!) Go Slumdog!!!

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As I keep telling those who inquire, I am definitely NOT setting the world on fire. But business is OK.  Things have picked up and, when you combine that with my usual lack of organization, fun stuff like this blog can start to suffer.

It’s the name of the game: juggling several projects at various points along their timelines. Complete first draft of project A, then take initial meeting on project B. Get C to first draft, then begin the draft 2 revisions to project A.  Edit the weekly newsletter, do some billing, do some marketing. And so on, gently down the stream.

I’m not a naturally organized person, but between the white board, Yahoo calendar and my super-deluxe leather- bound American Express appointment book, I manage to keep it together.  Most of the time, anyway.

It’s a challenge, but I’m certainly not complaining. Just giving my  legion of fan the 411 if my posts seems to be scarcer lately, or somehow lacking the mind blowing, heart breaking, bowel shattering clarity that makes you question why we’re here and what it all means.

So, please bear with me. For now, it’s back to work. But cheer up…there will be plenty of time for blogging when we’re living in VAN down by the RIVER!

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criticsxAs Dale Carnegie once said,  “Any fool can criticize, and most fools do.” But praise is infinitely harder to come by. I have made a couple of additions to my  Rave Reviews page , so it’s as good a time as any to re-post this bit from October 2008. Enjoy your tasty leftovers, and please join me again next week!

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Positive feedback, praise, kudos…in professional copywriting, these can be as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.  I’ve said it again and again: in this business the only thanks you can expect is to get paid…and you’ll wait six weeks for that.

Still, on occasion you will write something good enough, or have a client cool enough, or BOTH, that you will get a crumb tossed your way.  On those rare occasions over the years, I made sure to collect and store these tasty morsels for future use. What sort of future use? I assumed I would figure that out…in the future.

Welcome to the future, kids…the future of shameless self-promotion! I have composed a Rave Reviews page on this site for your perusal. So give it a cursory glance and try not to hate, haters. You too may someday earn a mild, begrudging expression of a client’s gratitude. But don’t hold your breath!

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In the picture above, one critic is commenting on my writing skills; the other, my Photoshop abilities. YOU decide!  ‘Til next time, the balcony is CLOSED, punks!

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email3Another new year, another marketing push. I have said previously that I am terrible about getting “comfortable.”  That is, getting used to a certain workload and just figuring that this is how it will always be. Then, I’ve slogged through six projects and it gets suddenly quiet. I open the front door and I realize I am alone in a burning desert, just like the family who didn’t buy Maytag. (now THAT was random!)

Well, not this year…and not in this economy. Even though things are plugging along reasonably well, I can’t afford to rest. Besides, self marketing is totally fun and not humiliating at all! (wink-wink emoticon goes here.)

So all the lucky folks in my great big Excel spreadsheet of harassment are receiving the following:

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I am a Charleston-based, Addy-award winning writer/editor of print, web and video copy for clients in:

Health Care Automotive Military/Governmental
Manufacturing Real Estate Home Improvement
Biotech Insurance Sporting Goods
Retail Non-profit Graphic Arts

I am always exploring partnership opportunities with design/ development professionals to help present a comprehensive suite of services to the client.

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…followed by a call to action leading them here to check out my resume and samples, and to bask in my warm, glowing, warming glow.

I like to think it’s brief and straight to the point for today’s busy professional.  Is it a good sell? I don’t know. Typically, it either hits their IN box precisely when they have a need or it doesn’t.  And, as I have stated previously, if I actually hear from them it usually means that they have visited the site. A lot of the “sell” is done and they are contacting me to talk about rates and availability.

So, if you have been drawn here by my rousing, patriotic call to action, I bid you welcome. If not, you have five seconds before Smithers releases the hounds. (I’m kidding…you have three seconds.)

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terror2In terms of readership, someone who posts twice a week should probably not pick Friday as one of those days. But this is when I have time. I’m usually done for the week by now. Either the newsletter is wrapped, or I am shooting off the approved final draft to the programmer. After that, blogging and then maybe some marketing.

But it’s an odd week, and I just don’t have the time. Instead, I thought I’d catch you up (all 25 of you, plus mom) on the latest and greatest in the project pile:

Aforementioned newsletter: That’s weekly corporate intranet newsletter for all you search engine fans out there.

Institutional Architecture website and brochure. Like, schools and such. The challenge is to never, ever, use the words Institutional Architecture …they hate that.

Biotech Website: A bunch of copy has been submitted. Typically, it lands on the client’s desk two minutes after he has left for a month-long tour of the Far East subsidiaries!

Property Management Website: Small job, but interesting. An honest client who is keenly aware of the low opinion people hold of property managers, and is combating it with actions, not hype.  Usually, the hype is Plan A.

Promotional DVD video script for large grocery retailer: Love doing video scripts! Ironically, this is the one that really bunched things up this week, as it went from “no real rush” to “is it done yet?’

Anyway, that’s the Friday scoop. And please don’t think I’m whining about my workload. You have to be WORKING to have deadlines…and I thank the Lord for that. Have a good weekend!

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By the way, the author is fully aware that he claimed to be too busy to post, and posted anyway (with pictures, no less.)  The author hopes you appreciate this sacrifice (and, also, irony.)

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Obviously, we all have a slightly different work styles when it comes to writing. How we gather information, how we get inspired. I have one method that I hesitate to reveal.  Not because it’s so inventive, but because, at first glance,  it seems to be a waste dubious investment of time.

The best $12 I ever spent.

Phone Tap: The best $12 I ever spent.

I refer to tape recording my initial discovery meeting with the client… either in person or by telephone with a line tap.  Afterward, I transcribe the call and distribute to everyone present and ask for any additional notes or impressions.

There are a couple of benefits to this practice:

Digesting a Corporate Culture: At your initial discovery meeting with the client, they will dump on you every brochure they have produced in the past ten years.  It’s almost always T.M.I., man! How much of this stuff matters? More specifically, how much of this stuff matters to THESE people asking you to do THIS job TODAY?  Best recent example: A Big Important Company with every reason to crow about their history…and lots of background material to prove it. In the meeting they said, “We know nobody cares.  Show a couple of dates, a couple of mergers, a couple of technological advances, and move on!”

Flesching Your Kincaid, so to speak:  Ever write a page of brochure or web copy, then run the spellcheck and find that you are 35% passive, a 3 on readability, and writing at the 12th grade comprehension level?  Come on, it can’t be just me!  Parenthetical phrases, five-dollar words and other examples of fancy-schmancyness abound. Now, spellcheck an interview transcript. Zero passive, 65 readability, 7th grade comprehension. Truly, you are writing the way people speak.  That’s usually what I am after, so I try to preserve the language as I transition from transcript to copy.

Breaking the Back of the Story: I don’t know how I came up with such a dire name for this concept. Considering the frustration you feel when trying to find your inspiration, it’s a pretty good title.  In this instance, transcribing an interview and arranging it into neat sections and ideas is the perfect activity while you are waiting for the inspiration to arrive. When it does, you will have all the dumb little details organized. You have broken the back of the story, and now you can throw your head back and laugh maniacally as the guts spill out! Charming.

Drawbacks? Of course, this takes time. I am a decent typist (for a boy!) Indeed, my two index fingers are a blur on the keyboard.  But it can be slow going. But I budget for it, and I always tell the client to expect it. And, for all the reasons stated above, I feel it’s worth it.

Besides, when this copywriting thing falls through, it might make a decent plan B. Did you know that thousands of court reporter jobs go unfilled each year?!

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