Archive for July, 2009

In darkest Charleston. I am hacking my way through the copywriting jungle of value addedness, wearing my lucky Hanes V-neck undershirt and Batman boxers, and swinging a machete as dull as my writing ability. My noble but entirely expendable native bearers struggle under the weight of my cargo… websites for clients in real estate, home architecture, healthcare, wireless signal enhancement, commercial construction and residential HVAC.

Hack! Hack! Hack! said his critics

Hack! Hack! Hack! said his critics

The way is fraught with perils like panthers, poison darts and quicksand. The merciless noonday sun of approaching deadlines. The soulless black nights lit only by the LED of my wireless mouse. The false dawn of client commentary like, “We love it! Let’s change everything.”  The slogging weariness of extremely extended jungle metaphors.

We stop for a moment. I shake my canteen of creativity that grows ever lighter, and decide to swallow the last precious drops to write this blog entry, and it’s only Thursday. Lucky you.

Almost at the end of this piece…I push aside the last bit of brush. I raise my binoculars and peer across the clearing of the weekend into next week ahead and see…more of the same.

I have a bad feeling, Ndugou!

I have a bad feeling, Ndugu!

Just then my lovely assistant who I forgot to mention until now (let’s call her Raven) turns to me and says, “What now, MacGuyver? You build a unique selling proposition out of two adjectives and a piece of chewing gum?”  And I say, “Why? Do you have some chewing gum?”

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Not long ago I attended the summer blowout of a very famous  commercial cleaning and disaster mitigation business. Trust me, you’ve heard of them.  These are the guys that clean up after your business has had a fire or hurricane or something.

Big party, big beer-and-BBQ bash (because this is South Carolina, after all!) I met the principals, toured their million-dollar disaster-response RV, and had my picture taken next to their NASCAR racer (because this is South Carolina, after all!)

Afterward, I thought about e-mailing the principals, thanking them for the booze and cholesterol, and offering my copywriting services.  But, since this was ME, it didn’t happen. Besides, I am NOT a salesman. I work with several fine web developers, but I do NOT feel qualified to represent them.

Several weeks go by, and I get a call from one of my web-development clients. He has sold this same company on a new website, and now HE is calling ME for copywriting services.

And this is where the cryptic title of this post comes into play. As I said, I am not a salesman. I have never had a talent for approaching a lawyer, landscaper, or garage door installer and selling them on a new website. Instead, when I moved to Charleston SC, I decided to sell to the creative folks who make the websites for the lawyers, landscapers, or garage door installers. I let THEM do the heavy lifting and then contract ME. Not because I’m so clever, but because I know where my strengths lie.

It’s a niche, kids. Long ago I realized that I will never be Donald Trump. I will always be the guy selling concrete to Donald Trump. Or the guy who sells the aggregate to the guy who sells concrete to Donald Trump.

At any rate, it’s all good. I’m employed, the web designer is employed, and the client is getting a much fuller package than he would have if I had  approached him at the summer beer bash.

The way this gig worked out is a total justification of my entire business model. Hook up with talented designer/programmers, let them do the selling, and then I fulfill my role. Synergy! Or something.

Anyway, check out my kickass NASCAR picture! I feel like a true redneck now (instead of merely a West Virginia hillbilly!)

NASCAR Fan: “Awesome! What kind of car was it?”
Lively: “Ummm, a YELLOW one?”

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In interviews, and in general, I often claim that one of my strengths as a MarComm writer is “my ability to dive into an unfamiliar situation and quickly learn enough to market some product or service that I may not even heard of a week before.”
And the person I am speaking to says, “Fascinating!”
And I’m like, “Thanks!”
And he says, “No, I think it’s fascinating that someone who writes for a living would open his blog with a 46-word sentence.”

Anyhooo…the Quick Study is a talent, and in the Agency Environment (another of my big buzzwords) it’s critical to your success and longevity. This is particularly true in these times when the $20K projects are all dormant, and you have to substitute four $5K gigs in their place.

My point (that only took 3 paragraphs to reach) is that there is a specific place where I learned these things—a tenacious little Dayton OH agency called Concept Company. Concept has been around many a moon and does a bit of everything…print ads, public relations, web development…for a variety of clients. However I think one of their biggest strengths is in locking up a really arcane niche: Graphic Arts, or GA for all you abbreviators out there.

GA is pretty much anything involved in printing and packaging:

  • Commodities like ink and paper
  • Services like printing, labeling and converting
  • Capital items like presses, splicers, and feed/rewind devices

Glamorous, no? Um, no.  But to me, that’s the genius of it.  My samples are full of Concept/GA projects, as well as other Concept projects in manufacturing, defense contracting, real estate, sporting goods, and so on. So take a look at some samples. And visit Concept Company’s site today! (a call to action, even…I really did learn something there!)

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eat the mic. eat it!

eat the mic. eat it!

Interviewing seems to be in the air lately. Not as in “job interviews”–though I had an interesting one last week.  Instead, I am talking about the interview that gets the story for whatever print, web or video project I am working on.

It seems I am doing  one of these discovery interviews every four days or so.  So much so that the trusty Sony microcassette that I swiped fell into my bag at T*y*ta finally gave up the ghost.  I went and bought a sweet little digital number with 30 hours of storage or something.  It’s endless hours of fun scrolling through the chapters looking for that interview with, “you know, that GUY… at the PLACE….with the THING?”

As I have reported before, I have a long history with interviewing. A couple hundred thousand miles, in 100 or so hospitals, offices and nursing homes across this great land of R’s.

It seems that every one of my stories that is a) shocking, b) bizarre, or c) not as funny as I think it is… happened on an interview trip. Such as:

  • The time our cigars set off the fire alarm at the Monteleone in New Orleans.
  • The time in Ontario CA when we were forced to land Donald Rumsfeld-style in the pitch black to find the airport closed, so the night watchman unloaded the passengers 4-at-a-time in a station wagon.
  • The time I asked that nurse in New Jersey what was that interesting perfume she was wearing? She breaks down sobbing: her dead husband’s cologne. Uh, stop tape.
  • And of course, the time we killed Snowball.
Love ya, Aunt Lu!

Love ya, Aunt Lu!

In other interview news, I now have 3 different video production associates in 3 different towns are getting into the Life Stories video thing.  I think the bulk of it is to interview your older relatives and get their stories on tape before they kick. It’s a great idea. I had at least one aunt I would have loved to know more about…(see photo.)

So that’s today’s interview ramble.  The final word goes out to the fellas in the audience. Healthcare interviewing is an odd niche, but it’s a great way to meet nurses. They may not wear makeup, but they also don’t mind when you reach up, down or sideways into their shirt to pin a microphone on them.  If that’s your bag, baby.

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Well, to be honest, it was an attempted Skype-ing. That’s what the fellow on the other end said: “I was going to Skype you, but I got too busy.” I thought to myself: I guess that’s how you know sh*t’s for real…when they make a verb out of it. I mean, they invented the proper noun, what, ten minutes ago?

For the uninitiated, Skype is an application that lets you make voice calls over the Internet–often for free. Lately, it has gained more popularity with webcam users like business teleconferencers, or your grandmother.

If you know your communication history, or if you’re just old, you know that they have been promising video phone technology almost since they invented the telephone itself. I remember seeing an Western Electric product brochure from 1965 in an antique store. Way down at the bottom it said, “and coming in late 1969…picture phones!”

no WAY did I find the exact piture I was referring to!

no WAY did I find the exact picture I was referring to!

So, what’s the damn holdup? Are we waiting for 1969 to roll around again? At this rate, I will be bringing home my LG picture phone from Best Buy in my Jetsons flying car.

Actually, it’s no mystery at all. Obviously, if you can watch 30 Rock on your iPhone, then the technology exists. I think the holdup is simply this: we would love to see the person on the other end…but we don’t want them to see us. And I experienced this first hand today.

As my associate and I made plans to Skype, he told me to leave everything on and he would try to dial me up. (Yes, I said “dial.”) Anyway, I began to panic. I am supposed to keep Skype—and my webcam–on all day waiting for him to dial me up? Would I have to “look presentable” or even “put clothes on?” Honestly, it bordered on an existential freakout.

I actually went so far as to compose a little tableau to shoot with my webcam…instead of me.  See pathetic quaint illustration.

Picture 6So, when it comes to the widespread acceptance of videoconferencing technology, I suppose I am part of the problem.

I guess I bring this up (and you had to be hoping there was a point to all of this) to ask, who among my legion of fan is using Skype? And…can I watch?

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Are you a hyphenated professional? I always considered myself as one. Once upon a time I was a shooter-editor, then a producer-director, a manic-depressive, a writer-producer and, more recently a model-slash-actress.

Lately, though, I have have been reassessing my status. And it’s a funny feeling. My mix of business is exclusively writing these days, for web, print and video. Since the video production for my church tapered off at the beginning of the year my lights, audio gear and non-linear edit system have gone unused. I did manage to make a few bucks renting out some gear. Otherwise, it gathers dust.

So, it’s a time of transition and, as I said, it’s weird. It’s not like I saw video production as my calling or anything–though, after failing out of engineering college, it sure saved my butt. And for the next 15 years, for better or worse, video was it, man.

As for the big transition away from video and toward writing, I believe I may have stayed in one place too long. I got a little restless.  I remember writing in the ITVA newsletter:

“After shooting my 10,000th hospital bed video, I began to notice subtle but alarming changes in my personality; things like strange apocalyptic visions and voting Republican. The aneurysm was the final straw–I knew I had to shake things up, to break my routine. Nowadays, when I show a nurse demonstrating, oh I don’t know, the foot brake function of a bed, I’ll shoot the wide shot as I normally would. But when I go in for the close up, I have her wear a different color of socks. Sometimes I’ll even use a dude’s foot–or maybe his hand. Believe me, it helps relieve the stress during those long re-edit sessions. Eventually I’ll be fired, and I won’t have to shoot hospital beds any more. Talk about a change of pace!”

Yeah, so, I got out of that, tried poverty for a while and then slowly built up the writing biz.  Now, instead of stultifying sameness I have a dizzying variety of work. And I do mean dizzying. More than once I have written to Jimmy at ABC Web Design with a project update—when I really meant to write Jerry at XYZ Web Design. Oh, and Jimmy and Jerry are blood enemies. Hilarity ensued.

But overall, no complaints. Not too bad for July 3rd, my forty-(coughs, muffles voice) birthday. 

Anyway, sorry if this post is 5% more rambling and incoherent than usual. I’m off to the beach! Happy Birthday America. And me!

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