Archive for August, 2009

Somehow, within the span of my career, the business lunch has gone from being an indispensable part of the commercial transaction to being deader than disco.

Nostalgic? Not so much. Even at the peak of its power (think Don Draper, martinis, call girls, regret) the Client Lunch was a pain in the ass. Neither the client nor the vendor wanted to be there—it was ritual, through and through. And even if the vendor picked up the check, the client knew he would ultimately be paying for it.

As Lunch passed into memory, nobody really missed it. What replaced it was Value (for once.) Instead of packing up the entire project, driving an hour round-trip and laying out the portfolio amid the highball glasses and ashtrays, you could talk it out over the phone and actually get some work done.

So, when my client invited me to lunch to review the project, I was surprised. It had literally been years, but my curiosity got the best of me…sort of like opening a time capsule, or attending 70’s Night to Benefit AIDS Awareness or your softball team.

As I waited in the lobby and “20 Minutes Late” rolled around, the nostalgic charm began to wear off. I predicted the next milestone—the client would eventually roll in without a hint of apology.

And so he did. We were seated, and the waitress handed out the menus. Immediately he sputtered, “Damn! Look at these PRICES! THIS is why I gave up going out to lunch!”

So I ordered the side salad and water. The mindless chitchat began, and I immediately remembered the next business lunch truth: outside the project and the ensuing payment, I just don’t care about your life, dude.

An hour later, the waitress brought the check. Dude made a big gesture out of snapping up the ticket and, before the waitress could leave he said, “I’VE got this!” Then when she was safely out of earshot he said, “Yeah, so…give me seven bucks and we’re even.”

So, to recap: This business lunch Blast from the Past contained no Don Draper, martinis or call girls. However it was loaded with regret—mostly for the 90 minutes of my life I would never get back.

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The phone conference began with an introduction. “Mike, this is Dr. So-and-So. He’s a forensic psychiatrist.” I immediately thought, “Cool, a physician whose area of expertise is the interface between mental health and the law!” Unfortunately, between my brain and my tongue that changed to, “Cool! Just like Hannibal Lecter!”

After an awkward silence, the meeting proceeded without with very little cannibalism as we tried to hammer out the structure of the proposed website. The directive was simple, yet stupefying (for me, anyway): No selling. In a website promoting this gentleman’s services, there must be no selling, no marketing, no hype, no pitch, no comparisons, and no opinions. Right away, you know this site’s gonna sear your face off (and serve it with a nice Chianti.)

It’s example number one-million of a profession where simply saying what it is has been twisted into something negative: expert witness for hire. You’re a lawyer defending someone accused of…something dire. It may help to suggest that your client is not “all there.” (sorry for the legal-ese!) It may be especially helpful if it also happens to be true. So you hire a forensic psychiatrist to review the file, interview the defendant and then testify in court that the defendant is impaired in some way.

And then, as if on cue, the prosecutor will go all Perry Mason on the Doctor’s ass and hammer him with, “Why should we trust you? You’re just a witness for hire! Your website is too sales-y! And it employs flash animation on the home page, which is really weak!” Then the doc turns to the camera, does a facepalm, and moans, “I should have gone to LivelyExchange!”

That’s why it pays to hire the best, kids. And if you can’t get him, call me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put the lotion on my skin, or I get the hose again.

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My web marketing clients near Charlotte are turning the corner to complete-itude on this residential HVAC website I have been contributing to. A few more tweaks, maybe one more page of copy, another round of client approvals.  About this time, you usually start looking back, admiring the work in progress, counting your chickens before they hatch, and so on.

To wit, the project manager made some random comment about the name of the suburb this HVAC place is in. “Oh, when people see that name, they will think upscale, quality and superior service, and then transfer that image to the client…and your writing manages to capture that.” And I thought, “Um, yes, by accident!” Nobody told me anything about this particular suburb, and I am embarrassed that I never asked. Though I promise I will in the future!

Two things this illustrates: first, it can be a handicap doing business for distant clients over the web. Kind of like the brand new weatherman at a TV station that gets his big break the night of the killer thunderstorms. It’s his chance to shine, but he mispronounces the odd names of the local towns and looks like a moron because assholes production assistants (like me) misinformed him on purpose.

Secondly, I always say that it’s my job to add value for my client, and to paint the client as adding value for their customer. That often includes phrases like service excellence, not selling you what you don’t need, value at any price point, etc. Had I known this was a swanky suburb with a discerning, well-to-do clientele, I’d like to think that my prose wouldn’t be much different.

OK, maybe if they were doing an install in your double wide trailer, I wouldn’t have written “Our conscientious technicians always wear cotton booties so they never scuff your floors!”

And one more thing: when your client tells you how awesomely you have added value, you don’t have to tell him it was a complete accident. Just put it in your blog where no one will ever read it!

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A while back I stumbled across TweetingTooHard.com, a website that gives people grief for the dumb-ass things they say on Twitter. One tweet (gah! kill me!) caught my attention a few days ago, wherein some LA douche says, “The recession JUST got personal. Found out the value of the home I’m supposed to inherit next year is down by $600k!”

Nice. Unemployment is at 9.5 percent. Everybody I know is taking a pay cut, not working on Friday, and generally soiling themselves week to week wondering how long they will have a job. And for this moron it JUST got personal.

I must admit that I have been doing OK in this downturn. Unlike almost every agency or production house I have ever worked for, my eggs aren’t all in one basket.  I work for several shops that, individually, I know are scrambling every day to pay their leases and their people. But lil ol me? The balance of working for all these shops, with one up, and one down…it seems to even out. In no way is it a banner year for LivelyExchange, but it’s nobody’s banner year.

And then, as much as I hate to be one of those assbags who say “This recession just got personal!” …well, the recession just got personal. By the way, I also hate to be one of those assbags who say, “I hate to one of those assbags who say…”

Anyway, a really nice girl who I knew at the Nazi internment camp web marketing firm last year also Tunneled to Freedom and got a creative management job at a renowned local ad agency. And like a true friend, she started sending me writing gigs: a print ad and a wikipedia article. And things were looking bright. They were small gigs, and I undercharged for them, but I was relationship-building. Who knew where this might lead?

Who am I kidding? We know where this is leading! Last Friday an envelope arrived in the mail and, right away, I knew something was up. This just didn’t feel like a check.  And, by gum, it weren’t. It was a letter full of words like: “difficult decision…no longer able to operate…liquidating assets… unsecured creditors…chapter 7…” and so on. I had a morbid thought: with all of these choice keywords, this was like a perfectly optimized web article about bankruptcy!

But that’s where the laffs ended. I was officially out $170.00, my super-nice friend was out of a job, and somebody’s life work in building an advertising agency was in the crapper.

What’s the upshot in this tale? IS there one? My faith tells me there must be one. Because as much as I hated working at that Soviet gulag web marketing agency, I made solid connections. And I learned certain functions that now make up about a quarter of my income.  So, much good came of a crap situation.  I believe the same to be true in this instance.

But for right now, let me say that if you need a skilled graphic artist or creative services manager, your boy Lively can hook you up. In times like these, we Bataan death march web marketing firm survivors have to stick together. And, as we learned from the Simpsons, stickin’ together is what good waffles do!

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In the daily scramble of gettin ‘er done, I sometimes forget to take a moment to review the finished product of the web stuff I write. Much of it is down and dirty, none-too-memorable stuff, but still!

Long ago, back in the TV news days, my major complaint was that I never had anything to show for my efforts. The ON AIR light came on, a half hour later it went off, and the electrons or whatever scattered to the universe, never to be seen again.

So, as I changed jobs, I tended to archive to excess. This explains the boxes and boxes of videotapes stacked in my garage. This includes not only VHS tapes that I may possibly watch someday, but also the ¾” U-matics and Beta SPs that I might as well throw away but never will.

In those days I was the producer. I had the dub rack and the tape stock. I could archive at will. My freelance friends would regale me with stories about the cool things they had shot and celebrities they had met. I would say, “Dang, I would like to see a copy of that.” Invariably, they would reply with a snort, “Yeah, so would I!”

These days, I get what they meant. Do you think I would like to see the video I wrote for Dale Jarrett and Kasey Kahne? Yes I would. Will I ever? Probably not.  The client is 700 miles away, and has plenty to do besides run me that dub he promised me six months ago.

That’s the video scripting side of the business. But even the web stuff can be hard to come by. Some websites don’t take much detective work–XYZCorp.com is not hard to find. But the SEO articles? They seem to vanish into the mist almost as bad as a NewsCenter 7 broadcast from 1986.

Nevertheless, I have managed to track a few down for you.

So that’s a sampling. That leaves only several blogs, SEO articles and wikipedia entries-for-hire that I can’t seem to track down. Do me a favor and check behind the couch cushions, would you?

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