Posts Tagged ‘Charleston’

Between the usual freelance load and my half-time gig at the Global Giant Consumer Electronics firm, the blogging has been next to nil. Well, the Global Giant thing is winding down, as the office is pulling up its Charleston roots and moving Up North. But it’s all good.

It’s been an OK ride. Good people, downtown location, good schedule, GREAT money, etc. But as for the work itself…meh. Unfortunately, conditions on the ground did not quite match the job description at the outset. It wasn’t a matter of misrepresentation, but some big changes in business conditions that shook up the job mix.

Basically, what promised to be a healthy mix of web, video, brochure, point-of-sale, trade show, special projects and technical writing became overwhelmingly technical writing. Nothing against tech writing, but it’s not my strong suit, and not what I enjoy.  You can read my thoughts on that here.

So, after enduring it for a while and pushing through some huge projects, I turned in my notice. The timing seemed right; freelance, which had been kind of sleepy throughout the summer of 2010, was making a comeback. I gave a healthy 4-week notice and suggested to my boss that he try to find a true tech writer to do the, you know, tech writing, and perhaps save me for the creative stuff. He agreed, and… and… and then they announced they were closing the Charleston office.

Funny, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you wail and gnash your teeth and cry out in anguish, “How much LONGER can I do this job?” Then you get the answer: four weeks. And you’re like, “Cool.”  So, I will be in the office until the first week in December or so, and then go home and wait for those creative projects the boss promised. Will they come? The office is supposed to be closed by spring, so we will see.

At every big serious gig I take, I am always trying to figure out “why I am here.” What is the lesson I am supposed to be learning? How will this benefit me in the future?  In some ways I think the “purpose” was that I needed to support myself throughout a sleepy freelance period.  Another thought was that I always said I could never, would never, do technical writing. But I did. I didn’t love it, and I never felt very proficient at it, but I did it. And I suppose I could do it again if absolutely necessary.

So, soon, it’s back to the full time pursuit of freelance work. And blogging more regularly, because I need to rebuild my Google strength.  So stand by for more pearly pearls of freelance copywriting wisdom, fans of freelance copywriting wisdom!

Contact livelyexchange (at) gmail.com!

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Greetings, my fellow ink-stained wretches! Long weekend here. I’ve flown my mother into Charleston for her birthday. So it’s four days of touristy crap for the lady who not only cracked the whip tirelessly until I finished college, but who also bought me my first computer. It’s the least I can do…trust me, I checked!  L8R…

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Can you (and by you I mean me) find writing jobs in the want ads? If you don’t live in New York, Chicago, or anywhere there are more people than livestock, I’m not so sure. Every town is different, of course, and there are different kinds of writing.

Take Charleston, for example. Type “writer” into the search box. Immediately scratch off the five “Service Writer” jobs at the local auto dealers. And you are left with about 20 legitimate writer ads a day. Sounds great for a town the size of Charleston (the #80 metro area.) However, I guarantee you 19 of those 20 ads will be for a Technical Writer.

Let me pause and say that there are jobs I can do and like doing. There are jobs I can do but don’t like doing. And there are jobs I can’t do well, and don’t care to improve because I don’t like doing them. Technical writing is the latter.

And technical writing is where it’s at in Charleston, particularly in government contracting.  It’s strictly “tab A into slot B equals cruise missile.” I have done a fair amount of government/military stuff, but it has been on the marketing end, for instance: “Somewhere in a far-off, dusty land the Liberty Gun stands a lonely vigil, tirelessly defending the freedoms we hold dear.” Hey, I just made that up…wanna buy it?

When you do find a marketing/advertising writer job, they tend to boil down to the following: “Looking for 23-year-old kid seeking first big break to serve as our entire communications department. Must be proficient in every software program created in the past 20 years. Strict adherence to AP style! Must love long hours, intense pressure and low pay.”

So, I tend to read the ads not to find jobs, but companies. A company searching for a webmaster, public relations director or publications manager obviously needs writing services. Do they need them enough to hire your freelancin’ ass? Well, that’s what you have to find out.

I try my best to associate a name with the company, which isn’t easy sometimes. First of all, half the ads are from recruiters (Hulk angry! Hulk SMASH!) However, if you are searching locally, there are times you can piece together enough clues to make a guess. They make a certain thing? They’re located in a particular suburb? Then it’s probably XYZ Corp.

Then I head to their website, if they have one. Their About page might have officer bios, maybe even with email links. Or, their News page might have press releases, at the bottom of which you may find “For further info contact Joe Blow, Corporate Communications Director.”

There you have it, my fellow ink-stained wretches. Use your innate creativity to turn your miserable job search into an exciting detective novel…and make looking for work up to five percent less humiliating!

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Somehow, I have managed to maintain a mix of copywriting clients of various sizes and workloads. There’s an ebb and flow; one client’s writing needs are down, while another’s are up. And over the years, I have managed to pay the bills. Not exactly rolling naked in obscene piles of money…just paying the bills. The other half of the equation is learning to not have bills! I also have several other useful tips like:

  • Marrying money
  • Being touched by an angel, and
  • Hiding jobs in a hollow tree until winter

Anyway, recently that thing happened that happens from time to time: more clients’ writing needs were down than up, and it was time to start beating the bushes even more than usual. So I started perusing these listing sites.

“Designers! Copywriters! Programmers! List your services here! Let the client come to you!!”

There are a bunch of these sites, and they each work a little differently: from a straight, yellow-pages type of listing, to a sort of RFP-type setup where you submit bids. And here is where it gets depressing. First of all, a typical client listing: “Need 100,000 words of SEO copy, budget $200.”  Right away you think, “Dream on, pal.” But, sure enough, not only are there 5 writers willing to do it for $200, there are 5 more with names you can’t even pronounce, from places like Bangalore, India who are willing to do it for $75!

So that was the beginning and end of my bid-site experience. Anybody else had any better luck?

PS…It’s Friday, and the fact that there’s no more Battlestar Galactica until frakkin’ 2009 is killing me!

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I’m late to the party, admittedly. But I just spent 5 weeks in blogger purgatory and, damn it, that experience had to have been for a reason!  I’m referring to spending hours each day writing blog posts or comments, as well as “informative” articles about topics related to a client’s product.

The point is to write fresh, SEO-rich content on the client’s subject matter. Finding a fresh topic requires a bit of research skill I liken to being able to “see the Matrix.” You race thru article portal sites staring at the screen, watching the glowing green characters cascade in front of you. Somehow, you see the nut of the story and tease it out.

Now, here’s where you separate the writers from the hacks (as that cranky bastard The Copywriter would say.)  Some pro bloggers simply lift the copy from someone else’s article. Others lift and then reword just enough to avoid plagiarism. Me, I lift the topic and then try my best to recall a personal experience, or a friend or relative’s personal experience, or something I saw on TV, and make something fresh out of it.

As I have tried to tell the aforementioned cranky bastard, the amount of “lift” vs. “fresh” can sometimes depend on your workload.  I was expected to churn out 15 200-word posts in two hours, followed by 15 to 20 comments in another two hours. I still managed to do much more “fresh” than “lifted,” but it was tough.

Anyway, having been through this experience, I am going to try to make something out of it. So, I am going to make another page of the site dedicated to blogging, commenting and article writing, and we’ll see what happens.  Fun and profits…I’m SURE of it!!

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When it comes to subject matter, there’s a first time for everything. Kitchen remodeling, competitive cycling, burial caskets…there’s a first gig, first assignment, first Google search for every topic. I’ve said it repeatedly; it’s one of my favorite parts of the business.

I just wish that some clients shared that enthusiasm. There was a marketing manager at a certain marine engine company in Charleston who actually took my call. It was going great until he asked if I had ever “done” marine. I hadn’t, so I launched into my First Time for Everything pitch. He wasn’t impressed. He said he would “get back to me,” but he “did not.”

The way I see it, a client like this is missing out on that first-timers energy, enthusiasm and zeal. The writer’s urge to digest and master completely new information can translate into exciting copy. And if I misquote a horsepower number or misspell “boat,” well, client dude, that’s what YOU’RE here for.

So, how do you break through that first-time stigma? I’ve ruled out “doing it on spec” and “lying about my experience.” Other than that, I’m open to suggestions.

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I have updated the site to include some samples of web sites I have provided content for. It’s a page of hot and tasty* links that resides in the Copywriting for the Web page. I’d like to highlight one of my favorites, if I may. It’s a self -promotional piece for the agency I worked for at the time. I like it for a couple of reasons.

First, you always hear about the cobbler’s kids who have no shoes, right? An agency often does stellar work for their clients, but their own promotional materials are pretty shabby, usually because they’re too busy and they aren’t getting paid to toot their own horn.

Second, in a small shop you sometimes get to stretch a little and use talents that aren’t in your day-to-day repertoire. I always liked to draw and, as I was storyboarding this piece, I kept tinkering until the storyboards became the story. Remarkably, no one said, “Hey! Those drawings suck a lot!” (more below)

Change Illustration

Third, it won a local Addy, due in part to some really groovy flash animation. The sample picture above illustrates how Change sneaks up on you, conspires against you in a secret alliance, and then votes your ass off the island. Note that I didn’t mention “subtlety” as one of the reasons I like this piece.

So, follow this link, then scroll down to the leather-bound book at the bottom.

*Note: Claims of heat and tastiness have not been reviewed by the FDA.

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After a weekend of decompression, and repeatedly washing the air of menace out of my hair, I am happy (or something) to say I am free of the SEO farm and a freelance writer once more. My shrink predicts I will need at least one therapy session per day worked, so I’m going to be on the couch at least until next Christmas. She says that writing down my thoughts might help, so here goes:

  • In the interview I asked if this was one of those 21st-century digital sweatshops I keep reading about. I was told it was not. I don’t think they understood my question.
  • What the job lacked in creative expression, it compensated for with nervous diarrhea.
  • It really made me nostalgic. Like, when they made me work on Memorial Day it reminded me of the last time I worked on Memorial Day, when I was 17.  Good times.
  • Bounce my paycheck once, shame on you. Bounce my paycheck twice, shame on me…and also you.
  • In the end, I’m not going to say the place was a Wehrmacht prison camp, but I did fantasize that the 8th Air Force would appear over the horizon to bomb the crap out of it.

Oh well…live and learn, kids. I have never named names, and I’m not going to. But to nameless bosses at nameless places everywhere, I leave you with the slave-management advice that Moses gave to Pharaoh: “The strong make many bricks. The weak make few. The dead make none.”

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Kevin: My God, what a hateful baby.

Dave: It’s like the whole of human suffering wrapped in swaddling clothes!

Back in the early 1990s, I used to joke that my life was great except for two areas: personal and professional. Trust me, I have no particular longing for those times. But I have tremendous nostalgia for my diversions of the day: 97X radio, Twin Peaks, ST: Next Generation, Reservoir Dogs, The Crying Game, early Conan O’Brien, Letterman when he was still funny, Mystery Science Theater…and the Kids in the Hall.

So imagine the spit-take a few weeks ago when I was watching Battlestar Galactica and a commercial came on for the Kids reunion tour, coming to Charleston! I raced to the computer and snapped up two tickets faster than you could crush a head!

Cathy: Kathy, how do you stay so slim?

Kathy: I’m tweeking on crystal meth! Look at my pipe!

Cathy: Oooh, it’s shaped like a unicorn!

And then came the trepidation. Would the reality match the nostalgia? I mean, does it ever? Night of the show…we pull into the parking lot at the Performing Arts Center. There are about four cars in the lot. There are maybe ten people in the lobby. I’m getting a sinking feeling now, like the time I saw Dick Dale at Bogart’s in Cincinnati and 12 people showed up. Eventually, though, the lobby filled up with groovers, hippies, students-for-life, emo kids, and other assorted freaks. In other words, a Kids crowd.

SuperDrunk: Oh man, what did I do last night?

Bartender: You saved the world, nailed a waitress and pissed yourself. But not in that order.

The show was incredible. Almost a black-box performance with very few props, just folding chairs and card tables mostly. Digital projection provided the scenery, as well as a few taped bits. The show was more than just a nostalgia trip with several of the old characters and a couple of old sketches. Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly that, but even if you had seen every episode, and I’ve come close, there was still fresh stuff to enjoy. And the writing—always my favorite part—hasn’t slipped a bit. Sure the Kids, like the rest of us (mostly me,) have gotten older and fatter, But they had the same manic energy that actually intensified as the show progressed.

“So, his attempted statutory rape of a retarded foreign exchange student was his way of telling me he loved me?”

(Insecure gay guy, suddenly feeling better)

As for your old favorites, there was Gavin, the weird little kid; Cathy and Kathy; the Chicken Lady; and Buddy Cole doing a monologue about Jesus being gay that had conservative Charleston laughing and squirming at the same time. Of course, the encore was an appearance by Mr. Tyzik, who is CRUSHING your HEAD!

Friends, I know I’m not doing the Kids justice here. All I can say is that if this gem makes it to a town anywhere near you, see the hell out of it!

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It figures. As soon as I launch this blog as a feeble marketing attempt, I manage to market myself into a full time copywriting gig here in Charleston. It’s a full time 1099 gig, though, so I can still cling to a shred of my freelance cred.

I’ve made this transition before, from freelance to full time. I think the last time, heading in to produce the daily Toyota newscast, was a little more traumatic. After three or four years I was unsure I could ever punch a clock again. Seriously, I nearly had a panic attack. (We pause now as my construction worker father reaches from beyond the grave to slap the sh*t out of me for being such a whiny bourgeois poop-butt. Also for using the word “bourgeois.” And for putting an asterisk in sh*t.)

I can tell you there are things I am definitely going to miss. (Thirty freelance writers shout at once: “Like teleconferencing in your underpants!?”) Well, obviously that’s the big one. But also all the monumental household projects that got done in the name of procrastination. The daily trips to Lowes. Going for groceries and forgetting half the items on my list and not stressing about it because, really, what else do I have to do?

So now I’ll be spending my days in the language factory, milling words and phrases to a .003 tolerance. “But where,” you’re probably not wondering, “does this leave your legion of fan? Where will I get my daily dose of bittersweet cynicism?” There’s likely to be an adjustment period, but I suspect I will continue to flog my blog, maybe on a M-W-F kind of schedule.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go say goodbye to the old farts hanging around the paint counter at Lowes.

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