Posts Tagged ‘copywriting’

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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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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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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Remember what I said last time about just trying to keep a lid on things until my Cali trip? Ha!! So far this week…

  • I transcribed an interview for a new HVAC website.
  • I wrote some copy for the commercial custodial website.
  • I met a potential client by way of a Google hit. I’m not sure that has happened before!
  • I wrote another quote, this time for SEO article writing services.
  • It has been one of the heaviest weeks in the corporate newsletter in many months.
  • I have written several recommendations for colleagues on LinkedIn…because I questioned their value last time, and I think LinkedIn heard me!
  • I have been doing preliminary research for another round of technology blogging that I will have to hit HARD next week.
  • I got a travel and tourism site dropped on me first thing yesterday…and which has to be first draft by end of day today.

So, why am I taking time to blog? Because I am out the door to California for a few days. I don’t want to be responsible for the Disturbance in the Force that will result from my absence in the blogosphere (like 5 or 6 voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.)

So that’s the news. Until next time, think of me when the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.

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Here are a few random happenings at LivelyExchange Shadowy International Writing Cartel, a division of SarcastiCo.

  • A commercial janitorial website is turning the corner to complete-a-tude.
  • An HVAC contractor website is just beginning. I am interviewing the principals later today.
  • The healthcare sales newsletter rolls along, as always. Did I tell you that after three years, I have still never seen it live? It’s internal, obviously. Someone once sent me a frame grab once, that ‘s the only way I know that the thing actually exists.
  • Of course, the architectural brochure project creeps along.
  • I just picked up a regular (and much appreciated) writing gig, contributing to  a web marketing firm’s News page.
  • I have been ghost-blogging for a Charleston realtor. Lots of fun. She is all about the selling the charm of Charleston and, as I am still pretty new in town, I am learning a lot about my new home.
  • I have also been ghost-blogging for a mobile marketing firm. I am totally at sea on the high-tech subject matter, but I am slowly getting a grasp. Hopefully, not at straws.

From the “your guess is as good as mine” file:

  • I keep expecting the Business Courier article I wrote in April to pop up, either in Dayton or in Sarasota.  It was a 1200-word article about off-site data loss prevention as it pertains to natural disasters. I don’t know the status of the Midwest tornado season, but I do know that hurricane season has just begun.
  • Also, do you recall the biotechnology website from way back when? I do, sort of. It’s been completed for a while now, but has yet to go live. It should be a nice piece…I will definitely keep you posted.

In LivelyExchange news:

  • I have updated web writing Samples page with a few new links.
  • I added a couple of new recommendations on the Rave Reviews page. The newest entries are always at the top.

Speaking of which…Is it me, or are the recommendations on LinkedIn getting less valuable? I know people mean well, but recommendations are becoming yet another by-product of “friending,” and it’s getting pretty obvious.  “Dude! I haven’t seen you in 15 years and we only worked together for a month. Let’s swap recs!”

Overall, I am trying to even the pace, keep a lid on things, hold down the fort, keep my head above water and mix my metaphors for the next week or so,
until my California trip. We shall see…

Have a great weekend!

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A while back, I wrote something called “A Mile Wide, an Inch Deep” that described my approach to research. It’s tricky learning just enough to get the copywriting job done, but not so much that the budget is drained just on research.  Simply put, the client is not paying me to become an expert on his topic and, honestly, I don’t want to learn that badly.

Besides, I discovered long ago that there is a finite amount of space in this writer’s brain. Now at age (coughs, muffles words,) every time some new knowledge is added, it seems that an older bit goes away, just like the memory card in mom’s camera.

So, I need to absorb what I can, write the copy, and git! As they told Matt Damon in Ocean’s 11: You want to capture his attention, and then make him forget about you the moment you walk away.  I think I am remembering that line incorrectly, which proves my point. I have also forgotten my point. Sigh.

To illustrate, here is a website I wrote for regarding home appraisal reform, and new software for mortgage lenders.  I alluded to it last time, but wasn’t sure I have clearance to discuss it. Now, having read an announcement about it on LinkedIn, I am guessing it’s OK.

At any rate, I know next to nothing about mortgage lending, home appraisals or, for that matter, software. With that king-sized caveat in mind, take a look. See if you think I captured the essence.
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Cold calling: waste of time or complete waste of time? Honestly, I think it’s a matter of managing your expectations.

Out of a dozen or so clients I work with regularly, I have met 8 of them by way of the unsolicited cold-call email.  I think there are two keys here: first, you have to write a good letter. Second, what do they do once they have read it? How do you make the information stick?

I have said it before, but I think having this website is key.  If you are somehow able to lure a potential client somewhere, there should be something to see once they get there. So, once I got this site up and running and fully stocked with my resume, samples and client feedback, I started carpet-bombing the area.

How accurate is this method? Well, remember those Gulf War videos where the smart bomb would fly down the street, make a left turn and then drop straight down somebody’s chimney? Well, it’s not like that at all! More like when the 8th air Force would level an entire German city to knock out a ball-bearing factory.  It might take 300 bombs, but damn it, that factory was going down…the parking lot and the cafeteria, anyway.

But that’s life on the zero-budget marketing plan. This is how you roll when you have more time than ad dollars.  The reality that you MUST accept is this: you WILL send out 50 emails, and you MIGHT get 2 responses.

For example, last week’s campaign garnered 2 responses, which neatly represent both sides of the “timing is everything” coin:

First, the negative side, from a place I have harassed repeatedly: Three months ago, they were dead DEAD DEAD in the water but, of course, they would hold on to my information. This time, they had just hired a full-time writer! Obviously, if they kept my information, they kept it in a super-secret location where it wouldn’t be contaminated by work.

And finally, the one that makes it all worth the trouble… “Really? Awesome timing! I need a writer, like, right now!”  A small gig, for sure…as in, “the thing we are marketing is so fancy and so exclusive that you would think that his client would want to pay for some decent copywriting but apparently not.” Hopefully, though, it’s the beginning of a profitable relationship. We shall see.

Bottom line, grown-up, realistic word on cold-call emails: certainly not the most EFFICIENT use of your time, but never a WASTE of time.

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Do you see your career as a series of opportunities taken, or opportunities missed? That’s the question of the day. For me, however, it has been the question of my entire career.

I am just back from a working vacation to Cincinnati, where a bunch of personal and professional illumination occurred. Believe me, I am still trying to process it all.  But the professional stuff is easier and, uh, less personal… so indulge me, won’t you?

It may be hard to believe, but Cincinnati had been the target of all my aspirations when I was growing up. After college I moved there, started my career, and there were some very good times. And then, a whole bunch of bad stuff happened… much of it personal (and much of it my own fault) but with significant professional impact.  So I bailed out and, ever since, the place has been the object of profound regret.

As those times receded into memory,  I somehow managed to squeeze the anticipation and the regret – the before and after – closer together until there was no there there. And for years, I have been nostalgic for the career that once seemed to be on my horizon, and for what might have been.

If I had only gotten better grades. If I had worked that overtime. If I had really pursued that promotion. If I had the courage to move to (insert awesome city here.)  Things might be different now. This line of thinking is a powerful drug because it happens to be true.  If you had done anything differently the outcome, by definition, would be different.

But would that outcome be any more right? I don’t think so. Lately I have come to believe that A) things are as they should be; B) the story isn’t over yet and, ultimately, C) the ending is not up to me.

I assume there are people out there who graduated college and were issued a lifetime supply of career satisfaction… though I don’t know any. If they are out there, I hope they appreciate it and that they realize where that contentment originates.

I am not confident of that last bit. Too many of us think that our success results entirely from our own initiative.  Others (ahem! me) blamed our perceived failures on our own laziness or general state of ‘not good enough-itude.’ For the most part we celebrate our genius or curse our stupidity as if every one of these events were ours to control.

Yes, we do everything we can here at ground level. But I also happen to believe there is a Creator that wishes the best for us in every aspect of our lives, personal and professional. In the course of His outreach, it often seems like He is playing by His own set of rules. But it’s not a stretch (I mean, if you’re with me up to this point!) to assume He sees a larger picture. His outreach may appear as an obvious, immediate blessing…or a veiled, gradually revealed one…or a seemingly insurmountable challenge…or a shattering professional heartbreak.  I think each of these is an opportunity  to make a connection, either to express our gratitude in the good times, or to seek comfort in the bad.

So now, instead of all the regret and disappointment and bitterness and professional jealousy and…well, you get the picture, I think I have gained some perspective. I think this is another gift.  He has a way of not only healing you from this point forward, but also re-framing the picture of past times, of providing perspective to explain things in ways you couldn’t previously understand. For me, this understanding means the long-overdue death of nostalgia.

So, this one goes out to the hiring managers who hired me, and the ones who didn’t. To the supervisors who inspired and the ones who frustrated. To the co-workers who worked toward greater things and the ones couldn’t be bothered to. To the jobs that enriched and the ones that demeaned.  To the things that were meant to be, those that were not, and those meant to last only a season.

Sure, things could have been different.  Now, instead of being there doing something, I am here doing something else. Ultimately, everything is as it was meant to be. As the saying goes, “In the end, it will all be OK. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end yet.”

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