Posts Tagged ‘corporate communications’

It is an historic day. That’s not to say we haven’t had our share of history in the past few years…but it’s nice that this is something positive for once.  Today we will inaugurate our first African American as president.  I admit that, politically, this was not the result I was hoping for. But for America, given our history, it’s a pretty cool thing.

Now, I’m no champion of race relations. I’m FOR them, sure. I guess I have always taken the Christian-slash-Republican-slash-property owner -slash marketplace view, a confusing but workable philosophy that says:

  • We’re all God’s children
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Keep your yard nice and we’re cool.

Basic “human decency” stuff…I’m certainly no Freedom Rider.  I’ve tried to do my (very, very , VERY) small part by casting actors of color in almost every industrial video I have produced in the last 20 years. I have wondered why Friends and Seinfeld and Raymond and Frasier and a thousand others couldn’t have done the same. I watched with smug satisfaction as the marketing manager from TinyTown USA went flush with terror upon entering my studio to see that I had hired a black woman as her spokesmodel. And I cringed in sympathy as I witnessed a white auto industry executive complimenting a black auto industry executive for “being SO well spoken!” …not in 1979, but 3 years ago.  (I turned away before he could pat her head or give her a Milk-Bone.)

So, what does this mean to, or say or prove about America? Hell, who knows?  But a LOT of people said it would never happen, and here we are.

One thing’s for sure…the world is a tough neighborhood, and we can’t afford to fail. That’s why, despite my political leanings, I will be saying a prayer for President Obama today. I urge you to do the same.

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eyeball1…with apologies to indie-film auteur John Sayles.

One thing I freely admit is that I have always had more creativity than technical skill.  In the world of video production, this would apply to lighting and shooting as well as editing.

I have been in video production, off and on, since college.  For many years it was a full time job but, for the past several years, it has been a sideline to the writing.

I think it is a function of the job I had for the bulk of the time: a catch-all video producer for a large manufacturer.  Being part of a two-dude team producing some big training or merchandising video every other week, I acquired a basic set of lighting, shooting and editing skills that always got the job done. But, trust me, they would win no awards.

As a director, producer or interviewer I always felt more than competent.  The only tools required were a brain, an eyeball and a telephone. Anything requiring machinery was a different story.  As a videographer I could compose a fine shot, but which f-stop or lens filter to use? I’ll leave that to the real technicians.  As a gaffer, I could light a mean interview.  For anything wider than a head, shoulders and necktie, better call the professionals.

Editing was where the disconnect was most obvious. In the old days, we had a Grass Valley 300 production switcher. I don’t know where the “300” came from, but it could refer to the number of buttons it had on it…of which I could operate no more than 12.  But, like I said, I always got the job done.

Then came Mac-based non-linear editing.  Being the capital investment proposal-writing supermen we were, we got in on the ground floor. I think the serial number on the back of the processor was 0003 or something.  That technology kept improving, and the capabilities exploded. Then there was AfterEffects and .mpegs and a dozen different codecs for CD-ROM and DVD mastering and live streaming and…

And I said, “You know, what I really want to do is write!”

Which has led to an interesting niche for me…video scriptwriting.  Frankly, as immersed as I have always been in video, I would not have considered it a niche, but it is. Talented writers who bang out websites, blogs and print pieces all day long often have trouble with video scripts.

Video scriptwriting is way more 3-dimensional than a lot of writers are used to. Obviously, you have to think in pictures and, on the left side of the page, you have to be able to describe these pictures for the director.  In industrial how-to video, you have to describe functions in their precise order, and in roughly the same amount of time it takes to perform said function.

I know this sounds elementary, but try it sometime! Or just call me!

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Marge gets some marketing tips on her first day as a realtor:

Marge: That house is awfully small.
Lionel Hutz: I’d say it’s awfully cozy.
Marge: That one’s dilapidated.
Hutz: No, rustic!
Marge: That house is on fire!
Hutz: Motivated seller!

And that’s pretty much the story when it comes to writing for the real estate client. You do what you have to do when your customer is making the biggest investment of their lives. The agent helps them make the right choice, and then tries to help them feel good about it.

I’ve always been into the aspirational aspect of marketing and advertising. That is, messaging that speaks to us in our daily lives, but also speaks to who we would like to be.  People love to dream big, and there are few dreams more evocative than home ownership. So the realm of real estate copywriting is ripe with potential.

I guess it depends on your market, as well. There are “real estate towns,” and Charleston is one of them. Not lately, of course, but overall. Here, I’ve written video scripts, print material, websites, blogs and SEO articles on:

  • New Home Construction,
  • High-end Residential,
  • FSBO-ing,
  • Flat-fee MLS,
  • Moving and Storage,
  • Mortgage Lending,
  • Homeowners Insurance, and
  • Home Improvement

I’ve also served real estate’s corporate cousins in commercial property development, leasing, property management and facilities management (which is different somehow.)

It’s a fun field because, as long as you are hitting the selling points, you’re pretty much free to paint the picture as eloquently and evocatively as your skills allow. Which also means it’s a great way to give the language muscle a workout. Feel the burn!

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite examples: and old industrial laundry building in a dying rustbelt town being transformed into luxury loft condos. Mmmm, ostentatious!

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The art, science and frustration of writing the corporate newsletter is a theme I have visited several times here at the Exchange. Like any regular steady gig, you love it and you tire of it. It’s a little bit of inspiration with a bunch of perspiration. Obviously, the balance tips more towards fun than not, or else I wouldn’t do it.

It helps if you believe what you are doing has a purpose.  I believe it is this: so that the sales rep in Florida and the sales rep in Idaho can hear the same message from headquarters, can learn about each other’s successes, and feel like they are part of a team.

So, before I officially give the topic a rest, let’s take a look back at some of the features and benefits of a corporate newsletter.

The Thing About Corporate Newsletters, el parte uno

It all began with this delicate statement about corporate newsletters: most of them suck. Too many cooks, no executive chef. To many voices, no true editor. The newsletter is proposed by someone in middle management, then immediately passed down, down, down to someone with no authority to make it successful.

The Thing about Corporate Newsletters, el parte dos

Further examination about the low place on the totem pole where the success of the newsletter is supposed to blossom.  Lack of authority forces a more collaborative approach. This tends to leave all the responsibility at just a few, or even a single doorstep where it competes with other priorities and eventually dies.

The FINAL Thing About Corporate Newsletters

Yes, as we all should have guessed, the solution is to turn it over to a contracting ghostwriter!  An outside copywriter can take the raw stories and provide a little polish. Most importantly the writer provides a singular voice.

Corporate Newsletters: Don’t Stop the Presses!

At the top of the corporate newsletter “What NOT to Do” list is kicking back and letting the machine run itself. This is not perpetual motion, folks. You have to nurture this thing if you want it to keep adding value for the client (and your own wallet!)

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Time for This Week in Blogging History…all the randomness of an entire week of blogging crammed into a single post. Now with extra fiber!

Accepting Criticism

They say you need a thick skin in the copywriting business. Somehow, though, no matter how thick you make it, they keep finding a way to make the darts more powerful. In “Accepting Criticism” we take time to bitch and whine consider the difference between giving a constructive critique and being an ass.

Sales, Politics and Copywriting

It’s an art form…wrangling a client, shepherding them away from some ill-considered notion and toward your way of thinking because you know you’re right. Yeah…I don’t do that. It’s not like I’m taking some big ethical stand on the issue, I’m just not good at it. Damn it, Jim…I’m a copywriter! So I tend to let the copy do the persuading. Check out Sales, Politics and Copywriting.

Just Start Writing

The best advice an assistant video editor ever gave a terrified junior copywriter. The funny thing is, I was the editor! Circle of life, man. To feel the warm, glowing, warming glow of failure and redemption, just start reading Just Start Writing.

Happy Fun Time Video #3,100,628

Video production makes a random appearance here in the Exchange. The subject is running and gunning at corporate sales meetings, where the weather is always 72 degrees and fluorescent. Shooting all day, editing all night, and bathing…whenever. It’s all part of the magic of the Happy Fun Time Video!

Enjoy your weekend. Blog on, y’all!

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Many people tell me that they could never be a copywriter because they suck at receiving criticism. That’s okay, I tell them – most people suck at GIVING criticism, too! And man, it’s the truth.

Copywriting is a very subjective endeavor. Until you turn in your draft, it can sometimes be difficult to know if you are on the right track. Fortunately, every writing client is thoughtful, adept at dealing with creative people, and always prepared to give constructive feedback. Helpful, insightful comments to help sharpen your copy, like:

  • Try Again!
  • WRONG!
  • ???????
  • “Two thumbs DOWN. Would that I had more thumbs with which to condemn this atrocity!”

With me, it’s never the content of the critique that offends. Different people have different definitions of quality, or what it means to hit the mark.  And I have a real ability to turn off the pride switch and say, hey, you’re signing the check.

Where I draw the line is with comments like those listed above…idiotic exclamations that basically say, “I don’t know what I’m after, but this ain’t it.”  Unnecessarily harsh criticism that goes way beyond the draft copy, insulting the writer’s intelligence and questioning his talent.  It causes bad blood, and makes the job more difficult.

If you’re like me, your goal is to add value. Naturally, you want the client to be happy with your work.  But in situations like this you will never make him happy. You will merely bring the work to an acceptable level of quality.  In other words, it will  never be GOOD, just good enough. The experienced copywriter sees this and, unfortunately, mentally checks out. It’s just a gig now, one you hope to wrap up as quickly as possible.

I’ll leave you with the words of Dale Carnegie: Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain…and most fools do.

Graphix credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stuart miles

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There’s a difference between sales and politics. To me, selling is a response to an actual need. The client needs a single, simple something. In response, you try to sell him three deluxe somethings and the extended warranty. Underneath the hoopla (and the optional rust-proofing) there’s a need in there somewhere, and it’s usually the client’s.

Politics is about manipulation. It’s about pushing the levers, pressing the buttons, pulling the strings (and exhausting the idioms.)  If there’s a need in there, it’s your need for the client to do something your way, for whatever reason.

How does this relate to copywriting (because it should, right)? Actually, I find myself in this position often.  I get inspired during the writing process and start off in a direction that is not exactly what we agreed to. Pretty close but, in my opinion, better. When it comes time to submit the draft, I start to wonder how am I going to present this? How am I going to couch it? How am I going to slip it over the transom/under the radar/through the keyhole?

Now, here’s where the true Marketing Communications pros would swoop in and apply their mastery of human nature. “We’ll point them towards X, but they’ll resist and try to pick Y. Then we’ll hit them with Z, which is actually X with just enough Y in it to make them think that it was their idea.’

Manipulative? Absolutely, but I don’t mean it in a bad way…as long as you’re acting in the client’s best interest. I think this kind of scheming is an art form. I wish I had any talent for it whatsoever, but I don’t.

I am just a copywriter, so my writing has to speak for itself. So I submit the draft. I don’t write a preamble “warning” them that this won’t be exactly what we discussed. I don’t ask them to have an open mind. I just present it, hope that it flies, and try to prepare myself for any potential objections.  No tricks, no ploys, no angle.

On the other hand…

It just occurred to me that, as far as managing client expectations, my candid confession of not having an angle is actually an angle…and a really good one! So forget everything I just said.

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When all else fails, just write. This is something I had to learn when I first started writing professionally. I used to think that if it wasn’t perfect on the first draft…I don’t know…that they would see what a FRAUD I was! I have since learned that it’s only a first draft.  It’s not meant to be perfect. You just need to give them something to react to.                                                       LivelyExchange: “Waiting for It”

I wrote that a couple of months ago. The context was what to do while you are waiting for the inspiration to strike on a writing project.

When I wrote it, I was seeing an indelible mental image, almost 20 years old.  I was at my first job out of school, a production house. A young lady (Lauren?) was starting her first day as a copywriter. I was an assistant video editor whose job description was heavy on the “other duties as proscribed by supervisor” so, on this particular day, I was moving her furniture and helping her get settled. Lauren seemed nervous for her first day, almost too nervous, and I tried to chat her up a little to calm her down.

As I was finishing up, the copy director walked in and dropped off a file…her first assignment. I gave her a thumbs-up, a wink, and headed out. I had heard that these writer-types liked to be “left alone” to “think” or something.

An hour later, I walked past Lauren’s office and it seemed quiet. I guess I was expecting to hear typing or something, but did not. So I popped in to say hello.

I found Lauren staring vacantly at her monitor, her face a couple of degrees shy of “ashen.”  She began to speak, though not necessarily to me. “I’m stuck,” she muttered. “Completely stuck. Just…stuck.” I looked at her monitor: a lonely, blinking yellow cursor in a sea of blackness. (Why? Because I am old.)

I was nowhere near becoming a writer at that time, but I knew the people I worked for. So I told her, “Don’t let them come in here and see that monitor. Start writing. Anything. Fill up that space. Hell, maybe something will come to you while you’re doing it!”

So, this was Lauren’s first day, which I am sure she remembers better than I do. First day, first assignment, first cosmic super freakout.

In this business the worst pressure is the pressure you place on yourself.  And that empty screen (which is white now, smartass) can be pretty intimidating. Fortunately, the best bit of advice is also the simplest…just start writing.

Hey, it worked for me. Lauren, however, ended up in sales.

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Snakey, wingy medical thing

Snakey, wingy medical thing

…I traveled to over 100 hospitals in over 30 states. I interviewed healthcare personnel including executive level, nurse management, environmental, purchasing, floor staff, maintenance, and so on. The result was several dozen testimonial videos built around the timeless question, “Would you recommend this product?” Pretty standard fare, but which offered the opportunity to learn about issues and circumstances that affected their daily lives, and their buying habits…issues such as rising acuity, tightening reimbursement, patient and caregiver safety and so on.

LivelyExchange Health Care Communications Page

Everyone develops a niche, whether you intend to or not. For me, it’s health care communications.  Medical manufacturing, hospitals, nursing homes, home health, pharmaceuticals, insurance… I’ve had a long, complicated but fruitful relationship with healthcare as a copywriter, video producer, director…and even, briefly, a convention exhibits manager.

To me, a niche is a nice base of business; familiar but, hopefully, never stale. Like, when I’m stressed or under the gun or I have four projects going on and I couldn’t possibly handle another, but…oh, it’s healthcare? I can handle that.  I’ve done the research.  I know the players, the audience, the politics and so on.

Of course, there’s the potential of getting lazy or complacent. Or thinking that I know more than the client, just because I have been doing this since Mr. MBA was in junior high.

So, it remains a challenge… a comfortable challenge, if that makes any sense. Like I said, it’s complicated.  So, that’s my useless advice….develop a specialty. Be the best at something, if possible, or at least strive for it.

By the way, is healthcare one word or two? I’m trying to look authoritative, here!

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Successful freelance writers, video people, talent…entrepreneurs in general, live by a creed: It’s a Business First. This was the first piece of advice anyone ever gave me (thanks, Scott.)  And it’s the part of the business I am still endeavoring to master. Specifically, self-marketing.

Oh, do I hate cold calling. As a consequence, I do very little of it. Whenever I do, I always picture the receptionist at the first agency I worked at. She relished taking cold calls from nervous job seekers and, basically, messing with them.

So I tend to burn up the emails. The old “Freelance Copywriter Seeks Opportunities” bit.

The responses tend to go down one of several paths:

  • Completely Ignored: A timeless classic. Always a popular choice.
  • Acknowledged but No Need for Copywriting Services: Seeing how often you get ignored, it’s pathetic how grateful you are to get a polite rejection!
  • Acknowledged, No Need, but Keep Checking Back: Yes, and the first time you do it’s “I said I’d keep your portfolio on file, you stalker!!”
  • Mild Interest, Request for Writing Samples: Don’t get your hopes up. Often, this is the polite way of ignoring you. Rejection that finds a way to humiliate AND waste your time…that’s efficiency!
  • Potential Writing Projects Coming Up, Let’s Meet: Certainly, you suppose, a Creative Director or Executive Producer at an agency wouldn’t waste his own time, right? You’d be surprised.

In the end, I believe it’s timing. All my recent successes have come because I happened to cast my line at exactly the right moment. Conversely, my biggest frustrations have been when I connect with someone who I have solicited 3 times in the past year, only to hear that they just finished up a big writing project that would have been perfect for me. So, somehow, my email of two months ago was too early, and today’s was too late. So much for keeping my info on file.

It never ends, and neither does the need to keep hitting their IN box. So I at least try to have a reason to bother them, however thin the premise. “Just finished a big automotive project, and it reminded me of all the…um…graphic arts work you guys do!”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple dozen emails to write. Until next time, I am a Freelance Copywriter Seeking Opportunities!

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