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Obviously, we all have a slightly different work styles when it comes to writing. How we gather information, how we get inspired. I have one method that I hesitate to reveal.  Not because it’s so inventive, but because, at first glance,  it seems to be a waste dubious investment of time.

The best $12 I ever spent.

Phone Tap: The best $12 I ever spent.

I refer to tape recording my initial discovery meeting with the client… either in person or by telephone with a line tap.  Afterward, I transcribe the call and distribute to everyone present and ask for any additional notes or impressions.

There are a couple of benefits to this practice:

Digesting a Corporate Culture: At your initial discovery meeting with the client, they will dump on you every brochure they have produced in the past ten years.  It’s almost always T.M.I., man! How much of this stuff matters? More specifically, how much of this stuff matters to THESE people asking you to do THIS job TODAY?  Best recent example: A Big Important Company with every reason to crow about their history…and lots of background material to prove it. In the meeting they said, “We know nobody cares.  Show a couple of dates, a couple of mergers, a couple of technological advances, and move on!”

Flesching Your Kincaid, so to speak:  Ever write a page of brochure or web copy, then run the spellcheck and find that you are 35% passive, a 3 on readability, and writing at the 12th grade comprehension level?  Come on, it can’t be just me!  Parenthetical phrases, five-dollar words and other examples of fancy-schmancyness abound. Now, spellcheck an interview transcript. Zero passive, 65 readability, 7th grade comprehension. Truly, you are writing the way people speak.  That’s usually what I am after, so I try to preserve the language as I transition from transcript to copy.

Breaking the Back of the Story: I don’t know how I came up with such a dire name for this concept. Considering the frustration you feel when trying to find your inspiration, it’s a pretty good title.  In this instance, transcribing an interview and arranging it into neat sections and ideas is the perfect activity while you are waiting for the inspiration to arrive. When it does, you will have all the dumb little details organized. You have broken the back of the story, and now you can throw your head back and laugh maniacally as the guts spill out! Charming.

Drawbacks? Of course, this takes time. I am a decent typist (for a boy!) Indeed, my two index fingers are a blur on the keyboard.  But it can be slow going. But I budget for it, and I always tell the client to expect it. And, for all the reasons stated above, I feel it’s worth it.

Besides, when this copywriting thing falls through, it might make a decent plan B. Did you know that thousands of court reporter jobs go unfilled each year?!

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Whether it’s on the web, in print or on video, it often seems that the point of marketing communications is to leverage that 2% difference between a client’s product and his competitor’s, so that your client can wring out an extra 1% of market share. (I’ll pause as you try to wrap your mind around my English-major’s grasp of statistics.)

But what if there’s no difference? No patented process, no unique carbon micro-fibers, no bitchin’ flame decals on the side. What if the competition is putting out the exact same product? Not possible, you say?

Photo by R Middlestetter

Welcome to the world of Old West replica guns; replica Colt .45’s, replica Winchester ’73 rifles, and so on. Now, there are several companies producing these replica guns that, by definition, are exactly alike. So how do you market them? And what if your writer (me) has never held a gun in his life?

The answer, as always, is research. Who is your audience? It turns out, there is this entire subculture of dudes who dress up like cowboys on the weekends and have shootin’ matches. And, yes, their wives dress up as saloon girls. These guys are committed shooters and old west enthusiasts. So, it makes sense that they’re looking for a gun that’s not only well made, but also authentic. Second, just as important as the gun is the entire frontier culture. And here is where I planted the flag. I was determined to sell the romance of the Old West better than anybody else.

Of course, I didn’t do it alone. The executive producer and sales rep were both big-time gun freaks. Their technical knowledge was vital, and allowed me to concentrate of spinning the Legend of the Old West. And the graphics are really evocative. Anyway, take a look here, * and give me your thoughts.

*Well, shoot! (hey, good one!) They discontinued the line! You’ll have to make do with a brochure I wrote for them it’s on p.36 of my Print Samples.

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Get ready for a mind-blowing revelation: Copywriting or video production for large corporate clients–companies with a marketing department as opposed to a marketing guy–can be rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Thanks, genius. What’s that mean?

The benefits are numerous. The corporate marketing or merchandising manager usually know pretty much exactly what they want to say-they just need a creative way to express it. All of the research you need usually arrives in a compressed folder or a UPS envelope. The typical MBA knows how to delegate tasks and, if you have earned their trust, they usually stay out of your hair. Best of all, with a Fortune 1000 company you usually don’t have to wonder if that $700 check is going to clear!

I sense a “but” coming…

On the other hand, when things veer outside of those “usually’s” it can get challenging. These managers are busy people, multitasking to the extreme. This script, website or brochure may be Priority One for me, but it’s more like Priority Seven for the manager. Getting your questions answered may prove difficult at times. And yes, you will get paid, but I didn’t say when. Remember that your invoice has to be signed and coded and sent to Accounts Payable by that very same harried manager.

So, um, yeah. That first example sounds better. How do you steer things in that direction?

Tune in tomorrow, or whatever the web equivalent of that is!

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Welcome to A Lively Exchange, a blog about freelance web, print and video copywriting with a minor in video production. Michael Lively is an Addy-award winning copywriter who has made the jump from Ohio to Charleston SC and, as the tagline says, is trying to find his groove. This is not a forum for grand philosophies on writing or video production, but rather a way to hopefully generate some name recognition and search engine goodness. The author hopes you appreciate that sort of candor.

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