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I find myself in the familiar confines of the video edit room. Specifically I am  in the jump seat, that second chair situated close enough that the editor can smell your Thai-food breath and feel your project-completion anxiety.

I am working with Charleston’s Unimedia to cut together Project X for the Huge Faceless Healthcare Manufacturer. And, I’ll tell you, it’s the full meal deal. My involvement so far has entailed:

  • Meetings, Correspondence and research
  • Writing the narration
  • Writing the interviews
  • Conducting the interviews (in Indiana, no less,)
  • Choosing the quotes
  • Getting (or NOT getting) approvals
  • Sifting thru online stock footage suppliers
  • Choosing kickass military stock footage (& being charged 3 times for it!)
  • Photoshopping a bunch of portraits
  • Shooting some pick up shots here around Charleston and, finally
  • Edit Day (one of two or three, I am guessing.)

So, how was edit day? We had the usual technical difficulties to begin with, ones that happen every single time and are largely expected. The problem is that it has been a LONG time since I had a project this big, so when 10:30 rolls around and you are ALMOST fixin’ to get ready to begin…you start to sweat! But eventually we got rolling and proceeded apace.

Aside from the technical aspects, there are also the work-style issues to consider. I have known RA for years now, but we have only actually worked together a couple of times. He is a 1-man shop used to hammering an edit out by his lonesome, without much explanation. Historically speaking, so am I.

Before I was a writer, I was a producer/director/shooter/lighter/editor in a 2-man shop. I did not have the time nor the inclination to explain my every move…and really never had to. One of my chief talents was convincing the client that there was nothing more boring than watching someone edit, so there was no reason to attend.

These days, it’s a different handicap.  I communicate with the written word almost exclusively. So there were a couple of humorous moments (as in, NOW we can look back and laugh) where I tried to explain my “vision” of quarter-frame portraits dissolving up, top-left, while zooming forward and fading out just in time for the next element to appear bottom right and…well, let’s just say there was a slight communications gap. I can’t speak for the editor, but I was more amused by it than I was frustrated. The irony? Finally he said, “Just let me explain what I am seeing here…” And he described exactly what I was looking for!

In the end, we churned out a fully-realized, damn near complete piece in 8 hours. We have 3 more to do, but we have made 90% of the style and execution decisions so, one would hope (pray) that the rest go quickly. My hope is that I will have access and permission (but mostly access) to share these pieces with you when they are complete.

So that’s the story so far. Someday I will have to tell you about the 26 OTHER balls I kept in the air this week!*

*heh-heh…balls!

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¿dónde usted ha estado? the Legion of Fan inquires, in Spanish for some reason. Where have you been?

Gah! No excuses for blogging negligence. I will say that, in addition to everything else, I have been embroiled in a massive project for a certain huge hospital supply company in the Midwest. A testimonial video wherein I interviewed 14 internal people who happened to be either veterans or who are still serving in the armed forces. It is a piece designed to show that Veterans Administration health system that this hospital supply company really understands their mission and their needs. And, for once, straight up, this is actually the case.

I interviewed guys and gals who served from Vietnam til today…guys who were on a 30-day furlough and heading right back to Iraq…guys who have kids over there right now…guys who reached a breaking point and openly sobbed on camera. It was powerful, I will admit.

There is a crush deadline, and a coordination between web, video and print. And it must all break by Veterans Day (that’s November 11, pinko.) So, forgive me. This blog, despite whatever clues you might have received lately, is deeply important to me. I look forward to sharing the final results with you. And that may actually be possible. Stay tuned!

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The clamor was so strong you could almost actually hear it! “WTF, Mike?” my Legion of Fan exclaimed. “Where’s the update of old copywriting projects you promised instead of writing something fresh?”

Institutional Architecture print and web gig: This is the copywriting project that I have been working on almost since I learned to write my own name. The print and web materials have been long completed. Unfortunately, final payment has been long awaited. Someday, when the check clears, I will post a link. I promise it will not be worth the wait!

The Biotech website: Call Scooby and the gang, because I smell a mystery! I was the writing subcontractor on this one, and the contractor won’t reply to my emails. The writing is long done, and they gave every indication of being happy with my work. Checks have long been cashed (nice ones, too!) But still no website. No Scooby Snacks, either. If you’re looking for a suspect, I suggest Mr. McGreevey, the creepy caretaker of the abandoned amusement park.

Corporate disaster planning and data back up articles: Two 1500-word business journal articles for use in Ohio and Florida. These are basically the same, but the first 300 words or so highlight local disasters that impacted area business – Hurricane Charley in Florida and that Day of Wind Ohio suffered after Hurricane Ike. I finished the articles back in April, I think, and then waited.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I got an interesting request: cut the Ohio article to 750 words, and the Florida article to 4 PARAGRAPHS.  Tackling the 750-word piece first, I was not hopeful but I began to chip away – 1450, 1315, 1170, 980, and so on. I finally got to 750, and dang if it weren’t a tight, coherent piece. There’s a lesson here about self editing. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there.  After that, the 4 paragraph piece was a breeze. I believe that one is going to become an email blast or something, leading potential clients to their website. Speaking of which…

The client (a data backup and recovery business) has posted the original, 1500-word articles as sort-of white papers on their site. Take a look, but don’t ask me why they posted them as Word files complete with my header and footer, word count, “draft 2,” and other behind-the-curtain awesomeness.  Florida articleOhio article.

Well, it’s Friday, muchachos. Here in flavor country, that means Nacho Nite! So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brown the meat.*

* that’s what she said.

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It occurred to me that I just completed my most visible copywriting job ever: an in-store PA announcement script for Kroger Supermarkets, a name instantly recognizable to anyone in OH-KY-IN-WV and thereabouts.

Growing up in Ohio, long before Wal*Mart had busted out of its Arkansas ghetto, Kroger was just Kroger, THE premiere name in grocery shopping, having been founded in Cincinnati in 1880 or so.

Today Kroger is everywhere, though you might not know it. They bought up tons of regional players, and then very wisely kept the regional monikers including Ralph’s, King Soopers, City Market, Dillons, Smith’s, Fry’s, QFC, Baker’s, Owen’s, JayC, Hilander, Gerbes, Pay Less and Scott’s.

My longtime associate GG, who I have known since the ¾ SP video days, happens to be the media production director there, and he suggested me to their agency of choice. It has been a fruitful relationship, and I have done several internal merchandising pieces for Kroger—mostly video scripts.

This latest project takes it to a whole new level…into the grocery store. You see, September is Wine Month, and Kroger is promoting the crap out of it. I wrote two scripts, a :30 and a :15, that play in between the Muzak. Here then is the :30…

When I entertain, fine wine is always on the menu—and so is a visit to the Kroger wine department.

In September, Kroger is “Celebrating the Crush” – the annual salute to the grape harvest, when vintners begin crafting the wines we love.

Kroger’s huge selection and great prices make it easy to branch out and try new wines. And they always offer helpful tips for new and interesting food pairings.

Fine wine is one of life’s little pleasures. The Kroger wine department makes it even more pleasurable.

I assume they substitute the regional name for Kroger in each market. At any rate, it is clearly the widest exposure I have ever had. (This includes the time I was floor-directing the 7pm news in Dayton.We went to a break and I called “We’re clear!” and broadcasting legend Don Wayne said, “Finally–I’ve got to go to the can!” But, in fact we weren’t clear and 100,000 people heard both of us. Good times.)

I would like to see a statistic on how many people live within the realm of Krogerdom, the Krogosphere or el Krogomundo, if you prefer. I would look it up, but that reeks of effort! I would rather have a glass of wine.

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Yeah, well, now you know how I feel!

Yeah, well, now you know how I feel!

A while back I mentioned the therapeutic little ritual I perform every so often. I sit and list everything that’s going on at The Exchange, either to assure myself that things aren’t as quiet as they seem or (in the current instance) to try to get a handle on the swirl of projects at their various stages of completion. Right now I am in Swirl mode. So, come. Circle the bowl with me!

Community College web copy. I am rewriting an online course catalog. It’s a modest start, but one that promises to explode later. A nice project because, other than some brochure work for a vocational/college prep high school in Dayton, education is not a niche I have spent much time in. I like it because it speaks of opportunity, hope, growth and other aspirational wonderfulness.

Various web copy, article writing and blog projects for area realtors. Sort of the opposite of opportunity, hope and growth. It’s a nice challenge working in a “down” business. But it can be emotionally draining working with folks who are in various stages of panic about their futures (hey, I should point them to the Community College!) Also tough because they all feel the need to step up their marketing, which is good, but they don’t have any money. I want to be part of the solution, but….

Various websites for clients in:

  • Insurance/benefits/investments,
  • Custom home plans-for-purchase,
  • Home HVAC,
  • Commercial construction,
  • Forensic psychiatry,
  • Commercial cleaning, and
  • Commercial in-building wireless signal enhancement and bridging (which is a thing now, apparently.)

Like I said, a swirl. Next time, we’ll do a “Where Are They Now?” of old projects. Try not to let the anticipation ruin your Labor Day weekend…because that’s Jerry Lewis’ job!*

* Oh, snap!


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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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