Posts Tagged ‘writer’

In a past life as a video producer/director in the marketing communications department of a major health care manufacturer, I hurled so many scripts in frustration that I tore a rotator cuff. Well, not really, but that’s the kind of vivid language you’re paying for!

…From Lively Exchange’s Copywriting for Video Page

That’s mostly the truth. I got into scriptwriting out of sheer necessity. Here’s a basic rule for you…when it comes to corporate video, there are two types of folks who shouldn’t write the scripts:

  • Marketing managers
  • Whatever they call the guys who write the service manuals

…one of whom gives you too much useless information, and the other gives you too much useless detail.

After too many video shoots spent wondering why we were using 75 words to say, “press the Power button,” I realized it was time to grab the reins.  I started with the how-to videos, and branched out from there.

Now, I have posted some samples of my work on the Copywriting for Video page for your perusal, or at least a cursory glance.

So, if you need a writer/producer/director for your next video outing, my rotator cuff is healed nicely and I’m ready to pitch at least six innings!

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A couple of years ago I sat in a teleconference with a producer, a designer and an account rep. On the other end, too many people with too many ideas and too little direction began to yak. As an increasing amount of nothing was getting done, the other people in the room began to take their leave. One by one they whispered, “I really don’t need to be here” and quietly slipped out. Sadly, after three hours, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to be there either.

It’s a question I get now and then…when should I be brought into “the process?” I work with different designer/programmers, many of which have never had a writer in on a project before. There is a tendency to want to bring me in too early.  When I was starting out, I didn’t know better. And hey, it was billable.  I would sit in on these meetings where we discussed nothing but design, hosting and e-commerce for hours.

After a few too many of these meetings, I began to beg off, politely.  Call me when you got the pages laid out, complete with that crazy “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” text. By this time I will have:

  • Thoroughly digested their existing brochures and website
  • Likewise for any competitive materials
  • Conducted an interview (recorded and transcribed, natch) with the principals, and
  • Received my keywords and basic word count requirements

Now, if you insist, I will gladly attend your initial meeting. However, it’s up to you to explain to the client why they’re paying for me to sit there counting ceiling tiles while you’re discussing PHP, SQL and EIEIO.

For me, it’s about adding value. I want to have a purpose for being in the room and, if there isn’t one, I could be home doing any number of things in my boxer shorts.

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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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Looking back on the LivelyExchange era…all 90 days of it!

Biggest Day So Far: April 17, 2008. This was the day I got a mention in the Low Country Blogroll, a compendium of Charleston-based blogs.

Most Active Post, Due to Content: Social Networking (Old School!) Imagine… MCAI people came out in force to defend their media production trade group…just because I said they were irrelevant! Actually, it was a great back and forth. Still the most read post.

2nd and 3rd Most Active Pages: Defining Your Message and My Experience. Yes, I know it’s because they are permanent pages. But it’s nice to know that my Resume and About page are being seen. Sort of the reason I’m doing this. That, and the glory.

Most Active Post for All the Wrong Reasons: Movie Moment: Lars and the Real Girl. Nice piece, but the film’s subject matter (shy guy falls in love with an inanimate latex female companion) brought out the pervs, big time. I still get 2 or 3 search engine hits a day for, ummm, inanimate latex female companions.

Favorite Post that Nobody Read: On the Road with the Cat Killers. Gee, was it the title?

Best Example of Restraint: Tunneling to Freedom. I had so much to say the day I quit my full time web-marketing gig. I think I managed to channel my rage quite nicely.

Early Post I’m Glad Nobody Saw: None really. There are certainly some more relevant, or more interesting than others. However, they all read pretty well to me. I have to admit, “Nature’s Savage Ballet,” the one about the dead snake in front of my writing window, was pretty arcane.

Posts I Have Yanked: 3 so far. Typically, it’s when I tell someone I have a blog and then remember, oh crap, I wrote about that one guy in the place with the thing…the thing we swore a blood oath never to tell!  And, so far, I have re-posted two of them.

Thing I Used to be Very Good About, but Have Neglected Lately: Packing posts full of links. This one doesn’t count.

Thing I Seem to be Doing a Lot Lately: Adding pictures. It’s fun, and a lot easier to do in WordPress than adding links!

Thing I know already, So Save It: My posts are too long. This one included.

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The scene opens on a farm in the foothills of Tennessee. A hitching post stands in the foreground, camera left.  A silver-haired man approaches, riding a donkey.  This is Gary, gentleman farmer and 6-time sales leader for a hospital supply company.

The donkey stops and Gary dismounts. He approaches the camera and says,

“Get off your ASS and sell the entire product line!”

That’s a wrap, people! Thanks for making the two-hour flight to Nashville, followed by a 90-minute drive to…wherever we are. See you at Cannes!

That was just one stop on the “Our Company Has Too Much Money” tour of 1998.  Everyone involved…the video crew, Gary, the donkey…was a little embarrassed by the proceedings, but we had a job to do.

The day began with the 7:30 Comair from Cincinnati to Nashville, followed by the usual baggage claim and rental van hassles. Then, a long drive further and further from civilization. Finally, we hit a dirt road (no kidding) and make the turn into the holler (oh, yes) to find a charming little farm at the foot of a mountain.

Gary was en route, so his wife showed us around. She introduced us to all of the critters; ducks, dogs, donkeys, pot-belly pigs and loads of cats. “That one’s Precious.  That one’s Butch, and the all-white one is Snowball.” And so on.

We were able to back the van up to the shooting location, which was a treat. We rarely ever get the opportunity to drive into the 4th-floor conference room of a major metro hospital! We popped the hatch, unloaded the bare essentials, and then shot the classic scene I only WISH I could have written.

Suddenly, we’re finished…and the ITCH hits: maybe we can make the 1:30 flight instead of the 5:15! Gotta go! Just throw the crap in the van…I’ll pack cases while you drive! We threw, slammed, and blasted off…fishtailing and tossing gravel just like every episode of Dukes of Hazzard.

We made the 90-minute drive in fifty-six minutes, and screeched to a halt at Delta check-in.  Doors fly open, bags start tumbling out, skycaps approach and I reach for my wallet. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of white.

“Holy crap…it’s SNOWBALL!” I turn to see my partner standing and pointing, his jaw hanging open.  I follow his point, and see a white cat zipping down the sidewalk in a complete panic, over suitcases, under baggage carts, between legs. I race after the cat (go, OJ, go!) and very nearly catch her when she leaps onto the moving baggage conveyor, heading right into…wherever it goes. Call me a cat-lover, but I scrambled onto the belt myself. My last glimpse was of Snowball descending a long, slow ramp into the darkness. Then two skycaps grabbed me by my belt and dragged me out of the chute.

We agonized over this all the way to Crown Room, where we promptly did rock-paper-scissors to decide who was going to call Gary.  And what do you say? Snowball’s not dead, exactly. She’s merely…transcended this reality.  Yes, existentialism should cloud the issue nicely. Start dialing!

In the end Gary was, shall we say, NOT devastated by this news. “So, you killed one of my fifteen cats, huh? That’s life on the farm. Have a good trip, fellers.” But the lesson was learned. New policy: on all future donkey farm shoots, close van doors tightly. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

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Somewhere in suburbia, two video dudes sit in a breakfast nook sipping straight bourbon from dirty SONY coffee mugs. They smile wistfully.

1st guy: (sighs) “You know what this reminds me of?”

2nd guy: “That strip bar in Thailand?”

1st guy: “The drugs, the violence…”

Both: “The hookers!”

This General Foods International Bourbon moment was brought to you by the year 1995, which called and said it would like its jokes back.

austriaOur travelogue concludes:

It was Friday in Linz, Austria, the last day of the trip. After a morning of running and gunning, shooting video in the cute little town and the cute little factory, it was lunchtime. So we decided to break for, you know, lunch. Afterwards, we went back to the factory floor, set up for the next shot, and waited for the workers to return. We waited a long, long time.  Finally we realized that, in Austria, lunchtime is quitting time on Friday. Which proves my theory that Austrians know how to party, but they don’t know jack about making videos. So, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the customer visitation center imbibing 100-proof schnapps with the company president. This is something that never, NEVER happened back home. Okay, once. Interesting Austrian trivia: the Danube isn’t blue, it’s brown (see photo.)

You don’t want to know why.

When flying home by way of Paris, remain calm (I recommend chai tea, tai chi, or oxycontin) or you’ll end up like me…pulled aside and interrogated like a common Tunisian hijacker. Apparently the dudes with the automatic weapons thought my hand trembled suspiciously as I presented my boarding pass. “Why have you for to being so nervous, M’sieur Lee-vuh-lee?” This shakedown, fifteen years ago, still comes to mind every time I fly, and provides a nice bit of perspective.  At least, I tell myself, the chick at the Delta desk isn’t holding a machine gun!

Aside from the undeniable glamour of Paris, it was a trip filled with sights painfully familiar to a healthcare manufacturing video dude: hospitals and factories in gritty towns. (Not to mention the back of some guy’s head on an airplane for 10 hours.) Dusseldorf is pretty much the Newark of Germany. Linz, Austria is could pass for Cincinnati (with about the same number of Germans!) And Pluvigner, France might as well be Spartanburg SC.  Despite the hassle, jetlag and machine guns, it was the most fun that you can boil down to half a sentence on your resume:

“…has produced corporate video in hospitals and manufacturing centers across the US and Europe.”

Until next time, this is your final boarding call!

*Final note (June 2017). One thing I will always remember is this Austrian Fabrikdirektor, whom I believed had escaped Communism, telling us “don’t believe everything you read; you Americans have nothing but friends here.”

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The Story so far: After a heroic depletion of the stock at the Delta Crown Room, our video dudes head for France. They have some interesting video production experiences, but none of them seem to make it into the record. Instead, we get endless mockery of the fine French people and their customs. Enough of that…let’s hassle the Germans now! But first…

*     *     *

Beware the chunky local voltage! While in France we completely fried our video battery charger. I suppose we were asking for trouble, the way we left it plugged in for over an hour. It was only a blown fuse at first, but then a well-meaning French technician tried to “help.” It turns out he merely placed the French equivalent of a penny in the fuse box. Now, don’t let the fact that their currency is worthless fool you…”centime” can wreak as much havoc as an Abe Lincoln any day. Plus it has a bad attitude and it smells.

So we had to rent a battery charger at our next destination: Dusseldorf, Germany. And if you’ve ever crammed 15 mighty German volts into a cheap American knockoff of a Japanese 12 volt battery, then you have lived dangerously. The good news is you won’t need lights…the batteries will glow like a dozen sunsets.

Speaking of lights, here’s one of my dumb mistakes you can avoid. Either convert their 220v power to your 110v lights, or switch to 220v lamps…don’t do both. The result is weirdly half-powered lights and color temperatures that are more suitable for slasher movies or cheap 1970’s porn flicks than they are for corporate video.

Quick Tip: Avoid local ripoffs. After a $60 taxi ride from the Dusseldorf airport, our surly taxi driver refused to accept American Express. He was angry because, with all of our gear, we had to use his deluxe 10-seater taxi instead of the typical Euro-heap which is blow-molded around a human body. Anyway, he refused, despite the huge AmEx sticker on his windshield. So we did the only honorable thing…we ratted him out to the hotel concierge. I’ll tell you, seeing that little burgermeister barrel out of the hotel and utterly humiliate that jerk filled us with such German pride that we felt like invading Austria. So we did…but we had drinks first.

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Precisely 23 years ago*, I was asked to write a script for the European arm of the medical supply company I worked for. Come to think of it, this may be the first corporate video script I ever wrote.  That was exciting, but even more exciting was the notion that they were going to fly our crew over to bounce all over Europe shooting the video. I remember being amazed that it was actually cheaper for them to do this than to hire a video crew in the next town. With today’s dollar, I imagine it’s even more affordable.

So we blasted off for a whirlwind 8-day video shoot in France, Germany and Austria. What follows is an excerpt of the account I wrote for the ITVA Newsletter.  Please note: I was anti-French long before it was cool. Freedom Fries, indeed!

*     *     *

Where does your big trip begin? In the Crown Room, of course! All the bourbon, Eagle snacks and Larry King you can handle–on the house! Sure, they tell you not to drink on the flight, but they’re just trying to save complimentary booze.

Actually, the smartest thing to do is try to build in an extra day if you can. Leaving home on a Friday night for a Monday morning shoot seems to work well. Yes, your company has to pay for the extra night. But if you work for a huge faceless institution, like I do, you’ll be surprised how quickly the guilt fades.

Next stop…Orly International Airport, Paris. Orly will instantly remind you of the Dayton airport, circa 1969, with its linoleum floors, hard plastic chairs, and people who haven’t bathed since 1969. Or, think of the Cincinnati Greyhound bus terminal, only with planes, automatic weapons and an equally incomprehensible public address system.

Now, dash for your connector…time is short! Grab your 300lbs of gear and kung fu your way across the most crowded, aggressive terminal known to man, Kennedy Airport included. Of course, at JFK you could leave the jostling to a hardened union skycap, but those don’t exist over there. Wheel up to the check-in desk, and have your wallet ready. You’re about to pay the Tariff on Baggage in Excess of 75 kilos, otherwise known as the 700-franc Spank. Good news is that’s only 150 bucks, and they take AmEx.

As for the local folk, its sad to say that the stereotype is largely true…these folks would rather smash you in the face with a baguette than admit they speak English. And, after two trips I can promise you that a working knowledge of conversational French isn’t going to kick in all of a sudden. So, invest five bucks in a phrasebook. They’re all pretty good, but I especially like the Rough Guide phrasebook. It’s about 20 percent hipper than the rest.

Quick Tip: Often, timing makes a world of difference. One thing that made the French leg of the trip run more smoothly, and the French folk perhaps 5% more accommodating, was that I arrived there on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. So, do that. It works!

Next Stop: Germany. Wie gehts, baby?

(* For my readers in the far-off year of 2017, I am referring to the summer of 1994.)

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eat the mic. eat it!

Getting good copy often means getting a good interview, which takes a bit of skill. I became a pretty decent interviewer out of necessity. In the olden times, we jetted about the country doing product testimonial videos in hospitals far and wide. We corporate video dudes would tend to our 300lbs of gear, and leave the interviewing duties to the marketing managers.  Thinking it was one more headache we didn’t need, we got three other headaches instead.

First of all, I think marketers can be too close to their products. By the time we reach testimonial video stage, this new device is all that the marketer has lived and breathed for two or three years.  Their perspective is skewed, and it affects the types of questions they ask. For example, I’m sure it was a high-five moment when the design team picked the capacitor that made the bed motor 1% more efficient, but don’t expect the lady from Housekeeping to give a damn about it.

This brings up one of the basic rules I have learned: ask people what they know and/or care about. Don’t ask the VP of Finance how easy it is to clean under the mattress, and don’t ask the $8-an-hour medical assistant about macro trends in the health care industry. No, I’m not making up these examples.

And how about a little interviewing skill, folks? An Ivy-league MBA  does not guarantee interviewing ability. From what I have seen, it’s pretty much the opposite.  Example:

VP of Nursing: “Here at Sisters of Mercy, there are three critical elements to our patient safety initiative.”

Interviewer: “Super. Next question…”

Me (whispering): “Uhh, dude, don’t you want to know what the elements are?”

Interviewer: “Oh great, now I’ve lost my place!”

Another mistake is heading out on the road without a clear idea of the story you are trying to tell. By the time it magically crystallizes in your head, you’re on your fifth city. You realize that each of your 40-minute interviews could have been about 20 minutes if you had properly focused. You also realize that you could have made those 1:30 flights, instead of the 5:15’s.  The 1:30 flight, by the way, is the Gold Standard of interviewing success!

Anyway, after about a dozen or so of these adventures, we finally kicked the marketing manager to the curb (or ditched him at baggage claim, I don’t recall.)  Logistically, things got easier almost immediately.  Eventually, the interviews got better as well. Today, I can honestly say that I am a darn good interviewer, either for video, web or print. I’ve even been known to ask a follow-up question or two!


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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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