Posts Tagged ‘writing’

wet cat final

“Charleston in the summertime: Like breathing through a wet cat!”

How was your Charleston copywriting summer? Hot and sticky like mine? I’m thinking this Friday before Labor Day might be the most humid day of the year. As I often say, “Copywriting is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration – especially in Charleston!”

So what’s happening here at the Exchange?

Seems like a lot of existing client maintenance lately, and that’s just fine. But there’s always room for more at this party, so come on along! For web, print, video and social media copy and content, contact livelyexchange (at) gmail (dot) com!

Photo credits: Fine Art America (bridge), BuyCostumes.com (mask), Dreamz Time (cat)

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20638931_1587932687948153_447980582823745319_nIt’s National Book Lovers Day, because there is a day for everything!

I’m definitely having a reading year in twenty and seventeen, and heavy on the Dystopias for some reason! Started by re-reading Margaret Atwood’s Madaddam Trilogy – soon to be the next great HBO series. Then, a middling Atwood-lite called California by Edan Pelucki. Some speculative political fiction with Indian Country by Kurt Schlichter. More Atwood as I re-read Handmaid’s Tale for the 8th time. Even MORE Atwood with the more recent, and just-OK, The Heart Goes Last. Finally, this year’s winner so far, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel.

What are YOU reading?

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chas no 1

Watch your step for giant Palmetto bugs and random typewriters

Today we learned that Travel + Leisure magazine has once again named Charleston SC the America’s No. 1 city, and No. 2 in the world. “Readers were asked to rate cities they had visited on sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value.”

Of course, that’s a survey of people who are just passing through. What’s it like for those who live here and try to make a living in the copywriting trade? I am referring specifically to ME.

Humble Copywriting Origins

I hit town in 2006, knowing precisely nobody. I fanned out in every direction, burning up my 28K dialup internet (!) carpet-bombing every web design, marketing, advertising and video production agency from here to hell-and-gone. (Hell-and-gone includes Asheville, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greenville, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, Savannah, and Augusta. Mostly due to “good timing” I got a few bites, a few initial gigs, and things slowly (SLOWLY) took root.

Mixed success, as you can imagine. I can say that the agency relationships I have made here in Charleston, including great names such as Colophon New Media and Metatation have endured.

Charleston Copywriting Must-haves

I have done my share of writing for two big Charleston staples, real estate and travel & tourism. Both have been very good to me. Check out my thoughts on local Real Estate writing here. And some fun travel and tourism stuff here. (Scroll down to Charleston Travel/Tourism Blog)

Now, there’s also Technical Writing.  The type of writing where (in Charleston anyway)  “tab A into slot B equals cruise missile.”  I can do it, I even completed some tech writing coursework at Trident Tech, but I guess I have never pursued it aggressively enough.

I ended up doing quite a bit of technical writing at Philips, though. That wasn’t the plan; it just turned out that way. Ah, Philips Consumer Lifestyle, the one that quite literally got away. (They closed the office and it got away!) But before it did, one of my pieces for them won a Bronze Addy award, so there’s that.

Ten years later, how’s it going? Well, it’s definitely going. Social is bigger than ever, and a big part of my mix. I went and earned a Social Marketing Certification from Hootsuite. This has been pretty helpful in framing the conversation when discussing a client’s digital marketing options.

Charleston Copywriting Outlook: 2017

Meanwhile, businesses are shaking off the cobwebs, and celebrating the new economic optimism that seems to be going around. Meaning, lots of web refreshes going on, from a six-page interior designer website, to a 30-page dentist’s site to a FIFTY page digital marketing agency website! (2017: the year the cobbler’s kids get shoes!!) Now, 2017 is setting no records, but it sure beats the windswept desert that was 2016!!

So that’s the copywriting life in America’s Number One city. As the Bedouins say, the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. If you’d like to be part of this rich copywriting pageant, contact me at  LivelyExchange (at) gmail (dot) com!

Photo: Charleston Post and Courier

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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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An early writing assignment was recapping ITVA chapter meetings for our monthly newsletter. In this gig, I felt it was my responsibility to make it seem like you had really missed something when, trust me, you usually had not.

I was just starting out in the writing biz, and I knew I needed practice. So why not meeting recaps? Expectations were low, and nothing was off-limits. It was fine practice in meeting deadlines. And, most of all, there was an audience…a much larger one than reads this blog, for sure.

So from time to time I like to trot out some of these old articles, especially if they have any relevance at all. And since this whole business of entrepreneurship has been on my mind lately, this one popped up…a panel discussion on small video production company ownership held at the Xavier University TV studio.

*     *     *

It was a bitter, dismal April sunset. My location permit had expired, the generator was out of gas, and one by one my crew had abandoned me. With the last trace of daylight I tried for one more take. But as I absently listened to the words coming out of that talking head, it all seemed so meaningless. I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” I see now that I was having what the videoholics call a “moment of clarity.”

Camera in hand I wandered the grimy city streets, eventually arriving at the St. Xavier TV Studio and Relief Mission. There, swaying in the bitter wind, I saw the faded wooden sign: “ITVAA Meeting Tonite.”

ITVAA–I had heard of them. It was a group of survivors who had dabbled in this thing called “video” back when it was cool. Some blamed peer pressure. Some did it to look grown up. Some thought they could try it just once, never intending to get hooked. But before they knew it, they had 1,000 business cards printed with a stupid name like “Thirty Frames Over Tokyo,” a bank loan for a non-linear editing system, and a second phone line that never seemed to ring because they were calling the non-linear help desk every ten minutes.

I pushed open the mission door and entered the hall. The air was thick with smoke and desperation. At the front of the room a fidgety little man stood before the microphone. He cleared his throat.

“My name is Gerry… and I own a video production company.”

“Hi, Gerry.” The crowd responded in monotone.

I listened as, one by one, these recovering entrepreneurs told their tales of loss and redemption. Among the topics discussed:

  • Coping with the feast-and-famine cycle of business by hiding extra gigs in a hollow tree for winter;
  • Billing issues (net 30 vs. net nevernever)
  • Keeping up with ever-changing technology while resisting the urge to go back to flip charts;
  • Kissing the client’s butt without leaving too much Chap Stik on the seat of his pants;
  • Turn-ons, including roaring fires and moonlit nights; and
  • Turnoffs, such as people who play “head games.”

The panel also discussed the difficulty of knowing when to fold up the tent. For his part, Gerry confessed that he tried to give up his video company once, but he put on a lot of weight.

The evening ended on a poignant note as the crowd rose and recited the videoholics credo: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to get a third up front, a third at first draft, and a third upon completion.”

I would write more, but I feel the need to call my sponsor.

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There’s an economic school of thought that says in “times like these” freelancers, contract workers, consultants, call them what you will, should be doing OK. Suppose your company has a need for some service. When times are good, your company might go ahead and put someone on staff to take care of that need. Your company then assumes the financial expense of training that person, providing benefits, buying them a computer, printing their stupid little business cards, and so on.

When times aren’t so good, it’s a different story. Assume the need is still there. In a downturn, your company is more likely to contract someone to fill that need. No benefits, no computer, no stupid little business cards, etc.

Also, what if the provider isn’t doing such a great job? In the full-time staff example, the company feels much more pressure to “make good” on their investment in staff. They have to weigh the cost of retention vs. starting the whole process over again. With a contractor, they can just pull the plug.

So that’s the basic economics, all things being equal. But are things ever equal? Things like IT consulting, call center operations, cable installation…these things are specialized skills. Correction…these are specialized skills and people recognize them as such. Copywriting? Not so much.

When times are bad, people mistakenly cut back on promotion and marketing, precisely when they should be marketing and advertising more than ever. At these times, it’s hard to convince them that:

  • They should be communicating value to their prospective clients, through direct mail, revamping their website, blogging, etc., and
  • They need a professional copywriter to do that. Someone who can help find their value and state it in ways that entice the buying public and search engines alike.

I’d like to hear some ideas on convincing potential clients of the importance of A, B or both! Help a brother out…I’ve got some marketing to do!

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Can you (and by you I mean me) find writing jobs in the want ads? If you don’t live in New York, Chicago, or anywhere there are more people than livestock, I’m not so sure. Every town is different, of course, and there are different kinds of writing.

Take Charleston, for example. Type “writer” into the search box. Immediately scratch off the five “Service Writer” jobs at the local auto dealers. And you are left with about 20 legitimate writer ads a day. Sounds great for a town the size of Charleston (the #80 metro area.) However, I guarantee you 19 of those 20 ads will be for a Technical Writer.

Let me pause and say that there are jobs I can do and like doing. There are jobs I can do but don’t like doing. And there are jobs I can’t do well, and don’t care to improve because I don’t like doing them. Technical writing is the latter.

And technical writing is where it’s at in Charleston, particularly in government contracting.  It’s strictly “tab A into slot B equals cruise missile.” I have done a fair amount of government/military stuff, but it has been on the marketing end, for instance: “Somewhere in a far-off, dusty land the Liberty Gun stands a lonely vigil, tirelessly defending the freedoms we hold dear.” Hey, I just made that up…wanna buy it?

When you do find a marketing/advertising writer job, they tend to boil down to the following: “Looking for 23-year-old kid seeking first big break to serve as our entire communications department. Must be proficient in every software program created in the past 20 years. Strict adherence to AP style! Must love long hours, intense pressure and low pay.”

So, I tend to read the ads not to find jobs, but companies. A company searching for a webmaster, public relations director or publications manager obviously needs writing services. Do they need them enough to hire your freelancin’ ass? Well, that’s what you have to find out.

I try my best to associate a name with the company, which isn’t easy sometimes. First of all, half the ads are from recruiters (Hulk angry! Hulk SMASH!) However, if you are searching locally, there are times you can piece together enough clues to make a guess. They make a certain thing? They’re located in a particular suburb? Then it’s probably XYZ Corp.

Then I head to their website, if they have one. Their About page might have officer bios, maybe even with email links. Or, their News page might have press releases, at the bottom of which you may find “For further info contact Joe Blow, Corporate Communications Director.”

There you have it, my fellow ink-stained wretches. Use your innate creativity to turn your miserable job search into an exciting detective novel…and make looking for work up to five percent less humiliating!

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We have lost one of the English language’s unlikeliest defenders; George Carlin is dead. Carlin said that there were three arenas of life that informed his comedy: the world at large (war, politics, religion, etc.) the peculiar observational world of the comic (the “didja ever notice” stuff) and the English language… “the words, phrases, sayings and the ways we speak.”

And he was full of them. Apparently his mother inspired his love of language. She was a single mom and (I believe) a schoolteacher with an incredible command of the language. George tried to impress her by picking up as much of her vocabulary as he could, and she would challenge him further. Carlin’s example:

George: “Hey ma, care to peruse the newspaper?”

(He waits for praise. Instead…)

Mother: “I’ll give it a cursory glance.”

Over the years, Carlin railed against the sources of abuse of the English language. Whether theses abuses came from advertising, government bureaucracy or political correctness, Carlin was merciless. However, for me at least, his rants on the language made me want to get it right. And one specific example has stayed with me forever, the abuse of “irony.” Typical example:

Me: He was cutting his grass and a car jumped the curb and killed him.

Other guy: Wow. Ironic, isn’t it?

Me: How so?

Other guy: Umm, well, uh, I have to go now.

Carlin’s first book “Brain Droppings” is full of great examples of oxymorons, redundancies, euphemisms and just plain abuses. I will be rereading it today in his honor.

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Somehow, I have managed to maintain a mix of copywriting clients of various sizes and workloads. There’s an ebb and flow; one client’s writing needs are down, while another’s are up. And over the years, I have managed to pay the bills. Not exactly rolling naked in obscene piles of money…just paying the bills. The other half of the equation is learning to not have bills! I also have several other useful tips like:

  • Marrying money
  • Being touched by an angel, and
  • Hiding jobs in a hollow tree until winter

Anyway, recently that thing happened that happens from time to time: more clients’ writing needs were down than up, and it was time to start beating the bushes even more than usual. So I started perusing these listing sites.

“Designers! Copywriters! Programmers! List your services here! Let the client come to you!!”

There are a bunch of these sites, and they each work a little differently: from a straight, yellow-pages type of listing, to a sort of RFP-type setup where you submit bids. And here is where it gets depressing. First of all, a typical client listing: “Need 100,000 words of SEO copy, budget $200.”  Right away you think, “Dream on, pal.” But, sure enough, not only are there 5 writers willing to do it for $200, there are 5 more with names you can’t even pronounce, from places like Bangalore, India who are willing to do it for $75!

So that was the beginning and end of my bid-site experience. Anybody else had any better luck?

PS…It’s Friday, and the fact that there’s no more Battlestar Galactica until frakkin’ 2009 is killing me!

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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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