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Stop Being Interesting!

21 Nov

I’ve developed an extreme dislike for the word “interesting”.  It’s the word that leads off the dullest blog posts, and the most auto-pilot link sharing on Twitter.  Everything’s an ‘interesting take…interesting read…interesting article…interesting meeting…interesting link…’ Interesting isn’t it? Not really.

If it were truly of interest, couldn’t we find a better word, like “Intriguing”, “Fascinating”, “Spellbinding”, “Educational”, “Enlightening”, “Hilarious”, “Gut-busting”, “Wrong-headed”, “Spot-on”…need I go on?

Better yet, doesn’t the fact that you posted it presume that you found something of interest in it? That you thought we, your audience, would react to it? If so, could you not  simply describe it, and let your audience decide if it’s interesting?

The good writing principle is “Show, Don’t Tell.” Calling something “interesting” should live in the category of phrases where, “if you have to say it, it’s probably not.”

Blogging Strategy

21 Jul

I keep telling myself that I really have to write a blog post.

It’s been awhile now, and while there haven’t been a horde of communications and marketing professionals beating down my digital doorway for my latest words of wisdom, it is generally a good idea not to let the blog just hang there for months on end.

And yet…

And yet, it strikes me that, “I really have to write a blog post,” is exactly the wrong thing to say.  First, it’s de-motivating.  But more importantly, “I really have to write a blog post,” is bad strategic communications. (do  I also really need to make a phone call? send an email? shake a hand?)

What I should be thinking is, “Who should I talk with today?” and “What do I want to discuss with them?, or even, “What do I need to make happen today?” And then, and only then, should run through the myriad ways that I might discuss those topics with individuals, groups and that horde of communications and marketing professionals who really ought be to be knocking down my digital doorway, demanding the latest words or wisdom.

Well…sort of.

My business development strategy mostly involves great deal of getting out there and meeting people — widening my own circle of connections.  And it’s working. From this standpoint, the blog is secondarily a lead generation tool; mostly, it is sales support — ensuring that when people meet me and hear about me and, inevitably, check me out online, they find not just my LinkedIn profile and what I’ve been impulsively posting on Twitter but also a little bit on how I think about communications strategy, public relations, marketing and the media, paper, web, social and otherwise.

Which means, as it turns out, that I really need to write a blog post. 😉

A breakfast story about professionalism, parenting and keeping an open mind

8 Apr

I woke with dry, teary eyes and greeted the morning pollen dust with elephantine sneezes.  It was the first day back to school for the kids after the long break.   Time to make the lunches.  I cream-cheese and bag two bagels, and add two apple sauces for kids one and three, then pack up a yogurt and grapes for kid two, who doesn’t like bread in his lunch.  I poured three bowls of cereal, and, satisfied, rub my eyes.

Kid three, running late, on his way down the stairs, is hoping there’s a bagel for his breakfast. No, say I, there’s a bagel in your lunch.  How about some cereal for breakfast?  No, says he, how ’bout we “exchange” the bagel in lunch for something else.  My wife says to give him the bagel. I whine, feeling beset on all sides, emotional momentum halted on the way to the shower: “But I was DONE!”

Being “done” is a relative thing. Early in my public relations agency career I was in charge of assembling 50 press kits — a blizzard of paper to be stuffed into folders and shipped to a trade show in Hannover, Germany.  Or was it “Hanover”?  A good hour of angst led to the conclusion that while there are multiple acceptable ways to refer to the city in northern Germany, the datelines on the press releases were  wrong. Holding a standard of professionalism against the noble sacrifice of the trees, I tossed the the press kit and reprinted every page, forever proud that I did right by the client, my own standards and those of my agency.

This morning, we gave kid three his bagel and cleverly repackaged his cereal as “lunch”.  And it struck me that I should make myself some breakfast, a big cup of coffee and an allergy pill, and face the day with a little more of an open mind.

Which communications matter most?

7 Apr

Do some communications matter more than others?  Well…yes.

There’s the big speech by the CEO to the industry group that positions you as a leader.

The message to employees that cutbacks are coming, but we need to continue to focus on the mission.

The blog series explaining your position on emerging industry standards.

The news release that expresses how this technology will change the market.

The employee magazine article on the new line of business…that has to inspire without disheartening those that work on the old stuff.

The customer letter announcing elimination of support for discontinued SKUs.

The whitepaper for the technology crowd.

The email to the disgruntled customer.

The conversations with reporter and bloggers on your latest news.

The online app that you hope goes viral.

The response to the Twitter user who wonders why no one is picking up your phones.

The quarterly earnings report.

The answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

The invitation to join a user group.

The letter that closes a plant, or cuts back on the health plan.

The words that guide and inspire visitors to the new website.

The email to the latest potential “whale” of a prospect.

The product ad.

The investor presentation on your startup as the ‘next big thing’.

The analyst interview.

The how-to tips for the weekly podcast.

The copy on the packaging…

Maybe a better question would be, “Which communications don’t matter?”

Don’t create marketing…reveal stories

5 Apr

I’ve been writing like crazy today, and I love it. Why? Because I seem to have a modest talent for telling business stories in ways that move people. I love the rush of telling stories and making clients happy with the stories I help them tell.  It makes their jobs easier, and lets me keep this as my job.

One client lets me write feature stories for their company magazine; my style for them is no secret. I interview the people involved, look at what they say, and knit together a narrative that let’s them tell their story.  It’s a style that works as well in feature stories as it does in web copy and press releases.  The goal is not to “spin” a story out of whole cloth, but with words to shine a spotlight on what it is that keeps clients going each day — solving customer problems, innovating, selling products, building a brand, advancing reputation.

I’m a public relations and marketing consultant but I’ve come to believe we spend too much time creating marketing. Instead, we should  invest our time revealing our stories. Pull back the curtain, and you find products that change peoples lives and make their businesses better. You find brilliant scientists, committed customer service reps, passionate sales people, visionary leaders and even innovative marketers.

The thing is, most companies hire sales people and product people and process people and business people — each articulate in their own ways.  They don’t hire writers, or reporters. Business people make stories, and live inside them. Call a writer to hear the stories, bring them out into the open, and reveal the idea at the core.

Do you have communications that matter? Let’s talk?

Happy New Years Ago

31 Dec

Let us leave 2009 with the wisdom of some folks steeped in the new media of their own times.

On the need for great writing:

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”

– Edward R. Murrow, in 1964

On the need to invest in ‘how to say it’:

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

– Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924

On the need for measurement…and listening:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950

Looking forward to accomplishing communications with you next year!

Great Writing Isn’t Always Less Writing

8 Dec

Even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline. And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

This month, I’m curling up with the kids many evenings to read Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.  The story opens with the Mole in his dark hole thinking that it’s about time he ventures out into the wide world. So he digs his way to the surface, rubs his eyes, and sets off for adventure, soon meeting a true friend in the Water Rat and becoming our window to seeing the beauty of nature and friendship and, well, life with new eyes.

We’re just three chapters in and it’s clear that this is not a book for those whose attention span lives in 140 character bursts.  Here, a passage from chapter three, about the stories of spring and summer the animals told each other to forget, for a while, winter’s chill:

“Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.”

I don’t know these flowers and trees and herbs, but I can’t help but to be moved by the pictures Grahame paints of each blossom marking days of spring and summer like acts in a play or floats in a parade.  That’s what I love about this book – it takes the time we need to be transported into this lovely world in the English countryside.

We all know that business writing doesn’t have this kind of time.  But reading Grahame reminds me that even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline.

And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

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