Category Archives: Compelling content

Can You Teach A New Dog Old Tricks?

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Newspapers are dead, according to common belief in 2015. (Just don’t tell that to the people who drop off the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wall Street Journal and New York Times at my house each morning.)

Certainly the transition to online communication from ink on paper is continuing full steam ahead (full lithium battery ahead?) and is revealing that some purveyors of online content don’t know when to stop.

A key component of a successful newspaper, for at least the last century, has been the columnist who shares opinion and information with a personal writing style. Newspapers have traditionally limited the amount of space on the page a column may occupy. Tight editing allows more space for ads and other content.

In an online context, however, a writer has an almost infinite amount of space to spew his or her thoughts. If you consume a large amount on online content, you have certainly encountered articles that run too long. You may have slogged on to the end and breathed a sigh of relief when you got there.

You have also read articles that kept your undivided attention from start to finish and, occasionally, left you wanting more.

Though the initial reason for limiting newspaper columnists may have been conservation of valuable space on the page, writers and editors have learned over the years that there are optimum lengths for columns that ensure reader engagement. These may vary from paper to paper and section to section, but a good columnist will develop the ability to compose her or his content within established parameters.

How can these old newspaper methods apply to today’s new communicators? These “new dogs” can read columnists from today’s major papers and take note of their “old tricks.” Practice self-editing. Check for redundancies. Read your prior posts and consider how you might have made them tighter. Ask your readers and associates for candid feedback.

If it takes too long to read through the piece you have written and posted, your reader may check out halfway through and move on the next article on his/her agenda. Know when to say when.

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81881849@N00/2089122314 via http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

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What To Write About

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Ideas needed. Every day.

If you are generating original content for a website, a blog, a Facebook page or other platform, you want to deliver something fresh every time.

Where do ideas come from? Newspaper columnists tend to react to current events or to an issue that may have been suggested by a reader, an editor or even a PR person.

Where can you find a seed that might grow into 300, 500 or a thousand words?

Here are some suggestions regarding what you might want to write about. Remember to make your content relevant to your target audience, no matter how narrow or broad it may be. I hope you might find something here that will start you up.

  1. Write about a colossal success and lessons learned from that success.
  2. Tell the story of a major failure and what that failure taught you.
  3. Describe the main difference between you (your company, your product/service, your concept) and others doing similar things.
  4. Praise a person who inspired you to pursue your current path.
  5. Share a valuable bit of info you recently acquired.
  6. If current events impact your work, acknowledge that impact and tell how you plan to respond to it.
  7. Address the biggest misconceptions about you (your company, your product/service, your concept).
  8. Recall meaningful comments you may have recently heard from colleagues or competitors and offer your own take on those remarks.
  9. Discuss the evolution of your product/service and why recent changes are good.
  10. Write about another organization like yours that has done something worthwhile.
  11. Pass along the most significant feedback you’ve ever received from a client/customer.
  12. List the goals that you (your company, your product/service, your concept) wish to achieve this year.
  13. Offer your best tips for staying focused on necessary tasks to achieve your goals.
  14. Note the significance of upcoming calendar events for your company/product. Holidays, seasonal changes, etc.
  15. Deliver your personal opinion about a good or bad business practice you’ve observed and how it has affected your behavior.

Is there a seed there somewhere? Hope so.

(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adikos/4440061936/, Adikos via http://photopin.com., http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Don’t Hit The Reject Button!

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Even when it’s content you have specifically chosen to read, watch or listen to, your choice is subject to immediate dismissal.

First sentence of article or blog post you clicked on not compelling? On to the next!

Not in the mood for that slow song in that Spotify playlist you curated? Skip to something upbeat!

Heavily anticipated TV show becomes immediately tedious? Move along—other channels to choose from!

Print article bogging down a few paragraphs in? Turn the page!

Podcast participants droning on about points already made? Bid adieu!

If you’ve paid for content, you may be less likely to bail. If a PPV movie on cable, a book or album you’ve purchased or a live performance you’re attending begin to suck, you may hang in. After all, you’ve invested more that just your time.

But with so much free content (with ads) available, that YouTube video, Gawker article or SoundCloud file must continually engage. Otherwise, you (and I) will click ahead to something else.

To assure that those who read, hear and view your content don’t dump out, edit and rewrite/reshoot/rerecord when necessary. Limit digressions. Go for quality over quantity. Empathize with the content consumer and consider the finite amount of time she or he can devote to your creation.

Thank you for sticking around and not hitting the reject button!

(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lucasmoratelli/6894514803/, http://photopin.com, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Will YOU Engage With Today?

Engagement happens when you deliver a message that resonates with and matters to your audiences: your followers, your prospects, your customers, your friends and your family.

A vital element of engagement is listening to your audiences. During my radio career I did this by talking to listeners on the phone and in person. My stations conducted audience research in an effort to determine what listeners liked. Whether the research was done one-to-one over the phone, in a small focus group of a dozen listeners or in an auditorium with hundreds marking down reactions to song excerpts, the information obtained helped my stations better engage with listeners.

As content now seemingly pours out constantly from everywhere (online and via other media), how can content producers deliver messages that engage? That may be THE great question of 2014!

Just as I did during my career as a radio host, you must listen to responses. Hits, likes, follows, retweets and comments can provide an idea whether you are on target.

Most of the time, we don’t and can’t know if particular chunk of content will engage a chosen group until it has been delivered. Whether the content you produce is a blog post touting your client’s newest product/service, the next great American novel or a silly joke over the musical intro of a popular song, you put it out there and wait for responses.

The responses may come quickly. Or they may trickle in. The blog post you uploaded six months ago may engage a prospect tomorrow. If you don’t have an opportunity to engage today, devote dedicated time to listening so you’ll be better able to engage with your audiences when the time comes.

 

 

 

Your Content Sucks

You write. You rewrite. And, yet… what you’ve written just sits there on the page (or the computer screen). Are there ways to add a bit of spark? To make your assembled words more dynamic? To imbue your content with sizzle? Here are a few ideas that may help.

  1. Write for yourself. This runs counter to my long held belief that you must know your audience and write for him and her. Writing to please your own sensibilities can be selfish, but you may find that elusive magic. Try it.
  2. Look at your prior work. Was there something you wrote last year that got good response and/or made you happy (see #1)? Reread your best stuff and be inspired.
  3. Toss in some words you don’t often use. Not multisyllabic obscurities that send folks running to Google for the meanings, but good, solid words that may not be a part of your vocabulary’s “A” rotation. Like “imbue” in my intro paragraph. A good word, but one I rarely use.
  4. Vary your style. If you’re writing technical content, try softening the tone. If you’re writing a light-hearted blog, add in some serious material. Not enough to diminish your impact, just a slight amount to keep your reader alert and dialed in.
  5. Read it aloud. To yourself or to a friend or colleague. You may discover clumsy sentence structure. You may discover better ways to say what your want to express.
  6. Edit. Even if you have been charged with delivering exactly 60 seconds or 300 words of written matter, chop away at excess adjectives, adverbs, clauses, phrases and sentences. Pare it down to the bone and start to build up again.
  7. Wait. If you’re not on deadline, finish it tomorrow. Or the day after.
  8. Borrow. But don’t steal. Adapting an idea or format you’ve seen elsewhere may help provide a good framework for what you’re writing. I borrowed the idea for my headline from Roger Ebert, who wrote a book about bad movies titled Your Movie Sucks. Thanks, Roger. R.I.P.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Lists are a longtime media staple. Lists are a good way to get attention for your organization. For media outlets, a list provides content that can provoke readers, listeners and viewers to offer feedback. For those seeking coverage, a list assembled or created by your organization can get your name mentioned and may lead to follow up coverage.

The two main types of lists for media consumption are (1) empirical lists, which are based on real data and (2) arbitrary lists, which are based on opinion. Many media outlets list the weekend’s top movies each Monday morning—that’s empirical data. (Actually, those box office figures are studio estimates, but they are usually quite accurate.)

The arbitrary lists are the ones that are more likely to generate discussion. Entertainment Weekly magazine has published tons of arbitrary lists during its two-plus decades—some brilliant, some laughable. A newspaper or magazine’s list of top restaurants, lawyers, golf courses, donut shops, etc. can help establish credibility and awareness for those listed. They also, inevitably, elicit complaints about who got left off the list.

For PR pros, a list that you deliver to media has the potential to bring your organization into the spotlight. If your client is, say, an accountant, his or her Top Ten End of Year Tax Tips could be worth a segment on talk radio or a blurb in a newspaper business section. If your client is a hot dog vendor, a list of his Top Ten Condiments might resonate with food media types.

Lists are also a major component of blogs. Therefore, I’d like to digress slightly and offer my list of the Five Most Worthless Lists:

  1. Any Men’s Health magazine list. How can a city go from 3rd to 7th on the Fattest Cities list in a year? Their lists are totally fabricated, but media always give them big play.
  2. Movie Year-End Top Ten lists by critics who try to “out-obscure” other critics (and readers) by listing movies that most people have never seen and never will see. Useless.
  3. David Letterman’s Top Ten List. In the 90’s, the nightly lists (which originated as a parody of our obsession with lists) were hilarious. Now, the Top Ten List is just “fill in the blank” comedy writing and not nearly as funny as some of those to be found online.
  4. Any online list whose primary purpose is to generate page views by making you click on a new (often slow-loading) page for each list entry. These are generally not worth the trouble.
  5. Lists of All-Time Greats compiled by votes from the public. People have short memories. Yes, icons are forever (note Sean Connery’s generally being chosen as Best Bond), but recent favorites tend to out poll outstanding movie stars, pro jocks, presidents, cars, etc. from decades past.

To my media friends, keep sharing and making lists. They can be entertaining and informative. But use good editorial judgment and weed out the weaker ones.

To my PR friends, try creating and sending a list to your list (of media contacts). If it’s good content, it could get you and your client some media love.

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5 Lessons From Nora Ephron

I was saddened to hear of Nora Ephron’s passing last week. She is a woman who entertained me greatly with her writing and her directing.

All of us who write, whether our writing is a media release, a technical manual, a news story or even a simple email, can learn from reading articles, essays, books and screenplays written by Nora Ephron.

Among the lessons we can take from the work of Nora Ephron:

  1. Brevity is a good thing. She said she learned to “write short” while working as a New York Daily News reporter. Her magazine articles and essays are always clear and concise. While they are often more observation/opinion than actual reporting, her training in the basics of newspaper writing served her well throughout her life.
  2. Be honest. Her writing about the increasing number of deaths of friends and associates that occurred after they (and she) turned 60 was almost painful to read. Her lists of “What I’ll Miss” and “What I Won’t Miss” (about her life) at the end of her last book will elicit both chuckles and tears.
  3. Stay in touch with real people. Nora Ephron was raised in Beverly Hills, attended Wellesley College, then lived in NY (with a brief time in DC). She was a woman who enjoyed great professional success and wealth. Yet, in her writing and in her movies, she presented stories and characters that real people across the world could relate to and identify with.
  4. Keep working. Ephron wrote and directed her 2009 film “Julie and Julia” after she had begun treatment for leukemia. She wrote original material to go with previously published material for her 2010 book I Remember Nothing (and did numerous interviews to promote the book in ’10 and ’11).
  5. Maintain your sense of humor. Nora Ephron made me laugh many times and will continue to make me laugh when I watch certain of her movies again and reread her essays and articles. She is now and will continue to be quotable. Note how many collections of her quotes have appeared online in the days since her passing.

As we think about Nora Ephron’s writing style, her honesty, her work ethic and her sense of humor, it’s easy to look at her career success with admiration and envy and think (to quote one of her best lines), “I’ll have what she’s having!”

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