Category Archives: Content creation

Big Bad Words

Dictionary

Recently I have had the urge to use a few big words in my writing. Words I do not normally use like pantheon, peripatetic, truculent, paucity, exacerbate, etc. Words I would never use in normal conversation. I am sure this desire is because of what I have been reading lately online and in newspapers and magazines. When you see others using these words, you begin to think it’s okay for you to use them.

I have resisted. Because I have also been sent to the dictionary several times recently to look up words I encountered whose meanings I did not know! (By “dictionary” I mean Google.) I do not want someone who reads my writing to have to do that. (By “my writing” I mean media releases, pitches, marketing emails, social media posts, blog posts, movie reviews, etc.)

How can I know who will read what I have written? How well educated are the people on my clients’ email lists? Will my clients’ followers be impressed or confused by a multisyllabic adjective in a Facebook post (especially when a simpler term would have almost the same meaning)? Will the news producer or editor (or intern) who opens newsroom emails know what peripatetic means?

Do you remember sportscaster Howard Cosell? As a lawyer turned broadcaster, Cosell attempted to impress viewers with his vocabulary. Often, his word choices were spot on. Other times, he came off as a pompous ass. Occasionally, after Cosell had pontificated employing his would-be literary style, a broadcast partner such as Don Meredith would put Cosell’s flowery prose into simple-to-understand language. It was entertaining stuff.

There are appropriate times and places for these big words. But in most cases, the simpler, more common word will do just as well. I am hoping my urge will not be exacerbated.

The Truth, No Kidding!!!

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A new movie called Truth opens Friday in St. Louis. The film tells Mary Mapes’ version of the Truth. She was a CBS producer who was fired for her role in a 2004 Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate.

The message of the movie is simple: Even if your basic story is correct, your supporting evidence must be legitimate.

Mapes and her crew assembled a story that had holes in it. They thought that they had the “smoking gun” to reveal that incumbent President Bush (43) had skipped out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 1970s. The memos they showed on air were immediately attacked as fake by right wing websites and soon after by other news organizations including ABC News. Eventually, CBS disavowed the report and Dan Rather issued an on-air apology.

I was reminded of the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial. An L.A. police detective named Mark Fuhrman was one of the key prosecution witnesses. But defense attorneys were aware of his background and used that information to prove that he lied about his use of racial slurs. Johnny Cochran and his team convinced the jury that if Fuhrman lied about using slurs, everything else he said was subject to doubt. Despite other strong evidence that Simpson committed murder, he was acquitted.

When we as communicators tell a story, whether in a blog or social post, a media release, website copy, marketing email or other content venue, we need to make sure that we don’t sabotage our efforts by including questionable information.

If you are promoting a service or product that has, say, three strong verifiable selling points, be careful about adding other claims that may cause prospects to wonder about the validity of those three rock solid points.

The 2006 Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth—there’s that word Truth again—shared meaningful insight about climate change. But the film faltered when it implied that Hurricane Katrina was a result of manmade global warning. Knowledge that monster hurricanes have wrought havoc for centuries blunts the Katrina claim and calls the entire content of the movie into question.

I wrote about The Truth earlier this year. Click HERE to read that post.

By the way, I recommend the movie Truth. It is a well-told, well-acted story that provides lessons for all journalists and all communicators. Whether what you see onscreen is completely true is for you to decide. Interestingly, the production company for Truth is… Mythology Entertainment. (True.)

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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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Be Inspired; Don’t Copy

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Last week’s court decision that ordered the artists who created the 2013 hit song Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams) to pay $7M+ to the heirs of Marvin Gaye has reignited talk of plagiarism and copying the works of others. It is certainly a golden era for intellectual property attorneys.

If an artist says his/her work is “inspired” by that of another artist, is he/she necessarily ripping off the original artist? And what inspired Marvin Gaye to compose Got To Give It Up with its memorable bass line? Did Gaye hear something in another song that inspired him? Did the bass player on the session offer any input?

Any examination of popular art (radio, TV, music, movies, books, etc.) during the last century reveals works that were influenced by what came before. An obvious example is the spate of performance competition TV shows that have followed in the wake of American Idol’s success. But remember, performance competitions were popular in the early days of TV and radio and go back, at least, to the days of Vaudeville stage shows.

If you have been inspired by a presentation you attended, an interview you watched, a book you read, a blog post or podcast you accessed online, feel free to talk and write about it. If you quote, attribute. If you share an idea that’s similar or parallel to what you’ve consumed, tweak it enough to make it your own. That’s okay. But blatantly stealing is not okay.

Numerous bloggers, journalists and authors have complained of their best work being stolen by those who have taken advantage of digital technology. In 2015 it is easy to copy and paste content and claim it as your own. But it is also easy to monitor the net and other sources and spot the thievery.

Each of us is inspired and influenced by all the media output that has flowed into our brains during our lifetimes. Sometimes the content you or I deliver may have a familiar ring. But as long as we dish it out in our own words (or music or graphics, etc.), without directly copying, the work we produce can be fresh and compelling. And it may even inspire others.

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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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Honing Your Message

High Concept is a showbiz term used to describe an idea that can be expressed succinctly. Producers know that High Concept movies and TV shows tend to do better than those whose scenarios must be explained in detail.

The new movie Gone Girl, for example, can be described in a simple sentence: “Five years into a couple’s troubled marriage, the wife disappears and the husband is a suspect.” Of course, there’s more to the story, but that sentence tells you enough to give you a good idea what the film is about.

When you communicate messages, the idea of High Concept can help you narrow your focus and tell what really matters. Sounds easy but it can be a challenge to hone your message.

You may be required to include certain information because your boss or client demands it. You may be required to include disclaimers for legal reasons. You may feel the need to include a slogan or catchphrase. But by honing your message down to its bare bones—its high concept—you are able to convey its key elements more clearly.

Add embellishments and details as necessary later, but start by trimming your message down to its core. Think High Concept.

 

 

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