BlogMarketing and Productivity Insights
I was on a conference call the other day with one of the organizations where I volunteer. I was asked to be on this conference call and help with their project because I was one of the few people with any marketing experience they knew. I just assumed that most people in this organization know what I do. I’ve been around awhile, and I have created and maintained multiple websites and other marketing projects.
The call started and the host, the one who invited me, made introductions. When he came to me, he introduced me as the ‘Computer Guy.’ “Shawn can do anything with a computer!”
A few people on the call knew me but most didn’t. These people had no idea why I was there and what I could offer them. The appropriate answer should have been, “Shawn can help us promote the event on social media” or “Shawn can write copy and produce flyers that may get people to sign up.” They could have even just said, “Shawn has over 30 years of marketing and advertising experience.” Instead I am the computer guy, the Minecraft expert for all they know.
Now was it my friend’s fault for introducing me as the computer expert? Probably not. I should have done a better job explaining what I do to my friends and colleagues. Something simple that they can remember.
In years past I tried to be a jack-of-all-trades designer. I promoted myself as a designer, writer, web designer, print advertiser, radio and tv advertiser and who knows what else. I could do all those things, but my friends and business associates had no clue how to recommend me. It was all just too much information, and I didn’t seem focused. I decided I needed to simplify.
The main thing I was going to stop promoting was print, and that was hard. It is my first love. I still miss the days of using tape, boards and an X-ACTO knife to put an ad together. Email and the internet changed how we look at print and how we use it. It’s still around but not as important to my clients.
One thing I have noticed over the years is that fewer and fewer people know anything about designing print projects leaving a select few of us with the skills and knowledge. It reminded me of the late 1990’s when companies freaked out about their legacy computer systems and how they would react to the change in the century, Y2K as it was known. Some of these programs were written decades earlier, and when they needed to make the Y2K updates, scores of retirees went back to work as highly paid programmer/consultants. They were the only ones who could make the changes and meet that December 31, 1999 deadline. Maybe one day print will do the same for me. A boy can dream, can’t he?
But I digress.
I realized that what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing and what businesses need are web and brand experts. I adopted the tagline Web, Brand and Grow. I help companies build their website and their brand so they can grow their business. Something simple I could tell my friends and associates and they could become my evangelists.
What about you? Do your friends and associates know what you do best? Do they know the specific work you want?
Business people tend to have an elevator speech ready to so they can explain what they do. If you go online and search for ‘elevator speech,’ you will find you can get into the weeds quick with specific words and phrases and how it should be written. It can be a little much. The phrase ‘Elevator Speech’ comes from the idea that you should be able to tell someone what you do in the time it takes you to ride in an elevator, 30-60 seconds. Once the doors open, they are gone.
Here are a few things that you should do:
- Review your offerings and decide where you make the most money
- Find out what your clients really want
- Create a short, simple phrase you can tell people about what you do
- And then tell your friends, so you don’t become “the computer expert.”
Let me be clear. I am not telling you to stop doing everything you are currently doing, just focus on the ones that bring you more clients, more money, and more joy. I may not be promoting print, but if a Y2K of print shows up, you can bet I am going to cash in on that.
In the meantime, I am going to continue to create websites, building brands and helping businesses grow.
Writing does not come naturally to me. But I was reading the blog post “10 Reasons Why All Designers Should Start Writing More” by Alana Brajdic, and it reminded me of my own journey as a reluctant writer.
I knew I always wanted to be a designer. Having a father who was a designer helped me decide early. I also knew what I was getting into. When I was a junior in high school, I received the Auburn University class catalog. I saw that I only needed three quarters (now semesters) of English and no math. Sold! I was all in on design.
When I graduated college and was looking for my first job, I interviewed with an industrial business. A friend’s father ran the business and was looking for a designer, marketer, writer, the whole package. Today, this would be a great job. Back then it was terrifying. Writing? I was going to have to write? I backed out before they could offer me a job but I asked if I could send a friend to them. He got the job, and I believe may still be with the company that bought them out.
I never regretted that decision. It was not the time for me to write.
Once I entered the advertising world, I found out how much power writing gave those who could do it. The path from entry level creative to creative director at ad agencies seemed to go to copywriters more than art directors. That is understandable, art directors work with visuals and if we can’t explain what we did, then surely you can see it, right? Copywriters had the upper hand, they described things day in and day out. I guess you could say they had a way with words.
When I became my own boss, learning to write became a necessity. Whether I was writing an ad, crafting a proposal or writing a blog post, I needed to become comfortable. It took awhile, but once I found my own voice, writing became easier, but it’s still not natural. When I design, I can lose myself for hours working on a project, and it comes easy for me. When I am writing, I have to make myself do it. I push everything else aside, and I make sure that I won’t be distracted. It’s a job. Sometimes the words pour out; sometimes the blank screen mocks me.
Becoming a writer will help you be a better designer. It will help you “sell” your design work to clients and your team. It will help you become more of a partner with the copywriter you are working with, and it will help you become a creative director if that is your goal.
As a reluctant writer, it’s easy to stand on the sidelines while the real writers battle it out over how something is worded and be able to give your opinions about what really matters. It can be comical at times. The Onion posted a great story about Copy Editors battling over copy style.
Based on the Onion article, here is the last bit of advice for designers or anyone who wants to write more. The two most important “issues” out there are the Oxford Comma and Two Spaces after the Period. I write this tongue in cheek because they seem to be overly important for some people* but I will address it here.
Oxford Comma. Most every company I have worked for used the AP Stylebook which leaves out the Oxford Comma unless deemed absolutely necessary. If your company uses The Chicago Manual of Style or The University of Oxford Style Guide, then use the Oxford Comma. If you have a boss who is fanatical about it one way or another, then follow their style. Life’s too short to argue about this. I grew up not using it, so I don’t use an Oxford Comma. If you don’t know what an Oxford Comma is, it’s an extra comma before and. An example would be red, white, and blue.
Two Spaces Between Sentences. This subject is one I am passionate about. Some writers want to add two spaces between sentences instead of one. If you learned on a typewriter, you always added two spaces. The reason was that all typewriters use what is called a monospaced font. It is also called a fixed-pitch, fixed-width, or non-proportional font. What makes them unique is that each letter and character each occupy the same amount of horizontal space. An ‘I’ would have the same space as a ‘W.’ For that reason, a double space is needed to give some air between sentences. With the advent of digital fonts, typographers have already designed spacing between unique characters and the space after periods. No extra space is needed. I don’t get worked up about this because if a copywriter sends me text with two spaces I search and replace two spaces with one and move on. I am the designer after all.
I hope this encourages you to start writing. It’s like anything else, you need to put the time in to get better at it so just start writing.
*These people are my writer friends on Facebook.
My graduation from art school coincided with the publication of David Ogilvy’s book Ogilvy on Advertising. It was a must-have book at the time and has been on my shelf ever since. The advertising landscape has changed dramatically in the years since its first publication, and it has been years since I picked up the book and read it.
This morning in my inbox was an email of recommendations from Amazon Prime. Among the books listed was Ogilvy on Advertising. It got me thinking, would anyone be able to use it today?
I had always wanted to be my own boss, so the first chapters of the book appealed to me. The chapters “How to run and advertising agency” and “How to get clients” were helpful to me even though my clients would never be Rolls-Royce, Hathaway Shirts and Schweppes.
Later chapters discuss the secrets in B2B advertising, direct mail, cause advertising, research and more. There is information that is as relevant today as it was decades ago. You see, David Ogilvy was a writer and he was focused on the story, how to convince you to buy his product or sign up for his offer. As he states in the overture, “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The way we market to individuals is different than back in Ogilvy’s days, but the information in the book still hold up and can be applied to new ways of presenting it. I fully believe that David Ogilvy would be an inbound marketing rock star if he were alive today.
My favorite part is Chapter 20 “I predict 13 changes.” Here are a few of my favorites.
- There will be a renaissance in print advertising
- The clutter of commercials on television and radio will be brought under control
- Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising
Great advertising man, not so great futurist.
My recommendation is that you add this book to your reading list. Buy the book, buy a used copy if you don’t want to spend much money. If you are working at an agency, head to the office of any of the baby-boomers (yes, they still exist at agencies) and see if they have it on their shelf. Try and borrow it without being regaled with stories of the past. It’s an easy read, and there is still great information you can use.
The Guardian website posted an interesting article titled “How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip.” It seems that in the past few years, the sales of ebook readers have declined while sales of traditional paper books have increased. The article by Paula Cocozza goes on to state that “books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty. They are coveted in their own right, while ebooks, which are not things of beauty, have become more expensive; a new digital fiction release is often only a [dollar] or two cheaper than a hardback.”
She’s right. A printed book is a wonderful object to have. As someone who grew up as a print designer, I for one can geek out on paper selection, how it was bound, the cover design and even the endpaper that hold the cover to the rest of the book. The books look awesome on my shelves where I proudly store them after I read them.
One of my favorite books is Moby Dick, an edition produced by Barnes and Noble in 1994. It is beautifully bound and has some excellent scratchboard illustrations by Mark Summers. It looks as good today as it was when purchased 20+ years ago because I have never read it.
You see I am not a great reader. It’s not that I have any reading deficiencies, I just read slowly. I read every word, and sometimes I go back and read the page again because I realize that I was day dreaming. When I was in school, the thought that I would have to read multiple books during the semester terrified me. I never knew if I would ever finish in time. I love reading books, but I have never been able to lose myself in hours of reading. There are too many other things I would rather be doing. Reading is for the times in between.
One thing you find out when you leave school is that you still need to learn. In my case, I needed to keep up with changes in technology and to help grow my business. I needed to acquire new skills and learn about management and leadership. I didn’t get my MBA, but I still needed the skills taught at business school. I needed to learn on my own, and for that, I needed to read.
I made a decision to make reading a bigger part of my life for both business and pleasure. Most of my reading time is just before I go to bed and I am usually in bed. I also read on vacation, while traveling and camping. I get tired of dragging books with me on these trips. I couldn’t take just one, what I wanted was three or four to choose from depending on my mood. At home, a big book like Moby Dick was not going to get read. A pet peeve of mine is holding up a big unwieldy book in bed. That may be a lazy excuse, but it kept me from reading.
The first Kindle book I bought was The Secret Life of Houdini. I downloaded it to my in March 2009. I wanted to see if I could read it on my iPhone. It sounded like a great idea. What a mistake. The constant scrolling made the book unreadable. While a good book, I have to this day I never finished it. I went on to purchase other Kindle and iBook e-books to read on my iPad and half-heartedly tried to keep reading e-books. This was fine, but the experience was never better than reading a traditional book. On the iPad, I was always going down a rabbit hole to find out about something that was in the book. I would make a quick trip to Google, and before I knew it I was watching funny animal videos posted on Facebook. Having access to email and the internet was a problem.
What I needed was a device that was dedicated to the book and wouldn’t let me go down a rabbit hole. I needed something that I could read in the daytime and nighttime. I also wanted a something that had great battery life. I wanted something portable like my iPad. I knew I needed a Kindle and it was time to give it a try.
If you aren’t familiar with a Kindle it is a device produced by Amazon as a way to sell more of their books. There are four different versions with different price points. I chose the Kindle Paperwhite and added a protective cover.
The Pros of the Kindle are:
- Battery lasts weeks
- Holds thousands of books
- Can download books by wifi
- Screen is readable in most any light
- Small and portable.
The Cons of the Kindle are:
- Feels like the technology is from the 1990’s
- Most ebooks cost the same or more than the printed version
- Images in the books are low resolution and hard to see
Now that I have had the Kindle for awhile I have finally become a reader. I load up the Kindle with books that I want to read, all of them. If I find a deal on an interesting e-book, I buy it and download it to read later. I upload manuals that I may need and for courses I teach. I can upload long-form blog posts for later reading as well.
If you noticed earlier in the story I mentioned I read on campouts. I am heading to Boy Scout summer camp for a week in July. Kicking back in a chair, in the woods under the trees is a great time to read, in between naps that is. I can take all my books with me in a device that will not run out power before I get home. It’s small and can go in my daypack.
If you want to start using a Kindle, I have a few recommendations:
- Sign up for the newsletters from Amazon about book deals. You can find them for a couple of dollars. When you see one you are interested in, buy it and load it for when you are ready to read it.
- Sign up with BookBub for daily emails on free and discounted ebooks.
- Add books you are interested reading into Amazon’s wish list. I have a wish list just for books. This is the first place I go to when I am looking for something new to read. If they one of them goes on sale I usually get a notice.
If books are your thing and you don’t want to switch to ebooks then I have a suggestion for you. When shopping on Amazon, look below the Hardcover or Paperback options. You will see something like “26 Used from $1.99.” If you are not looking for that untouched copy of Moby Dick, then you can find some used books in fantastic shape at much lower cost than new. I buy art and photography books this way and have yet to be disappointed.
One of my favorite phrases is “Out of sight, out of mind.” I use this about advertising your company, finding new clients or getting a new job. If they don’t see you, when they need to make a hiring or appointing decision, they won’t think of you. I see books the same way. If they are in a stack by the side of my bed I won’t think about reading them until it’s too late at night. If they are in a portable device in my daypack I can sit down and read anywhere, and all of my books will be right there.
eBooks may be losing their shine, and yes, they are clunky and unhip. But eBooks and the Kindle have helped me to finally become a reader.