Be the Expert: Why Blogging Is Still Important

I recently said this out loud to a small business B2B client: “No, you don’t need to be on Snapchat.” In related news … your insurance brokerage firm is unlikely to get any new business from joining Tinder … unless your business is monkey business.

But who can blame my client? It’s confusing times as old business models get disrupted, leaving most grasping for how to stay relevant and competitive.

Whether you’re a small independent retailer or a major manufacturer and distributor, I’ll bet that there is some question as to how best to spend your marketing time and dollars. As old fashioned print increasingly gives way to digital marketing, and as the landscape of digital marketing opportunities continues to increase, there is one thing that is clear to me: The first step continues to be establishing yourself/your business as the expert, as the place to go for answers. This is best done by writing articles and posting them on your website – aka blogging.Filling your company’s website with knowledge and information written in an engaging, even fun, manner continues to be the best way to establish your authority. Yes, it’s difficult to cut through the noise of social media; but you must have something of value to your customers once they do cut through it and find your website. Once you consistently establish your credentials as the expert, then you spread that word through appropriate social media outlets.

Know what you do well, and delegate the rest.

Like the children of Lake Wobegon, we are all smarter than average. But we’re not all writers. And even if you are quick-witted with the quintessential quill, I’m betting your plate is full thus taking on an extra task like this, which really requires planning, thought, and deliberation, is likely not realistic. So find someone on your staff, or hire an outside ghostwriter/digital marketer who can supply you with a steady stream of articles.

Understand Search Engine Optimization

There are some big ticket digital marketers that want to keep basic SEO information a mystery. It is true that it is an ever-changing target, but the basics are always there which can be summed up in “figuring out the key words that your new customers and clients are searching for.” If you have a guitar shop in Mapleville, then your blogs have to constantly have the words “guitars,” “guitar lessons,” “Mapleville” etc. hyperlinked in your articles. (Another thing that helps raise your visibility is to constantly be linking back to your own page, and your older articles – a favored trick of mine.)

Choose Social Media Platforms Wisely

There will be hipsters that disagree with me, but the basic platforms aren’t changing, and depending on your business, your social media potpourri make up will include some combination of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterist, Twitter, and Google+. (I’m less than enamored by the last two; why should be the subject of another article). Sure, there are others that might be a good fit for your business, and new ones are popping up all the time, but I always advise a client to be realistic. It’s better to work fewer social media platforms well then spread yourself too thin. So that’s great if you start that Vine account for your craft store, but if you never put anything on it, and people find it and see that it’s empty … well, it’s way way worse than not having that account at all.

Rinse & Repeat

A certain 19th century philosophy might have said it is the hobgoblin of little minds, but being consistent with your blogging is key both in terms of how often and its authoritative tone. If you commit to every other week, make sure you (or an employee, or someone you hire) gets one up on your site every other week; and make sure its subject matter, tone, and writing style constantly defines and reinforces that you are the expert, the problem solver, the one to go to for questions.

With every article make sure there is an image or two even if you just pull something off the internet. Then with every post of an article on your site, link it to your social media sites or re-post it in its entirely (if you do the latter make sure it links back to your businesses home page). Then tweet it.

A strong digital media campaign begins with the basics, so blog.

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Producing the Parnelli Awards

4-the-show-7

Backstage at the Parnellis.

Increasingly, I am getting to create special live events, and none are more special and exciting to me than the Parnelli Awards, which I’ve had the honor of producing for nearly 10 years.  This is a special event that is unofficially called “the Grammy’s for Roadies” – it honors those live event personnel who work behind the scenes to make concerts, special events, music festivals, and corporate events happen.  The Scenic Set Designer for Adele, the monitor mixer for Rascal Flatts, the Lighting Designer for Guns ‘n Roses, etc., are honored for artistry and technical skills. Big and small sound companies, lighting companies, and even the truck companies who take the gear from city to city are honored as well.

Basically, one night a year we turn on the mic and shine the spotlight on those who have spent their career avoiding both!

3-show-rehearsal-1

Technical Rehearsal – Here I am going over notes with Jessica Hird, voice over artist.

Speaking of turning the tables … PLSN, which I am senior writer for, decided to do an article on producing the Parnellis. This involved another writer interviewing me, and believe me I’m rarely on that side of the interview pen. The article turned out well, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at an event that honors those behind-the-scenes.

The show is a big project – I’m involved with hiring talent, working with production people (video, lighting, audio, etc.), and making sure the show runs smoothly. I also produce and write six to eight videos, including three documentaries on our lifetime achievement winners (I’m particularly proud of this one on Danny O’Bryen). As this article points out, I am fortunate to have culled from the world of production an amazing team of people who put on a great looking, funny, exciting show.

4-the-show-11And it was exciting – guitar genius Adrian Belew (David Bowie, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads, among others) was the host. I was able to get Tom Petty to come and surprise the crowd, and he spoke eloquently and humorously  about his long time Tour Manager, Richard Fernandez, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Me, directing the show.

Me, directing the show.

It’s a blessing to be able to apply my wide variety of skill set to a special event like this – everything comes into play: writing, editing, creating videos, working with other creatives, and producing something with many moving parts. My play writing experience, my comedy writing, even my musicianship, all come into play. I’m in talks with others to work on their show, and look forward to doing more of this kind of work for a wider variety of clients. It’s a completely fulfilling experience!

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Effectively Blogging for Businesses and Organizations

St._Louis_Art_MuseumThe St. Louis Art Museum recently reached out to me, saying that they wanted to look into doing their blogs differently. “They come off too much as press releases,” they said. When I looked into them, I found them filled with good content and well-written — but yes, they could be more engaging.

Press Releases, which I also do a lot of, are top-down pieces. The company/organization is relaying information. Social Media is a conversation. When I blog for businesses, I always adapt their tone (and this is where my play writing experience comes in handy), but write in a way that gets a reaction. This assignment was plumb – they gave me a great topic and provided me with the headline: “Tale of Two Kitties.” The reaction was off the charts, much higher than their typical blog post. Within a week, last I checked, on the FB page it got over 400 likes and over 50 shares and more comments than usual. From the blog, it got over 500 likes.

I love ghostwriting blogs for anybody – at the other end of the spectrum, I take care of a St. Louis-based insurance broker, too. Another client of mine is the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. I make sure every blog I write has plenty of links, thus increasing its SEO (my own blogs are no exception!). If I can help with your company or organization’s blog, I’d love to have that conversation – please contact me.

You’ll find the art museum blog here, though I’m including it here in my blog. For the Facebook intro, I wrote:

While we acknowledge we’re a bit late to the whole “put a cat on Facebook” phenomenon, our ancient Egyptian Cat has quite a tale to tell. This 14-inch-tall bronze feline was acquired in 1938 at what many citizens and politicians thought was an outrageous price. Sure, editorials and letters came flooding in and there were protests at City Hall, but she brought in record crowds and even a Hollywood invitation. Our gallery talks and the Webster University Film Series are part of the tale, too.

And here’s the article – enjoy!:

A Tale of Two Kitties

Cat; Egytpian, Late Period (664-332 BC).

Cat; Egytpian, Late Period (664-332 BC).

It was the best of times (exciting new acquisition), it was the worst of times (the Depression). Both wisdom and folly were in ample supply when the Museum purchased Cat, an exquisite Egyptian artifact created during the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (664–525 BC). Sculpted in bronze and originally intended to contain a cat mummy, this 14-inch-tall feline was purchased from a private collector in 1938 and would become a popular work in our permanent collection.

But we were in the throes of the Great Depression. So why would then-curator Thomas T. Hoopes pay $14,400 for what one newspaper called a “costly bric-a-brac”? (Perspective: gas was 10 cents a gallon, bread was nine cents, and you could get a new house for less than a third of what Cat cost!) Other headlines included “It Isn’t the Cat’s Whiskers!” and “Black Cat Crosses the City’s Path.” Newspapers from New York to Paris weighed in.

The Associated Press  reported that the price tag “…stirred up the rumpus among unionists, persons on relief, women’s clubs, the city administration and the art museum.” One letter writer suggested the Saint Louis Art Museum sell the entire collection and display members of the Art Commission, charging 25 cents to see them. Another letter writer pointed out that, unlike acquisitions by the Saint Louis Zoo, at least this cat didn’t require feeding. A writer even posed as Cat to pen a letter to the editor  defending herself. But it was no laughing matter when union laborers picketed City Hall in protest, and there was a bill put forth to cut Museum funding. It did not pass.

On the tail end of all that is the “best” part of the tale: A whopping 51,323 cat-curious citizens visited Cat the month of her debut, the second highest attendance by month at the time.

Picture of Dorian Gray with Cat_2

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dir. Albert Lewin. Perf. George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, and Peter Lawford. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1945. Film.

Eventually, Cat caught the attention of Hollywood, too. Screenwriter and director Albert Lewin asked to borrow it for his 1945 film, The Picture of Dorian Gray. “I have seen the Egyptian things in the Louvre, and also in…Cairo, and I think this cat is one of the most beautiful of all,” he gushed.

Museum officials decided Cat was too fragile and not ready for her close-up, but allowed Lewin to create a slightly taller replica to star in the film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel. When Dorian wishes he could stay young forever, it’s the cat that dispenses the curse. The movie would win two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. And currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago is Ivan Albright’s painting of the horrific, cursed Gray that is featured in the film.

While Cat might not have found the level of fame of, say, Grumpy Cat, she is an exemplary example of the popular votive figures created in honor of the Egyptian goddess Bastet, a deity associated with motherhood and a guardian of pregnant women. We hope when you visit her in Gallery 130 you’ll agree that the $14,400 was well spent. To learn more about ancient Egypt animals, attend our gallery talks on Thursday and Friday, June 16 and 17.

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Ghostwriting Your Digital Media Content

blogI recently wrote an article on my LinkedIn Account on how despite the constant changes on the digital media landscape, writing articles/blogging that position you (and your business) as the “expert” is still the foundation of almost any campaign. The blogging created needs to be consistent with your brand and your message, and those articles need to clearly be the source of authoritative answers.

What I’ve been increasingly doing for companies (and individuals) of all sizes is exactly this. Writing articles and posting on their site, then spreading it out on social media, primarily Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, has been effective in building and retaining customers and clients.

ghostwriting

Is there a ghost in the machine? Maybe there should be.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is not hard. Many independent contractors, small businesses, and larger companies can often find someone in-house to do this. But what I see is while most people write fairly well, even really well, the “is it good?” question becomes “is it authentic?” By that I mean “real.” If it’s not, maybe you need a “ghost.”

Even more than a digital marketing professional, I actually feel I am first and foremost a ghostwriter. My years writing plays and television and (unsold) movie scripts has really given me a “good ear” for words. I’m able to recreate the proper tone and even linguistic mannerisms whether I’m writing for a professional lighting designer, a company in the medical field, or even an insurance broker. It’s all key to creating engaging, captivating copy that effectively targets the desired audience.

The other part of it comes from my 15 years as a professional journalist writing for a wide variety of publications. I understand the importance of good, accurate, correct prose. Also I have worked with some pretty tough editors in my days, and I love the back-and-forth that happens with a client as we work together to get the final product right.

Let your voice be heard.

Let your voice be heard.

It’s actually refreshing and enjoyable to bring in these various skills to the digital media table. Also, I feel strongly that getting the tone of the language exactly right is mission critical to branding. Yes it’s noisy out there, but what is going to work for you is being you, and the best way to do that is have someone ghostwrite your content. Generic sounding copy that could in fact be on any of your competitors site will fall on deaf ears. Let your voice be heard.

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Research + Story = Engaging Travel Copy

Writing about a place (or a subject) you're unfamiliar with requires thorough research and the ability to tell a story.

Writing about a place (or a subject) you’re unfamiliar with requires thorough research and the ability to tell a story.

I’ll level with you: I have not been around the world. But I have a client who consistently turns to me to write engaging copy about beautiful destinations I have never been to. This is a gig I got through one of the local creative staffing agency, and the assignment is to take a sheet of facts about an available trip and write it up so their clients would sign up for it.

My work persuades.

They love my work. Now, it’s true, Paris, London, Ravenna, even Dubrovnik I’ve been too, and that helps a bit; but what helped me even more do an amazing job on this assignment is I’m first and foremost a professional storyteller. I don’t just put facts in order, I create something so compelling, that the reader can smell the salt in the air and the soft sand between their toes.

Also helping me be a successful freelance writer here in St. Louis is that I’m great to work with. I ask questions. I take chances. I turn the assignment in early, and I’m eager to revisit it based on my client’s notes. (Though in this case, I hit it out of the park on every bit.)

If you’re a creative, then I don’t have to tell you, that doing something like this in “only 250 words” makes an assignment more challenging. But I love it. My research is so thorough that my first drafts on these travel tours was typically 1200-1500 words. But succulently I prune and deliver exactly what the client wants, exceeding all expectations along the way.

Take a trip with me and check out this sample – but don’t blame me if you’re suddenly packing your bags.

Travel Copy – A World Awaits Copywriting Sample

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The Parnelli Awards

Concert Promoter Kevin Lyman

Concert Promoter Kevin Lyman

As a writer/content provider for all things, few things I do are as rewarding as the Parnelli Awards. Last weekend I finished producing and writing the 15th annual award that honors those who work in the live events, and it was an astonishing success. The host was Vans Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman, and those who work behind the scenes in concert touring (lighting directors, audio engineers, set designers) and other live events received their awards.  There were three lifetime achievement awards given out, to, including one to Chris Lamb, who has made the world tours of the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and most recently, Jennifer Lopez, happen, among scores more through his career.

I write all the articles and the three documentaries on our honorees, and head a team that writes the two hour show.  I head production meetings and handle everything from how much rigging needs to go into the room to where certain people sit at the show (I’m surprised they don’t ask me to also bus the tables ….).  I handle a thousand moving parts, working with professional event people and the occasional ornery presenter. The challenge is these people have purposely chosen a life backstage, away from the limelight, and here I am, pushing them in front of a live mic in front of a sold out crowd of 700 of their peers.

Parnelli Awards 2015 Crew Shot

That’s me, kneeling, next to host Kevin Lyman and all the crew who make this show happen.

How do I do that?

First, let’s back up: While today it’s the most prestigious award show in this business, it naturally started out small.  While I wrote for the magazines that sponsor it (PLSN and FOH) since their beginning, this show started as a dinner where they gave out one award.  In 2003 it expanded and I was asked to write a documentary on that year’s lifetime honoree, the unflappable Chip Monck, who among his lighting skills is likely most known to the general public as the guy who warned you against the brown acid at Woodstock. My role grew to writer, and then producer, and the show continues to get bigger and better.

John Andrews, CEO of QSC, was a presenter at the 15th Annual Parnelli Awards

John Andrews, CEO of QSC, was a presenter at the 15th Annual Parnelli Awards

It’s an odd thing to say that one was born to run award shows, but that is certainly my case.  All my life skills and experiences come into play: play writing, interviewing, producing, organizing, working with people, listening, graphic designer (I do all the power point slides that run the show), public relations, digital media, people skills, speech writing, technical knowledge and experience … and of course, writing in the voice of the person at the mic.

For those who have to take the mic and aren’t professionals – in fact are fearful of it – I’m able to interview him or her on the topic, and get their words on paper.  Then I mold it, and we work on it together.  I build up confidence and take good care of them throughout the process.  I get a lot of kudos from people who go from “no way!” to “wow that worked out really well.”

The only regret about the Parnelli Awards is that I only do it once a year – now that I have it down, I’m anxious to apply these skills to other similar situations, because despite the stunning amount of work, I really have fun doing it, so do everyone who works with me.

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Writing About Success

indexI just had coffee with a fellow writer here in St. Louis who is part of a recently founded but fast-growing one act play festival. It’s pretty exciting, because one of America’s greatest writers is attached to it, and a wonderful local theater group is involved. No wonder it’s in its eight season.

But I was reminded of a feature called “The Write Stuff” I wrote last year for a new online magazine called LineUp — the now famous Austin Film Festival. It was a great freelance assignment.

But what I really loved is I got to write the whole story – from the very beginning, when co-founder Barbara Morgan put this thing on in 1994 … without even having ever been to a film festival.  In my candid interview with her, this really smart, hard scrabble woman reflected that maybe she and the others involved back then made it work because they didn’t “know” what they could or could not do.

Writing about successful businesses for more than a dozen years, I’ve learned this: While breaking some rules is almost always part of a successful launch, maybe not even knowing the rules is even better.

These stories I write have another aspect in common: Focus.

Morgan credits the success to maintaining a laser-focus on the mission, which is: to further “the art and craft of filmmaking by inspiring and championing the work of screenwriters, filmmakers, and all artists who use the language of film to tell a story.”

But being successful was only part of the picture. Another inspirational and impressive point about this story is how they managed their success. The Austin Film Festival got bigger and better.  Morgan attributed this to carefully staying “on mission”:

“There are times when some outside forces have had good intentions and tried to encourage us to expand our mission one way or another,” Morgan says. “We’ve tested a few things that have not worked for us, and we’ve always come back to our mission. I think it helps that I’m fairly myopic, and that keeps us on mission!”

This was a wonderful assignment for me, because I do find it inspirational. I sent this to my fellow writing thinking some of it might be useful as they grow their festival, which already seems like a wonderful organization.

In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick around some ideas for a new one act play ….

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Digital Marketer: Who’s Doing the Talking?

Social Media MarketingI took on a new client this month – I’ll be handling his digital marketing strategy. He’s a great guy running a successful small business here in St. Louis – just admittedly not “tech savvy.” I’m setting up and running his LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, doing some ghost writing for a book he wants to publish, and will be an extra creative in the room for whatever else he needs marketing/public relations-wise.

We’ve hit it off swimmingly (I love helping people like this), and it was interesting why I got the account after he interviewed half a dozen or so.  He said everybody else came in, sat down, and talked, talked, talked. They did all the talking, telling him how they can get him thousands of “friends” and set up Twitter so it seems like he’s tweeting every hour, etc. Sounds like they rattled off a lot of buzz words without even figuring out what he knew about digital marketing and the social media landscape.

“You asked a lot of questions about my business,” he said.

It’s true. For the first two meetings he did all the talking. A journalist at heart, before I start providing content for a company, I want to understand it. I learned how this particular insurance broker works, how he’s attracted business in the past, and what he wants to accomplish. I took every marketing piece he had home and studied it, and came back with more questions.

See, in the faced-pace world of digital marketing, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. For example, it became clear that Twitter is not going to be that useful for his specialized business, and LinkedIn would actually be the best ROI. I will be developing a YouTube channel for him and get his webinars to be both higher quality and gain more viewers.

So if you’re interviewing a consultant to help with your digital marketing, and he or she leaves, ask yourself this: Who did most of the talking?

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Oldest Theater Embraces New Technology

Feature on Walnut Street Theatre_000001 I love the theater, I go quite frequently, and even have written a few plays myself here in St. Louis. So it’s not surprising that as a freelance writer I enjoy writing features like this one for Stage Directions Magazine. It’s a great magazine run by a terrific editor that goes out to mostly independent, college, high school, and community theaters.

What a story this was: The Walnut Street Theater is the oldest continually operating theater in the country. And so when a theater that at one point counted Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe as patrons has to upgrade their technology (and they wisely do it often), it has to be done with great care.

Getting to the heart of this story involved a bit of research and a couple of long interviews. The challenge is always getting to the full story, with as many details as possible (in this technology magazine, that’s what the readers want), yet be relatively brief. Feature on Walnut Street Theatre_000002

My approach though always includes making it engaging, and getting those I interview feel comfortable so I can capture their voice.  I’m please at how this one turned out (you can read the online version here). And I know what how I’ll be spending at least one of my nights the next time I’m in Philly ….

 

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The Effective Advertorial

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000001 As a freelance content provider, over the years I’ve developed  strong opinions about the advertorial — I know what works and what doesn’t; I know when it can be effective and when it’s not the right medium for the message.

Here’s a case when it’s the right call. Martin Audio is a high-end professional pro audio company based in England, and they have created an amazing system in the MLA. (How high end? Let’s just say you won’t be picking these up for your  local hi-fi store any time soon.)

I worked with the client and configured the layout, picked the images, and conducted fresh interviews that were included up the testimonials (more on this in a moment). Usually less is more, but on something like this, that is really aimed at a narrow but extremely important audience, a lot of information should be provided, and a call to action for the potential client to get even more information.

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000002 Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When faced with a challenge like this, rather than rely solely on the information provided by the client, I like to ask, “who is using and loving your product?” That peer-to-peer recommendation is increasingly important across the today’s social media environment, and it’s making it more so in print pieces. Notice in addition to shots of festivals, I included shots of the people using this amazing new sound system. It makes it all the more real. (Speaking of social media, I will recommend that parts of this be used in all the client’s social media platforms in small pieces over the next year and maybe even beyond.)

The fourth page includes even more pro audio technical details and that call to action to look into it further as this is a specific audience that eats up technical details down to the decibel.

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there’s that first page … Steely Dan in concert. They are well-known for their reputation of incredible high standards, and while I could have put a bunch of acts on this page (they are listed on page four), I wanted to send a message that this is a prestige system that only the best of the best want to use.

It’s more copy-heavy then I would typically recommend, but again, the stakes are high as is the thirst for technical information, which brings me to my final point: No matter what the medium, before I write a word I always work to understand the mindset of the audience, and never waiver from keeping what he and she want to learn from the well-placed advertorial.

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