Thursday, August 28, 2008

If You Want to Hang On, Let Go

I had a progressive roommate in San Francisco (is there any other kind?) who introduced me to the title concept. "The only way to hang on is to let go," she intoned, in her sharpest new-age accent.

Are we ready to do that with our content?

Are you ready to tell your boss that you're going to take the white paper for which you just paid US$6500, and give it away without asking for so much as an e-mail address in return?

Don't tell her that I told you do to it; tell her David Meerman Scott told you to do it. And he should know.

"Lose control of your information," he counsels. "We in marketing have controlled the external dialog for ages, but there is no control online anymore, so you're better off throwing out the mechanisms for and pretense of control. Make all your e-content free without registration or e-mail address; if it's decent content, it will get shared a lot more. I have clients who discover that 20, 30, 40 times more people are using their content."

What does that bode for you?

It means you can't leave your white papers, Web content, case studies and articles entirely up to your writer (unless your writer is David Meerman Scott, I suppose).

YOU need to infuse them with the schmaltz and chutzpah that will get people talking about your
not your products and services.

Your writers need to understand this, and they need to see that you're willing to let go in order to hang on.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tired of Writing?

"Do you ever get tired of writing?"

One writer has done several projects for us: three case studies and a white paper in the past few months. We were on a call to review a draft of the paper the other day when I casually posed that question.

He laughed out loud and quoted American humorist S.J. Perelman: "I loathe writing. On the other hand I'm a great believer in money."

After we'd all had a good chuckle, he paused and sheepishly asked, "Does this draft make it look as though I'm tired of writing?"

"No," my colleague offered. "Not at all."

Do you get tired of writing? If so, what do you do?
  • Pull out your latest mortgage statement?
  • Close your eyes and pray?
  • Look into your dog's eyes and realize you may not be the person she thinks you are?
  • Phone your kid and ask whether he's making enough to support you yet?
  • Take a nap?
  • Open another fifth of scotch?
Life is hard. Then you write.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Caught in a Content-Bind

A fellow marketing manager - let's call her Matilda - was stuck between the rock of her obligation to product managers to generate technical white papers and the hard place of an engineering group with little confidence in her ability to come up with meaty content.

This is not uncommon (you should pardon the double negative). Most engineers don't understand that the role of Marketing is to initiate the conversation as a result of which their products will be sold, so when they see a marketing manager coming, they assume we're there to organize the next company party. They often have trouble giving us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to translating their technology into the plausible, persuasive story that is a white paper. They often prefer either to write it themselves when they get enough time or not to cooperate at all.

So, what would you do in Matilda's place?

Anticipating the tension, Matilda wisely announced that she was going to offer three levels of service:

1. Full service: Writer interviews engineer, collects data, and writes/illustrates entire paper.
2. Revision Service: Engineer prepares draft of white paper, turns over to writer. Writer updates design and copy, adds or cleans up illustrations.
3. Third Party Review: Engineer prepares white paper in entirety, then submits for specific suggestions from experienced writer.

(We've worked at level 1.5 also, in which the engineer prepares an outline with the salient points to be covered in the paper, then the writer fleshes out the outline with interviews, illustrations and other materials.)

That was Matilda's concession to the engineers. Her concession to the writer is that she planned for this to be an ongoing relationship, in which she offered a relatively steady stream of work at these different levels.

Did this work? We don't know yet, because it was too nuanced to fly immediately, and it wasn't the one-way-or-the-other solution that makes decisions easy for upper management. Still, I like it as a compromise, whether you're a marketing manager trying to harvest content or a writer pitching your skills.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Pathologic Inability to Meet Deadlines"

Does that phrase echo in your brain when you think about hiring a freelance writer? I saw it on a writing blog the other day.

Nobody likes unreliability in anyone - a stockbroker, a teacher, a spouse - least of all when somebody else downstream is depending on a delivery. Do you have reliability-problems with your writer?

Here are a couple of ways to think about this. None is a perfect solution, but perhaps you can use them in combination to deal with this.

Pick Your Priorities
Everybody wants best-cheapest-fastest. Which do you want most? If you're getting good content ("best") at the price you want ("cheapest"), then maybe you give a little on deadlines ("fastest").

Engage Your Writer on the Subject
Tell your writer about your priorities. Find out why he misses deadlines. You have needs in this relationship and as long as you don't get ruthless and stake a claim to all of the marbles, you and the writer can have some kind of dialog beyond, "What should we do about the first paragraph?"

Build It Into the Contract
You can try to clause your way around the problem of punctuality by building in milestones and consequences, but if your writer has serious reliability-problems, that won't help much. This may suit your personality and business-preference, though. Be prepared to play the heavy if push comes to shove and you need to invoke the consequences (warnings, notices, discounts for late delivery).

Ask the Writer
Ask your writer candidly what she would do in your position, if deliveries were consistently late. That's as close to the bone as you can get in stating your view of the problem. Frankly, though, some people - not just writers, believe it or not - suffer from a pathologic inability to put themselves in anybody else's shoes, so you may not get very far with this.

Folks, this is a business relationship, so treat it like one, and convey your attitude to your writer. You can be fair and work out a satisfactory middle ground for both of you, even if you have to move from best-cheapest-fastest to better-cheaper-faster.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Writer, Happy Client

1) Message.

2) Review loop.

Your homework, as a client who has bought yourself a writer, is to ensure you communicate (1) to your writer, and to keep (2) as tight as you can.

I could go on - and I shall do in subsequent posts - but that's enough homework for now.

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