I normally really really try to resist sharing images that put individual people on trial for things that aren’t their fault, but I just saw something that really does need to be addressed.
One of the curious things about this line of work is that you often get to watch reactions to events unfold in real time. One of the best ways to do that, of course, are the “firehose” networks (like Twitter!)
The trouble is that when you’re working a content production beat, it can be really really really really tempting to ping a primary source observer for updates.
The result is that once a video of an event gets discovered, a perfectly average person with next to no interest in dealing with the public relations machine is suddenly sucked into the middle of it.
This is particularly curious if you consider that as time advances, the value of the documentary footage should decrease — it becomes less rare. Being “second,” to a story is less valuable than being “first,” etc.,
When a non-communications professional run-of-the-mill-civilian actual human does this, it’s called trolling.
I’m not really sure this constitutes a photo release, either — but the behavior is far too prevalent to be accidental.
Here’s the thing though, this kind of stuff is why everyone hates us.
I first learned to make things by taking apart things that other people made.
I didn’t know that other people did this too. Over the years, I’ve learned that people who grew up to make other things did the same thing too. Ken Mazaika even suggests it in “29 Behaviors That Will Make You An Unstoppable Program,” but I have found that many of us in creative production might benefit from this simple, yet powerful advice.
One of the more curious problems we had as we figuring out how to grow our team was the problem of documentation. A good number of the things that we send to people (quick reports, sales quotations, one sheets etcetera) don’t ever really make it into the organization’s production queue. As a result, it’s hard to make sure that every asset is held to the same standard of “good work.”
Were it possible to quickly teach people to intuit good design, good designers wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as they are. Still, some of the best solutions for these sorts of problems involve empowering non-designers to make design decisions. I’ve mentioned a few big name documents because I think they’re trouble for a lot of teams, but the truth is, I’ve yet to see a correlation process that can account for the sheer magnitude
The trouble with is that crossing an education gap of this magnitude can quickly start to look a whole lot more like retraining than “empowerment.” Through sad experience I have found that this often does more harm than good.
There’s one technique I keep coming back to when I try to help coax someone who encounters a situation where they need an every-day document they make on the computer to look “good,” but don’t necessarily have the budget (monetary or otherwise) to employ professional assistance.
It’s annoying. It takes an extra ten minutes.
It’s simple, and anyone can learn to do it.
Make a Real World Copy
The first step in the process is to print out an actual-physical-real-world-copy of your document. For this to work, you’ve got to be able to see what you’re doing. That means you’ve got to make something real.
When I show people this trick in person, I actually go so far as to make sure we have five copies handy. You may be ok with only two or three. The point isn’t really the number, multiples are just helpful for markup.
Once you’ve got your copies in hand, you’re ready for the next step.
Dress Your Copy
This is the fun part.
Think about all of the situations where your document is going to end up in the hands of a real-live reader. The truth is your document is going to get read in such a wide variety of ways, it may seem overwhelming. It might slide across a desk, resting somewhere on its side before being turned around and examined. It might never get turned around and slide right on into the circular file.
One trick to allay these worries is to simulate each one and pay attention to which parts of your document grab your eye.
Place your document flat, right side up on the desk. Look down. Where does your eye first go? What have you written there? Is it the most important thing?
It should be.
Spend some time casting your glaze on your document and focus on the big picture. Make sure you’re using space to draw attention to the things you want to draw attention to and to hide the things you’d rather people gloss over.
You can spend hours doing this, and at some point it’s diminishing returns. When you catch yourself starting to tinker with the edges of your work, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Catch The Obvious Mistakes
There’s one skill you can pick up that will help you win any word search and find most obvious typographical errors. It’s a habit long practiced by disciplined searchers of wide areas of physical space.
Start by looking at each letter in your document. Have the discipline to keep this up row by row. You’re looking for letters that are out of place, and things that are spaced inconsistently. It will seem frustrating.
It will get even more frustrating when, after you finish you return to your document to check the spacing between words and then the spacing between paragraphs.
This work is painstaking.
It has to be.
It’s the only way you’ll make sure that you didn’t “accidently” leave in a typo you could have avoided. Over time, you’ll build up the ability to move at a slightly quicker pace. Even then, you’ll benefit from taking the time to methodically work through something you’re about to produce.
Once you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself picking apart other people’s work to figure out how it actually works for fun in your free time. It’s really is a great way to learn.
When I first realized that advertising would become a focus of my career, I was in part drawn in by the relatively numeric world of digital advertising. I liked that it was easy to base all of your work on an actual number of users, and it seemed reassuring to be able to know what was happening with the content that you produced.
Over the years as my scope of practice has grown, I’ve had to learn the nuances of the way this same information is communicated differently in different mediums.
A few years ago, I was learning how to buy print. It was then that I first encountered the idea of a readership number. It was explained to me that a magazine publisher knew (roughly) how many issues it produced and how many were distributed. With a bit of work the team publishing a magazine could also know what percentage of run went to homes and what percentage went to places like waiting rooms where it was likely to be seen by multiple people.
A readership number then, was an estimate of how many people actually read the content in any given issue.
While this definition might encourage the comfort of feeling as though there were some sort of consistency into the assumed number of readers per issue, I’ve yet to get the same multiple from any one publisher. Some hold to the average of 4, others report the subscriber number and others come up with justifications I’ve heard for as high as 12x.
Trouble is there are just some situations where you don’t have a choice. If a strategy demands a certain publication, you need it — no two ways about it.
One trick I’ve found incredibly helpful in these situations is to compare the readership and subscribership numbers. Once you’ve figured out how much the figure is inflated, you can check another source to reference the audience size.
While you can’t always find an exact match, I’ve found that comparing the number of people interested in “bicycles” on Facebook to the number of people a magazine claims as readers (and then both numbers to the total (avg cost/total sales size) number of bicycle sales) can often prove a beneficial exercise.
While it won’t tell you exactly how many people you’re about to reach it should get you a little bit closer to reality than the more optimistic sales figure often is.
One of my more peculiar habits is that once I start paying attention to something like a new album or company or news, I have a really hard time adjusting once that topic is out of the limelight of coverage. As a result, I spend a lot of time staying up to date on things I probably would be better off ignoring.
It was on one such fact-finding mission, that I noticed an old associate recycling one of my old tags in an interview with a journalist. It was a good line, and we had tested it before hand. At the time we were working on building real relationships with customers, and a tested line seemed like the best way to do that.
…which is how you know it was a few ago. After 2016, I’d be surprised to see pre-tested lines too often.
Thinking about that reminded me of something someone had once said to me about quotations. All too often, you’ll hear someone say “I heard this great quote.”
The temptation to dive into the weeds of the history “quote,” is overwhelming. but for the sake of focus, I’ll resist it. Suffice it say that in contemporary vernacular english we’ve taken a few words and molded them into one shorter word we abuse the hell out of.
“Quotation,” isn’t the only bit of speech where this happens, but it’s one of the more interesting ones — because the nature of evoking the language of another is wrought with nuance. As the language we use to describe an action evolves, so to does our understanding of the action we use the language to describe.
Settling into a familiar pattern of describing your business happens to everyone. After you’ve told the founding story once or twice, it all starts to sound the same. It gets easy to slip into the rhythm of the high notes and the low notes of the story.
You start to feel the parts of the story that receive a reaction, you start to explore the pauses and after awhile, the details just all become things you play with.
That’s true of any story you tell enough to have memorized, I think, and the trouble is that when it comes to presenting your business in an authentic light — pretested lines fall flat.
See the trouble with quotations is that they’re one of the few examples of speech that we look to as though it might hold value on its own.
Have you ever told a story to a group of friends about something funny that happened? It probably included a moment that was something along the lines of “so then (so and so) said”
If you’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing a story that doesn’t hinge around that sort of movement, you know just how dry such a story can be.
Have you ever wondered why?
It’s because when you retell a story without that little bit of motion, that little bit of context? You tell a story that sounds like it doesn’t have a point.
“I Think Hail To The Chief Has A Nice Ring To It” the famous Kennedy quotation, just doesn’t pack the same sort of punch if you hear it divorced of its context.
But the with the context, knowing the statement was uttered by a man running for president, the words take on a new meaning. The words are given a power they didn’t have before.
While this may not be true of every repeatable phrase, there’s an important lesson here to be learned by those of us who are engaged in the work of professional communications.
It isn’t good enough to say something that “sounds good,” you’ve got to spend a little more time thinking about the where and the why of what you’re going to say.
One of the rather enjoyable parts of my job (and I should know, I’ve written about it before) is that I get to spend a lot of time thinking about why people consume the media that they consume. Part of doing that in a way you can actually manage means building up systems that make it easier to sort through massive amounts of information.
One of the first tricks I learned when I started out working with smaller teams was that while every founder wants to run a brand with national reach, the truth is getting to that threshold is expensive. I think because it’s so great to celebrate the successes of others, there’s a lot more attention paid to the wins — makes them seem more common than they are.
It takes time. It takes an investment of resources. It takes persistence.
The truth is, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a lot of businesses to bother with it.
So, I pulled a window of traffic recently, and I spent the better part of this afternoon updating our lists of media sources out of those offices.
That was a journey and a half.
I think the first thing that stood out was just how much great work gets produced by people who have no discernable internet presence. It’s really a shame, because articles like those are really bad candidates for aggregators. They’re like dead-ends for traffic.
The next big thing that stood out to me was just how cluttered some of these sites have gotten. Taking a walk through the landscape of traditional publishers and smaller regional outfits is like going on a tour of the last 20 years of ad tech.
If you’re really trying to load 20+ tracking widgets, the time has long come to look at tag managers. If I’m having trouble loading a site on a desktop with 16gb of RAM, I can’t help but wonder how bad it’d have been trying to get the news on my phone.
All told, I’m finding that it takes me about an hour to collect a state’s relevant sources. I’m averaging some things out. Smaller states and states with very consolidated media markets are much faster, intricate markets much slower, but the truth is that’s not unsustainable. That’s a good clip.
While I might like to think that everyone could take a day a month, I had one real advantage doing this I hadn’t thought about for today.
I spend most of my time maneuvering around media. I know where to look to find who wrote something and where to look to find out why. I know how to browse without a layer of adtech and how to zero in my search on what I’m looking for — but if I were just looking up a random thing, like say, what I needed to know about which infrastructure initiatives were getting prioritized or changes to a school board election process…I might not think to bring that context with me.
Nor would I think to go back and cite those events were I to conduct the search in reverse when I say, wanted to know why a certain candidate won and another lost…(to pick on that school board example.)
You can still spot places where someone is working hard (like say, C Jones Voiklis) and just hasn’t quite captured the attention it’s bound to. (I say ‘it,’ because I know exactly what % of each class at each grade school I went to across the country read “A Wrinkle In Time” and it’s a lot higher than this follower count would suggest.) But being truly “undiscovered,” really isn’t the problem for as many people as you’d think it might be.
If you’re producing great, local, relevant content you’ve got to think a little more broadly about how you put it out there. I picked a little on that school board race, but the truth is if you find yourself saying “no one cares about this,” you’re probably right about where you want to be and instead need to take a step back and look at how you’re distributing content.
I can find scores of readers online fired up about the race, and they’re just as frustrated that “no one is covering” the stories they care about.
It’s a shame really.
This really made me think a lot about something that happens with clients that ask for “SEO.” Many times, they’ve hacked together a collection of articles about a whole slew of keywords that they heard were important or related to their topic. Over time, the searches for those keywords have slowed down and traffic has suffered.
The trouble is, this happens with ‘real,’ words, too.
If you’ve ever called an “attorney” a ‘lawyer,’ or a “physician” a “doctor” (or even more tasteless or “ambulance chaser” or “sawbones”) just to watch the cringe you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The words people use in everyday speech are just different from the words they use in other contexts.
When you need information to cross those contexts, I think that means that somewhere, there’s a little bit of extra work for someone to figure out where a bit of information like an article might be most relevant.
I’m currently traveling abroad to Europe for work. One of the perks and curses of the job. Luckily I’m in a lovely little country called Iceland that I’ve never been to before and am danger of falling in love with far too deeply and far too quickly for my own good.
As I had the chance to fly Icelandic air over I noticed something quite interesting. The entire magazine, television selection, perks, etc. all revolved around local products and services. Seriously, the airline was almost a flying, and very comfortable, billboard, but likely not to the highest bidder but rather another local.
At first I thought it must be a mistake, or perhaps there was low demand to a place like Iceland for points. Thinking quickly on the captive audience as well as ads for high end foreign fashion, I concluded this must not be true. No, I think the Icelandic people have remembered something that most of us have forgotten.
No product is an island. We all do better when we all do better.
Think about this for a moment. It’s in the best interest of each and every one of these companies to help one another create a great experience for me. Why?
If I have a good time, and come back, I’ll surely be spending more money.
This simple fact of putting customer experience above short term gain is a powerful one, that I believe many companies could stand to remember.
I’m currently writing this from sunny and warm Las Vegas as I sip a rum and coke at the airport. It’s a wonderful town that I always love visiting. I’m here specifically for the the Money 2020 conference which is a gathering of financial folks of all sorts to talk about the future of the industry. If you know me at all, you know that I love to follow the money to find out what’s actually happening which is largely why I’m here. One thing I noticed though, is the gross and, in the words of Hillary Clinton, deplorable state of the media buying surrounding this conference. There’s a handful of offenders that stick out in my mind, but I want to just say something that should be obvious to any marketer that gives a shit.
Buying a billboard that’s half a mile a way doesn’t do anything for you.
Now let me be clear I’m not railing against outdoor. In fact, I think outdoor in general is actually a pretty good deal at the moment. No what I’m railing against is lazy marketing. (Yet again). Buying on points in a zip code is easy. Buying actually relevant ads is hard, but that’s where all the ROI is. Think about this for a second. For a conference that costs $3300 to attend, do you think they’re taking taxis, or do you think they’re taking limos and ubers?
I’m waging a crusade. A crusade against lazy media buying.
The worst part is this is incredibly solvable. All it would take is doing diligence on the actual buy. That being said I don’t want to wholesale throw marketers under the bus. There are very real time and resource constraints that dictate these things. What companies need to realize is that marketing lies in 2016. We can measure ROI. Treat marketing like a profit center rather than a money pit.
If you invest in your media buying you may actually see some great returns.
I’ve been meaning to spend a little more time talking about all of the different ways that you can leverage digital tech to lower the barriers of entry to getting into print.
I think that’s the kind of topic I might think would be easier to cover one bit at a time. The trouble I’ve been having is that picking which of those bits really is a bit of a sport.
There’s one thing I learned a few years ago that I think might have been helpful to me a few years back, and because it’s a flow we use so much these days, it’s easy to forget that it can be helpful to play with.
One of the stranger challenges in marketing a book is building up an audience of people who are enthusiastic about something that doesn’t necessarily exist yet.
The amusing thing is, it’s as staggering as trying to invent a story about something that doesn’t exist.
I suspect reviving the techniques honed during the era of serialization will prove to be a blessing in disguise for anyone looking to start sharing stories.
Let’s take a look at what you’d need to publish ten different stories and message them to ten different audiences of people.
10 Different Chapters Or Short Stories
A Working Knowledge Of Getting A Website With Paygate To Download Functionality Online.
Access To A Tool Like Canva.
Access To A Collection Of Stock Photo Resources
Ability To Spin Up Social/Platform Profiles
A Layout Tool. (I prefer InDesign, but there are a number of good tutorials available for a staggering number of platforms.)
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve already sorted out that I’m going to have you prepare each of those segments of a story for publication. I’m also assuming that you’ve got a working command of a some of the more formal steps of this process like uploading your book file, preparing a cover etc.,
That might be a lot — but the truth is, if you don’t, you can find loads of delightful tutorials on these topics. With roughly 50–60 hours of well-intentioned study you could comfortably be familiar enough with the mechanics of the basics to get started.
And what you would do afterwords, is to put those samples in front of an audience of likely readers. You’ll be able to find those readily on just about every network of users on the internet — and you’ll spend time trying to get those individual stories some measure of attention.
Decide what “success” will look like before you get started. Spend the same amount of time for each one. Use a similar process. Use a different property for each story.
When you’ve put in the effort to seed all ten stories, take a step back and look at the results.
Did any get early traction?
If so — write the second chapter, and share it with your audience. If you want to expand the pool of people paying attention, you’ll already have done the hard work of beginning to build a promotional universe!
Did no stories get traction?
The best way to find out why is to write ten more!
Did the story you wanted to get traction, not?
World’s not ready. Shelf it. Try another round of experiments.
The beauty of this approach is that there really isn’t anything new about it. It’s the same approach that’s been used to test messages or build hype for…really…generations. I think the only real thing that’s changed is the ease with which something this historically complicated could readily be executed by the person who put together the story.
I took the opportunity to walk through my neighborhood last evening. I couldn’t help but notice this wonderful bit of old-world advertising while I was out and about. Here’s a closer shot:
It must have been rough trying to sell ads back when there was no real way to guarantee who saw them. In deference to my lack of experience with this rather…dated…medium, here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed.
So, they know I’m walking towards Safeway…where’s the magic?
I don’t know — but as soon as I crossed the street, I got a push notification from the Starbucks App on my phone.
The wondrous folks at CreativeOutdoor.Com aren’t the only ones to try and get scrappy about the online-offline problem.
This is a pretty common problem. How can a business know that they aren’t wasting their money on advertising?
The problem with billboards like this one: they ask the wrong question.
The right question?
“What should we say on the street corner?”
I think that’s the problem with QR Codes, too.
Our job is to find the customer where they are. Once we do that, we need to deliver something they find valuable — especially if we’re going to ask them to go through the trouble of scanning a code they walked past.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what is literally the only functional case of QR code usage I have ever seen — @50Back
Empowering socially conscious consumers to “Buy a Beer” for a Soldier (or other charity) by scanning a code on the bottle makes sense. It meets the customers where they are, and it gives them a reason to engage.
A Jog Through The Story of The Origin Of That Black Flag You’ll See Today
If you’ll forgive my click-baity headline, I promise it really will be worth the time. See, I am horrible about not working on holidays. A few years ago, I came up with a technique to try and be a little bit better about it. From time to time I put together an email highlighting a detail from history I found worth remembering, and a few links to read further. I figured this Memorial Day, I’d share.
“It took me four days to find a bad job at low pay” -Newt Heisley, on finding work in advertising.
When I first read that quotation, I knew that the story of the POW/MIA flag had to be a little more exciting than what I’d always heard.
The version of the story I knew growing up, went something like this.
On January 7, 1970, LtCdr. Michael Hoff was launched from the USS Coral Sea as the pilot of a Sidewinder A7A Corsair aircraft. His mission was to perform armed reconnaissance over Laos.
I’m borrowing the in-line quoted portion from here.
The weather in the area was clear and visibility was about 10 miles. Hoff’s aircraft was completing a strafing run near the city of Sepone when Commander Hoff radioed that he had a fire warning light and was going to have to bail out. The flight leader could not see the aircraft at that time. The leader did sight the aircraft just as it impacted in an area which was flat with dense vegetation and high trees.
The pilot of another aircraft reported sighting Hoff’s aircraft below him, when it was approximately 2,000 feet above the ground. The aircraft at that time commenced a roll and, prior to reaching an inverted position, a flash was observed which was initially thought to be the ejection seat leaving the aircraft. Immediately afterwards, the aircraft impacted and exploded. No parachute was seen, nor were emergency transmissions received.
During ensuing search operations, aircraft reported that they received heavy enemy automatic weapons fire. Two aircraft were able to make repeated low passes in the crash area looking for a parachute or survivor, but the results were negative.
As near as I’ve been able to find, it is here that the story of a woman known to readily Googleable history as Mrs. Michael Hoff, begins.
History has questioned Mrs. Hoff’s motives.
(To some she is said to have only noticed around 1971 when one of America’s oldest flagmaking shops, Annin Co published an article in the local press about having recently offered to design a flag for every country in the United Nations. To others, the very idea of the flag is at best an empty gesture of bureaucratic handwringing. I don’t find either of these positions particularly exciting, so I’m not going to mention them again — but I offer the dissenting critiques in the spirit of full disclosure.)
But I like to think that when she reached out to the Annin Co, Norman Rivkees was savvy enough to recognize what a good idea it was.
Military families have long shared in the military’s rich tradition of pageantry. (While it’s too much story for this post, if you’re interested you should check out the story of the Service flag designed by Robert L. Queissner, which pops up in some amazing places.) And Mrs. Hoff was right to note, there simply wasn’t a comparable expression for families who had sacrificed loved ones in service of the contemporary conflict.
According to Annin, Rivkees reached out to a New Jersey shop that as it just so happened had a connection to the service.
Heisley joined the Army Air Force some time after graduating from Syracuse’s fine arts program. At the time of the design of this flag, Heisley was still working for an east coast agency, but sources suggest that by 1972 Heisley had built up enough of a reputation to move to Colorado Springs, Colorado and launch his own boutique shop.
The design is simple, and the three elements have been interpreted by many more qualified critics than I. (And even Heisley’s own words on the story are worth a read.)
The guard tower, the barbed wire and the enfirmed soldier. Even the copy at the bottom of the illustration was drawn from Heisley’s own experience.
Which is precisely what I’m thinking about this Memorial Day. Because while we may think of this flag now in many different ways, it’s origins are one of the most American sort of stories I can think of. The way that Mrs. Hoff thought to contact a flag maker she had learned of reading a paper, that the project landed on the desk of a small advertising agency, that the work was powerful enough to give the designer the freedom he had earned at the end of a long career to start his own shop — that after serving half way across the world, it was that experience and perspective that let him build here, in the great state of Colorado.
That members of three of the most forgotten groups (military spouses, graphic designers, and flag makers) found a way to make use of the talents at their disposal and in doing so were able to accomplish this historically thankless task of acknowledging society’s most forgotten sacrifices is a reminder of our shared responsibility to do what we can with out voice where we are to make our communities more like the places we want to be.