Do you dare to ask?

March 11th, 2016   •   no comments   
Do you dare to ask?

What’s more important: knowing all the answers or asking the right questions?

We live in a world where the value of questions is often underrated. As school children we are rewarded for knowing the right answers, not for asking the right questions. At a job interview, most people will worry about saying all the right things in response to what the interviewer asks. How many will dare to ask questions of their own?

And yet, the quality of the questions you ask, along with the degree of curiosity and interest you show, can say more about you than your best answer.

Don’t be misled by the old saying – “There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.” Like most pieces of popular wisdom, it is both true and false. Stupid questions are the ones you ask before reading the background material or without thinking first. And yes, it happens to the best of us.

We writers have to ask questions – it’s part of the job. We bubble with curiosity in meetings and during interviews, by email and whenever we talk to you. Clients, experts, colleagues – you are a vital source of the information we need to write that story, structure that presentation or focus the customer’s message.

read more

5 reasons to hire a writer

November 25th, 2015   •   no comments   
5 reasons to hire a writer

Let’s talk about that project that’s been sitting on your to-do list. It could be updating the company website, planning a content marketing campaign or writing a thank-you letter to the team. You could always write the copy yourself. You know the brief and besides, it’s not like writing is rocket science or even graphic design – both of which would obviously require a professional. That kind of thinking is why so many communications arrive late, lack focus or fail to provide an intelligible message.

Here are 5 reasons why you should consider hiring a professional writer for your next communications project.

  1. We put our thinking caps on
    You may have noticed that writers ask an annoying number of questions. Who is your audience? What is the news? Why are you communicating about it? Without clear answers to those questions, your words are just a bunch of characters strung together to form sentences. Writers put their thinking caps on before they start to write. They look at your project from an unbiased angle and ask all the right questions to make it shine.
  2. Because spellcheck
    No tool can replace a good pair of eyes and a sharp red pencil. Lest you think we writers are highfalutin intellectual types, let’s acknowledge the importance of editing and proofreading. This involves more than dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s – a good writer edits not just spelling and grammar but context. This will prevent you from making fatal communications errors like these.
  3. Return on investment
    No matter what the platform, every penny you invest in having a writer hone and polish your message pays big dividends. Perfectly written, engaging copy reflects well on you and your brand. And here’s a deep, dark secret: the services of a professional writer will not cost as much as you expect. In the grand scheme of things, writing is cheap. Far less than a rocket scientist.
  4. No one needs to know
    The reason they call it ‘ghost writing’ is that most professional writers work behind the scenes. Basically, we do the work and you take all the credit. PR writers like myself ghost for fellow communicators and top management, among others. We are a go-to resource when time and budgets and tight. And there is one very good reason for this…
  5. You’re better at something else
    Let’s face it: we’re all good at something. A few people are fortunate enough to be good at more than one thing. I know other communicators who are inspirational speech-writers and great presenters but who hate having to sit down before a blank page. Some of them are my clients. They come to me because my strength is the written word. Yours may be decoding data, managing a global team or selling ice cream to Eskimos. Whatever you do well or bring value to should be what you spend your time on.

I’ve got my thinking cap on now.

How to be a good critic

October 13th, 2015   •   no comments   
How to be a good critic

Critics get a bad rap. “It’s easy to criticize.” “Everyone’s a critic!” Or that old refrain – “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That may be true in many areas of life, but it is not the right approach to getting good results from a creative team.

The creative process requires criticism. Writers, designers and other creative people cannot work in a vacuum – actually, we can, but the results will not likely be on strategy. No matter how much they complain about the idiots in accounts or on the client side, creative people of every ilk need direction to make sure their work is on the money. In the agency world, this is called input, feedback or simply, direction.

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to provide constructive criticism. Tom Fishburne aka the Marketoonist‘s cartoon series about bad critics is bang on. During my years in the agency world, as well as a few on the client side, I have personally experienced almost every version of these comic approaches to creative criticism.

In a nutshell, here are a few helpful do’s and don’ts to make sure your input is heard and understood:

read more

Getting out of survival mode

July 16th, 2015   •   no comments   

Every time you turn around these days it seems that someone is offering advice — how to make your life better, find purpose, accomplish your goals. This article offers a simple approach to actually making it happen. And it works! I can personally vouch for the efficacy of everything on this list, with the possible exception of the cold shower. But after all, 7 out of 8 ain’t bad, right?

8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M.

My bilingual brain

June 18th, 2015   •   no comments   
My bilingual brain

This is not a scan of my brain, but it could be.

An MRI of my brain would likely show less activity while processing language than the brain of someone who only speaks English. That is because bilingual brains are fitter – requiring less effort to process words than a monolingual.

Several recent studies also support the multiple cognitive benefits of bilingualism, including the ability to tune out extraneous noise, flexible ways of thinking and, possibly, protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

I did not know any of these things when I began learning French, some 30 years ago, at the Alliance Française in Paris. All I knew back then was that it seemed like a Herculean effort, an impossible task. How could I ever be expected to remember the complex rules for conjugating French verbs, the gender of various objects, not to mention the vocabulary you needed just to get by in day-to-day life?

It’s amazing what the human brain is capable of. The mental gymnastics paid off. Now I can do just about anything in French without really thinking about it, although I still struggle with numbers and have a hard time speaking to dogs and small children in that language.

Along the way, I discovered there are surprising benefits to being bilingual. Here are 5 things I’ve learned:

read more

How cats won the internet

February 10th, 2015   •   no comments   
How cats won the internet

And what they can teach us about content marketing.

When it comes to grabbing attention online, we are all competing with cats. That is a fact that you are entitled to find offensive – but it’s a reality of the world wide web. Cats are the consummate content marketers. They manage to steal attention away from topics far more worthy of our time. They can upstage even the most sophisticated marketing launch. So how do they do it?

Here are 5 things about content we can learn from cats.

  1. Cats are entertaining
    Those feisty felines offer a click that rarely disappoints. You will never be bored by a cat. Either you will get to see them taken down a peg or two, or you will be forced to admire their inspired camouflage techniques, hunting prowess or unbearable cuteness.
  2. Cats are clever
    They have something to teach us. Their content not only entertains but informs. That is true value.
  3. Cats are cool
    They don’t try too hard to be clever. Or jockey for attention (like dogs). They just are. That’s authentic. And that’s one of the secrets to creating great content.
  4. Cats are timely
    They know how to wait. And when the time is right – they pounce! That impeccable sense of timing serves them well on the web where timing the publication of content can be critical.
  5. Cats are a little….subversive
    There you have the secret ingredient of cat-driven content. Subversiveness is the certain je ne sais quoi that fascinates us about cats and helps differentiate their brand. You know they’re up to something no good and that is the part of the draw. Good content offers something a bit different, an experience that veers away from the mainstream.

 

Additional links you may find helpful:

Ten-and-a-half thoughts about content marketing from The Writer

 

Bonus: Here’s a real life example of what we are up against. Why I am showing you this? Guess I’m a cat at heart.

#JeSuisCharlie: What communicators can learn

January 14th, 2015   •   no comments   
#JeSuisCharlie: What communicators can learn

What can communicators learn from last week’s terror attacks in Paris?

No matter what your position on the issue – whether or not the satirists at Charlie Hebdo were right in publishing caricatures of the Muslim prophet – the outcome of their editorial choices cannot be ignored. Extremism and satire make strange bedfellows.

In my view there are 5 key thoughts for communicators to take away:

  1. Freedom of expression is a powerful shared value. Free speech as a value overrides nation, religion and politics in the western world. People are united by this value in ways that run deeper than previously imagined. This is both a freedom and a burden, as it puts the onus on communicators to respect that freedom, and its limits, in the context of their business.
  1. It takes courage to live that value, both as individuals and communication professionals. Religious extremists and zealots of all persuasions will go to unimaginable lengths to avenge their gods. Sometimes there is a cost associated with speaking our minds or sharing certain truths. We need to be aware – and sometimes beware – of the consequences of our communications.

read more

Corporate Speak: Are you guilty?

October 31st, 2014   •   no comments   
Corporate Speak: Are you guilty?

We all do it: say ‘leverage’ when we mean use, talk about ‘granularity’ instead of detail, refer to deliverables, low-hanging fruit, moving targets, key learnings. But what about the more serious culprits? Where we use euphemisms like ‘headcount’ for people, ‘change management’ to suggest restructuring – which is not to say downsizing, efficiencies, or heaven forbid, job cuts.

It can be tough to avoid using buzzwords and jargon in the world of corporate communication. Part of our job in PR is getting tough messages out on behalf of our bosses and clients. And after all, a good catch phrase or a cliché can get an idea across faster than trying to invent something new. Can’t it? read more

Can communication restore lost faith?

October 9th, 2014   •   no comments   
Can communication restore lost faith?

 After a two-week strike by pilots that left both passengers and crew on the tarmac, Air France KLM is fighting hard to regain lost ground. But in the long haul, it will take more than a letter of apology to win back customers

I’ve been flying between France and Canada for over twenty years. We usually travel back to Toronto at least once a year to visit family and friends. Several years ago we decided not to fly Air France anymore – it’s just too risky.

I’m not talking about safety – although the article in the October 2014 edition of Vanity Fair on the ill-fated flight from Rio to Paris isn’t exactly reassuring. The fact is Air France is just as safe as any of the world’s major airlines. And statistically, air travel is still the safest form of transportation.

It’s the risk of a strike that holds us back. Especially as we often travel around Christmas or during the summer holidays: prime strike season in France. And we are not alone in avoiding the national airline, especially since the latest round of cancellations.

It’s one thing to lose your luggage, even keep you waiting. Passengers are fairly understanding of delays caused by technical problems. It’s all in how it’s handled. And that almost always comes down to communication. read more

My rule for creating content that delivers

June 18th, 2014   •   no comments   

One rule I try to live and work by is: ‘Always deliver on your promises.’ The bottom line is if you can’t deliver, don’t promise. This policy may not always win friends and influence people but it will definitely not make enemies or leave disappointed clients grumbling behind your back.

The same thing goes for effective communication. ‘Tis better to under promise and over deliver. Sound obvious? This can be a tough sell when it comes to marketing messages. I find people often all too willing to believe their own B.S. But if your product isn’t really going to change society, transform lives, or even amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, as Bogey said to Bacall in Casablanca, there’s little point in promising it will.

That’s even truer when it comes to creating content that delivers. My current bugbear is the post with the killer headline, designed to draw you in according to tried-and-true copywriting techniques:

read more