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Sunday, February 22, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Doug Plummer blogged recently about trends in stock photography, mentioning the distinctive images ("dreamy photographs of flowers and water") available for license some years back from a company in New York called Photonica. (Some images from that collection still available through Getty).
Many of the images I purchased for Apple's iCards program were from Photonica, and those were often the most popular cards. The dreamy quality of the images captured the imagination and inspire people to customize them with their own captions and messages.
One of the most popular images was of a glass heart wrapped in barbed wire. I was so entranced by it myself that I created a little sculpture along those lines which now hangs in my office.
Happy (well, at least thought-provoking) Valentine's Day!
Posted by Karen G. Anderson at 12:49 PM
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The economy is putting many experienced writers out of jobs and leaving once-busy freelancers fretting over shrinking contracts and vanishing clients. I've had one client go out of business and two others are capping my hours on particular pieces of work.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Can a writer transition from technical communications to MarCom work mid-career? In the past few weeks several friends with extensive experience in technical writing and editing have voiced just such an ambition. One wrote:
"I want to shift away from computer-related content, but I'm finding it difficult to make the case that my experience in technical editing carries over to editing other types of material."
As someone who's played the role of a writer or editor in a wide range of areas over the past several years before settling in MarCom territory, I think I can shed some light on why technical writers and editors are rarely a good fit in marketing or corporate communications teams. The following remarks are in no way intended to disparage MarCom folks, or technical communications folks. But it's become clear to me that these are two quite different cultures, and a transition between them is far more drastic than most people realize.
These days I am blessed to work closely with an experienced technical editor (and procedures writer) who copy edits my work on websites and catalogs. However, on the occasions that I ask him to edit my writing for brochures, blogs, and sales letters, we both take a deep breath and know there are going to be some frustrations. Here's why:
• As a technical editor, he wants to correct everything; as a MarCom writer, I only want corrections done to a certain level. The document shouldn't embarrass anyone, but if two words are hyphenated in a footnote on page two, and don't have a hyphen in the index 70 pages later? Big deal.
• As a technical editor, he cringes at jargon, sentence fragments, hyperbole, and little gaps in logic. These are pretty much the hallmarks of MarCom writing.
• As a technical communicator, he'd like to see the style guide I'm using. Oh dear. Many of my clients don't have style guides, and, if they did, they probably wouldn't refer to them.
If things get a bit edgy when a technical editor and a MarCom writer collaborate, things can get even more stressful when a technical writer embarks on a MarCom writing assignment. Here are the areas where significant cultural disconnects tend to occur:
• Balance. If a product has eight features, the technical writer wants to see each feature given equal space, or at least equal weight in the formatting. When I'm wearing my MarCom hat, I'm likely to go on at length about the hottest two features, mention a couple of others in the next paragraph, and completely ignore the rest; after all, they're covered in the attached specs. When I try to sell this approach to someone from a technical communications background, the reaction is either incredulity or contempt.
• Time/money. I hesitate to describe actual incidents here, but my experience has been that technical writers are used to long timelines (measured in weeks) and a period at the beginning of the project in which many, detailed questions are discussed with the client. The technical writer often expects to be able to ask the client questions as they work.
By contrast, MacCom writers are used to getting a short, initial briefing and a 48-hour deadline for creating a strong document, or at least a sample section. When it comes to formatting and style, the writer is often expected to make independent decisions and recommendations to the client. Relying on the formatting or style of previous documents rarely works, because the client company is inevitably in the process of changing designs (or designers).
The MarCom team is also likely to change the scope of the project in mid-stream — dramatically, at times — and the writer dives in afresh. Technical writers tend to regard it as poor planning when what started as an eight-page brochure ends up as a two-page brochure with a sales letter attached. The MarCom writer accepts it as business as usual.
One technical writer was shocked to see a Marcom client of mine review something I'd spent several hours on, announce "We want something completely different," and send me off in a whole new direction — with a deadline in 24 hours. The technical writer viewed that at a scandalous waste of the client's money; I had to keep pointing out that the client was spending the money, not me, and my initial piece of writing may well have been an experiment the client needed to see as part of their process.
So, here's the bottom line, and my advice to technical communications folks who want to move into MarCom: If you can thrive in a fast-moving, free-form, sometimes dramatic environment, go for it. But if you love a good style guide, a detailed production schedule, and documents that emerge looking pretty much the way they were described in the initial assignment? Don't give up your technical communications job.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
A year ago, Peggy Sturdivant, a Seattle neighborhood news blogger, invited me to do a joint presentation for a PR class (the PR Certificate program) at the University of Washington.
We've been invited back to present again this year, and, as I'm putting together my notes, I'm discovering two things:
1. That the role of blogging in PR (and in several other areas of business and professional communication) has changed fairly dramatically in the past 12 months; what were emerging trends in January 2008 are so established as to be taken for granted today. (More on this to come.)
2. That the way information is presented in a classroom is pretty much light years away from how I communicate online. It's slow, it's boring, it's cumbersome. Classrooms need presenter computers connected to a large-screen TV or projector screen. In reality, they have nothing but whiteboards or a non-functioning setup that theoretically allows a presenter's computer to be connected to a screen, but which, in reality, never works because some cord is missing or some software isn't compatible. Sigh.
Anyway, on to the actual presentation.
Most of what I'll be presenting tonight are short tips that students can explore later by clicking through to these following links on this blog. Tips are likely to include:
1. Online PR has gone way beyond websites and blogging.
Barry's Hurd's "Social Media Demographics and Analytics 2008-2009" in which Barry comments that "such things as reputation and brand impact will be occurring real-time 24/7."
2. Fortunately for those of us who do PR, a much more realistic attitude now exists about blogging. It's been demystified; is no longer viewed as a magic bullet.
Darren Rouse's post on getting fast traffic to a blog.
3. Unfortunately, the new "magic bullet" that CEOs read about in airplane magazines and decide their marcom folks must create immediately is "community." That's simple but difficult to create and maintain. Instead, you need to participate in robust existing communities, a behavior with is antithetical to old-school corporate behavior. ("But is has to have our name on it!")
Barry Hurd's "PR is killing itself and it hurts to laugh"
Chris Pirillo's YouTube video on creating community.
4. SEO is now the "hot new thing," a PR essential for blogging and websites.
• Basic SEO is easy.
• More sophisticated SEO is not for amateurs and should always start with analytics before you throw money into implementing SEO.
• Gray-hat (shady) SEO is not as smart as the people telling your company to do it thinks it is. It can, and will, turn around and embarrass you.
• Make sure you understand "social bookmarking" and "tags" of all kinds. You may not need to use them, but you need to know if you need to use them.
Boing Boing's post "Motorola, could you please tell your viral marketer to get out of our comments?"
5. Twitter PR is free and powerful, but not easy. (Hint: It's not advertising, it's information.) And, watch how closely it's linked to blogs. Think of it as a headline for your blog posts or for your comments on other blog posts, plus a way to create the credibility that will bring others to your blog.
Sign up for a Twitter account and follow:
• moniguzman (Monica Guzman, writer of the P-I's big blog)
• hrheingold (Howard Rheingold, social media theorist and professor — you'll get links to his class materials)
• joehageonline (Joe Hage is putting social media principles into action, right in front of you, in his work as a MarCom director at a major corporation, and then explaining it on his blog)
• UDistFoodBank (excellent use of Twitter by a non-profit)
• chrispirillo (Chris epitomizes the concepts of branding and communication; watch how he uses Twitter to drive traffic)
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Some years back, I did quite a bit of book reviewing for January Magazine; I miss that, and am looking forward to doing a small book reviewing project for Publisher's Weekly this spring.
This piece by Bob Harris in The New York Times was a painful reminder about some of the hackneyed adjectives book reviewers too often find themselves using. I've been able to avoid "poignant" and "eschew." But I have to admit, when it comes to "intriguing" — guilty!
Posted by Karen G. Anderson at 1:03 PM
Friday, January 16, 2009
Web 1 Marketing has a great post on how shrinking a URL (using services such as TinyURL or BudURL) works and how it affects SEO. Turns out there are two different types of redirects at work, and one is preferable to the other. If you are shrinking URLs for SEO work, you'll want to check this out.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Domain names cost $10 a year, but can be worth thousands of dollars.
As a client of mine has painfully discovered.
She purchased a domain name for her small business and built a website. (Let's call her Jane Doe, and let's call the site "www.janedoesbreads.com.") Then she started advertising her business on the web and also in print newspapers, newsletters, and magazines.
Then the trouble started. It's common for people to mis-type a URL, so many of her customers and prospective customers were typing in:
Both of which are just slightly wrong.
What surprised them, and Jane, was that these wrong URLs took them not to some error page, or to some Jane Doe's website in Nebraska, but to the site of her arch-rival (let's call them Evil Empire Sourdough).
Turns out Evil Empire had bought up, for $10 each, a half-dozen domain names that sounded similar to Jane's. (And, being not just evil but very savvy, the sourdough purveyors had also purchased a batch of sound-alike names for their own site to protect themselves from retaliatory traffic pilferage.)
How do we know this? We looked up all the site ownership info at Network Solutions.
So, how much traffic is being diverted from Jane's site, and how many people, once diverted, are instead ordering their loaves from Evil Empire? It's hard to tell. But if you see Jane wielding a bread knife any time soon, I'd advise you to run the other way.
There's not much my client can do about this situation, but I'm telling you her story for obvious reasons: If you're investing in a domain name for your business, buy up a dozen or more of the sound-alikes and look-alikes to protect yourself.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A few final words (from me, at least) on Macworld 2009:
I missed Chris Pirillo's talk on community (ironically, while having a wonderful lunch with a key member of my own community, a person who mentored me at Apple). But I watched the video of Chris' talk on YouTube, and it was impressive.
"Putting something in front of people and expecting something to happen is asinine," he warned. "So what is it that makes community happen? It's all about what happens in your heart."
This is a must-see for anyone who is attempting to create a community, online or off -- or for anyone who works, as I do, with clients who aspire to create communities. Now I'm budgeting so I can attend the next Gnomedex, Chris' annual tech conference.
Huge accolades go IDG, the company that organizes Macworld. This year's conference seemed to delight presenters, vendors, and attendees. Everyone was crediting IDG's vice-president Paul Kent for the success of the event. I am still trying to figure out how this guy orchestrated the conference and managed to play in rock bands at two late-night conference parties during the week!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- The mood at Macworld this week is upbeat and professional. While it's clear that Macworld-without-Apple will be a different event in 2010, it's now seeming likely that "different" may be quite good.
The conference organizers, IDG, have definitely set the tone by putting on a 2009 Macworld that is possibly the best run Expo in years. For the first time, AT&T phone reception for iPhones, and WiFi for a variety of devices, is available throughout the facility. (Phone reception and WiFi not just a frill -- I wasted far too much time at last year's Macworld traipsing upstairs and outside of Moscone several times a day to leave/get voicemail messages for/from people I was trying to connect with inside the hall.)
This year's registration (online and onsite) was quick and smooth, and the food offerings, while pricey as usual, offered quality and variety (including Peets coffee). Paul Kent, one of the IDG honchos, made great use of Twitter to provide Macworld news (and, likely, to monitor conferees' reactions). (How this guy also had energy to perform with his rock band at Macworld parties at night is beyond me.)
This year's silliness quotient was filled by Peachpit Press, which gave out full-size pink and white bunny ears to advertise their Moxie series. It's truly amazing how idiotic people look in business casual and bunny ears, and how many people were willing to wear the headgear. It became clear that either the geek crowd has no fashion sense, or the Moscone Convention Center has too few mirrors.
It seems as though the creation of the iPhone apps store has revitalized the third-party developer scene, opening the door to the low-budget creative developers who once made the Mac platform so exciting. The iPhone and iPod accessories vendors are out in force, and so are the major manufacturers of cameras and high-quality printers.
My "must have" discovery at Macworld this year is something called the Dragon Eye webcam, from the folks at S&D, who offered the futuristic and whimsical Dragon i video and music stations for the iPod. The Dragon Eye is a flexible, rotating USB webcam for a laptop that is, as far as I can tell, the only webcam of its type with adjustable LED lighting. I'd do quite a bit more video casting if my office webcam didn't have me looking like a shadowy burgler caught on bank security camera. Unfortunately, the Dragon Eye is not yet distributed in the U.S.
Which brings me to the story of the videocast that put me on the other side of the camera. About 40 minutes after arriving at Macworld Tuesday morning, I ran into Steve Sande, author of Take Control of iWeb. He was doing coverage of the Expo Hall for AOL weblogs, which is apparently part of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, better know as TUAW. A friend and I yakked with Steve at some length, and were rather surprised to find a few hours later that the whole interview, which had some decidely zany moments, was up on the TUAW site.
In the next 48 hours, I heard from half a dozen folks I hadn't talked with in years, some of whom I'd had no idea were even interested in Apple coverage.
Monday, January 5, 2009
At a delightful New Year's Day party in North Oakland, I met Don Lindsay, a technology professional and skeptic whose website includes A List of Fallacious Arguments. The list starts with Ad Hominem (attacking the speaker instead of the argument: "Well, but everyone knows he's a liberal apologist.") and ends with Weasel Wording (similar to euphemism: "It's not a war, it's a police activity.").
Don also has written the succinct essay "Why Do Favors?" Reading it will cheer you up after you've come to grips with the fallacious arguments.
I'm in San Francisco this week, visiting friends and attending Macworld, which opens tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, back in Seattle (where they've got another foot of snow to contend with) the Post-Intelligencer has profiled one of my favorite (and certainly, most colorful) clients, The Purple Store.