Big Ideas Begin with Writers

By Erica Dix, former BIW Writer

They say that you can do a lot of different things with a degree in English. Some routes are obvious to everyone, like becoming an English teacher, or going on to law school. However, many students choose English because they have a passion for writing. Of course, not everyone is cut out for writing the next great American novel, so what’s an English major to do?

The fact is, writers are in high demand, and bringing creativity to writing is a truly marketable skill. As an English major, the important thing is to know that your writing is valuable, and to explore where it will be valued.

I enjoyed learning about great literature and critiquing fiction, but I never guessed it would translate to the world of marketing communications. However, in English class, we are taught to come up with big ideas, create content from prompts, and analyze text for meaning and direction, which is exactly what is necessary to be an effective writer who can create engaging content for websites, blogs and more.

Enter Big Ideas Writing

While I was a student at DePaul, I was lucky enough to intern at my mom’s company, Big Ideas Writing, a marketing strategy and content marketing firm. I learned the basics of freelancing, and how to work independently.

One of the toughest skills I learned was how to focus myself and stay motivated even when the boss isn’t around, and you are working at home, surrounded by distractions. I learned to meet deadlines despite the allures of Netflix or the constant barrage of unanswered texts and emails. I also learned that people who are good writers have many job titles like Marketing Strategist, Social Media Manager, Project Manager, and Communications Specialist.

Every person with a liberal arts degree can turn those essay-writing skills into a great career in marketing communications if they are willing to learn a few things outside of the classroom. Here are some practical, tangible skills that Big Ideas Writing taught me, that many businesses are looking for right now.

How to write a press release. Like the iambic couplets I studied in Shakespeare class, I learned to write press releases within certain parameters to convey information in a specific way. Press releases are designed to provide information to the media, and they have to be as straightforward and informative as possible, all within a word limit. Being able to write within a very specific set of rules can be very rewarding, and hone your creativity.

How to create social media posts for business. Companies like writers who can put together a creative Facebook, Instagram or Twitter post. When you write for social media, you have to be brief, pointed, and keep your eye on the prize: increased exposure for your client. Like the essay outlines we are taught to create in English class, social media calendars and posts help us hit the objectives of our campaign and organize our ideas into relevant content.

What SEO keywords are and how to use them. Search Engine Optimization is not something that they teach in English class, but if you have a way with words, knowing a little about SEO can get your digital content found on the internet. As English majors, our attention to detail in grammar and style makes us experts at inserting SEO keywords in a natural way.

How to write a “share-worthy” blog post… like this one! In the classroom, the professor that we English majors write for is a captive audience. With a little creative problem-solving, writers can produce an informative, persuasive or disruptive blog that reaches the public and generates those views, likes and shares. Creating online content will bring your writing into the 21st century!

How to edit my own work. Everyone likes to imagine that their first draft is perfect, but anyone who rereads their first draft the next day will realize that it’s not. For many writers, that journey begins in college where professors have students rewrite essays. The novice writer is easily frustrated by revisions and criticism, but by graduation, English majors have the humility and patience that it takes to revise like a pro.

How to always look for new opportunities. Having no boss sounds like fun… until you realize that you have to become your own boss. If you’re too easy on yourself, you will never meet deadlines and strive to be your best. The only way to succeed in freelancing is to be disciplined and passionate. Never stop searching for your next project, always promote yourself, and think from the client’s perspective. Figure out what clients need, and make it available to them.

Speaking of looking for opportunities, I am currently on the hunt for my next big one. I sadly say goodbye to Big Ideas, but the skills that I learned while working there are ideal for work with a marketing agency or association, preferably one in science, medical or environmental issues. I have always had a mind for science, and minored in Environmental Studies, so I am especially interested in work that is related to science and health. I also live in Chicago and am interested in loop locations. You can check out my work portfolio here. I will always be thankful for the lessons I learned at Big Ideas Writing, and I am excited to launch a long and prosperous career in content writing and marketing.

If you are interested in referring me for a position working in content writing, please email me at erica@bigideaswriting.com.

What Do I Put on my Business Facebook Page?

It’s the age old question of businesses everywhere: What do I put on my business Facebook page?

The personal is easy, right? Funny selfies, birthday and anniversary greetings, and great news about our kids, to name a few.

But what’s appropriate on business Facebook pages?

That all depends on your audience.

Every company has a different corporate culture and industry. How much of their information should be shared with their Facebook audience is an individual matter. However, Facebook, unlike LinkedIn or even Twitter, thrives on visual and energetic content.

There are many studies and statistics out there about what content is sure to engage and encourage clickthroughs and shares, but most agree that adding a photo or video to your post will best engage your audience—up to 2.3 times more engagement according to Hubspot. Other visual content, like infographics, are likely to be shared three times more than other content. In other words, it pays to “dress up” your posts.

For the past five years I’ve been curating, creating and posting social media content for businesses, and I never seem to run out of ideas for my clients’ Facebook pages. Below I give you 60 ideas for your Facebook posts, but all you really have to do is reach out with a BRANCH—an acronym I made up to help you remember “categories” and therefore inspire your content.

B stands for Behind the Scenes. Depending on the nature of your corporate culture, there are elements of your office, environment, and people which you can share to humanize your organization and make your Facebook friends feel more connected to you. You’ll be surprised at how effectively engaging these light, fun posts can be. Posts that I have seen/created in this category include:

  1. Office renovations (Ex. “So excited about our new conference room!” with photo of course)
  2. Video office tour
  3. Employee birthday (with their photo)
  4. New equipment (“Our new 3D printer will make our job so much easier!” with photo)
  5. Office celebrations or special days (Ex. “Our staff dressed up for Halloween”)
  6. Employee workplace achievement (Ex. “Employee of the month”)
  7. Employee industry achievement (Ex. president of association)
  8. Employee personal achievement of interest (Ex. won the Boston Marathon)
  9. Distinguished visitor to the office (with photo)
  10. Photos of merchandise being staged or ready for sale (“We are set for the sale!” with image of full warehouse)
  11. Images of awards you may have won
  12. Now hiring with link to recruiter site or website career page
  13. Organization support for a charity or non-profit (photo of logo in program, on t-shirt, etc.)
  14. Post a staff photo and identify everyone in it
  15. Post a photo collage of the workplace
  16. Post a “throwback Thursday” photo

R stands for Relevant. In other words, this is information your clients really need to know about your business. These are usually changes or things your organization has done that could have a direct impact on your customers/clients.

  1. New hours of operation
  2. New services
  3. New website
  4. New logo
  5. An infographic about your process or services
  6. Post an unexpected use of your product or service
  7. Post your business’ commercial or advertisement
  8. Ask for input on a product

A stands for Around either the industry, the town, or the world. These posts connect something the business is doing to something that is happening elsewhere. These can be shared articles or originally produced content. Posts I’ve seen/created in this genre include:

  1. Comments on a current event in relation to the industry
  2. Organization/participation in an upcoming trade show. (Don’t forget to put booth number)
  3. Organization at an upcoming event (Link to event registration)
  4. Organization or employee participation in an upcoming training
  5. Organization hosting or sponsoring an event (Image of signage)
  6. Organization support of local community (Ex. Image of sponsored team jersey)
  7. New laws, codes, regulations or political news that would affect customers
  8. Show a nostalgic picture from the business-first office, first dollar earned, etc.
  9. Product recall notices of interest to your readers

N stands for Nice, or nice things your customers have said/done for you, or things you would like to say or do for your customers. There’s no better third-party endorsement you can get, or any better way to generate corporate goodwill!

  1. Testimonials your customers have given you
  2. Photo of a thank you note from a customer
  3. Photo of a customer with your product that they sent to you
  4. Photo of a gift your customer sent to you
  5. A heartfelt thank you for a good quarter, season, etc.
  6. A promotion for a special sale to Facebook friends
  7. Engage your customers by holding a contest (Ex., “Name the new mascot”, “best photo with our product”)

C is for Content. This is information that your audience will value; either generated or shared by the company.

  1. Link to your latest blog post
  2. Link to one of your older blog posts that is relevant again
  3. Share an article from another source that will help explain an important topic to your clients
  4. Share a fun cartoon about a relevant subject that will make them laugh
  5. Post a video answer to an often-asked customer question
  6. Share statistics or a chart your customers would be interested in
  7. An inspirational saying with an image shared from another source
  8. An inspirational saying with image you create with your logo on it
  9. Recommend a tool or technique to help customers use your product or service
  10. Give a recommendation (or share one) to a vendor or product connected with yours
  11. Honor a timely or unusual holiday. For example, if you are a restaurant, wish everyone a happy National Hamburger Day
  12. Offer a free ebook or whitepaper
  13. Post a link to your company newsletter
  14. Provide a summary or important information that you received from a seminar or webinar
  15. Share a presentation you have through a slideshow or series of posts
  16. Share a recipe with a relevant ingredient, name, geographic region, etc.

H stands for Happenings. What is your business doing that’s new or interesting? Keep your audience engaged in how you’re actively participating with them and the community.

  1. Invitations to organization-sponsored events
  2. New product introductions
  3. Promote special sales events
  4. Stream live at an organization-sponsored event.

I’m certain there are hundreds more. What has been your most successful piece of content posted on your business Facebook page? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list! And if you need any help with your business Facebook page, please contact us.

failure-to-communicate

Three Marketing Communication Lessons from “Cool Hand Luke”

There are nine words uttered not only about an iconic movie hero but also by many of us engaged in the delivery of marketing communication.

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

It was my daughter who suggested we watch the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” because she had heard many cultural references and wanted to see what it was about. As a movie lover, I’m always up for a classic flick, especially if it features a young Paul Newman (who, with his southern drawl and devil-may-care attitude, continually reminded me of Matthew McConoughy in his day).

In case you haven’t seen it, Newman plays the title role, a man sent to a southern work jail for vandalizing parking meters in a drunken haze one night. Luke is an irrepressible rebel, who first provokes, then gradually earns the respect of his fellow inmates. The quintessential quote from the movie occurs in a scene when Luke smarts off to one of the overseers, “Captain”, played by Strother Martin. Captain roughly shoves him down a hill in an attempt to discipline him and then explains to the men nearby who are looking on as a way of explanation, “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”

You can’t help but feel the corners of your mouth twitch upward. It’s a dark, comedic moment. There was no communication problem, of course. Luke heard everything the warden ever said, including a speech about how he “better get used to those chains clinking” and never try to escape. (Luke also reprises the quote right before…well, I won’t spoil it for you!). The problem was not the communication, but the fact that the communication was ignored. Luke heard, but didn’t obey. (Nor would he ever, which is why he was such a great character to watch!)

But if you’re an entrepreneur, in sales or even on a marketing team in your company, you can understand the frustration of dealing with “one-way” communication. When you send a blog post, social media message or eblast into the world and nobody replies (or only a small number do) you can easily become disheartened. Did you waste all that time, effort and budget for nothing?

The answer, in my opinion, is always “no”. Anytime you communicate, even if it is one-way, you make an impression, which can be the beginning of a meaningful dialogue. But how do we move the needle from our audience “hearing” our message to actually “acting” on it? It’s the $64 million dollar question isn’t it? It’s never in our complete control…but there are a few things we can do to move the needle.

Tell them again and again. I read a statistic once that it takes 5-7 impressions of your brand for people to recognize it. Repetition is key, which is why any communication effort is never wasted. While it may not garner an immediate response, it can indeed make the all important first impression, or it can be the final impression that convinces them to pick up the phone. Either way, it is never a wasted effort.

Telling them “again and again” requires a marketing strategy. The specifics of the what, where, when and how all play into the success of the communication and should be carefully considered. In Luke’s case, he received the message that he better not try to escape from the jail repeatedly, but it fell on deaf ears. This may happen too, but we never want people to call your competitor because they were not aware of your offering. They need to be told…many times.

Tell them in different ways. In the biz, we call these the communication channels. Your website is one channel you are probably already using to give everyone your message, but how else can you reach your audience? Are they on social media? At the trade show? At special events? A new marketing piece? Your message will only be effective if you place it where your audience will see it. For example, choose your social media channels carefully; if your audience is on Twitter, rather than Facebook, that’s where your message should be.

Tell them what to do. This is an incredibly simple yet overlooked principle by many entrepreneurs or marketing newbies. We call it the “call to action.” After you deliver your message, tell your audience what to do next, i.e., click here, call today for a consultation, fill out our quote form. A call to action does more than just reap your reward. By offering a suggestion, you actively engage the reader to make a conscious decision to act or not act, rather than just go on to the next thing. For a split second, they need to consider the validity of your request in regard to their situation. Otherwise they just read or hear your message and think, “that’s nice” and go on to the next thing. It only makes sense that you would be more concerned with their reaction to your message than they would be. Ask for what you want or you may not get it.

All things considered, the Captain wasn’t a bad communicator. He delivered his message repeatedly, and through the use of clubs, tracking hound dogs, armed guards, etc. he subtly told Luke in many different ways that if he tried to escape, there would be consequences. He also was clear about what he wanted: unconditional subordination, which was something Luke couldn’t give.

We too will craft beautiful blogs, amazing marketing campaigns and the most dynamic, interactive website you can imagine and the engagement statistics may fall short of our expectations. But we should remember that while we may not actually see the full effect of our efforts, we will have undeniably accomplished one very substantial goal. Contrary to what the Captain may say, we will have skillfully demonstrated our ability to communicate.

Karen Dix is the owner of Big Ideas Writing, a content development and marketing strategy firm. Visit at www.bigideaswriting.com.

Taking Digital Content to the Trade Show

Recently a client of mine was attending a trade show for a selected group who could use his services. It was not an audience that was his “bread and butter” but a crowd that could help him seriously expand certain areas of his business. As usual, he packed up his display, business cards and brochure. But this year, he took something else along.

I had been working with him for some time on his blog posts and I suggested that for this newer audience, we create a special handout featuring the content of the blog directed at this audience on how to select services they need. The article was not an advertisement, but a piece with valuable information that would help the trade show attendees compare my client against others they would meet. The one-page, 8-1/2” x 11” handout was branded with his logo, picture and contact information but the content itself was extremely objective. Nevertheless, by distributing the content, he established himself as the authoritative source on vetting service providers and competitors.

The client was happy to have something to give away other than marketing materials or a novelty trinket and those that stopped by his booth appreciated the forthright information in the piece. The best part for the client was that the content had already been created…on his site.

I think many companies fall prey to underutilizing the content they already have available to them, especially if they are going to a trade show and already have an amazing booth. The booth should say it all, right? Well, maybe, but most companies don’t change their booth as quickly as their industry changes. Your digital content, on the other hand, can keep up with regulatory changes, emerging trends, etc.

Before you head off to the trade show, take your marketing efforts a little further…

  1. THINK about what kind of information the trade show attendees will most be seeking from businesses like yours and what kind of information your company can specifically provide that will inform, surprise or impress them.
  2. SEARCH for the information in your digital cache.
  3. PRESENT it for display or distribution at the trade show in the most effective way, depending on the type of information you are working with.

For example, if you have a blog, you already have the fundamentals of a great addition to your trade show display or booth. You can repurpose selected posts by presenting or distributing them at the trade show…

  • As a branded, pdf handout
  • As a few, summarized main points on a banner, poster or novelty
  • As a brief guide, booklet, or handout for customers to use as a guide that summarizes a series of related posts
  • As a slideshare or powerpoint presentation that loops continuously
  • As a video presentation
  • As an infographic, on a table top display or banner
  • As your own particular novelty item, sharing your wisdom (ex., a deck of cards, a USB, a paperweight, work of art, flag, t-shirt, etc.)

Before or after the event, those related blog posts can even be summarized or “teased” in social media to interest the audience leading up to the event.

The moral of the story is to never forget the information you have out in cyberspace as you’re packing up for the trade show. You don’t want to miss the chance to tell the trade show attendees what they are wanting to hear from companies like yours.

Write Down Your Goals in 2017

So we’re already two months into 2017. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions?

I know that for myself, setting achievable, meaningful goals can give me a real boost. Whether it’s a diet or a marketing strategy, one thing makes a big difference in whether or not I achieve my result….writing it down.

It is proven that writing down your goals can improve your focus, prioritize things, identify where you can enhance your efforts and make realistic improvements. In fact, some studies have shown that you are 47 percent more likely to reach your goal if it is written down. This works the same for personal as well as business goals and the reason why is also explained in the study. Put simply, riting down our goals connects the imaginative and logical side of our brain, thus putting both to work on the job in our consciousness to achieve our goal.

That’s why it’s extra important in business to write out your goals, especially for marketing. Have a written plan for the year that encompasses your social media, advertising, and any promotional projects. Need some tips to get started? Try these!

  1. Plan six months ahead… or more. The idea behind writing down goals is to look at the big picture. That means planning beyond this week or next.
  2. Make your goals achievable and meaningful. These will keep you motivated and organized, to produce better results.
  3. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what…and when. Throwing something onto a plan without assigning a responsible party is like leaving a car running without a driver. You won’t get anywhere!
  4. Don’t overthink it. You don’t need a complicated plan, but make sure you include specific details that can act as milestones. A Microsoft excel spreadsheet, for example, may help to keep you organized and can be easily shared with others in your company so that they know what they are working toward.
  5. Find connections. Writing down your goals can help you see connections between projects, and streamline your plans for marketing. For example, you will be able to plan all your social media, eblasts, etc. in advance of any special events you may be planning.

For my clients who want to initiate multiple programs simultaneously, I always advise they put together a marketing calendar. This is a schedule of when you will release new content, post on social media about business, send out e-blasts, etc. where they can see connections.  I recently helped a client create a marketing calendar and have attached the marketing calendar template for your own use. Take a look and see for yourself how writing down tangible, focused goals for your marketing can be easy and effective.

Even though its February, you can still create a solid plan for 2017. If you need a marketing makeover, or help developing goals, strategies and priorities for your company’s marketing, Big Ideas Writing can help. Contact us at 630.778.6182.

Go Ahead. Disrupt My Day.

 

If you’re like most Americans, you noticed something different about the election.  His name was Donald Trump.

He said whatever he wanted. He did whatever he wanted. He disrupted our day because his message was innovative, as was his delivery.

The definition of disruptive innovation, according to Wikipedia, is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Does that mean Trump will become the “new” kind of politician that Americans will continue to elect? Will he replace the established, experienced, “stately”, politically correct model of politician that we have come to expect?

No matter what your political opinions, or what happens in the next four years, American politics have now changed. An outsider has triumphed, in part due to his disruptive approach to which created his ability to stand out from his opponents. For better or for worse, Donald Trump captured the world’s attention from the moment he began his campaign. He was aiming to disrupt the status quo of politics, and his succeeded.

As marketers, disrupting your audience’s day can work to your benefit too.

chik-fil-a

When I see the billboards and advertisements for Chick-Fil-A, starring a cow who wants you to eat more chicken, I can’t help but chuckle. Like most innovations, there is risk involved and the decision makers had to climb on board with an unorthodox idea. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall as the Richards Agency pitched those cows to Chick-Fil-A. They were planning to sell chicken with no chicken involved. The campaign idea, now more than a decade old, was something so out of the ordinary that you can’t help but talk about it. The cow mascots helped propel the company to the #1 spot in the nation for chicken sales, even surpassing KFC. Now that’s disruptive!

ad-just-got-better-340I’m sure the next four years will be filled with more disrupted days, just as they have been now that Donald Trump is nearing inauguration. I think disruption begets disruption. For example, the quintessential example of disruptive technology is the iPod. The iPod changed the way we bought, listened and interacted with music on a global scale. Ever since that first product introduction, CEO Steve Jobs, marketing genius that he was,  was smart enough to keep the excitement going. To this day, whenever the new iPhone comes out, the world seems to stop and watch. Every new piece of technology is marketed as a life-changing event, something that will redefine our society. While it might be simply a product upgrade, the original expectation and reputation that Apple has built for disruptive technology continues to play repeatedly, like a familiar song everyone wants to hear. If you’re lucky enough to endear yourself to your audience with something disruptive, you will create an expectation for more of the same!

Good disruptive marketing also makes you look, but GREAT disruptive marketing brings you into a different world.  For example, here in the Chicago area, two local hospitals, Edward and Elmhurst, recently went through a merger and successive rebranding. I recently attended a seminar where the in-house creative team explained the branding process and how they set out to be disruptive. Instead of following the rule book on hospital branding using the usual colors and language, their goal was to find a new brand, different from every other hospital–something exciting that no one had ever done before.

Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare's "Healthy Driven" initiative features professional race car driver Danica Patrick. Through the campaign, Patrick is encouraging healthy behaviors through Edward-Elmhurst's Danica Patrick Healthy Driven Challenge at HealthyDriven.com. Patrick is a native of Roscoe, Illinois. (PRNewsFoto/Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare)

Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare’s “Healthy Driven” initiative features professional race car driver Danica Patrick. Through the campaign, Patrick is encouraging healthy behaviors through Edward-Elmhurst’s Danica Patrick Healthy Driven Challenge at HealthyDriven.com. Patrick is a native of Roscoe, Illinois. (PRNewsFoto/Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare)

The result of their search was the “Healthy Driven” campaign, with racecar driver Danica Patrick involved as a spokesperson. They set out to be “provocative, yet welcoming”. Instead of subdued, soothing colors they embraced red-hot, bold orange, yellow, and black hues. Messages were edgy, empowering people and encouraging them to take responsibility for their health. But the idea of “healthy driven” was more than an ad campaign. It penetrated every program at the hospital. In fact, the marketing director said they knew the brand had really touched their audience when a disgruntled patient, calling about his bills, told the operator on the other end of the line they did not have a very “healthy driven” attitude!

This November we learned a valuable lesson about disruption and how powerful it can be whether it is viewed positively or negatively. Trying something disruptive in your marketing campaigns can be successful for many companies, and it can be successful for you too. Don’t be afraid to do something unusual, bold, and unorthodox to reach your audience. The ground you break may pave the way for a disruptive innovation for your brand.

If you are interested in exploring disruptive marketing techniques for your brand, I’d love to brainstorm with you! Contact me at 630.778.6182.

How Finding the Right Corporate Message is Like Carving a Pumpkin

What does carving a jack o’ lantern and finding a new corporate message have in common?

Change.

For some people, change is the scariest word in the English language. To Americans in this election year, or businesses facing a marketing challenge, change can be as frightening as those movies they always seem to air on TV this time of year. But before a pumpkin can become a jack o’ lantern, it must undergo a true transformation, losing pieces of itself to become something even more fantastical and magnetic to everyone around it. This is not unlike a business finding the right corporate message.

One of the joys of being in marketing is ushering companies through exciting changes. Whether it’s a new website, launching a blog program or a complete re-branding effort, revamping the existing (or creating something new out of nothing) is always an exhilarating challenge that interestingly, has a lot in common with carving that pumpkin. For example…

You remove the top from where it sits. You have to shake up things a little to produce change, right? How else can you get an objective viewpoint unless you get the cooperative leader, CEO or founder of the company to take a different perspective on what’s happening with the company? Only then can we objectively assess the company from the outside looking in. It’s just a temporary move…we always put the top back on, don’t we? It’s important, though, to remove the top to welcome the change that’s yet to come.

You take a good look inside. Scooping and scraping away the sinewy, slimy threads of “pumpkin guts” is important to get to the smooth, fleshy, peach-colored innards that reflect any new light we put inside our Halloween creation. This reminds me of the research phase when I’m working with a company to find out what makes it tick. Inside a pumpkin we find the seeds. Inside a business, we find the people who can help the company grow and prosper.

You check out the competition.  Do you peek at Pinterest for jack o’ lantern designs before you put knife to pumpkin? Every company needs to be aware of what their competitor is doing before they can properly position themselves in the marketplace. They also need to know themselves. Not every face looks great on a tall oblong pumpkin. Some look better on a short, round one.

You carve the face.  After careful deliberation, a splash of creative planning and a deep breath, you begin the transformation of the pumpkin into the jack o’lantern. There is no cry of pain from a pumpkin, and it doesn’t have to be painful for a company either to launch a new brand, marketing message or positioning statement. Nothing too easy is ever worthwhile. Stick to the plan, implement it in a slow, steady manner and the change will happen painlessly, before you know it!

You set the light inside.  As you set a light inside, the pumpkin has completed its transformation into a jack o’ lantern for all to see! The business can get a new “face” too. It can give its target audience a glimpse into its center, and reveal itself in a new way with a fresh, compelling corporate message. While a jack o’ lantern attracts trick or treaters with its newfound light, the business can expect good things too, like new markets, more leads, perhaps a business award or just putting a good scare into competitors!

This fall will be a time of transformation for the country, just as it is for so many pumpkins out there. If it is time for a change in your company’s marketing strategy, remember that change doesn’t have to be scary. Feel free to contact me and find out how.

Why You Should Avoid Passive Voice

In my daily editing, I am always amazed at the commonplace use of passive voice over active.  Many people think it sounds more formal, or makes them sound more knowledgeable, but in most cases, it really hinders reading. The passive voice reorders the sentence, so the most important noun comes last. It makes the sentence longer and often more confusing. For example:

Active: The copywriter promoted the book.

Passive: The book was promoted by the copywriter.

We see here that by writing in the passive voice we have extended the sentence by two words, and if you read the two sentences out loud, you will probably agree that the second one sounds clunky and harder to understand.

One of the most common places you see passive voice is the law profession. Why? Mainly because they are always discussing how something happened to someone. Someone is always being acted upon, rather than simply doing something. This is because in legal language, emphasis is everything. If you are trying to persuade a judge or jury of a person’s guilt or innocence, the main focus of each sentence has to be clear and deliberate.

Active: Smith took the money, unbeknownst to my client.

Passive: The money was taken by Smith, unbeknownst to my client.

On the other hand, lawyers can also use passive voice deliberately to sound less accusatory.

Active: The suspect perpetrated the crime.

Passive (preferred in legal): The crime was perpetrated by the suspect.

It can also be skillfully used in cases where there is a multi-part subject in the sentence and the reader could use the verb up front to make it more understandable.

Active:  Tax credits based on current state laws, alimony for the spouse as per the divorce decree and co-custody of the children pending the court order are included in the mandates of the proposed bill.

Passive:  The proposed bill is to mandate tax credits based on current state laws, alimony for the spouse as per the divorce decree and co-custody of the children pending the court order.

In writing for a general audience, however, the passive voice really doesn’t add much meaning to a sentence. It just makes it more complicated. In smaller sentences the change seems small, but passive voice can make a big difference in the comprehension of more complicated sentences, like this one:

Active: The talented copywriter promoted the book with expertise.

Passive: The book was promoted well by the talented copywriter with expertise.

A writer’s goal should be to sound more knowledgeable, or to make fancier sentences. In reality, effective writers try to keep things short and concise. Eliminating the passive voice will give your writing three key factors:

Clearer meaning, which is the whole point of communication, right?

Shorter, and shorter is better, because people are more likely to take the time to read it!

Easier to read, because passive voice will clean up your sentences and make them more memorable to readers.

If you compose with Microsoft Word, you should know that the spellcheck can help you identify and change passive sentences. It is hidden, but well worth the effort!

  1. Under “File” menu, select “Options.”
  2. Select “Proofing” and scroll to “When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word”
  3. Change box with “writing style” to “Grammar & Style.”
  4. Select “Settings” and find and click the box for “Passive Sentences” under style. Click ok.
  5. If you have not already, you can check the box next to “Mark Grammar Errors As You Type” so that you will be alerted to any times you write a passive sentence.
  6. Click “OK” to return to the Word Options window.

So next time you are writing or editing your document, ask yourself if the subject of your sentence is performing an action (active), or if an action is being performed upon it (passive). Is active voice making the writing clearer or is writing made clearer by using active voice?

If you are having trouble eliminating the active voice in your writing, or you want to see how a professional touch can make a difference in your content, contact Karen at  Big Ideas Writing today.

5 Things to Know If You Want to Write a Book

I recently attended an event hosted by the Midwest Speaking Professionals about what to do if you want to write a book. It was a perfect topic for speakers since so many of them end up being authors either before or after they become speakers. Throughout my career as a writer, I have interviewed, written, outlined, edited and coached authors. Most recently, I edited and ghostwrote some of the chapters in the Today’s Inspired Latina Vol. 1 and Today’s Inspired Latina Vol. 2. I have watched authors propelled to success as speakers and thought leaders after they publish their first book . For many, it is an important career move.

However, it’s not easy.  If you want to write a book, it’s hard to find the time and energy to work on it, let alone get it published.  One of the speakers at the conference, an experienced author named Bull Garlington, outlined a number of important things that every aspiring book author should know. They may surprise you!

1. You need to have an objective. What are you hoping to achieve by publishing your book, aside from monetary gain? (I was assured by many of the authors that there are much easier ways to make money). Maybe you want to help professionals in your field. Maybe you want to share your life experience or an adventure you had. Is the book to be used as a “business card” for prospects or as a “text book” for a course you are teaching? Be clear on your purpose before you begin.

2. You will need help to make this happen. Writing a book, even if you self-publish, is not a one-person job. Most books are produced with the help of an editor, proofreader, graphic designer, printer, marketing expert, and selling partner. You will have to do some networking if you are serious about producing a quality book and getting it to sel

3. It’s hard to stay motivated, so set goals for yourself. With his trademark wit and wisdom, Bull described how as authors, your product is words, and you should have a certain output each day. He outlined a practical way to look at writing a book –keep up a writing schedule! Here’s an example:

Say you want to write a 60,000 word book, in the span of one year. That means you will have to write 15,000 every three months, 1,162 words per week. What you should be focusing on is writing 232 words per day for five days a week. If you stick to your daily goal, your 60,000- word project becomes attainable.

4. Marketing is part of the job. In order to market your book well, you will need to make appearances, find a market niche for your book and pitch excerpts to magazine editors in order to get publicity. Before you publish, it is critical to have a plan for the promotion of your book.

5. A book is an investment. Nobody will print your book for free. Usually there is an investment involved that will have to be made before you strike it rich with your book. The return may be over a longer period of time, so be prepared if that is the case. The best reason to publish a book is not to get rich, but instead because you have a true passion to share with the world.

If you are serious about writing a book and are looking for a writing and marketing professional to accompany you on the journey from concepting, to writing, proofreading and promotion,  contact me for more information.

Why Content Writers Create Great Marketing Strategy

 

I was speaking recentlyMagnet with the owner of an agency who helps companies with the creation and implementation of corporate marketing plans. We were discussing the possibilities of using my services to manage some of his marketing projects. As we discussed ideas, he said something I had never heard verbalized before: “You know, content writers make the best program managers,” he said.

I knew exactly what he meant.  Yet I had never put it that way myself. Then after thinking about it, I decided to think it through and it makes perfect sense. Why?

Content writers are all about the message.  Let’s face it, if you are creating a marketing communications piece, you want to send the right marketing messaging to the right audience. You can put out all the blogs, videos, etc. you want but if they don’t speak to your audience, nothing will happen. Content writers understand this, and it is the bread and butter of what we do. We craft the messages that get your audience to do something…and now!

Content is at the root of many a marketing program. When I started my business four years ago, I strictly sought editorial, content writing, editing and proofreading jobs. Now, at the request of my clients, I manage marketing programs that feature content like blogs, Eblast campaigns, social media campaigns and more. Content is at the heart of these efforts so a content writer should be too! This is especially key when a client has a need to broadcast one message across multiple communication  channels, like website content, printed collateral pieces, video content and social media. I personally do this by partnering with exceptional professionals who share my passion for creative communication. Seems like program management is a natural extension of my skills!

Good content writers can also spin a message on a dime. If the first headline isn’t working, we’ve got more waiting in the wings. Again, who decides if you need a change in, say, the headline? Probably your success metrics, as analyzed by the program manager. And if your program manager is also your content writer, well…you eliminate the middle man. How’s that for efficiency? Good content writers are a fount of creativity, flexibility and versatility.

Content Writers think conceptually. We content writers do more than write. We consider the effect our words have on others. We explore options of communication to get our point across, like different media channels, graphic design or sensory experiences. All that big sky thinking is essential for the success of an integrated campaign. And we’ve got it down pat!

I agree that content writers make the best marketers. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown comfortable in my role as the content writer-program manager. If you’re looking for a content writer with a flair for marketing strategy, let’s talk. Contact me today!