Sunday, November 30, 2014

Commercial Break

They do it on the radio and TV (and how! ”We’ll be right back after these six commercials…”)
Ads on TV movie programs are the title holders, for my money, for “Most Commercials Stacked Together” and “Most Repetitions of a Phone Number.” I’ve decided that I will not do business with anyone whose commercial repeats the phone number more than twice. Some are up to four times. Also I thought there was a rule that volume wasn’t supposed to be turned up for commercials any more. If it is a rule, it’s the most abused rule in business.
In a sense this whole blog is a commercial for my writing service, but it lacks two important ingredients of a sales message. One is the specific information someone would need to be able to buy the product. You can form an idea of my style, but you don’t know how much I ask for writing something, so here it is.
The rate is $45 per hour. When I quote a fixed price, that’s what it’s calculated on. I’ve never become accustomed to quoting by the word, but pretty often that’s what’s expected, so I’ve set a conditional minimum of $0.10 per for that.
That will all be modest to a few knowledgeable clients and exorbitant to the others, apparently the majority, judging by pay scales on most of the online job boards. What you have to factor in is (a) I work pretty fast, (b) I'll probably get it right the first time, and if I don’t, the corrections will be off the clock, and (c) the work will need only minimal editing when you get it.
I grant you it’s ten times the going rate in many places, but you have to consider the economies in some of those places -- India, Bangladesh -- that encourage low rates. Problem is, competition from those areas combined with lowered standards combined with pursuit of profit have caused those rates to slop over into the more developed world, where some of us still work. There are people here, too, who work for that money and perpetuate the situation, but times are hard and they may be in tighter circumstances than I am. I still maintain, though: penny-a-word and $5-per-hour are not part of my world.   
The other element that’s lacking in the blog posts is the “call to action,” the traditional close to practically all advertisements: “Send for a free sample”; “Call now; operators are standing by.” 
Free samples in my line of work are clips of past ads or articles. I’ve managed to get a few onto a “Samples” page here, but I’m not fully in control of that process. Samples will certainly be made available on request, however; just call or write the number or address under “Contact” on the home page.
Call now! I’m standing by.    

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Drive, Pivot, Curate

Buzzwords come and go in the business world (is “buzzword” one of them, destined to be supplanted, or already archaic?) But they’re not just casual expressions. When you think about it, there’s real intent behind them.

One of the popular words currently is “drive.” If you’re marketing or blogging or communicating in some form and your stuff isn’t driving something, you’d better rethink you plan, because everyone else’s is.

It's the stylish new way, for now, of saying that something you're doing that used to cause an event to happen or motivate people to do something now drives those things. It's muscular.

It's also pretty much all-purpose. You can drive anything from web site readership to a whole marketing campaign.

The most evocative use of the word, for me, is that of “driving people to a web page.” It conjures those old Cecil B. DeMille  movie epics -- “Cast Of Thousands!” -- where dark-haired men in miniskirts and jeweled tunics coax groups of ragged people to build pyramids, usually with encouragement from whips.

Then there’s “pivot.” Where people used to change what they were doing to doing something else, now they pivot. For large organizations, changing course can be like turning an aircraft carrier. “Pivot,” then, is meant to imply that the change is instant, a clean break with what went before. The organization has turned on a dime. 

“Curating” is another popular word (“curate” twisted into a verb. You can tell it didn’t start out in life that way when you go to a traditional dictionary. A “curator” is defined as one who has charge of or is a guardian for some one or thing. It ain’t “one who curates.”)  

In the online world it's aggregating (another stylish word) stuff other people have written and using it for your own purposes. Think of it as an even more sincere form of flattery than imitation: poaching. 

Full disclosure/confession: I’ve done it. Years ago I worked in a small advertising agency, and we published an external newsletter (it would be a “blog” today) for which I swiped (“curated”) articles from more respected publications and reviewed them.       I wish I had known to call it curating back then; it sounds so dignified.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Crime Doesn't Pay

I broke a rule, and I’ve had my comeuppance.

Last week I was bitten by a squirrel. Before you ask -- he was not rabid. In fact, he (or she) was as rational as you or I. It happened in pursuit of a peanut.

It was a particularly bold customer who came right up to me on my bench and almost demanded tribute. I found one leftover peanut in my pocket and offered it, but I misjudged how hungry the little guy was, and I neglected to let go of it in time. Those teeth are small, but they’re sharp. As they clamped down on the nut, one got the tip of my finger. The fingertips, as you probably know, are particularly well supplied with nerves and blood, and mine hurt like hell and bled like the proverbial stuck pig. I don’t think anyone saw what happened next, and just as well; how would you explain waving your hand around with a squirrel attached to it?

Eventually he (or she) decided he (or she) already had the good stuff, and hanging on wasn’t going to get him or her anything better. The squirrel left, and I turned to nursing the finger. That was when I looked at the ground under the bench and discovered I had contributed a surprising amount of blood to the encounter. The wound is mostly healed now because I treated it like it was ebola, washing the spot with soap and near-scalding water and painting it liberally with iodine. (Iodine is my sovereign remedy for almost everything external.). The bite continued to hurt for three or four days, but it’s now just a memory and a small scar on my finger.

The moral of the story, and there is a moral, comes in here.

There had been a number of incursions into our little world by coyotes. For a while, visits had become more frequent, and more lethal to residents’ pets. Because of a restriction written into the bylaws by people who did not suffer companion animals on the premises gladly, only small dogs are allowed. The result has been that some of the smallest dogs I’ve ever seen live here. Driving around, maybe just catching a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, you could easily mistake some of them for rats if they weren't attached to old people. There are cats here, too, but again, the bylaws work against the larger breeds, and only housecats are allowed.

The result of all this is that the coyotes were finding bite-size morsels unable to defend themselves, and were having a field day. The result of that was the promulgation of a rule that we were not to feed the wildlife so as not to stock the larder even further for the coyotes. 

“Wildlife” in this part of the savannah is rabbits and squirrels. You see where this is leading. By feeding the squirrel I broke a rule, and I had to suffer the consequences. They weren’t the consequences the rule anticipated -- the penalty was a fine, supposed to take a bite only out of your wallet  -- but justice triumphed in its own roundabout way.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shots rang out...

…but the cliché survived.

Why is it that shots always “ring out” in TV news accounts of shootings? Why aren’t they just “fired”?

It was probably considered a colorful expression when some observer coined it back at the time firearms were invented, but it’s still in use today, and it’s the cliché of clichés. 

In my limited experience with shooting, at a distance small arms fire makes a kind of popping noise, and close up, shots are an insult to your eardrums. You’ll notice that when you see policemen or survivalists’ children practicing at firing ranges they’re always wearing those big ear protectors. Is that so they won’t mistake the “ringing” for their cell phones and become distracted from their targets? I don’t think so.

But there is a ringing sound associated with one particular type of shooting. Anyone who has fired an M-1 rifle will remember the sound of the empty clip leaving the rifle. However -- War Story Ahead -- I may be the only person who can honestly associate “ringing” with the firing of an artillery round.

Actually it had less to do with the sound itself than with my position relative to it. 

I was engaged in “O and S”-ing an artillery piece. The purpose of orientation and synchronization is to arrange for the gun to fire in the direction the radar is pointing when it’s indicating a target. They probably do it digitally today, but when I was involved with it it required sticking your head into the breech and boresighting on some feature of the landscape. That’s what I was doing when a very large gun 20 yards away fired. The sound reverberated in the confined space in which my head was enclosed, and my ears were ringing the rest of the day.  

But I don’t cite that as justification for furthering the use of the cliché; in fact, I think the expression ought to be banned in polite journalism. Certainly you don’t hear it in ordinary verbal (non-TV-anchor) descriptions of gunfights. More likely it will be,       “I heard these three shots, bam, bam, bam…”  The police would record,  in their famously stilted language, that "the perpetrator fired three rounds from a .38 caliber pistol at the responding officer, who returned fire, striking the deceased in the upper torso…” (but you hardly ever see anything there about anything “ringing”). 

I make fun of how the police talk, but their descriptions aren't any duller than what you get from TV, where shots always ring out, bullets start flying and, inevitably, it turns into a war zone. Gotta be something between cop jargon and TV cliché. I'll have to work on it.    

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Everyone's Entitled

I’m getting emails from LinkedIn offering me the opportunity to “hear what Influencers have to say.” Featured in the email are “a ghostwriter speaker,“ “a bestselling writer about habit…,” “a trainer and nonprofit innovator,” Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington.
Do I have Influencer Huffington confused with another Arianna Huffington? The one I remember was the wife of a conservative politician who ran a deep-pockets campaign for a Senate seat and lost. I’ve looked into her background a bit; through Wikipedia, (admittedly, not always the most reliable source in the world, but I would expect any gross misrepresentations to have been litigated by now) and a profile in The New Yorker. 
Politically, according to Wikipedia, she supported Newt Gingrich and led a campaign that vilified President Clinton in staggeringly personal terms. She’s a liberal now. Literarily, she apparently survived three accusations of plagiarism, one of which she settled. She’s a publishing guru today. She reached the rarefied height of “LinkedIn Influencer” in 2012. The New Yorker article (October 13, 2008) is generally sympathetic but has some telling quotes from acquaintances.
I suppose someone who switches from our party to the opposition is a turncoat, and someone who does the reverse has “seen the error of his or her ways.” Probably apocryphal, but Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have argued the opposite sides of two similar cases on the same day in his lawyer years, explaining that he believed he was right in the morning but he was sure he was right in the afternoon. With all the conservative bullhorns out there I suppose I shouldn’t carp about someone talking up the liberal side, no matter how recently or circuitously arrived at.       A great lesson in chutzpah, though.

Still, think how lucky we are to have “Influencers“ -- people who know more than the rest of us and will take some of their valuable time to tell us that. 

Since the whole basis of social media, as I’ve come to understand it, is conversation, and conversation is a two-way process, and we’re already being invited to hear what they have to say, then Influencers must be open to hearing what we have to say. 

Before LinkedIn I didn’t know it was OK to approach someone who doesn’t know you at all and shove your opinion at him or her or ask for help or free professional advice, but LinkedIn has changed that. So -- who better to go to, if you’re starting an airline, for example, than Sir Richard? or for adjusting your political attitude, than Arianna? The great part is, an Influencer can hardly refuse you help; noblesse oblige is a guiding principle for the titled nobility.