Timing is Everything

I just received an e-blast from a major New York steakhouse with the subject line, “Need a drink?” Um, it’s 10:00 a.m., so the answer to that questions is “no.” hurricane

Obviously the steakhouse is advertising a new cocktail promotion but at this hour of the morning, people are still on their first or second cup of coffee. An email like that should not be distributed until late afternoon when most people’s work days are winding down. Messages need to be timed accordingly so audiences will read them at just the right moment. For my clients, I generally try to opt for 10 or 11 a.m. (when many are caught up and settled in at their desks), or after lunch.

I actually deleted the email from the steakhouse but decided to retrieve it to take a peek at the content….which brings me to my second point:

If you’re going to send an e-blast to customers, make it worth opening. Why not include a striking visual of the martini you’re promoting, or better yet, a happy couple sipping the martinis? When I opened this particular restaurant’s e-blast, it was simply a yellow banner with links to the restaurant’s social media pages. No imagery, no copy. Just lots of white space. That tells me that the steakhouse just threw the email out there; to send it just to send it. If you’re not going to make an effort to jazz up your content, how can customers be sure that you’re going to make an effort in the kitchen or at the bar? It’s just plain sloppy marketing.

My third and final point has to do with frequency. It drives me crazy when I receive too many e-blasts from one particular business or organization. In the case of the steakhouse, I get one a week, which in my opinion, is way too often for a restaurant. Eating and drinking establishments should save mass email distribution for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day menus, or Open Mike nights and poetry readings. In the case of nonprofits, you can get away with greater frequency (especially during end-of-year appeals, but even those emails should be spaced out accordingly). In each instance, messaging should target a different angle or program to vary the content and keep people reading.

Bonus point: Don’t forget about social media. Before drafting your e-blast, think about it: is this the right communication channel for this particular message? If you’re running a campaign, perhaps the information needs to go viral. In that case, social media is definitely the way to go. Using hashtags and tagging the appropriate contacts are surefire ways to drum up traffic and place you in the spotlight.

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Getting Motivated on a Soggy Monday

cloudsToday I am blah-gging. Not blogging. Blah-gging. I, along with many it seems, have the Monday blahs. It’s been chilly and rainy all day, after a weekend that saw 60 mph wind gusts, thunderstorms, even snow in some places. Opening Day at Yankee Stadium? Ain’t happening today. Happy Spring…

Okay. Enough venting. So what to do when you’re a professional writer and you’re just not feeling it? Here are my top tips for staying motivated and lifting the clouds:

1. Martini in the Morning – No, I don’t mean drink a martini before Noon. I’m referring to the Internet radio station that cranks out lively tunes from classic crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Listening to these playlists is sure to put some pep in your pen and brighten up your day. http://martiniinthemorning.com/

2.  #Connect – Before getting lost in Microsoft Word, try traveling the Twitterverse for awhile. Not only will you catch up on the latest news, chuckles and trending topics, it’ll give you a chance to shout-out your tweeps and see what they’ve been up to. And who knows? You may even find your next topic to write about.

3. Fuel your Productivity – If you’re aiming to complete your next great story, get into the groove with outside projects that will help build momentum and boost your productivity. Blogging is quite useful (hey, that’s what I’m doing right now!), since it organizes your thoughts and gets your creative juices flowing. Catching up on emails is another favorite of mine. Whether you’re reaching out to story contacts or cleaning out your inbox, the sense of accomplishment you feel can help trigger more motivation, inspiring you to gets those magical words out to make your story shine.

Why Writing is Good for Your Health

When it comes to writing, you either have it or you don’t. Sometimes words and ideas flow better for some more than others. Whatever the level of your ability, you should never give up on the craft. Why? Put simply, writing is good for your health.

1. It’s a form of self-expression: You may try venting to friends and loved ones all you want, but with the short attention spans people seem to have these days, is your “audience” really listening? Perhaps there’s no better platform then a blank page – your very own space to express your innermost thoughts; to vent; to release the fears and toxins that eat away at you when others are too busy to notice. Whatever you write, you own it. With your thoughts now visible in black and white, people will listen (if you want them to). And if you don’t, your words can be a personal, therapeutic outlet for only you to see. keyboard

2. Writing leads to clarity: Whenever I’m completing multiple writing assignments, I tend to be sharper. I’m much more detail-oriented. Putting sentences and paragraphs together inspires organization and flow, allowing for greater focus. The more writing you do, the more your mind will always be working to come up with your next great accomplishment. Let writing be the fuel that your life runs on.

3. Writing keeps you connected: In the dead of winter (like now!), I often like to write to friends – whether it’s an email, tweet, or a Facebook message. And of course, with less people speaking on the phone these days, text messaging has more meaning than ever. We’re all guilty of longing to hear that wonderful ping alerting us to our replies. Thanks to smartphones, we have engagement at our fingertips, participating in conversations without physically uttering a word.

4. Finally, writing leads to action: By communicating your wants, your needs, your ideas, you’re giving yourself a voice; you’re making yourself heard, sharing information that leads to results. Writing is empowering and shouldn’t be dreaded. After all, that’s why spell-check was invented.

Three Quick Tips for a Successful Interview

As a writer and video producer, it’s essential to master the art of interviewing. Having many years under my belt both writing and producing, I’ve developed some helpful techniques to ensure I get a good story.

1. Make your subjects feel at ease – You’re not going to get any content if the person you’re interviewing feels uncomfortable. To get people talking, start by making a bit of small-talk: ask them about their weekend, if they’re enjoying the weather, or any topic which fosters a nice rapport. The more comfortable someone feels with you, the better their interview responses will be. As you draw them out, slowly ease into the topic you’ll be speaking about. I guarantee, they’ll have a lot more to say then.

2. Allow a few minutes for people to think about their answers – If someone feels put on the spot with a particular question, encourage them to think over their response. As they mull over what they’re going to say, take a short break to grab a cup of coffee or check a few emails (if there’s time). Your interview will benefit from it.

3. Practice non-verbal communication – A smile goes a long way with someone, especially during an interview. Smiling and nodding your head will help to encourage your subjects to keep talking, while letting them know that they’re doing a great job.  Image

If it’s a phone interview you need to conduct, odds are the person might be pressed for time, so make sure you keep the exchange tight and succinct to get the answers you need. Apply some of the rules in #1 and you’ll be good to go!

It’s not in the cards

What’s not in the cards, you ask? Proper sentiments.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, or maybe I remember a time when greeting cards expressed the perfect sentiment. These days, however, many cards have become downright insulting. Jokes about getting old, watching your weight…whatever happened to simple sentiments – short and sweet greetings that get the simple message across: “I think your great.”? Or, “I hope your day is truly special.” Done. The End.

Yes, I am writing about this topic because it’s Mother’s Day. I went to two different card stores before I found an appropriate card for my Mom. And when I did, I knew it was the one. It was cheerful and tasteful. Do you know what it said? “Mom, you’re awesome. Love you.” That’s perfect.

You don’t need a paragraph of schmaltz. Or a card that’s going to poke fun at what a handful you were as a child. That actually brings me to another thought – is it just me or have cards, like most humans of 2014, become increasingly self-absorbed? Or they’re a reflection of our self-absorbed society. I’ve read countless cards with similar written messages – “Sorry, I only had time to get you this card.” Or – “You already have the perfect gift – me!” I kid you not.

And people wonder why the greeting card industry is suffering.

While we’re at it, can we talk about cliches for a second? With Father’s Day coming up next, I know I’ll be faced with the typical yearly dilemma: my Dad doesn’t golf, he doesn’t drink beer, he’s not into race cars. Well, that just about wipes out every card theme for fathers, or men in general. 

My Dad loves cats. Why aren’t there Father’s Day cards with cats on them? Because felines are viewed as too feminine? Hence the crazy cat lady cliche? How about a sweet card that reads, “For a purr-fect father”?

Too corny? Maybe. But I’ll take that over insults and self-absorption any day.

The art of email writing

If there’s one form of communication that people bitch about, it’s email. Messages flood our inbox and reading each one can be time-consuming, yet alone responding to them. Before you know it, you have one big email chain.

With such a large volume of messages, how do you ensure that yours get read? It’s all in the writing. If you want to persuade someone to do something (in my case, it usually involves an interview for an article), you need to come up with an effective method to get the response you need. Here’s how.

1. Subject line – In your subject line, you need to get to the point. If it’s an interview for a newsletter article, I state that right up front. With time being a factor for many, I usually like to add the word “quick” – such as, “Need a quick quote for the newsletter”. If it’s something that won’t take long, make that clear so people realize the action won’t take up too much of their time.

2. Tone – Always maintain a pleasant tone. Even if a person hasn’t gotten back to you after two attempts, remain persistent and polite. If you use phrases, like “Following up”, people will know you’ve contacted them before and that they need to respond. Reiterate that your meeting (or other action) will only take up a little bit of their time. Ending the email with, “I look forward to hearing from you,” is again, a subtle way of reminding the person that you’re awaiting a response. Throwing in a “Best wishes”, “Kind regards” or “Cheers” is always a plus. Sometimes signing an email with only your name can be a bit impersonal.

3. What’s in it for them? – As with most things in life, people want to know “what’s in it for me?”. In the case of newsletter/intranet articles I write for clients, many pieces typically highlight a particular program or employee. Everyone loves to be recognized for noteworthy achievements so that’s the chord I strike when reaching out to people. I let them know that they’ll be spotlighted for exemplary work and ten times out of ten, they call me to arrange an interview.

4. Less is more – Busy schedules and shortened attention spans are always a challenge so be sure to keep email messages short and sweet. Summarize your main points in a short paragraph, offering the opportunity to speak on the phone or in person to discuss further.

5. Proofread before sending – My golden rule of email writing is to proofread all messages before hitting the send button. Even the slightest typo can indicate a lack of attention to detail. Treat your emails like regular documents. Make sure they’re error-free and that the sentences flow. People will be more likely to respond to you quickly if your emails are well-written and typo-free.

6. Add a personal touch, if necessary – I recently had to send a mass email to 15 different people inside an organization. Do you know how many people responded to my initial email? Zero. So I re-sent it a few days later (2-3 days is usually an effective rule for a gentle prod). I reminded them that the end of the month was nearing and I needed the information as soon as possible. Including a date is often a good wake-up call for people because it gets them thinking in terms of a deadline. As a result, I started to get some responses. However, there were still a few people who owed me a reply. The solution? Email each individually, and voila, I got my remaining responses. If you opt for one-to-one communication, it adds a direct, personal touch, vs. a group email which many may tend to ignore.

7. Name-drop – Want a surefire way to get a fast email reply? CC supervisors and executives if the situation calls for it. If your contact sees that a boss is awaiting a critical piece of information, include the boss in the correspondence. That way, your message carries more weight. Plus, you’ll be creating a paper trail that shows that you did everything on your end to obtain the information needed.

8. Give thanks – Follow what your Mom taught you: always say “thank you.” Seems like a no-brainer, but during a busy work day when you’re writing multiple emails, the possibility of forgetting to say “thank you” exists. Sometimes adding an exclamation mark is also a good idea – it shows added appreciation and increases your chances of a quick response.

9. To smiley-face, or not to smiley-face? – Ah, the smiley face. Equally loved and hated by many. So is it too cheesy to include in corporate correspondence? Generally, yes. However, it depends on how closely you work with the person you’re contacting. If it’s a colleague you know very well needing an extra prod to do something, feel free to include a smiley face if you feel it’ll soften the blow of bugging the person multiple times. Obviously, if you’re emailing a higher-up, leave the smiley-face to your personal Facebook messages in the evening!  🙂 – Sorry, couldn’t resist using a smiley face here!

10. Timing is everything – Finally, if you’re sending an important email, make note of the best time of day to send it. Since Monday mornings tend to be hectic, wait till early afternoon if possible. I find Tuesdays and Wednesdays to be an excellent time to send emails since by then, many will have gotten caught up. Friday mornings are also favorable since people tend to be more relaxed the day before the weekend.

Follow these words of advice and you’re sure to see results!

What makes a good writer?

When it comes to writing, you either have it or you don’t, right? Well, yes, that’s basically true…however, there are some traits you you need to develop to fully succeed in the editorial world.

In addition to being able to turn a good phrase (while demonstrating impeccable grammar, of course), writers have to have patience. Sometimes words won’t flow write away, or your interviewee keeps rescheduling. Whatever it is that temporarily prevents you from meeting your deadline quickly, know that the piece will come. Just be persistent and you will get your story.

Secondly, it is essential to develop a thick skin. No matter how amazing you think your piece is, odds are there will be somebody that shoots it down, even a little bit. Perhaps you’ll need to re-phrase a quote or develop a different angle. Whatever the task, never take criticism personal. Revisions are going to happen; rarely is it a reflection on you. As an editor, I’ve used track changes to re-work more documents than I can count. When the tables are turned, I’m fine with any tweaks that need to be made to my own pieces because I understand the editorial process. It’s all about the content and what’s needed to make it the best it can be, especially when you’re promoting someone’s brand.

Finally, if you’re going to be communicating a particular message, you need to listen. In any initial client or company meeting, be sure to be attentive and take as many notes as possible. That way, when it’s time to write the piece, you have all the required elements in front of you. Sounds logical but believe it or not, the listening process can get lost along the way. Sometimes writers have their own idea about how to make a project work and they don’t necessarily take other ideas into account. Remember: clients (or your managers) are the boss. If you genuinely listen to what they want and acknowledge the types of audiences they plan to communicate to, you can deliver a product that they’ll be happy with. After all, they are paying you!!