Celebrating 15 Years in Business

When Wintress Odom started writing 15 years ago, she never imagined that The Writers For Hire would become a full-fledged business with dozens of employees. Even five years after the article below was published in The Houston Chronicle, she still marvels at the growth and changes the business has been through. Join us as we reminisce over the next few weeks about the journey from there to here.

Click the image below to view the full article.

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Starbucks’ New Instant Coffee Ad: Love it or Hate it?

In an earlier blog post, I cautioned against ad campaigns that were too trendy or topical, but Starbucks’ new “Via” TV ad is an edgy, hilarious example of why it’s sometimes okay to buck convention. In addition to promoting their new instant coffee, Starbucks takes on a touchy (and waaaay timely) subject: town hall meetings.

If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here.

Personally, I love it. I think Starbucks took a bit of a risk, and I think they struck the right balance of social criticism and goofy humor. Unsurprisingly, I’ve also seen some negative buzz from viewers who didn’t see it that way: Some feel that by spoofing modern political discourse, the coffee retailer went too far.

What do you think? Did Starbucks cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed? Or is this a great example of edgy, up-to-the-minute advertising?

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Astroturfing: The Icky Side of Social Media Marketing

It’s disingenuous. It’s dishonest. And, it’s everywhere.

It’s called “astroturfing”. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to it. And, if the folks behind it have done their jobs right, the chances are pretty good that you didn’t even know it.

Social media is powerful stuff. In its most basic form, it’s the high-tech equivalent of your best friend recommending Gap jeans or your next-door neighbor telling you that she never shops at XYZ grocery store anymore because the cashiers are rude.
The truth is, we’re all influenced by what our friends think. Most of us buy books or see films based on the recommendations of friends we trust. We’re probably more likely to try a new restaurant if a few people from work say the food’s good. And yes, if everybody jumped off a bridge . . .

Well, we’d probably at least think about it for a second.

But imagine if your friend was getting kickbacks from the Gap. If every time she plugged her favorite jeans, she got fifty bucks. Or if your neighbor was getting free groceries from XYZ grocery store’s competitors whenever she badmouthed the competition.

Ick, right?

Continue reading “Astroturfing: The Icky Side of Social Media Marketing”

Why Copywriters and Journalists Just Can’t Get Along

Versatile writers are hard to find. For a long time I was surprised when I’d get great journalism samples from a writer, but the minute I put them on a copywriting project, it was a total flop – and vice versa. But I’ve finally discovered the disconnect: the real reason that some writers have such a hard time, fundamentally, switching between these two genres. The reason is that organization-wise, journalism is the opposite of copywriting.

Let me explain…

The purpose of journalistic writing is NOT to tell the reader everything – at least not right away. You want to tease. You want to raise questions in the readers mind. You want them to keep reading to find out what you mean by your headline, or to discover the solution to the problem that you posed in your intro. In journalism, you want to create intrigue.

The purpose of copywriting is opposite. You want to get your biggest baddest benefit for your product upfront, in the reader’s face, no holds barred. You want to lead with a benefit that the reader needs to have. You don’t want secrets. You don’t want intrigue. And you certainly don’t want to depend on the reader actually reading your copy.

To help clarify what I mean, following are a couple of examples of the right and wrong ways to start a journalistic article vs. a copywriting piece.

Good and Bad Journalism:

Wrong: When I arrived at my guest house, a special turn-down present of olive oils, vinegars, and recipes nestled in my down pillows. It was signed by Chef Eric Francis.

Why is this bad? You’ve given the reader all the information they need in these lines. It doesn’t raise any questions. It doesn’t compel them to read on. Basically, it’s boring.

So how do you fix it? I mean, after all, how exciting can writing about some resort be? Try something like this…

Right: Chef Eric Francis gifts a signature keepsake to all of Calistoga’s visitors – and it’s not served with dinner.

See? Now the reader wants to find out what the keepsake might be. This technique works with fiction too, but what it doesn’t work with is, you guessed it: Copywriting!

“”

Good and Bad Copywriting:

Wrong: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But it shouldn’t cost you millions to manage your brand.

Here, the writer is obviously attempting to raise curiosity in the reader, much you like you might do with a journalistic piece. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do in good copywriting. In good copywriting you do not want to waste time trying to tease readers along. I believe it was Bob Bly who said that when a reader comes across a curiosity headline he will read it if he has time; when he comes across a benefit-oriented headline, he will make the time to read it. That mantra goes for copywriting intros as well. You need to lead with your best benefit. First. Always.

So…the right way to start this ad would be something like:

Right: CRS staging sets are more affordable than traditional, bulky sets, and they can be customized, shipped, and ready on site within five working days.

Now, if you were looking for a staging set, wouldn’t you be interested?

Twitter for Small Businesses: Is it Worth it?

Have you heard yourself saying something similar to this: Social media isn’t for me or my business. Twitter is just for kids. My clients don’t care about that kind of stuff.

Well, think again.

Nielsen NetRatings just published a surprising research study: Teen’s don’t Tweet. That’s right, 84% of Twitter’s recent growth is due to users aged 24 and up. Chances are you already know someone – a client, a friend, a neighbor, a family member – who’s addicted to Twitter. Read the full article here.

So the big question…

Should you or your business get on the Twitter bandwagon? The answer is yes, probably. Continue reading “Twitter for Small Businesses: Is it Worth it?”

Make More Money by Self-Publishing Online

I was listening to the radio when my ears perked up by some extra-pertinent information: how the business of publishing is changing – and how authors are making more money than ever using the internet.

There have traditionally been two ways to get your book in front of a mass audience: Continue reading “Make More Money by Self-Publishing Online”

Should You or Your Business Be on Wikipedia? The Pros and Cons.

Everyone uses Wikipedia – in fact, if I see a Wikipedia entry come up on a Google search, that’s usually the first link I click on.

Can Wikipedia be used for marketing purposes? The answer is certainly – though probably not in the way you think.

A Wikipedia entry on you or your business isn’t going to directly sell widgets or get you your next commissioned painting. However, what it will do is add credibility to your name or brand by putting it up on the web for everyone to see. But, like most things in life, there are a few drawbacks to using Wikipedia.

Pros:

Pro #1: It’s fact-based. Every entry in Wikipedia reads like a page out of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There aren’t any opinions, hype, or marketing ploys allowed on Wikipedia – although the users who post information may be motivated by an opinion they have. Because it’s fact-based, you’ve got an opportunity here to tell people exactly what you do and how you do it, to provide little-known company information and other things that might get lost in your marketing messages or buried in your company website.

Pro #2: It adds legitimacy to your name or brand. Because Wikipedia is a third-party, public website, information on your Wikipedia page may be more valuable to a potential customer than some of the information on your website. You’re accessing potentially millions and millions of users on their terms – no jingles, no T.V. commercials, no propaganda.

Pro #3: You can direct it … in a way. Rather than letting users start your Wikipedia page that may be riddled with errors or even meant to be a low-blow to your good name (see Con #2), why not start the page yourself – that way, you can direct the type of information that’s listed on your page. That’s one way to manage your reputation and point out information that may be little-known. Reference a news article. Link to your website. As long as you stay within the Wikipedia guidelines, you can shape the look and tone of your Wiki entry.

Cons:

Con #1. Wikipedia isn’t reliable. Yes, it may seem reliable – and it’s certainly popular, often treated as The Bible for any obscure fact that no one could possibly know. I’m sure it’s settled many bets, and probably ended a few friendships. The information is based on user entries, and can be changed or modified by anyone who wants to. Not everything you see on Wikipedia is a proven fact, though it should be. Which leads me to my next point…

Con #2: Anyone can change your Wikipedia entry. That’s right, anyone: a miffed customer, disgruntled ex-employee, the brother-in-law that hates you, even one of your competitors. Anything on your Wikipedia page can have its validity challenged or be modified by anyone. This is good because it keeps some companies from hiding any past missteps – remember, Wikipedia is about public information, not PR. But beware that your Wikipedia page is vulnerable to anyone who disagrees with the information it contains.

Con #3: It needs constant patrol. Since you can’t control all of the information on your site, it’s important that your Wikipedia page doesn’t completely destroy your reputation. Be sure to check your entry regularly to see if it’s been changed – and how it’s been changed. Certainly allow users to contribute whatever they’ve got to your entry – this isn’t a time to let your controlling tendencies get to you. But in order to make sure that your good name isn’t being dragged through the mud by a customer, ex-employee, brother-in-law, etc., you’re going to have to monitor it and respond accordingly.

Remember, nothing on Wikipedia is set in stone. It’s constantly evolving and growing, with new additions and deletions from a collaboration of users. And that fluidity can end up helping or tarnishing your brand if left unchecked.

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