The #1 flaw I see in creative work

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

Don't think this post is just for the creative people. It's actually more focused on people who pay for creative work. I want you to get the best work for your money.

I've been a writer at 4 agencies. I've freelanced. I've been a creative director. And now I manage a team of writers. And the 1 thing I know we do wrong isn't about the final product. It's about the process.

How can "non-creative" people make creative work better?

The process isn't defined. We have a process for lots of things--and we reinforce all the steps. You don't publish until you receive feedback from all stakeholders. Don't release the new product until you've done user testing. But what about creative work? Nine times out of 10, there is no formal process. That's because 9 times out of 10, we're in a huge hurry.

Creative work isn't seen as a professional speciality. We have MBAs. We have lawyers. We have golf pros. Those people are respected as experts and are relied upon to do their jobs well. But writers and art directors aren't always seen that way. They are seen as finishers--not creators. They are at the end of the process--not the beginning. But that's changing. And companies like Apple. McSweeneys,  are leading the way.

We stop at our first ideas. If we worked on the first two solutions, we'd avoid this problem altogether. I ran across this poster on Pinterest, and I stopped cold on "first insight." Most of our creative timelines only allow enough time to get there. But if you look at the poster, that's the first step of 6. So, if you give a creative team 2 weeks to come up with *the* idea, you might get to step 2 (saturation) or 3 (incubation), but you really need to get to other insight--the point where a connection to something completely original is made. THIS IS THE #1 PROBLEM WITH CREATIVE WORK TODAY!

My very rough suggestion is to allow three weeks for the first 4 steps. Then allow 2 more weeks for more ideas an insights to flow. Don't be afraid of how much time it takes. That's the biggest obstacle to creative work. You might find things happen faster, but you must allow the process to happen.



4 questions that will make your content stronger

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

This has to be one of my favorite blog titles: If Your Content Marketing is for Everybody, It’s for Nobody

It's from a post written by Content Marketing Institute founder, Joe Pulizzi. He's asking us to have a person and a purpose behind everything we create. If you ask yourself the following 4 questions, I truly believe you'll write better content--and be a better marketer:

Whether your goal is to sell more software or advertising, you need to get focused on your core audience. If you haven’t already, answer these questions and make sure your entire content marketing team pastes them to their foreheads.

  1. Who? Who is the audience for each piece of content (fill in the blank, i.e., blog)? Who is the specific buyer persona you are targeting with this platform?

  2. Why? Why are you doing this? What is the behavior change that you must see to call this content initiative a success? (Do you need to drive sales, save costs, or drive customer loyalty?)

  3. Outcome? What’s in it for the reader? How are you making their lives better or jobs easier in some way? What’s the pain point you are solving for them?

  4. Replacement factor? If you didn’t provide this kind of information for your audience, would they care — or notice? Could they find the information elsewhere? Is what you are saying really that important?

Master class

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

I just attended the Content Marketing Institute's (CMI) Content Marketing Master Class. Most of us want to master something in our lifetime. Writers, especially, know a little about a lot--so right off the bat, this class caught my attention. Also, I've seen CMI founder, Joe Pulizzi, speak before, and found him to be very humble and helpful. His new CMI partner, Robert Rose, ended up doing most of the speaking, and he kept things authentic and meaningful throughout. Definitely recommend this for several reasons:

Content - Very relevant to marketers who are trying to make content marketing programs stick. Not for beginners, but not so advanced that you feel like a loser who's behind on every level.

Time - Time is our most valuable possession. This is a one-day class, so it's an easy day trip.

Focus - I felt like I got enough info without being overwhelmed--and it was the right info for me. Also they gave us an exercise at the beginning of the class, and asked us to build on it all day. So we had something personal to show for the day away from our desk jobs.

The slides are up on SlideShare,

Remember, you're a customer, too.

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

If you're like me (and a lot of marketers), you do a ton of online research. And, sometimes, you don't quite know what you're looking for. But something catches your eye, like a new article about smart phones, running tips, or travel trends. Next thing you know, you're buying a new phone or booking a trip.

I'm a marketer--I sell stuff for a living. But I'm a customer, too!

Just because you're a marketer doesn't mean you can't (or don't want to) be sold something. Just because you know all the tricks doesn't mean you're immune to nurture.

It's important to have that kind of perspective, especially when you read articles like this, from Fast Company:

Consumers are hungry for more relevant content experiences, and some want a deeper experience with their favorite brands, which would drive consumption of brand-related content within social channels.

Think about your favorite brands. You don't want to hear from them as a marketer, you want to hear from them as an expert in their field. You want them to believe so much in what they're selling that they don't have to act like a barker at a carnival competing for slim margins or selling via spectacle.

So, when you're writing, remember, you're not selling features and benefits (Smaller! Easier! Faster!?!). You're selling your expertise. You're a guide in the all-too crowded marketplace of cloud and business IT. You're giving people relevant insights in return for their time.

It sounds like the Golden Rule, but it's true: Sell to others the way you'd like to be sold.

A very good argument for writing like we speak

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

One of my favorite writing resources, Copyblogger, made a solid argument for using common, everyday language in our marketing materials.

Turns out, writing like people speak is actually a good strategy for search. Product features and benefits are obviously important. But our products solve business problems, and if we address those (clearly and plainly) in our online content, we will capture a larger share of search.

So when you're writing for the web, read what you wrote out loud. Does it sound like something you would say to a coworker or customer? If it doesn't, reword it so it sounds more conversational. That's optimized content.

Just doing it. (I'm taking an online tagline writing class.)

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

Are taglines still useful? Or are they crutches we lean on to explain what we really mean? Are they relevant to today's more conversational style? Or are the even more needed because we can't retain a phrase or idea that's longer than 8 words? Should they even be called taglines?

When done well, taglines are quotable. They're memorable. And they're defining. When done poorly, they're a bad bumpersticker that you can't just peel off.

Some people I respect hate taglines. Another person I respect encouraged me to take an online tagline writing class taught by McKinney copywriter Jenny Nicholson.

No matter whether or not they're used well, taglines are very much with us, and writing a good tagline is still an art I'd like to practice. This is like a core workout for writers. We will whittle away the fat to reveal smooth, rippling short phrases.


Distiling ideas into lyrical, foreshortenend language reminds me of writing poetry, and I believe that's what good copywriting--and tagline writing--can sound like.

This Saturday Night Live Vagisil skit might make you believe in taglines again.