Friday, July 31, 2009

When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best... Or Not

Scenario: You're standing in front of an imposing array of greeting cards in the Hallmark store, looking for that perfect expression of what you want to say. Perhaps it's as generic as a birthday card for a friend or family member, an anniversary card for a parent, a get well card for someone in need, or just something funny to cheer up your BFF.

Research says that consumers spend more than $7.5 billion dollars a year on greeting cards, purchasing from over 2,000 card publishers, from large corporations to the small, family-run greeting card biz.

Here's where I'm going with this. I may have a quirky sense of humor, but there have been many times when I just can't find the card that says exactly what I want to say. In talking with friends, I'm not alone. In this day and age, relationships are complicated, situations are eclectic, and the greeting card industry needs to take note and offer a more "diverse" selection of topics. For instance, where are the birthday cards for the ex-spouses? You know, the ones you get along with but don't want to send a "to my loving husband/wife" to? What about the obligatory congratulations card to someone you really don't like but feel the need to acknowledge? The Father's Day card to the deadbeat dad? The best wishes card to the girl who's marrying your ex-boyfriend? I could go on and on...

I was recently approached by a small card company in Seattle asking for ideas for cards such as these. This would be one of my dream jobs - to write greeting card copy that is real, pertinent, and gets to the heart of what consumers in 2009 really want to say to each other. Yes, it's probably a small market, but it's a growing one. There is a need.

So I'm asking for your input. What specific topics would you like to see covered in the greeting card industry? What card would you reach for and say, "This is perfect!!! I can't believe this card actually exists!!!" If you have an idea, comment below. I'd love to hear it and put it in my bag of tricks. Because sometimes, you care enough to send the very best, and sometimes, you care enough to just send the truth. Happy Friday!!!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Leave A Paper Trail

My mother keeps telling me I should write my memoirs. I'm not even sure what that means. I guess I consider everything I write a chapter in what one might call my "memoirs". But I'm not an extraordinary person; I have not done extraordinary things. Why should I document my everyday life? Why should I leave a paper trail?

The obvious reason is for my children. Generations of kids are on this earth today with no real knowledge of their parents' childhood, their grandparents' struggles, or their own ancestry. It's really too bad. I've been blessed by a family of writers. My grandmother on my mother's side was an associate editor for Shell Oil Company newsletter in St. Louis in the mid-1940's. My mother, the editor of the local newspaper in her community of Oak Run, IL. In addition, in the early 1990's, she decided to chronicle my other grandmother's life and spent months interviewing her and writing "Roses in December: Reminiscences of Gladys Blackburn Talcott". What a gift to her grandchildren! Later, she published her own memoir of sorts in "Growing Up On Wren Avenue", and had copies made for everyone in the family. These books are priceless additions to my collection, and make me think that perhaps I should get started on my own.

For writers and non-writers alike, the thought is daunting. But you don't have to write a book to chronicle your life. Something I have done since both my boys were born is write a letter to them once a year around their birthday. It's always hand-written, and ends up usually being around 8 to 10 pages long, once I get going. In that letter, I summarize their year, the good and the bad, what went on with our family, what stage in life they were in, our struggles, and their accomplishments. I always end with a paragraph about how much I love them, and how they are truly my world. Then I tuck them away. No, they don't read these letters yet, but someday they will.

You don't have to be a great writer to leave a paper trail, or even a writer at all. But you do need to chronicle these days, because they will soon be forgotten, and they are important. Even though your kids may say they don't care about "how things were when I was growing up", it's interesting to read nonetheless, and can give them a better insight into you, and into themselves as well.

And even if you don't have kids, do it for yourself. I have to say I do enjoy reading things I have written a year ago, or five, or even 25. It gives me a sense of how far I have come as well as where I have come from. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of that to keep us grounded.

So leave a paper trail. You may be surprised that it actually does help you find your way and lead you home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can You See Me Now?

What medium are you using to increase your business visibility? No, I'm not talking about a clairvoyant - though that would be nice. I'm talking about a means of communicating your information; for example, print, TV, radio, billboards, etc.

Let's break it down. You have a business - big or small. It could be an appliance store with 100+ employees or it could be just you and your hand-made jewelry. Doesn't matter. You have a product or service to sell, and you need to market it. And no matter what size your business is or how small your budget, there's a medium for you.

We'll start with the basics, and the pros and cons of each.

1) Television
Television can be a great way to give a wide exposure of your business, especially if what you do involves strong visuals. For instance, you're a furniture store wanting to showcase your inventory. You're a medical practice with a comfortable waiting room and an easy-access building. You're a restaurant specializing in ambiance and beautifully presented food.

Television is also a good medium to consider if you want to target a certain audience. Sure, if you want to run a :30 commercial on "Dancing With The Stars" it's not going to be cheap, but you will reach a HUGE audience in a prime time market. But there are certainly many cost-effective options, including package deals, and the increasing popularity of the lower-priced cable stations. Many times, the TV stations can help you with production as well. The con here of course is that TV CAN in fact be expensive, and you do have to have the frequency to make it worth your while.

2) Radio
I'm a big fan of radio, and here's why. It's a good deal, and it's easy. I'm pretty familiar with the stations in town, and can direct any client to the station or stations they will fare best in based on their target audience. I write the spot, the station produces it, and you can be on the air sometimes within days, based on availability.

Radio certainly can give you the frequency that you will not get on TV. And though many may say that radio has gone by the wayside in favor of ipods and other devices, there are still a plethora of "radioheads" out there listening to everything from heavy metal, to easy listening, to good old talk radio. The only con here is the challenge to sell your product or service without it being seen. (That's where I come in.)

3) Print
Read anything online, and it'll tell you "print is dead". I disagree. Sure, circulation numbers for newspapers and magazines have seen a decline since the dawn of the online versions, but print still works for a certain market in certain situations. For example, I do read the newspaper online. However, nothing compares to sitting down with a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper - the real paper. I would guess that many people - especially the older generations - agree.

Trade and general interest publications are still a safe bet. And local magazine are still doing well. In Peoria, movers and shakers in the business world should not pass up InterBusiness Issues, to advertise in or to read. If you're medical, Healthy Cells is a good place to be, and with a contract you can even publish occasional articles. That's double marketing right there! There's also Midwestern Family Magazine - a great read with tons of ideas on things to do in Central Illinois. The cons here: ads can be pricey, and unless you sign a contract, you won't reap the benefits of a frequency discount. There are deals to be had, however.

4) Billboards
I have really come to appreciate billboards in the past few years, especially since Adams Outdoor unveiled the digital billboards. Eye catching and ever-changing, you can't help but spot them at various locations around the area. Billboards are advantageous especially if you need to market something timely: a seminar, an open house, a new business, a change in location. In addition, if there is a billboard NEAR your place of business, you need to snatch it up before your competitor does. (And I say this from experience). Again, there are deals to be had, and with the right reach and frequency, you WILL see results.

5) Online
Anything you can see, read or listen to is probably available in an online version. Clickthrough ads on sites such as,, or can be one of the fastest ways to direct people to your website and can be a great supplement to any of the above mediums. The benefits are that for the most part, you can change the ad regularly and easily, and clickthroughs can be measured daily, so you can get a true sense of how many people saw your online ad and followed through to your website.

6) Miscellaneous other mediums
There are a host of other mediums that are available based on your budget and the goals you want to achieve. From direct mail, coupon books, cinema advertising (yes, you CAN advertise on the big screen!) to shopping cart advertising, the back of grocery receipts, and basic yard signs to name a few. These require a bit more research and have a more fine-tuned market, but do produce results for the right business or service.

So if you want to be seen, check out a medium. Better yet, contact me and let me check them out for you. Above all, make sure you allocate dollars for media into your budget. It is necessary, and if researched and planned and placed the right way, it will affect your bottom line in a positive way and you'll be seeing rising sales in your future.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pay It Forward

Remember that 2000 movie starring Haley Joel Osment? In the flick, based on the novel by author Catherine Ryan Hyde, an 8th grader named Trevor is challenged by his social studies teacher to do something that will change the world. As a result, Trevor decides to do one very good deed for three different people, telling them that rather than paying him back, they are to "pay it forward" to three others. The results are, in fact, life-changing.

I have been thinking about this term a lot lately, especially as I try to start up my own writing business. I have been incredibly blessed by so many sources of support: from good friends helping me get my website up and going, to computer troubleshooting advice from my awesome IT brother, to the volunteers at SCORE with their savvy business advice, to the countless colleagues and acquaintances who have helped me network and just given me good solid encouragement. I can certainly never pay them all back, but I have made myself a promise to pay it forward. Whether it's a down and out friend who needs a good resume, some PR direction for a non-profit group, or my own words of advice and encouragement for someone else trying to make it on her own - I plan to pass my good fortunes along.

But paying it forward extends to more than just the business world. Many, many people are struggling these days, not only with work, but with relationships, kids, school, personal crises, or just... life. I know I've been helped immeasurably in all of those areas, especially by my family and friends. My parents have been a constant source of unconditional love and support in more ways than I can even list here. I can never pay them back - all I can do is pass that along to my kids... my friends... my colleages... and let my parents know that their example is helping well beyond just their daughter.

My friends - my true friends - make me stronger every day, and I hope, in turn, I do the same for them. They provide me with shoulders so broad that I am always carried, encouragement so strong I feel I can conquer the world and laughs so hearty I think my stomach will burst. My wish is that I not only pay that back to them, but pay it forward to others as well.

So as you begin your week with your life and all that is good and bad about it, think about how YOU can channel the good fortune that others have bestowed on you... and pay it forward. Just like in the movie, the results CAN be life-changing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Copywriting vs. Copyrighting: expression vs. protection

I will never forget the time I was approached (in a bar) by a gentleman celebrating his 40th birthday. He had obviously had a few, but we got to talking, and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a copywriter, which caused him to look at me blankly… then it was like a light bulb went off in his head and he replied, “That’s so awesome! What a coincidence! I’m a mailman!”

Obviously, when I tell people what I do, more times than not I get a polite, “Really!?” or perhaps just an “Uh, huh!” It wasn’t until a very intelligent friend of mine asked me point blank, “So….what you do…is that the little “c” in the circle thing?” that I realized that maybe a little more explanation is in order. So here goes.

Copywriting vs. Copyrighting

CopyWRITING is what I do. I write copy. Copy is one of those all-encompassing terms for a bunch of words – and no, I’m not trying to dumb it down. That’s what it is. Copywriting is a form of expression. Technically, a copywriter is a person who uses the written word to “promote” a person, business, opinion or idea. In addition to promotion, copy is written to raise awareness, to educate or to persuade.

Copy is defined as any written content intended for destinations such as websites, sales letters, articles, books, ads, brochures, press releases, radio, television, scripting, etc. All the TV and radio commercials were written by copywriters – yep, even the Billy Mays ones. The websites you go to for information – written by copywriters. The ads in the newspaper, the articles in the magazines, the brochures you pick up on vacation… that’s us… copywriters.

CopyRIGHTING, on the other hand, IS that little “c” in the circle (©). It is a form of protection. At its most basic, a copyright is a right under the law of the United States (and other countries) that protects an author’s original expression of an idea. This encompasses literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works. Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the owner of a copyright has the EXCLUSIVE right to (or authorize others to) reproduce the work in copies, to prepare derivative works based on the original, to distribute copies by sale, rental, lease or lending, and/or to perform or display the work publicly. It is illegal for anyone to violate these rights; however, they are limited in scope.

My brother, Kelly Talcott, is an attorney who focuses on intellectual property and technology law. In his practice, he commonly deals with cases involving copyrights, patents and trademarks. In his explanation to me he said, “It’s a pretty complicated area of the law. The concept of an "author's original expression of an idea" can be broken down into 1) the Author –the person who creates the original expression; 2) Original - meaning it came from you, though outside influences can have an effect on what is considered “original”; 3) Expression - communicated and recorded some way (i.e. – your spoken word is not considered “copyrighted” until it is recorded or transcribed); and 4) Idea - such as an invention, a song, a work of art, an article, a piece of jewelry you create. It is the expression of the idea, and not the idea itself, that copyright protects. This concept is even broader and more difficult to define clearly.”

So there you have it. I am a copywriter, meaning I write copy. Ironically, according to Kelly, I also have a copyright on things such as the information contained in this blog, which makes me a copyrighted copywriter. Maybe that’s what I’ll say next time someone asks me what I do for a living – that should really confuse ‘em.

For more on copywriting, visit my website at For more on copyrighting, visit Kelly Talcott's blog at

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Be Interesting

In my journey to turn my passion for writing into a paycheck for a living, I have sought out advice from experts in the field. This is an excerpt from a great piece by John Morrow, Associate Editor of Copyblogger. His suggestions lean toward blogging, but upon reading them, I think they pertain not only to that, but writing or networking out in the real world as well.

How to Be Interesting
by Jonathan Morrow

“Be interesting.” It’s good advice, but it’s nothing new. You’ve probably known from the beginning that being able to interest readers is a crucial part of growing a popular blog. It’s pretty obvious that no one is going to stick around unless they find your blog interesting. But how are you supposed to do it exactly? How can you “be interesting?”

Far too much of what we write about attention and interest is abstract. We talk about differentiation, value, and triggers — all useful concepts, but you can’t point to them. You can’t hold out your hand and say, “Give me some differentiation.” As a result, it’s hard to wrap your mind around what those things actually mean.

I’d like to change that. Over the past few weeks, I’ve paid attention to the things that command attention, both of myself and others, and I’ve made a list of techniques that work. It’s far from all of them I’m sure, but it should be enough to get you started.

1. Be wrong: The world is full of people trying to do the right things. It’s become so common that many of us are bored by it. We long for someone that is willing to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, be the wrong thing. If you have the courage to be that person, you’ll find lots of people paying attention to you.

2. Be right: You can also gain attention by being right… but only if you’re more right than everyone else. Run a mile faster than anyone else, explain your topic more clearly than anyone else, be funnier than everyone else. Embody perfection, and people will take notice.

3. Communicate what others can’t: As writers, we take ideas from our heads and put them on the page. Sometimes we forget how difficult that is for some people and how valuable that makes us. Lots of people would give anything to be able to say what they mean. But they can’t. So, they turn to songs, books, and art that communicate for them. Be a producer of those things, and you’ll never lose their attention.

4. Do something: Everybody online is trying to say something important, but very few are trying to do something important. If you want attention, dare not to just give advice to others, but to live that advice yourself. Then blog about it.

5. Surprise people: Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, say that one of the best ways to set yourself apart is to break people’s “guessing machines.” Take a surprising position, making outlandish analogy, or otherwise do the opposite of what you normally do. As long as it’s unexpected, people will stop and pay attention.

6. Make people laugh: Bloggers are far too serious. We’re so busy trying to teach that we forget to entertain. As a result, large portions of our readerships fall asleep. And what’s the best way to wake people up? Humor. Public speakers have been using it for ages, and as long as it’s appropriate for your audience, humor can wake your readers up and get them paying attention again.

7. Be startlingly honest: Every once in awhile, tell the truth. Be so honest that you’re scared to click the “Post” button. Be so honest that no one knows what to say in the comments section. Be so honest that your lawyer tells you to stop. You’ll feel better… and people will talk about you.

8. Tell a good story: This one has been drilled into us so many times that I almost didn’t include it… except for one thing: people still don’t get it. Yes, stories support your points, make solid openers, and teach people while entertaining them, but a good story can make you a legend. I’m not talking about the little anecdotes that pepper the blogosphere. I’m talking about the story that haunts you on your deathbed. Forget about all the others. Tell me that one.

9. Create a work of art: Many bloggers crank out posts the way slaughterhouses crank out chickens. They’re ugly things, fit for nothing but consumption. If you want to surprise people, stop and put some actual effort into your blog posts, creating a work of art. You’ll be surprised by how many people remember it long after it’s been swept off your front page.

10. Put your readers first: Yes, you’re the blogger. Yes, you’re the one with talent. Yes, you’re the one working your tail off. But it doesn’t matter. The one and only thing of consequence is your reader. You can rail against this fact for as long as you like, but as long you do, you’ll never be interesting.

About the Author: Jon Morrow is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and co-author of Keyword Research for Bloggers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Facebook...Friend or Foe?

I blame it on my friend Frandy. She approached me months ago wanting to play online Scrabble - on Facebook. Facebook? Isn't that for those young kids looking to hook up and posting drunk pictures of themselves? I'm waaaayyy too old for that social networking thing. I'm still trying to figure out texting lingo (lol, btw).

But I did it - if only just to prove I could kick her butt in online Scrabble. And what I've found in the six months or so that I've been "connected" is that Facebook is a whole world unto itself - it can be kind, and it can be cruel, and you need to approach as carefully as you do any relationship - with respect, discretion and a sense of humor.

I have a very eclectic "friends" list of about 130 people. Some are family members, some are friends, some are acquaintences or business associates. I probably only communicate directly with less than 1/4 of them, but who knows how many read what I post on a daily basis. I've added a few, I've deleted a few, I've blocked a few... and learned many a lesson along the way.

Perhaps the one thing that blows me away more than anything - and I've heard this from other people as well - is who you "find" on Facebook. Through a series of six degrees of separation, I've found a couple of childhood girlfriends, some high school chums, a college buddy or two and some former co-workers. These are people I may have NEVER spoken to again had it not been for this social medium. And I am discovering that in my case, these people have reminded me why they were my friends and brought me full circle.

See, I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve, or in the case of Facebook, my heart on my status. So at this point, if you keep up with my status, you know what's going on in my life. Why should you care? You shouldn't, necessarily. But when I read someone else's status and find out things like, "My husband just got laid off from Cat" or "Does anyone know of a good roofing contractor?" or "My daughter just cut her hair...anyone want to meet for a drink?" I realize that we are all in this together, and we need each other so very much.

In that same vein, it's important to remember that you are in a social networking world. I've read comments directed toward me on other people's "walls" - not cool. I've read very strong political or religious references that could be taken the wrong way. Some may argue that it's their right, and I'm not going to dispute that. It's just not how I view this particular medium with such a diverse audience. Again - it's the six degrees of separation. Most of the people recently I have found - or have found me - have been via another Facebook member. It's a big, small world, and believe it or not, you can get a reputation in this virtual social club.

Facebook has been - overall - a positive experience for me. It's been an outlet for my frustrations, my humor, and my thoughts. It's connected me with people that I feel blessed to have in my "circle". It's allowed me to get to know old friends and new in a more intimate, almost etheral way. And with this whole six degrees of separation thing, I'm thinking it's only a matter of time before Kevin Bacon shows up on my friends list. Here's hopin'.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't wink in the dark...

"Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does." ~Stuart Henderson Britt

I'm not a consummate business person, and I don't even pretend for a minute to have the knowlege, experience and market savvy that some of the heads of businesses out there possess. But sometimes, I am puzzled at the lack of props they give to a well-rounded, cohesive, long-term marketing plan.

It may be easy to throw a couple of grand out there to advertise a seminar or special event that may be coming up. Or to decide that, since it's the holidays, it's time to punch it up with a few radio spots or newspaper ads to get people in the door. That's all well and good, but what does that do for you the other 350 days of the year to promote you and your business?

You've heard the expression, "You gotta spend money to make money." It's true when you start up your business, and it's true in advertising. You're not going to buy a run-down shack, serve sub-par food and expect to build a restaurant clientele. So why should you expect that sporadic, non-targeted advertising is going to do the same? You want to be on the tips of everyone's tongue. The topic of conversation. The name they give when they make a referral or recommendation. That can only be achieved through the reach and frequency of consistent advertising. I'm not saying blanket every TV, radio station and billboard with your message. Targeting your market is important. A good media planner can put together a long-term, consistent, well-balanced media plan based on who you want to reach and how you want to reach them. Will it cost money? Sure. Will it be worth it? If done right, yes.

I have been blessed to work with some amazing media reps in the Central Illinois area over the years who I do trust to provide me with very knowledgeable information about target markets, media placement, and even special deals. If you are at the point where you are thinking of getting your message out but are not sure how or where to do it, give me a call at 309.369.6337 or email me at Don't wink in the dark... I'd love to get your story out and help make you the success you work so hard every day to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Everyone can write, right?

That question is usually followed by, "So why should I hire someone to write for me?"

Put it this way. I play volleyball on a co-rec sand league. I can get it over the net when I serve, I can bump it up to the front row maybe 70 percent of the time. Every once in awhile I'll get a good set over to my partner and sometimes we win the game. But you'll never see me on the professional circuit, that's for sure. I know my place and I like it just fine. I'll leave the real volleyball to the ones who do it for a living.

That's pretty much true about everything in life. For those of you who are lucky to be doing what you love and want to promote it, here's a few reasons to hand that pen off to someone that makes their living doing it:

1) Perspective. You know what you do, but do you feel like sometimes when you explain it to people it's like trying to describe a movie to someone who's never seen it? Sometimes you can be too close to what you do and lose sight on what your audience might understand, or find important. A copywriter takes what you have to say and sees it as your clients or customers see it - and explains it as such.

2) Keep it real. A medical client of a former business I worked with once said, "You guys promise not to do surgery and we promise not to do marketing." Fair enough. That client performed everything from esophagogastrectomies to herniorrhapies and everything in between, and it was my job to describe to people who were getting one of these procedures done exactly what was going to happen in a language they would understand. Not only did it educate the patient, it made them feel as if the physician cared enough to explain medical procedures to them in a straightforward, "layman's term" way.

3) Do what you do. When you take the time to write your own stuff, you're taking time away from what you do best. If you form a long-term relationship with a copywriter, that person will get to know you and your business, and over time, can be your "write-hand" person (OK, pun intended.) He or she can suggest areas where editorial can be beneficial - from web copy, ads, and brochures to articles in local, regional or national trade publications. You go on about your business, and trust your copywriter to be your biggest fan.

What gets written about what you do is going to be what forms the public's knowledge, awareness and opinion of you as a person and as a business. Like a good accountant, a good realtor, a good investment banker or a good friend, having a good copywriter by your side ensures that the public perceives positive prose...professionally penned.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy 21st Birthday, Kristen!

Today, July 1, 2009, is my niece's 21st birthday. This girl has her head on straight...she has risen above some adversity in her life and has always been very cognizant to do the right thing. This may have gotten her a label of "goody two shoes" at times, but in the end, she's way ahead of a lot of people her age.

So this got me to thinking to back when I was 21. I was a late bloomer with pretty much everything in life, but at 21, my goal was to be living on my own and starting a great career. That's probably one of the few times in my life that I reached a goal in the timeline that I had anticipated. I was a college graduate, living in a great apartment in Milwaukee with an awesome job as the media buyer for a large, medical equipment company. I was in charge of a ridiculous amount of money and had more decision power than any 21 year old should have. But wow, did I learn, and man, what a ride that was.

Looking back, I am so thankful to that experience, because it showed me then and it shows me now that I do have the capabilities, the drive and the inner spirit to "go get 'em, Girl". Especially now, when I need to channel the mental and physical energy of that 21-year old to get me going as I enter this new phase of my life.

So for all of you in a similar situation, whether it be a job, a relationship, or just a state of mind, try channeling that point in your life when you WERE strong and you DID have it goin' on, and you will see that it IS there and you CAN do it. Godspeed!!!!