Help the reader and help yourself

No-one needs to tell you that the reader is the most important person in the world to a publication.

Conventionally, the journalist is responsible for maintaining this focus. Sadly, a great deal of journalism these days, especially online, is 'churnalism' in which barely disguised press releases take the place of reader-centric writing.

There is another way. It probably won't win me many friends among my journalistic peers (although it could save their financial bacon) and that is to ask vendors themselves to write reader-focused and informative, non-selling, articles about their specialist subjects. In my case, the readers being focused on are those responsible for technology in law firms.

The trick is to have a good editor who will help the contributors to get it right – i.e. send it back with recommended changes, seek clarifications and corrections or simply give it a light polish. Having handled a couple of dozen pieces for LawTech magazine, I'm amazed how few had to go back for a rework.

Let's come back to the journalists and their 'financial bacon'. The document properties of one or two of the pieces revealed that they were ghost-written by freelance writers. If vendor staff are too busy to do the writing and publications are too strapped to pay decent rates, this represents a good 'halfway house' for a writer. They're not involved in writing 'puff' pieces, the vendor gets a mention and a web address in the magazine and the reader gets some solid information which contributes further to their understanding.

To add a little colour to what I've said above, here's my latest editorial from LawTech magazine. It also introduces Tom Foremski and his Every Company is a Media Company philosophy.

TNLTMayWhat a terrific bunch of people we have writing for us this month.They are all experts in their various fields and, despite the majority working for vendor organisations, they've all made a real effort to talk to you and address your needs. It's not easy for them; they must feel tempted to give their products and services a little mention in every paragraph. But they've resisted heroically. The result is a collection of articles, which we hope you find interesting and informative.

Yes, each is written by someone who knows his or her company better than any other, but show me someone in a senior position that doesn't have wider experience of the marketplace. Most bring a broader perspective, and it shows. You will find that some articles overlap others but these different points of view will all help to round out your own perspectives.

We are not here to guide you in a particular direction but we hope that by laying out these different viewpoints, article by article, issue by issue, that you are better placed to make your own tough decisions about which strategies to pursue and what sort of vendors you'd like to work with.

For me, it's a great honour and privilege to be able to take this fresh approach to publishing. No one who's been aware of changes in the media over the past fifteen years can fail to have noticed a rise in the "Every Company is a Media Company" sentiment. This phrase was first coined ten
years ago by Tom Foremski, a former journalist who left the Financial Times after 30 years to found the Silicon Valley Watcher blog. He's seen first hand how important it is for companies to share their knowledge, usually through their own online media. He has helped many companies achieve this by applying strong editorial standards to the process.

And this is where we come in. We're an independent publication with a strong editorial ethos that believes in giving the experts a chance to engage with a carefully selected audience. And that's you.

Thank you for reading LawTech magazine.

We have some great issues planned for the future. The feature themes for the coming year are detailed on the website. The backdrop of 'security' and 'cloud' will always be there, but if there's anything else you'd like us to cover, please drop me a line.

David Tebbutt
Editor – LawTech Magazine

 

 

A treasure trove for writers and communicators?

A slightly belated Happy New Year to you all.

It occured to me that you might be interested in a lot of links that I’ve either created or found useful in my writing and training activities. The current list is on my main tebbo.com website.

In the videos – either two of around 20 minutes each, or two sets of eight mini-videos – Alison O’Leary (PR and coaching wizard) asks me pointed questions about business writing and handling traditional media. I answer from the heart and hopefully provide food for thought.

The other links are mainly to material that I’ve read that inspires me. Although, in one case, it irritated me at the same time.

There are no catches – I don’t ask for contact details or fire ads at you.

Enjoy.

Here’s an extract:

Writing links:

George Orwell, Why I write

Publisher, writer and poet, Felix Dennis, on Journalism or Churnalism? (PDF download)

(Felix died on June 22, 2014. A great loss, and a personal one too. My wife and I were lucky enough to spend nine days as Felix’s guests in his Mustique hideaway in early 2014. I blogged about his passing here.)

The Inverted Pyramid of writing from the Air Force Departmental Publishing Office (AFDPO)

 

Writing books:

Writing Tools, by Roy Peter Clark

Grammar & Style, by Michael Dummett

Essential English, by Harold Evans

Lost for Words, by John Humphrys. It’s a bit of a rant.

Writing that Works, by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

 

Other useful links:

Inspiration from Tom Foremski – how every company is becoming a media company.

How to handle the media – an interactive reminder of how to handle journalists (and others)

YouTube videos (me and Alison O’Leary) on business writing and media skills

 

Another giant: cocoate.com

A final thank you (not really belated, I found them after the previous post) to cocoate.com

A flaw in my HTML mark-up was causing some screen elements to misalign on a few devices. Nothing really serious, it was just that the third column on the people page dropped on some of the less popular browsers.

cocoate's explanation of the 960-grid mechanisms was wonderfully clear.

Thank you folks. Or should I say "Merci bien mes amis"?

Thanks to the giants upon whose shoulders I stood

Once upon a time (1966 was the first time), I'd learn a programming language and then apply this knowledge to whatever problems were chucked my way. As I've got older, I decide what I want, then go online for help in doing it. Okay, it doesn't make me a professional coder but I learn plenty along the way and end up with a website that I'm in charge of and can change at the drop of a hat.

Without Google and the World Wide Web, Lord knows what I'd have done. But, thanks to them and all the places they led me to, I have a site which, while falling short of elegant, does what I want. More importantly, I hope it gives its visitors an enjoyable and useful experience.

This post isn't about the website, although you may need to know that it's epocselet.com in order to understand some of the comments below. This post is about recognition of all those people and places I discovered on my journey. Without their help, I would still be trying to learn JavaScript or PHP from scratch.

Here they are, in order of the number of hits I recorded in my Firefox History file. First the top ten (the first three were on tap continuously):

Hits

??? Microsoft ExpressionWeb4 was an invaluable website development environment.

??? W3C's Markup Validation Service. As the name suggests, it checks the validity of web pages.

??? Firefox Web Developer tools – especially Web console and Debugger.

230 stackoverflow A marvellous forum which covered pretty much everything, including PHP, JavaScript, HTML5 canvas and colour drop-down menus.

131 w3schools.com An online reference manual which I referred to for JavaScript, HTML5 Canvas, HTML colours, JS programming tips/demos and string parsing.

101 JQuery Radar Plus Mehdi Tazi adapted Ryan Allred's Radar Chart. I adapted Mehdi's. Figuring out how it worked was like solving a giant puzzle.

 55 The PHP Manual and source of everything.

 51 Radar Chart JQuery Plugin Ryan Allred's original code.

 29 Plusnet's 'friendly' area. I used it for CGI and PHP hosting stuff.

 28 SitePoint is a great source of web-building help. I used it for Canvas, HTML5. PHP, JavaScript, Radio button array and 960 grid stuff.

 

Now for the rest of the top 20. They may be lower in hit count but they were no less valuable – a single hit would often point me in the right direction:

19 Mario Lurig's PHP code checker came in handy when the PHP would stall.

 7 Maths Is Fun took me back to schooldays to remind me about radians, sines and cosine. I could remember 'sohcahtoa' but couldn't remember what practical use to put it to.

 6 tuts+ explained the 960 grid system, but also explained other things, including HTML Forms.

 5 The jquery learning center does what it says on the tin. I used it as a reference for scopes, arrays and operators.

 5 960 grid system. I found the 960 24 grid system perfect for laying out the web pages (and, often, changing them quickly.)

 4 A simple guide to HTML came in handy for checking how to include JavaScript in HTML.

 4 Six Revisions is a website hints and tips site. I used it to read about the 960-grid-system and HTML5's canvas (on which the charts appear).

 4 Chris Pietschmann kindly explained how to colour dropdown items in an HTML form.

 3 Chris Wiegman showed how to dig out the correct IP address for a visitor. (If you're with a hosting organisation, you're still fairly anonymous though.)

 2 Home & Learn helped me a lot with understanding how to work with the HTML5 canvas.

 

Other honourable mentions should go to:

Google Analytics – which keeps an eye on visitor behaviour.

The many people who looked and commented as we went through. I guess some would prefer not to be named, but you'll know if you were one of them. A big thank you to you. I learnt something new from every single discussion.

Finally, my partners in crime Dr. Bill Nichols and Martin Banks.

It's been a blast. It made me remember why I loved programming. But also taught me that I could never make a living at it these days.

Thank you all for five very interesting months.

telescope or epocselet? Which way are you looking?

How often do you glaze over when someone enthuses about a product or service because you don’t “get it”?

They blast off without the faintest idea about your circumstances, your needs or your desires. Result, a baffled story-teller and a semi-comatose listener.

In extremis, it’s the religious zealots who knock on your door. But milder forms exist – the Facebook enthusiasts who are always trying to shove some dodgy philosophy down your throat – usually through pictures or video links. (Recommendation: ‘unfollow’ them – they stay in your friends list but you’re spared the distraction.)

AquaChartImageSadly, these zealots exist in business too. Some organisations are so wrapped up in their own inventions that all their publicity and promotional activities are inward-looking. Self-obsessed, if you like. And this goes for the company spokespeople too. Anyone who says ‘we’ more than ‘you’ is likely to be guilty of this.(By the way, you can get a chart of where you stand, by doing this quick assessment – it takes just a couple of minutes.)

Once you start putting your prospect first (in the same way that all good journalists put their readers first) your story will emerge as something your prospect wants to hear or read. Something that promises to, and will, deliver a desired value. This will lead them to your physical or digital door and, if you continue to play your cards right, you’ll have a new customer.

Common sense? Yes. But, in decades of dialogue with vendors of all kinds, I’ve discovered that many actually fail to make that bridge. They pay lip-service to the principle, but their words let them down. When consulting (often with Martin Banks and, more recently, with Dr. Bill Nichols), we’ve found ourselves using the term ‘looking through the wrong end of the telescope’ to describe this inward-looking approach.

We’ve even created a website called epocselet.com (that’s ‘telescope’ backwards) as an umbrella for our disparate but aligned services. Our focus is firmly on executive management and we’d be delighted to act as guides or sounding boards in the discovery, articulation and sharing of your stories. Use us as little or as much of us as you like.

The journalist’s mantra ‘know your audience’ can be applied equally in business. Change ‘audience’ to ‘prospect’ if you want, but the principle applies to anyone trying to influence anyone else, whether a prospect or an intermediary. If you’re in business, you may have multiple audiences but, at heart, you’re trying to move the same stories through to the ultimate audience, your prospect. You may be trying to influence internal staff, analysts, bloggers, journalists and the many social media cascades. In every case you need to ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”, in order to refine the basic story to best effect.

Written baldly like that, it seems like common sense. But sometimes it’s hard to change your perspective without independent and objective help. It’s not my place to tell you where to go for this. Anyone intelligent who understands communication skills, your marketplace and who has no axe to grind will be able to help you.

But I have to mention that Bill, Martin and I – solo or in various permutations would be more than happy to help you if you’re interested. You’ll find more about us and our services at epocselet.com

 

Apologies to all the marketing people I’ve insulted

Yes, it's true. I've been known to say rude things about marketing people. Analogue marketing people and, frankly, I can do a good job of justifying these comments.

But, as I discovered recently, there's a new breed of digital marketer about and, if they play their cards right, they can be a force to be reckoned with.

My transition started last year when I talked to IBM's CMO for EMEA (top marketing bod in Europe etc., to translate loosely). I came away with the idea that marketing is moving from an art to a science.

Earlier this year, I found myself doing some training with Marketo, a marketing automation company, among other things This, as with all my clients, involved a lot of pre-course research. I became more and more interested in the subject, way beyond the call of duty, in fact.

When I got back, I carried on digging and this led to two articles for CIO UK. The first is What is marketing automation? and the second is IT's role in marketing automation.

For the marketers who've grasped these new opportunities, I take my hat of to you. For the rest? Well, I'll still proceed with caution.

 

Goodbye Felix Dennis

Last week, someone very special to me died. I could have sworn I posted here about his passing, but the week was a bit of a blur and I clearly hadn't.

Last year's post about him (Poetry in Motion) will give a flavour of my feelings about Felix.

BunchBooksLogoRead his 'company poem' The Bearded Dwarf to get a sense of what life was like aboard the good ship Dennis Publishing, or Bunch Books as it was when I worked there. (I understand Rolls Royce was none too happy about the logo. I knew life there would be a blast as soon as I saw it engraved in the glass above the entrance door.)

Felix took me on to help create a personal computer magazine. This swiftly turned into the relaunch, in September 1979, of Personal Computer World.

 

Here are some posts I made in Facebook last week – the only place I semi-publicly shared my thoughts and feelings.

23/6 RIP Felix Dennis, wonderful man, good friend. We're gonna miss you so much.

 

23/6 Me, Sylvie, Felix and mystery person in foliage. March 1st this year. Didn't know it was our 'goodbye' to Felix. Lots of great memories of the man.

FelixSylvieMe+other Small

 

24/6 When I met Felix Dennis, he took me to the art room where they were laying out John Wayne's obituary. I said, "I didn't know he'd died." Felix said, "He hasn't yet, but he's very ill." Eye opener for me.

What has amazed me this week is that papers and online sources have had years to get the facts right about Felix, yet they still manage to screw up his biographical basics.

It makes me wonder how much of what we read is similarly incorrect.

 

25/6 I go to sleep thinking about Felix Dennis and I wake up thinking about him. It's like an infection of the brain. He's never far from my thoughts because he had such a profound impact on my life. I'm probably going to shut up about him for a while but, before I do, I'd like to share a couple of his insights with you.

One is a scan of an interview I did with him years ago for the now defunct "Sustainable Solutions" magazine. It was so completely against the sustainability grain that the publisher loved it.

The other is the pdf of his excellent lecture (Journalism or Churnalism) on why the reader is king.

Enjoy. And take heed.

Goodbye Felix. Thank goodness you've left such a huge written and recorded legacy.

 

29/6 If you think you've got a great story about Felix Dennis, check these out first. They are utterly brilliant. (They're tributes from people who've worked for him.)

 

You don't have to agree with everything Felix did, few people would, but he was a man of utter conviction, he was honest, he was an inspirational publisher and he made a massive difference to tens of thousands of people's lives. (Maybe more than that.) Including mine.

Thank you.