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

 

 

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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

 

Something for would-be writers and spokespeople

Videos

Tebbo's Tips

All the above are free.They help you get started with handling the media or with business writing.

I created them because organisations need to influence their prospects, customers and other stakeholders either indirectly through the media or directly through their own efforts, whether they're self-published (company website/blog) or through submission to a media company. (See Tom Foremski's EC=MC: Every Company is a Media Company if you want to read more.)

The top image links to two videos, each broken down (if you want) into eight mini-videos of approximately two to five minutes duration. The bottom two link to downloadable pocket-sized memory-joggers. (They're actually A4 and come with printing and folding instructions.) If you prefer, just go to tebbo.com which also includes some useful links.

I offer all of this free of charge. In one respect it's me 'giving back' and sharing my knowledge. In another, I hope they reflect favourably on me and my work and attract people who'd like me to work with them. They're all Creative Commons – share by all means, but please don't alter them.

The videos are hosted on YouTube and the memory joggers are hosted on Google Drive. I had some fun writing the delivery script for the Tebbo's Tips memory-joggers, but that's another story.

I hope you enjoy what you see. I showed a few of my more critical friends and they've been very kind.

I'm enormously grateful to Alison O'Leary for agreeing to work out some questions and grill me for the videos. And, of course, to all those customers, friends and colleagues that have helped me throughout a most enjoyable career. Which, incidentally, I hope is far from over.

This is not breaking news… it’s already gone viral

Why does something happen just when you can't get to the computer?

Yesterday a man (you probably know who) appeared on the radio and tv in advance of his company's launch of a new product. No doubt he couldn't reveal too many details, so the interviews were theoretically too early. But then, if he'd tried to get on today, the news would have already gone round the world and the programmes would have been less interested.

So, he arrived with a set of inward-looking and content-free messages which he was determined to deliver. If anyone had advised him about bridging techniques or addressing the interests of his audience, his memory clearly failed him.

He answered every question with a non sequitur, usually involving words like unique, new, proposition, experience, essence and transformation.Oh yes, and he found it "exciting", several times. Completely forgetting perhaps that he's paid to be excited.

In the end, one of the presenters was so anxious to get something out of the interview that they offered an open goal, "Sell it to us then." And he talked about "managing to find the way to transition the essence …"

Handling the media is not rocket science but I accept it can be stressful. That's why you need to prepare. Know what you want to say and what you can say. Make sure it is of interest and, hopefully, benefit to the audience. Say it in concrete language that they understand. Know how to bridge (I call it transition – am I guilty of the same crime?) away from the awkward question and get onto something interesting to the audience.

My mate and highly regarded journalist/editor, Dick Pountain, came up with a form of words that would have got the interview off to a racing start and actually delivered value to the audience within a few seconds. Sadly I can't share those words because it would identify our miscreant.

What Tebbo did next

Looking back at the past five years, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve worked exceedingly hard on three major projects: Freeform Dynamics where, as an analyst, I became deeply involved in social, cloud and environmental aspects of ICT. Then Blue & Green Tomorrow, where I launched, edited and wrote all the news and many features in the print edition. Then 6Connex EMEA where I consulted (and still do) on all manner of things – mainly writing stuff but also getting roped into the technical side of things as well. As a virtual event company, 6Connex also has a strong environmental angle.

Following a particularly large project which almost gobbled me up, I find that I can rebalance my life somewhat. So I’m back to doing more writing – monthly in cio.co.uk, about individual CIOs and their sustainability efforts, and private commercial writing (B2B). I even run the odd writing skills workshop.

I’m also training in media skills either solo, with PR partners, or with Martin Banks, depending on what’s required. Clients are usually blue chip ICT clients but I’ve also worked with a chemical company, a charity, some engineering firms and a university.

No doubt things will unfold in interesting and unexpected ways. They usually do. If anything changes radically, I’ll let you know. You still won’t see many blog posts here in the short term, but I wouldn’t rule it out long term. At the moment, my editing and blogging urges are more than satisfied with The Right Thing To Do?.

So there we are, just in case you were wondering. If you’re not, I guess you wouldn’t have read this far.

 

Would you spam your followers?

Should I spam my contacts? I don't think so.

Why do I ask? Because, I received an email this morning from someone I once knew slightly asking me to advocate something his brother had done. In essence the email told me exactly how he'd like me to spam my followers. 

Here's his approach:

After an intro he says, "I'm writing to ask you very personally for your help …".

I like the "very personally" since it's clearly not. It's a mass mailing.

He asked for 'likes' on three social networks, a Tweet, a Facebook mention and a blog post. He also asked for support on a couple of publicity sites and offered an opportunity for a minuscule and fleeting piece of self promotion.

Finally he describes the product in more detail and asks if I can help him find distributors.

Clang!!

That was the bin.

Am I wrong?

 

An evening with PR/Marketing Guru, Larry Weber

Back in May, I trotted off to meet with marketing/PR guru, Larry Weber and a bunch of other interesting people, including Jack Schofield (IT man at the Guardian for donkey's years and erstwhile competitor – we both edited PC magazines in the early eighties) and Bill Nichols an academic and marcomms/reputation consultant who, when Jack and I were competing, was Clive Sinclair's PR man. They were both on the speaker panel with Larry. The other notable people were in the lively audience.

The occasion was the UK launch of Larry's (then) most recent book: Everywhere. It's about social networking being at the heart of the future of business. He calls this 'anytime, anywhere' access the the fourth wave of computing. (I ought to know what the three earlier waves were, but I've forgotten. Maybe it was brains, internal networking and internet, or something.)

No surprises so far then. But I don't think Larry set out to surprise us particularly. More that he wants to share his familiarity with the subject matter in a non-frightening manner. After all, the people who really need his insights are those who are probably the most fearful of openness, transparency and genuine dialogue. You might think of them as the 'command and contol' brigade. While this has its place, it's probably not where the rubber of the corporation hits the road of the marketplace.

Sorry, I should be talking about Larry's evening. (And, if you're wondering why it's taken me so long, it's because I was suddenly pitchforked into a new company and I've been more than a tad busy. My conscience was pricked by a Facebook post about his recent presentation to the Public Relations Student Society of America. The headline of the post was "Social media's impact bigger than television's.")

At his book launch, he predicted that, by 2015, "you'll be hard pressed to find any newspapers or nightly news on TV." He says, "TV ads have got to die sometime." He may not always provide answers but he knows how to provoke fresh thinking. Let's hope the revenue replacement doesn't put the TV companies even deeper in hock to corporate sponsors.

With regard to the Fourth Generation thing, he told the story of how he sent off for brochures from all the prospective colleges for his daughter. She didn't look at one  of them. She'd already done her research online. Except she didn't refer to it as online. When Larry once said to her, "I'm going online", she replied "Oh Dad, we don't go online any more. We just are." Online, that is. And a lot of people reading this will know what she means. If you're not one of them, then it's likely that his book will interest you.

Another thing he talked about was Innocentive. Companies give it problems and money and it gets its community of 'solvers' to apply their brains. Larry gave examples of $100,000 here and $25,000 there. It's all online (of course). And the winning contributor exchanges their IP for the cash. That's a great commercial application of crowdsourcing. Related to this were his comments on how social networking allows for the intense, focused, sharing of knowledge. I think his book goes further and talks of micro-segmentation of the internet so that you can find a community and go deep into just about any subject that interests you.

He is very clear that successful companies (especially consumer-facing) will have to become radically transparent, be willing to share and also to stand for something that will resonate with customers and prospects. Core values that permeate the company's business. Larry doesn't claim it will be easy, but he sprinkles his conversation with stories old and new of how companies have turned on the proverbial dime. Dell, of course. BP to a certain extent. And so on.

I was quite taken with the idea that, "big sites will die under their own weight." He said this because he believes that all the power is now in the network. Not sure that a behemoth like IBM would totally agree with this sentiment, despite its strong advocacy of social networking values. With statements like this, the evangelist in Larry seems to pop out of the closet. (My views of evangelists are here.)

Let's turn to one of the other speakers, Bill Nichols. He scored a hole in one for me with his observation that "People respond to emotion and fairness."

I have the sense that the former has been faked and the latter missing for a long time.

If Larry and Bill are right, we would seem to be heading towards a better and much more harmonious world.

Let's hope so.