Content and Creativity Come Naturally

Most people can identify a defining moment in their life when they recognized the path they wanted to follow in order to fulfill their passion.
For Barbara Call, Greenough’s new director of content, this happened in fourth grade. Her writing debut: A series of short stories about a mouse. It was at that moment (although she didn’t recognize it until years later) that she knew she would become a writer.

We are extremely lucky that Barbara found her way to Greenough a few months ago and now we can’t imagine life without her. Writing comes naturally to Barbara and she has an uncanny ability to remain calm under pressure and quickly write or edit carefully crafted, emotion-evoking content.

As Director of Content, Barbara uses her creative juices to oversee Greenough’s content department, managing the development of varying material, from tweets to whitepapers and everything in between. Barbara is also charged with helping define and manage content strategies for Greenough’s clients; she believes that all content must be highly strategic, deliberate and carefully placed in order to truly add value to clients. Barbara works closely day in and day out with both account services and the media relations team to ensure that all content both integrates with and supports our clients’ overall objectives and makes sense strategically.

Barbara brings a wealth of editorial knowledge and expertise to our company, having spent 20+ years in the journalism industry as a writer, editor and author. As a Syracuse University magazine journalism grad, it’s no surprise Barbara landed numerous roles in some of the country’s most highly-regarded publications. She brings invaluable knowledge of the IT and technology industry, having held several senior editorial positions at Ziff Davis’ PC Week and editing breaking news from well-known players such as IBM, Compaq and Dell Computer. Barbara has also contributed to numerous magazines and online news and information sites including Cook’s Illustrated, The Boston Globe Magazine and Body & Soul magazine, among others.

She is the author of 6 books, including her favorite title, The Crafter’s Devotional: 365 Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Unlocking Your Creative Spirit. The book reflects Barbara’s passion for art and creative expression, offering 365 ways artists and creative types can use their creative energy to build, experiment and inspire. In her spare time you will likely find Barbara doing just this: Working on some kind of arts and crafts project. You might also find her training for an upcoming mountain bike race with her partner Matt, watching her 16-year-old son Alex at a wrestling match or cheering on her 11-year-old son, Jack, at a basketball game. She also loves live music, anything outdoors and spending time with friends and family at Bisby, a family summer home in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state.

Wise words that the content guru herself likes to live by? Do what you love and love what you do. And for all those aspiring writers out there looking to make it, Barbara has some advice: Write for yourself and yourself only. Write because you love writing, because it makes you feel good, not because there’s a paycheck involved or promise of fame or glory. If you do this, you will become a better writer, guaranteed.

Making the Transition from Journalist to Marketer

I’ve seen several blog posts of late referencing the trend for PR and marketing agencies to hire journalists. Having recently made the transition myself, I’ve got some advice for journalists considering the move and agencies considering the hires.
Seven reasons why journalists make good marketers

1) We understand the concept of audience. Any experienced editorial person knows one of the first questions you ask when you’re handed an assignment is this: Who’s the intended audience? We’re familiar with changing the format, tone and length, among other things, depending on the audience and where, when and why they’re reading our content. That skill is critical in marketing PR content development, as you might be crafting a contributed article for a trade pub, assembling a press release for the business press, editing a case study for prospective customers, creating pithy copy for a Facebook posting or writing a white paper for prospective business investors. Not only does the audience, tone and type of writing vary between each of these, you also need to understand the underlying messaging and the correct voice for the client.

2) We’ve been pitched articles by agencies. As a result, we can give our colleagues tips for what works (and what doesn’t). We’re also used to researching story ideas, and that’s often an easy way to start a dialogue with writers and editors on the media side. Having sat on the other side of the desk, we can tell you how the editorial process works, what we’re often looking for and what really turns us off. We also bring an assortment of media contacts to the agency, which usually gives us an inside edge on landing a story or nailing coverage for our clients.

3) We understand the need for context. No successful journalist would ever show up to an interview (or input session, as we call them here at Greenough), without doing our research. We’re used to casting the net very wide, then distilling that information to assemble the story. The first step in casting that net is a basic understanding of the company, its customers, the problem it’s trying to solve and the industry it competes in. We like doing research—it’s part of the journalistic process—and it’s critical in developing compelling and accurate marketing PR content.

4) We’re usually very detail oriented. What, exactly, does that mean? Three sets of skills rolled into one person: We’re expert proofreaders, solid copyeditors and seasoned fact checkers. I’ve worked with and for established publications, where fact checkers doubled back to verify my quotes, titles or statistics, but most of the time the job of fact checking my own work fell to me. This is critical when assembling materials for clients, which should be perfect.

5) We like variety. A journalist’s job is never boring. One day you’re writing a piece on weight training for Women’s Health; the next day you might be updating small business owners on the current lending market. We’re used to diving into a topic area, getting up to speed quickly, churning out an authoritative piece and moving onto the next topic. Sure, many journalists develop an expertise (or, if you’re coming from a newspaper background, a beat), but even within a particular subject matter we enjoy the variety of changing topics. We’re naturally curious, and we ask a lot of questions. Most of the time these skills translate nicely into understanding what our marketing PR clients need.

6) We like to write. Enough said.

7) We’re on top of the news. Part of a journalist’s job is spotting trends—and that means staying on top of current events. That skill translates perfectly to agency work, where finding opportunities for your client’s CEO, for instance, to comment on current events or trends is a nice win.

The #1 thing journalists need to know about working for an agency

1) The client is always right. Pleasing them comes first. Forget about writing the pieces you want to write—your job is to understand the client’s messaging and strategy, then craft the right words to relay that message across multiple channels and readers. Got something else to say? Channel your opinions to your personal blog or do freelance work.

Barbara Call is director of content for Greenough. She can be reached on email at bcall@greenough.biz or follow her on Twitter @BarbaraCall1

The Most Powerful Stories of 2011

Operation Tomodachi

Operation Tomodachi

Clients sometimes ask what makes a compelling news story, and the end of the year is always a good opportunity to share. After all, one thing I want for Christmas is another uplifting, emotional New York Times holiday story (like this one) to cap off this tumultuous year. Let’s not forget that 2011 presented some of the most emotionally challenging, heart-wrenching stories in recent memory.

Japan proved to be one of the saddest sources of compelling storylines this year, and in the wake of the tsunami, the Wall Street Journal told us the powerful story of Rinnosuke Yoshida, a 15-year-old baseball player who redoubled his effort to turn pro after his mentor – his father – was “dragged off by the swirling black waters” that resulted from the March tsunami. “During the tough moments, I kept thinking about my dad,” he told the Journal. “I felt like he was there with me.”

At the tenth anniversary of 9/11 the New York Times released the adrenaline-pumping tape of American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ong as she called an AA control center in 2001, explaining that a man had entered the cockpit of Flight 11 but she didn’t know where he intended to take the plane. A few weeks thereafter, the NBC affiliate in New York City brought us the empowering sounds of ironworkers, balancing on beams hundreds of feet in the air to rebuild Lower Manhattan. One worker commented: “Your life is at risk 90 percent of the day, if not 100 percent of the day.”

In 2011, I discovered an old, but still relevant story produced in 2010, which introduced us to Simmjaze Sayles, a Seattle woman whose job search yielded no results, but proved to be powerful fodder for a KING-TV reporter who followed her for four months.  The reporter concluded, “This is just one person … one story … there are millions more out there.”  Certainly there are many other Americans like her today.

Other stories served as a source of inspiration, like 83-year-old George Teagarden in Minnesota, the purveyor of “High Five Tuesday,” an office ritual designed to take the edge off the rough days. There was Tyrone, a janitor in Seattle who won the lottery but kept on cleaning. Wouldn’t it be great to have a George or a Tyrone in all of our work places? I sure think so.

What do these stories share in common? Well, they’re certainly all compelling. But more importantly, the characters – George and Tyrone, Rinnosuke, Betty Ong and Simmjaze – made these stories powerful because we connect with them. We feel what they feel. It goes to show just how important an individual is to developing inspirational content.

As you think about the stories you’d like to tell in 2012, remember these examples, even if they are more compelling than the content your company plans to deliver. Most corporate stories won’t tug at your heart like that of a tsunami victim, but that isn’t a bad thing. After all, if it takes a tsunami to evoke emotion, perhaps we’d be better off with smooth sailing in 2012.

Aaron Kellogg is a media relations consultant for Greenough. Send him an email at akellogg@greenoughcom.com or follow him on twitter: @KelloggAaron.