Posts filed under writing

How I Almost Didn't Hire the Best Writer I Ever Hired

The best writer I ever hired at a startup wasn't a former journalist. He wasn't a former marketer or a former teacher or even a former liberal arts major.

The best writer I ever hired at a startup didn't have a resume. He didn't have a LinkedIn profile or Google+ account or even a Twitter handle.

The best writer I ever hired at a startup is trying to work at your startup all the time, but 99 out of 100 times, you pass. I should know -- I almost did. And that's why we need to collectively scrap the usual hiring process if we want to bring in great writers to run our blogs, our PR, or our content marketing in general.

Seemingly every startup today buys into the idea of content marketing (so much so that I created a blueprint for executing your strategy as part of my work with startups). Naturally, this leads to more open jobs for in-house writers at startups, instead of your more traditional media outlets, PR firms, and advertising agencies. But the usual hiring process isn't built to source, select, and hire great writers and, in fact, it's practically set up to eliminate them.

To understand just how strange it can be to hire a great writer compared to a more traditional marketer, let's go back to the story of the best writer I ever hired. His name is Jeff, and it was nothing short of a miracle that I didn't screw it up...

It took several years for him to admit this (which is odd because he admits everything bluntly enough to make Louis C.K. blush), but Jeff actively avoided sharing his resume with me during his interview process. This was back when I was director of content at Dailybreak Media, and I was hiring several creatives to build a new team that would grow our audience and work with our brand partners to launch native or sponsored content campaigns.

After he was hired, Jeff revealed that my boss at the time, our chief product officer, had actively advised Jeff against sharing his resume with me. That's because I'd just come from a big corporation (Google) and had a "process" behind reviewing and interviewing candidates, and Jeff's resume basically read two things: high school diploma and bartender, 10 years. My boss knew, and rightly so, that I'd have latched onto those two facts during my process and immediately tossed the resume, along with an excellent and qualified candidate. So instead, my boss shared only Jeff's (utterly great) writing samples and suggested that I meet with him the next day when, oh by the way, he was already scheduled to come talk "career stuff" with us.

It was instantly apparent that his writing talent and personality were perfect for our team, so all that was left to do was complete my process by assigning him a relevant project as a final test. Thus, he'd managed to skip the two steps (resume screen and phone screen) that would have undoubtedly eliminated his candidacy. He went on to absolutely crush the assigned project and even submitted a second piece voluntarily, cementing him as far and away the best candidate.

His resume literally never mattered. But in most cases, it would have been the only thing that mattered -- and not in a good way.

Why We All Usually Botch This Hire

As the demand for writers and content creators increases, more and more companies turn their one-size-fits-all hiring process onto the writer community for the first time. They package job descriptions that sound like any other job. They review resumes like they would for any other function. And the checks and balances designed to pull the best candidates through the pipeline ultimately fail, leading to the hiring of moderately qualified but ultimately not great candidates.

Here's the thing: Most great writers don't look or feel like the typical candidate. Their resumes aren't the best representation of their skills or experiences. Their day jobs are rarely focused on showcasing their writing and creativity, as with Jeff's 10-year stint as a bartender or another ex-Dailybreaker's previous role stocking shelves for a retail company. In addition, a writer's personal projects can often seem too quirky, too "artsy," or too irrelevant to a hiring manager's industry, despite these projects representing a huge source of personal and professional growth and skill development, thus preparing them to be better contributors for your company.

So no, great writers don't often smell like great marketers, and unfortunately, this means most companies are easily thrown off the scent when it's time to hire them.

(By the way, it's important to note that by "great writers," I don't mean a marketer who is now required to write more in 2014 thanks to this style of marketing. I also don't mean a copywriter more adept at slogans or banner ads. Sure, they can be good contributors, but when everyone else is hiring good contributors, give me a truly great writer -- someone who's honestly content writing just for fun, just because, whether fiction or nonfiction, book or blog. These are the kinds of writers who can cut through the insane clutter out there and be constantly and uniquely creative. When everyone else tries to make dud missiles fly by over-marketing bland, boring pieces, you want the upper hand by being great both creatively and in terms of marketing tactics. And I don't know about you, but I can train someone in marketing much more easily than I can train someone to write well.)

Scrapping the Standard Playbook

Hiring Jeff required a warm intro and a few deft moves by my then-boss to circumnavigate my big, corporate-y process. It was a huge learning experience for me personally, and between that moment and my time vetting writers as head of content for HubSpot (I reviewed over 100 candidates in a year), there are a few changes to your hiring approach I'd recommend:

1. Write Unique Job Descriptions, Emphasizing Creativity

This can't be overstated: DO NOT use the typical template for job descriptions. Ditch the standard "blurb + bulleted responsibilities + bulleted requirements" format.

Instead, remove all needless requirements that don't relate to being a great writer (like BA degrees or loads of experience working in your industry, though those might be listed as "preferred"). Then, to really attract the right candidates, focus the job description on the actual process of writing and being creative rather than the marketing function and desired results.

Lest you do a spit-take on that last part about neglecting to talk about results, hear me out. This is all about understanding what motivates a great writer to actually produce results for you.

So many roles in business can be extrinsically motivated decently well. You put a carrot or a goal ahead, and that's enough -- they want to go get it. Sales is the obvious example. They want to hit numbers and perform a task not necessarily because they adore performing the task but because there's a payout somewhere down the road that gets them excited.

Writers, however, must be intrinsically motivated, just like any production-oriented job role (design, video, etc.). Anyone who loves to write and create in general will tell you that they do so just ... because. I write a personal blog not because I want a massive email list but because I like to write and need a place to put it. I design stupid cartoons not to sell them or grow Twitter followers but because I like the act of sketching. Creatives are found creating all the time and just because they enjoy it. How often do you find marketers voluntarily marketing other businesses at night or salespeople picking up a random object in their homes and trying to sell it on the street for fun?

(Note: I'd argue anyone is better off when they're intrinsically motivated regardless of job function, but my point is that writers are rarely if ever motivated by hitting an end result. They admire and want to experience and improve their craft. This can be harnessed for your benefit at a startup, but you need to broadcast the job appropriately to find the right candidates.)

So instead of writing "publish X pieces per week to grow audience" in your job description, you could say "brainstorm weekly pieces and maintain a daily editorial calendar." Instead of "develop buyer personas to focus our content strategy" you should say "research and understand our readers and be their internal champion." Instead of "repackage long form pieces into smaller projects to be distributed around the web," you should say "find creative ways to produce related pieces across many mediums and channels."

These subtle differences focus on the process itself, rather than the end result. Though it's counterintuitive for many in business to think this way, I promise you that one begets the other -- better content builds bigger audiences and drives more results.

2. Review the Right Things About Your Candidates

The first thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

Their portfolio trumps their past jobs, and it's not even close. Who cares if they're currently working at Costco? What does that say about their writing? Nothing at all. The first thing you start with needs to be their writing samples, plain and simple.

And by the way, if they've written about your industry in the past, that's a huge bonus. But it's still just a bonus, not a requirement. Great writers understand how to research well enough to learn various subjects, and interviewing experts always makes for a great approach regardless of a writer's knowledge.

If you're skeptical about that point, just think about the world of journalism and how many different topics exist to be covered, from sports to tech startups to international politics to the education system and much, much more. Media outlets constantly hire writers who are great at the nuts and bolts of writing, interviewing, and so on, and they then learn to become subject matter experts. To hire candidates who are experts, great writers, and seeking employment at the right time is to hire a bunch of unicorns.

The second thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

The second thing should be their online presence. Google them! See what side projects they've done, or read their tweets or blog posts. This is all evidence of their skill set. Reading a blog post about sales written by a sales rep isn't proof that he or she can actually sell. But a blog post written by someone who claims to be a writer? Those are actual examples of their work.

As for side projects, don't be scared off by wildly quirky and irrelevant pieces. Making is a muscle, and fun or random side projects help creatives get stronger. (Think of it this way: A basketball coach who wants a shooter understands that, even though the motion of a pushup looks nothing like a jumpshot, the former leads to a better, stronger version of the latter.)

The third thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

Nope, no resume yet! The third step is to look at their cover letter. Always keep in mind that a cover letter is a work sample when it comes to hiring writers.

The only reason I listed this third and not second is that most of us are improperly educated by career centers and online templates/resources for cover letters. It's unfortunate and sad. They always propose those outdated, formulaic, block-text approaches to cover letters, where being "unique" means changing "I'm interested in your job" to "I'm very interested."

Top-notch writers can and should use their cover letter to stand out, but it's still rare. Out of the 100+ I reviewed with HubSpot, only two stood out: a video someone created as a substitute for a text email, and an impassioned note about the state of our industry which started, "I'm afraid." Wow! Two simple words that stood way out compared to a sea of "Dear Hiring Manager." That great cover belonged to Erik Devaney, who still works at HubSpot today.

3. Assign Projects -- And Do So As Early As You Can

If I didn't think that most candidates want to talk to a company and gauge interest before creating an original piece for them, I'd ditch the phone and in-person screens entirely and just ask people to submit a project. (I might actually try this someday just to find out if it works.)

But if and when you like a candidate, assign them a relevant project. Give them a loose framework and loose instructions, as well as a deadline that feels a little aggressive to see how they perform under pressure.

For example, give them a couple working headlines for blog posts and ask them to choose one and write a draft by the next day. Or give them a half-baked draft of something you're already creating and ask for rigorous edits, both for copy and concept. You can also use editing as a way to further test candidates who are too close to call -- if two writers absolutely nail their assignments and you're stuck, ask for them to self-edit and explain everything in detail.

Make sure the assignment is something you'd actually use day to day too. It's like putting them on the job before you actually make a decision, just to test the waters -- a luxury available when hiring writers and other production-oriented jobs. (It's much tougher to put a marketer or sales rep to work before hiring them, for example.)

Of course, the resulting idea and written piece is the writer's property. After all, even with the same headline assigned, no two writers will produce the exact same paragraphs. As such, I don't believe their assignments are yours, so if I ever published a candidate's piece, I'd pay them regardless of whether they got hired. I'd highly suggest doing the same -- it's just the right thing to do.

Just to Recap

  1. Ditch the standard playbook and mentality. Great writers don't often smell like great candidates for other roles.
  2. Write a great job description by appealing to creativity, rather than marketing tactics and business results.
  3. Spend your time looking at the RIGHT things submitted by the writer. Resumes and past job functions often fall way down the list compared to other roles.
  4. Assign relevant project work under a strict deadline.

Fast-forward from our time together at Dailybreak, and Jeff now finds himself with an amazing job as the first content manager at another startup with tens of millions in revenue, where he's responsible for their entire content strategy (congrats, Jeff!). It feels like a lifetime ago that he was a bartender that I almost made the huge mistake of not hiring.

Today, if you ran his resume through the standard hiring process, Jeff would come out the other side looking like a great candidate. But to get there, he was initially an exception to the "usual" rules.

Here's hoping you make room for yours.

This post was originally posted on The View From Seed, NextView's blog for early-stage startups.

Posted on August 28, 2014 and filed under writing.

Visual Cheat-Sheet for Editing to Help You Move Faster

This post is an excerpt from Content Marketing for Startups -- specifically, the Growth Guide on the left there -- which I created at NextView Ventures. (There is no info-capture to access that PDF.)

Few things are more frustrating as a writer than watching the world around you de-prioritize editing. Editing is actual, meaningful work and should be treated as such. It's the last defense in making sure you don't wind up with egg on your face, whether due to misspellings or incorrect facts or plain old terribly-written paragraphs. (Yes, those paragraph things matter.)

But editing can suck up a lot of time, and you can always write more, tweak something, or remove something. (There's a reason you can't get a perfect score on a college essay, after all.) But because you have goals to hit and other projects or priorities on the horizon, this idea of limitless editing poses a huge problem. Do you risk suffering the consequences by not editing or do you sink tons of precious resources into examining your copy, your research, and your quality?

The answer, of course, lies somewhere in between the two. You need to spend your energy and resources editing things commensurate with their importance. Remember that perfect is unattainable, but quality is not. Quality is non-negotiable.

So to help you move faster without skimping on that quality, here's a cheat-sheet you can use to edit your work while still moving quickly through the process. 

Note that some of the terminology may refer to the rest of my content marketing blueprint.

(Click to enlarge or right click and save the file.)

What do you think? Is there anything missing? Or any tricks you like to use to edit that could be added? Let me know @Jay_zo or leave a comment below!

Posted on June 4, 2014 and filed under writing.

A Breakup Letter to Link Bait Headlines [Video]

No new post this week as I'm submitting an essay to another content marketing publication (that will be syndicated here too). What you read there will shock and amaze you!

(Sorry, I couldn't resist. With that in mind, here's a great video addressing all that damn link bait filling up the web in the style of Upworthy, Viralnova, and more. Enjoy -- or get frustrated and toss your laptop out the window. Yanno...whichever.)


A Breakup Letter to Upworthy -- powered by Cracked.com

 

Ugh. I need to go sob over my English Literature degree...

 

Posted on May 18, 2014 and filed under writing, media.

Why "Write For Your Audience" Has Become Dangerous Advice

As a writer who found his way into content marketing, I always felt the phrase "write for your audience" was a bit overblown. Said another way, this common advice runs something like this:

"It's not about you; it's about them."

Huh? Really? I like content marketing exactly because I get to insert my perspective and create something that has emotional and intellectual meaning...for my audience, for sure, but also for me.

I mean, think about it -- have you ever written anything really, truly awesome that wasn’t at least a little bit for you? Where you didn't have at least one burst of momentum or energy or that weird period of creative spark you can only describe as briefly blacking out? (Some of you know what I mean.)

The "Problem" Is That We're Human

In the truth, the problem is NOT the advice itself. The idea of writing for your audience is 100% accurate in theory. People started saying this over and over to re-train the muscle memory of marketers from interruptive, outbound, me-first approaches to content. But now that we've all mostly bought in (I hope), we need to re-examine the way this phrase is put into practice. Because the way it's being put to work has evolved in the wrong way: Determining what the audience cares about is judged based on clicks and traffic, causing us to focus on the idea of "reach" instead of resonance, on distribution instead of quality creation, and on vanity metrics like views instead of real metrics like subscribers and customers.

Here’s the deal: You should unequivocally start with topics and types of content that will be really useful or entertaining for your audience. But then, as the person responsible for creating the content -- which needs to hold attention better than the other guy's content -- you should ALWAYS return to your own, genuine passions and point of view to make something that's quality, unique, and creates an emotional reaction from your audience.

After all, the act of creating anything, whether art or marketing, must be filtered through your own perception of the world to then be created. I mean the word "must" both figuratively (as in, it's a best practice to use your own POV) and literally (as in, it's biologically impossible to turn any thought into reality without that thought funneling through everything that makes you who are you are).

That statement wouldn't normally be worth writing here (because of course you can't remove your brain from anything you do). BUT there's a bizarre desire to game every system in marketing, which has turned "write for your audience" into "do whatever can minimize your time spent on the paragraphs to rank on search and drive some clicks."  It's a weird twist of the "write for your audience" advice that leaves too many projects hollow because they don't make any effort to be creative or take creative risks. They just execute mechanically based on "what works" and the letter of the law -- Audience X likes Y, so write a list about Y as quickly as you can and hit publish. Who cares if writing a story would be more memorable - that first post ranked on search. Rinse and repeat.

This approach, which plenty of businesses and leaders sadly demand, comes off like this:

The problem is that this approach is EASY to replicate. Every competitor can do the exact same thing -- identify a problem the audience faces, write a bare-bones, facts-only response, package into a list, optimize for search, and hit publish. Then repeat.

And perhaps worse than losing your competitive advantage, you now lack any chance at being memorable. You don't stand out. There's no secret sauce or proprietary approach, so you wind up with a world that looks like this:

Whether you embrace the marketing side or the content side by nature (and there's always a tilt one way or the other in this job), you can probably admit that standing out matters. The way to do so is to focus on the actual content, the creativity, and the quality...all of which are only made possible by the person or people behind it.

In other words, you want to embrace something that looks less like the factories above, and more like this:

Remember -- the one thing that your company has that your content marketing competitors don't is you.

If It Lacks Emotional Involvement, It'll Lack Emotional Response

Removing yourself and your own emotional attachment to your work turns writing a brilliant piece into creating a banner ad: determine a set of best practices and apply that systematically and repeatedly to the work, then increase the volume of output commensurate with business need.

This is how we wind up writing unending paragraphs of doom. We present dry lists or ebooks that drag on, without so much as attempting to tell a story or have some fun with it so that the audience might truly enjoy and REMEMBER IT.  

This hollow, non-unique, non-creative approach requires robots. But robots haven't replaced the writers...and that's a wonderful thing if fully embraced!

Conversions Happen Post-Click

So we need to stop obsessing over "reaching" people or "getting eyeballs," as big brand advertisers love to say.

Instead, we need to focus on what happens when those "eyeballs" actually have to, yanno, consume our content. Those eyeballs are attached to humans, after all -- humans with emotions, thoughts, opinions, and choices to make. So what about the stuff after the click? Whether you measure a lead coming in or an unmeasurable positive feeling from readers, your audience converts upon consuming the content, not clicking on it.

If you're passionate about movies, don't set that aside when you go to write that blog post reviewing various apps for your audience to use. Come up with a little five-star rating system and design DVD covers describing each tool. If you love to cook, fire off a food analogy everyone can understand to frame your next post. If you're a funny writer, go ahead and be funny, tactfully, in your writing. You'll be more invested in your work, and the audience will appreciate it and remember it.

Ask: Am I Writing For Your Audience?

Good! Now find a way to write for yourself too. Start with them, and end with you.

And if you can't, maybe you're not in the right place or the right job. Because why keep creating stuff that’s adequate and not great? What good is that doing for you, your career, or your audience? I promise you, there are tons of employers struggling to find talent for their content marketing out there.

Writing and creating is an extension of yourself. If what makes you yourself and what makes you stand out as a person isn't allowed into your work, then how are you supposed to create something unique that stands out? 

The lesson, as always: Content is about resonating with people, not just reaching them, and conversions happen after the click. Give a lopsided amount of time to the creation of something truly good.

Only then will you achieve the objective that both businesses and employees share -- that unavoidable, altogether non-robotic, human desire to be remembered.

Posted on May 5, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity, writing.

The Paragraph Gauntlet of Doom [Content Marketing Cartoon]

Content marketers spend lots of time and energy writing great, attention-grabbing headlines, landing page copy, and ebook covers. But these front doors often belie the content "adventure" that awaits inside the actual piece. In too many cases, it can be instantly apparent that the magical promise of the entry point you clicked just isn't backed up by top-notch content. The signs are all there: blatant errors in grammar and spelling, a lack of quality and creativity, and uninteresting thoughts that drone on and on.

This is bizarre when you really think about it. Conversions, whether measured through subscribers, leads, app adoption, downloads, sales, or just plain old positive reactions from people, happen after the click. A lopsided amount of time is spent with your work after the click. So why not pay a lopsided amount of attention to the stuff that happens after the click? (Also known as the "content" part of "content marketing.")

It's a sign that content marketers focus too much on "reaching" people -- "getting eyeballs" as big agencies and brands like to say -- rather than on resonating with them.

Headlines are important to draw clicks. Clicks represent views. But the most powerful way to generate views is to make every single second a reader spends after the click great. The better your content, the more visceral the reaction to it, the happier your readers are to spread it...and the more visitors you'll get -- all of whom will find smoother sailing right to converting.

Posted on May 1, 2014 and filed under content marketing, writing.

How Your Favorite Sites Spin Headlines Into Stories

Media companies and corporate blogs alike love to latch onto one core story and beat it to dea--I mean "give an official POV" on it. (In reality, writing about popular events does absolutely work to drive readership. The more relevant the event is to your business, the better of course.)

Here's a look at how all of this goes down, as well as a quiz to see how good you are at recognizing popular headline styles around the web!

(Note: I say "we" in this referring to HubSpot, as I created this while working there.)

Posted on April 9, 2014 and filed under writing, content marketing.

Interviewing for Google & ESPN, a Dinky Little Blog Emerged

This post is dedicated to any college students who may read this. If you know one who's driven to work in tech, I hope you'll share it with them if you find it at all valuable. (And thanks for reading.)

Some might say blogging is an art form. Others might say it's a science. But most might say it’s verbal vomit and tremendous noise adding to the most noise ever created by humanity. (Fact: According to Google's Eric Schmidt, the same amount of information created from the dawn of mankind up until 2003 is now being replicated every 48 hours. So. Freaking. Insane.)

So if tweets can be dubbed the farts of the internet, then as the bigger medium, blogging is...well, you get the picture.

But that does NOT have to be the case. This post was inspired by my interview process back in 2008 with Google, after which I worked there as a digital media strategist. At the time, I was surprised at how much time my interviewers spent asking me about this dinky sports blog I wrote in college, which I ran for fun without ever breaking 100 readers in a day. But, years in digital marketing later, I totally get it.

A blog is documented, semi-permanent proof that you are both passionate and can execute against that. Anyone hiring, especially those hiring young employees, that googles your name (and they most certainly do) and finds your blog will learn three distinct things quickly:

  1. You’re motivated. Keeping up a blog, even casually, is a very big commitment.
  2. You’re passionate. Writing a blog doesn’t automatically make you an expert per se, but it does show your willingness to pursue a specific topic or skill.
  3. You’re “digitally savvy” or a "digital native." I can’t tell you how many employers check for this, or even use this phrase in the job description. (Just five weeks ago, I took a director job at NextView Ventures which was described, in part, as needing to be a digital native.)

Jay, cut the crap - you’re writing a blog right now. Why should I listen to you? You’re totally biased!

Look, I won’t claim to have decades of professional experience (cuz, like...I don't). Nor will I try to regale you with tales from my career and “the way it used to be.” But I will offer two very quick, very true pieces of evidence to support what I’m saying: Regularly writing a blog can give you a distinct advantage in your career.

AT THE MOTHERSHIP OF SPORTS

First, when I interviewed for an internship with ESPN in 2007, I found myself discussing a generic sports blog with everyone I met (allstarblog.com - it’s still live but has been gathering digital dust for years now). I spent probably 30 minutes across several interviews easily and passionately and confidently discussing something I loved, something which allowed me to highlight my love for working hard, writing, sports, and my personal style and differentiating factors.

The blog more or less opened up a great conversation with each person that met with me that day, as well as a memorable conversation I later had with an ESPN SVP named Chris LaPlaca. This senior decision maker wanted to hear about my blog over everything else on the resume, which by the time I reached him, he just assumed would all be buttoned up.

That stupid little blog led directly to my internship and, I’m convinced, future doors opening.

AT THE MOTHERSHIP OF TECH

Second, when I applied to Google online (literally - I sent my resume through their online site without a single reference), one of my eventual colleagues who interviewed me admitted that my blog had jumped out. She didn't know or even care that I got barely 20 views a day if I was lucky.

Google looks for smart, creative, well-rounded people who show a deep interest in many things. (I was SUPER lucky to even be considered among them.) Because the company moves so fast, they need flexible people who can succeed in an ever-changing the role. The blog, my eventual colleague and erstwhile interview said, stood out but because I’d shown a willingness to pour myself into something as a testing ground for my personal passions.

A TOAST - TO YOU

Here's to you pursuing a personal passion, even if (and especially if) you don't know what you want to be when you grow up. Cuz I sure as hell don't. 

Using a simple blog, be it Tumblr or Blogger or Wordpress or Squarespace, I hope you start writing about the industry or skill set you hope to pursue. Do you HAVE TO blog? No, absolutely not. But if you’re thinking about it, then do it. It can be a source of instant conversation with employers and help your true self shine through in plenty of authentic ways.

Interviews are a horse and pony show. References are your hand-selected advocates. But your blog? That’s fully you -- and that's a beautiful thing.

Posted on April 7, 2014 and filed under writing.

685 Reasons the Body Matters More than the Headline

10 Tips and Tricks for Building Twitter Followers.

5 Things Facebook Can Improve.

29 Ways to Carve a Turkey.

I’m sick of thoughtless lists. Enough already.

When the light in my head went off junior year of high school that I loved and cherished writing and the written word, it wasn’t because someone promised me a list of things I could learn. It wasn’t because I read an article titled something absurd like “What Looney Tunes Teaches Us About Content Marketing.”

No - it was because of a short little man with big glasses and unflagging energy who taught our honors English class. This teacher, the late Mr. Jack Schread, taught me one very important lesson about writing and creating through any medium: You need to find the beauty in it. 

Why? The beauty is what resonates long after the facts and figures dissipate. Writing is writing, that much I know - you can wax eloquent about search rank and sensational headlines all you want. But at the end of that day, you know that person on the other end reading your stuff? They gotta love what you say and how you say it.

You see, "beauty," my friends, is not in the headline. Sure, the over-abundance of content has created a need to garner clicks just to gain a fraction of a second of someone’s attention…but why would they come back? Is there substance behind that headline? There better be, or else you're no better than a spammy banner ad flashing "FREE!" in neon Comic Sans.

Let me give you a quick example using one of Mr. Schread’s favorite novels, The Great Gatsby.

gatsby_book_preview.jpg

At one point in the novel, Gatsby reaches his hand out towards a faraway green light blinking in the distance. To hear Mr. Schread read this section was to feel the emotion Fitzgerald poured into the passage. Schread loved this novel. He wanted us to love it too.

Whenever he read to the class, he'd push these plain, round glasses he wore to the tip of his nose and hold the book comically far from his face. With Gatsby, I remember him stretching his other hand out to an unnamed point in the distance, away through the classroom door. He lifted onto his toes, as if the description on the pages was about to carry him off in the direction his hand pointed.

And then he described to us — quietly but with plenty of power — how Gatsby would “reach, reach, reeeaaaaaaaach for something in the distance…trying, straining, urging himself…,” he'd say.

I was hooked. The fact that words on a page could paint such a picture. Or spoken words. Or an image. Or a video. Or an interactive experience. Or any kind of "content."

And that's where it started for me. Content is much, MUCH more than a way to gain clicks. To bring it to business terms - you can’t rely solely on acquisition. You need retention. I read the same pages that Mr. Schread did. His version just resonated on a deeper, more visceral level.

Content needs to resonate with people, not just reach them.

And if you don't get that, you don't get people.

Posted on April 5, 2014 and filed under content marketing, writing.