Monday, March 31, 2008

All the Information That's Fit to Know

On a recent book buying spree - one of my regular rituals - I bought The New Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. The book is as thick as the title is long. The tag line on the cover reads, "A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind."

This is not one of those cover-to-cover reads - it has over 1,300 pages and thousands of bits of information. The inside book cover flap reads, "This one volume is designed to offer more information than any other book on the most important subjects as well as provide easy-to-access data critical to everyday life."

It has facts and figures on science and technology, business and finance, geography, literature, dance, music and the environment. I love being able to read about the history of mathematics or why the currency exchange matters.

Granted, I could type any of those questions into google and find information. Nonetheless, flipping the pages of this bible-size book, I find answers to questions that I didn't know I had in the back of my mind.

I'm not a stage in my life that I can memorize much of the facts contained within those 1,300 pages but, I can always flip back through and re-read what I forgot. Many professional writers have a copy of one of the World Almanacs desk side - as do I - but this essential guide to knowledge is or should be essential to all professional writers.

Online Newspaper Advertising Marks Big Gain, Again

According to DIRECTnewsline's online newsletter, online advertising on newspaper webs sites increased to 18.8% or $3.2 billion in 2007. It was the thirteenth consecutive quarter for an increase in online newspaper advertising.

The flip side is that print advertising dropped over 2 billion dollars for the same periods. So what does that mean to the consumer or to those working in or with advertising? It could indicate that Internet usage is up by all age groups. It must mean that those advertising in the online newspapers must be seeing a return on their investment. On the green side of life, it could mean that there is less paper and ink waste in the world (although energy usage would be increased).

Is there a downside to less print advertising? Well, there could be because print newspapers can only be printed when there are advertising dollars to do so. Newspapers are still making money with the online advertising so they could just be printing fewer newspapers in order to be able to show a net gain.

Media markets are shrinking everywhere. There are fewer printed news sources these days - which equates to fewer editors and fewer reporters. Everyone who uses public relations and sends press releases has to move their news online and for some reason or reasons it seems that the online news markets are not as prolific as the past news print resources.

We have more news tossed about than ever in more places than ever before, but it is more difficult to get press out for companies and community organizations. Why?

In some ways the increase in online advertising could be having an effect on online news in a different way than we thought it could. I know many people who shop online - who click on the advertising - who click on this and click on that - but never stop to read the actual news.

I am just as guilty as anyone. I keep the New York Times as my home page but lately I've gotten into the habit of scrolling down to the section of podcasts and video casts. If the news isn't contained in one of those slots, I just don't seem to read it.

On the other hand - I still get the printed Wall Street Journal delivered to my home every morning and I look at every page - including some of the advertising. I never read the Wall Street Journal online.

So back to the original question - what does the online advertising increase mean to me or to you? It certainly means any company who wants to succeed with their advertising has to be doing online advertising in addition to their printed advertising.

It also means that Internet users are going to continue to be bombarded with advertising popping up everywhere. It means a new paradigm for reaching the consumer. I say new because in the more recent past, businesses had to think about adding online advertising to their print -but now they will have to consider adding print to their online.

Companies have to add to their advertising by sending online coupons. I get Borders Books coupons in my email and never see them in print advertising. I guess what is really important in today's economic worries is that you pay attention to the advertising - be it online or in print - and go out and shop.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday is Sweet

John Steinbeck is one of my all time favorite writers. Many years ago, there was at least one Steinbeck always in my "current" stack of reading books. I had to stop reading him about ten ears ago because I actually started writing like him.

That would be a great thing but that he writes everything - in my opinion - as if writing poetry. His writing is filled with in-depth descriptions - to the point that you feel as if you are in the book and a part of his story.

When going through my bookshelves recently and revisiting some old favorites, I stopped at my section of Steinbeck's and picked up Sweet Thursday. So, I decided to give it a re-read. It feels comfortable and much like visiting an old friend - Steinbeck that is.

Here is passage out of Sweet Thursday as an example of how Steinbeck's writing takes you away with it - "Change may be announced by a small ache, so that you think you're catching a cold. Or you may feel a faint disgust for something you loved yesterday. It may even take the form of a hunger that peanuts will not satisfy. Isn't overeating said to be one of the strongest symptoms of discontent? And isn't discontent the lever of change?"

In the prologue to the book, Steinbeck's character Mack is written to have said to another character, "Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy's writing it, give him a chance to do a little hooptedoodle. Spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with the words."

Steinbeck put two Hooptedoodle chapters in his book - Hooptedoodle 1 and Hooptedoodle 2. Sweet Thursday is a quick little read that really does sound like Steinbeck broke loose and wrote a novel that reads like a song.

I have tried to read my share of the classics. Of course, I like Hemingway and I like Steinbeck - who got the worst side of the critics in his time. I really do prefer today's writers but as a writer, it is a must have to have an appreciation of why some of the classics have survived so long and what made some of those writers so great - so long living.

Sweet Thursday is great place to start with Steinbeck. It is actually a continuation of his book Cannery Row but the story is self-contained enough that you don't have to read Cannery Row to read and enjoy Sweet Thursday.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Columnist and Author Anna Quindlen is What to Write-on Today

I have several favorite columnists - some local - some regional and some syndicated. My top of the list includes Anna Quindlen. Her professional bio is impressive. She was the third woman to write for the op-ed page in The New York Times. She is a Pulitzer Price winning columnist. She is a best selling author of numerous books and she currently writes the last page column of Newsweek magazine.

She is my absolute favorite columnist and if I'm ever asked who I would like to most write like - it would be Anna Quindlen. I don't always agree with her position but I do always agree her writing is top-notch and never off pitch.

She is sharp - she is smart - she can be humorous - she writes about what's important today and she is the total writers package. To get to know her and get a good sense of her writing, read her two books, Thinking Out Loud and Loud and Clear.

In my own writing career, I would like to be a syndicated columnist even more so than being a top selling author. I cannot write fiction of any genre. I can only write non-fiction so all of my future books will be business, technology, marketing or public relations related. These are the topics that interest me and this is the type of writing I feel passionate about.

When I think about creating non-fictional characters or story lines - I freeze. As such, becoming a columnist would be a great level to aspire. There is no better teacher than Anna Quindlen. She writes on everything from social change to raising kids to political and global events.

Her book titles are so on spot because that is exactly what she does in her Newsweek columns, she speaks out loud and does so loud and clear.

Take her March 2001 column about Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Kids: "Here is the parallel universe that has flourished while the more fortunate were rewarding themselves for the stock split with SUVs and home additions. There is a boom market in homelessness. But these are not the men on the streets of San Francisco holding out cardboard signs to tourists. They are children."

Anna talks about all of the important issues of our time at the time. She is sublime. Read her for yourself by getting the next Newsweek with her column in it or try one of the two books I've mentioned.

Scott Adams is What's Write Today

I'm sure you know who Scott Adams is by now. He is probably as well known as Charles m. Schulz. If you're not quite sure who Mr. Adams is, check your local newspaper in the comics section - he is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon.

I have been surrounded by engineers most of my life - my brother was an electrical and mechanical engineer - my husband is an electrical engineer - my son is a mechanical engineer and my father inlaw was a civil engineer. So reading Dilbert has been a part of my regular repertoire of things to do for many, many years. And, will no doubt continue long into the future.

Scott Adams has also written several books including The Dilbert Principle, Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook and his most recent Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain. The Dilbert Principle was Scott's attempt (he confesses to it on the inside cover flap) to "cash in on the lucrative business book market".

The book was published in 1996 and I do remember it as being a top seller and having many discussions in meetings and luncheons about what the tidbits and points of ridiculousness (and many laughs) included in the book. The book offers secrets to management success such as: Swearing you way to success, Great Lies of Management, How to Tell if Your Company is Doomed and The Importance of Hair for Male Leaders.

His latest book is not so much a business book but more of a commentary on life book. He takes a not so serious look at his Fear of Birds, Dangerous Donuts and The Problem with Being Clever. He also includes some of his Dilbert comics that did not make it into the newspaper exactly as written because they were not politically correct or were to saucy for the general reading public.

Scott's workplace humor is visible everyday in his cartoon and with his Dilbert Principle . His everyday, real-life humor is exemplified in the Monkey Brain book. For example, he has a favorite conspiracy theory, "My favorite conspiracy theory is the one that says the world is being run by a handful of ultra-rich captialists and that our our elected governments are mere puppets."

He also discusses why he wrote this book by saying in the introduction that he has failed at 90 percent of the things he has attempted. But then he goes into details that read as though he has won 90 percent of the things he's attempted. So he has a bit of contradiction in the opening pages.

The book is a good and laugh-along read. Scott does have some unique views of many mundane occurrences. The Dilbert comics included are alone worth the price of the book and the time to read it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

What's Write Today is all about effective sales training

I just read a really great article in Selling Power magazine (Nov/Dec 2007) about training a sales team to give effective sales presentations. A large part of my diverse professional background has centered on selling. Be it selling (pitching) an article or an idea to an editor, providing training solutions to the adult workforce or selling my own contract writing services - selling has been a driving force to my success.

Having written all of that - I also have to say I've read so many books on selling such as:

  • The Nordstrom Way
  • The Greatest Salesman in the World
  • Words that Sell
  • Zig Ziglar's Secrets of Closing the Sale
  • Cold Calling Techniques
  • The 10-minute Salesman
  • Marketing Minds
  • Guerrilla Marketing Attack
  • Several Peter Drucker books
  • Several Tom Peters books
  • McDonald's Behind the Arches
  • Value Added Selling Techniques
  • Why People Buy Things They Don't Need
  • Why This Horse Won't Drink
  • Writing Advertising That Sells
  • and on and on and on.

All of the theories and all of those great minds have one basic underlying premise: Take care of your customers/clients/readers and they will buy and read.

The article in Selling Power - How to Deliver Persuasive Presentations is aimed at training sales managers to deliver an effective sales presentation. The piece describes the basic structure of any presentation which includes:

  1. The introduction
  2. The body
  3. The conclusion
  4. The close

This basic structure can be applied to any profession or almost any situation. As a writer, I follow that structure for every piece I create be it a feature article, an editorial, an promotional piece or a press release. Just think how many places this structure can serve you - can you name 3 areas without thinking overly hard?

Back to the article - the author also suggests that every sales presentation has to answer 3 basic questions:

  1. Why you?
  2. Why your company?
  3. Why now?

Answering those questions will lead to making the presentation informative and persuasive. And, don't forget - you have to make it all entertaining so as not to lose the interest of those you are trying to inform and persuade. The article is short and to the point and brings home the theory that is written about so much - and for which I am writing about now.

To be successful in sales or selling or really in life itself - you have to first listen to what is needed - second find relevant solutions - and third present the solutions and yourself as a viable option to help the customer/client/reader. That's all anybody really wants - is to be helped.

If more sales persons would boil all the advice, all the training and all the special effects of selling down to that one point - really helping the client - the act of selling becomes invisible. Think about it - nobody likes to be sold - they like to buy what they believe is the answer to their current problem. So stop selling - start helping. Instead of asking "Can we sign you up today?" ask, "What do you think? Do you think this will work?"

The article also gives a list of most frequently asked questions about sales presentations. One asks the nine most common mistakes made by sales pros. Number one on the list of mistakes is winging it and number two is being too informative and not enough persuasive. Both of which can be eliminated by thinking of the problem and looking for the solution. When you present the solution - you will be talking the same language as the customer/client/reader and you will not have to worry about having to wing it or to being too informative.

I've had so many people tell me that they don't understand how I can close so often (at one time in my career I was closing around 90% of the time) because it doesn't appear as though I sell at all. By all outward appearances - everyone perceives my selling technique as pure and simple conversation. Ok, I'll agree with that. And, more importantly, so can my customers/clients/readers.

I am just as guilty as other sales professionals of reading all of the new and improved (or really restated) sales theories. I read the Selling Power magazine after all. This particular article is very good because it does take us back to the basics. You can watch the 5-minute video of the article at www.sellingpower.com/video and then search for Sjodin. The information presented is worth the 5 minutes.