Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

More Great Resources for Copyright-free Images

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I’m always on the lookout for excellent sources of free, public domain images to use on my blogs and for my clients’ websites and other electronic media.

One of my favorites is Compfight, which enables you to search hundreds of thousands of images available for use through Flickr Creative Commons. You can search by keyword and find a host of creative illustrations uploaded by talented photographers, amateur and professional, from around the globe.

It’s important to always include credits to the photographers as specified in their Creative Commons license. My preferred method is to paste all the information about the image and usage license into the image’s ALT tag—so that I can be comprehensive without cluttering up the page. Others choose to put a credit in small print at the bottom of the post.

Just recently, I discovered another great site, The Public Domain Review. A non-profit project of the Open Knowledge Foundation, PDR is “dedicated to showcasing the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works available online.” Archives include films, audio, images and texts, with a bias toward items that are unique, curious or whimsical. Again, be sure to include appropriate credits and read the fine print about usage before posting.

Here you can find a 1918 film of Tarzan of the Apes19th Century samples of Chinese ornament, a copy of The Practical Magician’s and Ventriloquist’s Guide (1867) and onboard recordings from Apollo 11, to name just a few treasures.

Plenty of material to illustrate your online works, and much to mine for ideas.

Of course, there are also many government resources for public domain images. You’ll find a few places to start in this post I wrote back in July 2011, Your Tax Dollars at Work: 5 Great Government Resources for Free Images.

Happy hunting!

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Enough With the “Ten Best” Blog Posts: Give Me a Great Story

Monday, January 30th, 2012

A client recently told me, when I suggested he start blogging to build his consulting practice, that he was reluctant to do so. Most bloggers, he said, just write anything that comes to their heads. He was concerned that if he started blogging, he’d just “dumb down” his subject matter.

Though I strongly disagree with his premise, and we’re in the midst of an ongoing conversation about the strategy and craft of blogging, he also has a point.

A lot of blogs ramble, a lot of writing lacks strategic focus and many bloggers could use a good editor.

There is plenty of excellent content online about how to avoid that. Copyblogger Media has built a highly successful business teaching how to write effective blogs that help you sell your product or service. I’ve learned a great deal from them and recommend their free Copywriting 101 course for anyone new to blogging or who needs to sharpen their focus and improve their style.

Formulaic + Predictable = Boring + Not Worth Reading
At the same time, however, I think my client is onto a deeper problem with the current state of blogging. Among more experienced bloggers, I find a lot of writing has become so formulaic that it’s boring and predictable.

Yes, lists work. Yes, there is a fine art to writing effective headlines that compel your reader to open your post. Yes, chunking your copy into shorter paragraphs with smart subheads that make the post easy to skim is essential for busy, time-pressed readers.

Still, I think we can do much better. After all, marketing is essentially all about telling a good, true story. So why not apply key elements of fiction writing—story arc, the telling detail, dialogue, scenes, voice, prose rhythm, character development—to our blog stories?

Art and Craft of Fiction Writing + Blog Format = Great, Compelling Stories
Look at how the field of journalism has evolved over the past few decades to encompass the genre of narrative nonfiction (pioneered by writers like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, John McPhee and Tracy Kidder), reporting that tells nonfiction stories with the art and skill of a novelist. Why can’t blogs tell great, compelling marketing stories with the art and skill of a short-short story writer?

I’d rather read a great story that truly demonstrates the value of your work over another list of ten “bests” any day. Both, if well-crafted with a strategic focus, will undoubtedly capture your ideal client’s attention—with one major difference: The list will keep them skimming for a minute or two; the story will stick with them after they go offline.

I’ll have more to say about how to apply the art and craft of fiction writing to marketing blogs in future posts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some of the best examples of storytelling on marketing blogs that you’ve come across? What made them work for you?

What Makes Your Marketing Video Worth Watching

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

For any marketing mix, video is now an essential channel for communicating your message. Consider this:

But with all that competition, what makes a video worth watching? Our attention spans are getting shorter, and if the content doesn’t grab us in the first ten seconds, most viewers will click away.

There’s the obvious answer: video content must to speak to the needs of your ideal client.

Great Videos Depend on a Strong Storyline, Great Visuals and Surprise
Beyond that, a clearly developed storyline, excellent visuals and production values, the element of surprise—all help break through the cacophony of messages and ill-lit, poorly framed, garbled, rambling video that too often gets slapped up on websites in a vain attempt to keep up with Internet marketing trends.

Great marketing video can take so many forms because the visual medium allows for so much creativity. I recently came across this wonderful, whimsical example of video storytelling created by CognitiveMedia, a British animation studio, to promote author Stephen Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (2010).

CognitiveMedia specializes in a form of visual storytelling that they call “live scribing.” Andrew Park, the artist and illustrator behind the drawing hand in the video, works with large corporations at conferences and events, transforming ideas into pictures in real time. This video, narrated by author Johnson, takes that practice and speeds it up to create the animation.

A Fresh Mix of Compelling Story and Whimsical Visuals
What I love about the result is how you hear Johnson’s enthusiasm as he tells a tight, compelling story about complex, abstract concepts, while you watch the evolving, fun, clever illustrations that make the ideas so easily understood. It’s a fresh approach that feels like an animated graphic short story. And you’ve gotta love those turtles.

The topic, storyline and video drew me in enough to check out the book on Amazon, and I’m now in the midst of enjoying it on my Kindle. So, the video worked, and the book delivers.

Even if you don’t have a corporate budget for a production of this nature (the video was made for Penguin Books), I hope it encourages you to think beyond a dry talking-head discourse, to push the envelope of creativity and artistry in your video productions. Whatever your strategic goals, remember: it’s all about telling a great story—using compelling, clarifying words and engaging visuals—that’s worth your viewer’s time.

 

On Being Authentic

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Ten months ago, I opened this blog for my then-new website with a post, Finding My Voice. Since then, I’ve written nearly every week, aiming for (but not always hitting) a Monday morning publication target.

I’ve covered a lot of topics, from best practices for creating web content to my thought process behind website makeovers, from how to overcome creative roadblocks to my own experience as a cub reporter overcoming severe deadline pressure. As I’ve written more, I’ve injected more personal experience and reflections into my posts.

But even as I’ve explored the territory of current issues in online marketing, I’m not satisfied. There is so much information competing for your attention, Dear Reader. What sets this or any blog apart from the—I just checked Wikipedia, for lack of a better reference—156 million-plus blogs (as of last February) is authenticity. Being unique. Being yourself.

Striving for Artistic Honesty
And this is the envelope I need to push. I confess this, because if you are serious about setting yourself apart online, whether it’s to promote your excellent business or simply to connect with other human beings of like mind around the globe, you need, I need, to be authentic.

And what I care about most in my writing, whether for marketing or in the other forms of storytelling that I strive to perfect, is artistic honesty.

In an essay reflecting on how he conceived his wonderfully complex, shocking, wry, poignant novel Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov wrote:

“For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”

Can writing for the Internet be art? What does that mean? Can we push beyond the boundaries of successful but formulaic recipes for websites and blogs to create content (in all media, not limited to text) that is truly unique, compelling, curious and tender? Is there something crass about combining the words “Internet marketing” and “art”? Or is it the next level of best practice for setting yourself apart and connecting with those you need to connect with?

So these are the questions I hope to wrestle with during the coming year. I may stray from the high-minded to the practical, but if I do so, I hope to do it with artistry.

As I ended my very first blog post, you’ll be the judge whether I succeed—and whether it matters.

 

Make or Break? Overcoming the Fear of Creating Great Work

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

You’ve put everything you have into starting your new business, and you hit the wall: Do you have what it takes to make this a success? Is your brilliant idea, your incredible work, really all that brilliant, or are you just kidding yourself? Is anyone out there truly interested, or are you just going to make a fool of yourself and fall on your face?

The fear, doubt and anxiety that arise in the act of creating anything that matters, from a business venture to a great work of art, are formidable foes that have blocked many from realizing their vision.

But those same emotions, when understood, reframed and redirected, can actually super-charge the entire creative process. That’s the thesis of Jonathan Field’s new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011).

Turning Emotional Resistance into Fuel for Creativity
Weaving together a fascinating mix of interviews with individuals who have taken huge creative risks with their careers, current brain research, social psychology experiments, trends in business innovation and media, and personal insights, Fields explains why we resist the risks inherent in making something truly original, as well as how to lean into that emotional resistance to create our best and most challenging work. He writes:

“We are in this game to bring to life art, business, ideas, products, services, companies, and experiences that are signals, not noise—objects and endeavors that in some way add to the experience of business, culture, humanity, and life. That requires us to live with uncertainty and its trusted sidekicks: risk of loss and exposure to judgment. These qualities are signposts, at least in the early stages of any endeavor, that what you’re doing is worth the effort. That it matters to you and, one hopes, to others.”

Techniques for Reframing Fear of Risk and Judgment
Fields offers a variety of research-based techniques to manage and reframe this fear of risk and judgment, including developing a set of “certainty anchor” rituals for the creative process and finding a community of like-minded, supportive individuals—“a judgment-leveling creation hive” modeled after intensive entrepreneurial immersion programs like TechStars and Y Combinator—to foster great work.

He advocates for utilizing the power of social media to test creative concepts in their early stages and throughout the development process, using constructive feedback from your social media “tribe” of loyal followers to adapt and revise your work to better meet the needs you are trying to serve.

The Key of “Attentional Training”
Fields also devotes a thoughtful chapter to the process of “attentional training”—practicing focused awareness or mindfulness—through a variety of approaches, as a powerful tool for the creative process, managing anxiety and stress, and achieving balance between intensive creative pursuits and making time for significant others who enable your work.

Uncertainty is an excellent read and valuable resource for anyone who seriously wrestles with the creative process. And Fields’ recent post on Copyblogger that explains how he harnessed social media to market Uncertainty provides a great lesson in best practices for the brave new world of book promotion.

You can read more about and from Fields on his blog, JonathanFields.com.

Doing Great Work to End Malaria

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

This past week, I’ve been reading End Malaria, edited by Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s a wonderful compilation of essays by 62 thoughtful business writers about what it takes to follow your dream of doing meaningful work to help better the world.

Great content for a midday boost of inspiration. But what’s even more fascinating is that the book, a collaboration with Seth Godin’s The Domino Project and Malaria No More, is an amazing example of the kind of “great work” that Stanier and company write about.

How to Get Attention for a Good Cause
Twenty dollars from each sale—the Kindle edition is $20 and the paperback, $25—send two mosquito nets to people in need where malaria remains a deadly scourge.

That means Amazon, which is also a partner in the project, is taking no profits from the Kindle version and only covering printing and distribution costs for the paperback. All of the authors donated their work.

The book made a huge splash in cyberspace when it was launched on September 7 and became an instant worldwide bestseller, because Godin and other blogger with mega followings put the word out—a great lesson in How To Get Attention for a Good Cause.

Do Your Part to End Malaria
Malaria can be prevented and treated, but many people who live where mosquitos carry the disease cannot afford protective netting or medication. So every 45 seconds, a child dies of malaria somewhere in the world.

Buy the book, and you can help Malaria No More meet their goal of wiping out malaria in Africa by 2015.

You’ll feel good because you stepped up, and your added bonus is a book full of inspiration to be audacious, creative and committed to realizing your own great work.

 

 

 

 

Video Case Study: Triboro BNI Chapter Video

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Every Wednesday at noon, I join in some good old-fashioned, face-to-face networking at the Triboro BNI business chapter in Westborough, Mass. For an hour-and-a-half, we meet in the back of Tatnuck Booksellers, sharing information about our businesses, referrals and friendship.

To help promote the chapter, I created this short video:

A lot goes into creating a video story like this one. Here’s how I did it:

Identify Your Goals and Target Audience for Your Video
I had three main goals for our target audience of prospective members:

  • Give the viewer a sense of what it’s like to attend a typical meeting.
  • Explain the advantages of referral networking through BNI.
  • Convey the warm and supportive environment that characterizes our chapter.

These goals guided all of my choices that follow:

Content Development Flows from Strategic Objectives
I prefer a documentary style that uses the voices of my subjects, rather than a narrator, to tell the story, as a warmer, more personal and genuine style of communication. So I needed to plan interviews with several of our members who could speak well and who could explain how referrals have worked for them with specific examples. These also needed to be people with whom a prospective member could easily identify.

Before and after the meeting, I recorded interviews with five members—articulate individuals who represent a wide range of businesses (massage therapy, real estate, tutoring, web development and interior decorating). I was careful to arrange for a mix of men and women.

Be Open to Unplanned, Creative Opportunities
As I set up the interviews, I realized that the bookstore actually made a perfect backdrop—adding not only color and interest, but also information about each person. So for four of the five subjects, I recorded them in front of the book section that related to their specialties. The other source sat in front of a large array of books—in all honesty, she was my first subject, I hadn’t quite worked out the concept for her interview, and we had limited time. So, this was the creative process in action.

The first interview in the video was actually the last one I recorded. I realized, after I had gathered the other four, that I needed someone to say a little about the history of the group. So I purposefully asked my subject to mention the name of the chapter and give some background. More creativity in motion.

I knew I would use parts of these clips mixed with B-roll of the store where we meet, shots of networking before the meeting, and the meeting in progress. Two of my interviewees were also doing a ten-minute presentation that day, a serendipitous fact I discovered after I had invited them to be interviewed, which worked well for cutaways. I captured several moments of joking and playful interactions between our members, as well as some sincere testimonials. These, I knew, would be crucial to the final production.

Putting It All Together to Tell the Story
When it came to editing about  an hour-and-a-half of digital recordings and fitting it all together, I first organized the five interviews in a logical sequence of content, explaining a bit about the chapter and how referrals have benefited members, as well as some of the bonuses of membership—having a group of people that you can rely on for all kinds of help.

After trimming those clips to the core points, I then mixed in scenes from the meeting, in approximate order of a typical agenda, to take the viewer through the experience. I interspersed key sound and visuals from the meeting with the interviews as illustrations of the process my subjects were describing. I also used illustrative cutaways to break up longer interview segments. And I made sure to pick the best clips that showed the warm interactions that are true to the group.

I wrapped the video story with a strong testimonial from one of our newest members, saying how glad she was that she had joined the chapter (can’t ask for anything better than that!), and scenes of the meeting’s close. The final screen includes contact information for anyone who wants to arrange for a visit. I tightened clips and reworked transitions to improve flow and keep the video to three-and-a-half minutes.

I added a short loop of upbeat music that fades in and out of the video’s opening and close—just to give the piece a little boost of energy and extra polish. The video is now embedded in our chapter’s website, and we have plans to distribute it via Facebook and Twitter as we begin our next membership push.

A Professional Production Takes Time, But It’s Worth the Effort
Altogether, including the shoot, production and technical smoothing of color and sound, I spent about 12 hours creating the video. As one of our members said, when I showed the piece to the group and described the whole process, you really don’t know how much work goes into a professional production like this.

Yes, indeed. But well worth the time to present our chapter for who we are—a group of business professionals who are there to help each other grow.

 

The Five-Second Solution to Mind-Bending Pressure

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

It was spring 1980 in the Illinois Statehouse, and the legislature was debating, once again, whether or not to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. The seven-year window was closing with three states still needed to ratify the amendment.

Illinois was in the national spotlight. Liberals argued vociferously for gender-blind equality, while conservatives charged the ERA would force women into combat and destroy the family. Several previous efforts had been quashed by political infighting and the daunting, opposition-spearheaded requirement that a three-fifths, super majority of the Illinois legislature was needed for approval.

Lesson for a Cub Reporter
A cub reporter with the statehouse press corps, I was interning for the local NPR affiliate, and it was my assignment to cover the ERA debate—not only for our station, but also as a stringer for NPR.

Exciting, yes. Depressing, too, in the end, because ratification failed, once again, due to horse trading and political power grabs.

Most of all, it was a lot of pressure for a newbie public radio producer/reporter.

One afternoon in our little closet of a statehouse studio, minutes before All Things Considered would air, I was polishing off a report about breaking ERA developments. I’d reviewed it with my NPR editor, John Ydstie—then a new associate producer for Midwest coverage, now one of the network’s award-winning correspondents—on the phone from Washington, and it was time to record the story, a one-minute update for the opening national newscast. We had a hookup through phone lines, and as I rehearsed the script, John was listening and speaking into my ear through headphones.

Some of the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received
I was really, really nervous. The big wall clock’s black minute hand clicked to the top of the hour. It was already time for ATC’s opening music. I had to get it right on the first take.

At that moment, John gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. In a very zen-like voice, he said, “Just breathe.”

Somehow, those magic words and his calm tone enabled me to do just that—take a deep breath, clear my head and do a perfect recording. The piece aired minutes later, one more bit of news on another busy day.

Though the details of my report are buried somewhere in my brain, the lesson of that day is as clear now as it was more than 30 years ago, especially as it applies to the creative process.

Under Pressure, Maintain Focus in the Present Moment
At moments of intensity—whether it be a demanding performance, the stressful ebb and flow of change and uncertainty, a creative block—take that moment to breathe, get clear and focus on the present.

Just that slightest of mental vacations can be enough for you to ace your performance, discover the glimmerings of a solution or simply find sure footing for the next step on your creative journey.

And even when one breath isn’t enough, keep breathing. The Equal Rights Amendment was written by suffragette Alice Paul and introduced to Congress in 1923. Despite many setbacks, 35 of the needed 38 states have ratified the amendment; the ERA has been reintroduced to Congress in every session since the extended ratification deadline expired in 1982. The latest effort, H.J. Res. 47, would remove the ERA’s ratification deadline and make it part of the Constitution when three more states ratify. The battle is far from over.