Posts made in December, 2013

The Shape of the Juice – A Marketing Nightmare

Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in Kel's Corner | 0 comments

While reading Cramer’s blog post Collaborative Writing – The Shape of the Juice, I felt a small ball of stress developing in my lungs. I really liked the article. He had great points for helping other writers who might need to collaborate and I was having a smooth and happy day prior to reading – so where was this ball of stress coming from?

As I reflected, it dawned on me that I’ve experienced the dreaded “Shape of the Juice” more times than I’d like to discuss. Just the very thought of it gave me anxiety. The difference from a marketing standpoint was that in most cases this ridiculous request came from a paying client. And this was typically a client who very strongly wanted to sell their product, service, or institution in the most nonsensical way possible. Eep! What to do?

This type of dreaded nemesis client should have a different name. In fact, I’m just going to call them nemesis clients. They’re the type of client whose emails cause your computer itself to shudder in fear. Just setting eyes on their name causes the lights in your room to dim. And even though they initially appear quite pleasant, you swear there’s a little bit of demon in their voice. You are fairly certain they were put on this earth to ruin your day. This is the type of person that makes you want to do flips of joy when you actually get a client who says something like, “You’re the expert, what do you think would be the best plan of action?” But I digress.

After years of dealing with nemesis clients, I’ve learned a few tricks you can use to help your project turn out well, ensure the client’s happiness, and actually keep yourself sane. Say for example your client comes at you with this little nugget of joy…

“Kel, we really feel that the biggest selling point of our juice is its shape. The flavor is like a five-star meal exploded onto your palette. It basically heals your cells from the inside out ensuring you’ll never develop any type of cancer and after you drink it for a week, you’ll actually become bilingual in the language of your choice. But never mind all that. What we feel really sets us apart from our competition is the SHAPE of our juice.”

1) Listen.

“Ok, I hear you. Sounds like your product has a lot to offer. Tell me more.”

During your first meeting or phone call, do as much listening as you can with as little negativity toward their idea as possible. In fact, be excited – not about their idea exactly, but about what you are helping them try to sell. The more you listen, the more you will start to understand what they should actually be doing to sell their product. With this information you can start to nudge them and their campaign in the right direction.

2) Ask Why.
“So with all those incredible benefits, it’s really interesting to me that you want to focus on the shape. Especially since your product is a liquid. What makes you feel this is the direction you want to go?”

There are two types of responses you’re going to get here. One is going to be something just as absurd as their original pitch and will make you want to die a little inside. It will start out with the nemesis client saying “I saw” or “I heard about” or something along those lines. In this case you’re dealing with a client who was most likely out drinking with their coworkers when they saw a random infomercial or hilarious YouTube video. “Oh man, our product (service/institution) would work perfectly in this exact scenario! We’ll go viral! People will love us! We’ll make MILLIONS!”

The second type of response will be more along the lines of, “After doing some market research we found customers really care most about the shape of juice rather than the benefits of the product itself,” or “Our biggest competitor launched a campaign about their juice shape and it doubled their sales.”

Both responses will give you valuable information about your client, what they want, and how far you’ll be able to push them toward a better idea.

3) Never initially tell them that their idea is awful or impossible (even if you make it sound really nice).
“There are definitely some things we can work with here.”

At this point in your meeting you’d love to say, “This is a really fun idea, but from a customer standpoint, I’m just not sure it’s the best direction for your product.” With certain nemesis clients, this is also the point where you’ll want to flat out call them a moron. But instead, hold your damn tongue and bitch about them at happy hour. Unfortunately, the only thing that will come of you outright telling them their idea is lame is that they will hold onto it even harder and likely make it worse.

4) Adjust.
“The headline will read, Shape Up Your Life With Juice!
“We’ll start the video with a close up of the juice, panning up to show it in all its shapely glory.”
“Your spokeswoman will have the same blob-like shape as the juice.”
“We’ll run a Show Us Your Favorite Juice Shape Facebook game.”

Thankfully bad ideas from nemesis clients are often quite vague. This will give you the latitude to get creative. Rather than trying to make the entire project about the juice’s shape, use it as an element within the whole. When explaining the idea to your client, focus on this element in small ways throughout your pitch. It will help the client feel like they were heard and that they’ve added something essential. Hopefully they will be so blown away by the overall awesomeness of your idea that they won’t even notice that the “shape” is not the central focus of the campaign and may, at this point, suggest dropping it all together.

5) Make your ideas their ideas.
“When we spoke on the phone last week what you said about your dog now being bilingual really got me thinking…”

And then go on to give your pitch. This is where you will use all the information you gathered in the first two steps. Somewhere in your conversation with your client, they likely gave you some really incredible information about their product. While you may not be bringing them exactly what they requested, you’re still bringing them something that they can feel was their idea.

Remember that a lot of nemesis clients who are paying you to do something creative for their company have hired you for a reason. It’s because they lack those creative genes themselves. Many of them simply want to feel like they’re a part of all the great creative action. Remember this as you work with them. It’s likely just a job for you, but for them it’s time away from the mundane everydayness of what they do for a living.

6) If all else fails make the best of it.
“So the Shape of the Juice it is then! Forward march!”

Occasionally there will be a client who can’t see past the outright stupidity of their idea. OR you might just be too jaded to see the potential of the idea itself. Yes, I said it. The stupid one might be YOU! Just because the idea sounds crazy, looks crazy, and feels crazy doesn’t mean it is. It truly might be the next big thing. It might even turn out to be one of your favorite projects because you get to venture outside your comfort zone in an attempt to make something work that has absolutely no business being a success. You actually get to be CHALLENGED! Eep!!! How exciting!

Then again it really might just be an awful idea. If this is the case do the best you can. In the end, as long as your client is happy, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve given them options, you’ve shown them better ideas, and if they reject them all, they still give you money when it’s all done. End of transaction.

I hope these few tips help you with your own nemesis clients. In the end you’ll end up with one of two things- a project that ended up being really fun and challenging, or a ridiculous story to use in your own blog someday.

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Business Writing – Brochures for the End Times

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Business Writing | 0 comments

If I hadn’t gotten hungry just outside of Beckley, West Virginia last year, I would’ve never known the rapture was at hand. I was returning from a film shoot in Atlanta with the director and the executive producer when we pulled into a Wendy’s and ordered, for the sake of brevity, what I’ll call food. It had been a few hours since we last stopped, so I decided a bathroom break was in order. As I washed my hands in preparation to head back into the restaurant, I looked down at the sink. And there beside some water droplets and soap residue was Satan.

He was staring back at me as a creepy pencil sketch with giant horns, a surprisingly stylish beard, and the pecs of a bodybuilder. He held a blood covered sword above a pile of mutilated bodies and looked quite satisfied with all he’d accomplished that day. Also, for some reason he had a stomach rocker tattoo that said “MasterCard.” There was a factory in the background and some old World War II bombers overhead and people in gas masks and stuff. The sheer beauty of it defies words.

And the text – wow, the text. It sure let you know the horrors that awaited the world somewhere on the other side of your Frosty.

“Satan will use credit cards to enslave the people and this is ALREADY HAPPENING followed by YEARS of TORTURE and DESPAIR! The Pope will REVEAL his TRUE INTENTIONS by running over CHILDREN with a TRACTOR! CAPITAL LETTERS will FALL FROM THE SKY and goats will run around like TOTAL JAGOFFS! The END TIMES ARE NEAR!”

I only mention this brochure because it accomplished nearly everything it set out to do. It was memorable, encouraged me to read on, and actually got me to retain it as I passed multiple trash receptacles. Although its main objective – getting me to fear the rapture so much that I immediately raced to some local hillbilly church to repent wasn’t achieved, it was still a nice effort that needs to be applauded.

That said, if you’re writing the text of a brochure for your product or event, the rapture brochure is a fantastic example of things to avoid at all costs. For instance, describing exactly how nonbelievers will be beheaded and tossed into a giant post-apocalyptic scrap heap probably won’t help get kids to your lacrosse camp. And a more applicable lesson here is that neither will all the capital letters and EXCLAMATION POINTS!

Writing a brochure is actually much tougher than you’d think. Why? Because initially, it seems like you have to cram a hell of a lot of information into a very tiny space. But guess what? The great thing is you don’t actually have to cram a lot of information into a tiny little space. You only have to place a minimum amount of carefully selected information in what becomes a lot more space than you imagined.

Most brochures are going to come in three different but similar forms. If you really examine any brochures you might have lying around, you’ll notice that most of them have one, two, or sometimes three folds. In essence, this gives you four, six, or eight surfaces on which to place information. In reality, though, you should reasonably expect to eliminate one of those surfaces for text because the cover should be a big, colorful, shiny picture with a logo and a tagline at most. The cover flap should visually encourage the potential reader to open the brochure and glance inside.

The best thing about brochures is that the text itself always takes a huge backseat to the pictures. And there should be a picture or two on each flap – photos of people using your product, scenes of happy, smiling kids attending your event, random puppies, etc.

In general, a good rule is that if you have five flaps at your disposal, you’ll want to narrow your focus down to five things you really want to highlight about your product or event. Then devote one flap to each bit of information. The folds themselves make clear lines of delineation between ideas, so use them to do just that.

Remember, you’re not writing a novel. You’re trying to encourage curiosity. The whole idea of a brochure is to get people to explore further – visit your website, wander into your shop, ask others about their impressions, etc. If the brochure piques their interest, they’ll get their secondary information through other channels.

With that said, here’s a broad template of what you’ll want to attempt on a typical six-flap brochure.

Page 1) (Cover) This is where you put your best photo, your logo, and your tag line. Or if you place terrifying brochures in Wendy’s bathrooms around Beckley, West Virginia, this is where your sketch of the devil committing genocide goes.

Page 2) (Back of the cover) This is where you give a brief introduction about the history of your product or service. At United Church of Friends, we’ve been preparing sinners for the rapture since 1948. Our founder, Josiah Nuttlesjobber had a dream….

Page 3) (Front middle) People have a tendency to stare at this particular flap because it’s centrally located when they open the brochure. Consequently, there should be another awesome picture along with some very specific information. This is the “What we do,” and “What we believe,” section. United Church of Friends believes we’re ALL GOING TO DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH SOON AT THE HANDS OF PURE EVIL! Why do we believe this? The signs are everywhere…..

Page 4) (Front right) This is a great place for bullet points as to why people should explore further.
Why should you repent at United Church of Friends?
• Because if you don’t, Satan is coming to chop off your head.
• The unrepentant will go straight to hell and get their heads chopped off THREE MORE TIMES!
• 666!
• Credits cards are bad.

Page 5) (Inside tuck. Reverse of page 4) This flap is a great place for testimonials, quotes, etc. “Before I came into Wendy’s, I had no idea the Pope was an agent of the devil. I’m talking about the tractor thing. Now I know. Also, I’m saved,” – Dennis: Blumperton, Ohio

Page 6) Back flap. This is the place to wrap everything up. Make sure that people know exactly where they can go to get more information. Put your website, address, phone number, a tiny location map, etc. here. Remember that anyone who sets the brochure upside down is going to see this particular flap, so make it visually interesting as well. For more information, run, don’t walk to United Church of Friends, 196 Hollersville Road, Bump Notch, West Virginia! From I-77, just take Route 14 south to the Dairy Queen and turn left. We’re just past Trevor’s old meth lab. United Church of Friends – Don’t fear the rapture. We make it easy to repent!

Anyway, that’s a very quick and easy outline. The big key is to remember that you probably need about 80% less information than you think you do. Less information with a clear objective is always preferable to lots of ridiculous jumble. The more pictures and white space on each flap, the better it’s going to look and the more likely people are going to be to read it. It doesn’t matter how much great material you’ve managed to shove in there if people discard it immediately on fear that it’s a Steinbeck novel in disguise.

I’d write more but I’m pretty sure the apocalypse is happening outside and I’d better get to the repent… wait, nope. Nope. That was just some stray cats in the alley. Sorry for the false alarm.

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Writer Interview – Allen Ivers (Part II)

Posted by on Dec 10, 2013 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

In the follow up to the worldwide phenomenon that was Allen Ivers interview Part I, we bring you Allen Ivers Revisited.

Or Allen Ivers Strikes Back

Or Allen Ivers with a Vengeance…

Or 2 Allen 2 Ivers.

GRANDPA HANK: Describe your favorite project.

ALLEN IVERS: My favorite project is my White Whale, a script called Possession about an ordinary guy fighting against the sarcastic, sinister demon that’s taken hold of him. I’ve been writing it for going on seven years. I’ll bury it as a dead idea, and sixteen months later, when looking for something new, a thought occurs – I should resurrect that.

It’s had many titles, and like much of my work, has suffered through a multitude of iterations. Not revisions, iterations. Sometimes, whole genre shifts. If you tracked each draft, you could see the DNA of my changes, but if you compared the ends of the chain – they are two completely different projects.

GH: Is this your most successful project?

AI: It is definitely not my most successful project, although my most successful project to date shares similar traits – namely, the variety of versions. It began as a “How I Met Your Mother” knock-off, then became my thesis, (with a more “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” flair) which turned into a webseries, and now it’s back to a half-hour show with a “Chuck”/”Burn Notice” kind of feel.

I can’t say too much about it, as it’s still an ongoing monster. I’m working with a colleague on it, and we plan to shop it in the near future. Several companies have already expressed interest, and I’ve got my fingers crossed harder than I care to think about.

GH: What was the story behind this particular project? How did it come together?

AI: The story here comes largely from my manager. I re-wrote the project and filmed it at UC-Riverside, largely to prove our writing program could in fact double as a full-blown film school. It was a statement, a flag in the ground. While I was proud of what I did, I also learned many things about my writing style during filming. In other words – it’s funny, but for the love of God, move the plot along.

It was my manager who fell in love with the raw concept, and urged me to rewrite it. She called it my “Family Guy.” That put more stress on me than I thought it would, so we set out to make it. But it was a quirky story originating from a rather dark concept with some dark content matter, so I thought it was going to need a primer – something to prove it could work. So the webseries concept was born. I wrote the script, even met with a few potential directors, all who liked the project.

It was my current collaborator, whose name I’ll keep under wraps for now, who suggested it didn’t need the primer if the half-hour show had a few minor tweaks. A few major tweaks later, and I had a draft I was very confident in. And after some slight polishes, we’re gonna fire up the rockets and see what happens here in the near future. I assume at that point, I’ll be drinking heavily and trying to control my blood pressure.

GH: And now a random prompt. Finish this sentence however you’d like.

“Holy crap, that bear is…..”

AI: Jack couldn’t even finish the sentence, but we all knew what his quiet hissing inferred. The half-ton wall of dense muscle, wiry fur, and yellowed teeth loomed over the camp, standing right on top of the dead campfire. Faint wisps of smoke caught the moonlight, a glowing backdrop against the creature’s eight-foot height. It didn’t growl, it didn’t roar, it didn’t whisper. And neither did the forest as we all held our breath, too scared to reboot our collective pulses.

“It’s just….” Jack, breathless, tried to express some part of his shock, like he could verbalize it right out of his body. The bear cocked its head, focus shifting to the one who would break this somehow solemn silence.

I swallowed, trying to wet my parched mouth. I whispered to Jack, but the words of warning couldn’t escape my throat. Don’t run.

Jack’s hands were shaking. I don’t know if he heard me or whether he was simply too scared to do anything else, but he stood his ground, eye to eye with an animal that could cleave his head from his shoulders with only a casual effort. It peered at him, two eyes flashing with reflecting light. Jack’s lips moved, but this time, not a sound. His voice stolen.

I stepped forward. Not far, maybe half a foot. But the dirt rustled at my feet.

And the bear turned, slumping down onto all fours, and sauntered off. Like it had a bad case of the Mondays and just didn’t have any more time to spare on our shit. It just left, one lumbering step after another.

We didn’t so much catch our breath, as it caught up with us.

End of interview.

Thanks again to Allen for his time and the insightful answers. And also for answering the prompt with more than “Holy crap, that bear is brown,” or “Holy crap, that bear is pooping on a wolf.”

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Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Allen Ivers (Part I)

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

I thought this would be a great first interview to feature on the site. Allen Ivers is a fantastically imaginative screenwriter and producer who is currently attempting to break into Southern California’s notoriously difficult film industry. Allen holds an MFA in Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California-Riverside, where he also completed his undergraduate degree in theatre. While at UCR, he served as artistic director for “The Golden Mean Players,” UCR’s student-run theatre troupe, a position that helped him earn the 2010 Richard Risso Award for Excellence in Theatre. He’s also written numerous plays and screenplays including his own web series, “My Roommate is a Hitman,” which he also directed.

In other words, for a young guy, he’s worked his ass off and gotten a lot accomplished. And now he’s hovering in that “on the verge of almost sort of being close to nearly discovered” phase of his career. Here’s what he had to say about what he’s learned in the last few years.

GRANDPA HANK: When you began graduate school and committed to writing as a profession, what did you picture your career would look like at this point?

ALLEN IVERS: I began graduate school with the same picture I did when I left undergrad. I knew I wasn’t ready for prime time, and the job market of 2010 wasn’t ready for me either. A two-year program would give me the time to sharpen my skills, make some friends, grow up a little, and jump into the market ready to go. I pictured having a collection of finished scripts and a vault of ideas ready to dive into for meetings, parties, etc. But mainly, I expected to start off with a lot of training and begin somewhere as a writer’s assistant- likely in story development or production.

GH: How is reality different from that vision? Is any aspect the same or at least close?

AI: That (vision) turned out to be hogwash. Most assistant positions are ultra-competitive. Grad school taught me how to write, not how to cover a desk, and no one was interested in teaching me how. To most people, my Master’s Degree indicated that I was “going to move on” before I could be of any use. But the closed door pretty much ensures I can’t even get to a place I have the opportunity to move on from.

As it turns out, assistants rarely have any kind of writing background or professional training. They’re business majors – power players whose whole goal is to move up the ranks of those organizations. Writers are found… well, anywhere. They’re winners of contests, novelists – and yes occasionally former assistants. But no one wanted to hire an assistant whose objective was clearly not to eventually become an agent or an exec.

All that frustration acceptably vented, I have an enormously gifted luck. At a school-sponsored pitch festival, (where rookies get to talk to industry professionals) I met my manager. I actually wrote a script on a dare that just happened to fit what she was looking for at the time. We took it, reshaped it, and that script bought me dozens of meetings all over town. While it hasn’t been optioned yet, it made me a known commodity – and it’s led to two other projects coming up in the new year.

GH: What was the dare?

AI: Write a family friendly animated feature. Something G-rated. Not really my normal fare.

GH: To follow up, what specific obstacles have you encountered upon setting out into the great post-graduate void?

AI: Obviously, the job market. I’ve been officially unemployed for nearly two years. And I’m a highly qualified applicant with a graduate degree, four years of management experience in theatrical production, multiple awards, and scholarships. And Starbucks doesn’t want me. Target doesn’t want me. Nobody wants to hire someone they seemingly can’t have for ten years. So I’m faced with the concept of omitting a bunch of things on my resume simply to try and get food money.

Two years of solid applications isn’t just a drain on the resources. It becomes a detriment. What about this kid is unemployable? Is he a slacker? Lazy? A moocher? Being unemployed and trying to work becomes it’s own yoke to pull. The longer I’m unemployed, the harder it gets to fix.

GH: How did you get past, or attempt to get past those obstacles?

AI : Luckily (again with the luck) I have a generous family that has been supporting me (and my fiancee) until we could find work. Personally, I’m not relieved by the safety net or arrogant about it. To me, it’s a burden, a bar to clear – a lot of young artists don’t have the support I do. They’d have to quit and immediately go where the work is – if there’s work to be found. There are people fighting so much harder than I am– what excuse do I have to whine and moan about how hard it is? I don’t know what hard is! So I double-down, knowing I have no excuse for failure, being this pasty rich kid who sweats too much.

I’d have been screwed without my folks. I mean it. There wasn’t a way out. There wasn’t a fix. I’d be living in my parent’s house right now. Thankfully, my fiancee managed to snag one of the aforementioned assistant positions, and that’s been helping. But it’s not the ultimate fix we need.

To be continued……

Look for the second part of Allen’s interview later this week where we discuss more upbeat things like his favorite scripts and most successful projects.

Also, congratulations to Allen, for being the first person since 1946 to successfully use the term “hogwash.” You’ve won the admiration of grandmothers nationwide!

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Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interviews

Posted by on Dec 3, 2013 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

Ever since the moment I realized I’d been blessed with a talent for writing, I also became acutely aware that I had no idea what in the hell to do with said talent. Basically, I knew that you wrote something good and when it was polished enough, you got it to… people. But you couldn’t just get it to any people. You had to get it to the right people. The process, as I understood it went like this…

Step 1) Write
Step 2) Revise until awesome
Step 3) (Radio static)
Step 4) Success

Seriously, drive across Wyoming some time and try to find a decent radio station. (Don’t cheat and use satellite) In my head, that’s what I heard when I tried to process step 3. But I swore that other people heard it loud and clear. They were somehow getting awesome music and sports scores twenty miles west of Powder River. There had to be a path. A concrete, discernible, step-by step blueprint I could follow. And so I’d ask the same question to every successful writer I met.

“How did you get to where you are today?”

Their frustrating answer always entailed a lot of hard work and about nineteen coincidences I had no chance of duplicating.

“So you’re saying if I buy a crappy old Honda Civic and move to Seattle with your old boyfriend there’s a chance that on my way to pick him up from jail after he got arrested for urinating on a school bus, I might get sideswiped by a literary agent who’s only in town from San Francisco picking up her niece from college because her klutzy brother fell off a ladder and couldn’t make the trip. Seems doable.”

It was frustrating. It all seemed so… random. But somehow in the story of their successes, it seemed like the entire thing was predestined all along, which was strangely uplifting.

With that in mind, I’m going to occasionally do interviews with writers at various stages of their careers. These writers will fit into three distinct categories – successful, semi-successful, and hoping to someday be successful. Some earn their living off nothing but the words they type, and many are simply struggling to keep their dream afloat.

I’ve found that as writers, it’s just nice to realize that other creative people are going through the same ups and downs. It also helps to know that successful writers weren’t always successful. We just don’t know about the years and tears it took them to get to where they are. Hearing other writers talk about their own path helps the rest of us not feel so alone in our setbacks. And that’s the goal of all of my upcoming interviews.

I’ve lined up a lot of very interesting people and hopefully we’ll get at least one interview a month up here. My first interview is going to be with a writer named Allen who is only a year out of graduate school trying to wade through the cesspool of Hollywood after earning his MFA in screenwriting last June. Look for the two-part interview later this week.

Also, thanks to all of you who followed my November twitter novel. It was a fun exercise and the story of Barry, the love note, and a bunch of slacker zombies turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. If you haven’t gotten to read it, follow me at @grandpahank.

Hope your Thanksgiving was spent enjoying friends and family and your Black Friday was also spent enjoying friends and family, far, far away from the greedy consumer driven shame we bring upon our great country each and every year.

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