getting creative

The 7 Markers of Good Content

The blinking stare of a cursor on a blank page can strike fear into the heart of even a seasoned writer. It just sits there… taunting… waiting for you to write something good. Everyone talks about content these days. The problem is not everyone understands the markers of good content.

Blink, blink, blink. That cursor could wait all day, but you can’t. You need to find words. Good words. Right now. You have deadlines and lists of things to do.

Creating content is no longer limited to the function of the marketing department. All kinds of job descriptions now include some element of creating content. The problem is too often the end result misses the mark, falling flat for the reader. As a content creator, it’s frustrating to spend so much time on something that doesn’t seem to make a difference.

It’s tempting to blame the lack of interest on the topic.  Tempting, yes, but not correct. After working in a newsroom for more than 25 years, I’ve learned that topic doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not something is considered good content. 

So what makes the difference? How do you know you are creating good content? The answer is in the word itself. All ‘content’ can be judged by the same markers. The more markers you can check, the better the content. These markers can be applied to any industry, any topic, any format.

  • Connect with your audience: You have to know who you are writing to in order to connect with them. What does your audience care about? What worries them? What do they want or need? If you don’t know that, you won’t be able to make a real connection.
  • Opens hearts or eyes: We live in a 24-7 digital world. I don’t have time to take in all of the content that’s out there and I’m betting you don’t either. Whatever I choose to spend my time on better be worth it. Good content opens hearts or eyes. It makes us happy or sad or mad. It makes us feel smarter or shares a perspective we might not have considered.
  • Necessary to your audience: Think about your favorite newsletters or the bloggers you follow or the pages you like on Facebook. Those messages are necessary to your day. You want to hear and see what they are talking about on a regular basis. Good content feels necessary to the consumer. Consider that your #contentgoals.
  • True to your message: Good content reflects your brand. People want authentic interactions and anything that feels out of line with what you claim to be, doesn’t feel genuine.
  • Element of surprise: What was the last piece of content you shared with someone. Chances are good it contained an element of surprise. We like stories with unexpected endings. We love lists with ideas we’ve never heard of before. Give your audience an element of surprise in what might be considered an otherwise straightforward or no-nonsense topic or catch their eye by presenting it in a way they don’t expect.
  • Needs no explanation: Most of us don’t want to think to hard to understand what it is we are reading. Your message should be clear and easy to understand. Good content should never raise more questions than it answers.
  • Trust: How many times have you heard the idea that people do business with people they trust? Trust is your ticket to long term success. If you make a claim you better be able to back it up. You have a responsibility to earn that trust as a source of information. Don’t blow it. 

Applying these markers will give purpose to any type of content you are creating whether its a blog, a social media post, a newsletter or a podcast.

So what are you waiting for? Get going! That blinking cursor is waiting for you…

Why you need to stop putting off getting a headshot

So you’ve started a blog, a business, a podcast. You’ve written an article, an essay or a book. You’re working your side hustle.  Maybe you are trying to get speaking gigs, or host a workshop. You need a headshot.

I know, you want to lose 10 pounds first. I know, it’s expensive. I know, you don’t like getting your picture taken. You need a headshot. Still.

Headshots aren’t just for models and actors anymore.  Gone are the days of an almost high-school photo-ish style mug shot. Headshots can be an effective marketing tool in your brand tool bag. So how do you make your headshot count?

I talked to Nicole Taylor, owner of Whole Lotta Grace Photography, to get a few insider tips. Taylor is a former TV journalist turned photographer who understands that every picture tells the story.

YOU NEED MORE THAN ONE HEADSHOT: There are a lot of ways to use headshots: bios, blog posts, social media updates, marketing flyers etc. So take advantage of your photo session with outfits that will convey different vibes. Talk to your photographer about how you intend to use the photos. That can help spark ideas for locations and styles. Keep your outfit simple. Choose one piece of clothing or accessory to show off your personality (statement necklace, great pair of earrings, funky pair of reading glasses, floral skirt, etc. ) “Focus on one complete outfit, and two different shirt changes, says Taylor. “You want to have more fitted clothing, not lose. As far as makeup, you want to look like you so nothing too bold but you want to apply it heavier than normal. Eyes are everything so go for those fake eye lashes if you can – it is subtle but really can make your eyes standout. If you’re used to a nude lip, add some gloss – just a little step up from the norm. Taylor suggests splurging for a makeup artist if you can work it into the budget. 

NO, YOUR HEADSHOT FROM 4 YEARS AGO DOESN’T COUNT. You know that friend who got mad that her date didn’t look like his online picture? Yeah, don’t be that person. People want to know who they are doing business with NOW. Your headshot needs to be refreshed from time to time.

MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE: From your outfit to your smile, it’s important you feel confident. “If it’s something that makes you uncomfortable, that will come across in the photo no matter how hard you try to hide it, says Taylor. She uses a few tricks to help people laugh naturally. “Authentic is the number one key to a great headshot. Having a glass of wine or beer beforehand doesn’t hurt either, she laughs.

Taylor says your photographer should be asking you more questions than you ask them, especially at the beginning. They need to understand “your profession and what you do in your day to day so they can understand the story you are trying to tell, she says. If you aren’t sure a photographer is for you, ask for examples of their work before you agree to any deal.

Headshots are one of those things we tend to put off. Most people don’t like looking at photos of themselves. We are often our own worst critic. Wait, is that just me? Seriously, many of us would be better off if we saw ourselves how other people saw us and stopped focusing on the wrinkles, the bad hair days, our crooked smile or our arms that aren’t perfect.

Your headshot isn’t about any of those things. It is a wonderful celebration of all the gifts you have to offer. It should show off your personality and put you in the best light (literally!). So go ahead and DO IT! As I tell my daughter every day, the world needs you. Get a little glam and have some fun. You’ll be glad you did!

How to Boost your Credibility

With more and more people vying to make their voice heard, how can you make yours stand out? In this episode of my podcast with fellow content pro and Digital Marketing Expert Rachel Clapp Miller #ContentHacks takes a look at the role of credibility and why it’s so important to growing your business and/or brand.

Plain and simple, credibility creates opportunity.

It’s not enough to have a good bio these days. There are a number of ways you can boost your credibility.


The Real Reason there is No Place like Home

I was watching a music video that a friend had posted on Facebook. Before I knew it, my brain was replacing the images on the computer screen with ones from my own memory.

I grew up in a small town like the one in the song.

Home for me will forever be farmers on tractors and playing barefoot. Messy ponytails and cut off jeans. Cute boys in pick up trucks and football games.

I couldn’t drive anywhere without passing a cornfield. I lost a muffler or two on the backroads of that Indiana town. It happens when your car bottoms out driving too fast over a hill. Though I’ve never seen THAT in a country music video.

I haven’t lived ‘at home’ for a very long time. My life has taken me from Florida, to California and then to North Carolina. But I still have family there and those few friends from high school who remain a part of who I am.

I should have gone back to work when the song ended but I sat there and kept thinking about home. Perhaps I was just putting off the real work to be done for the day, but suddenly I felt like Dorothy thinking ‘There’s no place like home.’

Why is that? What is it about home that always draws us back?

I’ve long outgrown the blue eye shadow and cruising in Camero’s but going back home reminds me of that girl. The little girl who loved rolling down the hill at Mamaw’s farm. The kid who convinced all the kids in the neighborhood to put on a show and make our parents pay to see it. The high school cheerleader who loved speech class. The girl who wanted to see more of the world.

My work as a journalist has given me a front seat to a lot of things most people don’t get to see, but home always gives me a front seat to those things you can’t see.

The contentment you feel sitting down for dinner in a room loud with conversation and laughter.

The connection that tugs at your heart talking to those people who have known you the longest.

The simple peace from knowing you belong.

Home is where I learned you can smell the rain coming. It’s where I learned that hard work was good work no matter what it was. It’s where I learned to cook by watching my mom.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to stay there. I never did. But I love that no matter how long I am gone, it feels the same when I return. I swear I even hear one particular song on the radio every time. It’s like a weird Bryan Adams time warp.

Home is more than where I came from.

It reminds me of who I am even when I am not there. My adventures are bigger than rolling down a hill these days. I’m still organizing and planning. That cheerleader is very much alive only cheering for other causes. My career has put those speech classes to good use.

That’s why “there’s no place like home.”

Going home brings all of me into focus. It strips away the clutter and noise of a busy life. In the quiet of the front porch or the taste of a cold beer with my dad, I remember.

I love living outside the town limits and I love going home.

3, 2, 1 … Facebook Live

These days you don’t need to be on TV to get your message in front of a live audience. Facebook Live is like having your own TV channel and you control the message. But what really works? What doesn’t? How do you measure success? How do you build an audience? Roshanda Pratt, The Rosho Live, Storteller Strategist and Heartfelt Producer shares her insight on our latest #contenthacks podcast. You should have seen Rachel Clapp Miller and I when Ro told us the one thing you shouldn’t say that will alienate your watchers. We had no idea! I bet you didn’t think about it either!

Check out Roshanda on Facebook for more great info


Lessons from a Storyteller Strategist

Content Hacks welcomed its first guest for this episode.
I first met Roshanda Pratt as a producer back in my TV days. She is another fellow journalist who left the biz to help other people tell their own stories. She is authentic and funny and smart and we were thrilled to be able to pick her brain for our expert series.

A better strategy for getting media attention

Any working parent knows what it’s like to have to take a phone call or reply to an email when your child is looking at you with big eyes begging you, “Pay Attention to Me!”

It’s a good tactic for a toddler. But as children get older, simply begging for attention doesn’t cut it. In fact, it gets a little old. As kids age they learn we can’t give everything they do the same attention so they begin to chose what’s really important and draw our attention to that.

Pitching your story to the media is a little bit like that.

Simply asking for attention doesn’t guarantee it.

The media needs to know why now? What is so important that it needs our attention?

Digital marketing guru and communications specialist Rachel Clapp Miller and I tackle some of the most important things to consider when pitching your story to the media in our latest podcast, ‘Content Hacks.’

Here’s a link to the blog I mentioned in the podcast.

Here’s Why your Pitch was Turned Down

Tens of thousands. That’s the best number I could come up with. I tried to calculate how many pitches I have read over my 24+ years working in the media. Journalists aren’t known for their mathematical strength so I gave up and called it tens of thousands. The point is I have seen more than a few. I have turned down more than I have accepted. I know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling your story to the media.

First, you need to know that simply sending a press release is not the same thing as pitching a story. Think of a press release as an announcement. Maybe you have a new product line coming out or are holding a new a class. Maybe you are a new business to the area. All of that is fine. It’s just not necessarily THE story.

The story might be how your product line fits a new trend. Your class might tie into a study in the news. Maybe your business is the first of its kind in that part of town. Whatever it is, your pitch should help the editor or producer ‘SEE’ the story. Then attach the press release, if you have one, for more information.

It is not necessary to have a press release to pitch a story.

Now, on to why your pitch was turned down.

  • You gave me too much information. Producers and editors are busy. If I open an email and see it is a mini version of War and Peace I am instantly turned off. If you can’t explain your story to me in a few paragraphs then I don’t have time to figure it out for you.
  • You got my name wrong. Personalizing a pitch is a great way to make the pitch feel like it is actually directed at me. But if you spell my name wrong that tells me all I need to know about your attention to detail.
  • Your timing was off. It is possible that there is nothing wrong with your pitch at all. It may simply be that they already have a story planned on that topic. It is also  important to understand the deadlines and planning structures for print and traditional broadcast media. If you send me a great pitch the month before you’d like me to print it in a magazine, you are too late. Magazines work months in advance. If you send a pitch to TV stations months before the actual story or event you want covered, it will get lost in a sea of other pitches that fill future assignment logs.
  • You didn’t leave me enough information to contact you. It almost sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean who would send me an idea and not give me all of the ways in which I can reach you. But it happens, more than you think. Include the basics like a full name and title, a phone number and an email.

There are a hundred more reasons beyond those listed that could also explain your ‘No’.  One thing is certain. You can be sure you aren’t alone. Bigger businesses have gotten a “no” too.

The truth is, you may never know why an editor turned you down. There just isn’t time in their day to offer everyone constructive or encouraging feedback to explain their decision.

So take it as ‘not now’ instead of ‘no’ and try again another time.

For more information to help you create more effective content, easier, follow my podcast with Digital marketing and communication specialist Rachel Clapp Miller, Content Hacks.

The Most Overlooked Sources of Content

There is nothing worse as a content creator than the panic that sets in when you sit down to write and a good topic seems to escape you. Now what?

Sometimes the best content is right under your nose! But you won’t see it if you don’t know where to look!

Lucky for you, I created a podcast with my ever so creative friend, Communications Specialist and Digital Marketer, Rachel Clapp Miller. In the latest installment of Content Hacks, we’ll tell you where to look for new ideas.

And you might be surprised what the number one thing you can do to find good content is….