5 Things I’ve ‘Unlearnt’ Now I Work in Content Marketing

Leonid_Pasternak_001This week I read this brilliant article by Shannon Johnson at Hubspot: “7 Unglamorous, Unpopular Truths About Content Marketing.”

Although the whole article is informative and interesting, it was number 3/three (you’ll get why I wrote both in a minute) on her list that really tickled my fancy- “You can forget almost everything you learned about writing in college.”

At school, writing was always my strongest natural ability. I was in top-set English, but not far off the bottom ones for maths. I could write you a story well enough, but could get you into a bigger mess with numbers than a Spanish economist if you were to ask me to get mathematical.

Naturally then, I went to study journalism at university. My dream job back then was to be a reporter on a local newspaper. So three years studying journalism, taking raw writing skills and reigning them in, you’d think it would set you up for any potential future career with writing involved?

Wrong. Ok no, that’s too far. It definitely helped. But Shannon was spot on in her article, you really do have to ‘unlearn’ a few things that are drilled into you by ex-hack tutors.

The article got me thinking and I’ve come up with 5/five (again, you’ll get this in a minute) things that I’ve definitely had to leave behind in my beer-sodden, warzone-resembling student house:

1. You must use perfect grammar every timeGuernsey_Grammar_School

As Shannon said, it’s ok to break some of the rules. The biggest rule that I’ve come to accept breaking is the number rule i.e. when to write a number or the word.

Writing numbers between one and nine have to be written like, well, how I’ve just written them- as words. Once you hit 10 that’s when you start using the digits.

Have you seen how many number listed blog posts and articles there are on the internet these days!? Even the title of this post sticks two fingers up to this rule! The point is, numbers grab people’s attention. List post headlines and titles work better with them.

My blog title, for example, is more likely to gain your attention as your scanning your Twitter feed than if I had wrote the word ‘five.’ If that’s what will make your content sticky, then take your grammar hat off!

2. You must know how to write in the style of a broadsheet

Yes, some content has different styles. So a blog post will be different to an ebook, for example.

However, even ebooks need to have the b******t taken out. Everything that you write online has to be short, sharp and to the point. Waffling is a huge turn off. As soon as you make your stories and writing too complex, you’ve lost your time-precious audience. I’ve heard stories of ex-journalists who have 30-40 years experience on myself struggling to write online copy because it’s a completely different style to what they’ve previously known.

The point is, if you can’t write in a more ‘tabloid-style’ (short paragraphs, short sentences etc.), you’ll struggle.

3. It’s all good once your editor gives it the thumbs up

Head in HandsGood. God. No.

If you did work on a paper and your editor (after going through subs) says yes to your work, then it’s off to the printing press.

Great, so your content manager at your agency likes it, has proofed it and says it’s fine. That’s only half the job. It’s then got to go onto the client!

Depending on what they’re like to deal with, they’ll find a hole in your work that both your content manager and yourself, full-time, professional writers, could not. They’ll not know what they want, exactly, they just know that they don’t want what you’ve sent to them!

The truth is, it’s a lot harder to get the initial inspiration that you penned to become the finished product.

4. Working on a newspaper, you’re guaranteed to get readers

Ok, so that would all depend on your headline, intro and also the distribution of your publication, but you know what I mean? Your paper will be bought and your article, more than likely, read.

On the internet, you have to earn it. Your content is just a robin in a content marketing tree full of eagles. Not only does it have to be good to get noticed, but you’ll also need to have a strong social presence behind you.

That process of building your brand’s social media standing from scratch will take time. Identifying influencers, interacting and all that jazz is hard work. But only then does your content ever stand a chance of being read by more than your mate and a robot in Taiwan ready to soil it with one of those awful spam comments.

5. You’re just a writer1034031447_edea115848

When you go digital, this is just a tiny facet of your everyday job. But personally, I’ve come to accept this as a good thing.

You need to know what Analytics is saying with regards to previous content before coming up with new ideas. You need to liaise with other departments to find out what customers are having problems with and whether or not you can help produce content for them. You also need to understand what different goals every individual item you write and produce has and how you’re going to achieve them.

The online marketing arena changes so quickly that you’re always having to learn new stuff. And that’s great.

Are you an online writer that can get on board with this? What things have you had to ‘unlearn’? Let me know!

 

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The 3 Reasons Why UEFA Won’t Come Down That Hard on City for FFP

On Tuesday morning (15th April), City fans woke up to this article on the Telegraph website.

It was to report on the news that UEFA are meeting to discuss FFP and identify those clubs that are currently in breach of its conditions. Personally, I believe those conditions to be fundamentally flawed, but that’s for another post.

According to the report, City will be punished for posting big losses during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. Initial rumours of a transfer embargo were quickly dismissed, whilst the other potential outcome of a ban from UEFA competitions was also speedily put down.

Many believe City will be hit with a hefty fine. Although the irony of fining a club for spending too much appears to be lost on UEFA, the Blues are just a year or two away from breaking even, have invested huge sums on the stadium and have built an academy that’s the envy of any sports team in the world; are our owners really that bad?

However, I honestly believe the punishment really won’t be as severe as some hacks would have you believe. And this is for three reasons:

  • Paris Saint-Germain
  • Platini (Laurent, not Michel)
  • Qatar

Paris Saint-Germain

UEFA don’t like what City have done. Platini (Michel, for the moment) has always took a disdain to English clubs like us and Chelsea coming along to upset the established European order.

But, PSG have made it awkward for both UEFA and their president. Whatever punishment they give us, they’ve got to give to them. They’ve spent huge sums on players like us, whilst playing in a league that doesn’t generate anywhere near the same amount of TV and prize money as the Premier League. In short, their books and balance sheets will probably make them wince more than ours.

If the French club hadn’t risen to prominence as they have done in the last couple of years, I reckon UEFA would throw the book at City. So why wouldn’t they want to touch the Parisiens? Well that’s for the other two reasons..

Platini (Laurent)

This is the son of Michel, the bastion of morality and fairness in European football. It just so happens, though, that Laurent works for Burrda Sports, a sporting brand owned by the Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) group. And who do they own? Paris Saint-Germain. You can read about it here.

This is a huge conflict of interest. Would Michel really sanction a big punishment that would affect the people who employ his son?

Then there’s the third reason…

Qatar

The country that PSG and their owners want to promote with their successes on field. It also happens to be the nation that FIFA infamously handed the 2022 World Cup to. Can you honestly see the world’s football governing body allowing its European subsidiary to unsettle Qatar and the people that controls its football interests in any way? Let’s face it, they’ve got bigger fish to fry where that’s concerned at the moment (slave labour, air conditioned stadiums, accusations of bribes for votes, I could go on).

In short, City have nothing to worry about. Sure, we might get a fine. But don’t expect it to be one that burns any major hole in our coffers. Our lawyers and board will make sure of that, whilst we can also thank PSG, Laurent Platini and Qatar for well and truly tying UEFA’s hands.

My experience of jobseekers allowance

The 28th February 2014 was possibly one of the most disheartening days of my life.

At the end of that month and beginning of March this year, I went on jobseekers allowance for the first time. Without hyperbole, that initial day to apply for JSA and sign on was one of the most soul-destroying days I’ve ever known.

Walking through those doors, I was greeted by two bouncers (a sad indictment on our society that people working there need this type of support), before being made to wait my turn and prove that I was actively looking for work.

Unfortunately my employer dispensed of my services and I was entitled to just one weeks worth of notice. Two weeks passed and I was lucky enough to get three interviews lined up straight away and all within my field of expertise (digital copywriting). However, I was turned down for all of them and the money in my bank was drying up…quickly.

I’d been out of work for two months in early 2012 but had refused to sign on; the thought of doing so filled me with dread. Unlike that time, however, I now had rent, bills, insurance and repayments on a car to pay for- it was my only option.

But why was I ashamed? That’s exactly what JSA is there for! To help out those people that genuinely need it. Since leaving university I’ve been self employed and held two permanent positions. I pay national insurance and income tax, the very deductibles that contribute to the government’s welfare support.

Yet it was still something I really didn’t want to do. And why was I so against signing on back in 2012? I would have been more than entitled to it then, too.

The 3 main things I learnt on JSA

The problem is how it’s perceived

Admittedly, my perception of JSA was negative from the beginning. In my mind (and looking back now, it was incredibly short-sighted and naive of me), only scroungers and benefit cheats claim JSA. The one positive to come from this whole experience is that my outlook of it has completely changed; there are genuinely people claiming that don’t want to be on it, but need it and are more than entitled to it.

So where has the stereotype come from?

Ultimately, it has come from the media. At some point you must have come across a news article in one of the papers that, when painting a picture of someone, reads something like this:

“26-year-old Mr X, who claims jobseekers allowance…”

Before you would read anymore, hand on heart, what are you thinking? It’s negative. And the media reinforces this stereotype. Why do they even need to write it?

Of course, the media will include it in stories about benefit cheats. In the UK in 2012/13 £3.5 billion was paid out to people who claimed either JSA or other benefits when they shouldn’t have been entitled to them. It’s a real problem in this country.

Unfortunately, if you’re on JSA you’re tarred with the same brush in some people’s minds. You could have single-handedly paid enough tax to compensate for Jimmy Carr in the last five years, but some will still think “scrounger” when they hear “I’m on JSA.”

(I would like to stress at this point that my friends and family were not like this! They were unbelievably supportive throughout this whole experience).

jobcentre-picture

JSA is the victim of negative stereotyping whilst being flawed. Image thanks to http://thebackbencher.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Job-Centre-Plus.jpg

 

It’s too easy for cheats to play the system

Quite how anyone would not want to work is beyond me. Two days of endless applying and sat in the living room was tedious. Yet there are people out there who choose to do this.

As Ian, my ‘job coach’ at the centre in Altrincham, told me: “People get stuck in a comfort zone. They may initially agree to look after a friend or relative’s children whilst they’re off, and something like that then becomes a barrier to employment; their excuse.”

What shocked me is just how easy it is for these people to manipulate the system. To claim JSA, you have to attend the jobcentre once a fortnight (weekly if you’re under 25). You then have to present an online diary or workbook of things like:

– What jobs you’ve applied for

– Which websites you’ve been looking at

– Any work you’ve done to your CV

When you initially sign up, a list of actions like these are drawn up and you agree to do them. So for example, you may agree to look at three particular job websites each day.

However, as long as you put down “I went on this website, found nothing” or “I sent my CV off speculatively to a media company in Oldham” that’s good enough in their book. It gets ticked off, you go on your way and your money goes into the bank.

That, I’m afraid, is just far too easy for people that want to play the system. You should have to bring email confirmations of applications with you, or contact details for a person you’ve spoke to at a company for checks to be made.

No support once you’ve found a job

Fortunately, after four weeks out of work and a total of six interviews, I was offered a job. The relief was immense. The delight was enormous. I’ve been at my new place just over a week and I’m already thoroughly enjoying it!

Once you’ve found work, you need to report it to the jobcentre straight away. This is definitely a good thing, but why stop the income support at that moment?

I had to wait a week before my first day in the job. After starting, my first pay day was/is still a fortnight away. And even then it’s only half a month’s worth of money.

Just because I’ve found a job, my bills are still there! Only this time I’m not sat in the house saving the money I don’t have. I’m commuting 40 miles a day and need fuel to get to work.

Simple it may be, but why doesn’t the jobcentre ascertain with your employer when your first pay day is expected to be and agree to keep paying you until your first cheque comes in? At a later stage, they could then ask for it back? At the moment, for those first few weeks once you start a job, you’re being punished for being in work!

In conclusion…

Being on JSA is definitely an experience that I’ll never forget and one that I do not wish to repeat in a hurry.

But I feel that the way it’s perceived needs to change. To help with that, it needs to be harder for those that cheat the system. And to help those hard workers that genuinely need JSA, more things need to be put in place to support the ones that don’t actually want to be on it.

Have you ever been on JSA? What are your views?

Is having a just few English players really worse than having a collection of bad ones?

Whilst posting a status on Facebook last week that was intended to merely have a cheap laugh at the expense of United fans in the wake of City’s 3-0 derby win at Old Trafford, something unintentionally ground my gears.

The post was a link to the article in the Manchester Evening News that showed how the Reds’ starting XI in the game cost more to assemble that the Blues’, the club that football fans with an embarrassingly narrow mind will have you believe are the only ones that spend serious money and are generally ruining football. But that’s for a different blog post entirely.

One of the United fans that took my bait threw a couple of points back at me. But it was one in particular that really struck a chord: the “well we’ve got more English players than you” argument.

It’d be a valid enough point if those English players were world beaters. Alas, they aren’t.

It would also carry some weight if all those English players were products of United’s academy. Again, they aren’t.

I found it difficult to find the right place to start with this, so I’ve tried breaking down it into a couple of areas.

Is bragging about how many English players you've got really important if they're woefully average and overpriced? Image thanks to http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01919/jones2_1919963c.jpg

Is bragging about how many English players you’ve got really important if they’re woefully average and overpriced? Image thanks to http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01919/jones2_1919963c.jpg

For a kick off, why is having lots of English players seen as the morally correct thing to do? Yes, nurturing local talent in academies should be something that all clubs should strive to achieve. In my personal opinion clubs should have a quota limiting the amount of players they bring in from abroad and into their academies.

But why play them in your first team for the sake of it? Take the likes Joe Hart or Wayne Rooney. Both City and United identified these players at Shrewsbury and Everton respectively as they could see that they had the potential to be great players in the future.

Rooney’s rise was quicker, whereas Hart’s stock rose during a loan spell at Birmingham. He established himself as City’s number one during his first game back up the M6.

Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley- they’re woefully average. They play Premier League, Champions League and international football collectively week in, week out, and have done so for a number of years now. Have they developed into players that could get into the best sides in Europe? No, they haven’t.

So why play them? And more importantly, why use them to boast about their nationality? If United had five players of Rooney’s quality, then great; several players that are not only English but that are also world class players, capable of standing toe to toe with their Spanish and German counterparts.

Cleverley is perhaps the exception in the above trio. Not because of his quality (because he really is as average as the others), but because he came through United’s academy.

The midfielder showed potential in the youth teams and then on loan at Wigan, a bottom half Premier League side at the time. By all means bring him back and give him a go. But why keep playing him if he hasn’t really got any better? Why settle for second best? City tried it with Adam Johnson. He looked great at the start, didn’t develop into the player he perhaps should of done and was rightly sold. He’s now putting in average performances for struggling Sunderland.

Smalling and Jones have more to answer for because they were bought by United for heavy fees. The former cost £7 million from Fulham (£1 million more than Vincent Kompany cost City), whilst the latter cost an eye watering £16.5 million from Blackburn! Just let those numbers sink in for a minute.

For their considerable cost, are they the very best players in their position? No. Are they ever likely to be worth their fees? Very doubtful.

So why should clubs spend over the odds for average players purely on the basis of nationality? Wilfried Zaha, a player with zero top flight experience, cost United one million more than Jesus Navas cost City in summer of 2013, a player of the same position but with World Cup and European Championship winners medals in his cabinet.

If an English player is good enough, he’ll get noticed. And he will cost a fair whack, as Rooney did. But they’d be worth it; they’d be good players even if they weren’t English.

Pablo Zabaleta cost City £5 million. If City attempted to bid for someone like Kyle Walker from Spurs right now, how much we he cost? Would he be worth it? Absolutely not. But if you were more concerned of attempting to claim a nonsensical moral high ground based on his nationality…

But I’m not interested. I care most about my club and our success. Of course, as a proud Englishman, I’d love a successful English side, but not at the expense of City.

Giving young English players first team opportunities is important yes, but they need to have that level of natural ability that you simply cannot develop with minutes on the pitch. Otherwise what’s the point.

So the question isn’t why have City got just a handful of English players in their squad, but why has a club like United got a squad filled with very average ones?

Until players like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling cost a fraction of the likes of Vincent Kompany, arguably one of, if not, the best players in Europe in their position, no club should be questioned for having more foreigners in their team.

The problem isn’t clubs like City. The problem is a lack of talent at grassroots level. When it improves, City will have more English players in their team and United will have better English players in their team.

As long as the Reds’ languish in mid-table, their ‘English player’ moral high-ground is meaningless.

 

Why does corporate have to mean bad content?

So the headline is a fairly polite way in.

More impolitely, why do so many large, corporate, B2B businesses have such utterly crap content on their websites?

And why is it a given? I was speaking to someone this week who, when looking at such a website, said of the content: “…ah well you can tell that they’re a big corporate, their content is all jargony and uses lots of complex words.” Why does this have to be?

We should no longer have to assume that corporate means pages of drivel, particularly in today’s age of content marketing. To be honest, has there ever been a time when it has been wanted?

Surely you must know what I mean? Garbage like this:

“…we provide a cohesive IT consulting strategy which will enable you to gain a competitive advantage, increased business agility and maximised IT consulting efficiency.”

What?

“…we deliver best-fit solutions by leveraging a portfolio of public cloud, private cloud, dedicated servers.”

Best-fit? Leveraging a portfolio?

Now what is important to understand at this point is that each type of business should have different styles of content. So your small digital agency may well have a quirkier, light-hearted tone to that of a multinational IT firm. The latter will want less conversational and more professional.

But cutting out the buzzwords doesn’t make you any less professional. “Crikey this company has a sentence that’s just six words long and not one of them is ‘synergy’ or ‘best-of-breed!’ Let’s not do business with these bunch of mavericks.”

Relax, it’s not going to happen.

Yes, your target reader is a managing director of a fellow corporate rather than a marketing manager of a small SME. But the need for waffle doesn’t increase the higher up the career pyramid you go.

And how many of your managing directors have time to read lots of content, anyway? With more of us using smartphones and tablets to browse on-the-go, what are they going to take more notice of? Your paragraphs of guff or your competitors’ short, sharp and to-the-point copy?

Let’s take the first example above. What’s wrong with:

“…our IT consulting services are designed to be efficient. And increased efficiency will give you a competitive edge.”

It’s shorter, it’s snappier and is sure as hell a lot easier to read. But does it really do a worse job of defining the company’s services and their benefits? Is it really any less professional?

With the second example above, how about:

“Our solutions include:

  • Public cloud
  • Private cloud
  • Dedicated servers

They can be used individually or in combination, whichever is best for your business.”

Visually, breaking up your copy with bullets makes it much more digestible, whilst also catering for those that may be scanning your ‘about us’ page on an iPad in the morning commute. And note the use of the word “your.” Not only is the above still clearly detailing the products that the company offers, it’s also bringing it back to the reader; it is talking directly to them.

Make it easy for your readers. Be open. Be direct. Drop the buzzwords, get to the point and write as if you’re writing for a human being, not a robot. You won’t lose any of your professional image and you might just strike a chord with an MD who has just waded through four websites worth of tripe before coming across your well written, concise copy.

Right I’m off to leverage some tea using my state-of-the-art Chinese culinary production implement…(I’m going to make a stir-fry using my wok).

Are you sick of seeing rubbish on corporate sites? What’s the worst examples you’ve come across?

Eriksson Represents All European Officials and City Must Change To Conform With Them

“This guy is doing my bloody head in” said the old bloke sat behind me at the Etihad on Tuesday evening on at least five or six occasions.

He was of course referring to the man in the middle, Jonas Eriksson. And boss Manuel Pellegrini was clearly irked by him also, as one of the most timid managers in the game lost it in his post-match press conference and insisted that not only did Eriksson cost the Blues the match, but that he had planned to wrong an error he had made against Barcelona in 2012 from the first whistle to the last.

It always sounds like sour grapes when a team loses and fans, players and managers alike proceed to blame poor refereeing. However, there is no denying that Mr Eriksson and his officials had a bit of a mare. The game’s changing moment, Martin Demichelis’ foul on Lionel Messi, was undoubtedly a red card, but outside the box. Dani Alves should have been sent out for a string of bad tackles on City players. And Cesc Fabregas was wrongly ruled offside late on as he crossed to set up a Barca tap in.

Yet none of this is what infuriated the masses inside the stadium. Those are the kind of mistakes that are par for the course, sadly. No, it was Eriksson’s constant blowing up for even the most innocuous of challenges.

This isn’t a trait adopted by just this one referee- it’s indicative of officials across the continent.

Understandly Pellegrini was angry and upset after the game, but he was wrong to suggest that this is just a problem with Eriksson. Annoyingly Gary Neville hit the nail on the head once again when he tweeted this as the fallout began:

nev1nev2nev3

The former United full back was talking about his side’s trip to Istanbul in 1993 where they were defeated in one of the most hostile atmospheres there has ever been on the European stage. United were convinced that the referee that night, Kurt Röthlisberger, was “on the take,” such was his performance and apparent favouritism towards the Turks. Although the Swiss was banned for life four years later after being found guilty of bribery, subsequent investigations found nothing from this particular match to suggest that he had taken a back hander.

The point that Neville was making is that referees are completely different in the Champions League to those that we contend with in the Premier League every week. Every little touch, 50/50 or shoulder-to-shoulder challenge and the whistle will be blown.

This was the case on Tuesday with Eriksson. Watching Alvaro Negredo tussle in the air as the lone striker alongside Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano was like watching England play in the World Cup; physical challenges involving a strong striker being penalised, to English eyes, for no apparent reason.

Perhaps Neville is right and that City were displaying “European immaturity.” After all, this is only our third year as a Champions League outfit. What is clear though is that Eriksson represents all referees that City will come across in Europe. And if the Blues are to avoid the kind of evening that they’ve just endured, then they will have to adapt their game in European competition to accommodate this style, for better or worse.

Howard Webb, Phil Dowd, Mark Clattenburg- I will never say a bad word about you again… (I probably will).

Sometimes Football Fans Should Realise That Common Decency Is More Important Than A Game

There’s no doubting that the main talking point from City’s match at Newcastle last weekend was Cheick Tiote’s goal that never was. We’ll overlook spritely 52-year-old Alan Pardew’s ageism fuelled foul mouthed rant at Manuel Pellegrini just for now.

However, the match did trigger one of football’s most deplorable traits to rear its ugly head once again. That is the apparent lack of common decency by some football supporters.

It happened after Samir Nasri was struck down by a horrible challenge by the Magpies’ Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. The midfielder was left rolling around the floor in agony, before leaving the field on a stretcher in tears, perhaps with the realisation that not only was his season over, but his involvement for his country at the World Cup in Brazil may now also be over, too.

Naturally, and even more so in a match that was played out in front of a passionate and hostile home crowd, there were the inevitable cries of play-acting when Nasri first went down. Let’s face it, footballers don’t help themselves at times, and it is hard to sometimes not jump to the ‘boy crying wolf’ conclusion. However, after it soon became apparent that the former Arsenal player was actually injured, the majority inside St James’ Park fell silent and, indeed, Nasri was applauded off the field by both sets of supporters.

Yet despite this, seeing a flurry of horrendously insensitive posts on social networking sites targeted at Nasri was truly disgusting. Ok, I understand that Nasri is an unpopular player by supporters of other clubs, I understand that having a dig at opposition players is all part and parcel of football, and I understand that tensions were running high during and after a match that had seen so much controversy.

But, tweeting “I hope Samir Nasri never walks again” (which is something that was re-tweeted onto my timeline) is sick.

Unfortunately, there were various others that I saw of a similar nature:

nasri1

nasri2

nasri3

nasri4

This is a side of football that should not be tolerated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a player that plays for your fiercest rivals or if he’s committed a misdemeanour earlier in the game, messages like those above about another human being have got nothing to do with football. Those messages are an issue of common decency.

We’ve seen this far too often in the past; chants about the Hillsborough and Munich Air disasters and songs mocking the death of Marc-Vivien Foe and the attack on the Togo national team bus at the African Cup of Nations. There was even that infamous incident outside of Anfield in 2006 when a group of Liverpool supporters attacked the ambulance taking the injured then-Manchester United player Alan Smith to hospital.

Let me stress at this juncture that I am not comparing the injury of a player to the death of 96 football fans, an entire plane of passengers or scores of people on a coach. The point I am trying to make is that all of these incidents have got nothing to do with football. What has rejoicing in the physical misfortune or the deaths of others got to do with a sport? And each time the ‘people’ that indulge in such common indecency do so, they hide behind the “it’s just football banter” excuse.

It’s worth pointing out that for every moron that post messages like the above or sings a horrendous chant, there are many more decent people around to condemn them.

Sadly, particularly in this era of social media, the minority still have a platform with which to spread their bile.