About Andrea Goulet Ford

Content should be clear -- especially on the web. I'm on a mission to rid the world of corporate babble one concise sentence at a time.

5 Takeaways from Creating Change at Discovery Communications

create change posterI jumped up and down like a four year old when I received the email. Peyton Rowe, my “friend in reward (not crime)” was inviting me to join her at the CreateAthon -inspired event Creating Change at Discovery Communications. Sure, there were things that needed to be shuffled, but none of the life logistics even entered my mind when I replied with a resounding, “YES!!”

Now, here I am. Bouncing around between the 24 creative teams. A mission statement here. A social media plan there. All of this work is helping create professional marketing materials for different non-profits in the DC area. Imagining the positive impact that just this event boggles my mind in a good way.

I snagged a sunny spot in the atrium to share a few tidbits about my experience.

1. Past professional lives matter.
Immediately after registering, I was introduced to Jennifer Cortner, VP of Account Services at Discovery Creative. Yeah, she’s a big wig around here. So it was pretty amazing when we played the you-look-familiar game and recalled meeting each other at Success in the City’s Social Media Nouveaux conference in 2007. At the time, I worked as a freelance writer/social media consultant and Jennifer was President of EFX media. It just goes to show that good work and good impressions are always important.

2. Corporations are vital to creating social change.
Last week, when I posted a question on a LinkedIn group about non-profit development, I got a comment that struck me to the core.

[At our non-profit] all members work free of charge in our poorest community and not one cent of funding goes towards any administration, office rental or transport. This is our way of giving – selflessly. If you have the compassion to work with the poor, then do it voluntarily, and not turn it into a business.

This us vs. them attitude really affected me. After reflecting, I came to the belief that in order for REAL change to occur, it needs to be part of our social fabric at every level, not just with the seemingly selfless individuals who can afford to be full-time volunteers. The idea of changing our world for the better needs to be the forefront of our minds — all of our minds.

Corporations have the resources (not just money, but talent and infrastructure) to make a huge impact. Businesses are not bad — they are a critical part of the solution.

3. Shorter missions get greater impact.
A lot of the work today has been helping non-profits revise their mission statements (I think the longest I saw today was two paragraphs long). One of the amazing tests of whether a mission works is how easy it is to recall. For example, employees at Discovery can state without blinking or thinking that their mission is, “satisfying curiosity through non-fiction media.” Six words. That’s it. It’s easy to recall, repeat and reinforce.

A mission is more than a jumble of words written by committee. It’s a living, breathing statement about why your organization exists. Its goal is simply to get people to stop, think, and ask to learn more.

4. Action trumps ideas.
As I look around at the amazing-ness that is Creating Change, I have to think back on how it all got started. On a summer night in 1998, Cathy Monetti and Teresa Coles had an awesome idea — stay up all night and donate the work to charity. A great idea, truly, but it’s their courage and commitment to making it happen that I find most remarkable.

How many of us have had those light bulb moments? “We should……!” “Wouldn’t it be great if……!” “How about…..!” Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Because Cathy and Teresa followed through, they created change. Big change.

5. This is absolutely, positively, what I want to do with my life.
When I met my husband, I knew within a very short time that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Now, with CreateAthon, I’ve found the professional equivalent of a match made in heaven. I want to help CreateAthon grow. I want to help corporations and creative agencies implement the marathon model for pro bono services. I feel like all my experience; sales, social media, senior writer at a corporate conglomerate, social advocate, board member, and more, has all occurred to prepare me for this moment. To expand the reach of CreateAthon. To help non-profits get the professional communications they need to thrive. To make the world a better place and create lasting change. I couldn’t be more grateful and I’m thrilled to see what adventures await me as I skip merrily down this new life path.

Beach Reads for a Business Owner

In one week, I’ll be at the beach. My out of the office message will be set on my e-mail, but like many business owners, my mind will be still very much focused on my passion — building my business. So in addition to sunscreen and sandals, I’ll be packing a stack of books that I’m hoping will inspire me. Here’s what I’ve picked, and why. Have tips for others? Leave them in the comments below. Happy reading!

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

No venture capital. That’s how 37Signals has built their business, and it’s how we plan on building ours. We’re already avid readers of the 37Signals blog, and use this humbled-beginnings software company as a beacon for where we want to go.


Do More Great Work.
by Michael Bungay Stanier

This was a recommendation when I purchased Rework, but the subtitle got me — “Stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.” Having just come back from my corporate-world stint, I haven’t quite shaken the busywork bug. I feel compelled to be doing something all the time, almost like I have  a looming mid-year review over my shoulder. I’m hoping this book will give me ideas of taking control over my own schedule, and to, well, do more great work.


Making Ideas Happen
by Scott Belsky

When I freelanced, it was simple. If something needed to get done, I did it. In corporate, the team was so big that I knew my myopic role and did just that. But now, we have a small team, and a long list of things we want to do. I’ll be looking to this book for ways to get our ideas off of our index cards and into the hands of our customers.


The Official Scrabble® Brand Word-Finder
by Robert Schachner

One of the first things I do every morning is play a game of Scrabble on my iPhone. I find it’s a great way for me to wean in the day (I’m naturally a night-owl). Lately, I can beat the Normal setting without a challenge, but I’m stuck when it comes to Hard. I plan on using this study guide to beef up my Scrabble skills not only for my own enjoyment, but to ensure that I win at family game night (I have a slight competitive side, too.)


Ladies First: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners, and Mavericks
by Lynn Santa Lucia

Stories of others who have risen to a challenge are most inspiring. So what better fodder for dreams than a collection of women who have changed the course of history. From Christine de Pisan, Europe’s first professional female writer, to Dorothy Levitt, the first woman to compete in a motor race in 1903, I can’t wait to read the seventeen mini-biographies and maybe find a piece of myself among them.


Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Mindful living has had a profound impact on my life. It helps me make better decisions in both business and in life. One aspect of mindfulness is around how we consume our food. Too often, I find myself gobbling down a breakfast bar because I’m running to a meeting. This book, written by one of the world’s preeminent Buddhist authors, shows how you can maintain a healthy weight and attitude simply by paying attention to your food.

7 Tips to Instantly Give Your Content Personality

Content with personality sells. Brands spend big bucks developing a distinct voice that makes them stand out. Conversational words engage your prospects instead of putting them to sleep, or worse, buying from someone else. This idea of copy that is personable and professional at the same time is what I built my career on. And here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help your brand stand out from the pack.

1. Keep words and sentences short.
Big words do not make you sound smart. (I actually had to re-write that sentence. Originally it said, “Big words make you sound pretentious.” I have to keep even myself in check.) Long sentences make you seem boring. Readers, especially savvy web-oriented ones, don’t actually read — they scan. Short sentences keep these scanners more engaged, which leads to more sales. I try to keep most of my sentences to one thought, or clause. Sometimes two. More that that, and I try to break it up into separate sentences. Another way to put this idea is, “write like you talk.”

2. Use contractions.
When we’re talking casually, we use contractions — those “shortcut” words like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc. We say – “I’d love to join you, but I can’t. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a conflict.”  In conversation, we’ll use the non-contracted form when we need to clarify or make a point. For example, “Joe, for the last time, I will not go on a date with you. Please, do not ask me again.” Using contractions instantly lightens the tone of your communications, and (you guessed it) makes your readers feel more engaged with your content.

3. Choose the “sparkle” word.
Which has more personality? “We’re happy to announce…” or “We’re thrilled to announce…” They essentially mean the same thing, but “thrilled” jumps out just a little more because it’s more exact. Happy is generic. It’s probably the first word you’ll reach for. Stretching just a little bit for that vibrant word can make your copy sing.

4. Write in the present tense, active voice, second person.
In non-academic terms, this means – avoid the words “have” or “been” and use the word “you”. Writing in this style is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your reader. It puts them in the here and now. It makes it feel like you’re having a conversation with them through the screen. Compare, for example, these two sentences: “We have enjoyed working with wonderful clients like you.” Versus, “You are a wonderful client. Thank you for your business. It makes ours more fun.” See the difference?

5. Know which (few) grammar rules you can break.
On occasion, I’ll start a sentence with “and”. I sometimes end with a preposition, too. That’s because these grammar rules help facilitate the conversational style. But there are some rules that when broken, make you look silly, or stupid, or ignorant. Here’s just a small sampling.

  • Your (you own it) vs. You’re (you are)
  • There (not here) vs. Their (it belongs to them) vs. They’re (they are)
  • Assure (give support) vs. Insure (to buy or sell insurance)
  • Affect (verb) vs. Effect (noun – can you put “the” in front of it?)
  • “A lot” is two words.

There are plenty more, and feel free to vent in the comments below. To keep your writing neat and tidy, try typing your opposing words in a search engine with “vs” between them. You can also check out The Grammar Girl.

6. Accessorize with styles.
Not to sound like your high-school English teacher, but rhetorical styles such as alliteration, metaphor, similes, rhyme, and repetition are marks of great writing. So use them. A word of caution though; too much of any of these styles, and you can easily swing to the other side of the personality pendulum (the one where you sound like an amateur and we don’t want that). It’s best to think of these styles like an accessory — add enough to accentuate your content, but not too much where you overwhelm the message.

7. Read out loud before you publish.
And by “out loud”, I don’t mean “really loud and slow but still in my head”. It means with your voice, at a natural volume. In addition to catching typos, this form of editing is perfect for making sure your content is conversational. Does it sound natural? If there’s a sentence that just doesn’t flow, work with it until it sounds right. Then, give your content to someone who hasn’t read it yet. Ask them to read it out loud. Then, massage any phrases that tripped them up.

With these simple tweaks, you can transform writing that’s bland and impersonal, into content that brings your readers closer to your brand. These are great tips for all sorts of business communications in both print and web. Have a question about how to implement these styles? Have a story about how you turned your copy around? Want to vent about your grammar pet peeves? Put it in the comment below.

Thanks, and happy writing!

On becoming a web “triple threat”

Tap Dancer

Believe it or not, I started school pursuing Classical Voice. My dream was to be on Broadway (it’s still on my list of things to do before I die). The only problem? I’m not a great dancer.

You see, to really make it on Broadway, you need to be able to sing, act, AND dance. Two out of the three won’t do. If you’re deficient in one area, that means countless hours of practice just to get up to par. I just wasn’t willing to invest the time, and so I changed my major to Marketing. Smart move, I think.

The same idea of a “triple threat” applies to the web. A web site or application is made up of three main areas: Content, Design, and Development. As clients demand more and more sophisticated sites, and as the web experience becomes more integrated (think mobile), it’s more important for those of us in the web field to cross-train in the different disciplines. Yes, it’s hard work, and countless hours, but this time, I’m excited about it!

Here are some of the resources I found most helpful while I was learning. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Content

Design

Code/Development

    Lynda.com (yes – they get a plug twice, it’s that good)

Image Attribution:

Taking the leap…again.

b&w photo of girl diving into a lake

Next Tuesday is my last day at Capital One. It’s been a great ride. I’ve made lots of friends and learned a ton, but I never quite shook the own-your-own-business bug.

I’m thinking it’s genetic. My brother’s an entrepreneur, too. And when you look at our childhood, it’s not hard to see why.

When I was five (1986) my father left his job as an IT big-wig, bought a Macintosh computer, and started a graphics design company with my artistically inclined mother. I asked him “Why?” for a project in 6th grade. His reply? “So I could see you get off the school bus every day.”

I grew up stapling blank invoices to manila folders for a penny a piece.

In middle school, I started running my own business doing “over printing.” This was before digital printing came along. My parents would create a shell brochure for companies with multiple offices. My brother and I would collect orders from individual offices and carefully feed the glossy paper through a bubble-jet printer, set it on the floor to dry, run it through a folding machine, and ship it out. My father and I still laugh about my mishaps with the (really finicky!) folding machine.

By early high school, my parents had merged their business with a pre-press and printing company. I came up with the name and tagline — Proximus; Next generation printing — by opening my Latin dictionary. That was my first foray into copywriting and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my idea scattered all over signs and stationary.

At the age of 24, I quit my job in sales because of an ethical belief. When I became frustrated in the job search, my parents bought me a laptop, desk, and a copy of Quickbooks. Within a month I had landed three clients. For three years I finessed my skills and made my living as a freelance copywriter. I started a blog. Capital One read it, a recruiter called me out-of-the-blue and asked me to come write for them.

That was two and a half years ago.

For a while, I really enjoyed the steady paycheck, vacation pay, sick days, and 40-hour work weeks. These were luxuries I never had when I worked on commission or freelanced. The first week, my manager would have to remind me to go home at 5:00. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Compared to the 14-hour days I was used to, I essentially felt like I was leaving at lunchtime.

I got a bonus and flew to Australia. I won the 3-legged race at the Brand Olympics. I went to some kick-ass conferences. But I also stopped blogging, watched my inspiration slowly fizzle, and became daunted by corporate politics.

Then, last September, I bumped into one of my best friends from high-school at our 10-year reunion. He owned a software company and needed marketing help.  The next day we sat by the pool and dreamed about offering copywriting and coding services to designers. In November, I became a Partner in Corgibytes. Two weeks later, we had our first client. In March, he proposed — at the same spot where we dreamed up our business plan (I said yes). Today we’re living that dream.

I suppose for some people, the itch to be an entrepreneur is just inherent. You do it because you don’t want to do anything else. Because you’d rather work for yourself 14 hours a day than work for somebody else for 8. And because life seems more fun after you dove in than it ever did watching from the dock.

10 Tips for a Kickass Wanted Ad

Here’s a great example of how to write a job description that works. I found this on Andy Sernovitz’s blog (a must have on your RSS feed if you ask me.)

Benifit-driven conversational copy gets you noticed.

10 Reasons why it works:

  1. The first word. You. Not me, I, we or any other form of the first person. You. It grabs the reader’s attention and makes your message relevant.
  2. Conversational tone. “Here’s the deal” is a great opening line. It closes the gap between the writer and reader. It makes your reader feel like they’re face-to-face, and opens an emotional bond. And in advertising, that’s a powerful thing.
  3. Clear benefits. Your reader wants to know, “What’s in it for me”. Give them clear and meaningful examples. Andy does a great job here with, “You will become a rock star with badass contacts. We will find you a job when you graduate.”
  4. Name dropping. Works every time. If you have the clout and the contacts, make it known.
  5. Edgy. Yes, this ad uses words like “shitwork” and “badass”. But it works here because of the audience. It makes your ad stand out amid a sea of corporate babble. Just make sure that you have the corporate culture to pull it off.
  6. Authentic. There’s no guessing that this job will require a lot of effort and work. In fact, they come out and say “You will be exhausted.” But transparency and honesty about the job (especially early in the process) just make you more credible.
  7. Keywords instead of tasks. “Blogging, Youtube, Social Media, Viral, Word of Mouth…” describe what the job is about without saying what the employee will be doing on a day-to-day basis. This helps ensure that qualified candidates won’t self-select out because they perceive they’re under qualified.
  8. Short & Simple. At just over 100 words, this ad packs punch. In just a glance and a quick scan, you clearly understand what Andy’s looking for and whether or not it’s a good fit for you. No need to drone on and on. We’re all too busy to read useless information.
  9. Written for the audience. This ad might not be the best fit if you were trying to find a more senior position, but for an intern, the edgy and conversational tone is perfect. This is how 19 year olds speak. Write how you (and your audience) speak.
  10. Clear call to action. “How to apply: blow my mind” (love this!) followed by three websites where you can learn more. Clear next steps are critical for increased response.

What are your thoughts? Is this an effective Wanted Ad? Or did it cross the line? Would you apply? Would you pass it on?

To your success,

Andrea 😀

Use Twitter to Make the Most Out of Your Next Conference

As a former sales professional, I’ve attended my fair share of conferences. It’s usually ended up being a game of networking roulette—working the room hoping you’ll bump into someone with whom you have synergy. It’s a professional gamble. Sure you’ve made connections; but were they the most strategic, or the most convenient?

Today, I’m heading to Boston to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit and it’s the first time I’ve used twitter before attending a conference. I have to say, I’m impressed with the potential. Here are some ways I’ve used twitter as a tool to make the most of my meetings for the next 3 days.

1. Follow the hashtag.
If you’re organizing a conference, hashtaging is a must. It allows attendees to mark tweets as relevant to you. Without it, you’re missing out on a big portion of the conversation. Attendees, use a twitter aggregator such as Tweetdeck (desktop) or Hootsuite (web app) to easily follow the conversation and see who else will be there. The hashtag for the Inbound Marketing Summit is #ims09.

example of conference conversation via twitter (hootsuite)

example of conference conversation via twitter (hootsuite)

2. Are you on the list?
Earlier this month, TweepML launched a Twitter Group Service, allowing users to create their own lists.  I found this tool indispensible, as I was able to add and follow over 50 other people who are attending the conference with just one click! To get on the list, simply contact the administrator of the list and ask. (“Pretty please with a cherry on top?”)

3. Reach out and tweet someone (pre-networking).
Once you’ve made some connections, it’s time to use them! Start by looking at the bios of your new contacts. Is there anything you have in common? If so, use twitter just like you would if you were in the room. For example, I found out that @InnovateMarCom is another avid karaoke fan. With just a couple tweets, we struck up a conversation. Now, when we meet in person, the connection will be much richer (even if Boston lacks a karaoke scene).

Even if we can't plan a karaoke outing, chances are Nichole and I will have a great conversation.

Even if we can't plan a karaoke outing, chances are Nichole and I will have a great conversation.

I’ll be arriving in Boston around 7pm tonight. Looking forward to a great conference and meeting all these wonderful people in real life. Safe travels everyone!