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Falling Up

In February 2018, I parked my car for my first interview at MJM, and as soon as I walked towards the door I fell up the ice-covered-steps within the first thirty seconds upon my arrival. Amazing, isn’t it? As I confirmed the secrecy of my fall, I brushed the snow off my pants and walked into the office as if nothing had happened.

That afternoon, though started with personal embarrassment, quickly turned into warm hellos as I walked into the office with wet knees from the snow and went into an interview turned full blown conversation of the office’s beginnings, discussion of strengths, and an affirmation that MJM is where I wanted to be.

As I reflect on just under a year from that wet-kneed interview, I’m very confident that infamous up-the-stairs-tumble was an accurate representation of how my time would be here—an experience of falling upwards.

My first couple of weeks as an intern, trust me, there was a motif of falling and embarrassment. In such a fast-paced world like marketing, things are ever-changing with the trends and the moment an account manager tells you one thing, it already changed by the time you’re gathering your own information. My creativity bloomed for practices to pretend I knew what I was doing in those first two weeks.

Though there was some adjustment to working, there also was a welcoming feeling as I started to settle into the office—just like my initial interview. It was the giggles on the couch with the account managers, the constructive feedback I got when I got off track, and the launch of my skills I didn’t know I had to develop my writing skills far beyond what I ever learned in school. Even if I were to fall, I would still catch myself on a higher platform from where I was before, each of my mistakes giving me more insight into how this industry works.

There’s a couch in the MJM space, which I like to call “my office,” that I work on most days that allows me to take a step back and allow me to really observe.  From “my office,” I can hear the bathroom door that absolutely slams behind me every so often and the pitter patter of dogs running in the apartment above us. On the contrary, there’s also this aura of creativity that emerges when I see a group gathered around a computer working on a project, the determination coming from the design team when they’re deep in a project, and the ambiance of all of the creative and tactical minds functioning in perfect (and sometimes imperfect) harmony.

I came into this office with snow-covered jeans but will leave with an absolute remodel of my knowledge about all things marketing. I touched client work ranging eye care practices, aesthetics companies, virtual training platforms, amongst many more. Did I mention on one of my first weeks our CEO made me draw and label an eye in front of some of this country’s leading ophthalmologists? It’s truly a whirlwind around here.

Though I’ve stayed on part-time as I “fell-up” back into my school year, this internship has given me a chance to reflect and analyze what I want to be doing in the future. If it’s anything like my time here at MJM, I’ll be just fine.

The Art of Interviewing

Interviewing is an integral part of both research and reporting. It’s also a skill that is improved greatly by practicing. Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

1. Come prepared

Have questions prepared in advance. Make sure you have done your research so you can ask the hard-hitting questions. Practice your questions with a coworker or friend in advance. The first time you say the questions out loud should not be in front of your interviewee.

2. Ask the right questions

Part of showing up prepared means asking the right questions. This involves forethought as to where your research, article, or project is headed.

3. Listen

The biggest mistake you can make when interviewing is to talk too much. Remember that you are there to learn and learning requires listening.

4. Record it

I cannot stress this point enough. Always record your interviews. Before recording, ask the interviewee if it is okay and let them know that you will use this recording to pull direct quotes and to review the information to make sure your translation is accurate.

By recording the interview, you are free to focus more on making the interview personal because you won’t be as busy jotting down notes.

5. Remember that good interviews take time

If you are doing multiple interviews for a project, be sure to schedule enough time for each. You don’t want to be the interviewer who has to cut someone off or show up late because you planned poorly. Interviews, especially great ones, take time. To get to the heart of your topic, be sure you give yourself and your interviewee enough time to open up.

6. Stories matter

As you are interviewing, be sure to listen to the stories people are telling. Look beyond the facts. Not only can you learn more from the stories people tell than from straight facts, stories also create a better finished product and tie facts together.

7. Do your interviews one-on-one if possible

Especially if the topic you are interviewing on is personal, it is best to interview in a one on one setting. People will be more willing to open up in this setting. This also keeps one person from dominating the interview.

8. Wing it

Even though you’ve prepared the questions and environment for the interview, sometimes its best to just wing it. Perhaps the interviewee opens up a story line that you don’t have questions prepared around. This story that you don’t expect could lead to discover more than you had hoped.

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What Should I Blog About?

As the digital world continues to grow, blogging can be a necessary evil when it comes to marketing. Blogging is important for many reasons including:

  • SEO: This buzzword (buzz-acronym) literally means Search Engine Optimization. Blogging is huge when it comes to having great SEO. This is due largely in part to the fact that Google favors websites that appear current. If your website hasn’t been updated since November 2004, Google is not going to be your biggest fan (or source of traffic).
  • Subject Matter Expertise: It’s important that your followers or clients know that you know your stuff. Blogging is a great way to show just how much you know.
  • Driving Website Traffic: As a business, we are constantly looking for ways to increase traffic to our website and get people to stay on our site longer. Spending money on ads is one way to get people to your site but blogging on relevant topics can get people in as well as get them to stay.

So we know engaging with customers and peers is important, but we often find ourselves wondering what to say. Often, what makes any creative project difficult is not having clear boundaries.

As you find yourself in need of updated web copy, ask yourself the following questions to help create your own boundaries and guide your writing:

Who is your audience?

Defining your target audience can be a great way to determine what you should write about. Are you targeting other professionals in your field, donors, kids, product users? Define what that group looks like and you’ll be one step closer to a great blog topic.

What is your goal?

So you’ve decided you are going to write to your product users. As you communicate with those users, what goals do you have? Are you hoping to educate those users on a particular product? Maybe you want to teach them about a new way to use your product. Are you hoping they will take action as a results of reading your blog and what action do you want them to take? Many great blogs can start by defining your end goals.

What topic relates to both your audience and goals?

As you’ve walked through questions 1 and 2 you have probably considered a few audiences you could address and a few things you could talk about. It is important to look at where your audience and goals intersect. For example, you may not want to talk to a teenager about donating money for your event but you may want to invite them to that event. On the other hand, if the event is a rock concert your donors may not be as interested. As you blog, consider where these question cross paths and how you can write content targeted for both your goals and your audience.

What is your content strategy?

In keeping a consistent writing schedule, it’s important to have a content strategy in place. Starting with 101 type blogs and doing follow up blogs going deeper into subject matter can be a great way to build your blog archives. These types of blogs can keep traffic coming to your site consistently and keep people on your website longer, as they see more content that relates to their interests and needs.

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White Space

I recently read an article from Anne Lamott that’s been rattling around in my head for the last couple of weeks. It left me feeling understood but utterly exposed in the way Lamott’s writing usually does. In it, she asks this question of her writing students and of all of us:

[W]hat manic or compulsive hours will they give up in trade for the equivalent time to write, or meander? Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.

I always have this glorious but misguided dream that there will eventually be a triumphant end to my to-do list and a vast expanse of empty time will roll out before me and I can finally let my creativity roam free.

But this time is never just presented to us. The to-do list never ends and the need for more time only grows.

A need for space

Enough words have already been spilled about the “cult of busyness” we currently find ourselves in. Suffice it to say that the curse of our age seems to be that most of our days are consumed with constant reminders of all the other things we should be doing.

Life has become so filled, so scheduled that there is a longing for an absence; a white space in which we can simply be.

In design, white space is purposeful emptiness. It is defined by its very lack of content. But by allowing that content adequate space to breathe, white space allows us to focus on what’s really important.

In design, white space is purposeful emptiness.

Unfortunately, white space is often one of the first things to get sacrificed in favor of more: more words, more images and more information. But there’s a cost to this trade-off. The more room we fill up, the less time and space we have to appreciate what’s actually there.

Reclaiming time

Which brings me back to Lamott’s question: “What are you willing to give up?” Rather than sacrificing this time and this space, what to-do list item can wait or be eliminated altogether?

Last weekend, I asked myself the seemingly trivial but critical question, “What would happen if I didn’t do the laundry?” And the answer I came up with was: nothing. The world wouldn’t end if I decided to let the laundry go for a few more days.

So, rather than spend my Sunday afternoon folding and sorting clothes simply because that’s what I always do, I began working on a personal design project that I’d been thinking about for months and just never found the right time to get started on.

“What are you willing to give up?”

Of course, I’ll have to do the laundry eventually. This is a not a call to shirk the responsibilities of being a functional and decent human. The to-do list will always be there, beckoning us back into comfortable busyness. But by deliberately carving out this space – whether for a passion project, a walk outside or just time to let our thoughts wander – we make the space where we do everything else better.

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A Means to Become Better

Recently, I was assigned the task of writing an article for BizNOW Magazine on one of our amazing clients, Compassion Child Care (CCC). As an English writing major at the University of Sioux Falls, I am no stranger to spending countless hours on long research papers or book analyses. But this made me slightly unsure of how my writing style would transfer over to be appropriate for a business magazine. I could hear my older sister’s words, as a former journalism student, echoing in my ears, reminding me to stop relying on big words to make my writing sound better. Her recent comments have encouraged me to work on my weaknesses as a writer and to continue to improve my craft.

Even though I knew the task of writing for a magazine was out of the realm of what I was used to, I decided to embrace this opportunity as a learning experience, and I went ahead and dove in!

Despite my slight apprehension, the interview process went great, with co-worker Tim coming to save the day by bringing a voice recorder for me to use. (Still really grateful for that, Tim. You’re the real MVP.) I was happy to be able to visit the daycare and see firsthand the quality of care they offer children and families. Dawson, the director of development at CCC, told me all about amazing daycare and answered all my questions. So far, so good!

After producing my first draft, Shannan and Justin offered plenty of guidance on how I could improve the content. I took their advice and scheduled an additional interview with a board member to add more quotes and insight to my article. Shannan and Justin again provided many tweaks and suggestions upon reading my next draft, and both commented on the formal qualities of my work and that it needed a more “journalistic style,” which Shannan significantly helped me with. She did so by adjusting the format of my article and ridding it of un-needed content. As a writer trying to get a grasp on the journalistic style, it was advantageous for me to compare her edits with my original work.

Of course, any article worthy of a read is concise and engaging, but these were the qualities of the journalistic style that I was struggling to get a grip on, as my original draft sounded more like a paper and less like an article. I was incredibly grateful for the guidance offered to me during the writing process as I was adjusting my writing’s style and voice. I think it’s a person’s first instinct to receive constructive criticism and get down on themselves, thinking they failed the task at hand.

Yet, we need to train our minds to view constructive criticism for what it is: a means to become better at our craft. Resources are there for a reason, so use them!

A skilled writer is able adjust their style and voice and direct it towards a particular audience. While wordy writing might be appropriate for one of my papers, (and maybe help add fluff when I’m struggling to reach the assigned page length), it will not appeal to readers of BizNOW Magazine. For my next article, I will take the advice Justin and Shannan have given me and use it to produce something great.