Julia Michaels And Authenticity In Writing

So much of what I do has its roots in writing.

Even the words that come out my mouth often begin being typed on a screen or scribbled on a page.

Some of the writers are most admire are songwriters. People like the amazing Shelly Peiken, who’s book ‘Confessions Of A Series Songwriter‘ I highly recommend.

And there’s also a lot of inspiration I take from Julia Michaels who has an absolute mastery over the current pop hits you’ll hear on the radio and on the hottest streaming playlists of the moment.

Julia wrote Justin Bieber’s ‘Friends’ and the lyrics have a lesson for all of us who seek to become more authentic in our writing.

When you’re taught to write, you’re taught to develop a wide vocabulary, to avoid repeating the same word, to try to find an alternative. To edit and polish your writing. But that’s not how people speak. And when people try to apply those rules to writing quotes or speeches, or even on social media which much more lends itself to writing the way we speak, you end up with something that looks fake and over engineered.

In ‘Friends’, the song takes the point of view of an individual on the phone to a former partner. Calling, supposedly to see how their mother is, but with a very transparent ulterior motive.

And so Michaels writes, in the pre chorus:

‘ Know we didn’t end this so good
But you know we had something so good’

Note the repetition of ‘so good’ which many writing purists would consider clumsy and repetitive.

And then again in the chorus itself:

‘Can we still be friends?
Doesn’t have to end.
And if it ends…can we be friends?’

More repetition..couldn’t she think of a better final line?

But that’s how conversations go. That’s how people actually speak and that’s why Julia Michaels is having so much success right now. The fact Justin Bieber is having the hit with this is no co-incidence either – the audience this track is pitched at values authenticity far more than it values slick songwriting. They genuinely believe that Bieber could phone a girl up and say those words over the phone to her. You don’t care about vocabulary or rules when you’re in an emotional exchange like that.

It for the audience, it all builds up the notion of Justin Bieber being real in a world where so many are fake.


It’s All About The Experience

There’s irrefutable evidence that the unique ‘experience’ is what we all want these days.

A recent article about Barrhead Travel’s expansion highlighted the demand for customised holiday experiences, rather than simply cheap flights and hotels.

I’ve just spent a small fortune in the M+Ms store at Leicester Square, buying gifts for the family. I’d mentioned after my last trip to London that there was an amazing 4 storey building devoted to the tiny little sweets and mentioned some of the merchandise it sold. This turned into a full blown discussion about the madness of it all, but after I showed my Mum some YouTube clips from other visitors she was quickly won over and insisted I brought her something back from my next trip! And then there’s my kids…my nephews etc etc!

Round the corner in Covent Garden, ice cream giant Magnum has a pop up shop where you can ‘make your own Magnum’ and then eat it in the cafe area. At every stage in the process, there are opportunities to take and share pictures of you ‘experiencing’ Magnum on social media. It’s like the ‘Build A Bear’ workshop for adults!

Smart brands are going to great lengths to unlock there’s ‘experience’ opportunities.









It could be expanding a range of merchandise, bringing products to life, turning them into characters, or letting people in on the creative process…how are these products made? Can customers ‘have a go’ at making their own?

Break down your customer journey and your manufacturing process and look for opportunities to let people in and turn it into an attraction.

Perhaps radio cou

ld turn weekly playlist meetings or music research into an event, which as well as gathering useful focus group, market research data, also serves as a powerful marketing activity.

Choose selected listeners who’ve downloaded your app, send them push notifications and invite them along to the ‘Playlist Night’. Put on some food and drink, show them round, explain how you choose what songs get played, let them hear the latest releases and canvas their views.

Many stations I listen to have white label ‘dating’ apps. Why not turn the ‘playlist night’ into a ‘music testing/speed dating’ event. You could charge a modest admission fee for that and you’d be giving a desirable audience a unique experience they’ll tell their friends about, thus marketing your station.

And if you think ‘nice idea but no-one will ever do it’ – think again. Some station already is because I’ve just overheard a woman raving about the whole experience to her friend on the tube. It’s the first time in years I’ve overheard someone talking enthusiastically about something involving a radio station.

Much is made of the digital revolution. But ‘digital’ alone is 1s and 0s and boring as hell. Digital that works is expressing the physical in a digital space. Enjoying a unique real life experience and keeping a permanent digital record that we carry with us everywhere we go and expressing how that physical experience has made us feel, in the digital realm.

Think about how you can unlock the unique experiences associated with your business.


Union Jack Radio Advert At Scotland Game

If the object of advertising is to raise awareness and get yourself talked about, then mission accomplished for the team at Union Jack Radio.

Their pitchside digital display ad during tonight’s Men’s World Cup Qualifier at Hampden has put a radio station few had heard of previously right at the heart of the conversation – look at this:

So what’s happened…don’t they understand?!

You might argue ‘Why the fuss?, Why shouldn’t Scotland embrace the Union Flag and enjoy a radio station that plays the best British music?’

A valid argument perhaps but it’s about context. And in the context of football, especially the Scotland national team, playing at home, at Hampden, the Union Flag doesn’t really figure. And for once, it’s not a debate about independence or remaining part of the union, the flag itself just doesn’t figure, regardless of political beliefs.

My personal belief (and that’s all – I’ve no knowledge of this particular situation) is that an advertising agency bought some space, probably part of a blanket campaign to involve promoting Union Jack Radio at ALL the home nations’ World Cup qualifiers. They haven’t thought, haven’t realised, just had an opportunity and threw their logo at it.

What they do next is the important bit.

Because cheeky advertising is bang on the brand values for Union Jack Radio (and its better known sister station Jack FM.) Tongue in cheek is what they do, and with this pitch side advertising at Hampden, they might have inadvertently stumbled into something that could truly connect and go viral.

So, if they’re smart, they’ll respond to some of these Tweets from incensed Scotland fans. Maybe reference the score. Some Scottish bands. Opt out of their jukebox for a bit and hire a well known Scottish personality to host some programmes for them. Or – and I believe the technology would allow for this – change their advert in the 2nd half to reference the slagging they’re currently taking on Twitter.

It’s easy to get reach and awareness these days. True engagement is harder, and to get Scottish football fans to scan their digital radios for a new station and actually give it a listen, is nigh impossible.

But if Union Jack follows up what many believe to be a mistake with something clever and utilise real-time, then they could still win some new fans before the final whistle blows.

The key is the follow up. Trolling Scotland fans and making them angry doesn’t constitute marketing ‘genius’ although I’ll bet some self-appointed PR ‘guru’ writes a blog in the morning suggesting it does. No, reach and getting talked about is the easy part. For this particular piece of advertising to have any value, Union Jack Radio needs us to listen.


The Problem With Half-Baked Blogs

Last week, a friend mentioned a business I hadn’t heard of before.

And the first thing I did?

Looked up their website.

Of course it was perfectly slick and visually impressive but what about the people behind this business? Were they everything they claimed to be? Could I trust them? What were they really like? Were they busy and doing well, do they know what they’re talking about or was it all just bluster? Is the business run by local people that know this area or is it a big organisation down south that’s been able to get to the top of the Google rankings?

The website itself couldn’t give me all the answers, so I looked deeper.

And this is something I do on almost every website of every business I look at – I clicked on the page titled ‘Blog’.

It’s there I often get better insight into what things are really like. And if the page is ‘half-baked’ – e.g. says simply ‘coming soon’ or there’s one post from April 2012, another from July 2014 and nothing since, then for me it can set alarm bells ringing.

Of course there’s often a very good reason why a blog can be half-baked, for example the business owner is too busy getting on with work to sit down and write one and there have been times I’ve been in that position myself.

So, if you’ve got a ‘Blog’ page on your website, ask yourself if you really are committed to it. Do you want to keep it? Are you prepared to update it – at least once a month? If you’re not, take it down, because a half-baked blog makes you look bad.

A good blog can be a highly effective and low cost form of marketing. It can explain who you are and what you do, attract the right sort of customer, educate them a little in terms of how you like to do business, and, crucially, bring in enquiries while you’re busy working.

Many business owners I know like to use ‘ghost writing’ blogging services in conjunction with their own efforts. This means the ghost writing service might create 2-3 posts a week, while the business owner might manage one a month. It saves time and gets content published but I always worry about the loss of the authentic voice. As a customer, I like to know that what I’m reading some straight from the mind of the business owner and I do think audiences can spot a fraud.

Of course there are good and bad blogging services and a good one should be able to understand what you would be saying and how you’d say it if you were writing every post yourself, and so audiences couldn’t tell the difference. Whatever you decide, I think it’s important to do at least SOME of the blogging yourself.

Many of us have been sold this myth that a blog post someone has to be equivalent in length to an essay. It doesn’t! Some of the best blogs I read are extremely short. A nice rule of thumb is one thought = one blog. And if you can do that in a couple of sentences…well done!

The key is to add value. To give your audience something useful, interesting, humorous…get it right and you’ll start enjoying the writing and, I hope, see some interesting new opportunities emerging for your business.


Live Interviews Are Getting Tougher

What the usual pundits forgot to mention in their rush to slag off Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn for failing to remember the facts in those horrendous election campaign interviews they gave, was what this tells us about live interviews in the digital age.

Radio presenters and producers like the folk you’ll encounter at LBC, talkSport, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and so on are now being judged on how they perform on social media.

It might not be a formal ‘more hits = more pay’ but it’s a metric that’s given serious consideration.

All those clips of James O’Brien on Facebook will have an influence on his ratings and his position at the station. He wants success on the radio and he also wants success on social media.

And so when programme teams are preparing for interviews, I believe they are now going looking for the social media ‘moment’.

It’s routine now that the majority of radio interviews will be filmed. The cameras will be recording as soon as you enter the studio and they’ll keep going during any breaks in the programme. Mics down and red light off? Everything you say as you begin to relax in the presenter’s company is still being recorded and can be used against you!

Live radio interviews now require you to contend with a presenter who has set out from the beginning to break you. To find the moment you’re going to fall apart. Where you’ll go off message (or fail to communicate ANY message) and deliver that viral social media sensation they want so much.

Of course, Abbott and Corbyn deserved all they got for failing to put forward even the basic numbers. The questions they were asked weren’t even challenging. But it’s important you understand that live radio presenters are going out looking for those moments.

Don’t become a victim. The best approach is to practice. Practice with someone who truly understands the modern media environment and if you are more experienced at giving broadcast interviews recognise that the environment has changed. ‘Busking it’ is a dangerous game these days.

As well as our media training workshops and on demand training videos, we offer private 1-1 interview practice sessions in person, on the phone or via Skype. We can go through the questions you’re likely to be asked, I’ll help you craft answers and show you where all the pitfalls are. To find out more call 0808 133 1353 or use the ‘Contact‘ page.

It’s easy to laugh when others mess up. It’s much smarter to learn from what’s happened to them.



Teaching Digital

You’ll have seen the usual suspects yakking about Skyscanner getting sold to China and ‘where’s Scotland’s next billion pound tech company going to come from?’

If we’ve to have any chance of achieving our country’s digital ambitions…how about we stop schools from teaching children that digital is bad?

That’s right…not only are some schools failing to teach the essential digital skills for the 21st century workplace, they’re actively giving young people the impression that digital is bad.

Our Scottish Schools Radio project aims to give every school in Scotland access to their own live streaming internet radio channel and a package of digital journalism resources to help them find the balance between fun and self expression and reflecting the work that goes on in schools and the community around them.

Already we’ve heard some brilliant examples of work from the pupils, as they produce their programmes with just the right amount of support and encouragement from enthusiastic teachers who, like so many of us, passionately believe in the relevance and importance of digital skills in the classroom.

Where it causes extreme frustration is when teachers are, for example, unable to upload the MP3 audio files to our Dropbox folder because DROPBOX IS BLOCKED. They then turn to their email and attempt to send the files that way but can’t because…SENDING AN MP3 VIA EMAIL IS BLOCKED.



You and I know these networks aren’t really blocked.

You and I know that by ‘blocked’, what they mean is ‘come and ask permission and we’ll set it up for you.’


Make it clear to local authority staff that they can make use of those channels, they just need permission, and then give the IT folks a rocket up the backside so they start giving that permission.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this site can’t be accessed right now, dial 412 and we’ll sort it out’ and ‘this site is blocked’.

Stop treating teachers like criminals because they want to use technology in education.

Stop putting education professionals with the best intentions of the pupils at heart in positions where they look like fools because they can’t get a bloody email to work.

And stop pupils leaving at the end of the day thinking that this so called ‘place of education’ is hopelessly irrelevant.

‘But why would a teacher want to send an MP3 via email?’ some will no doubt ask.

‘Why would a teacher want to use Dropbox in a classroom, show something on YouTube, or bring up Skyscanner?’

If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school as far as I’m concerned.

It’s perfectly possible to be safe, secure, compliant and still use essential digital technologies.

And if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an IT Department.


Instagram Stories – Can Your Small Business Use Them?

Should your business use Instagram Stories?

Of course!

But will creating Instagram Stories help your business grow?

Should you use this new feature?

Probably not.

It helps to understand the motivation behind the launch of the new Instagram Stories.

It’s due to demand from big brands and publishers, who want a method of stitching together short snappy clips of video into longer strands of content.

These big brands, publishers and celebrities, all of whom are likely to become the power users of Instagram Stories, have the reach required to make the most of the new feature.

The same applies to Snapchat – without large reach in (at least) the tens of thousands – you won’t be able to make a significant impact with your content and with a shelf life of just 24 hours it won’t drive whatever results you’re aiming for.

You’ll end up in constant ‘trying to grow followers’ mode and this will lead to frustration and time wasted.

Keep in mind too the difficulty in linking outside Instagram and Snapchat to your own website and other platforms. You are heavily restricted.

The majority of business I work with don’t have ‘fans’. Neither do they have content so interesting that it merits regular video clips. Instead, they have regular customers who deal with them directly and then have a very large, untapped audience they hope will stumble across them one day via searches or recommendations.

Instagram Stories and Snapchat COULD help with this, in theory, and for some sectors might make sense. But for most businesses that I deal with their time would be far better spent on an activity such as blogging.

It might lack the excitement of Instagram Stories and Snapchat but it provides regular, ‘sticky’ content with a long term shelf life and hyperlinks back to your website. Blogs don’t need to be long or complicated. Try and include a picture and if you want you could even film a short video of you summarising what you’ve just written and post it to YouTube.

If you’re not sure what to write about in your blog, jot down a dozen questions a potential customer might have about your business and set about answering them, one at a time. If you publish one a week, you now have blog posts for the next 3 months.

And if writing isn’t your strong point, you should consider my Writing For Digital workshop. Get in touch for details.



Helping You Innovate

This is a nice, simple exercise that can help prepare your business for change and start sowing the seeds of innovation.

Often, big organisations know they need to change but never get their because they’re too busy. Things are too comfortable, just keep things as they are and worry about change another day.

That day never comes of course, which makes you vulnerable to a new, hyper focussed new start.

So, sit your team down and ask them to imagine that all there is, the entire sum  of the business is a single, mobile app.

So, if you’re a radio station there’s no transmitter.

If you sell cars there’s no showroom.

If you’re a trainer or consultant you have no clients, no office, no website, no workshops in the diary – nothing.

And you won’t meet customers face to face.

All there is, is a single mobile app.

And all the products and services you offer, the entire delivery of what you do – your livelihood – your past, present and future – the lot, can only go in this mobile app.

What does the app look like?

What does it do?

How will you build it?

How does it help?

What problems does it create?

Where are the opportunities?

What will customers think?

Work through some of these questions and discuss things for no more than 10 minutes.

Jot down some key ideas that emerge and work them around a bit and see if there’s anything you can take on and implement.

And realise that right now, somewhere, someone, is looking at your business and asking how it could be replaced with a single, mobile app.

Get there first.


Facebook Messenger Shortcut

Some businesses have an audience that demands instant interaction.

If I’m booking a table at a restaurant, a taxi, or perhaps a haircut, I want to do it NOW.

And if your business makes that process super easy, rather than forcing me to call or email, then you may well get more business.

Facebook wants those enquiries and transactions to take place on ITS platform and is trying to make that an attractive option to you and your customers.

Go into your business page settings, choose the ‘Messaging’  area and download your business ‘Messenger Code’.

You can then upload that code to any webpage, blog, business card, shop window – anywhere you like.

When a Facebook Messenger user finds your code and scans it with their mobile phone, Messenger will automatically open and begin a conversation between the customer and your business.

You can try it with my page right now – open the Messenger app, scan the code below and ask me anything you want about media relations, PR or social media.

Media Relations Training Instant Messaging




Facebook Instant Articles

More and more businesses like to see themselves as ‘content creators’.

Few act like it.

If you’re serious about your content business, you’ll set things up to publish material as Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s AMP service.

Why? Because your audience will appreciate getting the content they want, on the platform they enjoy it the most, at lightning fast speeds.

Once you’ve experienced Instant Articles as a user, you become frustrated and intolerant at businesses not using it, because their stuff takes longer to load. The experience just isn’t so good.

After a period where Instant Articles were only available to select partners, Facebook has now rolled out Instant Articles to everyone with a business page. There’s a step by step process which it walks you through. If you want to keep things simple with basic design you can, but if you want to fully customise and brand it all up you can do that too.

Setting my blog up to auto post Instant Articles and AMP took almost a full day, but I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of false starts before I realised that my WordPress blog could use the handy plug-in which makes things very simple.

I reckon now I could set it up from scratch in a little over an hour.

The point is, if me on my own can set it all up, and I know other very small business owners who’ve done the same, then what is stopping some of these bigger businesses?

If you’re serious about the content creation business, prove it.

And if you need help setting up your site to public Facebook Instant Articles, please get in touch by sending a message on Facebook or by visiting the contact form on my website and I’ll see what I can do.