Content Marketing Files: What Cartman Gets Wrong About Authority

“You will respect my authority!” yells Eric Cartman in “South Park.”

Does it work? Not so much.

You can't demand authority. You must earn it.

You can’t demand authority. You must earn it.

What Cartman doesn’t get is that authority is earned, not demanded.

So how could Cartman do a better job of earning it? By considering these few points.

• Saying you’re an authority doesn’t make it so.
Cartman’s demand for authority? Pathetic. He has no evidence to back up his claim of being authoritative. In content writing, you have to demonstrate what you know. So if you’re knowlegeable about how to write blogs, you start writing blogs about how to write blogs. Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Sonia Simone became authoritative through writing and sharing what they knew.

• You have to know what you’re talking about. At least a little.
Cartman is, to put it politely, full of it. So be sure if you want to write about something you know a little about, learn more about it. The Web is bursting with fascinating information. So use it.

It's not all about me.

It’s all about me.

• Don’t make it all about you.
Cartman is all about his own needs. Effective content marketing isn’t about what you need or propping up your own ego. But in content marketing, to coin a phrase, there is no “U.” It’s all about “them,” your audience, and their needs.

• Be helpful.
Can you remember Cartman ever helping out Kyle or Kenny, his South Park friends? Maybe, but only to con them into helping him. Give without expecting to receive. Do you know how to boost shoe sales? The best times to get discounts on European travel? How to cook the perfect omelet? If you know anything that could help other people learn something or do something better, write about that.

Share and share alike.

Share and share alike.

• Share generously.
One major reason Cartman would be an abysmal content marketer is that he doesn’t share. But as a content writer, you know that new information or a unique take on an old idea have no value to the world just sitting inside your own head. So share what you know or have learned, so others can benefit.

• Accept what others share, too.
Cartman has half of this right. He’s willing to take, only he doesn’t give back. “Share and share alike” is the way to build relationships and networks of people who know about lots of things. Tap into their knowledge, learn, and grow.

Honesty counts. A lot.

Honesty means never having to say, “Oops, I lied.”

• Be honest.
Cartman schemes and lies to get what he wants. There’s a script that says the South Park kids have to hang out with him. But in the real world, if you abuse people’s trust, they’ll run from you, never to return. Worse still, they’ll tell all their friends about your misdeeds, and all of them will run from you, too. So treasure people’s trust and hold it sacred.

• Be respectful.
Cartman, respectful? Nope. If you want to earn authority, treat others as you would want them to treat you. With respect, kindness, good vibes, and support. Respect their intelligence and humanity, and they’ll respect yours.

So in summary, it’s clear that Cartman is a total loss as a content marketer, and that his authority is worth exactly zilch. But yours will be priceless if you think of everything Cartman does—and do the exact opposite.

And one final point, perhaps the one point that floats above all of the others:

Be yourself.

Rock on!

Value who you are. And be your authentic self. Your best self. That’s the surest way to begin to earn authority. And if you’re not really sure who your self is, start writing. Sooner or later, your authentic voice will emerge. And you’ll be stronger for it.

Freelance Writer Files: Does Color Matter?

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.



Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: Live Fearlessly?

I may be late to the party in criticizing Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new theme line, “Live Fearless.” But I am now jumping in with both feet. Someone asked me a few weeks ago if it bothered me, and it didn’t, at the time. I replied, “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should” sounds better than if the writer had used the rather stilted, “Winston Tastes Good, As a Cigarette Should.”livefearless_banner_home

Now I’ve been exposed to the BCBS theme in print and on TV, and it’s starting to bother me, like an itchy sweater. There are two reasons it gets to me.

Reason 1: The obvious grammatical abuse

Reason 2: The thought behind that little sentence. Think about it. What do they mean when they encourage you to “Live Fearlessly?” Go bungee jumping? Go skiing in unmarked areas? Drive at 120 mph on the highway? Walk down dark alleys in shifty parts of town?

Are they encouraging their policy-holders to do dangerous things and get hurt, so they have to use their health insurance?

“Live Fearless(ly)” sounds okay, until you start thinking about it. Actually, it sounds as if it should be for a brand of outdoor wear, like The North Face. Maybe a home security system. Or maybe a brand of flaming-hot picante sauce.

As the theme of a health insurer, “Live Fearlessly” sounds all wrong to me. Better, perhaps, would be “Live Confident(ly),” since if you have health insurance, you’re confident you won’t go broke because of monstrous medical bills.

Or maybe I just think about these things too much. But what do you expect of a lifelong copywriter?

Freelance Writer Files: Thoughts on Memorial Day from Stoney Broke

I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke

Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.

This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.

Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.

My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.

Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.

Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”

Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.

He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.

Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”

Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.

Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Are you developing your self?

A person who certainly was himself.

A person who certainly was himself.

“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.”
-Oscar Wilde

To realize one’s nature perfectly. What does that mean, really?

If you are active in the business world, you may wonder at times (or many times) whether this is really “you,” or who you had hoped you would be, sitting in the meeting playing Boardroom Bingo to pass the time. Or hanging out with people you really don’t like very much.

What is self-development? Is it achieved by winning awards, climbing the ladder to higher echelons in your company? Coming in first in your Corporate Challenge event? Climbing Mount Everest? Getting a tummy-tuck? Knowing the right people? Driving the cool car?

In my opinion, none of those things is going to help you develop your true self. To me, finding one’s true nature is an inside job. How could it not be?

If you are focused outward, looking for symbols of success or things to make you happy in the world, it seems to me you never will be happy. Isn’t it true that once you get that shiny new thing you had been after, thinking it would make you happy, it quickly loses its luster, and you have to think of something else to go after?

I heard an author the other day say, “The more things you have, the more things you have to take care of, and the more tension it causes.” Having had a house full of stuff for 12 years, which I then pared down to move into an apartment, I can tell you it’s true. The stuff accumulates, and it becomes a burden. This author said, “The things you own, own you.” True, true.

But self-knowledge is something that never piles up and becomes a burden. Instead, it makes you feel lighter and lighter. Because you can let go of all the stuff that really doesn’t serve you and really doesn’t matter.

Why should you devote yourself to doing the real work of self-development? Let me ask you this: Do you think you know yourself? Or are you too busy to notice who you are?

That seems like a strange question, I imagine. A lot of us are extremely busy because we have jobs, families, hobbies, friends, and whatever other things we’re required to spend time on. Who has time for self-development?? But even in an extremely harried life, I contend that if you can’t take five minutes to simply BE, you are short-changing yourself by neglecting to at least form a friendly acquaintance with yourself.



Years ago, I took the Silva Method of Meditation, which is a terrific course. In fact, I took it twice. Once you’ve taken it, as long as you keep your card proving you are a graduate, you can take it as many times as you like. The course teaches you how to enter the alpha state of awareness, then to go one rung deeper, to a place where you find the answers your inner self has to the questions you ask.

In the Silva course, our instructor (a Franciscan monk who was a hoot) reminded us to practice for at least a few minutes daily. “Five minutes is good; ten minutes is very good; fifteen minutes is excellent.” And then, “Once a day is good, twice a day is very good, and three times is excellent.”

I’m afraid I’ve let myself slip a bit since I first took the course. But when things get hairy, or when I’m experiencing negative emotions like worry, anger, or depression, nothing helps calm me like meditating the way I was taught.

You don’t have to take the Silva course to know how to meditate. There are a lot of books out there, and a lot of classes, on how to do it. But you don’t need any of those. All you need is five minutes and a quiet place with dim lighting. Get comfortable, preferably sitting (so you don’t doze off), keep your hands open and relaxed, close your eyes, and either focus on the breath coming in and exiting your nose or focus on a word, like “peace.” Just keep breathing in and out and try to maintain your focus. Your monkey-mind will be jumping all over the place, and when you notice you’re thinking about dinner or a book you’re reading, or an itch on your neck, you gently bring your mind back to your breathing or your word.

Five minutes at work is doable, isn’t it? At home, you may find more time. And for something that’s free and easy, it eventually yields great results: calmness, less being caught up in the crisis of the moment, more insight into who you truly are, and more compassion for others in your world. Honest!

I don’t know if Oscar Wilde meditated, but it’s clear he understood there is a real self we all have, and when we learn who we are and live as we truly are, instead of living up to someone else’s idea of who or what we should be, then we can be truly free.

Try five minutes of simple meditation, and even if it’s hard to keep focused at first, you’ll get better at it, and then you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know who you are. And you’ll probably like you!

Freelance Writer Files: Is Grammar Outdated?

Here I am, a proofreader and editor, as well as a writer, apparently misled by those nice lady English teachers all these years about what proper grammar is. It’s okay to boldly split infinitives? It’s okay to ask where this shipment is to go to? Good grief!

The ground beneath my feet isn’t exactly shifting, but some parts of my brain are; the parts that absorbed what apparently is false information about proper English grammar. Just take a look at this brief article. The Smithsonian is always right, so it must be so!

Freelance Writer Files: There’s no OFF! for verbal tics.

But boy, sometimes I wish there were! OFF! can

Have you noticed that these days, everyone from “Fresh Air” host Teri Gross to the third-grader next door is starting sentences with “So…?”

Several years ago, when I first heard a biology grad student do it, I thought it was cute and kind of funny. I mean, it sounded as if she were continuing a conversation, rather than answering a question. The first few times you heard it, it jolted you awake. Wakefulness is always a desirable state to be in, unless you’re an insomniac. But then it became annoying. In my mind, “so” belongs in a sentence where it means one thing is a consequence of another. For instance, “His home blew away, SO he was homeless.”

But as the first word in a conversation? “So…” has gone viral, or become a meme, or *something*, and I tried to figure out why. Perhaps people don’t want to be interrupted or thought dumb, so instead of “Well” or “Uh,” they say, “So…” to alert you that they’re about to say something.

Also, how many times lately have you heard a politician or interviewee on TV or radio say, in non-answer to a question, “That’s a great question?” Every day people at City Council meetings are even using it. Good grief, if all the questions people asked before someone said that actually *were* great, fine. But the phrase, repeated several times during an interview or conversation, is not a reflection of the quality of the question. It’s just a speed bump, a breather, a two-second “think of plausible response” tic. “Let me think a second” would sound as if you didn’t know the answer. “Hmm” or the formerly popular “Y’know…” are out of fashion. It seems everyone’s doing the “great question” dodge these days.

As long as I’m griping about grammar here, the most recent thing that I dislike, even more than anchovies (ugh), is “change up” or “change out,” when “change” alone will do. A person says they’re going to “change up” their workout routine. Or they’re going to “change out” one light bulb for another. My solution: Out with the “out” and the “up.”

worn-out sneakers


Finally of course, there’s the ubiquitous “snuck” instead of the perfectly good “sneaked.” Recently I heard someone use “sneaked” as the past tense of “sneak,” and I wanted to hug that person. But the trend is toward “snuck.” Even the OED people have no problem with “snuck.” I question their standards. Question: If your sneakers are worn out, is it okay to say they are “snuckered?” Oh, well, maybe I’m stuck in the 19th century, but I cannot make myself say “snuck,” especially since it’s an ugly, blunt word. Yes, words do have shapes, and some sound lovelier than others.

What other words annoy me? Say, that’s a great question! So… What words or usages drive you up a wall? Let me know, so I can start using them on people who say “snuck!”

Freelance Writer Files: What is Beauty?

“There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
-Francis Bacon

That’s a tweet I posted this morning. It’s a strange one that I didn’t quite “grok” right away. But when I thought of a project that required screening beautiful women for work as a principal in a TV commercial, I got it.

Picasso woman

Picasso woman

Casting for a TV commercial usually begins with looking at lots and lots of photo “head shots” of models and actors. Out of those, you choose the ones you think have potential to fit your need, and if they’re local, you invite them in, so you can see them in person. Heck, they might be photoshopped to look beautiful. You’d want to know that before hiring them.

We selected three or four women to come in for personal interviews, all of whom were beautiful in their pictures. But in person, what a surprise! Were these the same women we’d selected?

One model’s face actually looked a bit misshapen. The two sides didn’t match. Another one’s nose seemed a size too large for her face. The third looked just plain homely.

These models didn’t come in without makeup, looking as if they had just fallen out of bed. They were made up to look as pretty as they could — in person. And they certainly didn’t look like candidates for Miss America. But soon, I was to learn something valuable.

The eye of the beholder...

The eye of the beholder…

When we did video auditions with our candidates, these women revealed their true beauty. In a magical way, it is true that the camera loves some faces. These rather ordinary-looking (or even peculiar-looking) women became lovely and engaging, even fascinating, in the eye of the camera.

So I understand what Bacon meant in that quote. Now I try to look at every person through the eye of a transforming camera. You’d be amazed how much more beautiful they all look!

Freelance Writer Files: Which or that?

Do you ever furrow your brow and chew your pencil (What’s a “pencil” these days?) about whether “which” or “that” is the proper word to use in a sentence? You know there must be some rule besides, “That sounds funny.” But you’re still all at sea.

Well, fear not, there is a rule, or rather, a tricky difference between a “restrictive relative clause” and a “non-restrictive relative clause.” I can see your eyes glazing from all the way over here, just as they did in English class. Well, don’t fret. This isn’t a big deal to learn.

Take a look at the following two sentences:
• He returned the book, which was due.
• He returned the book that was due.

Both of these sentences are correct. In both these sentences, the “which” or “that” was introducing a “restrictive relative clause.” That’s a clause that gives you important information about the noun before it. The meaning of the sentence would be different if you left out that clause. Restrictive relative clauses can kick off with the words that, which, whose, who, or whom.

But there’s another type of relative clause, a non-restrictive relative clause. You could think of the “non” as the beginning of “non-essential,” because even if you left out the clause, the meaning of the sentence probably wouldn’t change much. Non-restrictive clauses can begin with which, whose, who, or whom. Using “that” to introduce them is a no-no.

Examples of sentences with proper usage of non-restrictive relative clauses:
• She watered the plants, which made the leaves damp.
• A GPS would have made it easier to navigate through the neighborhood, which had few street signs.

The giveaway that you’re looking at a non-restrictive clause is a comma before the “which.” There is none before a restrictive clause.

Non-restrictive: He bought her a ring, which he slipped into his pocket.
Restrictive: He slipped a ring that he bought for her into his pocket.

Examples of incorrect usage:
• Here are the papers which you need to sign. (Use “that.” Or neither “that” nor “which.” It’s clear what the sentence means without either.)
• Here are the people that signed up for the class. (Trick example. Always use “who” for people. This would be a restrictive clause, because what comes after “that” or “who” is essential information.)
• She was defrosting the fish which she wanted to cook for dinner.”
(Should be “that.”)

There may be some sentences that stump you about “which” or “that,” but if you’re really stuck, sometimes the easiest answer is to rewrite the sentence to eliminate the problem. Tricks of the trade, m’dear. (wink)