After years of hard work, it’s time to cut corners

Why is it some folks feel that advertising is simple stuff?

I subscribe to a number of blogs, news feeds, and online groups, and recently came across a question an author had posted, which made me pull the last few remaining hairs on my head completely out of ther folicles. This person had a new book coming out, so had asked a college student to produce the trailer (commercial) for it – and was wondering what the going rate was.

I’m not mentioning the author’s name, because it’s irrelevant to my point; the person is actually very good and has published numerous books already. But there were so many things wrong with the question I didn’t know how or where to begin my answer.

So many questions, so little patience…

My first thought was, why even ask a college student to do something this important? Assuming we’re talking about a traditional, 19- to 22-year-old student, what skills could they possibly possess to be able to market a book effectively?  Other than knowing how to stick video images together and add audio, what do they bring to the table? Does this person understand what a USP* is? Does he/she know the five things every commercial should create – attention, interest, connection, desire, action? Has he/she even written a commercial before?

Then I started thinking about other aspects of the question. Why would you ask an amateur to produce a commercial…then ask around to find out what a rate should be? Do college students even have standardized rates?? Why not ask some professionals what their rates are?

And why not have a professional do it, anyway?

Oh, that’s right…because anyone can write and produce a commercial.

I know, I know, everyone’s on a budget

If a professionally-produced book trailer is going to cost you a thousand dollars and you’re paying for it out of your own pocket…then I completely understand why cost is so important. Believe me, I’m a voice actor/copy writer and father of four who’s been struggling for years to get a book of children’s poetry published; I’m constantly living on a tight budget. Money is always a concern of mine.

I get it.

But think about this:  if your book was written by a professional, edited by a professional, proofed by a professional, illustrated by a professional, agented by a professional, and published by professionals – why entrust the advertising and marketing of it to the lowest bidder? We’re talking about the final step in the long, arduous process of publication…and you’re going to cut corners now?

That’s like an NBA team putting their third string in during the last two minutes of a championship game because heck, they put so much time and effort into the first 46 minutes, the last two minutes really don’t matter.

The ‘Instantaneous Expert’ phenomenon

I’ve worked with numerous businesses over the years, from car dealers to restaurants to mortgage brokers to strip clubs.  Some actually trusted me to write and produce an effective spot for them. (Spots are commercials, in radio jargon) They would tell me to go ahead and do my job because I was the professional. I loved those clients.

Others, unfortunately, would suddenly and mysteriously become radio advertising gurus, even though they had never advertised on radio before. Upon signing a contract to run their very first basic 13-week schedule ever, these business owners miraculously understood all the nuances of copy writing. They would tell me how to start the commercial, they would tell me how to write the commercial, they would tell me the ten million different pieces of information that just had to be included in the commercial.

And, given enough time to write, re-write, re-write, and re-write…I would present them with a highly ineffective commercial. Because the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.

I hate admitting that, to be honest; I’m a perfectionist with a disdain for mediocrity, let alone outright failure. But working as a production director for a large company, I was in no position to excuse myself and walk away from the deal. These days, working for myself, I have the latitude to be able to do that, if I feel it’s necessary.

“Make it wildly creative!  Then again, don’t!”

I recall one commercial in particular that was supposed to be fresh and unique, a bold departure from what the client had been running for years. They wanted something that would immediately stand out from the pack. Something funny, ear-catching, different. A campaign of two or three different spots that all worked together, that they could create some buzz with.

It took awhile, but I came up with three different scripts. Because they utilized multiple voices and sound effects, I went ahead and produced all three so the client would be able to hear – and hopefully better understand – the commercials instead of just reading the scripts. I was quite proud of them.

The client, however, thought they were too creative; could I edit them down and include this, that, and this other thing in the script?


So I rewrote the scripts. They were still too ‘confusing,’ according to the client. Oh, and could I add this and this to the script, as well?

After four rewrites, we were left with a bland, over-stuffed, one-voice commercial – very similar to many of the forgettable spots you hear on the radio and nothing at all like what had been initially requested. And it was approved.  Ironically, the client kept the catch phrase I had created for their original commercial.  This, of course, was pointless, because the catch phrase had everything to do with the original commercial’s concept and nothing to do with the one we were left with.

Advertising. Anyone can do it.

If anyone can do it, let me do your job

If you’re a car dealer, I doubt you’ll let me try to sell your vehicles without training. If you own a restaurant, you’re not going to ask a copy writer to cook your food (although you could ask me, since I’ve done that before). If you value your skills as a plumber, lawyer, book author, or widget salesman, why devalue the skills of others? If your rationale is, ‘anyone can write a commercial’ or ‘how hard can it be?’ then you are seriously underestimating the value of advertising.

Now, don’t start thinking that I’m trying to push my own particular service here. Yes, I write copy. I’ve written hundreds of commercials over 25+ years. And I have voiced and produced probably thousands of radio commercials during that time, as well…so I do know a little something about this.  But I don’t produce videos. I know how to write for video, I have voiced videos…but I don’t produce ’em. So I’m not trying to get anyone to hire me to produce their TV commercial or book or movie trailer.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to need to find someone to produce a video demo for me this year – basically, a series of clips of commercials and videos that showcase my voice to prospective clients – and a college student is the LAST person I’ll ask to do it for me.

This is my life’s work we’re talking about, and it’s worth more than what a college student can offer…no matter what their rate.


* USP = Unique Selling Proposition! Learn more in THIS POST.

Of one-armed strollers and turkey dinners

How often do you do things without thinking about why you do them?

MH900387488 (stroller)Recently, I took my 3-year-old son out for a walk. He doesn’t usually need the stroller for these little jaunts, but today he felt like riding.  After awhile of relaxing and enjoying the scenery, he asked to get out and push. I obliged. He got behind the stroller and started pushing as best he could. The stroller veered to the right and careened to the left and got stuck in the ruts of the road. It was tough going.

I kept telling him it would be easier if he’d use both hands.

But, no – he insisted on using his right hand, and his right hand only.

Why? I wondered.

Then it occurred to me:  he was doing it the way I had taught him.

Immitation ≠ Flattery

You see, I’m a fairly tall fellow, and pushing the stroller with both arms is uncomfortable because I have to hunch my back slightly to reach the handlebar. But I found that by standing upright and just using my right hand – positioned near the left side of the handlebar – I could control the stroller fairly easily and still walk normally.

He had seen me do this, and figured that was the way it was done…and no amount of exhortation to the contrary was going to change his little steel bear trap of a mind.

This was the way dad does it, he probably reasoned, so this is the proper way to do it.

This rationale, however, is not only the bailiwick a 3-year-old.

Doing something just because someone else did it?  You’d never fall for that…

MH900409576 (turkey)I was reminded of a (supposedly true) story I heard several years ago about a young wife who was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. When the turkey was about to be carved, several guests were surprised to see the bag of gizzards (liver, kidneys, etc.) inside the bird.  Rather than take the bag out and cook them separately, she had roasted the bag right there where it was when she bought it.

When asked why she did that, she said it was the way her mom had always cooked it. But since her guests seemed taken aback at the concept, she decided to ask her mom a few days later.

Her mom’s answer? Because that was the way her mom had always done it.

So the young wife went to her grandmother and asked again: why cook the bag of gizzards inside the turkey, instead of taking it out of the bird and cooking them separately? Her grandmother laughed and explained that it had only happened once, when the young woman’s mother was just a child – the grandmother had accidentally forgotten to take the bag out. The experience, however, had stuck with the child, and that was how she subsequently prepared every Thanksgiving turkey.  Consequently, that was how her daughter, this young wife, had learned to do it. Like mother, like daughter.

Two generations of families,preparing their Thanksgiving meals based on a mistake.

Don’t accept the premise

Don’t always accept things at face value. Some things are exactly as they seem – speeding on a highway and spitting into the wind rarely yield positive results – but there are many circumstances we come across every day that could use a closer look:
"What if?"
Do we speak a certain way because that’s the way we were told to? Are there processes or systems where we work that seem cumbersome? Are there family issues that might be resolved by trying something different?

If you’re a voice actor, do you always position your mic the same way? Is it hanging down or standing up? Do you speak to the top, to the front, to the side, which side? Do you get so close you’re eating it, or do you back off 10 inches or more?

If you don’t like poetry, is it because you can’t understand it? Is the poet writing above his/her audience? Does the poetry use antiquated language? Or do you feel like you could write the same kind of thing? Then find poetry you can understand, find poetry that’s more contemporary, or write your own!

When confronted with an issue, ask yourself why…consider an alternative…and then ask, why not?

If I’m told a client always runs a particular type of commercial, I question why I can’t completely change it around the next time.  If I’m told that something has to be done a certain way, I ask why. If I’m told, ‘that’s just the way it’s done,’ I look for answers.

Sometimes they’re good answers. Sometimes I need to come up with new ones.

Don’t settle for the answers you’re given. Don’t assume there’s only one way to do something.

And don’t roast your turkey with the giblet bag.

Poetry Friday: #MMPoetry is underway!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllRather than read today’s poem here, I’m kindly requesting that you head over to the #MMPoetry competition hosted by Ed DeCaria at Think, Kid Think! to read it there.

Why? Because the March Madness Poetry (#MMPoetry) competition just got underway this week, and all the participants would love for you to see what’s going on!  64 competitors from around the globe (Yours Truly included) have been given words ranked according to their difficulty and are charged with creating children’s poems using those words.

For instance, my randomly-assigned word was a#14 seed, so it was pretty tough: “verjuice.” (in case you’re a normal person who’s never heard that word before, it refers to the liquid that comes from fermented grapes and apples, from the French, vert jus)  My competitor, the lovely and talented Robyn Hood Black, received a word seeded #3: “awry.”

MMPoetry - R1F2-Humor-3-awry-vs-14-verjuiceWe each had only 36 hours to create a children’s poem using our word. You can read both of our poems HERE and vote for your favourite!  You can also search the scoreboard (or click HERE) and see all the other poems written for this tournament and vote on those, as well. Some of the words are ridiculously hard, too – like meretricious, flaccid, and anthropomorphication.  Yes, you read that correctly. Some poor souls had to put those words in children’s poems. And they all did a marvelous job, too!

One caveat, though: the polls close at around 9:40pm – that’s tonight, Fri. March 15!  After that, the poems will still be available to read, but you won’t be able to vote on them. Whoever wins move on to the Second round!

And once you finish reading those 64 poems…if you still crave even MORE poetry… Jone MacCulloch at Check it Out has even more, as today’s Poetry Friday hostess!

Little books = Big impact

When was the last time you thought about the books you read as a child?

Were the kids tiny or were the animals huge? It didn’t matter. To me, the pictures were cool – and that’s all that mattered!

It occurred to me the other day just how big a role picture books and other books for children play in developing not just reading ability and comprehension, but developing personality.  Of course, it’s not breaking news that children who read develop language and communication skills, bigger vocabularies, and better attention spans and memory retention. But I’m talking about how those books shape who we are today.

I’ve previously talked a little bit about the impact our experiences as children have on our adult lives.  In one of my very first posts, I wrote about how my love of old-time radio drama lead me into the world of radio and voiceovers, and asked readers to think about that one ‘defining moment’ they may have had as a child that is probably responsible for where they are today.

This time around, I’d like to ask you to think about your most memorable children’s books. Not necessarily your favourite books – although you certainly can – but those books you remember reading as a child that, for some reason, you still remember today. And I’ll bet that if you look at them as a collective, you’ll see yourself in a new light.

(Imagination + compassion + attention to detail) ÷ sense of humour = Matt

mr snitzelLooking back at the books I remember most fondly, I can definitely see why I am the person I am.  One of my favourites when I was very young was Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies, by the wonderful Jane Flory. The story is simple, but teaches a classic message of giving:

Mr. Snitzel, a baker, has only a handful of flour and a couple of raisins left in his otherwise bare cupboard – so he closes his shop for the night, wondering what he’ll do. That evening, a poor beggar comes along and asks if Mr. Snitzel could spare any food. Mr. Snitzel kindly explains the situation and says if he had anything, he’d be more than happy to help. The beggar suggests that Mr. Snitzel look in the cupboard again. To his amazement, there is, indeed, enough food to make something, which he does.

When the beggar asks if he can sleep there, Mr. Snitzel obliges, although he doesn’t have much room. (My memory is foggy, but Mr. Snitzal may actually give up his bed for the beggar) When morning comes, the beggar is gone. Mr. Snitzel goes to his shop and opens his cupboards, expecting barely nothing – and what do you know, they’re full of flour and raisins and candy and all the things that a good baker needs to make wonderful treats and be happy!

A familiar tale, told in a different way, with a golden message.

As for the bizarre iamgination…

Land of NoomLook no further than this absolutely mind-blowing book written by Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy. The Magical Land of Noom is part Wizard of Oz, part Alice in Wonderland, part magic mushroom ride. A large hardcover, this was a hefty book, filled with beautiful yet eerie illustrations of horses dressed like grandmothers, odd toadstool-like trees, and Mad Hatter-ish characters.

Noom page aIt was both intensely intriguing yet also freakishly unsettling – almost scary – in a way. Not scary as in Please-stop-the-nightmares scary, but scary in an Aliens-just-landed-and-although-I-should-run-I-just-have-to-see-what they’re-going-to-do-next! sort of way.

As for the story, I don’t recall. But I’ll never be able to get the picture of that grandma horse out of my head.

Speaking of imagination…

dinosaur bookWhat better way to spark a young child’s imagination than with fantastic, strange, and ominous creatures that actually EXISTED here on earth, millions of years ago? Dinosaurs: A Little Golden Book by Jane Watson was another one of my favourite books.

I would stare at the pages over and over again, paying close attention to the colourful scales of brachiosaur, the armor of ankylosaurus, and long, sharp teeth and claws of Tyrannosaurus Rex. I probably learned how to pronounce – and spell – words like archaeopteryx and pteradactyl long before I learned the names of other animals that are actually still in existence.

I’ll tell you something else: I can’t guarantee that all these dinosaur names are correctly spelled because I didn’t bother looking them up – but I’ll bet you good money I got ’em all right.  Tell me picture books don’t help develop attention to detail.

SnoopyWho doesn’t love Snoopy?

My folks, who gave me all of the books I’ve spotlighted here, knew I liked Peanuts. I still have the Snoopy coffee mug they gave me nearly 40 years ago, and both of my daughters (nearly 18 and 21) AND my 3-year-old son have all used my original red-and-white Charlie Brown knitted winter hat. Yes, it’s at least 40 years old. No, it doesn’t look like it. They made things to last, back in the good ol’ days.

Whoops, sorry.  Started to sound like a grumpy old man there. I guess it’s my genes.

Anyway…this was a collection of comic strips put together in picture-book format, so it didn’t look or feel like a collection of strips. I just loved reading about Snoopy pretending to battle the Red Baron, crash landing across enemy lines and making his way back through barbed wire, stopping at a little French cottage for some vichyssoise (potato soup) with a pretty maiden, then becoming emotionally torn when he has to say goodbye…

It’s classic Snoopy. Fun stuff, and something I can definitely point to as helping to shape my appreciation for humour.

That, and the fact that my dad and I would watch Monty Python, The Goodies, and Fawlty Towers for hours on end. I’m thinking that had something to do with it, as well…but that’s another post.

What about you?

Can you think of those childhood books you loved so much? Or even the ones that might not have been favourites…but which for some reason stick in your memory? Make a list of four or five books, and spend some time looking them over and thinking about what impact they may have had on you. These books I’ve mentioned were not the only ones I loved or remember – I enjoyed Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak and others – but these are the ones that immediately come to mind as having shaped who I am today.

These are the books that spurred me to start reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and all the other books I fell in love with through high school and college. I see now that I am a product of not just my genetics and my environment, but of my experiences reading.

How about you? Want to learn more about your literary geneology? All it takes is a little trip down memory lane to that library in your head!


QUESTION: My first book of children’s poems contained this poem: “Little green inchworm, inchworm, inch./ You don’t bite and you don’t pinch./ Never did anybody any harm./ So take your little green walk up my arm.” Does anyone have ANY idea what this book was, who wrote it, or who published it? I used to love it – and it obviously set me on my current poetry path – but I can’t find it anywhere!  >sigh<

Poetry Friday: “The Search”

For today, I thought I’d stick with the more serious tone I had taken with last week’s poem…although this is definitely a little livelier!  Much of my children’s poetry is humourous, but I’ve been working on a collection of poems that deal with inspiration, dreams, and encouragement – and this just sort of popped out of nowhere and almost
poetryfridaybutton-fulllwrote itself. (Yes, I have multiple poetry collection manuscripts I’m writing simultaneously; I figure if one of them gets picked up, at least I’ll have plenty more where that came from!)

Hope you like it. Speaking of ‘more where that came from’…make sure you visit this week’s Poetry Friday hostess, Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe, for the complete, poetic round-up!

“The Search”

I went on a journey
Of faraway places;
Travelled new roads,
Discovered new faces,
Saw the Great Pyramid,
Walked the Great Wall,
Spoke in strange tongues
I barely recall,
Sheltered in catacombs
Rarely explored,
Rode a king’s horses,
Laid down his sword,
Sailed around islands
In tropical climes,
Caught up with pirates,
Paid for their crimes,
Crawled with the sidewinders,
Swam with the rays,
Ran with a cheetah,
Sang with the jays,
Danced with the dolphins,
Scaled rocks with a ram,
Slept with a lion,
Lay with a lamb,
And though there are tales
That are yet to be penned
Still, my adventures
Have come to an end
And I have to concede
Where I may have been wrong…
What I thought had been lost,
Was here all along.

© 2013 Matt Forrest Esenwine

The Importance of Doing

While sitting in church this past Sunday, something occurred to me:  “how” we do something is not nearly as important as actually doing it.

Let me explain…

No matter where you go in the world, one of the most – if not the most – important parts of a Christian mass is what is termed the ‘Celebration of the Eucharist,” or, as most people refer to it, receiving Communion. As part of this ceremony, each member of the congregation takes a piece of bread (or, as Catholics call it, a ‘host’) as a symbol of the bread that Jesus Christ shared with his Apostles on the night before he was arrested, and eats it in remembrance of that Last Supper.

But it’s not so simple, you see.

Breaking bread can get complicated

Some Christian religions, like the Catholic faith, perform this ritual during every mass – whether it’s a regular Sunday morning, a wedding, a funeral, a Holy Day of Obligation…you name it. While some Protestant faiths do the same, many only do it on Sunday, or even just one Sunday each month.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, in fact, only do it once a year, during what they call The Memorial, which is their version of an Easter mass.  Yet, although all congregation members are offered the ceremonial bread, only a very select few actually partake of it.

There are other differences, too. Some churchs serve traditional unleavened bread; others prefer leavened.  Some churches only allow the priest to serve it; others allow ordinary folks designated as ‘lay ministers’ to serve it. While one church may require you to stand, another may have you kneel, while another has you sit.

Some churches are quiet during the ceremony; some play music.

No matter how Christians do it, though, the important thing is…they do it.

What’s keeping you from doing?

So as I sat there in the pew, I began thinking about all the variables we encounter
in our lives, and all the roadblocks we put in front of ourselves. When we fall in love, we wonder if we should tell the other person our feelings. After a date, we wonder whether we should call or text the other person back too soon, or not soon enough. We see a job position available that we’d really like to apply for…but we doubt we’re qualified.

Parents worry they don’t spend enough time with their kids. Actors and voice artists question whether we should audition for a gig. Poets agonize over which adjective is best to describe a mountain.

It feels like we all spend so much time debating with ourselves over whether we should do something, or how we should do something…that we end up never doing.

In fact, as I write this post, it’s 10:16pm EST on Monday night, and the reason it’s so late is because I spent the last two days wondering if I should use this idea as a blog post!

“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” – author Dan Zadra

I’m not sure why so many of us, myself included, come up with so many reasons to not do something we want to do. Perhaps it’s because of fear of failure. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown.

Perhaps it’s because maintaining the status quo is also the path of least resistance.

Whatever the reason, it seems to me that there’s a lot more worrying in this world than there is doing. Granted, if you want to skydive, you can’t just go jump out of a plane. If you want to quit your job to spend more time with family, you need to assess your finances. If you want to be an author, you need to learn how to write.  (Although these days, it seems that requirement is sadly becoming less and less necessary)

But if you’re not doing anything to achieve these goals – why worry or complain about your lack of ever reaching them?

“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?”  –Śāntideva, Buddhist monk

Bottom line: worrying, debating, and stressing are not doing. The Christian churches don’t worry about whether they should sit during Communion or stand, whether they use unleavened bread like Jesus did or a loaf of regular whole wheat, or whether they should do it daily, weekly, or monthly.

They just do it.

Why don’t you? If you want to have a particular career, don’t just talk about it – do something to get yourself there. Parents, leave the dirty bathroom for another day and go outside and play with your kid. Poets, write the damn line about the stupid mountain and then go back and revise.

If you love someone, tell them! It’s time for all of us to get things done!

I, for one, am going to stop worrying, debating, and analyzing every decision I make. And that’s something I know I can do.