Friday, January 27, 2012

Publishing and $$$

A writer is not a minstrel or a street artist whom you can throw a few coins at for their skills or service. Don't get me wrong though, I'm in no way denigrating street performers here, many of them have great talent. But that is how it works, they strum some lovely tune, and the onlooker fishes out some spare change to show their appreciation.

Ah but it does not work that way in the world of publishing! Though some people/organisations seem to think so. After 12 years in the industry, it amazes me how stingy people can be when it comes to paying writers and allocating an editorial budget.

Many companies seem to be rather tight fisted when it comes to editorial expenses. They think they can run an editorial department on a shoestring budget and still produce a top notch publication. Don't believe me? Open any magazine, whether it's those sold at newsstands or circulated to a limited audience - the editorial staff working on the issue (not including the sales and marketing team) will likely be skeletal at best.



Let me give you an example, I once went for an interview with a company that runs a property advertising portal. They are regional and are listed on the stock exchanges of several countries. They publish property related news on their website and a monthly magazine. Now that's a fair amount of work.

The surprising part is that the editor who interviewed me was actually running a one man-show (sourcing, writing, editing, proof reading, taking photographs) until management finally allowed her to hire a junior writer. The position I was being interviewed for was senior writer. However I declined the call for a second interview because based on their editorial budget, even matching my previous salary would have been a stretch. The last I heard, the said editor is no more there.

If management thinks it is important to have a publication because it adds value to their business, they should be willing to invest in it (hiring good talent to produce quality output). The trend however seems to be to hire juniors/those that come cheap, but to expect a mountain in return from these novices.

Anyone Can Write

Yeah rite! Being able to string a sentence together and speak the language does not make one a writer. That is stuff we all learnt in school. What separates a writer from an average person with good language skills is flair. To all those who think otherwise, flair cannot be acquired from textbooks or drummed into a person. You either have it or you don't.

Writers are not a dime a dozen, there are more doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers graduating on an average than writers. So we are a rare breed. Be willing to invest in us. Will you cut back on good medical or legal service? No right? So be willing to fork out the appropriate amount of $$$...... for a talented and experienced writer.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Too Old to Write?

If you aspire to be a flight attendant with MAS or SIA, you must be young, svelte and pretty - or at the very least pleasing to the eye, coz it er.... soothes the nerves of travellers? Well I never quite understood the emphasis on looks in terms of being an air hostess.

OK fine, perhaps it's because you have to walk up and down a narrow aisle in a tight kebaya, so you gotta be young, lithe and fit. But is one ever too old to be a writer and write good copy? Especially if a person is still in their 30s? The last time I checked, being in your 30s means being in your prime.

So naturally I was surprised bordering aghast when I came across this job advertisement from JobStreet in my inbox sometime ago.


In a nutshell Avon Cosmetics is looking for a copywriter between 23 to 35 years old. This is the first time I am seeing a job advertisement with an age limit. I'm 34 years old, should I apply? Even if the job was the right fit for my talents, I would give it a miss. Why? Because working for a company that practices ageism makes me uncomfortable.

When I first came across this advert, I tried to examine the reasons why the hiring company might have worded it in that manner:

They might have wanted to filter out candidates who are too senior in experience. If that was the case, should they not have written years of experience required? The advert only states that a candidate should have a minimum of two years experience, no maximum. However age and experience are two different things, a younger person might have chalked up more working experience than an older person who could have started out later.

Maybe the target market for their cosmetics are young women, so they assume that a younger writer would be able to relate better to this bracket of consumers? Doesn't quite gel.......from what I know, a lot of older women use Avon Cosmetics too, I have many aunties who do! They consider it a trusted brand which they have used through the years.

Even if Avon was targeting a younger segment of consumers, I don't see why an older writer would not be able to write great copy to entice this market. The job of a writer is to put themselves in the shoes of the person they are communicating to and write copy that will appeal to their chosen audience.

To do this, a writer does not have to belong to the same social strata/age group/ have the same likes or dislikes/ be of the same sex. All they need is good research skills, the ability to put themselves in the shoes of their target audience and great writing skills of course!

So Avon Cosmetics you're either indulging in ageism or your hiring manager can't even write a proper job advertisement. I sure hope there aren't many companies out there with a similar mentality, for it sure ain't good news for people with great talent and a wealth of experience who unfortunately don't fall within a certain age bracket.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gunning for Change [Part 2]

Have you ever been disgruntled over an unfair regulation or practise in your community or country? Felt that there was nothing much you could do about it? Don't have the time or the resources to pursue your grievances? Well there's now an easier way of being heard, garnering support for your cause and initiating the change that you want.

Welcome to the era of internet petitions! It's been around for sometime now, and many folks in America and Europe have made good use of it. I'm not sure how well known this form of petitioning is in this part of the world. We could sure use more of this sort of advocacy to get our complacent third world bureaucrats off their cushy seats!

How it Works

A petition is posted on a website. Visitors to the website who read your petition and want to support it can add their email addresses and names. After enough signatures have been collected, the petition is then delivered to the subject of the petition via e-mail. There are several online petition sites, of these, the most well known and fastest growing is Change.org.

Change.org was started in 2006 by Ben Rattray and Mark Dimas, two former Stanford University classmates. The reach of this site however is global, they don't just solve problems in their own backyard. The following are some of their victories:



PayPal apologizes for celebrating upper caste pride in India
http://www.change.org/petitions/apologize-for-celebrating-upper-caste-pride

China frees acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei after landmark Change.org campaign
http://www.change.org/petitions/call-for-the-release-of-ai-weiwei

Toronto City Council bans sale of shark fins
http://www.change.org/petitions/support-a-shark-fin-ban-in-toronto

Getting Started

Go to Change.org, click on "Start a Petition" and you are on your way to starting your own grassroots campaign!
Here's how the template looks like:



How to create an effective petition

  • Create a short and attention grabbing title.
  • Your petition letter should be short and concise, describe the problem and your proposed solution. You can also include supporting documentation relevant to your petition.
  • Images are powerful at conveying a message, find a suitable image or create your own.
  • Videos also have great impact. Include one if you can.
  • Publicise your petition, post it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, your blog, send out emails. Some offline promotion would be great too. 

Don't worry that your petition will not be noticed. Change.org will take you through the steps of creating an effective online petition that gets results. Once you provide the email address of your target, each time a supporter signs your petition, an email is directly sent to that person. Imagine receiving thousands of protests emails, now that would be hard to ignore right?