Don’t Call Me a Copywriter – I Write Content

CSwainLogo 2

The first thing I do after walking into the restaurant and into the room reserved for the networking meeting is wave to the attending waitress and order a beer. Then I turn to the greeter who signs me in with a warm smile and gives me my pre-printed nametag, conveniently swinging on a lanyard – Colleen Swain, Content Writer. I’m relieved about the lanyard because I don’t like fumbling with pinning the nametag on my jacket, or worrying about pinning it wrong. Is it the right or left side? I can never remember. Centering it in the middle works for me.

I’m a leftie, but I say I’m ambidextrous – sort of. When I was little, my mom insisted that I eat with my right hand. She’d say, “I won’t have you banging elbows with people at the table.” I navigate my computer mouse with my right hand, too. It just feels right. (no pun intended) Other than that, I’m very much left-handed. So, the networking etiquette of remembering which side to wear a nametag can be a problem.

It takes a while for me to warm up at these networking events. The beer helps. I take a modest sip and scan the room looking for a familiar face, but remembering names of people I’ve met before  is another problem. Thank goodness for those nametags.

What Do You Do?

A woman, perhaps in her fifties, walks up to me. We haven’t met before. I can’t help feeling a little awkward staring at her chest to read her name and what she does for a living, even though she’s staring at my chest too. And then this happens:

“A content writer, eh?” So you’re a copywriter?” An image of Peggy Olson in a scene from “Mad Men” pitching a concept for selling lipstick flashes before me.

I run my tongue over my teeth, smile, and say, “Well, not exactly.”

Then I try to explain what I do.

“I’ve written ads, but my expertise is focused more on writing content that will help a business promote their brand online as well as in print.”

“Oh,” she says. She gives me a blank look. “So, what do you mean by ‘content’?

That’s when I realize that maybe to her the term “content” means stuff contained in something, like the percentage of hops in my beer.

The Internet Changes Everything

I flash back to the mid 90s, before computers changed how we work. I can see myself typing an inter-office memo using an IBM electric typewriter, making copies on a Xerox copier and then walking around the office to manually deliver them to each employee, (no e-mail). I’d archive the original in a three-ring binder stored with other binders dated by year in a jammed-full file cabinet. What a waste of paper, space, and time back then!

Then I flash forward to 2000. By then, my boss, the communications director, was pressuring the CEO to invest in building a website. “It’s the future we can’t afford to ignore,” he said. It was a hard sell. We got the go-ahead, but we had no idea how to do it. We were a department of marketing wordsmiths – not techies. This new language of web code was way over our heads. We had no choice but to succumb to the mercy of programmers – and they had no concept of marketing whatsoever.

It was a learn-as-you-go strategy, if you can call it that. We ended up with hundreds of web pages crammed with hard-to-read copy.

We had to fix it.

That’s about when I attended my first seminar on website writing and was tasked to bring back what I learned to the marketing team. It was called “How to Write Killer Content” with Gerry McGovern, offered by Marketing Profs, a leading educational training resource for marketers.

That may have been the first time I heard the term “content” in relation to writing for the Web. And, I realize, this may be the first time my new acquaintance – her nametag says “Accountant” – has met someone who writes it.

As Simon Dumenco, columnist for Advertising Age, put it, “I remember when people first started referring to ‘content.’ The term really gained currency circa Web 1.0 – during that moment when coders gained the upper-hand, and creative types, backed into a corner, felt compelled to defensively declare things like ‘Content is King’ … When I was a kid, nobody talked about words and pictures as ‘content.’” (Yup! I remember.)

At the seminar, I also remember noticing a young woman sitting in the back of the room. She was on the Marketing Profs team and she was monitoring McGovern’s presentation. I don’t know what her title was then but Ann Handley has built herself a reputation in the marketing world as a top digital marketer and writer. She is now their Chief Content Officer. Way to go!

And I am a content writer. But even at my last full-time job, just a few years back, that wasn’t my title. It was “Copywriter,” though I wasn’t writing ads. My job was to help the SEO Manager get our company website ranked on the first page of Google. (Hmmm. My accountant friend definitely won’t know what SEO means.) That was just about the time when Google wised up to the bad practices of SEO (search engine optimization) that used link-building trickery and poor-quality, keyword-stuffed writing spitted out by writers working for content mills. I never bought into it.

Unfortunately, now that I’m freelance, I’m still competing with lower-paid content-mill writers, though all signals point to the demise of content mills. The trend – finally – is to produce quality content that delivers value. Thank you Google. “Content is King” after all.

Gerry McGovern said as much in the Introduction of his book, Killer Web Content, “The Web runs on content. It is its hidden asset, its gold. Yet for so long it has been treated like coal – a low-grade, low-cost commodity best published in bulk… I have always taken a content first, technology second approach…the best website creators know that it’s the content that counts now.” Yes! And this was before Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm changes were made to ensure quality content on the Web.

Ann Handley, in her book, Everybody Writes, stated, “Writing matters more now, not less. Our online words are our emissaries: They tell our customers who we are…and that means you have to put a new value on an often-overlooked skill…how to write, and how to tell a true story well.”

What Is Content?

So what do I mean by content? I tell my “numbers” lady that it’s everything she finds online to read, listen to or watch – packaged in different ways – from flash ads to YouTube videos to articles she finds when searching for info on anything that may interest her, like the latest tax codes. It’s also print stuff, such as junk mail, or the brochure she picks up at her doctor’s office.

I love to write – always have. And, yes, I’ve worked as a copywriter in the past, but the term “content writer” better describes what I do now.

“I get it,” she says, as we walk together to the buffet table to fill our plates with appetizers, “So, if I ever want a website for my business, you can write it for me?”

“Absolutely. And anything else you may need to market your accounting business.”

We join a table of other attendees and sit down to make new contacts.

And then we come to the portion of the meeting when each person in the room stands up, introduces themselves and gives a very brief (under one minute) “elevator speech’ about what they do.

Just when I decide which hand to hold my fork – it’s always a conscious decision and sometimes it’s my left (sorry Mom!) – it’s my turn.

“Hi, I’m Colleen Swain. I’m a content writer. In essence, I’m a brand storyteller. I help businesses, from startups to national corporations, build awareness about their brand by crafting clear, concise content for their web and print communications that is original, engaging, optimized, and shared.”


Need a content writer?  Contact me and let’s team up.

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No One is Watching, So Get into the Zumba and Soar

Zumba Women

I am hooked on Zumba. I admit it. When I started taking Zumba classes just over a year ago, I didn’t know too much about this fitness program or what to expect.

What I had heard was that Zumba was very strenuous and kind of wild, and maybe even a little intimidating. So I started my initiation into Zumba with a low-impact class called Zumba Gold. At first I thought “gold” meant that the class was designed for Seniors, but my class included women of all ages, from millennials to baby boomers, with varying levels of fitness aptitude. I fit right in.

Wow! The Music

What grabbed me first was the music – a diverse, international blend of mostly Latin-based rhythms that was immediately uplifting and liberating. I live and breathe music. I’m one of those people who must have music playing in the background most of the time, so I was naturally attracted to this new-world blend of sounds that very literally made me want to get up and dance.

What a Workout

Of course, the point of Zumba is to move. It’s a high-impact, sweaty, cardio workout, but because I’m moving to this amazing music, it doesn’t feel like I’m exercising at all.

I like to mix up my routine with a combination of regular Zumba (the high-level version I thought I could never do), Zumba Gold, and Zumba Toning, where you use weighted shaker sticks to build up muscle tone. Then, once the music starts, I pulsate right into a different zone where I simply feel like I haven’t a care in the world.

There’s also a unique camaraderie with the other Zumba-loving women in my class – the ones who have also made their one-hour with Zumba a driving ritual for starting – or ending – as many days as their schedule can fit in. We don’t really know each other, but we know we’re having fun. We all share the same big Zumba smile.

The Health Boost

The best thing about Zumba – which is actually a made-up word that means absolutely nothing, but sounds like it does – is how we look and feel.  As we glide across the studio floor in perfect unison with the music and the instructor, we feel strong. We feel empowered. We feel healthy. We look awesome.

This was a gradual realization for me. So much so that, after doing Zumba for about six months, I was surprised when a friend said, “You look more fit and toned than I can ever remember.” I was having such a good time I hadn’t even noticed!

Another surprise happened this past summer while on vacation in New Hampshire. I was hiking up a mountain road I had hiked many times before but I could never make it all the way to the top. This time, I did reach the top with little effort, and with plenty of breath to spare. I was elated.

The big cool was when my daughter gave me a gift of a pair of skinny jeans one size smaller than I usually wear. “Oh come on, “ I said. “I doubt these will fit.” I was wrong. They were a perfect fit. Zumba – Yes!

I guess when you’re living in your own skin you don’t necessarily notice the subtle changes going on. At least, that’s how it’s been for me. My advice, if you decide to give Zumba a try, is to stick with it. You’ll burn fat, improve muscle tone, gain energy, improve cognition (you really have to think about those left and right steps) and you’ll feel great.

Fitness Success

I love Zumba, but apparently I’ve been late to the party.  Zumba Fitness® has been around for over 10 years, and is not only one of the most successful fitness programs around, it is a successful business model for entrepreneurs too.

In 2012, Inc. Magazine named Zumba Fitness the Company of the Year. It has its own brand of unique fitness swag that includes clothing, CDs, DVDs, and licensing packages to help instructors run their own Zumba business. And, according to the Zumba Web site, more than 14 million women and, yes, men, in 150 countries take Zumba classes.  Including me!

My Zumba instructor likes to say, “Dance like no one is watching.”  How liberating is that? It doesn’t matter if you’re not a natural-born dancer. Don’t make that an excuse. Just try it. Give it some time. Get into the zone. Think that it’s just you, the instructor, and the music. No one else is watching, after all. Get into the beat. Shake off the rest of the world – and soar.

Need a content writer?  Contact me and let’s team up.