Barry Feldman On Writing to Be Remembered [Interview]
By John Bonini
As part of our BlogAbout Interview Series, we're speaking with authors, speakers, and TED Presenters on all things content. Get your content ideas with the BlogAbout tool.
"I think the bloggers that are going to be remembered as great bloggers are the ones who would have done it for free."
This is why you'll never be Barry Feldman.
In an industry where lazy curation and half-assed writing are a means for achieving volume, many businesses view blogging as a chore even when they're being paid to do it.
Great writers romanticize over their craft. Over the seemingly innate capacity to inspire action simply through their ability to articulate ideas. Over creating something great for the reader.
This is how Feldman makes his living. By caring more than others do about the art of creating content.
The space for online and content marketing agencies has never been more crowded. Yet Feldman Creative manages a reputation that very few have in the industry in relation to quality.
I recently caught up with Feldman to discuss all things related to online and content marketing.
Who is Barry Feldman? Describe what it is that you do and your expertise.
Feldman Creative is a virtual shop so to speak. I founded it, I’m Barry Feldman. I come from a writing background and I grew up in the ad agency business. I dabbled in public relations and grew through the ranks of copywriter and creative director.
And then in the mid-90s I ultimately decided to leave and become a freelance copywriter. Right about that time had been the advent of all things Internet, so I’ve been writing online marketing since it existed.
Though I have a traditional background in print and broadcast, today I offer a trifecta of things that relate to my strengths, background, and demand in the marketing industry. Specifically that would be content marketing planning, and with that execution, copywriting, and creative direction for just about any type of marketing communications.
As far as your expertise goes, is there anything you'd consider your specialty?
Not really. Vertical industries and I have never really gone together.
I lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years, so “when in Rome”...
I was surrounded by cutting edge technology, companies of the traditional variety (semiconductors, computers, and peripherals.)
I don’t go out of my way to call myself a specialist in that or any industry because I really write for companies all over the world, of all different sizes, in just about every category. I suppose there’s a few that are a bad fit for me but I don't even separate B2B and B2C. I’m very much a generalist today.
Who has inspired you and the work that you do?
I’ve been writing all-things digital since they’ve become part of the fray, however I drag my feet a little bit on blogging. Well, I drag my feet a lot on blogging and some of the other things that would now be considered inbound marketing.
So I’ve realized the error of my ways if you will, and decided that it’s time to learn. It was just four years ago when I cracked open the book Inbound Marketing from HubSpot. So I began with that book and I continue today to be a big fan of the things that HubSpot has to say.
Along the way I’ve discovered a lot of authors, a lot of blogs, people, and resources, so it’s been an inside story if you will.
What would you say is a purpose as a writer?
My purpose is to be helpful. You’re going to be a one-trick pony if you fake that coming out of the gate. So I’m reminding myself all the time, “who are these people, and how can I help them?”
Obviously you’re marketing, so in the long-term you’re helping them, and if you’ve created a friendship and a loyal relationship, they’re going to come to you. So that’s the big idea, right? You want them in your circle.
You're one of the more active writers in the content marketing communities. How much of your day is spent writing?
Oh, I wish I had the answer to that. I’m going to go with four hours, but I do not know.
I do it in fits and spurts because sometimes you’re on a roll and sometimes you’re not.
Unlike a lot of other writers, sometimes for me it fires fairly late in the evening with background noise such as pets, children, television, and stereos. Usually even later than that when things get quiet, but during the work day I’m mixing up planning, consulting, phone work, my own self-promotions, life – so it’s rare that I write for more than a couple hours in a row.
You’re a writer, it’s exhausting, and it takes a lot of concentration. So I'm going to say four hours, maybe on a good day six.
Six hours, wow. Really?
Well you know, probably not. That’s on a really good day.
But when I am pretty prolific, it tends to roll.
It’s almost immeasurable how much I write, because most of what I write is happening in places other than in front of my keyboard. You know what I mean? I think through what I’m going to write before I do it.
How long would you say it takes to create a great blog post?
I don’t mean to sound like a dunce after all the experience that I’ve had in copywriting, but that 4-6 hours I mentioned is one story.
The start is thinking about the angle, topic, the concept that you might involve and probably doing some reading and researching, maybe doing some interviewing if that’s the case, so that slows the process down.
From there you have the first draft, hopefully a second draft, and hopefully not a third draft. I mean, at some point you’ve got to hit publish. So I would say that’s how long a great blog takes, and there’s no remedy for that.
So I don’t think it can be done tremendously fast. When I’ve talked to other copywriters turned bloggers, they’ve often agreed and even sometimes said it takes even more time.
On the other hand, I have a process that’s probably not unlike other copywriters where I have a lot of unfinished pieces.
So a lot of times, at any unpredictable time often during a shower, on a drive, during some form of exercise, during a time when I’m trying to not work, I’ll get an idea or two. So at the next opportunity, I’ll record it here or there, often times in my smartphone, and then I’ll plug it into either Evernote or WordPress, or just begin a normal word processor-style document and then save it somewhere in my bucket that is “to-do.”
So it’s possible that in 4-6 hours I finished three stories, because I’ll a lot of times take them to the one yard line.
There are probably 15 unfinished pieces in my “to-do” pile. I’ll finish most of them, but some of them I’ll go back to and ask myself, “what was I thinking?”
What you said there was pretty interesting. A lot of writers wait for that moment of inspiration to hit. That a-ha moment. Does it exist? Or do great writers find a way to put the proverbial pen to the paper and just write?
That's a tough one, John. This is one person’s perspective. There’s going to be a line where I am wrong, and a lot of people might get pissed off, but I think you do need that moment of inspiration to be great.
I think there are writers who think about their art a lot, and that’s the most important thing. They’ve developed a writer’s mentality. They’re trying to push the limits and the borders a little bit, you know. They’re trying to break ground. They’re trying to be whatever it is that they’re trying to be - provocative, funny, you know lots of different adjectives that might describe your style and trademark.
So I think that’s the writer that consistently has the ability to create great stuff.
You could be a competent, efficient, prolific, and perhaps very good blogger otherwise. So I’m not shutting down the idea of you being very, very good with your two hour window of writing time, with a long editorial calendar where you just pick one out next. I think that’s fine, that good work, and that should work for a lot of companies. But you can almost sense by the way that was described that that’s work, you know? It might be a bit of a drag to you, a lot of sweat and so that person might not do as well. They burn out faster.
I think the bloggers that are going to be remembered as great bloggers are the ones who would have done it for free.
Like Magic Johnson once said, “I would play basketball for free.” It’s very easy to believe that.
How can marketers and business owners, the ones that either have seen minimal results thus far or are just getting started, avoid mediocrity?
I think you tell yourself you're not going to settle for less than great. If you lose that battle you do indeed settle for mediocrity.
I guess where I’m going with this is that if you did put internal forces and yourself to work, and you learned it was mediocre, it’s time to call a pro.
Have you ever tried working on your car yourself? All you do is mess things up, right? So then you go call a pro, you get someone who knows how to do it.
You’ll figure out later to what degree they’ll help, what they will and won't do, and how much it will cost to bring in some expertise. Now you can make incremental progress through training, but ultimately the dividing line between what’s mediocre and what’s great is this passion. But it also goes back to the authenticity.
I think we were sort of mislead into the need for volume, more pages, and more traffic. While none of that is necessarily untrue, along came all these changes to the Google algorithm which supported that some more.
Content marketing became the new version of SEO, so we might not even play keyword nonsense games, but we stuck with the plan.
The plan was to publish, publish, publish. But if you make it as simple as that, I think that we get it wrong. Your content marketing efforts are focused on getting someone into your website, and I say “big deal.”
Yes, you like to see website traffic go up, you like to know that your efforts are exposed, but that's not the most important tactic. Getting people into your inner circle is the most important tactic.
What is the foundation of a successful content strategy? Should you write about your expertise and aim for that sort of elusive thought leadership?
There are going to be times, places, and industries where it is enough to write about your expertise. River Pools & Spas comes to mind. Marcus Sheridan was a pool pro who discovered HubSpot and inbound marketing, and turned into a marketing leader.
It’s not like he made his pool website suddenly about beaches, bikinis, or sports – it was about pools. So I think that his timing was right, and the market was right.
Right now you have your typical laggers for any category, in terms of anything technical like law, and medicine. So there probably could be leaders that have a pretty simple strategy.
But what about the other companies who are in the business of consumer products? What about people in the business of packaged baked goods? I mean, that aisle is pretty jammed and there’s no shortage of recipe websites. So there you have a whole different challenge and its probably not enough to do the expected, so you’re going to have to get creative.
I like to cite examples about companies who did not create a blog precisely about what you’d expect. One that comes to mind that you read about a lot is Red Bull.
Red Bull is not doing a blog about beverages, they’re doing a blog about extreme sports. So I get this question all the time, and I’m sure you guys do too, “how can I have fun, how can I make my blog good when my products are boring?”
That's a good question, but that's a bad question, because it's the wrong question. Why? Because I don’t care about your products – you care about your products.
The thing is, your blog isn’t about your products, it’s about your prospects. So they’re not boring, they’re human, and humans are interesting.
So go out and figure out what your potential prospect is like, and figure out a blog that they’re going to like. There’s nothing boring about it.
In 2014, is it still possible for a business like Riverside Pools to have that sort of transformation just from blogging?
It's much harder. I don't mean to talk anyone out of it, but the early adopters for any walk of life or business walk down a wider path.
It’s more work now.
I think one thing that you probably do need is variety. The variety of the media type and style is one thing, but the variety of the topic matter is another thing, too.
Marcus Sheridan is well known for his strategy that he calls, “they ask,you answer.” It’s as simple as collecting a long list of questions. You start paying attention to the questions that people ask, you write them down, and those become the titles for your posts, and you’re good for the first year. By then you’ve got the hang of it and you’re sort of catching on.
I would never say don’t do that. That might simply be the foundation. You want those articles on your website because people are going to ask those questions.
But this many years later, in a crowded field, there’s a lot of stake put in how creative you are.
So is that where we go from here? What would be the next step?
Man, you’re asking some tough questions.
Mix it up. You should have some objectives that are documented and then measure them.
That's the beautiful thing about inbound marketing. You’re going to be informed as to what worked and what didn’t. You’ll want to nix the stuff that’s not working, perhaps tweak the stuff that's mediocre, and pound on the stuff that’s working great.
So right now what’s hot is video, infographics, all things mobile-friendly – super lightweight stuff.
I try not to get too excited about statistics on how visual media dominates eyeballs and shares compared to written media. It might, it probably does. We’re on our phones, we’re on the go, and the Internet seems like a good idea, then Instagram seems like a good idea.
But I challenge those statistics because lightweight content gets lightweight engagement. Eyeballs and traffic aren’t the same thing as interest and purchases.
While we should probably look into Instagram, that doesn't mean we should pull the plug on the blog.
You can’t predict this media, things are changing faster than ever and no one knows what’s coming next.
When something new comes out like Jelly – I like to have a good attitude about new media despite the fact that I’m as old as the VCR – so when Jelly came out I downloaded it, now I play with it, and it’s another thing to fit into my day.
It takes a curiosity and an open mind. There’s a lot of built in skepticism when it comes to new media, and I think that whatever is going to be next is going to be led by the people who are willing to try it.
What does your writing process look like?
It's probably a little more flexible than some. I definitely need to coffee up in the morning. I don’t do a lot when I first get up, so I’m not one of those who gets up and goes to the gym or jogs. So I do tend to poke around on my email, and Twitter, and make the rounds. And then it’s a little unpredictable from 10 am - 10 pm.
Like I said, I have fits and spurts, but I’m often in front of my iMac in my home office for long periods of time on a roll. More so on my client work than on my self-promotional work. My self-promotional stuff is a little bit here and a little bit there.
It’s not a real regimented thing for me. I’m working on my first book so I am trying to create the discipline it takes to do paid work, do promotional work, work on your website, work on your blog, and then you get to these other projects that are going to help advance your career hopefully.
You know, I’m an old dog and these new tricks don’t get self-taught real fast.
I want to leave readers with a few places where they can check out your work, so are there any other places where readers can find out more about what you do and what you offer?
Check out feldmancreative.com. You’ll not only find the chicklets that lead to all my social media, but you’ll also find a page there in the blog section with links to all the places that I write for. I’m at /feldmancreative on just about all social media, and on Twitter of course @feldmancreative.
Wondering where to begin?