Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why No Business Should Be Involved In Online Social Networking

Provocative eh? See what marketing consultant Marc Goldman has to say about it at Biznik.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Do you know how your clients feel?

A fascinating article touching on how humans make decisions came across my desk this morning. Research by Princeton psychology professor Danny Oppenheimer shows that decisions can be based on the ease of processing information – for example stock prices are higher shortly after the initial public offering when the ticker symbol is pronounceable (RAD for Rite-Aid compared with RDA for Reader’s Digest). In other work, Oppenheimer found that charitable giving rates varied according to what information was available about the charity’s efficiency rate (the percentage of donations that go to the actual cause versus what percentage goes to overhead). When people have a choice of giving to a charity with a lower efficiency rate, a higher efficiency rate, or no published rate, they will give to the charity with no published rate! Another of Oppenheimer’s studies shows that writing that uses a lot of big words detracts from the message. People will rate such writing as intelligent, but writing that uses simpler language is rated as more intelligent. You can read the article about Oppenheimer here.

These studies show that the decisions people make are based not simply on what they think, but also on how they feel while they’re thinking. It’s an important message for those of us who must market our business and we obviously need to design our marketing materials with this in mind. In fact with every appearance of our name/brand we should be thinking about how it might make our clients or potential clients feel. We want them to feel a certain way when they see us or hear us or think of us. How well are we succeeding in this? Can you examine your own materials and business practices and make an objective evaluation? Did you design your website with this in mind or did it just grow as your business grew? Did you hire someone to create a marketing campaign for you or did it just happen? In voice-over, probably most of us start out thinking we’re going to offer everything: audiobooks, e-learning, corporate narration, medical narration, message on hold, character voices, promo, radio imaging, the works. After a few years we find both that we excel in a certain genre and that specialisation is a key to success (at least in the U.S.). At that point we need to re-examine the way we’re presenting ourselves. Has this happened for you?

In today’s Actor’s Voice, Bonnie Gillespie writes about networking, and in conclusion she quotes from one of her own articles: People don’t remember you. They remember how they feel when they're around you. Think about it.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

MCM Voices' Guide to Voice-over Postcard Marketing

This post has a grand title, doesn’t it? There are many people who know much more about voice-over postcard mailing than I do – Anthony Mendez is one of them and he has been of tremendous help to me over the years - thank-you my friend!! But this here is my guide, because I’ve just concluded a process that took me a good 6 weeks, which tells you that I can take any simple project and turn it into an all-absorbing, life-sucking event. Maybe I can save you some time by relating how I approached this.

Part I: The reason. The purpose of this postcard mailing extravaganza is to announce to clients, would-be clients and agents the national broadcast premiere of a documentary that features my voice. The broadcast is February 2nd, and although the point of the mailing is not so much to get people to watch it as it is to make them aware of it, I still wanted this card to arrive in time to give them the option. So Part I is to have something worth announcing. If you have such an annoucement to make, a postcard is a great way to do it. It is eye-catching but not disturbing to a busy person, and the busier a person is, the more likely it is that you want to work with them. Plus they can keep it propped on their desk indefinitely to remind them of your existence, which a phone call or an email might be less likely to achieve for the long term.

Part II. Postcard design. I chose VistaPrint for this mailing extravaganza, and their templates steered the mechanical process. See my earlier post about this, and Anthony’s before it. Knowing the format the mailing list itself needed to take affected my choices in editing my database, so I do recommend choosing the vendor early in the process. I was lucky to have a graphic already available for the front of the card. The back was simple: Announce the event, making it sound as important and MCM-centric as possible, and add a list of recent impressive clients along with my contact information. Simple, but requiring considerable thought and care in choosing words. Make every word count!

Part III. The mailing list. I’m not talking mechanics, like what format does the list take and what do you do with it. Rather, who are the recipients? I have a database of 3500 but not all of those are active contacts and of the active ones, not all will get a card for various reasons. I need to maximise my postcard mailing dollars because a huge mailing can run into big money. So how do I narrow down the list?

My database represents 4 years of painstaking marketing. Every one of the names on the list was researched with considerable care, but especially at the beginning of my voice-over career this research was not necessarily done with the optimal criteria for identifying ideal clients. And of course, the definition of ideal is going to be different for a beginning voice talent and for an experienced one, and for every individual voice actor, and one’s goals naturally evolve with experience. My complete database includes companies that looked promising according to their websites, but actually don’t do a lot of work that requires voice-over, all the way through high-end production companies that use voice-over every day. It includes companies that produce ads for a few small local businesses and companies that write and produce national commercials. The process of going through this list has taught me a lot about the kind of company I want to be doing business with in the future and will greatly affect the kind of companies I contact from now on. Simply by focussing on return-on-investment for a postcard mailing, I was compelled to narrow the list to a select number of names, and to refine my criteria for choosing potential clients in the future. This has had a significant impact on my business plan! I set a goal of 600 for the mailing, and ended up with 636, including agents. Not too bad.

In the process of culling, I was also visiting each company’s website at least once in order to review the business and consider the likelihood that we would ever work together. This was also the time to check the contact information and identify or re-identify the best person to receive a postcard and to make sure the mailing address was current. LinkedIn was a huge help here. Many was the time I searched a name in LinkedIn to confirm that the person was still with the company and to see if their title was the same. This entire review process took about a month and a half of intensive work but future postcard mailings should be incomparably easier thanks to this investment of time (and the ease of retrieving data and notes from my beloved Time & Chaos).

Part IV. The mailing. Once the mailing list was complete, the rest of this process rushed to its denouement with dizzying velocity. I double-checked my postcard design (who am I kidding? It was more like the 20th time I had checked the design as uploaded to VistaPrint!), and I uploaded my mailing list. That upload was swift; then VistaPrint mercilessly and unfeelingly announced that about 30 of my entries had invalid addresses and the US Postal Service would not deliver to them, beg them as I might. I checked each one, and in all but 8 cases I found that indeed, there was something wrong and I was able to make the correction. The other 8 I saved to their own spreadsheet for further examination and then deleted them from the uploaded master list. I got all the way to checkout, looked at the grand total dollar figure, and then had a clever idea. I thought, I will just Google “VistaPrint discount codes”and within a few minutes I had reduced my grand total dollar figure by $127! Hooray!! I proceeded to check-out, clicked Submit and the deed was done. I then immediately was shown an offer to have an order of 50 postcards sent to me for a reduced price with no charge for shipping, which I immediately accepted because I knew I was going to think of friends and relatives and maybe a few more potential clients to whom I simply had to mail a card.

There you have it. Perhaps in a few months I will report on the results of this campaign, or maybe I will be under my bed, wailing, refusing nutrition and inconsolable at the lack of results, but for now I'm elated to have finished this enlightening process and full of hope for the future. Comments and stories of your own experiences welcomed!

Note: Help & advice from Marice Tobias, Anthony Mendez and Elaine Singer is gratefully acknowledged.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Changing Business Model for Hiring Voice-over?

I’ve just come from the “Meet and Eat” breakfast hosted by my Chamber of Commerce, held each December in the ballroom at the beautiful Delaney House. The program this morning was a round-table discussion about the economy and how it has affected our businesses. At my table were a business consultant, a bank executive, a photographer, two insurance company employees and an online advertising exec. As I listened to each speak about their respective situations, I heard less about negative impact and more about creativity – how their businesses are adjusting and rolling with the punches. It has always struck me how resilient humans are, and how the capacity for hope and optimism seems boundless, even in troubled times.

Something of great interest to me emerged before the discussion got started – the gentleman on my right was marketing director for an insurance company and he told me that they used to hire production companies exclusively when they needed broadcast advertising. Now, to save money, they are doing their own copywriting and hiring vendors themselves, at least for some of their productions.

When I first started in voice-over 4 years ago I targeted ad agencies and production companies in my initial marketing efforts, but also reached out directly to businesses. It became apparent quite quickly that the latter was not a good use of my time because businesses usually hired production companies or ad agencies. I still find this to be true, but my breakfast companion made me sit up and think about the possibility of a changing model. If this became a trend, it would certainly change the way voice-over artists market their services. My guess is that it would not be an overwhelming trend without some decline in quality of the work and that it would probably be limited to larger companies that might have more breadth of talent than a smaller business with a smaller number of employees. I can imagine it being a textbook example of being "penny wise and pound foolish" - you pay less for the work and suffer the consequences. If larger businesses are considering these kinds of changes, however, this could create more opportunity for voice artists who offer copywriting and other production services along with voice-over.

Are other voice-over artists seeing any of this happening? Are you being contacted directly by businesses? Comments welcome!

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Voice-over Postcard Mailing Hack

I want to send a postcard to all my clients and other business contacts to alert them to a special broadcast for which I provided voice-over. On February 2nd, 2009 at 10 pm, PBS will broadcast Forgotten Ellis Island, a beautiful documentary about the Immigrant Hospital at Ellis Island. The documentary is narrated by Elliott Gould, and I provided historical voices as did 3 male colleagues. Naturally, I want to make sure that my clients have the opportunity to see this – the film has very broad appeal but of course, more importantly, I want them to hear how great I sound!

So, what’s the most efficient way to make this mailing happen? I have mailed postcards to clients before. I had them printed at a local shop, and then addressed them by hand because I thought a personal touch was important. A few hundred postcards. This is not happening again. As soon as I found out the air date for Forgotten Ellis Island, I knew it was a job for VistaPrint, where you can design your postcard, upload a mailing list and have your cards sent out for you.. I thought it was still going to be quite an ordeal, because I have a contact database of 3,489 companies. Not all of these will get a postcard – some of these companies have gone out of business, some stopped using voice-over, some never did. I still keep them in my database so I can maintain a history of my communications with them. I use Time & Chaos software to manage all this information.

It turns out to be incredibly simple. I finally took a few minutes to look into the process of turning my Time & Chaos database into a mailing list in VistaPrint-ready format, and it actually took mere seconds to get the list. T&C will almost instantly generate a report containing any data fields desired, and you can export the report into an Excel spreadsheet that can be then be uploaded to VistaPrint. What I thought was going to take weeks to accomplish will get done in less than a day.

The design process was not quite so straightforward for me. For the front of the card I uploaded a graphic sent to me by Lorie Conway, the filmmaker for Forgotten Ellis Island, after getting her permission to use it for this purpose. For the back, I took advantage of LazyMan Anthony Mendez’ offer of a design template (thanks Anthony!). It came to me as a psd file and opened automatically in Macromedia Fireworks (it will open in whatever appropriate editing program you use for such things). I designed the card and uploaded my front and back designs to the VistaPrint website and that’s when my troubles began. The front design is vertical, and my back design is horizontal. VistaPrint put the front design into vertical format, and then it wanted the back to be vertical as well. Somehow I got the design rotated but it didn’t look right. Finally I downloaded a template for Oversized Vertical Postcards and redesigned the back of my postcard and got it uploaded. I then called Customer Support to make sure the recipients’ names were going to print in the right place, and was told that VistaPrint’s mailing service doesn’t support the vertical format. Crikey! So now the front design has been rotated so that I have a design that VistaPrint classifies as horizontal, and I’m back to my original horizontal design for the back. Note well: if you want VistaPrint to do the mailing for you, your designs must be horizontal. If you find anything on their website that tells you this, let me know!

The postcard is now ready to go. All that remains is to edit that big Excel mailing list of mine and upload it to VistaPrint. It will not exactly be cheap, but there is no way I could send out a mailing of this magnitude on my own and still keep what’s left of my sanity. Nor would I be able to look my friend LazyMan Anthony Mendez in the eye and tell him I addressed and stamped that many postcards myself! :)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Time Management for Voice Talent.

and everybody else!

Life has been awfully busy for me lately. Busy is good. But managing one’s time during the busy days requires care. I don’t have the answers but am always looking. I got some ideas from one of my heroes, Randy Pausch, who gives a mean time management lecture. If you have 86 minutes to spare, take a look (10 minutes of it is introduction by others). Of course not all techniques will work for everyone, due to our different brain chemistries and personalities, but there is good stuff here.

Randy Pausch Time Management video link

Randy Pausch is an expert on the subject, and his words are all the more compelling since he may not have much time left (I’m praying for a miracle there). One of the first points he makes is that we need to be very mindful of what our time is worth, and learn to equate time and money in order to get out of the habit of wasting time.

This got me thinking (again) about all the ways that I waste time. Almost all my time-wasting is done on the internet, dealing with email and reading stuff, some of which is unnecessary. I took a look at my RSS feeds and at the large numbers of unread posts in the many blogs to which I subscribe. Those large numbers told me that maybe I’m not as interested in those topics as I was when I first subscribed or that perhaps I just don’t need them right now. So I unsubscribed from a lot of them (the blogs of my fellow voice talent stayed on the subscription list but a lot of marketing and freelancer blogs were cut. I need to spend more time marketing and less time reading about it). That was incredibly liberating and I don’t miss them at all and figure I have gained at least 30 minutes per day that I can use for useful work, for all the stuff on my To Do list.

A few of Randy’s other points:

The To Do list - Randy asks, what would happen if I didn’t do this thing on my to-do list? What if I just cross it off? What do I need to get done today, this week, this semester? You can be flexible, and cross things off your list without doing them, but you need to have a plan. Break things down into small steps. An item that used to be on Randy’s list as a new faculty member at Carnegie Mellon, “get tenure” is too big. You need manageable chunks of effort on your list. He advocates the quadrant approach of Covey (of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People): Important, Not Important, Due Soon, Not Due Soon. Do the Important, Due Soons first. Then, resist the impulse to do the Not Important, Due Soons, and go right to the Important, Not Due Soon items. Do them before they become Due Soon items!!! As for the Not Important stuff, well, those are candidates for crossing off your list without doing them at all.

Keep Your Desk Clear. Touch each piece of paper only once, and that goes for email as well. Randy says, your email inbox is not your To Do list – you should read the mail and then file it or delete it (actually he doesn’t delete any of it, he files it all) and add an entry to your To Do list if necessary. While listening to/watching Randy’s lecture I have managed to get my inbox down to 8 emails, and disposed of some that had been just squatting there for months to remind me to do things that I have now done, or decided were not that important after all. For me, handling each piece of paper only once is really important. I may not manage it completely, but close to it. Without it I would be awash in paper, which is one of my biggest stresses in life. Most of my paper mail goes straight to the recycling bin, the other pieces get filed immediately (bills get entered on my Time & Chaos calendar so I can pay them shortly before they're due and thus earn maximum interest on my money before I have to give it away).

Telephone Calls – have an agenda, and stand up during calls. Don’t put your feet up! If you have to call someone, call at 11:50 a.m. because “no matter how interesting you are, you are not more interesting than lunch” (Randy also advocates the Miss Manners approach to telemarketers – hang up in the middle of your own sentence). Some of his recommendations are based on the academic’s life – where you focus your time on your research and teaching and minimise your vulnerability to interruption. As voice talent you need to be a bit more receptive if you are on the phone with a client!

Make time to write thank-you notes – not just for gifts but for things people have done for you or things you appreciate. When Randy got tenure, he took his whole research team to Disney World. Of course, writing (or showing) thank-yous applies to us voice talent every day since it is a gift to be successful and we should not forget it.

Keep a time journal, which like a food journal for a dieter, will probably surprise you and after a few days you will get more careful about how you spend/waste/organise your time! Learn what you’re doing and what you could delegate or stop doing, what you are doing to waste other people’s time, and ask yourself how you can be more efficient.

The more you have to do, the more you can get done. Randy says that when he got married and had kids, he got more done, because he got more efficient. This is so true! Now that I have finished my semester and no longer have Spanish and German classes to attend 3 days a week and homework to do, I'm adding voice-over related projects to my to-do list to make sure I don't waste the time that has just opened up.

Get help. Delegate, don’t micromanage. Give authority and responsibility (don’t require that your helpers check with you on everything). Delegate, but do the dirtiest job yourself. Treat your people with dignity and respect.

Have an agenda for all meetings. Randy says “if there is no agenda, I won’t be there”.

Only use technology if it makes you more efficient or allows you to do things in a new way.

You must always make time for sleep and exercise.

He summed up his talk with a few recommendations:

Make a Day Timer (a To Do list) and sort by priority (as a self-proclaimed geek, his has to be on a PDA).

Keep a time journal – he says if you do nothing else, count the number of hours you watch television (he doesn’t know that as voice actors we have to watch TV – and he would be appalled to know we have to watch the commercials too).

Check in 30 days and ask yourself, what have I changed? If you have changed something, then you probably have more time to spend with the ones you love. “And that’s important. Time is all we have. And you may find one day, you have less than you think.”

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Peter O'Connell responds.

audio'connell voice-over talentVoice talent Peter O'Connell took time from his busy schedule of bagel noshing to respond to my breakfast story with a wonderful & hilarious post about networking and marketing. Peter is a very funny guy, but his post is not purely comedy - it is full of excellent ideas for voice actors (and all business people).

And, I'm very relieved to report, Peter has excused me for the time being from the requirement to leave my grape-nuts, Kefir and berries behind and go out into the world for bagels with potential colleagues. It isn't the time, the venue, or the meal that matters, of course - it's networking early and often. Take karate for example - one of my few long-term rituals. A few weeks ago I read about a medical communications company I had not heard of (it's huge, so I must have been networking with ostriches before this). I entered a few key words into Google to learn more about it and try to find someone whom I might contact about medical narration. To my astonishment, Google Desktop turned up an email in one of my very own folders from a karate colleague in New York. She is the Creative Director at this company! And she put me in touch with the head of the video department there - who as it turns out attended the same small private school I attended in Manhattan years ago.

I assure you that no bagels changed hands in all of this. And no grape-nuts. No food at all. As in karate, I realised (again) that you must always keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings.

Which is what Peter O'Connell has been saying all along. So take a marketing and networking lesson from Peter. He knows his stuff. And if you ever have him over to breakfast, give him a cinnamon raisin bagel, not toasted, with butter. Hold the Pepsi. Now, stop reading this post and go read his!!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why I Don’t Conduct Voice-over Business Over Breakfast Like Peter O’Connell Does.

My friend Peter O’Connell is a voice talent, producer and marketing expert, and he is one of my heroes. He’s full of ideas and of energy that he invests in his business and in his family, friends, and colleagues and he’s always coming up with something new. So, when Peter says that over the years he has conducted a lot of lucrative business at the breakfast place he visits every single morning of the work week, I feel I should be listening, but the fact is I cannot bring myself to do what he does. Why is that?

In science one often speaks in terms of proximate and ultimate explanations. The latter are the “real” ones, the former are the superficial ones that sort of masquerade as explanations. Let me first talk about the proximate explanation for why I breakfast at home. This is best represented by the photograph I took of my breakfast this morning: Grape-nuts and Kefir with flax seed meal, topped with fresh and frozen berries, with a side of Celestial Seasonings Honey Lemon Ginseng green tea.

Yummy Breakfast Chez MCM

OMG. So yummy. The only place I know that serves this nutritious repast bursting with beneficial phytochemicals is my own place here by the river with the newly arrived Eastern Phoebes (the first insectivorous migratory birds of the season in this region) buzzing their euphonious song from the leafless branches. So there’s that. Then the fact that I seem to spend my first waking hours in service to the other members of my family – getting the kids to school since invariably they miss their ride these days because they are young teenagers and the school system’s start times are designed to give the most sleep to the kids who need it the least (the elementary schoolers) while those who need it most have to be out the door at an inhumane hour (or maybe it’s because they have a lousy mother who lets them stay up too late). And to save on gas my husband takes public transportation to work, but I drive him to the bus. Three days out of five, I then park the car at the college and spend the morning in my Spanish and German classes (you really don't need to point out that we should be riding our bikes. We already know it and are actually going to do it today). The other two days I get to spend the whole day in the studio and am glad not to have to go anywhere.

So the truth is, fitting a business breakfast into my daily routine is not something I have felt strongly motivated to do – the quarterly Chamber of Commerce breakfasts are a different story entirely – I look forward to those tremendously, as well as the monthly Arrive@5’s and the Chamber’s Tourism Committee meetings. But I often think of Peter’s daily ritual and wonder what I am missing out there. I wonder, does it have to be breakfast? Perhaps this fixation on breakfast is a matter of convenience and economy – breakfast is early and cheap. But what about a mid-morning coffee or tea – we could bring back “elevenses”! And, would it have to be every day? I don’t do well with ritual that requires effort. And finally, where would be the best place in my area for this to occur?

I have thoughts of experimenting with breakfast and elevenses and visiting a different local establishment each week to try to determine where the most interesting people are hanging out, and if it is a regular occurrence for them. But I suspect it’s an experiment that’s doomed to fail. This is because you can’t go out a few times and expect something to happen RIGHT NOW. Business relationships are cultivated over the long term - and many of them, as with Peter's breakfast, probably start out as a social thing, not as an overtly business venture. You meet people and get to know them and trust them and vice versa, and maybe some day one of you can do something for the other in business. And I just know that I don’t have the personality for a daily or even weekly ritual that requires what would be required for me to have what Peter O’Connell has developed over many years. I think you have to LIKE doing it in order for it to work. The closest I have come to ritual is going to karate class several times a week, which I’ve been doing for 7 years – but that is a ritual with infrastructure that makes it easier for me to go (I have friends there, my husband also goes, there are health benefits and a sense of accomplishment as well as spiritual peace). As for voice-over and marketing rituals, though, if it’s daily and it requires going somewhere, it just isn’t going to happen, which is a much simpler explanation and among the penultimate reasons why I don't do it (for clues to the ultimate reason, see yesterday's post on brain chemistry).

But I would love to enjoy these rituals vicariously – and I hope Peter will now oblige me by writing a blog post about the famous Fire-Up-the-Toaster-‘Cause-O’Connell-Just Pulled-Up Daily Breakfast Routine. How about it?

If you have a social/marketing ritual, I’d love to hear about it.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Creating Your Own Voice-over Career

Among the things I love about a career in voice-over: the endless opportunities to create. But I think life offers opportunities to create no matter what you do. In my previous career as a biologist, I wrote a lot of papers based on rather dry data. When I wasn’t generating dry data and writing about them, I wrote papers that weren’t based on data at all. In a paper on homology and the ontological relationship of parts, I compared historical pathways in evolutionary biology to the transformation of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz from an all-flesh person to an all-tin person, or to the complete turnover of members in a baseball team that nevertheless does not change “the Yankees” into some other, separate historical entity. A paper on phylogenetic constraint was my favorite project ever, because it released me from the bonds of data and let me play with ideas to my heart’s content. Later, as a program director at the National Science Foundation, it was more challenging to find ways to have fun and create, but when I needed to give a presentation to discuss the history of funding in my program and the distribution of dollars across taxonomic groups, I made a huge “tree of life” that filled the conference room, with “apples” on the tree to represent grants awarded (it was quite effective, by the way, and paved the way for a major funding initiative at the foundation).

Tree of Life Project

Tree of Life project, National Science Foundation

And whenever a poster or flyer was needed, I volunteered. So the panelists we invited to help us make the final decisions about funding grant proposals found their way to the conference room with this:

Systematic Biology Panel poster

or this:

NSF Committee of Visitors poster

The point is, you can create your own opportunities for both work and fullfilment no matter what else is going on in your life. Whether your voice-over career is keeping you hopping, or whether you sometimes find yourself with down time, you can be creating something.

Casting director Bonnie Gillespie wrote yet another excellent article this week for The Actor's Voice called Back to Basics, covering the latest thinking on headshots, resumés, and the other tools of the actor’s trade. In it is a section entitled Put Yourself Out There – a call to action if you’re looking for ways to get yourself on the map. How do you get on the map? You put yourself there!! She writes about a talented actor-writer comedy team who produced their own short film, Girl's Night Out, to showcase their skills, which became a featured video on Youtube (thanks to additional legwork on the part of the creators – you don’t have to wait for that to happen either) and has led to some great opportunities for them. Bonnie is so right about the importance of creating your own work.

Ideas and opportunities come when you least expect them. A lot of the auditions and scripts I get are interesting, a lot are, well…. not. Last fall I got an audition script for Ariat boots that I really loved, and although I didn’t expect anything to come of this audition, I wanted to do something with it. I got my friend, voice-over talent & production wizard Ben Wilson to work on it with me and we came up with a piece we’re both very proud of. No, we didn’t get the gig (yes of course they were nuts not to hire us – thanks for mentioning it!) but we got a wonderful showpiece that we thoroughly enjoyed creating, and it has brought us other work. Sometimes I get nutty ideas for commercials. I know nobody is going to produce them, so I do it myself. Or I just stick stuff into projects I’ve been hired to do, just because. A long-standing client wrote me yesterday that he has left AuctionPal, the company he founded three years ago and for which he hired me to create the young and energetic, British-accented Piper as their spokesperson. AuctionPal is doing great, and he's still closely associated with them, but he needs new outlets for his own energy and creativity so he’s starting a new internet marketing company, Double Vision. He’s interested in hiring me to do the telephone answering system and wanted me to try out some voices, so this is what I sent him.

The next time you find work slowing down (not that you would ever admit to anybody that that happens – cuz that would be putting negative energy out there and it gets in your way and trips you), don’t wring your hands over it – do something about it! Send out more postcards, make more calls, write more emails, do more networking – but also, create something. Don’t know how to make Flash animations? Find a friend who does or take a class. Lack production skillz? Collaborate. Get busy. If people aren’t hiring, hire yourself to create a showpiece. It will keep you in tip-top creative shape, you’ll have a blast, and you never know where it might take you.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

100 + Industry Resources for Voice Over Talent

Stephanie Ciccarelli at maintains a very active blog with tons (tonnes) of useful information for voice talent. Her recent post on industry resources lists voice-over discussion boards, books, VO coaches, podcasts, marketing and rate information, and blogs about voice-over, including blogs by many of my colleagues & friends. And of course, no list of voice-over blogs would be complete without the MCM Voices Voiceover Blog (pssst, in case you've forgotten- that's where you are now)! Thank-you Stephanie, for the link and for your untiring efforts on behalf of the voice-over industry. Your work is truly appreciated.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Source Connect at MCM Voices

As of today I am able to offer Source Connect to my clients. My studio has a Lawson L47 FET microphone running into a John Hardy M-1 preamp, and thence to an Echo MiaMidi soundcard into Adobe Audition – a very clean signal chain.

The story of how I prepared to get Source Connect might be of interest to others who are considering how to get studio quality audio to their clients in real time, without the expense of installing and maintaining ISDN. Source Connect can be used with any recording software that supports VST plugins, not just Pro Tools – the Source Elements Desktop allows you to record audio, transmit it to a client as you’re recording, and store the audio on your own system to be opened up in any recording program you have. You pay only for the Source Connect program, there are no monthly fees, and you can bridge to ISDN if your client has ISDN but not Source Connect, although there is a fee for that service using bridge providers such as Out of Hear or Digifone. The basic SC package costs $395 and you can try it free for 15 days. ElDorado Recording Services sells Source Connect Standard for $395 including 1 hour of setup time by phone.

My first hurdle was to get my computer back on the Internet. I had taken it off nearly two years ago in order to protect my audio recording empire from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and got a second computer to use for everything but audio. All the audio files have thus had to be transferred to the second computer for uploading to clients, which I do with a jump drive – slightly tedious but I got used to it quickly and it’s very fast. Nothing at all has gone wrong with the dedicated audio workstation in all of that time, although the Internet-connected computer has crashed a couple of times – so I was not very keen on exposing that workstation to the world again. Nevertheless, it had to be done if I was going to use Source Connect. So the first thing I needed to buy was a new 25-ft ethernet cable. Once I connected that cable to my computer, I went to the Microsoft website to get all the downloads my cloistered computer had missed out on over the last two years – a couple of screens’ worth. It didn’t take very long for all the upgrades to be installed, and so far nothing bad has happened to my machine. I will continue to use it only for audio - no email or other downloads.

Since I’m not in the habit of using headphones while recording, I needed to buy a pair so that I would be able to hear the client during recording sessions, and I needed a headphone extension cable. I got a pair of Sennheiser HD 280’s from Amazon Marketplace. I do use headphones for editing, plugging them into the computer’s other soundcard (a Soundblaster Audigy 2). Since the Echo soundcard does not have a headphone jack, I bought a Samson C-Control which plugs into the Echo card and the headphones plug into the C-Control (which also has a talkback feature if I ever need to play engineer while somebody else is on the mic). So now I’m monitoring playback via the Echo card instead of the Soundblaster. I needed two patch cables for plugging the C-Control into the Echo card, a headphone splitter so I could plug two sets of headphones into the C-Control’s headphone jack, and a couple of ¼” stereo adapter plugs for the headphones (which have mini-plugs). The one other item I needed was an iLok dongle, which is required for the Source Elements license.

Prior to setting up Source Connect, I needed to check my upload speed to make sure the audio would be transferring from my system to my clients’ at a speed adequate for good sound quality. This is something I actually didn’t check until the Source Elements Desktop was installed, and I was testing Source Connect and discovered my audio was “jittery”. I had to postpone further testing until I could check with my Internet Service Provider (Verizon) and learn that I needed to upgrade my service. Verizon offered this upgrade to me for less than what I had been paying for my DSL (let’s not even go there). My download speed had been around 1500 kilobits per second, which was fine, but my upload speed was only around 125 kbs. It needs to be between 300 and 400 kbs for Source Connect to work properly. With the upgrade, my download speed is now closer to 3000 kbs and upload is over 700 kbs. You can Google “check upload speed” and you’ll have a number of choices to see how fast your data are coming from and going out to the internet. I used speedtest several times to check on the status of my upgrade, and was pleased to discover that it was in place a full 8 hours earlier than promised. By the way, for anyone interested in calling their ISP to inquire about upgrading service – do not go anywhere near tech support, go right to the billing department.

So, once my hardware was all in place, the next step was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done – I got an expert to help me with the rest. George Whittam of ElDorado Recording Services in Los Angeles is an audio engineer and an authorized Source Connect re-seller. George has helped many voice-over artists with audio workstation installations and maintenance and with Source Connect installations - including Don LaFontaine - and I decided to let him handle this. At a time convenient for both of us we talked on the telephone and he used LogMeIn to enable him to see my desktop and control my mouse. I watched and took notes while he downloaded Source Elements Desktop and synchronised it with my iLok. The appearance of the SC control panel wasn’t right and he got Source Connect on the telephone in no time and learned that I needed to have Quicktime installed on my computer for Source Elements Desktop to operate properly. If you're using a Windows computer and have never used Quicktime, you would need to download the Quicktime software from Apple. Mac users are all set as Quicktime comes pre-installed on a Mac. That was soon accomplished and the SC installation was done. We tested it, which is when we discovered the problem with the upload speed, so the completion of the testing was postponed until after that was resolved.

Now all the pieces are in place and Source Connect works great. I’m so glad I had George Whittam to help me – keeping up with all the moving parts of the voice-over business can be quite challlenging and there are times when it just makes sense to get help, especially since George’s help with installation is included when you buy Source Connect from him! The math was pretty easy on that one. George understands the voice-over world and knows what we need; furthermore he’s just a great guy to work with. I had decided last month that my goal was to have this project completed by the time I sent out my March newsletter, and since that was today, I made it! Setting goals is an excellent thing. Now, it remains to be seen whether Source Connect will change the landscape of my client base - I think that part is up to me. So if you will excuse me, I have some marketing to do!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Voice-over Networking in Real Life

Today was one of my Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly “Meet and Eat” breakfast events, which took place at my very favorite venue: the Garden House at Look Park. It was a frigid morning, so there was no lingering in the garden today, but the crackling blaze in the great stone fireplace offered considerable consolation.

our crackling fire!

As I recently noted in my earlier post about networking, these events are not the place for sales pitches – in fact, the only time for a sales pitch is when somebody is actually talking about hiring you for a job but they maybe aren’t 100% sure about their choice. My goal in attending these events is to broaden my circle of acquaintances, find something of interest to discuss, and just plant seeds (and what better place for that than a Garden House? Heh). Of course, I always welcome the bonus of meeting somebody who could eventually be a client, such as a producer or an ad agency employee, but when I walk into these events to a sea of unfamiliar faces, I’m usually just relieved to find a vacant seat and get into it. This morning I was seated between the marketing director of a retirement community, and the marketing director for a lumber company. Neither of them knew what voice-over was, and I was happy to enlighten them and then to learn about their jobs before our guest of honor took the podium.

Our yummy breakfast

The guest of honor was none other than our city’s mayor. I had never heard her speak before and I tell you, she is quite the comedienne - a seriously funny lady. I just googled her name and found two listings in Wikipedia – one for an English Actress and one for an American Politician (that’s her) who surprisingly has no obvious improv background. I’m now up-to-date on many city issues and feel a little better about what had sounded like an ill-advised plan to expand our landfill - but The Honorable kinda talked me into it.

So, I was thinking, what a pleasant morning, pity that I couldn’t make myself do a bit more glad-handing and meet a few more people, particularly media-type people, but when you go to a sit-down meal you’re primarily limited to the people with whom you’re sitting. At that point, the old glass fishbowl full of business cards was brought up to the podium and our MC read off the winners of the door prizes. I’m starting to think my friend Slav Vaskevich of Vaskevich Studios put some kind of magnetic substance on my business cards, because I was once again a winner. This time: two tickets to a wine-tasting event at the end of this month at….

drumroll please…

WGBY Public Television.

Somebody is definitely watching out for me these days.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Perceived Value in Voice-over

Those of us in business to offer a service are sometimes challenged by those requiring the service. “I can get it cheaper", they tell you. My previous post on setting rates addresses this question in excruciating detail for the voice-over business (without going into much numerical detail) and might serve as a resource for those of you who come up against this with your clients. The purpose of my current post is to explore a related problem: how to make sure the question doesn’t come up in the first place. Our own attitudes and convictions will go a long way towards that end.

I used to work as curator of birds at a large midwestern university with a natural history museum. My job responsibilities included 1) advising students and teaching general biology (majors and non-majors courses) and evolutionary biology, 2) research and all that that entails (obtaining government funding and writing papers), and 3) curation of the bird collections (including writing grant proposals for collection infrastructure). We had regular curators’ meetings that included all the departments within the museum – birds, mammals, insects, molluscs and so forth. One of the topics that came up repeatedly was how to defend our existence to the dean of our college, who simply didn’t understand why a natural history museum was important. She did not see its value, so the threat of reduced funding and loss of paid positions was always hanging over us. This could be demoralising. A few years ago I heard George W. Bush on the news referring to the Smithsonian Institution as “the nation’s bug collection” as he slashed funding for its programs. A "bug collection" can be a source of pride - a national treasure - or a derogatory term, depending on how it's uttered and how it's perceived.

In contrast, the American Museum of Natural History is a private institution, not subject to the budgetary whims of a president with an agenda that does not include ‘bugs”, nor a dean whose short-sightedness affects their bottom line. The museum has a charismatic leadership that understands the importance of branding and marketing, and that encourages and funds research that regularly makes the news. Some of this research may not directly affect “the human condition”, but it’s snazzy and it grabs the public’s attention. That museum is huge and it’s flourishing. Then there is the much smaller Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks in tiny Tupper Lake, New York. This museum cost millions of dollars to build, and when it opened its doors in July 2006, the Governor of New York and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton were in attendance for the ribbon cutting. The leadership of this museum certainly knew what they were doing - starting out from a position of strength, they hit the ground running with heads held high. No need to defend your existence if you don’t permit it to be called into question in the first place. It’s all about perceptions and posture - attitude.

If someone questions your value and you let such questioning corrode your own perceptions, you can start to feel that you are indeed less valuable than you really are. This sort of situation can be avoided with charismatic leadership. In the case of your business, that leadership is you.

We’ve all seen or received requests to donate our services for non-profit projects or even for producers creating commercials or other assignments “on speculation”. “No pay, but there will be lots of paid work in the future for the person who helps us now”. I’ve heard comparisons of voice-over with other professions such as the plumbing trade, like this: “install this sink for us for free, and we’ll pay you to install other sinks in the future.” Amusing, but not exactly apt. Almost everybody needs a plumber at some point, but not everybody will need a voice-over in the course of their lives. So, do we secretly feel that plumbers’ work is more valuable than our own? Not everybody can install a sink, but anybody can talk, right? Attitude! Anybody can install a sink badly, write badly, or perform a voice-over badly. If Jim Dale were indisposed while recording Harry Potter, would it be okay for one of the audio engineers at Scholastic to fill in for him? Who would be a better choice to voice a commercial for Geico, the CEO of the company, or Jake Wood? To be Bart Simpson - Nancy Cartwright or the kid up the street? Whom would you rather listen to promoting your favorite TV program – your cousin Darrell, or you? You’re not as good as Jim Dale or Jake Wood or Nancy Cartwright, you say? Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. Maybe you aren’t yet. Read this for more thoughts on that subject. Value comes from quality in many cases, in others it’s marketing, or a combination of both. Gregor Mendel’s research on garden peas was the basis of modern genetics. His work was ignored for years before others were able to appreciate its significance fully and explain its value to the scientific community and to the public, and thus change perceptions.

Perceptions change with changing values. What’s one of the cheapest things you can buy at the grocery store? Salt. Where did the word “salt” come from? From the Latin, sal. And the word salary is rooted in the word for salt. Why? Because in ancient Rome, salt was used as payment. For a while we used gold. The paper money that represented the gold doesn’t have much value by itself. Neither, actually, does the gold. It was merely the standard. Create a need, and the thing that’s needed has value. Create value, and you've enhanced the need.

I received a newsletter last week from Marcia Yudkin of Marketing for More. She has some cogent thoughts about perceived value:

Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to eliminate tuition for Massachusetts community colleges recently received a thoughtful response from the president of Greenfield Community College, Robert Pura.

"We want to really deeply explore what the word 'free' means and conjures up" before we implement such a proposal, Pura said, suggesting that increasing financial aid might be a better way to make college more affordable.

The effective cost might be the same for state residents with both proposals, but "free tuition" might encourage "a wave of students who take their education lightly, over-enroll and drop classes without much thought," Pura told the
Daily Hampshire Gazette. Beefing up financial aid communicates responsibility rather than entitlement and may encourage a more serious approach to education.

Likewise, business coach Mark Silver says an acupuncturist he worked with found her patients getting well faster when she raised her fees. It seemed that patients were more likely to do as she suggested between sessions, to get their money's worth, when they were paying more.

Because prices influence perceived value, prices also affect client behavior and their results.
Marcia Yudkin, The Marketing Minute (quoted with permission).

My friend and fellow voice talent Dan Nachtrab tells a story about perceived value that remains one of my favorite voice-over anecdotes. He has given me permission to quote it:

A while back, I answered an ad for a narration. A few days go by and I get a call from the producer, who keeps going on that she really has "heard my voice before" and how she would love to have me voice her project. Unfortunately, someone else had answered the ad and said they would do it for FREE, just so they could pad their resume. This is when the sales comes in. The challenge is: How do I not only get the gig, but get her to pay me? The answer: Create value. The hook was baited when she visted my site, read the opening introduction sentence and listened to my demos. (To save you some time, it says "Most likely you have heard his voice.") She truly believed she knew who I was and that I was an established talent. (I can't verify the first, but, hey, how can I argue with the second?) Next, I had to remove the credibilty and perceived value of the talent giving away his services. So, I ventured to tell her "I already have a resume filled with many companies in your same field." Then I related a quick story of one such company, very closely related to hers. This proved I had intimate knowledge of her industry and could provide the service she desired. Now I have VALUE in her eyes. She bit the hook and asked my price. She paid full rate. Remember, we are also in sales. Even though Wal-Mart offers cheaper prices, people are still shopping at Saks.

That last line should be cross-stitched and hung over the door to all voice-over booths. Dan's got it right - he offers great value, but he also knows how to convey the perception of value - he knows how to sell.

It's a rule in voice-over that the clients who are paying the least are demanding the most. You get a few of those and you learn to avoid them like the plague. If you're a professional voice talent, quoting low prices to get the job undervalues the service you’re offering, in the eyes of your customers and, eventually, in your own. Offering a service cheaply may eventually result in loss of quality as well, as you become demoralised and fail to deliver your best work. It is not possible to perform well when you or your customers expect a $50 performance for a $300 job. Much better to give a $350 performance when you’re being paid $300. The next time you’re tempted to quote low, ask yourself why you are undercutting your own services. In effect, you’re on the road to putting yourself out of business. So I ask you - are you offering a valuable service or aren't you? If so, charge a respectable fee - a fee that shows you recognise and respect what you are offering - if you expect other people to value it as well.

Whether you're a voice talent, or a college graduate applying for a job, or a manager negotiating a raise or a corporate executive trying to win a big account, take a lesson from Dan Nachtrab, who was so (rightly) comfortable with the value of his services that he convinced a producer to hire him over the guy who offered to do the job for nothing. Or from the leadership of the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, who had the guts to open an expensive institution in a little town in upstate New York in a climate of "the nation's bug collection". Because of their justifiable conviction of their own value, they had the entire state of New York behind them.

Now, go out and get your clients behind you.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Evolution of the Voice-over Career.

It’s my guess that most voice artists start their careers telling prospective clients that they do everything – commercials, corporate narrations, on-hold messaging, documentaries, audio books, you name it, they can do it. I know I did. As I got more comfortable with my new life (which is a vastly different life in so many ways from my old one as a biology professor, researcher and museum curator), I discovered what worked well for me, what I was particularly good at and what I did less effectively, as well as what I really loved and what I hated (but will still do, so I won’t mention the kinds of VO work that I don’t enjoy). Pretty early in the game I was marketing to several niches, particularly to the medical and museum narration market, while continuing to approach advertising agencies since I have always loved the energy of commercial voice-overs (and there is much less editing required). I don’t expect to give that up, ever. I guess you could say I was specialising from the beginning, while still offering to do everything.

For several months now one of my voice-over friends, whom I will not name to protect his privacy but who is doing spectacularly well himself, has been “on my case” to ramp up my targeted marketing and focus on one market. This is something that is working well for him in a very specialised VO niche. I have had my doubts about it because there are several areas of VO in which I am very happy. These have always been medical, health care and museum projects, and increasingly I have begun to focus on dialect work. And on top of that, my dream is to produce a kick-butt character demo and get a TV series. Will I really prosper more if I choose one of those to the exclusion of the others? My friend insists that this doesn’t mean giving up the other areas, at least not permanently – that they will take care of themselves and opportunities will arise to work in those areas as well. And probably all I really have to do is lead a double or triple life – have several websites, each one marketing to one of those specialties. With business cards and other marketing materials to match. One for the medical and health care market, one for museums, one for characters & dialects. And then there’s MCM Voices itself. Not to mention my consulting business to keep avian bloopers off the large and small screens. I confess it is tiring just to think about it. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about it – and my friend would not agree with me about leading a double life – time spent in one area means less time for the other.

No matter what the niche, it’s important to identify its hub. Last weekend, I came across an article in a business journal that spelled it out for me for one of my markets. It even told me the number of employees at each of the agencies mentioned. All of them were large companies, which told me that my usual approach of sending an email of introduction wouldn’t work, because once a company is over a certain critical mass you need to pick up the telephone in order to find who you’re looking for. Of all the agencies mentioned I had only heard of one, a company I had emailed over a year ago (without results). I started my telephoning campaign with that company, was transferred to the appropriate person’s voice mail and left a message. While I was dialing the next company, the first one called me back and enthusiastically asked me to send her my materials, which I have now done. Two calls exhausted the telephone-shy MCM, so I put off the rest of the calls until yesterday. All but one company had a live receptionist, and each receptionist transferred me to the appropriate person, and none of those persons was in, so I left a detailed message in my loveliest voice and marked my calendar with the date on which I will try them again, after the holiday weekend has come and gone. So there, I have made a superhuman (for me) effort in one of my targeted areas.

There is no question that success requires a concentrated investment of time and marketing effort. I don’t know where my various paths are going to lead and when or whether or exactly how to focus the effort. For now I'm still focussing on all of my favorite niches. I guess I’m waiting for a sign and am just not quite ready to make a decision. I like to think that I’m in a period of “creative chaos”, and that soon the way will become clear. I dare say you’ll read about it here when it happens.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Time to Get Out of the Studio Again….

I wrote last year about the first business expo I ever attended, at which I had a jolly good time. Today was the 2007 iteration of that expo, which I also attended. As I pulled into the parking garage, next to an outdoor lot bearing the legend “All-day parking $20”, I grumbled inwardly and wondered if my ROI would even offset the cost of parking. As I walked into the exhibit hall I left a stack of my brochures on a literature table and went on in. Loud music greeted me, which emanated from the exhibit by DiGrigoli Salon & School of Cosmetology. This was a curiosity. They had set up a stage, had a bevy of sweet young girls clad in white who were offering bags of hair styling products, and the owner of the salon was up on stage with several other stylists, keeping up a running patter about his terrific students and how long he had been cutting hair and how much he still loved it. It was the work of a few seconds for them to get me up there for a free haircut, so I had about a half hour of listening to the studio owner talking about his business. It was truly impressive – he had great stage presence and his enthusiasm was remarkable. I definitely needed the cut, since the last person to cut my hair was myself. This was a tremendous treat and I was thrilled that whatever my parking fee turned out to be it would be worth it (I admit I’m a tightwad). I spent another hour touring the exhibit tables, said hello to a few old acquaintances and left a few cards with selected business owners. It was a pleasant morning. Coincidentally, while at this event I got a call from a contact I had made at this same event a year ago. His was a new business at the time so I was delighted to learn that he is flourishing (and that he has potentially got work for me).

My parking fee was $2.25. w00t!!

It was the day for networking – today was also my local Chamber of Commerce monthly “Arrive @ 5”, hosted by our town hospital which has just completed an impressive new surgery center. Tours were offered (I love tours) and I left feeling strongly tempted to just check in, if I could be sure that all they would do was feed and entertain me and change my sheets…. My luck has certainly changed since I started attending these business events. In the last year I’ve won tickets to an Arlo Guthrie concert, a bread board, a 1 GB jump drive, and today, a pair of handsome garden lanterns. What a day!


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Business Expo 101.

I tried an experiment yesterday. It remains to be seen whether the experiment will be successful; field tests are currently underway. I signed up for a table at the Tabletop Expo sponsored by my local Chamber of Commerce. The tables were quite inexpensive, putting the expo within reach of small business owners such as me. What one chooses to put on that inexpensive table will, of course, have an effect on the return on investment.

Of course, I had to have something to give away, and have been longing for MCM Voices pens, so I looked in my Chamber of Commerce business directory and picked out Pacific Printing. Owner Tim Banister must have spent a good 45 minutes to an hour guiding me through the catalogues, talking me out of stuff as well as trying to talk me into getting a shirt made up with my company name on it. Shirts with MCM Voices just aren’t me, not yet anyway, and I had the sense to stay away from that for now (I was tempted though, since my friend Elaine Singer told me she met our mutual friend Peter O'Connell at Podcamp Toronto last month; he was wearing a spiffy white shirt with his company name on it and she was deeply impressed). I ended up just getting pens with my company name and web address on them.

The MCM pens

Tim also asked me some pointed questions about what I expected to get out of my participation in the Expo – what kind of people would I be marketing to and what would I be trying to sell? This was very important, because if not for his questions I might not have realised that the one thing I was most likely to be able to sell was something I don’t usually market, namely on-hold messaging and telephony. I subsequently designed a brochure that featured that part of the business much more than I would otherwise have done. Again I consulted the Chamber’s business directory and found that I could email my brochure file to Paradise Copies, right downtown, and they would run a proof for me which I could then go in and check at my convenience. They did exactly what I wanted, and yesterday morning when I realised I didn’t have a sign for my table, I quickly designed one and emailed the file to Paradise. They not only printed it, but affixed it to a little foam easel and I was suddenly starting to look somewhat professional!

Of course, I couldn’t have a table and invite people to it without offering something to eat. So I made chocolate chip cookies. Lots of them. It is part of my upbringing that when you provide food you don’t run out. I made dozens and dozens of cookies and still worried about running out, because typically 500 people attend these expos as visitors, and there are 125 tables, so potentially I would be feeding 52 dozen people. I had only 15 dozen cookies.

The Expo was held at the Log Cabin on top of Mt. Tom, and the weather was perfect for it – brilliantly blue and sunny, not too chilly and not too warm to be lugging dozens of cookies around in. My table was in the Southampton Room (picture #10 in the virtual tour) with a beautiful view of the Pioneer Valley. I can only give you a blurry view of what my table looked like because my camera suddenly stopped focussing, but it gives you the general idea. After setting up I wandered around to see what other vendors were present and to get the lay of the land.

MCM’s table at the Tabletop Expo 2007

My first clue that I had more than enough cookies was the lavish buffet tables with cheese, crackers, raw vegetables and dip, and then I noticed the armies of servers carrying trays of h’ors d’oeuvres: scallops wrapped in bacon, filo shells with crudités, coconut-encrusted chicken, mozzarella sticks, miniature tacos, beef and pineapple… I gained a couple pounds just looking, and I did more than look. Many of the tables had bowls of candy, an equipment rental company had a chocolate fondue fountain, Edible Arrangements had pineapple flowers dipped in chocolate – there was a lot vying for the palates of the visitors. I talked to a lot of people, saw old friends and made some new ones. Berkshire Hills Productions was there and I finally met Ed and Helen Pelletier, who have been on my contact list for two years. Gretchen Siegchrist of Media Shower Productions had a table – she joined the Chamber of Commerce about the same time I did and we exchanged notes. Someone from Clear Channel stopped by my table and left a card and took a demo CD. My family dropped in to visit and my husband greatly enjoyed talking with Sean Jeffords of Sean’s Custom about solar energy and green building practises. Several of the Chamber of Commerce staff visited me and it was great to see their familiar and friendly faces. Basically, it was a big party where networking was the order of the day, and I had a good time. And – my luck has certainly turned since I started this frenzy of organised networking last fall – I dropped my business card in a fishbowl and after a while a kind lady came to my table with a prize – a 1 GB USB drive courtesy of Turcotte Data & Designs!

What I could have done much better at this event was to get my brochure off my table and into the hands of every business owner in the room. There are more business expos coming up, and although I won’t have a table I will take my brochures and cards and pens with me and do a bit more glad-handing. I can probably accomplish as much or more without a table, although the data aren’t all in yet. My advice to anyone considering this form of marketing is to be very clear about what you are trying to accomplish and how you plan to get the job done. Be realistic about it and visualise your plan – picture yourself standing at your table and greeting people as they go by – hook them with the cooky or whatever other lure you have and draw them into conversation about themselves. Find out if they offer a service that you might be able to use, and tell them about the services you have that might be valuable to them. This kind of setting is not easy for shy people, so if chatting with strangers is not your strong suit you really must have a plan to help you get through it. And remember, many of the people there are shy too, and you can help them by making the first move. Finally: if you're planning to bring food, try to find out ahead of time what else will be available and what your competition will be! I have a lot of cookies in my freezer (got tea? Come on over!).


Sunday, December 17, 2006

How much information do you make available?

Do you market your voice or do you market your voice AND yourself? Does a voice cloaked in mystery sell better than a voice with a personality to go with it? This has been under a little bit of discussion recently at the vo-bb. Some advocate a minimalist web site, with no photo, no blog, no information at all other than the demos, the contact information, and “the brand” (e.g., a logo or a phrase that can be associated with the voice artist, or even just the VO’s name). Then there are people like me, who have a bio page, a blog and, shudder, that #1 voice-over no-no, a photograph on my website.

I believe that for some people, who are pursuing a VO career in a certain way, the minimalist approach can work well. If you train with the best of the best, can dependably deliver a flawless performance in a short period of time, and have a super agent who will do all your marketing for you, then this may work extremely well for you. Or, if you have one of those distinctive voices that sells itself, then perhaps you don’t need the extras. You may be among the 20% getting 80% of the work, or whatever those magic numbers are. Me, on the other hand – I can’t afford to be a cold and lonely world apart. Nor do I really want to be the Garbo of voiceover. Besides, it’s too late for that, since I’ve recently joined my local Chamber of Commerce and Ad Club and have been to so many networking parties in the last two weeks that when I see my friends and family my knee jerk reflex is to stick my hand out, introduce myself and flash a dazzling smile and a business card (those business cards, by the way, continue to get rave reviews – thank-you again Vaskevich Studios!). Blogs are a good tool for me. They provide a little more information, which might help somebody decide whether I’m the right person, not just the right voice, for their project. It might give a client a bit more confidence in hiring me if he or she knows that I have three degrees in biology and years as a museum curator under my belt. Also, the blog is hosted on my web server and its content is seen by search engines, which makes it easier for my website to be located when potential clients are looking for somebody to do a medical narration, a museum narration or a character voice. The blog also satisfies part of my urge to write, and I plan to keep doing it until, well, until I don’t do it anymore.

Anyway, I hate rules. Sure, there are plenty of “rules” that are just common sense and credos of marketing that have been proven to work, and there’s stuff people do that will pretty much guarantee failure. But we all have different goals and agendas, we are all different, so there is more than one road to success. Some people say that picking up the phone and cold calling is the best way to get work. I’ll pick up the phone if it seems like the right thing to do at the moment, which happens often enough, but otherwise I’ll send an email. If I don’t like marketing by phone, then marketing by phone is a bad way for me to look for clients, although it’s the best way for plenty of other people to make contact.

As for whether the minimalist approach is confined to those 20% of voice artists getting the most work – that’s hard to say. Somehow I am not worrying very much about the possible negative effect of blogging and a smiling photo on Joe Cipriano’s career. I can’t see clients deciding not to hire him because they know that he smiles and is a super nice guy and plays tennis on weekends. Harlan Hogan has a lot of “extra” stuff at his website and his career seems to be flourishing. Don La Fontaine does on-camera stuff these days, which could be said to kill the mystery but I think he does manage to make it from one paycheck to the next. Nancy Cartright is kind of out there too, available for interviews, doing good works. It isn’t a scientific sample, of course. More research is needed. Anyway, for me, a career in voice-over is not just about doing the work and making money. It isn’t even just about the fun of the work itself. I also enjoy the people. The interesting people. The clients who drop me a note in between the jobs just because they feel like it, or who talk to me about martial arts because they know from my blog that that’s an interest of mine where I frequently find parallels with voice-over. If I cast a bit more bread upon the waters, then I seem to get it back many times over. That’s the way I like it, rules or no rules. I think I will keep doing things my way, which is to do things that seem to work for me, until they stop working. Then I'll find a different way.

Disclaimer #1: I do not advocate any of the above. It seems to work for me. It may not work for anybody else.
Advice (the only advice contained herein): If you can not write, do not blog.
Disclaimer #2: May not be true.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

How do you stay in touch?

The question of what is the most effective way to stay in touch with clients and potential clients is one that has been on my mind a great deal. For two years, I’ve been using email almost exclusively. I currently have 2,857 names in my data base, and of those I keep in touch with 1,660 on a regular basis. The others have been weeded out as I learn new things about them – e.g., they only use local talent or talent with ISDN, or they don’t do broadcast, or they use another company for casting, or they don’t work in my areas of specialisation, or they just don’t want to be contacted.

My custom is to write to each of these 1,660 people 4 times a year. If I work 49 weeks of the year, that gives me 49 x 5 days/week for sending emails. I only send them during the week, because I don’t want my correspondence to arrive during non-business hours when it will get squeezed between spam emails and be deleted even faster than it already is. So that is 245 emailing days per year, divided by 4, so my quarter is 61 work days. That means that in order to get through my list I need to send out 27 emails each day. This is not a trivial investment of time, since I usually visit each contact’s website to make sure they’re still in business and to make sure their focus hasn’t changed and that their contact information is the same as before. If I’m effcient, I don’t have to use business hours for this activity; I can prepare the emails at night and save them, then send them out in the morning. Still, it takes time. I would absolutely love to be able to write a newsletter, click Send, and be done with it. That would certainly be easiest for me. And if I could do it every month instead of every three months, then none of those contacts would have a chance to forget me in between mailings.

The trouble with newsletters is that people have to sign up for them. If you send a newsletter that is unsolicited it could be annoying to the recipient, and you could end up losing them. A new client told me the other day that he has a list of 23,000 subscribers for his newsletter, and even some of those get annoyed at receiving this newsletter that they signed up for!

So what to do? For now, I continue to send out individual emails. Half of my 1660 have written back to me; the other half I’m still waiting to hear from. Sometimes the first time I hear from somebody, they are actually hiring me, sometimes it has been well over a year since I first contacted them. Silence does not mean lack of interest; usually it just means lack of work. The same client who sends out the 23,000 newsletters mentioned that he appreciated my regular emails and that I was the first person he thought of when he needed female voice talent. I had first written to him at the end of March 2006, and his first response was 6 December, with a work proposal.

I get quite a few newsletters. A few companies from whom I receive them send them out every week. The content is, I regret to say, not very interesting and I have to wonder what they expect to accomplish with these frequent mailings. Many with a less frequent appearance are full of news about the company, and again, the content is not all that compelling. One of my favorite newsletters is from Shawenon Communications. Its author is Susanna Opper, whom I met at the first Ad Club of Western Massachusetts luncheon that I attended back in October (the one at which I won the Arlo Guthrie tickets :) ). She gave me her card and when I visited her website I signed up for her newsletter. I read the first one “cover to cover”. It was relatively short, or seemed so, and the content was entirely articles of real benefit to me. Not only that, the newsletter began with a summary of the content, with the highlights in bold, so I knew instantly that this was something I wanted to read. I also forwarded the newsletter to several voice artist friends, including Bob Souer, who wrote about it in his blog. I was looking forward to the next issue of the newsletter from Shawenon, and was surprised to see that in it Susanna had written about the phenomenon of viral propagation of information, using Bob and me as an example. It was awfully nice to get a mention (with a link!) in a newsletter that goes out to 600 subscribers each month. Quite apart from the unexpected publicity, I like Susanna’s newsletter. It could serve as a model for anyone considering communicating in this way. Make it easy for the reader to see why they should read it. Summarise the content straight away. Include material that will benefit the reader, and of course, use an engaging style. If you need help with that, ask Susanna. She’s also available to write your content for you.

I’m no closer to deciding what to do about my own communication dilemma than I was at the top of the screen. In general, people seem to prefer the more personal touch of the email sent to them and only them. No, my 1,660 peeps don’t get completely different emails, but I can write what I want to each one and bring up matters of mutual interest. I would lose that in a newsletter. If I were to switch to newsletter communication, I would need to give a lot of thought to the content and make sure it was beneficial to the recipient. The notion that replacing email with a newsletter would make my life tons easier is not sufficient to push me to make the switch, but I’m still giving it a lot of thought. Perhaps I could work out some sort of compromise.

Your comments are welcomed and would be greatly appreciated.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Finding Colleagues.

I recently found a treasure trove on the internet – a list of this year’s winners of advertising awards in one of the industry sectors in which I specialise. Although my approach to marketing in the early months in the voice-over business was of the shotgun variety (e.g., compiling a database of production companies and ad agencies by region, or even just using huge free lists that I found for the entire U.S. and beyond), now I have a much more targeted approach. The awards list is a way for me to learn with relative ease which agencies are serving my market and get me together with the people who need what I have to offer.

Plenty of voice talent are able to do some of everything, whether it’s commercials, corporate narration, audiobooks – but marketing to everybody is probably not in one’s best interest. There is something that each of us does best; why not develop that and market to that strength? Everyone needs a way to rise above the crowd and the people who need us need to see a reason why they should choose us over someone else. Similarly agencies need to make it easy for clients to see why they should choose them over another agency – which will also make it easier for satellite professionals to find the agencies to whom they can be of most use and determine quickly when we don’t need to contact someone.

I’ve looked at literally thousands of production company and advertising agency websites in the last year or so. It’s amazing how many different ways people have thought of to present the basic elements such as Clients/Specialties, Services, Portfolio, Staff, Testimonials and Contact Information. A (I won’t say “the”) majority do a good job. Then there are those who like to hide the information in layers so visitors have to dig for it, using names that do not immediately conjure up the thing they’re supposed to represent. And how about the sites where information just starts whizzing around and you have to grab what you’re looking for before it disappears and you have to wait until it comes around again, like toy ducks at a shooting range?

Somebody stop me! Relevancy check…. What would make life easiest for me as a colleague-scrounger would be the ability to tell within the first minute of landing on a website whether this is a company that uses services like mine, with the specialties that I have to offer. I guess nobody ever said it was going to be easy. This is Darwinian selection. Anyway, I’m growing fat on my list of awardees–I have nothing to complain about (it’s the heat-sorry). I marvel that after months of scouring the internet almost daily I’m still turning up so much good information. Hard to imagine life before the World Wide Web.