How a fresh pair of eyes can help get your document unstuck

For two recent projects, my task as an editor was to help get a publication over the finishing line. In both cases, the document was already in the form of a complete draft when I got involved, but needed a considerable amount of work to get it to the point where it could be published. And in both cases the document owner had taken it as far as he or she could – they needed a fresh set of eyes and some fresh thinking.

(I struggled to find an image for this post, but when it comes to getting things unstuck, Oliver Jeffers is a good reference!)

If you feel like you’re blocked on a publication, bringing in someone who is seeing the text for the first time is a great way to get unstuck. This stage comes before copy editing and proofreading – it’s not someone to correct grammar and spelling errors who is required. Rather it’s a substantive editor who will interrogate the content, check whether the structure makes sense, spot where something that is clear to the author(s) may not be so clear to the reader, and so on.

In both recent examples, the text had been authored by several different people over an extended period of time, each working on his or her own section of the document. This can naturally make for a very disjointed publication. Bringing consistency with regard to style, tone, the depth of the information, etc. is often best done by someone who has not previously been involved with the document. In fact, it can even help if the subject matter is not familiar to the editor. One of those recent jobs was my first for that client and I was able to challenge assumptions that may not have been so obvious to those working in the sector.

It’s very easy to get bogged down with a long report or proposal. If you can no longer see the forest for the trees, an external editor might be just what’s needed to take a wider view and ensure that the end result is as good as it can be. (And I happen to know one who may well be available to work on your document. Get in touch!)

From podcast listener to podcast presenter

Being a fan of the format, I was thrilled to be asked to host a new podcast. It is part of a European project to help the media sector change the way it approaches innovation.

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I go running or on long journeys. I listen mostly for pleasure (Richard Herring, Adam Buxton, BBC Fighting Talk, Sodajerker on Songwriting), although some can also feed into professional interests from time to time (99% Invisible, RadioLab).

The new podcast is called MediaRoad SkillBytes. The aim is to examine what the digital transformation of the media industry means in terms of professional journeys: jobs, skills, recruitment, training, etc. MediaRoad is the name of the European project and the European Broadcasting Union, one of my main clients, is a project partner.

Intended as a B2B podcast, it’s primarily targeted at those who deal with HR and training in media organizations. With technology changes having such a huge impact on media jobs, the idea is to help identify how employee profiles are changing and the mix of skills and competences that will be needed in future. The interviews may also be interesting for technology managers and even media students.

Eoghan O'Sullivan and Léonard Bouchet
My first interviewee was Léonard Bouchet, in charge of data and archives at Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

I have the enjoyable task of interviewing a different media professional for each episode. The first interview was with the head of data and archives at Swiss broadcaster RTS, while the second episode features the head of innovation at BBC Monitoring. We plan to publish a new episode each month, each one around eight to ten minutes long.

A personal challenge

I started my professional career in radio, two decades ago, but I never did much presenting. While I’m comfortable in front of a microphone, there’s a world of difference between standing on a stage with my guitar as a shield and sitting face-to-face with an interviewee.

Podcasts are a very intimate format; more intimate than radio even, I think. The podcasts I enjoy the most are those where the people speaking sound totally at ease, with themselves and each other. My goal when I sit down to do each SkillBytes interview is to focus on having a relaxed but engaged conversation.

I’m at the very start of my podcasting career. I think it’s going fine so far, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting better. I’m very lucky to have talented EBU colleagues as a production team and, in Michael Curling, we have a really expert editor.

You can find the podcast by searching for MediaRoad or SkillBytes on your podcast platform of choice.

Still that comms guy; still enjoying it

I’ve been working as THAT COMMS GUY for over two years now and am pleased to say that things are working out well. 2018 was a busy year, but also a balanced one, with plenty of time for family, music and other projects.

About 50% of my time last year was spent working for the DVB Project, providing communications support on a mix of operational and strategic tasks. I worked for DVB from 2004 to 2009, so I’ve been going back to the future; and I’m glad to continue this work for the next 12 months. The DVB World 2019 conference in Dublin looks set to be one highlight and there are other exciting developments in the pipeline.

Almost another 40% of my client work is for the European Broadcasting Union, another former employer (and the host of the DVB Project Office, which is handy!). I continue to provide support on events and publications for the Technology & Innovation Department, and also did some report writing for the Media Department, notably in connection with the Digital Transformation Initiative. I particularly enjoy editing the quarterly tech-i magazine and am looking forward to a new podcast-related project in 2019.

How my client work broke down in 2018.

While all this means – and the chart illustrates – that 90% of my income effectively comes from one building in Geneva, DVB and the EBU are two entirely separate organizations, so it’s not as risky as it sounds. And the remaining 10% comes from several other interesting clients: I’ve continued to do some copywriting for Hilti AG, provided web support for Partners for a New Economy, Bright Green Learning and Fondation Segré, and event communications support for SDNsquare. I was also pleased to work with the Sphere organization for a couple of days.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with how this adventure in freelancing is working out. I’m grateful to all the people I work with for their trust and confidence in me.

I’m hoping that 2019 will bring the same mix of stable, stimulating work from my regular clients along with one or new things to keep me on my toes. Get in touch if you’d like to chat!

Montage of photos showing a mug with the THAT COMMS GUY logo.
Oh, and I also got a new mug in 2018!

A practical tip when writing for the web

When writing for the web, it often turns out that your last sentence is actually your first sentence. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been editing text a lot recently and have noticed that short articles, whether news items, event reports or blog posts, can often be made more immediate and engaging by using what was originally written as a closing sentence as the opening sentence. Or at least using a sentence from elsewhere in the article, and I find that it’s usually close to the end.

We all have a habit, when telling stories, of starting by establishing the context. We do this whether we’re telling an anecdote at the pub or writing a report in a professional context. And in general, when you have a captive audience, it’s a good habit. You get to set the scene and fill in the background before building to the climax. However, when it comes to writing short texts for the web – say 150 to 500 words – you probably don’t have a captive audience, and you certainly do have an easily distracted audience. You need to engage readers right from the start; but also to ensure that if you lose them quickly, they will at least have picked up the main information.

In practice, it can be hard to sit down and write an engaging and informative opening sentence off the top of your head. I usually just start drafting the text in the normal way and then look to see if the best opening sentence is buried somewhere within the text. Another way of thinking of it is to ask yourself which sentence you might choose as a pull quote or even a tweet. You may well find that, well, when writing for the web, it often turns out that your last sentence is actually your first sentence!

 

If in doubt, call it what it is

A café in the village where I live closed down recently, just a few months after it had opened. I wasn’t surpised. Located in a new park for small businesses, it was a little off the beaten track, with very little direct passing trade. It was only after it had closed that I noticed the sign outside the business park on the main road.  Read more

My go-to sites for free photographs

A picture is not always worth a thousand words. While online communication is dominated by visuals these days, often the photographs, graphics or icons used don’t add much value. Just look at the photo below for example!

Nevertheless, it is usually a good idea to include some sort of eye candy, as long as you maintain a good balance between style and substance. Smart use of typography and layout can sometimes be enough, but you’ll probably find yourself hunting for photos sooner or later. Read more

WordPress wins for websites but Wix works well

I’ve had a chance to work with both Wix and Squarespace on recent projects. While WordPress remains my preferred platform for building and maintaining websites, these site builder services are clearly attractive for those who want to quickly and easily get a professional-looking site online. Read more

Note to self: update blog

How often have you clicked through to the blog section of a website and found that the most recent post dates from many months or even years ago? It doesn’t look great, does it. So, the simple message of this post is: post something! Read more

MailChimp may not be the best solution for your members

For membership-based organizations, regular and reliable communication with the member community is essential. Email newsletters are a commonly used tool for this and whenever email newsletters are mentioned, you can be sure MailChimp will come up as an option. But you shouldn’t be too hasty in embracing that friendly monkey! Read more

Treat your website to a content audit

Taking a few hours to do a content audit of your website represents time very well spent. Both the process itself and the document that results can help to identify problems with site structure, inconsistencies in menus, titles, headings and URLs, and outdated or difficult-to-find content.

The word audit might suggest some kind of scary inspection Read more