Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Writers Exploration: Where I Am

Find this and other shots on my Instagram acount: dtgriffith
I am here in early May as my MFA Writing program spring semesters wraps. I have definitely come out ahead from where I started, making a few self-discoveries along the way. For instance, I learned that I am a natural at writing horror and suspense in my fiction life, something I never touched on until recently. I had always aimed at the slice of life, somewhat absurd, realism in my earlier days of writing, mixed with elements of surrealism for the unexpected. Rejuvenating my writing style in the psycho thriller and horror area story feels like a natural progression for me, one that I just took the risk and succeeded at. Who knew? My first story in this genre will be published soon, details to come.

I find myself filled with far more knowledge about the discipline of corporate communication and PR than I had ever anticipated. The things that come out of my mouth on this subject at work or during casual conversations catch me by surprise sometimes, only proving that my MFA endeavor is anything but futile. I now have a solidified foundation in communication that I have already begun to build upon, which will only continue upwards as I finish my schooling and grow in my professional life.

Most important, I find myself a more confident writer, no longer afraid to take risks and voice my opinions. Risk-taking led to my upcoming first horror publication and brought out my contrarian nature in the world of critiques and classrooms.

Recently, my classmates learned that I couldn’t assimilate with the accepted norm; rather, I innately challenged the authenticity and validity of a big Hollywood screen adaptation to a great Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Surprisingly, most of my classmates respected my opinion and did not appear as upset as I had expected considering the Shawshank Redemption film is so highly revered. I did write my review with the utmost respect, after scrapping the scathing first draft. What can I say? I’m an obsessive purist in my artistic roots, it’s who I am. The movie on its own was good, but did not capture the complexity and the many shades of gray that is human nature as depicted in the book. But that’s a whole other discussion.

So, here I am writing my last blog entry for the spring 2012 semester. It’s sad to see a great semester come to an end, but exciting to know I have accomplished so much and gained some new friends along the way. I am already eagerly anticipating the next semester and reconvening with my classmates at our next residency in August.

As for this blog, I will carry on regularly.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Writers Exploration: The Rules are the Rules are for Breaking

The concept of rules in writing has circulated in my head this past semester, some thoughts seeing the light of day on a previous blog post. My obsessive nature makes me want to be a purist, following all regulations on grammar and sentence structure to the extreme. But the proverbial devil on my left shoulder, who’s persuasion over me has been quite successful in recent months, has helped me deviate quite effectively. Taking risks in my writing has become my normal, sometimes it works well, leading a short on its way to publishing soon, and other times it falls flat on the iced-over concrete resulting in a few bruised ribs and a shattered ego. But that’s okay; “live and learn,” as someone once said before it was repeated a billion times.

I recently read a few stories written outside of the mainstream when it comes to point-of-view and tense that jarred my attention. These stories felt odd, foreign beyond earthly limits, stimulating my imagination as I prepare to work on my current pieces.

The first story was written in second person in the present tense. Yes, you read that correctly. How often do you find yourself reading about yourself placed in a life that you never lived? Fiction is traditionally written in either first or third person, generally dependent on the author’s preference and intent, but second is a whole other world. Check out the following published story, “Sacrifice,” written by Jenn Powers, a peer in my MFA program. Whether or not it was intended, the story plays off the double portrait concept, in which the author paints a portrait of another person who is connected by some type of relationship and thereby creates a self-portrait through responses and interactions. I highly recommend reading the brilliant essayist Philip Lopate to learn more on this subject. Moving back to the story, the reader assumes the role of the protagonist’s ailing and embittered grandmother, grieving the loss of her long-time husband. It is a tragic story conveying a lot of emotion. As I read, I learned about the protagonist’s strong bond with her grandmother and the endearing sadness caused by the current situation. I got to know the protagonist as a result.

A second story that transported me into in another part of the animal kingdom was Tim Weed’s “Snarl.” Tim is a writing mentor in the Western Connecticut State University Writing MFA program. It’s written in the first-person present tense with an additional twist – from the perspective of a hyena. The story moves in real time as it is read, time lapses represented by extra line breaks. Humans are seen as strange and foreign creatures called “skin-monkeys” with their “fire machines” and “false suns.” Essentially, Tim has created a sci-fi story resembling the enslavement of humans by an alien race; only the humans are the aliens here. I fell into this story in the first few paragraphs; the vivid sensory elements placed me in the head of a hyena with his mate on the run from a fenced-in enclosure, presumably a zoo – a sort of Bonnie and Clyde scenario only ore visceral than bank robberies.

The rules exist to provide structure and guidance as we develop ourselves as creative beings regardless of our chosen discipline. Traditional methods, such as writing in past tense and third person exist to provide stability and a level of comfort while exploring the craft. When you have mastered the craft, you must master undoing all of those rules and traditions to find your voice, to let your nature shine through your art. In other words, break the rules when you know how to do it well and with intent. Show no fear.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: Real-Time Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott

I enjoyed every page of this book – well almost every page – the subject of analytics tends to lose me in any book. I enjoyed it to the point that I tweeted David Meerman Scott late Saturday night telling him that I was “loving it”; that the book addressed many of the frustrations I face professionally. He responded to me on Sunday afternoon via Twitter to thank me, and reminded me “real time is a mind-set.” A mind-set I will gladly take on in the communication profession.

Real-Time Marketing and PR tackles real world issues I know others like me have faced in the PR and corporate communication field: road blocks of bureaucracy, lethargy, and fear. The hesitancy to respond to matters in real-time can be painful to any company, particularly to its employees. And the lack of empowerment for employees to publicly defend and promote their company in the discourse of public opinion can be detrimental to corporate culture.

“Big business is designed to move forward according to plan, at a measured and deliberate pace.” (35) Organizations traditionally rely on the slow mechanics of consensus building, conducting studies, legal reviews, practicing caution, and meeting compliance within hierarchal structures. Meanwhile, in the outside world where the fruits of their labor matter most, consumers set the pace, and that pace is lightning fast in the social media realm.

An important concept this book conveys is that social media are only the tools, whereas real-time is a mind-set. Companies cannot presume they are active in the real-time market place just because they have a Twitter account or a Facebook page. The real time mind-set means actively responding to customers or proactively dealing with breaking news about the company before a crisis develops. In order to do this, however, social media must be monitored rigorously – in real time – using social and web analytics tools. Those tools should be integrated into the standard processes of a PR or marketing department, contributing data – such as ratios of positive versus negative commentary about a product – to all decision-making, not just checked in on occasionally. The data these tools collect and filter direct the appropriate message to the best recipient to handle the matter as immediately as possible. On a larger scale, the data provides trend tracking of both the positive and negative commentary, providing immediate insight into current public opinion.

On the customer service front, the real time mind-set requires flexibility and humanity, responding to issues immediately with a guiding principle that keeps the employees’ efforts on message. Consumers do not want to hear from an automaton reciting a script; they want to hear from humans making split-second decisions that the company endorses to satisfy their needs. This means companies need to listen to their public. They need to participate in the public conversations about them. If they don’t speak for themselves, others will, despite their best or worst intentions.

“In a real-time corporate culture everyone is recognized as a responsible adult.” (40) In other words, senior managers need to trust the people they hire to do right by the company, to not let fear of the unknown impede potential sales from a satisfied customer. In top-down traditional management structures, unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. I have witnessed leaders who were slow to respond to the simplest requests, wanting to pass the smallest detail through legal review before a communication could be shared publicly. It’s quite discouraging to the employees when these same leaders claim they want to see everyone as happy collaborators and transparent communicators. The only transparency is evident in their fear of the new ways of doing business. Scott is a fighter on this front, stating, “In the new always-on world of communications, success requires empowering your frontline people to use their own judgment as they engage your customers – in real time.” (63)

“Lawyers are not communicators,” Scott says, “the opinion of your legal staff should be considered, but final decisions should be made by competent real-time communicators.” (136) He recommends the creation of a new C-suite position: the Chief Real-Time Communications Officer. I would welcome this role in my organization. This person would “provide leadership and coordination for a range of real-time activities, starting with the creation of company guidelines. It would include a mandate to ensure compliance and consistency with those guidelines, once established.” (190) This person would interface with legal, marketing, PR, and plethora of other departments to best represent the company at any possible minute of the day. Real time communication is a cross-functional role based in communication, but requires the involvement and buy-in of all other aspects of a business. It fits the mold that every public facet of a business, from a customer service center’s hold music to the paper stock an employee’s business card is printed on, represents the company’s brand. The concept of real-time is no different.

I found Scott’s historical perspective on real time interesting. He explains that only in modern times during the age of mass media, starting in the 1950s, the history of communication was an aberration. “We spent six decades in a bizarre, one-sided, television-centered regime that gave no voice to consumers. But with the rise of the real-time web that era is over.” (215) He explained that, “word of mouth has regained its historic power.” (215)

Real-Time Marketing and PR is a great book tying together the tried and true public relations methodologies of the past century and applying them to the latest communication technologies. I strongly recommend that anyone in the fields of marketing or PR should read this book, seasoned veterans and newcomers alike. Even more so, I recommend this book to any manager feeling trepidation about taking their company into the new way of doing real-time business.