Three

In the past three weeks I’ve been turned down for three separate jobs. That is, to say the least, disheartening. At least two of the four I was 100% qualified for and would have been amazing at. The third was a little more iffy, but it was nothing that I didn’t have at least some experience with, so could have still done an amazing job.

That’s a pretty tight timespan and has, quite frankly, impacted my usually sunny disposition. Without naming any names, here’s what happened in all three situations.

Job 1: Freelance Writer and Editor

This came in through a recruitment firm I receive regular emails from. After I responded with my qualifications the firm set up a time for me to talk to the company itself. I had two interviews with them in one day where I heard about the job, shared my experience and background and expressed a strong interest in working with them. It wasn’t a full-time hire but a 40-hour/week freelance gig but the opportunity to work with this company and be involved in story discovery, editorial planning and more was very alluring.

It was about a week after those two interviews that I heard through the recruitment firm that they’d selected someone else. The news shouldn’t have been that big a deal, but it came right in the middle of one of my part-time retail shifts and so it hit me a bit harder than it otherwise would have. The narrative my internal voices filled in was that no, you’re not good enough and you were silly for believing otherwise. I’ll be honest, it was a couple days before I shook that one off and moved on.

Job 2: Content Editor

This was a position I applied for directly myself. One of my stated goals in the last year and a half has been to work for or with a Chicago company since I haven’t done so since 2005, when I left Bacon’s Information for MWW Group. This would have given me the opportunity to do just that and be in an exciting field with lots of room for growth. I’d be managing a nationwide team of writers and, again, doing story discovery while balancing an overall editorial calendar. Once more, I had two interviews – this time over the course of a couple weeks – and submitted both a writing and editing sample, both of which I felt I nailed.

Last week I got the form email saying the company had selected someone else. This one came in while I was shoulder-deep in a couple other freelance projects so the news was received much better. Maybe not positively, but it didn’t send me down into the Pit of Despair. I was actively engaged in something else and so took the attitude of “OK, well, on to the next thing.”

JOB 3: Growth Manager

Again, this came to my attention through a recruitment firm, but just because the recruiter felt I’d be a good match for it, not after I responded to a listing. The company was looking for someone to manage paid ads and do content editing. That meant the Venn Diagram of what they were looking for and what my experience/skillset is overlapped to the least extent of the three possible gigs. Still, nothing I couldn’t handle. This one didn’t even make it to the interview stage as I was sent a link to a survey to fill out where I answered two sets of questions: What personality traits did I feel best described me and which ones did I feel were most applicable to the job in question. The same ~40 traits were listed on each page, though the order was mixed up.

Yesterday I received word from the recruiter that the company would not be bringing me in for an interview. It seems my answers had revealed a personality that was too “methodical” while the hiring personnel were seeking someone more prone to “risk-taking.”

This is perhaps the least useful feedback I’ve ever received. The decision was made by calculating the value of a few dozen checked boxes, not after getting to know me or hearing about my experience and mindset. The other two, at least, resulted from a decent amount of both quantitative and qualitative information. It’s the kind of test that should tell you what sort of job you’re qualified for, not whether or not you qualify for a job.

Of course I’m disappointed that I didn’t get any of these three positions. With a bit of perspective, it may be more signs from above that freelancing from home is where the good Lord wants me to be at the moment. At least the first two I can feel came after I was able to present a fully-rounded picture of myself and my talents. If I wasn’t who they were looking for, OK, I’ll accept that. All I ask is the opportunity to do just that, not be judged solely on the basis of a test I didn’t know I was taking.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

RT Or It Doesn’t Happen

To indulge in a popular Twitter form of commentary, I’m old enough to remember when begging for Retweets was simply, my dear, that was not done.

Now, though, my Timeline is awash in overt plays for Retweets. On any given day I see a half-dozen variations on the “Quote RT this with…” format. “…with the name of a movie you used to hate but now love.” “…with the last book you read but add ‘Harry Potter and the’ to the title.” So on and so on.

I can remember not that long ago when posts like that, or ones on Facebook encouraging fans to fill in a blank by leaving a comment, were seen as the worst form of engagement-bait. They were cheap ploys to appeal to people’s vanity, empty content with no intrinsic value.

So what changed? Is this the natural evolution of social media? The result of a generation of “experts” that’s followed my own and isn’t holding itself to the same standards we did? Am I just an old man who doesn’t like how the neighborhood is changing and so spends his days throwing firecrackers at the kids on the sidewalk?

It’s probably all of the above. Tactics change, I get that. That doesn’t make it any less head-scratching to see what was once considered to be common sense and a violation of best practices now so commonly used. Apparently it’s no longer beneath anyone to overtly seek empty engagement, which is a change in mindset I’ll have to adopt.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Tracking Ads to the Physical World Is The Next Threshold

As part of remarks made at a recent industry conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told anxious advertisers the company was working to not just provide better ad tools but also on ways to tie those ads to physical sales. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made similar comments, promising better measurement for advertisers.

Facebook announced last year that integrated maps of physical stores into ads and then showed advertisers who acted as a result of those ads. What seems likely is that it and other companies will take this kind of tracking even further. Let’s put two facts together to see how they add up to something even more intrusive.

First, Facebook knows when you’re in a store to enough detail that it can not only show a relevant ad but show an ad that’s relevant to the *section* of the store you’re in at the moment.

Second, Facebook knows when you’ve been exposed to an ad, whether that’s on mobile or desktop.

Put those together and you have the ability to know when someone visited a store after seeing an ad and, with just a little tweaking, can likely tie that to exact purchases and revenue that can be used to…yes…target further ads. This solves the age old question of outdoor, TV and other advertising that lacked direct response, which is whether or not that billboard on I-55 actually lead to a Snickers bar purchase and when that happened.

Imagine the following: You see an ad on Thursday on Facebook (LinkedIn or Twitter or any of their associated audience networks that take ads to other sites) for a sale on jeans at Old Navy. Facebook knows you’ve seen that ad because you had to scroll past it to see your friends’ pictures from Aruba. You don’t take an action then but when you’re out on Saturday you stop into Old Navy and get not only some jeans but also a t-shirt and some socks. The location-tracking Facebook is capable of knows you were there and can report to Old Navy it took three days but you finally acted on that ad. That’s valuable enough.

Now if you provide some details that Old Navy enters into its CMS it has a list of the products you bought and the amount you spent. It wouldn’t take much to tie those details into Facebook’s database and create a comprehensive report showing you spent $67.43 on four items three days after seeing an ad and based on the items you both bought and looked at (remember, Facebook can apparently track you down to the square foot), serve you ads later on offering you more deals at Old Navy.

As ad revenue growth begins to level off at Facebook and ad volume hits the extent of audience patience, expect the ads it serves to be all that more intrusive, which means more tracking. Retargeting online shows that’s already in full swing there, now it’s likely to come to you via your real-world behavior as well.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Daily Prompt – Glorious


(NOTE: Based on today’s The Daily Post writing prompt)

The glorious sunshine hit the western edge of the crowd shortly after dawn, only after it cleared the deep and tall bank of trees on the east of the park. They were there to celebrate and so welcomed the warm sunlight with cheers and outstretched arms.

The leaders took the stage within moments, earlier than planned but eager to take advantage of the positive feelings in the crowd and turn it to their advantage. No one in the audience knew what was about to happen; Indeed, only a handful within the government knew the extent of what was planned. It was happening nonetheless.

“Blessed morning, everyone” the Premier said with reserved joy. He was known for his stoicism through both good times and bad and so giving too much emotion would be out of character. “We are honored to have you joining us this morning.” A wave of applause nearly deafened everyone on stage. They were thrilled.

“Today we are announcing a new set of guidelines by which you can live your best lives. We know how hard you all work to maximize work/life balance, practice minimalism while also being valuable consumers and otherwise seek to embrace the whole of life, not one specific viewpoint or mantra. You all are shining examples of living your best life, both spiritually and physically.” His tone was warm and loving. He’d practiced getting it just right for weeks. Now it was time to change to something more cold and calculated.

“That’s why today we are seizing all your property. As we speak, federal agents are claiming everything you own, either physically or through paperwork. You now, to be clear, own nothing.”

A ripple of disbelief went through the crowd. What was he saying?

“If it’s any consolation, you set yourself up for this. Registering your purchases and connecting them to the network allowed us to pinpoint everything you own. These are choices you made to offer us the means by which to seize your property and now we have done so, with the help of the companies who sold you those products to begin with.

“There is no recourse, no appeals process.” His tone once more became warmer and friendlier, the teacher talking to a favored student. “This is for your own health and well-being. While so many of you embraced a well-rounded lifestyle, others persisted in abuse. Abuse of goods, abuse of drugs and alchohol, abuse of food. They went too far. The only way we could ensure that no one took it too far was to eliminate the temptation completely.”

The murmurs in the crowd grew louder. He could see some people leaving, likely running home to see what was happening and put up a token fight. The prisons would be filled within two hours.

“Don’t worry. You won’t starve, nor will you lack for anything. Beginning today, all you need will be provided by the Administration. We already keep you safe from other threats, why not from the threat of either starvation or obesity? Details on how this will work will be distributed by the staff stationed at all the exits.”

More and more people were streaming out. He estimated less than 90 seconds before a full-fledged riot would erupt and so, just as planned, wrapped up his speech. “All for the state, all from the state.” That motto would soon appear on buildings and other structures. It would be printed in newspapers and broadcast on the network. It would be everywhere inside of a week, inescapable.

He moved off the stage into his private transportation. As he zoomed away he wondered how many of the rioters, either here or elsewhere, would have to be shot. Some projections he’d seen estimated roughly 45% of encounters would turn violent. That was a small price to pay for finally executing a plan he’d begun three decades earlier, though.

The park where he’d spoken faded into the background. He allowed himself a rare smile. There was beauty in chaos, particularly since only that lead to progress. And this was progress.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Technology Changes Consumption

Back in the early days of online video, there was one cardinal rule: Don’t shoot vertical video. That was as close to a mortal sin as you got. Everything was designed for landscape video viewing, so vertical videos displayed with window boxing on the right and left, creating a sub-optimal experience. That was in line with every other video presentation, from widescreen TVs to computer monitors, with 16×9 displays becoming the norm for both.

The emergence of mobile phones and the default portrait mode of social apps like Snapchat have upended that norm. Shooting vertical video is now common, with even platforms like YouTube adopting features that make watching them easier.

What’s important to remember is that technology always disrupts not only production but also consumption. The advent of cassettes made music far more portable than it had been with LPs. Instant cameras meant you could quickly evaluate the quality of your photo. Both of those, as well as countless others, have evolved since then as well as digital and mobile technology began to emerge.

Those changes in technology have brought with them changes in consumer behavior. The study shared there shows people are moving away from TV in favor of linear broadcasts, part of a broader trend moving away from larger screens and toward entertainment enjoyment. News consumption is not only shifting to smartphones but two-thirds of U.S. adults now use social media, primarily a mobile activity, as their primary news source. That Pew study shows that those who go to social networks are mostly supplementing that with the apps or mobile websites of news organizations.

Changes are coming so fast that cord-cutting forecasts have been adjusted because initial models were too conservative. That’s being driven by the emergence of more and more OTT platforms and services. Those services are off to a slow start at the moment and aren’t contributing much to the revenue of their parent companies. That might change, though likely not without some shakeout in the market, or it might not and these will remain niche products.

I’m not a huge fan of vertical video. But I also wasn’t a fan of square photos until Instagram popularized the format. Too many flashbacks to my old Kodak camera that shot that way. But evolution is the only constant in the media world, so it’s best to buckle up and go along for the ride.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Last Week on Cinematic Slant

Dayveon – Marketing Recap: Ultimately I felt this is just the kind of movie that needs an extra little nudge. It seems important and one that could create an important conversation.

Is Sony Arming Itself for Battle Against Rotten Tomatoes: I don’t know if this is Sony running these ad surveys or if it’s some other party, but it’s certain someone is gathering information.

American Assassin – Marketing Recap: If this succeeds it’s easy to see at least a few more of the Mitch Rapp stories making their way to the big-screen.

The Big Winner in the Streaming Wars Could Be Physical or Downloaded Media: At some point I have to believe there’s going to be a push back against all this insanity.

Brad’s Status – Marketing Recap: What the marketing does well is use Stiller’s nervous energy, which has aged pretty well, as one of the primary hooks.

Abrams Returns to Star Wars for Episode IX: The reason the date shift is more notable to me than the return of Abrams (though that’s substantial as well) is that it directly impacts the movie’s marketing.

mother! – Marketing Recap: The focus was on creating a sense of mystery and tension in the audience with tight spaces, fast cuts, building music, dramatic visuals and other tactics.

Darren Aronofsky – Director Overview: With his latest film, mother!, hitting theaters this week t’s a good opportunity to look back at the director’s previous six films and how they were sold.

Rebel in the Rye – Marketing Recap: Salinger has been such an enigmatic figure that there’s always been a hunger for more background on him and how he created “Catcher.”

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/15

  • Your regular reminder to be careful when it comes to working with social media influencers and popular YouTubers because they could turn out to be really really racist.
  • Bezos is panicking because Amazon’s original series aren’t big enough hits, cancelling some shows and ordering new ones that fit with a new vision.
  • A new study says 18-34 year olds spend over half the time they devote to video on time-shifted viewing to TV programs.
  • Snapchat is officially rolling out its program to enlist more college publications in Discover.
  • Engagement on Instagram videos is apparently growing significantly after traditionally lagging behind the easier-to-consumer/browse photos for years.
  • Influencers continue to abandon Snapchat due to the ability to make more money elsewhere, particularly Instagram and YouTube, and Snap’s lack of hand-holding and outreach to them.
  • Mobile is the only format that’s driving any growth in web traffic, though how that’s spread around (or not) isn’t helping apps.
  • Interesting stats from Pinterest on how women use the site to browse and shop for new styles and clothes.
  • Nope, tagging news as “fake” or “disputed” on Facebook doesn’t do much of anything and could, in fact, reinforce its appeal among certain close-minded groups.
  • Facebook Instant Articles will no longer be available via Messenger, a change that comes due to apparent lack of usage and interest.
  • Hard to argue with the points made here about how RSS is a much better news-reading system than social media.
  • Google is trying to appease publishers by ending its “first click” free trial policy, pitching the change as one that will result in rising subscriptions offsetting drops in ad revenue.
  • There’s a new purity test in place at Facebook that publishers hoping to make money on the network through ad sales have to pass in order to qualify.
  • Advertisers can now run cross-channel campaigns on Instagram Stories now that it’s been integrated into its Canvas program.
  • Changes in media consumption sometimes lead to subsequent changes in job titles.
  • It’s not that surprising – at least it shouldn’t be – that Facebook doesn’t lead to substantial revenue for publishers, who nonetheless have no plans to stop prioritizing Facebook as a primary distribution node.
  • A new study shows the sweet spot for influencer marketing ROI is somewhere just below the top celebrities, who charge too much, and the micro-influencers who are all the rage. The difficulty in finding just the right person is why both Microsoft and Google are working on software to find them accurately and efficiently.
  • Pinterest is touting crossing the 200 million member mark.
  • Snapchat’s integration with Bitmoji now allows users to include animated versions of their avatars in their Snaps.
  • Make sure you read this study concluding radio is failing at keeping up with current music because it can’t adapt at the rate artists are releasing new songs or full albums.
  • Spotify is struggling with its pivot to video, finding most success by seeding videos in popular playlists as opposed to creating a destination portal for shows.

Google Changes News Policy to Appease Publishers

According to a Wall Street Journal story last week (summarized by Business Insider for those without a WSJ subscription), Google is making some changes that it hopes will improve its relationship with news publishers. Specifically, it’s ending the “first click free” policy that let people access paywalled stories for free if they came in from search results. The change is being sold as advantageous for publishers, who will see a decline in ad revenue from fewer page views but hopefully also see an increase in paid subscriptions that offsets that decline.

The inherent problem with this approach is apparent in the paragraph above. I’ll let you go find it.

See it yet? Yeah, it’s that, lacking a Wall Street Journal subscription, I found and relied on a summary of the story on another, free, site.

This has been an ongoing argument since the advent of the internet and media companies’ first forays into online publishing. Many sites have gone back and forth with various models, from free access to total paywall lockdown to metered freemium and more. Subscription revenue is measured against advertising revenue, each one found wanting at different times.

There are different reasons people will give for the kind of news experience and content they’re willing to pay for. And I’m the first one to say I’d love to pay for online/mobile subscriptions to a dozen papers to support the work the people who produce it do. The reality is I can’t do that right now, so I have take advantage of one of the myriad free alternatives who have developed their own business models. I’ll give them the page view, which results in a small bit of ad income, in exchange for free access.

It’s unfortunate the Google “first click free” loophole is being closed, but I understand the need of the company to play nicely with publishers. They’ve often criticized Google for stealing traffic by showing a synopsis of stories on Google News that discouraged people from clicking through. Some publishers have even, over the years, sought to restrict who could link to their stories, claiming doing so violated their copyright. That was in response bloggers who would excerpt large chunks of stories, making reading the original unnecessary. Eventually they not only lost that fight but the “aggregator” industry was born as sites like The Huffington Post and others made “summarize with a small obligatory link” into their own formula for success.

So I get that publishers want to close any loophole they can. Until there are no longer adequate free alternatives who’ve been able to achieve scaled success with bare-bones operations that draft off the work of larger publications, they’re still going against the tide.

The bad news is the one thing that will kill those trailing outlets is the death, due to lack of ad/subscription revenue, of the bigger organizations they rely on. The smaller startups have diversified their business models through industry events, deep report analysis and more, but they don’t (yet) have the reporting resources that create the stories they’re quick to summarize.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

How Fast and Loose Do I Play The Game?

(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

Pretty darn fast and loose, if you ask me. Of course, that’s assuming I’m interpreting the question correctly.

That’s driven by an innate desire to keep things fresh. I like to iterate, I like to take on new projects, I like to tweak existing models. I like to execute new ideas and then explain the justification or thinking behind doing so only two weeks later when someone notices. That’s usually after those ideas are becoming entrenched and expected in and by the audience.

Well thought-out plans that have been measured and proposed and dutifully considered are great and I understand where the line is that necessitates taking a slower approach. But for the most part, I’ve always been one to think on his feet and make gut calls, turning on a dime, even if it’s just 12 degrees to the side of what I’m currently doing.

That’s served me pretty well over the years. As I’ve said before, I can count multiple instances where something I thought up in the shower, did a bit of research on and executed an hour later is still being used by clients years later and well after I stopped being involved with the program.

This approach has been possible in part because I’ve enjoyed a good amount of autonomy in much of my work. Clients gave me and my teams a lot of slack to run a program without their need to approve every single update before it was published as long as we were hitting our goals, which we almost always did. Even my employers, for the programs I’ve run for agencies, have let me do my thing, involved only when they needed the platforms I managed for an important announcement.

So I keep things moving. I play around with this or that tactic. If it works, great. If not, I abandon it and it’s never spoken of again.

The Facebook credo of “Move fast and break things” isn’t applicable because unlike software, the kind of content programs I’ve managed can suffer considerable damage if I break something as part of my experimentation. I may make spur-of-the-moment decisions and implement changes quickly, but it always comes from consideration of what’s best for the client and what best serves the audience. If I make the wrong call, I’ve endangered the client’s reputation and business as well as that of my employer and, of course, myself.

There need to be approval workflows and other structural supports in place. This isn’t just me wanting to be a petulant anarchist. It’s just me working as best I can to introduce a little chaos here and there, which is necessary for any healthy ecosystem.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

When Paranoia Takes Over

Let me tell you, all the terrible assumptions identified as potentially impacting your career are not only true, but they’re often felt even more keenly by remote workers.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I applied the worst possible option to the communication – or lack thereof – from someone I worked with across the country. They were upset with me, they were disappointed in something I’d worked on, they were looking to push me out the door and so on.

This is part of the reason I think companies with remote staff need to commit to working harder than others to make that situation work with everyone. That includes regular team and leadership check-ins, multiple communication platforms and more. Video calling on Skype or Zoom or other platforms are great for countering some of this since it allows everyone to read the other person’s body language better, even if it’s not as well as they could in-person.

Not doing so can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction and paranoia on the part of your employees, which can lead them to prematurely look for an exit your company may not be prepared for. Keep in mind how you can best tend to the emotional needs and considerations of your staff, particularly those who aren’t in your own building.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.