Our failures stem from fear… but surely someone succeeds?

Yesterday, I blogged about the basis of our fears. Today I’m thinking of other issues related to fear. Think of the personal consequences, and think of who benefits from one’s personal fears. You and I may not even consciously view these as fears or as the demons you must battle against.

When danger looms ahead, we are alarmed, filled with fear, dread the consequences e.g. in an exam for which you did not do quite as well as you should have, you dread the results – that sense of anticipated failure. Now if the exam is critical, the fear gets compounded. Think of it, if you fared poorly, and your job promotion had depended upon it, you will be anxious. But if   you were without a job for months, and if this exam was your singular ray of hope, the consequences of failure may be even more severe. Anxiety, worry, tension aside, you may actually stand in cold sweat, fearing the worst consequences, while you await the results.

Fear also causes:

angst, anxiety, concern

despair, dismay, doubt, dread

horror, jitters, panic

scare, suspicion, terror, unease

worry, abhorrence, agitation

aversion, awe, consternation

cowardice, creeps, discomposure

disquietude, distress

faint-heartedness, foreboding, fright

funk, misgiving, nightmare

phobia, pre-sentiment

qualm, reverence, revulsion

timidity, trembling, tremor, trepidation

bête noire, chicken-heartedness

cold feet, cold sweat

recreancy or defection

Why so many words? Well, there are subtle differences. Some of these are more pronounced than others, depending on the cause and/or consequence.

Have you ever considered that much to their own advantage, companies across the board feed off customers’ fears. In direct contrast to the variants of fear, they offer “value additions” along with their products. We, as their customers, buy into their reassuring ad campaigns, which more often than not offer a combination of these:

calmness, cheer, confidence, contentment

ease, encouragement

faith, happiness, joy

trust, comfort

like, love

bravery, courage

heroism, unconcern,

fearlessness

Through their social media marketing, or advertising messages, when brand or corporate ad campaigns do not reinforce these positive emotions in their audiences, the campaigns are deemed to have failed. Little or zero impact on customers’ psyche leads to fewer conversions, and thereby a failed media campaign. All the hi-flying numbers, communication strategy etc means nada, if social media marketers or corporate leaders do not get this basic idea right.

In closing, think of all the insurance companies, beauty products, health-related brands/services, funeral services, real estate, transportation, education, political campaigns, or then even social media… Beneath all the sweet words of wisdom is an underlying message – If you don’t buy into our brand, the chances are you will lose out. They subliminally evoke latent fear.

Lose out from being part of a larger social circle, or a club, or a group, or from your family… the “affiliation to something desirable” or sought after. That causes fear, which could then lead to personal failure; “If I don’t buy into this pricey club membership, my circle of friends will think I’m uncool and folks may begin to alienate me.”  This notion of failure is daunting for all of us… hence this business strategy propagates, companies funnel their offerings through the media you and I are likely to use; and we feed through it consuming their whole nine yards.

Who are you? A Sobbing Sucker, or a Stoic Writer?

In either case, you’re the one losing out. If you’re crying out aloud because you’re being exploited, thereby letting the world hear about those who exploit you, you’re soon out of work. If you silently suffer the hurt, but keep writing for those who’ll suck you dry for pennies, you’re helping them make money with your talents, while you get squeezed out of your apartment! Yeah, when will you ever make enough moolah – yeah, yeah that’s $$$$ (not the ‘mullah’ you reach out to when ‘Allah’ refuses to listen to your woes). Now, in case you’re wondering, and just to get the record straight –  I’m neither an Allah worshipper, nor am I a fanatic mullah-follower… even when I’m in dire straits. For that matter, I don’t lean towards any priests, pundits nor power-healers for health or holistic support. This is just a statement of fact – neither right, nor wrong.

So… why this rant? Well, here’s why… because all is not well. Here I am, away from WordPress, Facebook, Twitter or any social networking site, but busy seeking positions (a.k.a. job search) in Social Media Marketing, Content Writing, Web Content Writer, Marketing Coordinator, so on, so forth… yes, from entry level positions to mid-level to senior; from on-site real jobs, to remotely-employed sort of positions.

For every job, the requirements are getting not just stringent, but downright ridiculous, and for obscenely low $. Here’s an example of one that takes the cake… and I’m not sure if this is the last one I’ve seen on this elusive job market scene. Those with jobs are unlikely to read this post; those seeking jobs may — every now and again — peek to read this post that speaks about the plight of those in a similar situation as theirs. Terrible sentence construct… yes, I’m aware. Do I care?

Here’s what I received in my mailbox yesterday in response to an application for ‘freelance copywriter’. I received  a PDF file that is nine-pages long. It details the company background referring to its partnership with the Who’s Who in residential and commercial real estate, nationwide (and even internationally). It also raves about its business association with premier luxury car brands. Furthermore, there’s an element of latent pride in that their articles have featured on trade publications, or leading vertical search engines. A list of types of work one can expect to write about is also enumerated. All good thus far. In fact, even the list of expectations (from potential copywriters) seems reasonable on the face of it… well-researched, grammatically accurate, error-free writing… fair enough.

But now, when it comes to money, or the credit for your writing, expect to be paid peanuts — around $15 for a 500 words article, and this includes one round of revisions at least! As for the credit, you aren’t allowed to even feature an article written by you in your personal portfolio — sorry, the nature of ghostwriting. Then again, zero credit for your article when it is published. Somebody else takes credit for your hard work. Oh yeah, the company will be kind enough to put in a good word for you, should you ever make a request for a reference.

I’m very curious – are all these A-rated auto makers, and A-rated realtors so cheap, that they will even suck the copywriters dry? Or are creative service providers headed by greedy (and lazy) chieftains, who, under the guise of creative genius just out to scam both, their clients, as well as those who write for them? Which of these is true?  In case you thought, my post ends here, I’m sorry.

There’s another attachment – a three-page document a.k.a. a sample of writing. Based on the style of this article, the potential copywriter/ghostwriter is required to write and submit a new article (500 words) for a given topic. This will demonstrate writing style, command over language, research skills, timely delivery etc. Of course, plagiarism is disallowed (No self-respecting writer would stoop low in any case).

If this was not enough, another article is required. In 500 words again, write from a selection of topic options. One glance will indicate that it is research intensive. No, for neither of these articles will the applicant be paid.

In my mind, these are like shell companies reeking of scams. I searched for a legit website for the company. There was none to be found across the web. It is important to remember… we are writers, not suckers. I believe in my ability. I won’t succumb to crappy scams like these. I’d rather spend time writing this post for myself. Cheers.

P.S.: To write a decent, well-researched article (500 words)… to proof-read, revise, submit and provide at least one revision to the client will take at least 3-5 solid hours of work. That’s more than half a day’s work. If you write even 10 articles over a 5-day week, that’s plenty. People claim that writers submit 100 articles… can anyone believe this?

Had trouble finding followers?

That’s the trouble… why do we even think of this as trouble. Are we Pied Pipers driving the art of writing to its death?

Those who truly think independently, don’t quite care about a fan following. The real independent thinkers and philosophers wrote their ideas or expressed them. Because they made sense we read about such people, read their books, or follow their ideas, believe in their philosophies, or ponder over their thoughts.

Writing can be triggered by something you saw, read, or experienced… anything could serve as a stimulus. The idea about having platforms like wordpress, or twitter or blogspot or even facebook… if each of us did our own thing, write our own ‘think’, create content that we actually believe in, it would be so much more fun than just circulating ‘forwards’ from hotmail to gmail, or worse, re-posting it as your own content (aka plagiarizing).

How much of all that we read, or is written is truly meaningful? What I write today on my blog (web log i.e. my diary) here, will the words sound dated five years from today, or five months away, or say in five days? Recall, blogs first started out as digital diaries that you could revisit someday. These diaries were personal, not items and writings that others could pry into. If someone laid even a little finger on it, leave alone leaf through its pages, the diarist would be hopping mad. But a page in a diary gives a glimpse of the person who wrote the words. It may give a hint into a person’s character. What interests me are human relations, how the mind thinks… why it thinks the way it does, what transpired in the person’s life to bring about such thoughts? You can weave an entire story… stories are telling. We will forget products but if there was a story around it, we tend to remember it more.

Today, though, many of us tend to clamor for a large fan following. Just the other day, I recall either tweeting (or blogging) about why anyone should care how many followers I have on Twitter, or how many tweets I posted… or for that matter should it matter to anyone but myself how many folks I follow? What does matter is whether or not my content, words, tweets, chirps hold meaning, have some interesting take or twist on a subject that I read, or found interesting. e.g. on Twitter, I’d be more eager to see a tab that displays counts of re-tweets, or favorite-d strings of 140 characters. But all we do is post link after link without giving our take on it, without expressing our views or what it was that piqued our interest, or held your attention if even for just a moment. We’re in such a grand rush to move to the next subject… all in a hurry, rushing to nowhere in particular.

So here’s what I believe… you can create your own content, or you can curate content that others have created. Yeah, someone will likely turn around and say this is jargon, old hat, content curation is a term used for years now. But my point is, even if it’s been used for years, have we all learned how to do it? Whether as companies, or as individuals, how succinctly can we summarize what we read and present it in a coherent, or more interesting manner, or more pertinently, can we add our two cents to it?

Every platform that is built – either as an app or web tool – is sort of latched on to by marketing departments to promote their brands, products etc. What started off as a space for ‘you, me  and us types of individuals’ now turns into an overcrowded platform used by professional corporate bloggers, content providers, content curators. There’s just so much information out there about everything and nothing. If there’s any particular topic or subject of interest, sift through it to find what interests you, present your views, and create a fabric that appears interesting when you look at it as a whole. If it is linear it won’t be quite interesting, but add dimension, give it depth, add color, bring in elements to enhance the entire picture. But as in any picture or photograph, if there’s a singular focus it will appeal to many. Some may like the picture for the color, others may enjoy it for its texture, but most will enjoy it as a whole, unable to quite pinpoint what it was they liked about it, nevertheless they do like it. Well, in a nutshell, that’s what I think is the purpose of content creation, and content curation.

SEO tools, or cheese tactics? Back Links, Cross links, Outbound Links…

As a blog reader, have you noticed that often you’re reading a particular post, and all of a sudden you find you’re somewhere else – either on another post written by the same blogger, or on an entirely different blog! Sometimes, you land on a totally different site. This happens not just in the blogosphere, but also on other social media sites. While this may be useful at times, more often than not it’s irksome… because whatever it is you were reading is now either ‘lost’, or you have to hit the ‘back’ button ever so often to return to the page you were originally reading. This occurs when you click on a hyperlink – either knowingly, or inadvertently – that immediately transposes you to another domain, or another webpage. That link which pulled you away from the current page is the outbound link. As an example, I’m taking you to this webpage outside of wordpress. If you clicked on it, notice that it opens up in another window. This is intentional, because I’d like you to continue reading this page (although the other page offers something delicious!). ヅ This link is an example of an ‘outbound‘ link. Does it add value to my site i.e. this page? Well, that is a function of how the algorithms of Google, Bing, or Yahoo will mark this page – add points, or give negative points – so as to bury my page among the billions of pages so it is almost never found by someone searching for the topic on Links in the context of search engine optimization.

However, in contrast, if say you have a page on this subject, and decide to link to this page or any other with related content from my posts on this blog, that would be an example of a ‘back‘ link for my blog. Now, depending on whether your content and my content have relevant content and there’s an obvious reason why the link exists, once again, the algorithms of the search engines (smart as they are) may figure out the likeness of content along with the context and give us both a positive mark. However, if the search engine finds that some spam-filled page stuffed with keywords is linking to me, neither will that page earn any point, nor will mine. This would be an example of ‘cheese tactics‘ by the spam website. Of course, note that I borrowed this phrase from the gaming industry. But as the phrase connotes, it’s a cheap tactic used to garner clicks, that no respectable SEO expert would dare to use.

But what about ‘cross-links‘ within your own website? Often, when you’re on a company’s website, you may be reading say the About Us page. You may find a link on that very page which will transpose you to another page e.g. their Press Center, or their Contact Us page or even to an email id e.g. info@xyz.com. Then when you click on that Press Center, in turn it will have a page with yet another link which takes you to some other page but within the same company’s website, say e.g. on their product page… or think of an e-commerce site like Amazon. When you visit this shopping portal, it is hard to really exit from the site, because of the numerous links which will keep drawing you back to look and search and browse more and more and more of their various products. Not only are the links relevant, they are not filled with spam; also, you clicked on these, because something on the page draws you to them, compelling you to click and click again. Eventually you end up shopping, and your click has now brought about a conversion! Isn’t that the objective of for-profit businesses? In the shortest possible time, with the fewest number of clicks, how can the website or webpage entice you to make a click that will bring about a sale of their product. This in very simple terms is the whole point of search engine optimization, landing page optimization, the value (or lack thereof) of links and cross-links. Not as a company, but as a blogger, I’ll link to one of my own pages here, on words-n-motion. Who knows, may be you will follow me, or subscribe to my blog… that is an example of ‘conversion‘ for a not-for-profit site. 😉

Curiosity… about organic growth, seo driven copy, reader driven content.

For a couple of weeks last month I was busy, training intensely for a project… there was a fair amount of ‘learning’, but I’m bound by an NDA, so shan’t speak of it further… lips are zipped. In any case, why worry, this post isn’t about speaking, it’s about writing… ‘content’ for the web! I bring this up now, because on a quick search query for the words “sticky factor”, I was pleasantly surprised to see my post at the top of the SERPs… well, to be honest, it was on page 2. (Go on try it out.)  Now, as someone I once knew would say, “Isn’t that something”!  ¯(ツ)/¯

“SERPs” is the buzzword among marketing professionals, striving to ensure that their web pages show up high among the Search Engine Results Pages. There, you got it, right? Oh no… please desist from visualizing serpentine creatures popping up from a snake-charmer’s basket, and crawling around the place.  Though of course, you’ll find  ‘SEO’ experts from all over, striving for Search Engine Optimization, driving many copywriters and content writers up the wall. Well, these SEO cats (a subset of marketing professionals that mushroomed during the decade driven by Google) follow Search Engine Results Pages not unlike someone tailgating you on a busy freeway.

Here’s the thing… I had not paid for ‘keywords’, as most for-profit businesses would do. For them it is integral to their marketing budget – all so that their webpage shows up among the top results for a given set of query words, phrases, or even for a single word! My blog post had ‘grown organically’! Now why is it important that a webpage show up high enough on SERPs? Well, because folks like you and I, and millions of other people get utterly bored searching beyond the first couple of pages. If you’re searching for something on the web, you want to find it fast enough; the sooner that web page with your desired information shows up, the better it is for you… but remember, it is even more important to the website owner/s (or businesses) that have something to sell to you – it may not be necessarily to ‘sell’, but even to ‘tell’ their ‘story’. The story may be about their company, about themselves as individuals, or about the products and/or services they’re selling or promoting. What they have on their webpages is something they know. Until someone does not ‘visit’ that web-page, it is just sitting idle in cyberspace… lost and forlorn. It is somewhat similar to seeing a gorgeous home built in a large community. If nobody visits that home, or if there’s no buyer for it, it is simply there, but somewhat in a pointless existence, wouldn’t you agree on that? The website’s raison d’être is fulfilled when it shows up as a Landing Page and provides the adequate information to closely match what you were looking for.

Marketing professionals urge copywriters and content writers to craft their copy for the web such that it is “search engine optimized” i.e. “searchable”.  Without going deep into the subject (because there are reams on this topic already floating around the web), all I’ll say, before heading out to dinner, is that many copywriters, content writers are compelled to ‘stuff’ their writing with keywords, so that when users search for these keywords, the respective pages show up… now you can well imagine, no respectable business owner would or should resort to this, unless the page has relevance to the query. Hence, it is important to write content that is relevant, interesting and matches possible search queries from your user base – in other words, your target audience. Who did you build your web page for? So… we’re back to the key elements of Marketing… is your target audience well defined? Who are your readers? What language do they speak… so on so forth… okay, am done for the day.

Many of you hip folks are now bored of the ‘f’ word, and have moved on, I presume… but I have yet to cross that threshold… Hey, what were you thinkin’ about? I was referring to facebook…  the resting point for over a billion people across the globe every month… yay, I have these numbers from reliable sources…  nay, not from the horse’s mouth, but almost! ヅ

Stickiness translates to Number of Active Users!

So what is it that brings us to fB and keeps us glued out there? In tech parlance, this refers to their site’s ‘stickiness’. Current-day marketers go bonkers over these ‘numbers’… stuff like “for how long did I – the user – stay on the site?”; how many pages did s/he visit, or how often do we revisit fB, etc… The marketing Merlin then uses such ‘insights’ to tweak the website further, to improve these numbers – increase session time, total # of page views, etc.; in effect, they strive to improve the sticky factor. But here’s what I think… the resultant stress from too much of number crunching may well cause some severe cases of TMJ – temporo mandibular joint disorder – basically a painful jaw – caused by teeth clenching, stress, and other such!

Speaking of teeth, stickiness, crunching… I’m reminded of my delectable recipe – no, not for disaster – but from dates, primarily! Gooey sticky, crunchy, and super delicious! That’s my Date Taffy! To begin, here’s my ‘short’ story on ‘dates’… now, you’ve heard of “yang” (i.e. ‘heaty’) foods, right? Well, ‘dates’ are yang (as opposed to yin)… (Do I hear you mumble, ‘naturally’?).  ヅ Eat them raw (as in from a pack of seedless dates) or, borrow my recipe… (just think of it as my hard work towards ‘page stickiness’)! Carry some in a zip-lock bag; in a nutshell, these delightful dates are great company! By now you really think I’m nuts! ヅ ツ

Date Taffy Squares: Recipe
In a wide pan, warm one tablespoonful of Ghee (clarified butter); to this, add 2 cups of chopped dates. Stir continuously until the dates turn viscous. Add a few coarsely ground almonds & pistachios, some crushed walnuts may be; stir, and pour this viscous mixture into a greased deep dish. Spread evenly. Pat it down quickly with a spatula, or better still the back of a small bowl. Cut into squares, but do not remove from plate until after it all cools and firms up. Gently remove one by one, and store in a container. Enjoy some, bit by bit now, and some more later… yummy, especially on winter days… & for dessert after dinner time! ¯(ツ)/¯

Rajeev introduced me to these entrepreneurs… virtually!

Blink an eye and a whole month goes by… goodbye August, but not before a mention that I was in august company today… umm, well, that’s sort of stretching the truth.

Okay, so these were people I watched online in brief interviews posted to YouTube – 5 minutes to 15 minutes each… but oh, they were so inspiring, I felt was right amidst them, as I listened to every word they spoke.  These folks are not exactly Steve Jobs, Larry Page, or Mark Zuckerberg… (at least not yet) but they’re people who’ve worked hard, are still forging forth, step-by-step, realizing their dreams… challenges notwithstanding. For me, such people are truly inspiring.

In fact, the man to introduce me to all these people is himself an accomplished man –  “Young Turk” – as he was referred to… says, “In life it is okay to get speeding tickets; but parking tickets are a no-no!”… interesting, if you think about it. 🙂

I listened to Sachin Garg, Rohith Bhat, Pankaj Dugar, and Jonathan Simnett. The first three guys are tech savvy entrepreneurs from whom many of us could learn a thing or two… Jonathan, the PR man, had a few profound words to say… my ears caught on to these words of wisdom… “I think authenticity, honesty, leadership are back because there is nowhere to hide.” Incidentally, he was on the panel of judges for the prestigious Stevie Awards (for Business); ostensibly the awards are equivalent to The Oscars in the movie business.

In this age of social media and networks, authenticity & honesty take on another meaning… in my headline and opening lines was I speaking the truth, or was I bending it? Something to think about? How often do we resort to this – at work, or in our online virtual world? I’m thinking of all the reviews I read for products and services… are they all truthful, or is it a small bend here, and a little twist there? Amazon, are you listening? Or do we Yelp!

Rajeev… may be you’ll read my message congratulating you for a job well done on a social media network. Now that was genuine! 🙂 Again, thank you.

Pablo Bartholomew… passionate artist, photographer, photo-journalist

Today, reminiscing about my ‘advertising’ career in India – soon fading; and while reviewing my sporadic flirtations with photography; about Ektachrome, Kodachrome (also now relegated to the archives of photography), my thoughts drifted to the time Pablo Bartholomew was doing a calendar assignment for Kodak.  The theme for that specific year (somewhere in the mid-’80s, I’d say), was ‘windows’.

An old-style building in South Mumbai — with arches that framed the window panes, enhanced by ‘money plants‘ and lilac ‘morning glory‘ vines around them (thanks to my mother’s green thumb, and deft gardening skills) — somehow, must have caught Pablo’s attention, probably during a recce (Was the ad agency for Kodak then O&M? I’m not certain of that). Of course, someone from the agency approached us to request for permission to shoot ‘our’ window. Once the permission was more-than-willingly granted by mother, a date was set; they brought across a pretty model who posed by the window, and Pablo Bartholomew,  standing three-four stories below, across the street, zoomed in on our ‘archaic’ building’s architectural detail. Certainly considered archaic for a day and age then, when Hafeez Contractor and Raheja’s hi-rises were the order of the day. You just have to look at Nariman Point, Mumbai of the 1980s to see what I mean. In contrast, someone mentioned to me just the other day that our 100+ years-old building may soon be deemed a heritage building. About that, well, we just must wait and watch.

Anyway, the point is, I was wondering, if by some remote chance I could find an image of this ‘window’, online… may be in Kodak India’s archives of their then much-sought-after annual calendars… alas, I couldn’t find any. Mother had this picture framed, which she proudly displayed on the wall for a very long time – more of a salute to her own gardening skills, than to Pablo’s eye for beauty, or for that matter with any connection to Kodak or creativity (in the photography sense of the word). 😉 Of course, people would often ask her if the girl with pensive mood by the window (in the picture) was her own daughter… in response, she would beam away but I daresay, admit with much aplomb, “Oh no, she’s a model! She even used our bedroom as her changing room!” Of course, I was not sure then, whether I should laugh or cry at this response. 🙂 😉

Well, to cut a long story short – during my search for this image, I came across some interesting links that gave me some insight into Pablo the photographer, and Pablo a 50+, independently-thinking Indian of the early 1960s. Hope you will enjoy viewing his portfolio. Click, if you wish to, on each picture, to view it at a larger scale. Also, you may want to click on the video to listen to Pablo speak about his own work in this interesting film.

For Pablo’s more serious pursuits in photojournalism listen to his interview on www.artbabble.org. His portfolio of photos on the Nagas exhibited at the Rubin Museum of Art, NY, is simply astounding… my heart skipped many a beat!

Pablo Bartholomew walked away from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy... well, almost!

Monday morning blues… it’s that darned typo!

However, this may draw a smile… reproduced from The Shawinigan Standard – December 24, 1947.


Kabab Palace, Tempe, AZ… beyond kababs… offers veges & vegan!

Since the Kabab Palace AZ website seems infected with a virus (when I last checked a couple of days ago), I thought of reproducing their menu and flyer images here for those interested in sampling good Indian cuisine in the Greater Phoenix Area. After a visit to their restaurant  you can determine whether or not you’d like to give the Kongara couple a fair chance to build their business.

They bought this Afghani restaurant in late 2009. Until then, the restaurant catered to a meat-eating palate. However, now that the owners are of South Indian origin, it is only natural for the KP menu to morph, including both, vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Furthermore, some of the dishes on the menu are suited to vegan palates as well. Alas, they are presently constrained and hence unable to change the restaurant’s name!

In all fairness to them, this is my own initiative… although I know the owners personally, they have not requested me to reproduce their menu here. I do hope this will show up on Google Searches for Indian vegetarian Cuisine in the Phoenix metro area. If this posting drives even some traffic to the restaurant, it could help further their business a wee bit. If you enjoy the food that the chef prepares under Srini’s tutelage, and if you experience an understated warm hospitality, please do visit them again. 😉

Incidentally, if you see some of these photos on their walls during your visit, you may recognize them from here. Do they fit well? 😉 😉

Menu, Kabab Palace... Indian Cuisine in Tempe, Arizona.

A sample of Menu items, Kabab Palace, Tempe, Arizona... Take out, anyone?