The More Things Change, The More I Write The Same

The first person to compliment me on my writing was Ms. Semchuk, my fifth-grade teacher. Since then, I’ve received a lot of praise for my writing style: it’s conversational and natural, engaging, and a bit goofy, with just the right balance of heart and sarcasm.

“You write just how you talk,” my friend Harry said a few weeks ago. “When I read something of yours, there’s no doubt you wrote it.”

I don’t give my writing style much thought, but I now have a better idea of how people experience it. That’s because someone dug up and posted an introduction to a staff directory I had written more than 20 years ago at The Tampa Tribune.1 I have no recollection of writing it, but I instantly knew it was mine.

Here’s the text. The image is below.

Dear colleagues:

I know what you’re thinking. Oh crap, more convergence propaganda. Well, you’re right.

The News Center Beat Guide — the very document you’re holding right now in your eager little hands — comes straight from the Top With A Capital T. Managers concocted the idea. Top editors signed off on it.

So why am I, a member of the rank-and-file, writing this cover letter?

The simple answer: Donna Reed and Forrest Carr told me to, and they sign my paychecks.

The better answer: I think there’s an opportunity here that we, the front-line workers, must not pass up — an opportunity to do better work and make our jobs easier. Yes, easier. Read on.

We are three newsgathering organizations, working side-by-side under a single roof, but not always working together. We overlook daily opportunities to collaborate with fellow journalists who are covering the exact same issues we follow, and in doing so we pass up the chance to improve our coverage of this community.

The News Center Beat Guide explains what each person covers. Look in the guide. Find the names of your counterparts at the Trib, WELA and and introduce yourself. It’s not hard.

If you don’t like doing anything without a TelePrompTer, here’s an easy script: “Hi. My name is (insert your name here. I work for (insert name of media outlet here). I thought I’d introduce myself since we both cover (insert name of beat here). Boy, that Dave Simanoff fellow is certainly handsome, isn’t he?”

The goal here is not to create more work for yourself; it’s to build a relationship with a colleague who covers the same issues and topics as you. So pick up the phone. Let your counterpart know what stories you’re following or what rumors you’re chasing, and ask him or her to do the same. It could mean less work for you and better coverage of our community. Working together is a time-honored tradition between journalists. Where would Woodward be without Bernstein? Barlett without Steele? The Captain without Tenille?

Convergence may have been born in the strata of Media General management, but it will pay the richest dividends to the people who gather, write, photograph, illustrate, edit and report the news. So pick up the phone.

Dave Simanoff

“Never argue with people who buy ink by the gallon.” — Tommy Lasorda2

Introduction to the News Center Beat Guide
The News Center Beat Guide

Rediscovering this introduction felt like stumbling across an old photo and realizing the attractive guy in the middle is actually you — just a few decades younger. We all get older (and, sometimes, wiser), but it’s nice to be reminded that the things that make us different and memorable stay the same.

  1. Some context: At the time, The Tampa Tribune, WFLA, and Tampa Bay Online were owned by the same media company and had moved into a shared building. The company began pushing “convergence,” an effort to get all three reporting staffs to work as a single newsroom. Looking back, I don’t think convergence was a success, but it was good for me — I was tapped to deliver morning business reports and created some packages for teevee. ↩︎
  2. The origins of this quote are unclear, but it’s usually attributed to Mark Twain. I have no idea why I thought it was said by Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager. ↩︎

Hiring Shaq Doesn’t Guarantee a Slam Dunk

There are few things that delight me more than seeing a poorly conceived ad on teevee. It’s wasteful, and I cringe when I think about the armies of people who tossed wads of dollars into a creative effort that entirely missed the mark. And that’s why I enjoy them — I get to feel superior and write blog posts about it!

The current ad that’s annoying/amusing me is the Epson ad featuring Shaquille O’Neal.

At the outset of the ad, Shaq faces a problem that will resonate with everyone who owns an inkjet printer. One of his cartridges has run out of ink, and he can’t find a replacement.

The solution, according to the ad, is the liquid ink refills used in new Epson printers. But the ad has a gigantic flaw: The issue is that he’s out of ink, which is a problem no matter which ink delivery vehicle the owner is using. If you don’t have a magenta ink cartridge, why would you assume that you’d always have a liquid magenta refill on hand? The challenge set up in the ad — not being able to print because you’re out of ink — is in no way addressed by the solution Epson is offering.

The Epson ad does offer something of a value proposition: Their ink refills contain more ink than a cartridge, so you need to make fewer trips to the store. But two critical questions are not answered: How much more ink do you get compared to a cartridge, and how much do the ink refills cost compared to the cartridges? Hypothetically, the refills may only provide 10% more ink and cost 50% more. 

What’s really frustrating is that there is a glaringly obvious unique selling proposition that’s completely overlooked: ink refills are friendlier for the environment than cartridges. Everyone knows how much metal and plastic goes into a cartridge — what a waste!1 I assume you can just throw an empty plastic ink bottle into any recycling bin. Now, that’s a selling point.

Another frustrating point: The ad doesn’t address a concern many customers may have. Liquids are messy, and Epson doesn’t explain how its solution keeps ink from dripping all over your hands, your printer, your desk, your floor, your guinea pig armor — you get the idea. If there’s a design feature that prevents spills, Epson should have mentioned it prominently. 

I have no idea why an ad agency hasn’t hired me yet in an executive role. I would have put the kibosh on this ad in the ideation stage. Are you listening, Madison Avenue?

1 I’m willing to bet most people don’t know you can mail them back to the manufacturer for recycling.


There Are no Stupid Questions, but There Are Definitely Stupid Answers

When college career counselors prepared me to enter the job market,1 they drilled one lesson in my head: Be prepared to tell interviewers why you want the job. 

That lesson sprang to mind a few days ago as I read the obituaries for journalist Roger Mudd. All of the coverage recounted an anecdote about how Mudd destroyed a presidential candidate’s chances of being elected. From the NBC News article:

In the report, Mudd asked the Massachusetts senator a simple question: “Why do you want to be president?”

Kennedy was unable to give a focused answer or specify what he personally wanted to do.

“Well, I’m, uh, were I to make the announcement to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country. … We’re facing complex issues and problems in this nation at this time but we have faced similar challenges at other times. … And I would basically feel that it’s imperative for this country to move forward, that it can’t stand still, for otherwise it moves backward.”

Kennedy flubbed the response disastrously. I wonder if that’s the moment every guidance counselor in America began preparing job seekers for that exact question.2

1 Not nearly well enough, as my resume will attest. 
2 I’d like to paraphrase another Kennedy and give some more advice about how to answer this question: Talk not about what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company. 


Going Beyond the Basics of Benefits: Business and Government Perspectives

I’ve written before about my marketing mantra: Always promote the benefits. I got to do exactly that in a non-business context yesterday when I spoke at city hall to support a proposal to make Tampa’s Citizen Review Board more independent.

I’m grateful that others were able to offer legal perspectives, historical context, and compelling personal accounts. My strategy was different. I assume that the hardest thing for city council members to do is justify their votes about a contentious issue to their constituents. The benefit I provided, therefore, was information they can use to explain their decision in favor of the proposal to other people.

Why did I focus on messaging for constituents instead of the proposal itself? I made this decision based on many years of doing business-to-business marketing. In many cases, the people I reach aren’t the people making the spending decisions. Describing the benefits of my product or service to my immediate audience only gets half the job done. I need to give them the information they need to convince others as well. 

Here’s how that usually breaks down:

  • You have a challenge
  • My product or service is the best solution to that challenge
  • Here’s why my solution will make your job easier
  • Here’s the proof that your entire organization will be more productive and save money with my solution

The reasoning for this is simple. The people who read my marketing materials are usually the ones using my product or service daily, so their primary concern is about what it will do for them. But, in most cases, the people in this audience aren’t cutting the check. Those who ultimately decide what product to buy probably aren’t concerned with how the product or service works on a day-to-day basis — they won’t be using it. Instead, they want to make sure they’re making a choice that provides the best return on investment. 

When I spoke to the city council yesterday, I did something similar to what I do in the business world. I wasn’t necessarily talking about how the proposal works or its legal implications. Others did that for me. Instead, I gave the city council members information they can use to tell their “bosses” — that is, the constituents they are elected to serve — how a pro vote benefits them?

Did I do this well? Maybe, maybe not. I had a three-minute time limit and spoke extemporaneously from a few notes scribbled on a scrap of paper. But would I use this strategy again? Absolutely.

Oversharing Professional

The Case Against Passion

Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve heard that cliché for longer than I can remember, and it has always rubbed me the wrong way. To me — in fact, I’d bet, to a lot of people in the workforce — this saying sounds bullshit wrapped in banality. 

Not just that. It’s the worst kind of bullshit. It sounds inspirational, but it’s not. It just makes me feel bad about my career. It says that if only I had enough passion and used it to guide my choices, I wouldn’t be unhappy at work.

Now that I’m trying to reinvent my career, this objectionable advice comes up over and over again. Figure out your passion, the career gurus say, and the right path will emerge.

And if it doesn’t, I infer, it’s all my fault. 

You can imagine my relief, then, when I discovered that I’m right to think this advice is bullshit. I started reading Designing Your Life a short while ago, and the authors have this to say:

Many people operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about. Once they know their passion, everything else will magically fall into place. We hate this idea for one very good reason: most people don’t know their passion.

Passion only comes after we try things, the authors explain. That’s why it’s important to explore several different career ideas, with a methodological process they call prototyping, instead of barreling forward with a single assumption that is most likely faulty. “Passion is the result of good life design, not the cause,” they write.

As I’ve written about before, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Trying to identify a singular passion was an obstacle I could never conquer, and I’ve spent too many years being hard on myself because of it. It’s a relief to know I don’t have to jump over this hurdle. I just have to go around it. 


My Ulterior Motive, Revealed

You might be wondering if I have any nefarious plans for the Daily Dave. The answer is no.1 I’ve started blogging again for two perfectly cromulent reasons. I want to …

  • Get back into the habit of recreational writing on a regular schedule.
  • Become more familiar with commercial web publishing tools and technology.

If nothing else, the Daily Dave allows me to write for pleasure and learn new things. But I’m also thinking about the future. One day, I’d like to launch a website that covers LGBTQ issues from a business perspective.2 I think it’s a promising idea, and the time and effort I invest in the Daily Dave today may help me greatly in the future.

I’ve already started tinkering with an email newsletter and I’m trying to incorporate video into some posts. Expect me to work on search engine optimization soon. I might even try my hand at podcasting.

I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m enjoying the ride so far, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

1 OK, I have one nefarious plan: It’s to win the Guinness World Record for the most footnotes on the internet.
2 Outsports will give you an idea of what I’d like to do. Just imagine less Indy 500 and more Fortune 500.


The Benefits of Benefits

If I can summarize my approach to marketing in just three words, it would be this: Benefits beat features.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to sell water or change the world. Focus on the benefits of your product, service, or idea to make an impact with your audience.

A feature simply describes what something does. A benefit describes what it does for the person using it. Here’s a simple example:

  • Feature: 12-megapixel camera
  • Benefit: Better photos

I gave this some thought yesterday when talking to a friend who serves on the same nonprofit board as me. We’re both advocating for an important change to the way a committee is composed. My friend hasn’t gotten far by explaining how many people will be on the board, who appoints them, and so on.

You’ve gotta focus on the benefits, I told him.

Our proposal has a huge advantage over the status quo. It will promote more diversity on the committee and discourage any one person from exerting too much control over its direction.

Those are the benefits the board needs to know, I said. Not how our proposal works, but what it will achieve. And what it achieves is a stronger, more resilient organization that can navigate a vast range of challenges by harnessing the collective experience, skillsets, and thinking styles of a spectrum of passionate industry professionals.

The board itself benefits greatly from the contributions of many different individuals. Why shouldn’t one of its most important committees have the same advantage?

Features are facts. Benefits are facts with resonance. Use them to engage your audience, spark their imaginations, and spur them to action. You, like me, will benefit when you emphasize benefits.

Oversharing Professional

I Want to Forge a New Path

One of the most frustrating challenges in my life has been figuring out where I fit into the professional world.

I left college hoping to make a mark as a reporter, and was fortunate enough to leave that career path for a position in professional services before newspapers caved in.1 Professional services seemed a good fit — until it didn’t. I then returned to school to earn two master’s degrees2, seeking out easy writing jobs that would allow me to focus on my studies. Now I find myself trapped in low-level writing roles that don’t take advantage of my talent or educational qualifications. 

The way I see it, prospective employers only care about what I’ve done, which is to deliver content.3 They don’t care about what I can do, especially with hard skills developed in graduate school and soft skills honed over decades in the workforce.

Tl;dr: I want to live up to my potential, but my past has pigeonholed me.

As you might expect, I’m frustrated. I’m struggling with how to proceed in my career. Job rejections — even for positions that only represent an incremental step forward — are demoralizing. Career development workshops are generic and haven’t proven useful. Networking is difficult in a pandemic.

My thinking now is that I need to completely reboot my career. I’ve found myself on a narrow path, and continuing the journey on it no longer appeals to me. I want to find a new route forward, one that aligns with my character and allows me to make valuable contributions.

This won’t be easy. Even though I don’t think I’ve traveled very far professionally, doing something completely new means I’ll throw away the professional capital I’ve accumulated. It means starting at Square One. I think that’s a step I need to take.

I’ll be writing more about this in the coming days and weeks. Writing forces me to organize my thoughts, and publishing it makes me accountable for my words. 

1 There was no advertising revenue to prop them up.
2 An MBA and a master’s in marketing.
3 I’m generally a modest person, but I don’t mind claiming that writing is something I do exceptionally well. But that doesn’t mean I want my professional life to be defined by it anymore.