Jake LaCaze

Writer doling out perspective as a service

A funny sign at a coffee shop in West Monroe, Louisiana #essays

In copywriting, every word counts. Since leaning into copywriting duties as a content manager, I've been especially critical of word choice. Not only must copywriters consider word count, but they must also consider syllable count. And they should avoid certain words because the words are useless, or damn near useless.

Successful (and its other forms) is one of those words.

Why successful is useless (or damn near it)

Successful or successfully rarely adds anything useful to a sentence.

You'll often see successfully used in resumes, as in:

Successfully led sales team of five

First of all, you had better have been successful if you're using that experience as a bragging point. And success is assumed when you say led.

If this is not the case, then you've used the wrong verb. Attempted to may be a better option. Or tried to. If you're going to use weak verbs, at least be brief.

Also, you would do better to tell how successful you were.

For example:

Improved sales revenue by 35% in my first year as sales team lead

The bragging point could probably be worded better. But improved sales revenue by 35% catches way more attention than successfully led.

Successful is often a weak adjective no matter where you find it.

Successful efforts? How about accomplishments?

Successful rollout? Just tell us what the rollout accomplished.

They've been successful —> They've succeeded.

I'm not saying successful has no use.

But I haven't successfully found many cases.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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#collaborations #podcasts

Fellow Polyworker Eric Taylor had me on the Taylorate Me podcast to talk about my recent career change from oil and gas to marketing.

I hope my experience and perspective will help others considering similar changes. And thank you to Eric for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

Listen to our chat below.

Or listen on Anchor.

Notes


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A funny sign at Babe's Chicken in Carrollton Square #essays

Writers often worry about word count. Now that writing has gone digital, many also worry about character count, especially on platforms like Twitter.

The problem with word count

Is word count really what we should be worried about when character count is not an issue?

Word count tells only part of the story.

One word equals one word. But word count alone doesn’t give clues about how difficult a sentence or piece of work is to read.

That’s why we should also consider syllable count.

The case for syllable count

There’s no point in having fewer words if they’re a mouthful to say.

Copywriters in particular can fall into the trap of excessive syllables. (Hello, jargon and business speak.)

You’ve likely seen ads for products and services promising to maximize profitability. A simpler promise would be to increase profits.

Let’s do some quick maths:

Increase profits = 4 syllables

Maximize alone = 3 syllables

Maximize profitability = lol, I ain’t counting that mess.

One more for the road

Another example is fundamentals vs. basics.

Fundamentals = 4 syllables

Basics = 2 syllables—and it basically means the same thing.

Fewer syllables amount to less information to take in, interpret, process, and act on.

In some situations, focusing on syllables is more efficient than focusing on word count.

Feel free to argue. Or altercate. Whichever fits your syllable preference.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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A badly made jack o' lantern #essays

Danny Gray recently asked the question: Are you failing at failure?

I’d like to piggyback on a smaller point in his video: Are you failing enough? And are you failing enough at the things you need to fail at?

We celebrate success while ignoring the fact success is most often the end result of a series of tiny failures.

Overnight successes are often 10 years in the making. That’s 10 years of failing over and over again before finally getting it right. But we overlook that part of the equation. The bulk of the equation.

Since breaking into marketing, I have embraced failing. Failing fast lets me see what works and what doesn’t, and to adapt quickly. (I suppose that makes me a bit of an Agile marketer.)

The beauty of digital marketing is that most of my errors can be fixed in post. But printed materials—that’s another story. Hence, my anxiety in ordering physical stuff.

Humans are terrible at gauging risk. We care too much about things that don’t matter and don’t care enough about the things that do matter.

Don’t get me wrong—some people have reason to be anxious about failing. Heart surgeons come to mind.

But most of us aren’t heart surgeons. (And I doubt any heart surgeons bother reading my blog anyway.)

Yet we give our failures the same weight as a heart surgeon’s.

I’ve recently accepted that I’ve failed far more than I want to admit. I fail more often than I succeed. Chances are you do too.

But I know that my recent successes have come only after my recent failures. My failures showed me the way, whether that meant I needed to make a slight correction or try a completely different path.

So I ask: What can you fail at today? What would you be happy to fail at today?


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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A Halloween skeleton dressed for Christmas #essays

Recently, I've been getting back in touch with history.

This past weekend the LaCazes went to Granbury, Texas, for a weekend getaway to celebrate my new job. While we were in town, we of course had to check out the Granbury Town Square, voted by USA Today as the best historic small town in America three years in a row.

There's just something about old downtowns that still flourish. The local businesses in the aged buildings provide an idyllic alternative to the cookie cutter chain stores you often find in the suburbs. These environments give experiences and opportunities you can't find most other places.

Courthouse in Granbury Town Square The courthouse In Granbury, Texas

And yesterday, my wife and I spent a few hours in downtown Grapevine. As we looked at old pictures and read historic signs scattered through the area, I couldn't help thinking about my days as a petroleum landman, when searching deed records started my appreciation for history and places that once were. And then I started thinking about my recent career change and the confusion of the last few years, courtesy of a global pandemic.

The old cabaloose (jail) in Grapevine, Texas The old cabaloose (jail) in Grapevine, Texas

History is a reminder that things change. Things that were once important fade into irrelevance.

What is the present if not history in the making? The present and the future push us all further toward the same irrelevance that claimed previous generations.

The world as we know is not static. What works today will not work tomorrow.

We are fortunate to have history as a reminder—a warning—of the fates awaiting those of us unable or unwilling to adapt to the changes.

We are not entitled to comfort or prosperity.

Things are changing. They're changing fast.

Clinging to the old ways—to history— won’t change that.

As we get older, change gets harder. But change doesn’t become any less relevant—only we do.

Times, they gotta change

But so do we


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A topless toddler wearing a tie while sitting in a high chair #essays

Job interviews suck. There's no denying it.

You never know what you're walking into. An interview may be a one-on-one affair, or it may be you seated across from six other people all staring at you like a jury eager to convict.

Or maybe you go through multiple interviews back to back. And there's always the chance someone will join the interview late and ask questions you've already answered. Of course, the latecomers always ask the questions you had the weakest answers for.

As you're doing all you can to impress the decision maker(s), you're also deciding if this song and dance is worth it—if the job and the company are a good fit for you.

The worst is when you’re an hour into an interview and you realize you don’t want the job.

While you can’t eliminate these interviews, you can at least identify them quickly. Then you can cut the interview short, or at least not work to extend it. Or, if you can’t save yourself from wasting any more time, you can at least save yourself from wasting any more emotional energy.

One job interview question you must ask

There is one question you should be sure to ask in all future job interviews:

What about my credentials made you want to interview me?

Feel free to ask this question in your own words—don’t worry about asking it verbatim.

Why this question is crucial

Job interviews are not only about satisfying the needs of the employer; you need to know your value is recognized as well.

Never forget: You’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you.

You need to know they understand the skills and experience you offer. You need to know they’ve invested time in getting to know you, just as they need to know you’ve invested time in getting to know them.

Job interviews are a two-way street.

The potential employer’s answer to the question gives insight into what they’ll be like to work with. If they can’t appreciate your past work, there’s a good chance they won’t appreciate your future work either.

But if they answer in a way that shows they’ve paid attention, then you might be on a good path.

Don’t just assume they’re paying attention

Don’t be surprised if interviewers ask questions that show they haven’t been paying attention.

Recruiters in particular are notorious for reaching out because they saw one keyword on a résumé and thought they’d found their guy or gal. And then when they slow down and start thinking critically, they quickly realize you’re missing 90% of the crucial qualifications.

This question reveals whether they’re paying attention or are just hoping they’ll stumble upon the perfect candidate.

The credentials interview question in action

I asked a variation of the credentials questions during my most recent job search.

A little background:

I was interviewing for a content manager position after spending nine months as a marketing specialist. Before breaking into marketing, I had spent nearly 14 years as a petroleum landman.

My version of the credentials question went something like this:

I don’t have the traditional marketing background. So what did you see on my résumé, or what feedback from the recruiter made you think I could be a good fit for this position?

My future boss said he had looked over my portfolio pieces and he found my writing to be simple and clear.

This feedback gave me confidence when completing an assessment, and also for my final interview.

Quickly qualify or quickly disqualify

Asking this question also tells you what you should focus on when selling yourself for the job. You will have identified what your potential employer sees as your most desirable assets.

On the flip side, if the interviewer values traits you don’t value—or traits you want to get away from—then the job may not be a good fit for you.

The unfortunate truth is that most jobs will not be a good fit. Too many factors go into finding the right job: timing, the company and its culture, your team and leadership, the responsibilities of the position itself.

Your goal in an interview should not be only to get a new job. Your goal should also include identifying the jobs that aren’t a good fit so that you can move on to those that may be worth the trouble.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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#essays

Soon I will be starting a new job.

My second marketing position, this one focused more on writing.

Content manager . . .

I'm excited, as you would expect. But that excitement is accompanied by a sadness I wasn't prepared for.

When I started looking for another job, I didn't know I would feel something akin to regret.

For creatives, taking a new position is about more than leaving an old job. When you leave an old job, you're also leaving your darlings. For me most recently, those darlings are the company website and blog, which I tore down and rebuilt into some of my proudest accomplishments.

Over the last few months, I've written some posts I'm proud of. And some posts didn't shape the way I had hoped.

I got out of my comfort zone and dipped my toes into new frontiers like video, a medium I hope to go deeper into in the future.

In so many ways, I was given a clean canvas and I threw stuff at it until something started to stick.

Through all of this, I was reminded how it felt to be creative. And now I'm realizing the downside of creating—at some point you will likely leave your creations behind. And when you put so much of yourself into your work, you will be leaving a part of yourself behind as well.

This is a strange place to find yourself: ecstatic for what waits around the corner while feeling a pit in your chest.

I've never felt this in a professional sense before. I've never been sad about leaving the work.

And I gotta say—

It beats the alternative.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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A trick-or-treat sign full of typos #essays

Some writers are proud of just how lonely writing can be. They'll tell you about all the time they spend alone, trapped within their own heads, struggling to find the perfect words.

They make writing sound miserable.

It's a wonder anyone would want to become a writer, let alone hang out with other writers.

But there are plenty reasons to join the writing community.

And I'll share a few below.

Community

This answer should be the most obvious: You get to socialize. Even now, almost three years removed from the start of a pandemic, many of us could benefit from more socializing.

And when you join a writing group, you get to socialize with people who nerd out on the details of the craft just as much as you do.

If conversation runs dry, you always have at least one easy topic to revert to.

You have blind spots

You've spent hours trying to make your latest piece work. You've written and rewritten countless drafts. No matter what you do, the words just don't work.

So you submit the piece to your writing group. And at your next meeting, everyone else in your group has identified all your story's issues.

This situation is far better than writing alone.

Other people have blind spots too

Of course, you'll have the chance to be on the other side of the critique exchange.

Because your writing peers can't figure it all out alone either. So you'll get your chance to diagnose issues with other people's stories. And then you'll have more ideas of what to look out for in your own writing.

Another chance to be creative

Recently I had something funny happen to me. But it was the kind of story you don't tell everyone because the setup will take too long.

But I did tell one person: a guy in my writing group. Because the story was something he may able to massage and fit into his novella.

I don't know if that story will make it into his work. But I don't regret giving the idea away. Because the story had a better chance in someone else's hands.

And if the story does make it into his work, then I can take pride in knowing that I helped to create a portion of his story.

You practice getting criticism

So many writers are afraid of criticism. Which is fine if you keep your writing to yourself.

But not if you plan to publish and put it out for the world to see. Even if you just put it on a blog.

If you plan on taking the traditional route in publishing, an editor is most likely going to tear your creation apart line by line.

Criticism is inevitable. Might as well get used to it.

You practice giving criticism

Receiving criticism is only part of the equation. To increase your chances of receiving valuable feedback, you need to learn to give valuable feedback.

Giving proper criticism can be tough. You know exactly what's wrong with the story. And maybe everything about the story is wrong. And the author should scrap it.

But you need to be more diplomatic than that. Your fellow writer has put a piece of him or herself in that work. And you'll soon be back on the other side of the equation, waiting to hear how someone else rates a story in which you exposed your own soul.

Also, giving proper criticism is not a skill to be used only in a writing group. It's a life skill that can be used anywhere.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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An angry stick figure driving a car #essays

The Myth of Specialization says the best career path lies in specializing in one thing while ignoring all others. If you own a niche everyone else is overlooking, then riches will follow.

But there's a problem with The Myth of Specialization: It doesn't take into account just how much and how quickly the world and its economies are changing.

Going all in on just one thing may seem a great short-term plan.

But is it the right strategy for the long term?

Generalist is a dirty word in many professional circles. The term suggests a person isn't dedicated to anything—that the person lacks conviction or real skill.

But in reality, generalists are dedicated to providing value—to their employers or clients, and themselves—however possible.

. . .

Note about the picture above: Albert Camus said we must imagine Sisyphus happy. But some things make Sisyphus so angry he can't fake it. The Myth of Specialization is one of those things.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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Sisyphus freaks out about marketing KPIs and OKRs #essays

Google is making changes to its algorithms. And many SEOs are worried (but Nathan Gotch is hopeful). Long story short, Google will attempt to devalue SEO-gaming content in favor of more helpful content.

The optimistic side of me hopes this works.

The last few months as a marketing specialist have brought to light the great difference between popular content and helpful content. When you perform a Google search, the top results are usually popular because they've gamed the system. But they're not always helpful, so they provide little value.

The cynical side of me says these changes will somehow cause new problems we can't foresee. I can't elaborate because, well, the problems can't be foreseen.

So let's keep the tone optimistic and focus on the hope.

But first, let's touch on that cynicism again.

Where my marketing journey began

I graduated with my marketing degree back in 2007. I had no intent of working in marketing—I just needed to graduate, so the college of business seemed like the obvious choice. And marketing seemed the easiest business college offering.

But I graduated during an exciting time for the internet. Blogs allowed people to publish their own thoughts. And Twitter, though technically a closed and proprietary network, was certainly more open than Facebook and far more exciting as people connected on the basis of ideas rather than proximity or history.

During this time, I discovered the prophets of the new marketing—marketers like Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and Mark Schaefer—and fell in love with their basic message.

Build relationships.

Present value.

Solve customers' problems.

The formula seemed simple. Fun. And perhaps best of all, human.

I read numerous books and blog posts by the aforementioned new marketers and others like them. I fell in love with their ideals.

But it would be a decade and half before I got the opportunity to practice them.

The state of marketing (as I see it)

Much had changed by the time I got into marketing.

What today passes as “marketing” is really a specific type of gamification.

Study the algorithms.

Learn the formulas.

Execute to the finest detail.

Repeat as needed.

A screenshot of a job posting for “clickbait specialist” on LinkedIn—a sign of the times?

Google certainly deserves part of the blame. How can it not when it's built itself up as the company which in many ways defines our internet experiences?

When the company killed Google Reader in an attempt to kill RSS, it did so not to benefit users but to benefit its own advertising ambitions. Google opened the door for an internet built purely for metrics.

Don't get me wrong: Metrics are important. How else can a business know if it's investing money and resources properly?

But how many metrics does a business really need to measure?

Google has made it easy to focus on a plethora of metrics and to create a formulaic environment in the hope of improving those same metrics rather than create unique and helpful content.

The case for hope

The formulaic internet experience is what I hope Google's algorithm changes will help improve.

There does seem to be a push against certain types of algorithms in addition to Google's search, such as those designed by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And so I hope Google's changes can be one of the first dominoes to fall in the rethinking of these algorithms that are now crucial to our online experiences.

A return to form?

(Now I'll echo some of the sentiments Jaron Lanier made in his technocriticism manifesto “You Are Not a Gadget”.)

The early days of the internet felt like a wild frontier, for better and for worse. Each site and service felt different. Especially personal websites, which emphasized personal, often through the design itself.

But exclusive reliance on algorithms appears to have hindered opportunities for personal connections on the internet. The internet no longer feels made for humans—but for machines.

To excel on Google, you need to worry about SEO optimization. To make it on social media, you need to satisfy the algorithm. Post at the right time of day and get immediate reaction to improve the shelf life of your content.

It's impossible not to feel like a hypocrite anytime I criticize the state of the internet. If it's so bad, why do I still participate?

Because, as I've said numerous times, I still naively hold on to the hope of that return to the human web. But perhaps I'm little more than a fool.

Ah, there goes that cynicism again.


This post first appeared on Jake LaCaze's blog.

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