Forget Atlanta Traffic: My Life Is So Much Better Working Close to Home

Atlanta, traffic, snowmaggedon, snowstorm, ice storm, I-285, I-75, I-85, the connector, Ga. 400

The worst of the worst — when a little snow shut down the city. OK, it’s usually not this bad, right? But still… Sometimes it felt like it.

My daily world is much smaller than it used to be, and I couldn’t be happier for one reason:

Traffic.

For more than six years, I fought the 9-to-5 rush from my intown Atlanta home to my suburban job every morning (30-45 minutes) and every evening (up to 90 minutes). It was the most mind-boggling, frustrating, maddening ritual I’ve ever endured – and everyone in this town knows what I mean. (Heck, so does anyone in any city, I suppose, but trust me: Atlanta’s worse.)

Atlanta, the Varsity, north avenue

Hey, y’all.

Now I work on North Avenue, the same street where I live less than 3 miles away. It’s so close that I’m home in 10 minutes. I can even scoot home for lunch, which I do sometimes, feeling as free as a kid in school.

It’s so close I could ride my bike – and I will someday, just as soon as I get comfortable with the new dangers traffic poses to bicycle commuters.

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It’s so close I could even walk, if it’s not too hot out and I don’t mind arriving a little sweaty.

With work so close to home, I now have everything I need nearby – not only my job, but shops, restaurants, a dry cleaner, a gym, bike trails, a Publix and a movie theater. My own Mayberry in the big city.

Atlanta, traffic, map

And I never have to look at this.

Just the daily gift of two hours back into my life is a tremendous blessing. I can’t tell you how good it simply feels to be without the psychological and, yes, physical stress of being stuck on Ga. 400 or I-85 – knowing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  • I can snooze a little later in the mornings and I can make – and keep – appointments in the evening.
  • I can go to the gym or see a friend for dinner or a movie.
  • I can even – shhhh! – take a little catnap after the workday.
  • I’m saving money on gas and wear-and-tear on my car.
  • My blood pressure is closer to where it should be.
  • And when I see friends complaining about the schlep home from the Perimeter on Facebook or Twitter, I say a little prayer of gratitude — and I am not even kidding.

Traffic in metro Atlanta is hell, right?

But it’s nothing at all in my little world.


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Follow me on Twitter @JayCroft!

Telling Stories to Connect and Find Your Way

EARLIER: Actor’s Express presents an enduring ‘Liaisons’

storiespicMy parents required my three sisters and me to attend Sunday school and church every week until we turned 12. They weren’t particularly religious, but they told us later that they primarily wanted us to “know the stories” — of the Bible and Moses and Jesus — that are so woven into our culture and collective consciousness.

Later, I decided to become a writer because I found that telling stories connected me to other people — those I wrote about and those who read what I wrote. I didn’t realize then how starved I was for that connection and how important storytelling would become to my identity and my place in the world.

I’m thinking about this right now as Shane Snow of Contently is presenting on the power of storytelling at the Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland.

Those thoughts lined up for me listening to Shane share observations like, “Stories help us build relationships and feel connected.”

It’s all lined up for me before. But amid talk about case studies and ROI and Instagram campaigns, I’m again grateful for the lifelong connections and identity I’ve received through stories.

Shane Snow, Contently, Content Marketing World, Content Marketing, Cleveland, conference, Joe Pulizzi, brand journalism, storytelling, Jay Croft, Atlanta, storycroft

Shane showed this slide, a photo from his office. (I Instagrammed it at the top.)


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Re-telling a Classic Story in Sexy Style at Atlanta’s Actor’s Express

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Actor's Express, Atlanta, theater, Dangerous Liaisons

At Actor’s Express in Atlanta

I saw a play Saturday night in Atlanta, the premiere of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at Actor’s Express. It’s a rockin’ good time for the most part, but what struck me most is that this story has been told so many times in so many ways — and it’s still just as juicy.

The tale of sexual politics, cruelty and manipulation set in pre-revolution France started as a novel in 1782. It then became a play and an Oscar-winning movie, “Dangerous Liaisons,” and then another big-time movie, “Valmont,” by an Oscar-winning director. And there was even a teen knockoff in the ’90s called “Cruel Intentions,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and a very young Reese Witherspoon.

Rich, mean, sexy people doing nasty things to each other and the innocents around them… juicy dialog ripe for actors to tear into… What’s not to love? Did “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” set the template for soap operas? Maybe not, but it’s easy to see why storytellers in various media keep going back to it, and Actor’s Express handles it admirably. So go and have a fun time at the theater.

Or at least join me in renting “Dangerous Liaisons,” which I haven’t seen in ages.

While I was at the show, I missed the Atlanta BeltLine’s Lantern Parade. I would’ve gone otherwise and I’m sorry I missed it. But here is a great roundup from the great Maria Saporta that does what I would’ve tried to do, but lots better.

And while we’re sharing cool blog posts about cool weekend events in Atlanta, check out this nifty replay in GIFs of the Falcons nail-biter over the Saints from Breslanta.com.


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Remember Robin Williams with a Crowd at Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre Tribute

The Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedy, Plaza Theatre, Film Tribute, Atlanta

The Plaza, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave, N.E. (404) 873-1939

Fans of Joan Rivers have YouTube to catch clips of the comedienne, who died Thursday at 81. So do Robin Williams lovers — who also have the Oscar winner’s rich movie legacy to enjoy. And in Atlanta, The Plaza Theatre is offering four of the late comic’s movies right now, along with a couple of unrelated classics always worthy of a spot on the marquee: “Pulp Fiction” and “Stop Making Sense.”

I love “The Fisher King,” which I saw just once in its original 1991 release, and “The Birdcage,” which has grown more familiar as a staple of cable TV for the last decade. The Plaza also is showing “Jumanji,” one of Williams’s family pictures, and “Hook,” with an all-star cast directed by Steven Spielberg.

The Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedy, Jeff Bridges, The Fisher King, Mercedes RuehlThe Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedyMovies are almost always better viewed on the big screen with crowds. And both “The Fisher King” and “The Birdcage” are full-on movies by major directors — gloriously visual and sweepingly emotional. At a time when Williams’s fans are still mourning his recent suicide, what better way to come together and celebrate his genius? YouTube is fine for some things, but only some.

In Atlanta, The Plaza is one of several theaters that regular give us chances to see older movies, and I’m thankful for all of them. Here’s an earlier piece that includes highlights from recent schedules of some around town. I hope we get more heading into the holiday season.

All of the venues, plus Netflix, TMC and Videodrome, helped me catch up on my classics over the summer.  I’m so glad I got to see these, which I hadn’t just a few months ago:

  • “Sullivan’s Travels”
  • “A Face in the Crowd”
  • “The Searchers”
  • “A Hard Day’s Night”
  • “It Happened One Night”
  • “The Best Years of Our Lives”
  • “Touch of Evil”

That’s a good group. My DVR holds a few more, and “The 400 Blows” has arrived from Netflix. So I’m ready for football season.

And a trip or two to The Plaza.


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Follow me on Twitter @JayCroft

The Week in Review: Thanks for a Record Number of Page Views!

storycroft, page views, engagement, blog, Atlanta, John Rocker, Survivor, Truman Capote, Positive Challenge

Thanks for helping me end the summer with a bang!

I want to thank subscribers to this blog for their support over the last eight months. With your help, storycroft.com got more page views on Friday than on any other day. And on Sunday, we came this close to setting another record.

Why the excitement? First, I jumped on a breaking story that’s relevant to my premise. Then I worked the system hard while staying true to that premise.

Early in the week, I had two posts — about finishing my Positive Challenge and about great quotes from Truman Capote — that drew a good but unremarkable amount of page views and engagement. But right after I posted about Capote, news came that “Survivor” was adding controversial ex-baseball player John Rocker to its cast of castaways. I had to weigh in — and I got some of the Internet traffic driven by Rocker and the show.

I decided to build on it by re-linking some older posts to referral sites where I had posted them before, like reddit.com and stumbleupon.com, and I was stunned by the tidal wave of page views that came from them a few months after their first run. (Thanks, Sophie… and Josh, The Run Commuter… and the King of Pops… and Ponce City Market…) I also sought out other discussion boards about Rocker and other topics in my posts, and that got me referrals from large, commercial sites.

Just as important, engagement was high on the blog and on my social media pages. Readers were clicking through photo galleries. And on links and images at the bottom of posts. And retweeting and sharing posts on Twitter and Facebook. Anybody can lure in one-timers with click bait. But that doesn’t interest me. At some point, we have to focus on improving engagement at least as much as page views.

Oh, I want new readers, of course. But I also hope anyone who visits storycroft.com will come in and sit a spell, as we say down South. To click on another story, leave a comment, recommend it on social media.

You know: Have a conversation — and tell a story.

If you enjoyed this post or anything on storycroft.com, please subscribe at the top of the right column. And ask a friend to do the same. Thanks! 


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John Rocker on ‘Survivor’ — Good Luck with the ‘Outwit’ Part

John Rocker, CBS, Survivor, reality TV, Braves, baseball, closer, Jeff Probst

John Rocker when he was a closer for the Atlanta Braves

Say it ain’t so, Jeff Probst.

You’re not really putting mean ole John Rocker on “Survivor,” are you? Not on one of my favorite shows for so many years now – shoot, almost as far back as Rocker’s flash-in-the-spotlight 15 minutes of fame.

I worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution then. All of us in Atlanta remember the big lunk for being a big jerk while a closer for the Braves, particularly in that infamous Sports Illustrated article, where he said nasty things about gays, immigrants, minorities, New Yorkers and, gosh, just about everybody.

And after that, I wrote about him a time or two when, even outside of the limelight, he found a way to be obnoxious, particularly to gays.

When I was in the media, I never got to meet him, although I have seen him in person. He is, without a doubt, one of the most physically beautiful men I’ve ever seen. And talk about a powerful masculine presence… He’s huge, built, aggressive, obnoxious and used to commanding attention. You know the type – loves how attractive and intimidating he usually is, probably asserts himself when he doesn’t get the attention he’s used to.

Jeff Probst, Survivor, CBS, reality TV, John Rocker

Jeff Probst, host and true “Survivor” stud

There’s often some guy like that on “Survivor,” which pits castaways in a competition that is part physical, part survival and part social. “Outlast, Outplay, Outwit.”

Outwit. Ha.

The Rocker types never last long. Too physically threatening, too socially divisive and tone deaf… and, well, usually not the smartest in the bunch.

“Survivor” has had pro athletes on previous seasons, most of them way more famous and accomplished than Rocker, who had a few years of notoriety before his obnoxiousness eclipsed his gifts as a closer. Future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent was on a few seasons ago and most of the other contestants had no idea of his wealth and stature. So maybe Rocker can coast under the radar.

Given his long track record, though, I’m guessing we’re in for a whole new round of reasons to hate him or laugh at him when the season starts Sept. 24.

He probably won’t last three episodes. But I’ll be watching every minute.

Got me, Probst.

John Rocker, CBS, Survivor, gay couple, baseball, braves, atlanta

Rocker and his girlfriend, top row left, join a gay couple and some racial minorities (uh-oh!) on the coming season of “Survivor.”

If you enjoyed this post or anything on storycroft.com, please subscribe at the top of the right rail. And ask a friend to do the same. Thanks!


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9 Times Truman Capote Inspired Me to Reach for the ‘Inner Music that Words Make’

Truman Capote, journalism, writer, "In Cold Blood," "Music for Chameleons," "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Capote in the “In Cold Blood” years

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Truman Capote’s death. He was just 59, but the decades of drinking and drugging made him look much older and pathetic when you’d see him on The Johnny Carson Show, silly and chatting away in that nasal, high-pitched voice.

That’s all I knew of him until I was old enough to discover his talent as a writer and aim to emulate it – or, at least, a lot of it. I wanted to become a journalist, and Capote was one of the generation of great American writers to merge a poet’s precision with a reporter’s eye – and a novelist’s sweep, most successfully, of course, with “In Cold Blood.”

That book showed reportage as art. And one of his later books, “Music for Chameleons,” further jazzed me with Capote’s first-person tenderness and uniquely vivid descriptions.

To celebrate the great words Capote left, here are nine segments and quotes that have stuck with me over the decades. And if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and read “In Cold Blood,” “Music for Chameleons” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and no, the Audrey Hepburn movie doesn’t count).


1. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”


2. “You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.”

~ Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”


 

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Music for Chameleons, journalist, writing, writer

His masterwork

3. “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’ ”

~ The opening of “In Cold Blood”


4. “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

~ Perry Smith from “In Cold Blood”


5. “… he called after her as she disappeared down the path, a pretty girl in a hurry, her smooth hair swinging, shining – just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

~ The closing lines of “In Cold Blood”


Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, In Cold Blood, Beautiful Child, Music for Chameleons

Capote with Marilyn Monroe

6. Marilyn: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split.

TC: Of course. But I’d also say…

(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?)

TC: I’d say…

Marilyn: I can’t hear you.

TC: I’d say you are a beautiful child.

~ from his memoir of Marilyn Monroe in “Music for Chameleons”


7. “She sounds like banana tastes.”

~ from a profile of a cleaning woman in “Music for Chameleons”


8. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

~ from “Answered Prayers — The Unfinished Novel”


9.”That’s not writing; that’s typing.”

Capote about “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac


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Wrapping up the Challenge: 3 (of Many) Positive Things about Life in Atlanta

college football hall of fame, atlanta, attractions

Atlanta’s newest attraction. Y’all come.

It’s been great to share good thoughts with the Positive Challenge, and I’ll keep up my attitude of gratitude. But today I’m wrapping my seven-day Positive Challenge with a look at three great things about my city, Atlanta.

1. Downtown rocks. With the newest addition of the College Football Hall of Fame following the Center for Civil and Human Rights by just weeks, we now have a bunch of great reasons for folks to spend all day, or more, downtown. Unheard of just a few years ago, and a boon for residents, tourists, conventioneers, businesses, etc.

2. The BeltLine Corridor. I enjoy starting a bike ride at the Inman Park end of the Atlanta BeltLine, riding past the soon-to-open Ponce City Market, and circling the loop inside Piedmont Park (the city’s crown jewel). Throw in a popsicle from the King of Pops or some Jake’s Ice Cream, and that’s a great afternoon.

3. Labor Day Weekend. Coming up fast again… Annual favorites DragonCon, the Decatur Book Festival, Black Gay Pride and … what else am I missing? This year, the Braves host the Marlins and the Phillies. And hometown superstar Jennifer Nettles plays Chastain… Who has time to grill? Dang.


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No Ice Bucket Needed for This Challenge — Just Make the Positive Choice

Atlanta BeltLine, public art, sculpture, overpass, North Avenue, Ponce City Market, Positive Challenge, civic improvements, Atlanta is getting better all the time, Nicole Brodeur

Nicole Brodeur

When Nicole Brodeur does something, I notice. She’s a great journalist, super-smart and one of my favorite friends.  She’s a columnist at The Seattle Times and, if you don’t read her, start now, even if you’re nowhere the Space Needle. She wrote yesterday about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and a former NFL player who has the disease and still participated in the popular social media money- and awareness-raiser.

But what moved me to action personally was Nicole’s Facebook posts about The Positive Challenge. I asked her about it. Here’s what she said:

The Positive Challenge was thrown down by Jacqui Banaszynski. I’m not clear on the rules, but I believe that you have to write three positive things about your life, or that happened in your life, every day for a week. And you can tag someone to take over when you’re finished. I’m almost finished, so you start on Monday. Tag, Jay Croft, you’re it!

Replied Jacqui: Post three positive thoughts or events each day for seven days. Tag two people a day to do the same. All that is optional, of course.

Atlanta BeltLine, public art, sculpture, overpass, North Avenue, Ponce City Market, Positive Challenge, civic improvements, Atlanta is getting better all the time, Nicole Brodeur, Jacqui Banaszynski

Jacqui Banaszynski

Well, all right. I’ve always found it a good idea to do what smart, beautiful women suggest. So I accepted the challenge. Today is Day Four. I’ll keep updating it on my own Facebook page.

What about you? Do you make a point to practice gratitude or positivity every day? Someone once said something like, “Happiness doesn’t bring gratitude — gratitude brings happiness.” I like that.

 

Here goes.

Atlanta BeltLine, public art, sculpture, overpass, North Avenue, Ponce City Market, Positive Challenge, civic improvements, Atlanta is getting better all the time, Nicole Brodeur

New sculpture on the BeltLine

DAY ONE OF THE POSITIVE CHALLENGE

  1. I’m grateful for awesome friends like you.
  2. Can I say something as simple as coffee? Because I’m drinking it right now and would be useless without it.
  3. 
The words, the words… always, the words.

 

DAY TWO OF THE POSITIVE CHALLENGE

  1. I was pleased to see new public art on the BeltLine overlooking North Avenue last night on my way home. Today I shared a photo of it here that Atlanta BeltLine put up. Yay. Love public art. Love the Atlanta BeltLine. Love civic improvement and community involvement.
  2. I reconnected with an old friend this week. Great to catch up. Hope I can see him again soon.
  3. I’m healthy. Everything works. No physical problems. And I’ve been sleeping great the last year, which was not the case for a long time. So: thankful for my health, every day.

DAY THREE OF THE POSITIVE CHALLENGE

  1. I love that my job is so close to my house. I can come home for lunch. In fact, I’m home for lunch right now. In the craziness of metro Atlanta traffic, this close proximity is no small blessing.
  1. I love cheat days. Not because I love to cheat so much (except for ice cream), but because it’s inevitable that at least one day a week will be chaotic or, yes, tempting, and the cheat-day concept is a nice reminder that it’s OK to be, you know, imperfect. Dadgummit.
  1. I’m grateful that today is my friend Tony’s 50th birthday and that my friend John, Tony’s partner, will be celebrating his 60th soon. Because I’d go crazy without them and, you know, I like nice round numbers like 50 and 60… which is why I’m staying 40 forever! Bah-da-bing!

DAY FOUR OF THE POSITIVE CHALLENGE

Something a little different today: Three pics from a great Sunday evening watching the Braves win (!!!) at Turner Field. Ya gotta believe in The Boys. Still, even this late…

Atlanta Braves, positive challenge, Turner Field, Braves leaving Atlanta for Cobb, Jay Croft, storycroft, Byron Whitt, Atlanta, friends at a baseball game

At a Braves game with my buddy Byron Whitt, enjoying Turner Field and its proximity IN THE CITY OF ATLANTA while we still can.

Atlanta Braves, Chris Johnson, Turner Field, best ass in baseball, best butt in baseball, sexiest baseball player, most handsome baseball player

My favorite Brave, Chris Johnson. OK, my baseball BF, right Trish Buswell? Chris, you can email me here on the blog. Or Facebook or Twitter. Or just wave next time you’re at bat, and I’ll know you’re thinking of me.

Nicole Brodeur, Seattle Times, Positive Choice, Jay Croft, Atlanta, Braves, ice cream, Turner Field

Ice cream + baseball = summertime bliss.

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Read This Book: 9 Ways ‘Epic Content Marketing’ Delivers

Joe Pulizzi, Epic Content Marketing, storytelling, brand journalism, expert, Jay Croft, Atlanta, storycroft, public relations, corporate communications

Joe Pulizzi’s “Epic Content Marketing” is available in all formats. I liked the audiobook version so much I downloaded the Kindle version.

I read a lot about content marketing — books, blogs, Twitter feeds, white papers. There’s so much content about content that it’s great to find an outstanding piece to recommend — something that speaks with authority but isn’t didactic. Something well-reported and smoothly written. Something with an expert’s knowledge and a mentor’s heart.

Joe Pulizzi’s most recent book, “Epic Content Marketing,” hits all those marks and more. Pulizzi has legions of followers and the book came out last year. But everyone interested in brand journalism/storytelling/content marketing should find something of interest and value here, from beginners to experts, from writers to CEOs.  Even the know-it-alls on theory will appreciate the countless examples of best practices Pulizzi presents. He’s like Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers,” “The Tipping Point”) in his thorough presentation of case studies that prove his points about communicating to drive business goals.

(“Tweet Naked” and two more worth reading)

Here are nine highlights of “Epic Content Marketing.” Some will be familiar, some fresh, and others might just crystallize your thoughts. That’s part of the value of a book like this – it’s a little bit of everything, in a broad and useful context. Flip through it, skip around. Lots of good stuff. You know: good content worth sharing and discussing.

  1. Joe Pulizzi, storytelling, storycroft, Atlanta, Jay Croft, Epic Content Marketing, Jell-0

    Jell-O’s early example

    “Customers don’t care about you, your products or services,” he says. “They care about themselves.”

  2. Pulizzi cites the many “content marketing” definitions and settles on this one: “Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyers more intelligent or perhaps entertaining them to build an emotional connection.”
  3. U.S. consumers are hit with 5,000 marketing messages a day, up from 500 in the 1970s.  “Telling a quality story to the right person at the right time always cuts through the clutter.”
  4. Storytelling goes back to the cave, and content marketing goes back at least as far as John Deere and its magazine, The Furrow, 120 years ago. Then came Jell-O recipe books … and radio soap operas…
  5. Joe Pulizzi, Content marketing, brand journalism, storytelling, storycroft, Jay Croft, Atlanta, Red Bull

    Red Bull is a leader of content marketing, Pulizzi says.

    Corporations engaged in content marketing find residual benefits like improved morale, recruiting and internal collaboration.

  6. Smart brands and companies are hiring journalists to tell stories — to plan and create content.
  7. That dovetails with Pulizzi’s “less is more” approach: Don’t sell so hard. Content shouldn’t be advertorial. It has to bring value on its own to create new customers or strengthen bonds with existing buyers.
  8. Pieces of content (articles, graphics, photos, videos, etc.) are business assets. Think of them – speak of them – as such.
  9. Pulizzi’s Six Principles of Epic Content Marketing: 
  • Fill a need
  • Be consistent
  • Be human
  • Have a point of view
  • Avoid sales-speak
  • Be best of breed

Along with endless examples of brands, bloggers and resources to help writers, marketers and executives, Pulizzi employs helpful formatting that keeps his reasoning on track and the book highly readable.

But the book’s most endearing strength is his good-hearted enthusiasm. He’s sharing what he’s learned because he’s excited about it and wants you to be, too.

Worked on me, Joe.


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