Behind the Scenes on Content Creation with Molly and Karen

If you’re a creativity geek like me, when you see a compelling piece of content you wonder what it took to make it happen. How much research, for example, did the writer have to do? I like to know how the sausage gets made, so to speak. Fortunately, I work closely with two of Pace’s best sausage grinders: Molly McGinn, senior editor, and Karen Sommerfeld, editor. I asked them about their processes, practices and inspirations. Here’s what they had to say.

Do you have a process before you start writing or are you more of a crack-your-knuckles-and-get-to-it writer?

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Molly McGinn

Molly: I can’t bust a move until I’ve researched the begeezus out of something. I need to read everything, search all the social hashtags, and then talk to every person with authority on the subject who I can reach. Somewhere in that process, I’ll start seeing patterns—where people start saying some of the same things I’ve been reading in articles—and then I know I’ve got something that makes sense. Things just come together pretty well after that.

Karen: When I’m doing my research online I’ll often find just one answer and what you’ll realize is that those are all verbatim answers, people are just copy and pasting the same thing over and over again. I try to weed through all of that repetitive research to try to find a new answer or angle. Then I go to my hiding place here at work (no, I WON’T tell you where it is), and I write, write, write until I’m exhausted. I get all my thoughts out first, and then I edit what I wrote to fit our keywords and our audience.

I was once given the following advice about art directing: Create a detailed persona for a member of your intended audience to focus on throughout the brainstorming and conception processes. Do you use a similar practice when writing?

Molly: It’s always about writing for the customer, but I also try to write for my own joy—always following my own curiosity within the boundaries of the brief. Because if I’m not having fun writing it, the customer won’t feel any joy either.

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Karen Sommerfeld

Karen: I have to say, I love it when strategy gives us the research and I learn who the audience is. I find that sort of research fascinating. I try to picture someone I know who fits the persona. So, if I’m writing about rutabaga perfume, and I know the person most interested in that is 37 and upwardly mobile and female, I go through my roster of acquaintances ’til I remember, yes! Saundra, at my old job! She’s late 30s and upwardly mobile! Then I try to write as if I’m speaking to her. Would she hate this phrase? Would she know who Mr. Green Jeans is?

Are you able to inject your own voice into the content you create for clients?

Molly: Not always. Every client has their own idea of a voice, and I love asking them to explain who that might be, in terms of a celebrity. One of our clients used Tom Hanks to describe the voice they were going for.

Karen: Part of being a creative at Pace means knowing how to effectively speak to the audience that client wants us to speak to. Depends on the client. I’m perfect for some clients just the way I am. For others I’m too flippant, too old, too me, and I have to tone it down.

What’s an example of a piece of content you’ve recently shared and why is it great?

Molly: I love to share stuff that makes me happy. Like a video of this little koala at the Symbio Wildlife Park: It shows me a slice of life I wouldn’t normally see, and it promotes the park without telling people what to do. It’s just like, “Joy lives here. You should come see.”

Karen: I recently shared an article about how Ross Gellar from “Friends” triggered the downfall of Western civilization. I love it because I happen to agree with the author, and I love hearing something brand new that I never thought of before.

Do you think “content” is an appropriate word for what we do, or is there a better one out there?

Molly: I’m going to pass the mic to Karen on this one.

Karen: Stories. We tell stories. Sometimes they’re two sentences long, but they still tell you what you need to know right then. Sometimes our stories are a thousand words long, and sometimes the story is told through imagery–they’re also what you need to know right then. We take a brand and give it a personality. That’s pretty cool.

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