Monday, 30 September 2013

Funerals - An inadequate way to say goodbye?

Nothing sharpens your focus on what’s important in life than a friend or relatives’ funeral.
I expect anyone who has lived in Buckinghamshire for any length of time will be familiar with the sweeping drive up to Chilterns Crematorium.
Last week I attended the funeral of my dear old neighbour, Stan.
At 89, Stan passed away of a heart attack whilst under observation for an un-heart related illness in hospital. So although it was expected, there was still a bit of shock value to his passing, he’d have liked that. 
A former soldier and about as cockney as they come, Stan was a genuine character of our cul-de-sac.
I’ll personally remember him for his great sense of humour and kindness – he walked my aging shih tzu every day for years - only ever accepting a fiver on a friday for a beer as payment.
He also once nursed my ailing fairground goldfish back to health in an orange bucket - which he found hilarious as it took us ages to actually spot the fish.
He was a colourful eccentric, leaving Christmas lights on all year round and driving every morning (choke fully open) to get his morning paper. 
His porch was like Blackpool grockle shop. Covered with all manner of tantalising trinkets, from dangling plastic spiders to odd flower pot men fashioned out of old wood and pots. The poor district nurses popping in at night must have had the bejeebers scared out of them.
Living directly opposite, he’d watch me dither about every Tuesday evening, playing ‘wheelie bin bingo’ before hollering out the right colour.Stan also seemed to know the Wycombe District Council’s Wheelie Bin rota by heart.
And he was always right, even on Bank Holidays.
The Funeral Format
Sitting in silence, save for a few muffled sobs, as the curtain symbolically closed around Stan’s casket I couldn’t help feel the inadequacy of the British funeral.
No reflection of Stan’s daughter’s heartfelt eulogy or his granddaughter’s poignant reading of the poem ‘Stand Down Soldier’, there was something amiss in the format.  And perhaps that’s exactly what it is, a funeral format.
It’s a great leveler to know that life will probably come down to a 20-minute presentation about your achievements, two songs (one likely to be Wind Beneath my Wings) and a finger buffet at the local boozer.
The truth is that unless you verbalise or put in writing your last wishes no one is actually going to know what you want.
Having had that conversation my partner, I now know he wishes to be buried like a dog. 
This came about through the death of my neighbour’s beloved German shepherd, Maggie, several years ago.   
'Baggins' as she was affectionately known, died suddenly of a heart attack whilst out trotting on her daily walk.
No warning, no illness, no injection in the paw, just here one moment then crossing over the rainbow bridge the next.
Hearing the news and knowing what Baggins meant to her owners, a number of us gathered at their home. Her body, still warm, lay in the back of their car; there had been no time to get to the vets.
Although in shock there was an air of a job to be done.  Almost without speaking, the men folk (very Downton-esque, I know) went to the bottom of the garden and started to dig.
They dug for hours in the cold Autumn drizzle. Huge mounds of earth piling up each side. In the end the hole was deep and wide enough for a human. 

Wrapped in her old blanket, they carefully laid Baggins down in her muddy forever bed. The first few spades of earth were cast by her owner before the rest joined in.
This gesture changed my partner’s view of funerals forever. Upon his passing he wants the same treatment. And despite it probably being a jail-able offense, I understand.
There’s something beautiful and cathartic about digging the final resting place for someone you love.
It's dirty, it's hard work and above all it's real.
Forget sanitised funerals, pan piped Eva Cassidy songs and finger buffets, let’s get stuck in.    
What do you think? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Dos and Don'ts of Blogger Wooing

So you’re blogging. Congratulations. But no blog is an island. Neither should it be. 

Unless you’re Hugh Grant in About a Boy. 

Or one of those weird islands that no one visits.

To make your blog an island that people want to visit, stick around and even buy from the gift shop then you need to build your name.

The first important step of building you name is to woo other bloggers.

By having your site mentioned on other people’s blogs you create all important back links to your blog. As well as helping to raise your profile, Google likes back links as it says ‘hey, this guy is worth listening to’ – helping to improve your site ranking.

So how do you go about building relationships with other bloggers? 

Here are some important Dos:

Make a list – First things first. Make a shopping list of blogs you would like to be mentioned on. More than 10, less than 50.

Before you jump in and send any kind of pitch as to why a blogger should feature your product/mention your venue/plug your blog subscribe to their blog and follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Listen – would you butt into a three way conversation about best children's DVDs by suggesting the new Paranormal Activity film? No.

The next step is to listen.

Listen to each blogger’s conversations individually. What topics does this blogger specialise in? What do they get excited about? Who have they previously featured as guest bloggers? Do they include a list of requirements for submissions on their site? (lots of bloggers do - if so, take note).

Get to know the blogger and their themes so you can align your pitch to their exact needs.

Follow – when you have a good idea of a blogger’s niche then it is time to act - but not with your pitch. A simple 'Hi there', a constructive comment on their latest post or a retweet saying why this post is useful should get you noticed. Don't do it too much, you're following, not stalking. It just means that when you do pitch you’re not cold calling.

Engage – Once you know about your blogger and I mean really know only then it’s time to pitch. Firstly, make sure the story that you are pitching is newsworthy – so you've decked out your new reception? You've added an oojamaflip to the whats-it, so now your thingy goes really fast? Sorry but save it for your newsletter. 

Bloggers want fresh, new, exclusive (ideally) content, after all that’s how they tantalise and increase their subscribers.

Once you have your story, keep your email short, keep it punchy and outline clearly why the blogger’s readership needs your story.

Yes, you may be contacting 20 other bloggers with the same pitch but, if it matters then take the time to personalise each email, including the blogger’s name.    

Follow up. Yes it is ok to follow up. Once. A week later. But never pester. 

If the blogger isn't interested don't be disheartened, if it is a very popular blog then they will receive hundreds of pitches a month. Wait a few weeks, have a re-think and try again with another fresh angle.

Next time I will cover the Don'ts of wooing bloggers. If you want to make friends with bloggers to increase your coverage I am an award-winning copywriter and blogger in BuckinghamshireEmail me on