The Born Freelancer Reads “This I Know” by Terry O’Reilly

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

bornfreel2In the interests of full disclosure I must admit, first and foremost, that I am a huge fan of Terry O’Reilly’s exceptionally enjoyable CBC Radio series, “Under The Influence” upon which his new book “This I Know” is based.

O’Reilly takes the potentially mundane topic of marketing/advertising and turns it into a weekly half hour of fascinating history, pop culture and invaluable lessons (if you’re paying close attention) on the radio. So when I heard that he had distilled the essence of his considerable experience into a new book I sought it out immediately.

Well, what I actually did was to go to my local public library to put it on hold. 

Given the considerable number of other listeners who had apparently had the same brain wave, alas some time ahead of me, this meant I would get around to reading a copy in perhaps a year or so.

Unable to wait, I bought it. I believe it’s the first book I have ever bought on marketing.

Having read it from cover to cover, it is something I can now confidently urge every freelancer to read. (I will also be re-reading it frequently in the weeks and months ahead.)

So who is Terry O’Reilly?

He’s a Canadian advertising and marketing guru, founder of Pirate Radio & Television, and the winner of hundreds of international advertising awards. 

He’s also a pretty smart guy.

I first became aware of his work many years ago when I was working with a talented actress. She loved doing radio commercials at a certain advertising/production house more than any other because the ads were always so funny and original. That was Pirate, Toronto. After a while, I could tell Pirate ads because they always stood out as, well, so funny and original.

So O’Reilly really knows what he is talking about. 

Why should a freelancer read his book?

Because freelancing is all about selling your work. About creating your brand. About successfully marketing yourself.

You could spend a lot of money attending workshops. Or you could read O’Reilly’s book and jump to the head of the class.

A lot of this book details the history of marketing (which O’Reilly somehow makes fascinating) but always to make a point. Many stories are about companies and products which will not directly help freelancers market themselves. But these illustrations should inspire an individual freelancer create their own marketing. It’s just a matter of learning from the successes and failures of others.

So what is “marketing”?

I guess I never really thought much about the difference between simply “selling” myself and “marketing” myself. I always thought the latter was just a fancy-schmanzy word for the former. 

O’Reilly helpfully clarifies the matter quickly and efficiently. “Marketing” is differentiating myself from my competition. What makes me special or unique or different from my competitors? And getting that message out effectively and repeatedly to a potential employer.

“Then” according to O’Reilly, “the selling starts”.

O’Reilly’s own Pirate Productions is a perfect example of what he teaches. There was (and still is) a ton of similar companies. But Pirate’s ads stood out from the pack. Their work was their own best form of self-marketing.

It’s an example from which we freelancers can definitely learn. 

When brevity isn’t enough

The chapter on “elevator pitches” caught my attention immediately. What working freelancer has not had experience with such pitches? “Simple, clear messages always win” writes O’Reily, adding, “If it takes a paragraph it’s not ready yet”. In other words, you really have to drill down and find the heart of your pitch.

But O’Reilly takes it a step further. He asserts that a really successful elevator pitch needs to be “absolutely captivating”. I love the example he gives. When “Wired” magazine went after potential investors, their elevator pitch was this: “Wired was going to feel like a magazine mailed back from the future”. Wow. That’s mindblowing. “So simple, so memorable, so full of potential”. They could have just said, with even greater brevity, “Wired will report on future tech trends”. Meh. Which pitch would you have invested in?

I think many of us think (hope) a great idea for a story should sell itself. O’Reilly reminds us that one of our greatest (and frequently taken-for-granted) sales tools, the so-called elevator pitch, can make or break a sale. It needs to be crafted just as thoughtfully and inventively as any project it is designed to sell.

Tell me a story

Great marketing, according to O’Reilly, is all about storytelling. It involves the emotions. “When customers feel something they are more likely to buy” says O’Reilly. 

We freelancers are born storytellers but perhaps we forget that principle when it comes to marketing ourselves.

It seems to me that (aside from always producing great stories to sell) we should have a great story prepared about ourselves prominently displayed on our website and social media. Or ready to tell in meetings or over a meal. It should explain why and how (in a brilliantly funny but concise way) we got into our line of creativity and show how we excel at it. (Another O’Reilly tip: Always show, don’t tell).

O’Reilly comments, “Storytelling can . . . help sell intangible benefits like trust and confidence”. 

Personal branding

Although the entire book brims with inspiring stories, most freelancers will probably initially focus on his chapter about “Personal Brands”.

And rightly so. 

Freelancers are our own brand.

O’Reilly offers many relevant tips. First and foremost: the need to be consistent. Every platform needs to be consistent. So your Facebook should reaffirm your LinkedIn which should reinforce your Instagram, and so on. 

Sending out mixed messages dilutes your brand. O’Reilly even points out the need for standardization in email addresses. A goofy sounding email address can undo the benefits of a professional social media presence (unless of course you are in the business of creating goofy content.)

Elsewhere in the book O’Reilly asserts that the “only effective marketing messages are single-minded”. So if you want to sell science articles that should be the dominant thrust of your branding and all your marketing. If you want to sell dark and brooding teen novels then go after that niche unreservedly.

O’Reilly is, in effect, advocating for unmitigated specialization to maximize the ability to market yourself. It’s a powerfully presented point of view. 

The takeaway

This is a book containing great wisdom, experience and practical guidance.

Not all chapters relate directly to the freelancing creative experience but any intelligent reader will have no trouble drawing inspiration and practical instruction from almost every page.

O’Reilly’s advice is not for the faint-hearted, however. Some of the most successful marketing examples he offers involved some risk to reputation using a significant degree of “counter-intuition.” If you’re not yet ready to shake things up with how you present yourself to the world maybe this book will help prepare you.

“This I Know” is also witty, entertaining and great fun to read. Three things I never thought I’d ever say about any book on marketing.

This I Know” by Terry O’Reilly is a contemporary look at marketing and advertising based upon the CBC Radio series “Under The Influence”. It’s published in Canada this year by Alfred A. Knopf (Canada).

Got a specific question for a future column? Now you can contact the author directly. Emails may be posted unless otherwise proscribed. Contact:

Posted on June 14, 2017 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

Leave a Reply