Panthers ugly 2019 ends with questions on broken D, head coach, Olsen, Cam

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There won’t be any pilgrimages to Wofford in 2020, but the fans will still be faithful.

Here in “The Buckle on the Bible Belt,” its quite possible that more than a couple fans put some time into praying that Christian McCaffrey didn’t get hurt, especially during the eight loss spiral that ended in a soggy 42-10 whipping by the Saints at BOA Stadium.

Color commentators often opine that defensive backs best assets are speed and having a short memory about negative plays, and if a belated Christmas or Hanukkah gift could be given out to end the year, may Charlotte be so blessed memory-wise.

There was a whole lot of ugly going on after Kyle Allen started throwing INTs and the defense showed they couldn’t stop anyone, and not replaying it all is legitimate. Yes, it was smile-worthy that McCaffrey became only the third player in NFL history to post 1,000 yards-plus rushing and receiving, and Moore seems to have arrived as a premier receiver in only his second year ranked 9th, with 87 catches, 1,175 yards and four TDs.

As a two-time Coach of the Year, Ron Rivera will probably find another job in the NFL (Redskins?), although except for the 15-1 regular season the Panthers posted in their 2015 Super Bowl season, he wouldn’t be the franchise’s career leader in victories at 76-63-1.

Rivera arrived the same year as Cam Newton, and defensive bulwark Luke Kuechly became an instant star at middle linebacker the next year, but good luck to him working any instant magic for the 3-13 ‘Skins owner Daniel Snyder.

Do NOT expect many of the Panthers coaching staff to remain in Charlotte. While owner David Tepper gave Rivera an above average amount of rope during a second straight year of defensive under-achieving, he’s not going to let that become the sort of malaise that infects Detroit, Cleveland, or Cincinnati. How Cam Newton’s status looks after a bad shoulder (2018) and foot (missed all but first two games of 2019) injuries is an especially big question for fans this winter, and Allen’s turnover woes (16 INTs, 13 fumbles) don’t come across as the answer in the QB arena.

Is it really the thought that counts this time of year?

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Having given a brother several bags of mulch and some pea gravel – along with a promise to render his front garden area more presentable – and the roof of his house being done just before Christmas, the analogy of the back yard being a mess *right now* is a legitimate one for the Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the worst at anything, although the 470 (29.4 ppg) points they surrendered was ahead of only the Dolphins (494, 30.9 ppg). The 143.5 average they were gouged for on the ground beat only Cleveland (144.7), Washington, and Cincinnati’s (2-14) bottom of the list 148.9. That made their 3,696 (231 yds. per game) by air look comparatively lofty, with 19 teams – including 12-4 division winner New Orleans (3,868) – behind them.

While that only proves numbers aren’t always the whole story, especially in a pass-happy league, the Panthers were pushed around plenty, with runners consistently picking up necessary first down yardage. McCaffrey was third in rushing with 1,387 yards and 15 TDs (287 carries) plus 1,005 receiving (4 TDs); Derrick Henry (TN) won the rushing title with 1,540 (16 TDs, 303 carries).

Although many fans, especially in the Carolinas, would consider C-MC’s efforts worthy of MVP consideration, his exploits the second half of the year were almost a curiosity to the rest of the country, though his 116 receptions and productivity were crucial to fantasy owners. Nobody doubted he gave his best effort every week, even when defenses were often stacked to stop his contributions along the way.

Mr. Tepper isn’t Yoda, but fix things he must

The Panthers boss man not only put his considerable $$$ where his mouth is while buying the Panthers at the beginning of 2018, he’s also added an indoor practice facility and a major league soccer franchise ($325 million), while targeting a rejuvenation of the former Eastland Mall area off Central Avenue with a practice facility and team offices for the soccer franchise. That goes beyond good thoughts, but fixing a great many lagging factors before their 26th season is uppermost on Panthers fans minds.

Recently released lesser performers like Gruden (Redskins), Kitchens (Browns), Shurmer (NYG) and the like will probably not be of interest to Tepper as a head coach, but former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy’s success makes him a possibility, along with a list of high profile college coaches. McCarthy apparently also wanted the GM role when he was considered for the Browns job, but Marty Hurney has done a good job on that front.

While the Panthers have always had a reputation for promoting from within, two years of negatives will probably call for new, pedigreed blood.

Whether a “defensive minded” head coach will get the call – based on the last two years of getting undressed regularly – as a deciding factor is iffy, although a strong defensive coordinator to replace Eric Washington is a 99% certainty. Sticking with the 3-4 or going back to the 4-3 is not the #1 question right now, with a small thanks for not being as pitiful on the pass rush as last year.

College coaches don’t have a great track record in the pros, Pete Carroll of the Seahawks being an obvious exception, and Chip Kelly, who nearly wrecked the Eagles before Doug Pederson took the reins and led them to a Super Bowl win, being the more normal result.

 2020 will be turn the page time

Charlotte was thrilled when its first professional sports franchise, the Hornets, came to town because it proved the city was major league. They bought PSLs (personal seating licenses) to build the football stadium when they gained an NFL franchise in 1993, the first time that route was utilized in the sports world, and gladly (??) chipped in major tax dollars to help refurbish it a couple years ago.

Charlotte now has about every pro sport covered, with the Knights (baseball), Checkers (AHL champs in 2018 season), Hornets, and Panthers. There’s also the historic enthusiasm for the college programs, which now includes the UNCC 49ers (7-6) after the first trip to a bowl game and taking their lumps as a newbie D-1 entrant for five years. The Tobacco Road hoops schools, Wake Forest, South Carolina’s Gamecocks, and of course, Clemson football, all have a dedicated following.

Keep wearing your Olsen, Newton, Kuechly, and McCaffrey jerseys proudly, even if Olsen decides he’s had enough after 2019. Cleveland (6-10) made only marginal progress in two years with Baker Mayfield despite a lot of talking, but count on Mr. Tepper not taking a back seat to anyone on getting results. He’s not Santa Claus, but he’ll deliver sooner than that merry old gent.

And if you want to keep working the beads for McCaffrey’s good health, that’s not a problem either.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Thoughts for Panthers 2019 are a mixed bag for ‘fruitcake’ 5-9

Would Christian McCaffrey tell you, “Honestly, this ugly sweater is going right to the bottom of any drawer I can find space,” if you’d gifted him so? Doubtful, but there’s no reason to believe he’s doing anything less than giving each game his best effort. As a team, there’s also no reason to believe otherwise, even if the defense was sliced and diced by Seattle, dropping the Panthers to 5-9.

Fruitcake season? Just because you hear someone say “It’s not that bad” doesn’t mean you want any more of it. (Gonna have to use that one again…)

Everyone will point to McCaffrey as a bright point in a sub-par season, but holy moley! DJ Moore has 86 catches for 1,174 (4 TD) in his second year. Nobody is “happy” with six straight losses, and yes, eyes goes naturally to Kyle Allen’s 15 INTs (and 3,027) yards as a replacement for Cam Newton after two games .

It wouldn’t be any glaring sign of giving up if 3rd round pick Will Grier got a chance at QB the last two games.

Its pretty certain the Panthers have had a look at Allen after twelve games. Rookie name of Gardner Minshaw II did fine in Jax’ville, its not like they’re clearing the bench to give everyone a couple plays to consider over the winter, but a time when Panther fans will hear about LOTS of changes.

KEY PLAYERS

Doesn’t everyone have a favorite nephew, whose exploits you like to remind others about? McCaffrey is obviously as productive as anyone you can think of, and if he gets 186 yards receiving the next two games, “The Legend-Weapon that is Cee Mac” will be firmly anchored.

Like the kid who demands Santa’s “sled” in the commercial, Dad saying, “He was pretty good this year,” is very legitimate. C-Mac needs those 186 yards to hit 1,000/1,000 level, so I hope that item gets wrapped up real nice and arrives, FedEx or whatever. You’ve heard only two guys have done that, so expect some serious effort to deny him.

Speaking of favorites, congratulations to Drew Brees, a GOAT of GOATS. *That* is a team needing one LESS maximum negative a play in the clutch at some point, but they’ll play an extra inspirational bit harder for that/Drew’s championship this year. Topper on the tree stuff.

Most would agree the O-line has done its bit. Despite constant churn at positions with injuries, McCaffrey doesn’t get all those yards himself. Allen does hold onto the ball at times, so while the line has given up quite a few sacks, eliminating throwing errors (one hopes), although his mistakes, including fumbles, have clearly hurt offensive production.

Curtis Samuel got some different looks in the Seattle game, and using him as a runner like they do with Moore is always intriguing, because he’s a bolt coming at defenders. If he continues to learn how to evade, he could become a devastating slot receiver. Whether Ian Thomas is able to take the tight end job after an Olsen retirement is open to question.

Joey Slye has made seven 50-yard plus field goals this year, but he also missed some kicks that cost games. Overall, do you return cheap gifts and maybe stick with a higher priced version, like a $17 million kicker? Ahhhh! Something has gotten into the egg nog…

The Newton question is the big package hidden in the closet. He may have everyone’s good thoughts for recovery, the question is whether his injury and style – as a passer, all he has is a fastball – and price tag work for 2020.

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Panther fans won’t be sure what they’re getting for 2020, but ‘D’ will need to look less undressed.

The Turner offense certainly put certain players (Moore, McCaffrey) on a very strong path, just like it was designed to, and with a relative newbie at the controls to boot. Newton was +10 pts. over his career passing percentage last year before the shoulder really crimped his production, is he really-really going to be “okay” (you know the commercial) when games count again?

If someone doesn’t pay for Allen to attend some serious camp committed to cutting down his turnovers (13 fumbles), its because he’s getting that proverbial hunk of coal on the way out.

Yes, there needs to be something small but appreciable in the “Running back, besides Christian M.” under the tree for Panther fans to rest assured he won’t be toast in two more years.

DEFENSE WAS LIT UP LIKE CHRISTMAS TREE

If Mr. Tepper keeps Eric Washington as Defensive Coordinator after the way the front was repeatedly gouged for yardage all year, it would be a massive surprise. While the sack total is back up to historical levels, and Kuechly is #3 in the league with 131 tackles (17 against Seattle), Chris Carson went for 133 yards and 2 TDs last week.

Stats: The Panthers have given up 386 points (27.6 ppg) thus far, ahead of only Miami20181223_220242 (29.6 ppg). Pitiful Cincinnati (325, 23.2) was #22: Cleveland and Indy were middle of the pack (311 pts/22.2 ppg); New England (157, 11.2 ppg leads the league).

In 2018, the Panthers started giving up 100 yard rushers regularly, and it hasn’t stopped. It was suggested that opposing QBs didn’t mind throwing against their secondary either, and an improved rush didn’t lessen effectiveness going long. Whether the 3-4 alignment or standard 4-3 is better will require examining the potential of 2nd, 3rd year players like Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes.

Eric Reed was every bit the hitter they wanted at safety and run support, but a lot of people (not just Falcons, Saints; Jax had a receiver get 2-60 yard gains out of 383 total v. Panthers) seemed to be running free far too often. Give Dante Jackson credit for “make up speed” and no lack of confidence, but even when he gets there, people are still making catches. With expectations that he will blossom into the A-1 cover guy Panthers obviously need in 2020, lets hope the Big Boy pants under the tree fit right, or he acquires ‘sticky’ vs. anything figgy by next season.

Shaq Thompson is the speed linebacker many expected him to be with more playing time, but Dontari Poe doesn’t appear to  be a run stopper by any $9 million definition, and I didn’t hear Butler’s name often, that probably can’t stand either. Mario Addison might be trade bait after another decline in sacks.

While Fewell got the nod for interim coach, as the coach of secondary, he might not be around for New Years either.

If some Panther stockings are still hung by the chimney with care after New Year’s, look for when “Bonus $$ for on roster – (X date)” about decision time. James Bradbury’s stocking has something in it, hopefully a situation he can share with Ross Cockrell, who had a quietly good year after a broken leg kept him out all of 2018. Most probably its just a thank you for keeping things respectable with most receivers.

Nobody wants to see Greg Olsen ride off into the sunset (with or without a Man of Year award), it will be up to him and family to decide whether 2019 was enough.

Philosophically and realistically speaking, its going to be an uncomfortable winter for Panther fans. Mr. Tepper has big plans for his soccer franchise, but his NFL franchise will need considerable tending too.

 

Knee replacement turns two, and ‘Obamacare’ is still law of the land

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Still proud of myself for ‘re-purposing’ the bicycle seat that served me for 28 years as a wedding gift.

Having started with Affordable Care Act coverage when legally mandated in 2015, I’m proud to announce that the replacement knee that made me physically whole again after a dozen years as ‘a gimp’ and restored my personal confidence levels, turned two yesterday.

A physical game changer at 60, replacement was the most anticipated gift I’d ever received.

After asking my doctor if I could possibly get the surgery in December, 2017, the scheduling person said, “You’re in luck. Two cancellations means one spot has opened up. The doctor is booked on the 18th, Christmas is the 25th, and after that its a new program year. You can have surgery this Monday, but you have to tell me,” and she literally looked at her watch, “now.”

After a difficult economic 2016 as a new real estate broker, getting a knee that was totally shot at the end of 2017  fixed as a long-term negative was far from a given. In the final accounting, the numbers turned out super-doable: “Obamacare” meant my maximum out of pocket – on an insurance breakdown with a $28,700 top line was $600.  The $20 a session for physical therapy – seven weeks, twice a week – was money extremely well spent.

Thankfulness has abounded since, and I have no reason to listen to anyone knock the ACA. This past weekend I popped off an 18 mile ride without any protest or strain from “Lefty,” and while a second day of Christmas tree selling brought a minor ache, two beers watching the LSU game took care of that.

I’m a happy camper about the knee, and have said so in every survey they sent me.

Rehabbing is definitely a challenge, nothing fun

When you catch a major break like the timing and cost factors I had, you owe the Universe your very best effort in return. Whatever other exercises Amanda and Becka came up with, knowing how important a factor an ERMI was in my progress, I worked the hell out of it.

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A significant extra from having Dr. Robert McBride (OrthoCarolina) as my surgeon was getting that ERMI (Extended Range of Motion Improvement) machine as a 30 day ‘loaner.’ It’s not kidding to say, with your heel in a foot-scoop, “You pull the pneumatic lever until the bend is uncomfortable, then give it another little tug, and keep that position for ten minutes.”

After taking a break, the system calls for coming back for ten more minutes and doing that twice a day. In physical therapy for knees, they quantify your progress in range of degrees, and at least for me, clicking that lever another line or three while in the ERMI saddle and channel-surfing hit an “I got this” machismo.

I believe that *every*little*bit*more*I*do* goes directly to helping the strength and functions of my knee-quad-whatever. (What I told my PT person, Amanda, often, and strangers in grocery stores even more frequently)

Its a process, and goals help

My initial, somewhat whimsical goal for being “better” involved planting my left foot without pain and being able to hit a tree with a snowball. The last time I’d tried on a trip to NY, I literally couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Charlotte doesn’t get snow that often, so it was a touch of luck that a decent skim appeared in late February to help fulfill that “leveling up” affirmation.

By the end of May, with the help of regular, mostly flatter 8-10 mile bicycle rides for training, I could handle my favorite urban route, one that features a three-mile stretch with several long rises about the mid-point. Thumping a forehand up the alley in tennis as an opponent flails at its passage still hasn’t been put on the official scoreboard, but I’ve killed a nearby wall.

In a captain’s choice golf event before Memorial Day 2018, I played amazingly well off the tees, STRAIGHT drives that located well and allowed better players to shoot for higher risk options. For years that knee clicked and wobbled at exactly the point I settled into an optimal swing position, which was more than just distracting. When my balance was restored, wow! Without that constant niggling, my swing came through smoothly.

That old joke about, “Will I be able to play the piano after surgery, I never could before,” that’s what solid drives felt like.

My bike ride is a working antique, a 12-speed Miyata with gears on the up-angle from my pedals instead of in the middle of the handlebars. I bought ‘Clyde’ for $125 in 1990, refurbished it for $185 many years ago, and finally bought a more ergonomically friendly seat vs. the slab of leather (see photo at top) that lasted 28 years. Riding Clyde was a saving grace, what allowed my staying in shape because it was really the only physical thing that *didn’t* abuse the knee, and biking is an almost year-round possibility in Charlotte.

Post-replacement and therapy, I honestly never expected to become the long-distance shooting threat in hoops I sort of recall being a dozen years before, when I started needing a bracier brace. Having stopped playing even 4-on-4 games six years ago – I sure didn’t want to be the guy *anybody* can drive on and they want to guard – I just wanted to move naturally. I continued catch and shoot hoops by myself over the years, but having to WALK after misses, that didn’t really square with the inner athlete.

Not having to skip across the street so I didn’t get run over made having that knee replacement a simple decision.

This October, after declining to play the previous week, I tried “going easy” for a short game to seven, shooting 4-5 with three long shots, and an assist. I’ve been back four times since, even though my doctor says, “You’re playing basketball?” with concern in his voice. (No sweat doc, I’m playing with old, broken down guys…) I resisted for over a year, I swear I know my limitations, but running after misses because I can, is another reason for thanks.

When doing a content copy writing gig for a CBD manufacturer early last year, I did several articles about how CBD’s effect on the endocannaboid system (ECS) can help with anxiety and depression.  Other research, regarding physical activity as a good overall tool on those fronts, echoed a personal mantra, and that Forever Young Boomer inside me does seem to respond well to CBD’s “focus factor,” having both going for me is terrific.

In my humble opinion, when your moment comes to pull the trigger, do it. The physical therapy is going to hurt, but do it – and then do a little bit more. Happy second birthdays depend on it.

Panthers thumping aside, Charlotte’s seasonal activities welcomed four terrific days

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Doubling down on goodness at Christmas tree lot.

Having chosen to invest my time in a solid bike ride to enjoy the primo weather we kind of expect around here, I missed the entirety of the Panthers 40-20 debacle against Atlanta on Sunday. After the ride, something to eat, and making a few landing page adjustments, it was time to scoot to the Christmas tree sale.

I’ve watched the highlights, seen a lot of quotes with consistent sorrow-breast beating (this is ‘The Buckle on the Bible Belt’) about what is now a five game losing streak. Yes, Christian McCaffrey got his contribution in, with 11/58 yards on the ground and 11 catches for 82 yards. QB Kyle Allen was 28/41, 293 yards, TD/2 INT, and rushed for a TD late in the game. DJ Moore (4/81) continued closing in on a 1,000 yard receiving year (980), and TE Ian Thomas had his first five catches of the year, with Greg Olsen still in concussion protocols.

Four turnovers and allowing BIG plays (again) to the Falcons – Matt Ryan was 20/34 for 313 yards and two TDs – and the run defense that gave up 159 yards, Atlanta’s best production of the year, I’m willing to say I didn’t miss much. Now 5-8, it confirmed for many that not believing was legitimate, fire up the BBQ.

Owner David Tepper makes decision on Rivera

Ron Rivera is gone, and Perry Fewell didn’t wave any magic wands in his first game as the interim coach. Owner David Tepper is every bit as pragmatic about what comes next as the fans can ask for, which probably means hiring from outside the organization. Hold onto your PSLs.

Tepper rolled with the field operations group and facilities during Year One, but they’ve moved on from Wofford, have an indoor practice facility now, and Rivera got pretty much the standard amount of rope in 2019, considering a disastrous second half of 2018. The Cam Newton factor of losing #1 QB is factual, but lots of teams lose top personal (ask Houston about JJ Watts). Its still a Ws and Ls deal to be a coach anywhere.

“(Long time Charlotte Catholic Coach) Jim Odo said he won a championship because in OT he chose to defend in front of the student section. He felt it made a difference.” – Current Coach Mike Brodowicz

On the other hand, local favorite and two-time defending 3A champs, Charlotte Catholic won their game 56-49 in seven overtimes against Kings Mountain to advance to the State finals against first-timer Southern Nash (15-0). That it was 7-7 at the end of regulation is the amazing part, and there were a bunch of 4th down plays to test wills.

I can only imagine the juice running through that stadium, and you betcha, those young men felt the love. Friday night lights, baby!

For those considering getting off any Who Needs Cam? bandwagons that appeared when Kyle Allen led the Panthers to four straight wins with no INTs (he now has 12), fan-dom doesn’t mean blowing off the rest of the year now.  (Seahawks, and even if it rains, you’ll want to see Drew Brees…) Geez, if this was the NFC Least, the Panthers would only be a game out.

Tree selling, schmoozing, Beer Garden tent, singing, joyful kids

Business-wise, getting into December doesn’t change anything about my approach to writing gigs, and most ‘project resources’ know about end-of-year and future funding considerations. As military types might say, “Stay frosty,” meaning on the lookout for what makes a difference, and hang your professional stocking out there with expectations of being filled for the effort.

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Tree selling though, that is 100% satisfying, like Mom’s smooth gravy on mashed potatoes, or a slab of cinnamon-y apple pie. If you never ran away from siblings among the trees (lots of snowballs in upstate NY) while looking for one to cut down, may your kids enjoy the search for bigger or smaller or fatter anywhere you decide to look.

This year our Men’s Club had an activity tent that included karaoke, brots, and some simple – a hole drilled in cut-off tree bottoms with a twig of Frazier insert – crafts we’ll undoubtedly keep going in the future.

That a handful of guys who hadn’t really been part of club activities before showed up was an extra goodness, with the genuine good will generated while talking to customers and tying trees onto rooftops being priceless.

At a time when tensions around the world seem wound pretty tight, especially our political situation that has kept center stage, unplugging from that to watch the Panthers get clobbered to the point of a captain apologizing for it, what still matters is the spirit of the season. Sometimes its still legit to walk away from miserable others who might otherwise suck the joy from a candy cane.

Congrats to Charlotte Catholic, “bless their hearts” for the Panthers from the locals, and since its always the thought that counts, especially two weeks from Christmas, think of me if the opportunity arises.

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Glenn Shorkey – Creative eDitorial Talents Enterprises 
(704) 502-9947

“Real Writers” still best option, AI or 1 million chimps on computers creativity aside

 

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Artificial intelligence and computers can do amazing things based on previous analysis, but can they imagine a perfect David without that?

After being fed a trillion-gazillion bytes of previous human blood, sweat, and tears involved in artwork or literature, Artificial Intelligence is becoming/has begun to be judged capable of original production.  Professionally speaking, that sounds more reasonable than a million (or 10 million?) chimpanzees on keyboards knocking out even a couple verses of Bill Shakespeare-worthy prose by accident.

At the current time, I’m a way better Writing alternative.

Without going deeply into whether its a good idea or not, the AI future has been coming almost 70 years,  and the chimps haven’t produced anything noteworthy.  Having read on LinkedIn about AI “knowing” how to make hiring decisions though, that’s another belief I can’t get on board with.

Having a “presence” – Something that might push a magic button for a potential employer of my talents and result in a tah dah! moment HAS to be better, because its worked that way before. Many sites still don’t recognize MSOffice includes Word, or journalism as somehow lacking “media and communications.”

Case in point, the recently concluded series SUITS.

Would the Zen of Harvey Specter and Mike Ross coming together on the basis of – well, a busted drug deal – and Mike’s statistical memory out-dueling Harvey’s ego on trivia be possible based on AI? I think not.

Far above the vast area between accidental genius and synthesized, analytical material becoming heart-breaking romance, discovering the answer to someone’s pain about any number of factors is what INTERVIEWING is about, and where writers of all stripes wear the sales hat.

Sports writing is easier than CBD content creation

Of course there are the numbers, the stats, the win-loss conclusion and opinions of the result, but sports have their own voice, and quotes are usually the most compelling part. If we have or haven’t seen the event, can you appreciate how a journalist presents it, accurately and colorfully?

That’s part of what interviewing does for “client voice.” Putting them together, with the proliferation of websites and blogs that require on-going production, is what long-form informational blogging has become.  Although not as direct as words from a winning coach, corporate voice is THE voice.

From high school journalism on, the need to set the hook with readers in the first paragraph was considered paramount. Now its the click value of the headline, because people scan vs. read.

Relative to value, while Charlotte pays above the national rates (as reported by Indeed, Glassdoor, Payscale), its often a case of job title-category being a determinant.

Copy writers @ $26.38/hr, content writers,  and writers generally are close to $50k (Payscale says $47k is 10% above national avg., Glassdoor pegs avg. @ $55k), while content creation, including editors and social media types, are in the middle-upper teens per hour – Indeed puts these North Carolina rates at 15% below national averages.

Obviously there are ranges.  ‘Freelancers’ is a relative term ($22.46/hr., Payscale), tutors average $23/hr. (I usually bill at $30) and technical writers lead the overall pack at $32/hour. While descriptions for all have terms in common (white papers, blogs, SEO), writers seem to involve more interfacing with other creatives. Content creation is often  list-cicles or amalgamated research and rehashing as a group effort, with the focus on Google positioning.

*Everyone* wants copy/blogs/leadership thought that “meets and exceeds customer expectations.”

Technical Writing

“Leadership Thoughts” style has become a strong part of long-form informational blogging, and contrasting two previous projects with a recent sketchy client description highlights the importance of interviewing.

According to the Thumbtack lead, the client had an ESL (English Second Language) situation, and to his credit, knew he needed some expertise to make a business proposal sound right.

In hearing the project was “between 2-10,000 words” represented an awful lot of territory to offer overall pricing. Informing the client my blogs are often 1200-1500 words, so 10,000 was a lot, is a concrete example of both parties knowing what the project entails. Whether this business plan was going to include enough budget for technical writing was also a consideration.

jensenprocedOn the other hand, writing procedures for Parts Ordering and Returns was for “guys in the pits” using industrial laundry equipment (driers, folders, belted delivery systems, timing), not front office people. The primary point was well-defined, especially how plucking a part off a machine and reading the number was actually the third best option when ordering.

Two pages of specific information only took 1,045 words – and fact it included addressing issue of returns, so extra junk didn’t clog up the back dock area – was gravy.

Interviews as sales calls

Because client-facing verbal understanding is at the core of all successful work interactions, my mantra is that the Q&A to be most effective is always about determining those factors most important to clients, not an interrogation. Good information makes for better decisions.

During several other career stages, interviews were more accurately sales calls, where I was providing the information aspect, and how other people reacted was a measurable outcome.  “Interviewing” with the lawyer of someone whose property had a billboard I represented was another slice of interpretation, most would consider that “negotiation” though.

In scholastic fundraising, there was essentially 40 minutes to build rapport, present information and possibilities, (hopefully) get the green lights and signature that meant putting it on a calendar.  Most interviews focused on “fixing” a sponsor’s group problem in tough economic times.

That (fix some pain) remains the central theme for all kind of ‘gigs’ now, and Writers understand that every RFP (request for proposal) type of content we send should  be intended as a statement of what we bring to the table.

Without denigrating “foreign competition” on the content front – because getting ideas across in writing is not bound by location or time zones – language differences when I’m just trying to make a point with outsourced service operations are multiplied in complexity when clarifying a corporate tone or voice.

ESL clients require extra attention, and grammatically and professionally, it still seems like some corporate material has been put through a Google translator called “English” that comes off as stilted in “American.” That might be where AI can makes inroads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 as Christmas tree volunteer, cheery family event, plenty of sales, Scouts were super

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Yanking a decently big one through the baler was earning your spurs. Its a dang poor job that can’t afford a supervisor, this one has two.

Post-Thanksgiving and upcoming-Christmas have a grand meeting the day after Turkey Day, and beyond super deals on 55″ wide screen splendor, getting the family Christmas tree acquired extra ASAP priority because of the “late start” on that part of the season. We (St. Gabriel MC) had a splendid, even optimal first day – ideal weather and easy to say ‘yes’ to product and pricing, the Scouts and a bunch of HS kids getting service hours were consistently good workers, the families we served excited.

This is our 35th year of selling trees at St. Gabriel, and as a challenge to working your verbal skills and keeping projects moving positively, volunteer activities count. The ‘crew’ spans from 13 to 93 years old, cash table and wreaths and chainsaws. Everyone was on the same page in getting the show on the road, and it turns out, several of those Scouts can actually SELL.

I believe how well things operate goes directly to work-force education programs, giving concise instructions, getting  actions described and checked on (stocking trees, picking up branches), shaking branches to open things up was instilled as best practices. I sold and chainsaw-trimmed the first two customers myself over an hour before we officially opened because people showed up.

Getting young workers filling racks with trees by size was task one, cutting blue string-bound trees (especially junk around the top), and expecting two carriers taking trees to cutting area was procedure. You can’t help smiling when strong young men tell you they can handle the White size themselves.

A sense of humor works great. Scouts were *death* on tying knots for trees on roofs after I reminded customers, “We haven’t lost one in 35 years, nobody wants to be #1 on that list.” 

Cutting loose and having fun, selling Christmas trees is a joyful no-brainer. You KNOW people are there to get that tree *now,* and while mentioning that $$$ raised stays in Charlotte for a variety of community projects, the fact that PRICING barely even registers for the vast majority of Day One customers is a lock. With no hourly wages for our workforce, how much tree you want gets easier to accomplish.

We’ll sell 900-plus trees in less than three weeks, and having an A-1 supplier (I usually say “4-time Grower of the Year” when people ask where we get the trees from) certainly counts. It’s an old school relationship, built on time, and whatever big (9′-10′), big-based trees we received, not everyone else is selling those. Tree size availability goes back to the recession years, when many tree farms going out of business didn’t plant what would now be the popular 7-8 footers.

The last family on Friday, the little girl with her princess dress and lighted sneakers, had brats for dinner and then bought the tree that had the fat bottom Dad liked, with a yellow tag price. Bingo, memories for everyone.

They’re not customers, they’re people and families

Having previously mentioned the opportunity to work your communications skills, we can all become teachers and leaders. On a hustling, eight-hour day, some scenes and ideas stick in my mind.

The collegiate VBer (center hitter) on crutches, three days after surgery, six people had input on how BIG a tree on that. We talked about upcoming therapy because I had a knee replacement two years ago.

The middle school kid who was able to explain the difference between 7-point-8 and 7-dash 8 on our size chart (hey, that he spotted it was something to start) – giving him an attaboy, a small, positive affirmation that cost me nothing.  Proud Mom, and maybe her smart kid helps on a future Men’s Club project.

Lead by example

There are always safety concerns at work, but at a tree lot during early set up, I let my experience inform their work efforts, like lying the tree down instead of stretching to cut something at the top of a 7 footer.

Early on, a HS volunteer who took directions about cutting open a tree, getting better all the time.  Telling guys its okay to press into the tree branches enough with a cardboard cutter to pop the strings, going from bottom to top is the most efficient.

Making sure at least one guy in each group had a blade increased efficiency by a ton.

Being able to yank a tree through the baler was a rite of passage. Give the lightweight20191128_144148 freshman credit for turning down the chance to try – he’d seen it wasn’t easy even for a 220 lb. wrestler. Hey, even two guys pulling a tree through qualifies for getting spurs. At some point, the guys want to see you tug a sort of big one through, and that was fine.

Technology. Even, or especially, our oldest members benefited from clear, picture-labeled products in a lightweight unit, like “10” decorated wreath’ and ‘7 ft. tree.” All sales stats could be brought up immediately, and knowing the actual Day 1 totals was affirming. (Yes ma’am, we can do debit cards.)

The first customers arrived about 9:30, we weren’t officially supposed to start until 11:00, but the customer is essentially right – they came to buy a tree, so find the one they want.

About Thanksgiving dinner

It was super successful, especially for Mom, because there were plenty of older women who were willing to talk with her. The funny part was a LOT of North Carolina lovers watching their #6 Tarheels get thumped by unranked Michigan 73-64. They’d all been looking forward to dissing Duke fans after the  Blue Devils lost on a tip in by Stephen F. Austin at the end of overtime the night before.

It was great that a deep-fried drumstick was reserved for me. Ahhh, tradition.

With all the college age kids around, none seemed at all concerned about politics and 2020 elections.