Mari Pfeiffer is a true Renaissance woman--journalist, copywriter, baker, screenwriter, mother, wife. She astounds me with how many hats she wears because she manages to do it all with smarts, humor and touches of beauty. Mari resides in Los Angeles and is a self-employed business owner. In this interview, she shares some great videoblogging tips, talks about the struggles of balancing a freelance career with mommyhood, explains how her reporting skills help her baking career and much more. I’m honored to call her my dear friend. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did.
1. Mari, you and your husband, Wolf, are both freelance professionals who work from home. You have a 1-year-old daughter, Mimi. How do you balance parenting a toddler with a freelance work life?
It’s hard. Really hard! Before Mimi was born, I had a nice mix of assignments both as reporter and copywriter. Whenever I was free, I attended networking meetings and used social media to make new contacts. But once I became a mother, everything changed. With a baby, you can’t set a schedule. That baby sets it for you! I joke with friends that I’ve gone from the relative freedom of freelancing to having a new boss: my kid. I have reduced my work drastically; I’ve taken myself off of lists of active freelance reporters, and I have reduced the number of businesses for whom I write content such as web text and marketing collateral. My main responsibility is my daughter, so I have to get my work done around her needs. Generally I work a minimum of 10 hours a week, and no more than 25.
2. You have a new business, Wolf and Redhood Media, where you teach small businesses, nonprofits and creative professionals how to create compelling video content. I think it’s a great idea for a business because more and more of us are adding video to our blogs and websites. How did you come up with the idea for this business?
Over the past year a lot of friends and clients asked me whether they should put videos on their sites because marketing experts were telling them to. Those experts said that video would drive traffic to their sites, convert visitors into customers and boost their businesses. All of this made sense, but I realized that no one was telling these people how to make good videos.
I figured that with our television and film experience, we were in a unique position to educate small businesses and creative professionals – generally people with small budgets and little knowledge - how to make interesting videos for their websites, starting with what they have. We want to help them tell interesting stories about themselves and their businesses.
3. How have the skills from your career as a broadcast journalist translated over to your video production start-up?
There are many I’m bringing but the two big ones are: understanding who my target market is and building strong relationships.
When we decided to start this small consulting business, we really had to draw up a list of needs that our target audience has and find ways to speak to them and provide them with the information they’re looking for.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad (I confess I’ve never read his books but I do occasionally read his guest columns in business magazines) once said that strong businesses are always built on strong relationships, not big transactions. He’s absolutely right. When I was a full-time journalist it was impossible to get interesting and/or exclusive interviews without building important relationships first. I feel the same way about Wolf and Redhood Media. I know it will take time, but I’m confident it will be worth it.
4. You’re a screenwriter and a graduate of American Film Institute. How can someone who doesn’t know anything about screenwriting begin to come up with good storytelling skills for videoblogging?
I’ll tell you a little secret: I don’t think you need any formal training in screenwriting to drum up ideas for a video blog. It’s very much like most forms of storytelling in that you need a good story idea that has a beginning, middle and end. What’s most important is that you have a clear purpose for what you’re doing, and that you’re passionate about it. Once you’ve got that down, you’ll need an interesting angle from which to tell it. This is not an easy task.
One of the best ways to get started is to look at other people’s videos. If you like a certain blogger’s style, then consider how they came up with the idea, and how they executed it. Then take notes on the following: how the video starts. How it ends. What makes it a good video? Is it that person’s passion for what they do? Are they telling you something that’s fascinating? Helpful? What keeps you coming back for more? How could you do that? And how could you do that in your own unique way?
Just remember that the population of videobloggers is mushrooming. It’s getting harder and harder to get noticed. So don’t be afraid to be yourself, and don’t be afraid to insert interesting, personal tidbits about yourself that will make you memorable.
5. One of the things I like about your view of the rapidly-changing freelance life is that you’re not as quick as some to toss aside traditional marketing mediums. How are you marketing and advertising Wolf and Redhood Media? Are you using both traditional and newer methods?
At the moment, we’re doing most of our marketing through online channels such as our blog, Twitter, YouTube and an upcoming webinar. We do have a Facebook page but we have our weekly (and sometimes daily!) qualms about good ol’ Facey-Facey, so we haven’t updated that page since putting it up.
We’re in the process of putting together our physical marketing collateral and will be pushing harder on that end in the new year. And yes, there will be some really cool T-shirts with our funky logo.
6. Switching gears, you’re also a fabulous baker and the creator of Mischief Mari Cookies. (Mari's chocolate cookies are featured this holiday season at the New York Times. The Times tested eight holiday cookie recipes and Mari's was the unanimous favorite.) Have your journalism and baking careers turned out to be complementary in any surprising ways? If so, how?
I’m so glad you asked this because the answer is yes! At first I was just happy to have found a hobby outside of writing that was so much fun. But as I became more skilled at baking and decorating, I realized that I was drawing on skills and beliefs I had as a journalist. In order to be a good baker, you really have to understand your ingredients and how they interact. It’s an art form that has a lot of science in it. And presentation, for me at least, is very important. It has to be original. A cookie is still a cookie. But it has to be different. That’s what makes people look, and hopefully take a bite.
The same goes for reporting; you have to know your subject ahead of an interview so you can tell a good story and present it the way you want or need to. A lot of people think that reporting is just putting together the facts in a logical, understandable way. But I really disagree with that. Every reporter has his/her unique style which adds to the story overall. I mean, can you imagine if someone other than Walter Cronkite had reported on television, the news that President Kennedy had died? History would have looked and felt a bit different.
And finally, the best part of both interests have yielded the same great thing: friends. Good friends. I don’t take this for granted.
7. Your husband is Norwegian and I know that you’ve been to Norway many times. Are there any Norwegian customs that you’ve incorporated into your life in Los Angeles?
Um…no, not really. Oh wait. Norwegians are fanatic about breakfast. Before Wolf, I used to have no more than a cup of coffee every morning. Now I start my day with a decent breakfast.
We do make a gingerbread house every Christmas, which is how I started my cookie decorating mania. And we smash it at the end of the holidays, which is what Wolf and his siblings did when they were growing up. I’ve seen our nieces and nephews in Norway carry out this tradition. It’s not a pretty sight. All those kids fighting over gingerbread scraps. The Vikings live on through them. Ha!
8. For those of us new to videoblogging, what would you suggest as a good first video to create for our blogs or sites?
The easiest way to start is to introduce yourself. You don’t have to sit in front of the camera the entire time and talk. But do tell everyone who you are and a few interesting things about yourself, and why you’re adding video to your blog. Tell them what to expect. Use interesting imagery. And try to find an interesting, entertaining way to do this.
Getting started is probably the hardest but just write about yourself. Here’s an example: “Hi, my name’s Mari Pfeiffer. I’m a freelance journalist. I’ve been published in Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and Yoga Journal. I love interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick. That’s why I became a reporter.”
Very basic. I’d put photos of the publications I’ve written for, video of me, and narrate the whole thing. Edit and upload to YouTube. Boom. Done.
But what if I wanted to give people a more interesting, even humorous insight into how I became a reporter? With shots of me growing up, my late father, stories I published in high school and college, I might write something like this: “Mischief mari. Chief Dirty Feet. Mari Mustard Sandwich Pfeiffer. Muddy. When I was a kid, my father made a long list of nicknames for me. But Mischief Mari was the one that really stuck. Because I was always putting my nose in places it didn’t belong. Naturally, I became a reporter.”
There are endless ways of doing the videoblogging thing. It’s mostly a matter of finding a fun, smart and unique way to engage with your audience. You might stumble a few times. But you’ll get there. Keep trying. Most of all, have fun!
Thank you to Mari for a great interview and for sharing such great videoblogging tips!
Mari is a freelance writer and web video consultant based in Southern California. She's also known to bake and decorate a few cookies every now and then. That's Nunuk, her Malamute, in the background. He can be shy.