Writer, wordsmith and hand model all wrapped up in a bow? Yep, we’ve got it. This week we speak with Josh Fraimow about the importance of words, how to put them together and the inspiration behind creativity. He’s smart, bold and always up for a challenge. Enjoy!
Josh: I’m Josh Fraimow. I am a writer, strategist, question-asker, idea-gatherer, and I do a lot of work with Draper DNA across a range of clients.
How do you describe your writing style?
Josh: That’s an interesting question because the flip answer is that I’m not supposed to have a style. I’m supposed to be a blank slate and a conduit for what clients need and want to say. Obviously, the reality is people come to me because I write in a certain way. I don’t have a branded style that says I am going to be a scientist, I’m going to be a comedian, I’m going to be a jester or whatever it is. A lot of that comes intuitively, but a really important part of what I do is reverse engineering that intuition to figure out what I do well and how I do it. In thinking about that, there are three rules that guide what I do.
The base level, the rule boils down to be fluid. That’s really the sentence… word level. You need to have a flow, you can’t let the content get boiled down in complication or jargon, which is very common in any industry I write in. There tends to be a lot of internal language that people like to use and that can be the death of a decent sentence, because not everybody uses the same jargon. So rule number one is let the content flow the way it needs to flow and put all the extraneous stuff aside.
At a much higher level and probably more important level is to tell a story. That’s really what it all boils down to. There are a lot of facts and figures in everything I write and every client has benefits and features and things they want to talk about, which is all great and some of it’s even important when it comes to thinking about what the audience needs.
The third rule comes at it from a different angle, but it may be the most important — respect the audience. Again, it sort of ties into the storytelling in the sense that you don’t just want to dump facts and figures on people and expect them to pick it up. We’re asking people to give us their time. They don’t have to read what I write, they can ignore it very easily. We have to give them a reason to want to engage, we have to respect their intelligence, we have to respect their time. That may determine the way we tell the story, it may determine the length of the story, it may determine the facts we put in there, but really think about the audience and what their needs are before anything gets put down on paper so we’re focused in the right direction.
You’ve been known to say, “I know how to turn complicated arguments into powerful communications.” Can you elaborate on what that means?
Josh: This ties into that idea of storytelling. What typically happens when I’m working with a client is they have a specific need. They have a new product, a new service they’re relaunching, whatever it is, there’s a specific need. So, they’re very internally focused on that. And they’re very proud of it, they spend a lot of time on it. They have a lot of facts and figures to back it up and they have reasons to believe and they think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. And many times, it really is. My job is putting myself in their shoes as best as possible.
It’s essentially a Venn diagram. We have a client with lots of facts, figures and data and a great product or service — and it’s awesome. And then we have our audience or prospect on the other side that has a job to do, problems, kids to pick up from soccer, budgets to do, emails to respond to and not a whole lot of free time for attention to us.
So there’s going to be an overlap between those two where what we offer meets their needs, and that is where we need to communicate with them. That’s the process of boiling it down and turning something that can be very complicated into something simple and compelling. We have many things we can say to them later in the process to expand on that story, give them more reasons to believe, give them context, make them comfortable, but really at the initial point of contact, how does our product or service meet their needs? That’s the process of turning something that could be really complex and making it compelling for the audience.
As someone whose profession is words, how do you find inspiration to create unique content for various industries?
Josh: That’s a great question. I’m fortunate in that I’m just sort of naturally interested in words and new things around language, which is one side of this. My natural bent is to be attracted to something that is new or different in its presentation and that is a great source of inspiration. Being able to look at things in new and different ways. The reality is, I was just having a conversation with somebody about this yesterday, and no one can really say specifically where the ideas come from or when. It’s not something you can bottle and say okay, it’s time to come up with an idea. Sometimes it works that way. Sometimes I’m a professional, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I can do it when I have to.
I can’t say if the idea came to me unconsciously while I was driving the car to drop off my grandson. I can’t say if it came to me while I was eating dinner. I need to know how to recognize those ideas. As they pop up out of my unconscious mind after seeing a headline in the newspaper that sparks something, I need to train myself to grab onto those and not let them disappear. That’s sort of a way of taking the intuitive, inspirational part of it and not actually quantifying it, but being able to recognize it, and that’s a key skill in what I do is that ability to recognize.
Even more specifically, I get inspiration when I work on something that I haven’t worked on before. I really like learning new things and if I get a chance to work on a new roofing system, for example, or house wrap or a new clinical trial process or whatever it is, I want to learn more about it. That inspires me to think about things in new and different ways because I’m approaching something I’ve never dealt with before. Being engaged and having those new inputs and new stimuli is really what keeps it interesting. I would get very, very bored, writing the same thing, the same way every day.
How do the words you choose make a difference in your work?
Josh: Sorry for the pause here but it’s a really, really important question that’s very hard to answer because so much of it is just the sense of what’s right and wrong. For instance, I could be writing a sentence about a group of people coming together for an outdoor concert at the beach, completely randomly. I could choose to describe that as a group, I could choose to describe that as a gang, I could choose to describe that as a mob, I could choose to describe that as a team. It’s a very simplistic example, but every word you choose has a slightly different meaning. Obviously, those are all synonyms, but it really is important to match the tone and nuance of the words to the message we’re trying to get across.
Sometimes that is driven by the character, tone, and personality of the client, that they speak in a certain way and have a certain tone of voice. That’s very important for me to pick up on, understand, and be able to reflect back. In that sense, I need to be a mimic. I need to be able to understand their tone of voice and continue it and express it in the work I’m doing. It needs to take into account the needs and wants of the audience. How do they speak? How do they talk? How are they used to hearing things? Ultimately each of those individual words needs to add up into the sentence, into the story that takes people in the right direction. To be very analytical about it, it is 73% completely intuitive, 20% completely scientific and whatever, what does that leave, a 7% just fairy dust and magic.
Who’s your favorite writer and why?
Josh: I hope you are not expecting me to give a simple answer to this one. I would go back very briefly. I was an English major in college, so I read a lot of literature, a lot of different kinds and stumbled into advertising and marketing and found a great connection and I love it, but I was never driven to that. What I was enamored of and what I’d like to read are things that have a really interesting premise, potentially a puzzle or a unique spin that could be sort of boiled down to very genre based. Is it a mystery novel? Is it a science fiction novel based on the ability to time travel? Whatever it is. But the things that I really love are the things that sort of take that premise, that puzzle and build something around it that is the flesh and bones and adds the life and uses that as a springboard to tell a really interesting story.
I think about things like a novel that stuck with me for decades, The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. I find it interesting, intriguing and a little bit of a puzzle of a premise, but the story around it is amazing. Or Colson Whitehead’s novels, The Intuitionist, The Underground Railroad, that take really interesting premises — The Underground Railroad: what if the Underground Railroad was actually a railroad? What a cool premise. But then building a story around that, that just is fantastic. I don’t have a favorite author so much as sort of a style of writing, of storytelling that takes really interesting, cool premises that could be sort of, the term is like a puzzle box, like trying to figure out how to open it, but then unlocking that and building a really human story around it.
Nabokov was great at that. Shakespeare, come on, how can you not like Shakespeare? But the flip side of that — and this goes back to something I said earlier — is I like to find out new things. As much as anything these days, I’m reading stuff online, I’m reading magazine articles, I’m reading essays and blog posts and writing that just exposes me to things I don’t know about. That’s really fun. I think there’s this idea of sort of continually learning new things that keeps me as sharp as I can be at this point and really wanting to find out more. And that’s the stuff that really keeps me engaged.
We hear you have experience as a hand model, tell us more.
Josh: It was one of my first jobs in the advertising world. I worked at a very small agency in Rhode Island that did a lot of work for government agencies and nonprofits, very small, very low budgets. We had to do a photo shoot for an economic development client and the concept involved a business person in a suit and shaking hands, sort of the standard kind of thing. The head of the agency had a camera, I had a suit jacket… so, we set that up downstairs in the office and took my picture and I thought that was really cool. They ran the ad and the head of the agency came back to me and said, “We’re going to have to get Mike” — the other guy who worked there — “to take a shot of his hand, because your hand is just, it’s too young and soft. It doesn’t scream business economic development.” That was a crushing moment and the end of my modeling career.
Thank you, Josh.
Watch the full interview with Josh on our YouTube channel by clicking HERE.
What do words mean to you? At Draper DNA they mean nearly everything. Let us tell your story differently. To learn more, contact Shawn at Shawn@DraperDNA.com.