Writers cook up success strategies like Paris Hilton generates headlines, yet one of the most enduring strategies extant is “find a niche that interests you, then dominate it.”

That’s exactly what writer Tom Gaylord did, and interested in his success formula, I called him out of the blue to talk.

Gaylord is paid to write extensively in the airgun market, and a quick survey of that niche reveals Gaylord’s name atop:

  • The industry’s most-popular blog (paid for by the industry’s biggest specialty retailer)
  • A series of paid (and successful) podcasts
  • Countless paid product reviews and articles on multiple Web sites
  • On the masthead of an online magazine as airgun editor

What’s astonishing to him isn’t that he’s writing about a topic he loves — it’s that he’s getting paid for every word.

That’s a prescription for lifelong success, and — dare I say it — long-term job satisfaction. (There’s a sentence worth reading twice.)

Gaylord’s animated face stares out from the industry’s biggest Web site.

The Airgun Market: More Than Hot Air

I became aware of Gaylord while teaching an online marketing class; I used Pyramyd Air (the airgun industry’s largest speciality retailer) as a case study in the benefits of high-quality content marketing.

(Helpful Hint: use them as an example in your own pitches.)

While their Web site is not exactly a thing of beauty, Pyramyd Air leverages high quality content better than most Fortune 500 firms. They engage customers with a wildly informative daily blog (written by Gaylord), twice-a-month podcasts (created by Gaylord), numerous “how-to” and product review articles (yes, written by Gaylord), and even short video snippets (Gaylord again).

If you look closely, you’ll even see his animated face talking to visitors from the “Tom’s Picks” product recommendation page.

Pyramyd’s site isn’t pretty, but to search engines and airgun junkies, it’s pure art.

All that high-quality content generates excellent native search results for Pyramyd, and the stream of useful engagement content renders Pyramyd’s Web site far stickier than competing sites (engagement marketing binds customers to brands via shared passions and values).

In fact, Gaylord’s blog posts often generate more than 100 comments, and the comment count on popular posts exceeds 300.

Those are startling numbers given the size of the airgun market (as a niche, it’s not exactly in the same league as celebrity gossip or computers).

With the help of their successful online marketing strategy, Pyramyd’s retail growth has been phenomenal; expansion is forcing them to relocate to a bigger building.

What I didn’t know about Pyramyd was that Gaylord pitched all those projects to the company (a practice I advocate), and that much of the company’s online success could be laid right at his feet.

In the interest of brevity, I segregated our interview into categories. Enjoy!

The Successful Writer

Tom Gaylord is a direct, precise speaker (he speaks much like he writes), yet his directness belies a thoughtful interior. He often paused after I asked an unexpected question, and his answers were responsive and to the point (not always a given).

Still, it’s not hard to see what matters to him — the first words out of Gaylord’s mouth were: “Most important is to write about the things you love doing.”

Gaylord’s writing style is conversational, and not intimidating or pedantic.

“I see my role as more an educator than salesman” he said, and his straightforward style of writing reflects it. He’s been writing about airguns for almost two decades, and expects to “continue doing so until I drop.”

How does he generate so much copy for so many venues?

“You should write about the things you love so much that you can’t wait to write the next post or article.”

The Successful Pitch

Pitching new media technologies to most business organizations isn’t for the easily discouraged. When pressed for the secrets of his success, he said “You have to start by getting to know people. You need to meet them face-to-face.

“I went to the trade show and met the owner of Pyramyd. When we first spoke about the blog, I already had a business plan ready.”

In this sense, Gaylord was lucky; the president of Pyramyd soon bought into the SEO and engagement benefits of a blog. Still, that’s not often the case, and Gaylord’s secret weapon is to find an internal champion for his information products.

“Often that’s an IT or marketing guy. Once someone on the inside is on your side, things happen.”

After the success of the blog, Gaylord kept pushing; he pitched a podcast (despite not knowing how to produce one), taught himself the technology, and delivered a catalog of podcasts that garner extremely high listening rates.

Gaylord couldn’t produce a podcast until he sold one. Now he has a page of them.

Still, the initial pitch wasn’t a no-brainer — until Gaylord found an effective sales tactic.

“I told them it was better to pay me to write the articles than it was to spend the money on SEO optimization or a huge keyword buy.”

That’s an intriguing tactic. Many companies spend small fortunes on AdWords and SEO optimization, but are experiencing diminishing returns.

The Successful Blog

Gaylord’s Five Rules of Successful Commercial Blogging are refreshingly simple, and reflect his down-home approach to the subject of writing for a living:

  • Write about what you know and love
  • You don’t have to know everything
  • Charge appropriate to your market
  • Serialize when the subject gets long
  • Edit your work (People may use poor grammar and punctuation, but they don’t want to read it)

His posts are crammed with information, and slaughter some of blogging’s sacred cows. They’re long (by blogging standards), and though he breaks up the text with frequent subheads, the subheads (and copy) lack hype or strong benefits.

It’s an excellent illustration of engagement writing; he’s talking to a very engaged audience, and the slow buildup of disbelief fostered by excessively amped copy would eventually damage his credibility with readers.

They want information and a demonstrated passion for the sport, and he provides it. Gaylord’s writing is either a great example of a refined editorial/commercial writing style, or one of the softest sales pitches you’ve ever seen.

The Conflicts

When I asked Gaylord about walking that fine line between PR hack and credible writer, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

“I have to maintain my credibility, so I don’t say good things about bad products. And though I’m not an employee of Pyramyd, I represent them, so I watch what I say.”

Apparently, Gaylord’s done a good job maintaining credibility with readers and retailers; his articles appear on the Web sites of several competing retailers, and he recently wrote a blog entry largely condemning a new air pistol with “As the Typhoon stands today, it has very little to recommend it.

Nothing creates credibility with a client like success, and given Gaylord’s contribution to Pyramyd’s rise, he’s built the credibility needed to deliver a less-than-shining product review — or pitch Pyramyd on new technologies.

The Job

“I’ve held a variety of regular jobs in my life, and I did not like them. When I found out I could make a living doing this fulltime — something I’d probably do anyway — I said to my wife ‘they’ll pay me to do this?'”

The fact that Gaylord hasn’t read a shelf of “How to write copy that sells” books likely works in his favor; the new engagement writer isn’t pitching products, he’s engaging via shared passions and values, and engagement doesn’t exist in an excessively hype-laden environment.

In fact, Gaylord isn’t really a copywriter in the classic sense, and he’ll likely never have the lead spread in Inc. magazine.

He’s simply a writer seriously engaged with his subject matter — so much so that he infects his readers with his enthusiasm.

In short, what Gaylord’s really selling isn’t airguns or pellets; the product here is his rampant, authentic passion for airgunning.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,