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Never miss a deadline – 3 time-saving tips from the newsroom

Never miss a deadline - 3 time saving tips from the newsroom

I started my writing career working in busy BBC radio and television newsrooms. The demand of hitting deadlines for hourly news bulletins and regular broadcasts was excellent training in being accurate, quick, and getting things done. Here are three top tips from the newsroom to help you in your business:

1. Plan and prepare

Even with a breaking story, there is always a little time to think about questions to ask interviewees, or what to say on air.

For more regular planned content, I’d always set off on a story with details of where I was going, who I was going to speak to and contact numbers in case of emergency. Having the basics written down, or easily accessible from your mobile device can save a lot of running around.

I’d also spend some time thinking about the story I was going to film or record (often in the car on the way there). Plotting out a simple structure helped me to focus on gathering the interviews and information I needed and made sure I didn’t forget to ask an important question.

For example, the structure for a news feature could be:

  • Introduction
  • Viewpoint 1
  • Opposing viewpoint 2
  • What do members of the public think
  • Summary

Thinking about the structure of your business content, such as a blog post or newsletter can help you to focus on what you need and stop you getting distracted.

Check out how to write a blog post in one hour for more time-saving tips.

Never miss a deadline - time saving tips from the newsroom for your business Click To Tweet

2. Create once, use many

As a radio journalist, I had to write headlines for news bulletins every hour. Often the same story would appear on subsequent bulletins, but by changing the headline, I could give it a new focus. For example, a business story could appear as:

  • New factory brings £30 million investment to the North East
  • 500 new jobs come to the North East thanks to major factory investment
  • North Tyneside mayor says factory investment offers a ‘promise of prosperity’

How to re-use and re-focus content you create for your business

  • Record a video on your latest blog topic.
  • Create an infographic of a handy how to guide.
  • Offer a downloadable template to go with your time-saving tips.
  • Ask your customers and fans to vote on new designs for your logo.

There are loads of different ways you can put a new spin on a content idea.

3. Get it done

I learned very quickly that there’s no such thing as another 30 seconds in a newsroom. Content was ready for the deadline or it didn’t make it to air.

Adequate and on time always beats perfectly late. That’s been a valuable lesson throughout my writing and business career.

Adequate and on time always beats perfectly late. Click To Tweet

It’s understandable that you want the content you create or the tasks you complete for your business to be perfect. To sweat over every little detail. Change your mind a dozen times and then go back to how it was originally.

Remember, your customers, your audience only see the finished results. They can only respond to what you publish, or create. And if it takes you forever to do it, they may lose interest and move on.

You wouldn’t watch a blank TV screen would you? Or listen to static on the radio?

Set your deadline, stick to it and publish.

Additional tip: The handover

At the end of each shift in the newsroom, I would leave instructions in a handover note to the person on the next shift.

Even if you’re not handing over to anyone else in your business, think about what you can do to set yourself up for a good start each day.

At the end of each day at the writing desk, I write a to-do list for the next day’s activities. Plans may change, just like they do in the newsroom, but it’s always a good place to start.

For more on how lessons for the newsroom can help you make decisions, work to deadlines and trust in your team, check out John Young Media.

For more writing, marketing and time saving tips, sign up to my mailing list.

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Would your customers recognise your business if it called?

Would your customers recognise your business if it called?What you say about your business and how you say it, is an essential part of your brand. Get your tone of voice right and customers easily recognise your business. Get it wrong and your message may never connect.

To show you what I mean, let me take you back in time…

As a child, I didn’t like answering the phone in my parent’s house. People would call and say “It’s me,” and I’d have no idea who they were.

This was back in the days when phones had handsets and dials or buttons, but certainly no screens, and answering machines were something you’d only find in the office. I was embarrassed and a bit nervous when I didn’t recognise who was calling and would ‘forget’ to take a message.

Now, imagine if that was a business call. Okay, these days technology makes it easier to identify who is on the line and most people would introduce themselves. But if you’re unfamiliar with a business, if you don’t recognise their name, or their voice, wouldn’t you be more cautious about dealing with them, until you establish a relationship?

I didn’t recognise the voices of my parents’ friends because I didn’t hear them as often as my parents did. Yet I could identify any DJ who hosted a show on my favourite radio station with only a few words. We become familiar with voices we know well. But new voices take a while to tune into.

Helping a business find its tone of voice

I’m working with a really exciting new client at the moment, helping to develop a tone of voice that will make their business stand out.

It involves a lot of listening. Not only am I getting to know the specifics of their industry and what they do, but I’m also getting to know them as people. What is it about this business that makes it different from others who make or deliver similar products and services?

Tuning into personality and values

I can hear they have bags of enthusiasm and tonnes of knowledge. They really have to be experts in lots of different areas to provide a great service to their customers.

They are incredibly creative and immensely resourceful. They get up early and stay up late, going the extra mile without even thinking about it. They really care about what they do and want to get to know their customers so that they can offer the right advice.

My challenge is to reflect all that. To put all those values and their personality into concise words that will appeal to their customers.

As I do that, I’ll also be thinking about how I do it, and developing guidelines that will help them maintain their brand voice throughout all their communications.

It takes a bit of time to ‘tune in’, to find something that a business is comfortable with and that will work for them. Developing a tone of voice for a business combines a mix of creative and analytical skills and it’s a process that I really enjoy.

Speaking about tone of voice for business

Inspire Network Northumberland meeting 18 July
I’ll be talking more about tone of voice and why it matters in business at The Inspire Network meeting in Bedlington on 18 July. Find out more and sign up to come along.

This is a ladies only networking event, but I offer training, presentations and advice to anyone interested. If you’d like an expert business writer to speak at one of your events or want to discuss  your writing training needs, please get in touch.

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Networking as an introvert

As part of developing my writing and training business with Wordstruck, I’ve been networking. But here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I’ve done umpteen of those personality tests during my time working in corporate environments, and I’m always firmly in the introvert camp. And networking doesn’t come easy to an introvert.

It sometimes surprises people that I’m an introvert. As a journalist, I presented news stories live on radio and television. I’ve fronted pitches for creative campaigns. And, as my friends know, I’m not averse to a bit of showing off.

picture of a crowd at a gigBut being an introvert doesn’t mean disliking people and wanting to retreat from the world completely. It just means that situations like crowds, with lots of people, noise and other distractions really drain my energy.

Basically, I love a great gig, but going onto the after show party might be a step too far. I’d rather find a quiet corner to write down how amazing it was, or tell you all about it one to one.

Networking can be a scary prospect for introverts. The thought of a room full of extroverts who are loud, full of energy and sell, sell, sell. Why would you want to be part of that?

But this blog post by Denise of Digital Life Unlimited is a useful reminder of why it’s important to get out there and network person to person face to face. So, I thought I’d share how I’ve approached networking as an introvert.

Pick your event

I’ve been to two network breakfasts run by the Mussel Club at Motel One in Newcastle. These are great events for me, because they’re early (when I’m feeling my sharpest) and they’re specifically designed for businesses who want to network.

I was a bit daunted by going along to my first one, but I zipped up my courage, broke out my best smile on and trotted off with a pile of business cards.

Get there early

I hate being late for things anyway. But being early is a good tactic for introverts because it means the networking event isn’t noisy and crowded from the start. If the thought of ploughing into a room full of people all engaged in a conversation gives you the heebie-jeebies, plan to arrive a few minutes early.

I was greeted by Matthew from the Mussel Club, who immediately put me at ease, showing me where I could leave my coat and get a drink and a pastry at the bar. He also started to ask questions, ‘What brought me there?’ ‘Had I been to one of these events before’. And before I knew it, I was networking.

Questions to ask

Networking events are designed for networking. It’s okay to go over to a stranger and say hello and ask what they do, or why they’re there. Everyone is there for the same purpose.

I quickly learned a few easy questions that I could use to open up a conversation with someone new:

  • “What do you do?” (Pretend you’re a member of the Royal family)
  • “Have you been to one of these things before?” (Hello, I’m new, be nice to me)
  • “What brought you along today?” (I’m here for the same thing  – coffee and croissants are always a bonus)

What to say about your business

Wordstruck business cardsWhen someone approaches you and asks one of those questions, it’s an invitation to say something about your business . If you’re particularly nervous about doing this, then have something in mind and practise it a few times. I’d just written my website, so was fairly confident about being able to talk about my writing and training services.

One thing I did was to introduce myself as a writer, or to say something like: “When a business needs a website, or a brochure, or a blog post, or anything that tells their customers about what they do, I write the words for it.” Although my official job title used to be copywriter, it’s not a term that everyone recognises outside the world of marketing, so saying what I actually do is more helpful.

It’s not about an elevator pitch or selling anything. It’s just telling people what you do. Don’t forget to ask them what they do too. You might find something in common.

Listen

Introverts are generally good at listening. Unless we go into panic mode and blurt out our entire life history. At a networking event, you don’t have to be the one doing the talking. Smile, listen and chip in with a question or response.

Does the person you’re talking to have something in common with someone else you’ve spoken to? Can you make an introduction, or ask them to introduce you to someone else? This can be as simple as asking ‘Do you know anyone else here today?’

Give yourself some time

Meeting lots of new people can be a bit overwhelming for introverts, so take your time, and step back from conversations as they move on. You don’t want to be the wallflower, standing on the edges, not engaging with anyone; but finding an opportunity to have a drink, use the facilities or just take a breath or two can give you the confidence to keep on networking.

Also watch out for anyone else who may be looking a little lost or unsure. Say hello and ask one of your conversation opening questions. Chances are, you’ll have found a fellow introvert and they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Take some business cards

It’s not a great idea to thrust a card in everyone’s hand and head for the door. Networking is about having conversations.

At The Mussel Club events I’ve been to, I didn’t swap business cards with everyone I met, but if I felt we’d had a useful conversation, and if they offered theirs, I always asked and offered my details.

Follow up

The events I’ve been to combined well-seasoned networkers as well as newbies like me. As soon as I got home, I started to get emails and connections to my social media profiles from some of the people I’d talked to.

It’s a good idea to follow up after a networking event, even if it’s just to say ‘nice to meet you’. It helps remind people who you are and where you’ve met, potentially keeping you front of mind for recommendations or opportunities.

Give it a try

It only takes one connection to put you on track for a new customer or future client. And even if the networking event doesn’t immediately bring in business, it can be a good way of building confidence. I’ve found it good practice to talk about my business to lots of other business people.

I’ve met some friendly and professional business people at networking events, including the very lovely Clare of Talbot Jones Risk Solutions. Clare does a great job of writing content for their website, and articles for relevant publications, so they have no need of my writing skills. But we found something in common in our interest in charities and I’m benefitting from their advice on protecting my own business interests.

If you’re going to a networking event in the North East, let me know in the comments. If I can, I’ll do my best to say hello.

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Who is the star of your business?

Tyneside Cinema programme featuring La La Land

I went to see La La Land at the Tyneside cinema this week. And I loved it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that I felt so totally immersed in.

For just over two hours, although physically present in a comfortable cinema seat, my heart and mind were miles away, dancing in the hills above Los Angeles, watching a love story with all its stops and starts, triumphs and mis-steps unfold.  It made me beam and sigh and smile and yes, I cried a bit.

Who is the star of your movie?

Think of your business as a movie. Who is the star? You, or what you do? What makes it different from all the other movies out there? Does it have a better story? A bigger name? More awards? More dinosaurs?

Or is it more like a quirky little art-house film that not every one will have heard about, but those who love it, love it fiercely.

Why marketing is like the movie business

Walt Disney Star on the Hollywood Walk of FameLike a movie, you have to get people to notice your business, to excite interest in what you do.

Do you invest in marketing, logos, posters, billboards, social media campaigns to create a buzz?

Do you connect with influencers, experts, bloggers to spread the word about what you do?

While big stars, like Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling may be well out of your budget, getting endorsements, recommendations and referrals from your customers can be a great way to bring in more.

Reviews and recommendations

What was the first thing I did, as I emerged from two hours in the Hollywood sunshine into the contrast of a chilly winter’s day in Newcastle? I told my friends via social media how much I loved the film.

Now I’m sure La La Land is doing very nicely at the Box Office without my little endorsement. It’s certainly gathering up awards at a grand pace.

But my  post got a reaction. A bigger one than I expected actually.

Some of my friends were excited to see the film. Others had already been and were less impressed. My off-the-cuff comment started a conversation, and I know at least one person said they were going to see it because of my reaction to it.

Word of mouth. Recommendation. Being different. All things that can help your business dance its way to the walk of fame.

If you have a great business with a story to tell, and need someone to write or polish the script, then please get in touch.

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Who are you and what do you care about?

Man driving an ox cart in Cambodia
I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia with Lendwithcare – a charity that supports people working their way out of poverty.

I learned many things from the experience of travelling through the country and meeting the local people – things that I’ll write about here in future. But one of the most striking has got me thinking about how we talk about who we are and what we do.

So I was very proud to be invited to write a guest post for The Table on the subject of purpose in business and in writing. I enjoy reading Rob Self Pierson’s blog and feel that it reflects many of my own values about writing for business and pleasure.

Take a look: http://welcometothetable.co.uk/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-…

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Helping a new client find the right tone of voice

I’m really focused on work for a new client at at the moment. I’m helping them to define and articulate their tone of voice and writing some of their marketing materials. It’s a new area of business for me, but one that I really believe in, so it’s exciting and challenging and I’m deciphering a whole new range of jargon and acronyms.

So how do I go about helping an organisation to find its tone of voice? Surely that’s something that people who have more experience of the business should do?

Well, actually, looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, or hearing things with a fresh pair of ears can be a real advantage. I’m more likely to pick up on the things that have always been said or written like that, and ask why. And because I’m new, people understand if I ask lots of questions.

So how do I develop a tone of voice for a business that I’m only just starting to get familiar with?

Listen

First of all I listen, or more often, read anything and everything I can get my hands on. The website is a good place to start, and social media too. I go and dig around and visit the little visited pages, the nuts and bolts and hidden corners.

Observe

I take notice of my environment, the posters, adverts, leaflets, screens all around me. And I get my hands on letters, emails, communications of all sorts.

Research

I talk to people too, find out about what they do, who their audience are and what challenges they face in their communications. I look for common themes, poke out clichés and get an ear for common phrases that have become a little dull through over use.

From there I start to get a feel for what’s authentic, what feels right and what feels a bit old and tired and needs shaking up a bit. And I start to play it back to the people who write and encourage them to hear what’s being said as thought it’s new to them too.

Gather evidence

Along the way I’m gathering examples of the good, the ‘could do better’ and the ‘what is this?’ I’m learning about the audiences from research and conversations with some of them too.

Picture of books - We, Me, Them & It, Dark Angels, The Invisible GrailGuide

I’ve been helped by re-reading We, Me, Them and It (How to Write Powerfully for Business) by John Simmons. This very readable book, recently republished my Urbane publications, demonstrates how words and language can help differentiate one business from another and add life to products and services.

What’s been most helpful to me has been John’s insight into how he put this into practice with real examples from his work with brands like the Royal Mail, Anglia Railways and Cable and Wireless. It’s a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ view that’s the next best thing to having been there at the time and says as much about the approach and challenge as it does about the results.

Last week I ran a workshop with some of the marketing team, combining some of my observations with their thoughts and experiences. It’s reaffirmed that I’m on the right track with my approach and thinking.

Developing a brand tone of voice is a fascinating process and one I love. I can quickly get a feel for how an organisation sounds and adapt my writing style to theirs. Encouraging it to make changes to help it sound more distinctive and to have its own voice will take a little longer but I’m already on the case, devising tips, tricks and examples to bring it to life.

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Finding the joy of business writing

I gave blood yesterday. There’s sometimes a bit of a wait, so I grabbed a book to pass the time. Having finished my most recent fictional treat, I picked one off my desk – Room 121 by John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey.

The front cover proclaims it “a masterclass in writing and communication in business”. I say it’s a really good read.

It takes the form of a dialogue, a conversation between the two writers, sharing their thoughts, wisdom and experience of writing for many different kinds of business. And having spent many wonderful hours in their company on a couple of Dark Angels writing courses, I can hear John and Jamie’s voices in my head as I read it.

I opened it at random to find John speaking to Jamie about the joy of writing (page 119 if you’re interested). As a copywriter for a large company, it’s sometimes something hard for me to find. It’s a challenge to keep things fresh when you’re covering the same subjects or writing about the same products over a sustained period of time.

But I find ways. Sometimes I take a sideways approach, starting a draft in a deliberately different style, or with a word chosen at random from a nearby book. Or I begin the assault on the blank page by free writing, just spending 15 minutes or so taking my pen for a walk, writing non stop, banishing the inner editor and seeing where it takes me. There’s usually a phrase or combination of words, a nugget that gives me a way in to the next, more focused draft.

Yesterday’s moment of joy came from using the word ‘palaver’ in a piece I was writing. Palaver – what a wonderful playful word. Doesn’t it just make you smile? Don’t you want to say it? To feel it tumble around your mouth?

It’s not a word you might expect to see in a piece of business writing. But it was a direct quote from a customer, a fish and chip shop owner describing the experience of using his software saying: “There’s no faff. There’s no palaver.” Perfect. Real words. Authentic, natural and robust language. They gave me a small moment of joy. I reckon we need more of that in business writing.

Read more from John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey on their blogs.

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The language of the World Cup

So the World Cup kicked off today and as well as the host nation hoping to build its reputation on the back of football fever, there are plenty of big name brands hoping to cash in as a worldwide audience of millions turns its attention to South Africa.

It means beer and burgers in the supermarket, barbecues at the petrol station and any amount of plastic tat on sale just about everywhere you look.

There are some big brands out there hoping to draw some of that attention to themselves through their TV adverts. Nike’s done one featuring its sponsored footballers, Pepsi and Sony have taken a humorous approach, but the one that’s caught my eye, or rather ear is Carlsberg’s team talk.

It mimics a motivational team talk, putting you, the viewer, in the heart of the action; from the dressing room out into the tunnel, encouraged on by some British sporting legends, with a rousing speech ringing in your ears.

Watch it and listen to it. How does it make you feel? Inspired? Emotional? Excited? That’s not an accident. While the film itself is undoubtedly designed to push your emotional buttons, the language is designed to do that too. In fact it users a number of tricks to grab your attention.

Here are the opening lines:
“He says he knows how good you are. You know how good you are. It’s time to prove how good you are.”

Look at the repetition. It’s like poetry. Sometimes when we’re writing, we may feel that we shouldn’t repeat ourselves and will go to great lengths to find an alternative word or phrase, but here it’s used to create a particular effect.

Repetition is often used in speeches, to reinforce a point or to get a message across. And it can be stirring stuff. Just think of Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Did you notice that ‘how good you are’ is repeated three times in those opening lines? That’s not an accident either.

Patterns of two and three (doublets and triplets) just seem to make sense to our ears. In fact the rule of three is often used in speeches because people tend to remember three things. For example: “Friends, romans, countrymen”, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education.”

It also helps to create a rhythm to the language. And in the case of the Carlsberg advert that rhythm subtly changes as it builds to its climax. Although none of the phrases are particularly long and wordy, it starts off slowly and by the end there’s a noticeable quickening created by short, sharp phrases, like: “Enough talk. Time for action”. There are two sentences there without a verb in them. Remember your English teacher told you a sentence had to have a verb in it? Sometimes breaking the ‘rules’ can create something quite powerful. The trick is knowing when to do it.

Listen again to the words in this advert. There’s nothing highbrow, nothing fancy there. “It’s gonna take bottle,” may be a sly nod to the brand’s product, but it’s also the kind of language that you’d use with your mates down the pub. The point is that it’s simple, everyday language. Nothing poshed up, no jargon, just good old everyday words.

And that’s something that I try to explain in my tone of voice workshops. That simple language doesn’t have to be dull or dumbed down. Simple language doesn’t have to lack passion. Simple language can be strong and powerful. As strong and powerful as a ball hitting the back of the net.

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My top ten tips for business writing

As a copywriter, I write for many different businesses. Here are my top ten tips for improving your writing, whether you’re communicating for business or writing for pleasure.

1. Begin with one grain of sand

In other words, you have to start somewhere. So state your purpose and outline what you’re trying to do. I often find it helps to start with a statement of what I’m trying to do: e.g ‘Write an email to let customers know about this week’s special offers’. Or to start by finishing a sentence e.g. ‘My customers would like to…’

You may not use these words in your finished communication, but they can help you to get over the fear of the blank page.

2. Be a reporter

Ask the questions who, what, where, when, how and why? And answer them. These are the questions that have served me well through my years working at the BBC and then as a copywriter for big business. They will help you get the facts and structure your story.

photographerWhen it comes to writing clear communications, imagine you’re writing for a quality newspaper or news website.

Don’t pack everything into the first sentence. Start with the most important piece of information, then add to it. Try to stick to one idea per sentence or paragraph.

3. Just do it (no critics allowed)

The best way to write something is just to write it. Banish your inner critic.

No one gets to read your first draft anyway. No one cares if it’s spelt wrong or you missed an apostrophe at this stage. Just get on and do it. You can go back and refine things later.

4. Be active

Choose the active, rather than the passive voice eg. ‘I am doing this’, rather than ‘this is being done’.

It makes you sound more involved, interested and less shifty.

5. Sell the sizzle

Every time we write in business we’re trying to get a response. It’s not just about increasing our sales (though that’s a distinct advantage), but also about how people feel about doing business with us. So we have to write persuasively and that means talking about benefits not features. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’

Think about perfumes – their feature is they make you smell nice, but they’re sold on the benefit that smelling nice will encourage the object of your admiration to fall at your feet. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’

6. Leave it

autumn leavesIt’s easy, particularly when you know your subject really well to get wrapped up in what you’ve written, to lose perspective. Take some time to away from it and come back with new eyes.

It can be as little as a few minutes while you make a phone call, grab a coffee, whatever – but try to read it as though you’ve never seen it before.

I’ve found it really helps to read things backwards, starting at the end and working back to the beginning. You may realise there’s a better place to start.

7. Prune it

Read through what you’ve written and look for places where you may have repeated yourself.

Look for the businesses and doublespeak; the handy jargon and short cuts we might use everyday but that make little sense outside our own circle. Cut big, then cut small.

Pruning also means you have to let some areas grow. Sometimes it might be better to take a couple of sentences to describe what something does instead of referring to what it’s called.

So rather than telling me it’s a personal GPS system, you might want to describe it as a gadget that helps you pinpoint exactly where you are.

8. Map it

Help your reader out by signalling where you’re going.

  • New paragraphs help single out thoughts.
  • Bullets and lists are great for drawing attention to things – and they’re easy to read.
  • Subheadings help the reader to skim through to key points of interest, or to pick up reading from where they left off

9. Check it

Ideally you shouldn’t proofread your own copy, but in reality most of us have to. Use your spell check if it’s an electronic document (make sure you’ve chosen English dictionary), but remember it’s not infallible. Take the time to read it through again.

Read it aloud. Start from the end. Turn the paper upside down. Read every word one by one. If you spot a mistake, look for the one next to it.

10. Test it

Does your piece of writing do what you set out to do? Get a second opinion. Does your tester understand it? Did they encounter any mental speed bumps? Bits where they had to go back and read it again? Did they spot any errors?

There are lots of tools that help you track digital communications these days, so you can see how well your email, website, or even social media is engaging with your customers. Is there a keyword or phrase that works well for you. what time of day are your customers most responsive. Take note of your analytics and look at areas where you could improve in future.

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Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

I caught the new Ford TV advert this week.

Not a bad idea I thought, but not as good as the Sound of Honda.

Honda has created some very clever, eye-catching television adverts over recent years. So when I start to watch an advert that’s a bit quirky, I instinctively start to think of Honda. That’s a really powerful bit of brand association. (But I still drive a Mini!)

Familiarity can be a good thing for a brand, but what happens when you start to see the same thing everywhere?

Innocent is a brand that’s really established a strong identity through its tone of voice (which I have to admit I love). But now it has its imitators. Barclays seems to be trying to adopt a more ‘innocent style’ and fellow smoothie makers PJ’s are desperately trying to catch their cheeky, fun, irreverent tone (but not quite getting it IMHO).

So what happens to the Innocent brand if one element of its uniqueness, is no longer so unique? Will their smoothies be diluted by these pale imitations? Or are the other brands just savvy by trying to sparkle in their reflections?<

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