Tag Archives | copywriting

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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How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle

How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle

Photo by Martin Barák on Unsplash

In a flourish of glitter and sequins, it’s back on our screens, whirling through Saturday night TV from Autumn until Christmas. In case you’ve had your head in a bucket, I’m talking about Strictly Come Dancing of course.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of this annual extravaganza of celebs learning to perform the foxtrot, samba and cha-cha in pursuit of the glitterball trophy. Whilst I love watching the dancing, I’m reminded how it can be a wonderful form of expression – just like writing.

Here’s what Strictly can teach you about writing that sparkles:

Gotta have rhythm

The Strictly dancers, both professionals and celebrities, have to feel the beat of the music to move in time.

Writing has its own rhythms. Does yours plod along like a beginner stomping through a Paso Doble? Or does it zing and click like a high-energy Jive?

A good writer knows that using too many sentences of the same length, one after the other, becomes as dull and flat-footed as the contestant who gets ditched in week one.

Switch it up with a change of pace. Razzle dazzle ’em. Throw in an unexpected word. It’s the equivalent of a cheeky wink at the judges.

How Strictly Come Dancing can make your writing sparkle Click To Tweet

Style matters

tango dancersEvery dance has a different style –  from the romantic flowing movements of the waltz, to the hip action of the samba.

The same goes for writing. A good copywriter can switch between the smooth flow of a lengthy article that seeks to draw you in, and punchy eye-catching words that grab your attention instantly.

The professional dancers know that you have to start every dance by capturing the attention of the audience and finish with a flourish that will have them on their feet.

To write well you need to apply the same principle. Hook your readers with an engaging headline and leave them with a compelling call to action.

Hook your readers with an engaging headline and leave them with a compelling call to action. Click To Tweet

Master the technique

I’m no expert in dancing, but the Strictly judges will point out what they’re looking for from different dance styles. Woe betide you if you put an audience- pleasing lift into the routine when it isn’t strictly allowed.

In writing, that’s like understanding the conventions of grammar and spelling and knowing when to flout them.

Or knowing that changing verbs from the passive to the active will make your writing more direct and engaging – like facing down your partner in a Tango.

Practice, practice, practice

dancing coupleThe professional dancers on Strictly  make it look effortless, but it takes years of training and effort to do what they do.

Writing may not be quite as tricky as mastering the quickstep, but the more you practise, the better and more confident you become.

As a writer, I know that my first drafts are never going to be as clear, precise and powerful as the finished article.

It takes time to write, edit, review and rewrite. I’m always looking for improvements I can make to produce a polished performance for the final show.

Get the audience on your side

It’s not always the ‘best’ dancers who win through to the next round of Strictly Come Dancing. The watching audience votes for their favourites – the ones who have entertained them, made them laugh.

Thinking about your audience is essential for a copywriter. If you can appeal to their emotions, surprise, delight and thrill them in the same way that the couples do on the dance floor, you’ll be onto a winner.

Put your feet up and enjoy the show

I’m unashamedly a fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Just like music, dancing connects with me at a purely emotional level, that I don’t even pretend to understand.

As a writer, I’m like a dancer in the way I feel the rhythm of words, delight in a neat turn of phrase and express meaning through my creative craft.

Sometimes I stumble, sometimes I soar.  I always dream of sweeping you off your feet with some wonderful words.

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Finding your writing voice and what that means

Finding your writing voice and what that means

A lot of writing advice talks about ‘finding your voice’. But what does that mean?

We all have a unique ‘physical’ voice. The tone, accent and language you use are formed from a unique mixture of your background and education; where you’ve lived and worked; who you’ve associated with, who you admire and whose customs you adopt.

Speaking vs writing

Studies have shown that we start to recognise human voices in the womb. In the early stages of human evolution, being able to distinguish whether someone was friend or foe in the dark, would have been an important survival trait.

In contrast, writing is something we’re taught to do. It’s a skill we have to learn and it doesn’t come as naturally as speaking. So our writing voice is more likely to be influenced by education, and what we’re taught about writing.

And that’s where there’s can be a disconnect between our speaking and writing voices. In being taught to write, we assimilate all these ‘rules’ about grammar, spelling and punctuation. And they can sometimes get in the way, making us fearful of making a mistake when we write.

What happens when we write?

I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember in business communications. When someone picks up a pen or taps their fingers on a keyboard, their ‘voice’ changes. It becomes more formal. It looks for clever sounding phrases. It adopts things it’s seen written elsewhere in a bid to sound professional.

Man in a suit tightening his tieThat’s how you end up with nonsense like “leveraging our partner ecosystem” and “assuring you of our best attention” (an email sign off that I used to see on a daily basis).

Say those phrases out loud. How do they feel?

That’s a tip I use in my business writing workshops.Read what you’ve written out loud. Ask yourself ‘Would I actually say that?

Read what you've written out loud. Ask yourself 'Would I actually say that?' Click To Tweet

If you have to mentally wrinkle up your nose, or adopt an unfamiliar tone to say it, then it’s not natural and authentic. And your audience, your customers will sense that.

Why our spoken and written voices differ

When we speak, our communication is spontaneous. We don’t use complete sentences. We get distracted. We intersperse our words with pauses, umms and errs that give us time to think.

When we speak, our body language, facial expressions and tone give clues to our meaning and intention. We understand if someone is being sarcastic, joking or being serious. Our spoken voice is full of our personality.

When we write, we don’t have these extra clues to illustrate our meaning. The words we use have to do all the work. So it’s important that they are clear.

But your written voice can represent your personality in the same way that your spoken voice does. Use words to paint a picture, tell a story, conjure up ideas in another person’s mind. Drop in a colloquial phrase or a favourite word. It’s all about being authentic.

Use words to paint a picture, tell a story, conjure up ideas in another person's mind. Click To Tweet

Finding a voice for my clients

Cup of coffeeIn writing for clients I have to adopt voices. It’s a bit like being a impressionist. I listen to them talk about their business. I read their written content carefully. I look for words and phrases they use and mimic their rhythm and style.

When I adopt a brand voice for a client, it’s often about dialling up or dialling down certain elements. One client has a lovely chatty tone of voice, so as I write for them, I imagine popping into their kitchen for a cuppa.

Another client is incredibly creative, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. I throw in words that appeal to the senses and drop in a one-word sentence for impact.

How I help improve your writing voice

Sometimes my job is to give a client’s voice clarity. I edit out words that you don’t need, strip away the fluff and focus on what matters so that you present the best version of your business.

Sometimes my job is to give a client’s voice a confidence boost, so instead of words like ‘maybe, might, a bit’, I use words like ‘can, will and lots’.

singerOften my job is to give your communication clarity. That means structure and punctuation that makes it easy to read. It’s a bit like a singing coach showing you where to breathe when singing a complicated line.

When I correct grammar and spelling, it’s about avoiding distractions, and preventing you from looking stupid. Think of me as the friend who’ll tell you that you have spinach in your teeth, or your dress tucked into your knickers before you head out to impress someone.

Think of me as the friend who'll tell you that you have spinach in your teeth Click To Tweet

As a copy and content writer, I choose my words carefully. The trick is to keep my client’s voice, but give it a tidy up. Just like you might brush your hair more carefully and put on a clean shirt for an important meeting.

The voice I use in these blog posts is mine. A unique mixture of my background, education, influences and interests. You may not be able to detect my accent, but my writing voice is authentically mine.

Why use a copywriter for your business?

Most of us can write. Most of us can explain our business, what we do, what we offer, what’s brilliant about it. So why would you hire a copywriter, like me, to write for your business?

Knowledge and experience

Do you need a business website, an advert, a blog post, a flyer, a report, a bid document, a video, a case-study, a speech, or some social media posts?

microphoneA copywriter knows what style of writing works best for different media.

For example, my first job was working with BBC Radio, so I understand the difference between writing things that will be spoken, and things that will be read.

I  can adapt my writing style for print from a detailed business report to a snappy postcard or flyer. I can write SEO friendly content that helps customers find your website, product or service in the vast world of the internet.

A fresh perspective

You’re the expert in your business. But sometimes it’s possible to get a little too close to be able to see things clearly.

spanner, hammer, nail and screwDo you talk the language of your customers? Are you trying to sell a drop-forged, chrome-coated,open-ended spanner, when your customer is looking for a tool to loosen off a nut?

A copywriter will ask questions, find out about you and your business and get to know your customers too.

As a writer, I can explain things clearly, and write about your business in a way that your customers understand and engage with.

Stand out from the crowd

How many other businesses do something similar to yours? How do you attract attention, and make yours the company that customers choose?

A copywriter can help generate creative ideas, and approaches as well as choosing specific words and phrases that can set you apart from the rest.

Quality focus

glasses and notebookHow often do you find yourself in the middle of something, when your phone rings, or someone asks you a question, or an email pops up to distract you?

If you ask me to write something for you, I promise you my full attention. I’ll be 100% focused on writing quality words for your business, with no spelling or grammar howlers.

I’m used to working to deadlines, and getting to know a subject quickly, so whether you need some attention grabbing words in the next month, week or even day, then there’s a good chance I can help you.

Get it done

Hiring a freelance copywriter means you can have writing when you need it, not just when you can get round to it.

Sometimes you know what you want to say, but scribbling it down or typing it out just isn’t your priority. So that blog post, brochure, or website update never sees the light of day and never drives any customers your way.

A quick conversation with a copywriter will set that right. A professional will be able to write it more quickly than you can.

Lee and Beth at The Christmas Farm are really busy growing organic fruit and vegetables and looking after the animals that provide the meat and produce for their organic box scheme. They love sharing recipes and ideas for eating seasonal and local food with their customers, but don’t always have time. I help them out by writing newsletters and adding blog posts and recipes to their website.

Trust an expert

Working with a copywriter is just like working with any other professional who can help your business. It’s a bit like working with an accountant. While you could do the sums and spreadheets yourself, isn’t it reassuring to know there’s someone who understands all the ins and outs of tax and finances; someone who can save you a lot of hassle and money?

A copywriter, like me, can do that. I understand the rules and tricks of writing. I can advise you on the best approach. And I can write for your business, leaving you to focus on the nuts and bolts, or hammers and spanners.

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Wordstruck 2017 – goals and plans

I believe you can set goals and make plans at any time, and shouldn’t wait until a specific date to set them down. But the start of the year is often a time when people and businesses take stock, and look ahead.

I’ve been doing that myself over the Christmas break, and I thought I’d share some of my goals and plans for my writing and training business with you. Writing down plans and sharing them with other people is one technique for making them stick.

1. Help more businesses tell their story

We all have a story to tell whether we whisper or yellAt Wordstruck, my purpose is to help businesses tell their story through words that attract attention and engage customers.

To help more businesses do that, I need to connect with more of them. At the moment, I’m focusing on raising awareness of who I am and what I do – building the Wordstruck brand.

That means being active as a business on social media platforms including twitter and facebook, joining networking groups, taking part in #northeasthour and attending events like the Mussel Club.

I’m also making use of my personal and professional connections through LinkedIn, contacting people who I’ve worked with in the past and letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.

This isn’t about chasing likes and followers, but encouraging real life engagement and conversations. By making connections, I aim to find people and businesses that I can work with, learn from and help in 2017.

2. Expand my writing training and workshops

Writing training workshop table

I love creating and delivering writing workshops. They take a lot of time, and always challenge me, but I learn so much from doing them and get great feedback from people that attend them.

When I was thinking about what to do with my business, I knew that I really wanted to continue doing training and workshops because I know people really get a lot out of them; because I’ve benefited from some amazing writing training and want to give something back.

In my career as a corporate copywriter, I had a captive audience and easy way to publicise sessions that I ran on a monthly basis. As a freelancer, I have a lot more to think about from venues to participants, content and costs. But I find that exciting.

So, rather than retreating behind my keyboard and writing all the time (which I also love doing), I intend to maintain the thrill and the skill of writing training this year.

3. Be a better writer

This is always a given. I have been writing for business for more than 10 years, but there is always something new to learn, or to be inspired by.

This year I aim to be a better writer by making writing my business. That means finding new clients to work with, getting my services and pricing right and seeking feedback that helps me develop what I offer to businesses.

Like many people in marketing, I understand a lot of the theory, but putting it into practice is where I really test my skills. Running my own business is the best way I know to connect with other people who do the same and I’ll be reflecting my personal experience on my blog, and on my business facebook page.

4 Maintain a healthy outlook

Photo of a path through some sand dunesOver the past few years I’ve kept pretty active, enjoying running, cycling, swimming and taking part in triathlons. So I have a good habit for physical health, although there are areas I could improve.

Maintaining a healthy outlook means continuing to make time for those activities as part of my day – making sure that I get up and move around and get out in the fresh air. Walking to my local shops and talking to local business people.

It also means looking after my mental wellbeing too. Accepting that it will take some time to find work and clients; that it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Learning from, but not getting too hung up on analytics about followers and impressions or engagement.

5 Keep my creative jar stocked up

I can find inspiration in almost anything. I once wrote a poem about the cardboard inner of a toilet roll.

Glass jar etched with the words 'Creative juices'I am naturally curious, interested and engaged with the world. I watch and listen to the news, music, read books, see films and theatre, visit art exhibitions, take part in singing workshops!

I generally carry a notebook with me, and use my phone to snap photos or take notes when I don’t.

It is hugely enjoyable to pick up a book I wouldn’t otherwise read; go and see a challenging film at an independent cinema (Oh Tyneside Cinema – how do I love thee!) or take myself off for the day to the Edinburgh Festival.

I’m not going to feel guilty about any of those pursuits. They are part of nurturing my creativity. And we all deserve a little artist’s treat sometime.

I’ll also be encouraging others to make use of their creative muscles, through my work with 26 Characters. Together with my creative collaborator, Sandy Wilkie, we have pitched an idea for a new writing project, which we hope will get the go-ahead very soon. Following on from the success of previous projects including 26 Steps and 26 Under A Northern Sky, I look forward to writing, reading and championing more creative output in 2017.

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Advice on business writing from Ernest Hemingway

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the simplest way
– Ernest Hemingway

A quote from Ernest Hemingway

Well, of course, Ernest. You make it sound so straightforward. But in the real world it so rarely ever is, is it?

As a business writer, first I have to wrestle with the brief, to try and interpret what my customer is looking for and ultimately what the real world customer thinks, feels and wants. It’s rarely expressed in such clear and simple language as this.

Then I have to understand the product or service, gradually condensing down pages of features and benefits into a simple statement that, if I’ve got it right, will answer the question ‘What does this mean for me?’

Hemingway the copywriter

Mr Hemingway would have made a good 21st century copywriter I think, with his unfussy style. His sharpness, wit and ability to condense things down into a pithy quote would have made him a natural on twitter.

With his journalistic edge for reporting the facts and the details, what would he make of today’s jargon and business speak? How would he have responded to phrases such as  ‘leveraging synergies’ or ‘ monetising cross promotion strategies’.

I like to think he’d be firmly and forcefully opposed. With a loaded gun if necessary.

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A sense of community

Writing is often perceived as a solitary occupation, and there are times when all I need is my notebook and a pen. Having worked as a journalist in radio and TV newsrooms, writing copy for the next bulletin against the background of on air broadcasts, telephones ringing and a dozen conversations going on at once, for me, even peace and quiet is optional. Although I do prefer it if I have thinking to do.

But recently I’ve been reflecting on communities and how the different ones I belong to all inspire my writing.

Running

I’m part of the running and triathlon community in the North East of England and beyond. Through doing parkrun, races and by being a member of a very friendly online running site, I can pretty much guarantee that if I turn up at a local race, I’ll see someone I know.

I started to write about local races as a way of recording my own progress, or to remember a particular feature of a race, such as leg-sapping sand or a steep hill, for the next time. So it’s lovely when I get comments from other runners who read my race reports and say they’ve helped them.

Running also brought me back to personal writing after a long break away from it.  I believe my professional writing is richer for it.

Fiona Thompson reading on a train at the luanch of 26 Under A Northern Sky

Fiona Thompson reading on a train at the luanch of 26 Under A Northern Sky

Writing

I’ve felt more part of a writing community since joining 26. The regular newsletters, articles and suggestions for books to read or things to see are a great source of inspiration. As too are the opportunities to get involved in 26 creative writing projects.

I jumped in first as a writer, contributing a piece for 26 Characters as part of a magical exhibition at the Story Museum in Oxford. Then more recently, I co-edited 26 Under A Northern Sky with Sandy Wilkie and got the opportunity to work with other amazing writers to launch a collection of creative writing inspired by a train journey from Newcastle to Glasgow and the music of Nick Drake.

I’m delighted that this project is currently taking on a life of its own, beyond my editorial influence, as writers are recording their pieces and adding them to an online soundscape.

Reading

cover of Leaves by John Simmons

Leaves by John Simmons – my current read

Community is also a theme in John Simmons’ beautiful debut novel, ‘Leaves’ – my current reading material. It’s set on one street in London in the 1970s. The characters observed and imagined by the narrator looking back at events in his life.

I have only just started reading, and admit, I’m trying to ration my time among the pages, as I have a flight and airport time coming up and I know the inhabitants of Ophelia Street will be welcome company.

John has been posting a daily extract from the book on Twitter, which is a delightful tease. Each sentence seems to offer a short story in itself, but has left me wanting to read more. It merits a slow, careful reading to savour every word.

Here’s a taster from the first chapter:

“In January, we used to say, you saw Ophelia Street in its natural colours. Wintergrey hung like a fog; window boxes lay dormant.”

If you want to read on, you can follow John on Twitter @JNSim #Leaves

Living

Finally there’s my real community. The place where I live. Within five minutes walk from my front door, I can be among a range of small businesses, from coffee and gift shops, to restaurants, guest houses, food outlets, and an art gallery.

I enjoy a browse and a chance to talk to the people behind these largely independent and local businesses. They provide great resources, for me, not just in the goods that I buy and the contribution they make to the local economy, but also as inspiration for my business writing.

In seeking to de-bunk the jargon of business software, I often think to myself, ‘How would I explain this to the lady that runs the deli?’  Or ‘How would this help in the chocolate shop?’

I may not know the detailed ins and outs of their businesses, but keeping the people of my local business community in mind grounds what I write in reality. And that helps what I write about business sound authentic and human.

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Exercising the writing muscles – how I train as a writer

I’ve been doing a lot of physical activity recently, running, cycling and swimming in preparation for a triathlon in a few weeks’ time. It’s tricky sometimes fitting it all in around my working hours. But I enjoy it, and so I make time for it.

Making time to write

Cyclist on Newcastle's Quayside

Cycling along Newcastle’s quayside

I believe writing’s a form of exercise too. You get better as you practice, learn new skills, gain confidence, or just a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

So I make time for writing too. Time to explore writing outside of work commitments. Time to try new things and to just enjoy writing for what it is – an important part of being me.

Learning by imitating

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I know I did. Somewhere in a box in the attic, there’s an exercise book filled with adventure stories in the style of C.S Lewis and tales of knights on horseback, battling dragons.

Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, quests and returns. Writing my own taught me about structure – beginnings, middles and endings.

Gathering skills

I learned techniques, hints and tips to bring my writing to life in English lessons. Using all the senses, and the power of metaphor and simile, and more about structure, rhythm and making words dance through poetry. They are techniques that serve me well as a business writer and copywriter.

At University one of my tutors used to set tasks to write essays in the style of the works we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope. That may sound like a cruel and unusual form of undergraduate torture. But in mimicking the rhetoric, or manipulating my thoughts into rhyming couplets, I became even more conscious of the skill and technique of the writers, and I understood their work at a deeper, more personal level. Of the hundreds of essays I wrote in my University terms, those are the only ones I remember.

Adopting voices

As a copywriter, the ability to adapt my writing to different styles is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for.

But to make it sound authentic, it’s not really enough just to mimic. I believe you have to be able to add something of yourself. And in analysing the work of literary writers, I’ve learned to spot styles and forms that I can adopt and adapt in more commercial and contemporary writing.

How writing is like exercise

Running, cycling and swimming all take discipline and commitment if you want to improve. The same is true of writing.

Just as you don’t know how far or fast you can go until you really try, you’ll never realise your writing potential on a blank page – sometimes you just have to fill it.

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The mind seeks meaning

Meaning. It’s something our minds instinctively reach out for. I was reminded of this whilst listening to some music as I worked on a piece of writing last week. The lyrics of a familiar song took on a new resonance, because of what I was writing about, and I discovered a meaning in them that I hadn’t noticed before.

As human beings we are supremely adept at recognising patterns and seeking out connections. I once took part in a writing exercise that demonstrates this beautifully.

Basho's house, Japan

The home of Japanese haiku writer, Basho

As a group, we were each asked to write a haiku – a Japanese verse form of three lines, made up of five, seven and five syllables. We wrote the last line separately from the first two, then mixed them up and paired them at random to form a new haiku.

You might think the results would be meaningless. But it was amazing how often the last line, although written by someone thinking of an entirely different subject, fitted perfectly and how it drew out new themes from the ones that preceeded it. That was a result of our minds creating connections, seeking out meaning.

Of course, in business writing, you don’t want to make a customer have to work as hard as we did with our haiku to discover the message you’re trying to convey.

Straight, clear, simple and direct is the best way to ensure attention from busy eyes surrounded by thousands of messages every day. Yet there still needs to be space for the reader to get involved and create meaning for themselves.

I use an example in my writing workshops of a message that, in trying to tell you what a complex product does, actually blurs any kind of understanding, because it bombards you with a paragraph of over 40 words. It ends up being empty verbage, and so difficult to read that people get stuck half way through and have to go back to the beginning to try and make any sense of it.

In its over exuberance, trying to tell you everything you ever needed to know in one go, it loses connection with its audience. It’s not helped by the fact that it’s a single sentence full of meaningful sounding, but intangible words like flexibility, stability and strategic.

Connecting with an audience, is often about helping them make the mental leap to think ‘that applies to me’. Using tangible terms really helps. So, for example, showing how something could “help you work just as well in the office as out of it”, rather than using an intangible word like ‘flexibility’, can really help your readers understand what it would be like to use the product or service.

If, as a writer, I can make someone think ‘yes, that’s just like me…’  or ‘I’d like that…’, then I’ve caught their attention and they’re more likely to carry on reading to discover more.

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26 ways of looking at direct mail

I’m in the middle of producing a lot of copy for a marketing campaign. And I mean a lot of copy in the sense that I’m essentially writing about the same product for a number of different audiences and formats, including a whole heap of direct mails.

It’s great that my client is trying to communicate with their customers in a personal and relevant manner, but it does pose a challenge for me as a copywriter – how do I make sure that the last thing I write about Product X is as fresh as the first?

It usually starts off being quite straightforward. Whenever I’m drafting out some new copy, I start by writing a simple sentence about what I’m trying to do at the top of the page, for example:

‘Write an email to customer Y, telling them when product X will be released, explaining why it will help them and directing them to website Z for more information.’

This helps me create the structure of the copy, sometimes gives me restrictions like word count for example, and gives me a clear understanding of what I want people to think, feel or do as a result of reading the piece.

But once I’ve been writing about something for a while, it can be tempting to fall into a patchwork approach and steal a bit of copy from here and another from there. And whilst I won’t deny that I do re-use copy that I’ve already written, especially where I think it’s explained something very clearly, this approach can lead to lazy writing and the trap of the cliché.

So how to re-invigorate a brain that’s already found 21 ways of writing about the same thing?

I turned to a few copywriter mind tricks (not quite so impressive as Jedi mind tricks, but they work for me). The first is to write using a different style, so imagine you’re writing a fairy story, or a detective novel for example. In this case I imagined I was writing it as a Barrack Obama speech.

Another trick is to set yourself a constraint, such as starting with one letter of the alphabet and finishing with the next or writing your copy in exactly 50 words.

Now I’m not saying that the results of either of these mind tricks will find their way into print, but within those early drafts were some phrases and ideas that I can use that I wouldn’t have come up with if I hadn’t made myself take a different view of the words I was using.

It’s a useful writing experiment that writing guru and tone of voice expert John Simmons employs in his book ’26-ways of looking at a blackberry’. He takes a rather ordinary piece of writing and re-writes it in 26 different styles, ranging from William Shakespeare to Plain English. Now, not all of them work, as he’ll admit, but the results are sometimes surprising and delightful. And they certainly offered me a way of freshening up my words today.

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