7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

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My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

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  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.

Emirates wins unsubscribe turkey trophy

February 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Over the years I’ve come across many a company which makes it difficult to unsubscribe from their emails but Emirates, I think, takes the biscuit.

I’ve written a blog before about this because it takes us all so much time to unsubscribe. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me being stupid but now I have Twitter to check if I’m  alone. When Living Social UK presented me with so many options I really didn’t know exactly how to unsubscribe, I took to the Twittersphere to see if I was the only one with the problem.

Please unsubscribe me from your database. I’ve tried to unsubscribe from your emails but don’t know if I have because you make it too difficult.

Some poor souls had tried six, seven, 10 times but were still receiving emails (before also taking to Twitter and begging to be removed from the database).

What I don’t understand is this: if you’ve decided you don’t want to receive an email from ‘blah’ company, them making it difficult for you to unsubscribe is only going to make you annoyed. You were mildly disinterested in the first place, now you’ve got real raging emotion. 

The Emirates course of action is to make you ‘work for it’. I didn’t remember I was a member of its ‘Skywards’ scheme (I can’t even be bothered to tell you what that is – but Emirates told me in detail – in the hope, I suppose, of stopping me from unsubscribing. Of course it didn’t.) I struggled on, trying to log into the site, since at some point I had been a member of the scheme – and then it wanted me to remember the password I had created at the time I signed up for a scheme I couldn’t remember. Noooooooooooo! This is too much.

In the end, guess what I did? You’ve got it….broke my New Year’s resolution and just deleted the email. I’ll tackle it properly next time but I have deadlines and I don’t have time to fight with their unwieldy unsubscribe system. They are, by no means, the only company who makes it hard to unsubscribe but they are the worst I’ve come across this year.

And how will companies like Emirates manage when the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25 May this year. It’s the biggest change to data protection in more than 25 years.

The new General Data Protection Regulation does NOT allow the tacit or implied consent of their clients to be able to proceed with the processing of their personal data. 

I may have signed up for their Skywards scheme at some point in the past. I no longer have any interest in it and the company’s making it difficult for me to untangle myself from it.

The likes of Emirates will surely no longer be able to send us information we don’t want with unsubscription puzzles that beat all but the super-patient with a bit of time on their hands.

Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

 

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Queen Victoria and her beloved servant, Abdul Karim

History was my least favourite subject at school. It meant nothing to me – just a list of dates that seemed to have no relevance to my life. I was more a ‘books’ type of pupil where I could delve into a good story or use my imagination and make one up. So English – language and literature –  always appealed.

Only the other week I realised it didn’t have to have been like that. I discovered how I’d missed out on Britain’s richly fascinating history. Shortly after watching an intriguing programme about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, I was captivated by a programme on Queen Victoria and her faithful, beloved Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who became known as the Munshi. It talked about how he’d taught her Urdu and the Queen had ignored all protests from her court objecting to her blatant fondness for the domestic help (foreign, at that!)

That tells you quite a lot about how we learn – how we’ve always learnt. Give us a list of facts and figures and many of us will find them easily forgettable.

Slot those facts and figures into a story and suddenly you’ve given them a life. Most of us will now remember.

Think about it like this: we tell each other stories, we pass on stories, we get excited about stories, we analyse stories, we SELL each other stories. We don’t do any of that about a column of facts.

And that’s exactly how good marketing works: what’s your company story? What’s the story behind that marketing campaign? Tell the story and your customers will learn about you and talk about you. Bark your specifications and they’ll quickly forget you.

Just getting something FREE, for example, is going to stick with them for a couple of blinks. They’re not actually going to learn anything about you – as decent as it is of you to offer the free offer – and frankly, they won’t remember your name tomorrow.

You’d almost certainly be better off selling your story to your customers and potential customers (for free).

Do you know your story? You’re living your story every day so it may be difficult for you to be objective and see it, to be fair. You probably need a Bowler Hat person to talk to you about why you are, what you are and when it all began and how?

It costs nothing to call to see if we can get to the bottom of who you are and why you should be writing about yourself! 01753 831604 is the landline and 07946 450708, the mobile – let’s have a chat.

 

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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10 Top Press Release Mistakes

February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

Magazine display in a bookstore.  Présentoir de revues dans une librairie.

  1. Clunky headlines: Don’t try to get everything, including the name of your company, in the headline. The name of your company is a turn-off anyway. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  2. Written in the first person: You’re verging on the advertorial if your press release is a ‘Me, me, me’ or ‘We, we, we’ document. Think about how you’re adding value to the reader’s life.
  3. A press release with no news: To be fair, what can the press do with that? Journalists are looking for something newsworthy and meaty that they can their teeth into.
  4. Full of jargon: You may have news but it might be buried under jargon that is industry speak but alien to journalists. They’ll bin a press release like that.
  5. Grammar and spelling mistakes: Journalists receive tons of press releases and reject those that look unprofessional. Anything that’s badly put together with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or typographical howlers is not going to get their attention. Proofread, proofread and proofread again.
  6. No quotes to back up the news: If you’re going to suggest that doing such-and-such saves money, for example, get someone to explain how they made it work. Again, it’s all about getting away from the advertorial slant and making your story proper news.
  7. Too many exclamation marks!: There isn’t a place for them in the serious world of hard news.
  8. Sending to the wrong media: This usually means a bit of extra work for you because you’ve got to tailor your press release to fit and can’t send a blanket release to a bunch of titles. But in the long run it’s a bigger waste of time sending exactly the same release to Nursing Times as the one you’re sending to Construction News – for example.
  9. Bad timing: It can make or break a story. Talking about Easter in August isn’t going to find many takers – an extreme example, but you get the point.
  10. No follow-up: What a waste of time if you’ve done all the right checks but then sit back and never find out what happened to all that hard work. Having been a journalist on many titles, I can let you into a secret – it’s all too easy to overlook a press release particularly if a zealous PR person isn’t on your back, checking whether you need more info/more pictures/more quotes/more figures/more anything, frankly, just so they can make sure you use their story. That’s what you need to do.

Don’t let the little ones get away

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Watch out for the tiddlers

We  make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.

Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.

But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.

And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.

Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.

Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:

  • is
  • it
  • if
  • in
  • up
  • us
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • to
  • too
  • he
  • her
  • here
  • you
  • your
  • for
  • four

To name a very few…

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