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Top ten tips for writing snappy copy

10/04/2013

Because B2B commercial copy is for intelligent business consumption, it’s tempting to make it sound grand, but this inevitably makes consumption so much more painful.

Alan James

Here’s my top tips for edible copy:

  1. Who are you writing for? Write for one person. Assess their motivation for reading your copy. Will it enlighten, inform, entertain, motivate them to act? Think what’s in it for them. Assess the time they have to read it, their knowledge level.
  2. Get the knowledge: Sounds obvious, but you need to know/understand at least as much as your reader. If you don’t have the knowledge go and get it. Research it, ask questions, find an expert, get them to draft it if necessary.
  3. Get it all out: If you find yourself staring at a blank screen then just write anything and everything down to do with what you are trying to say, from this you can create structure, and extract key facts.
  4. Ask questions which can provide the structure: Ask yourself some basic questions like, Who, Why, When, Where, What and answer them in bullet format. Leave the questions as subheads for now. Arrange the questions into a structure that will form the basis of your logical/persuasive argument.
  5. Does it serve your purpose as well as theirs? Your copy must add value to the reader but does it also support your company messages, make sure your copy always underlines a key value proposition. If it doesn’t why are you writing it?
  6. So what? Then read it through, anything missing? Ask yourself, ‘Why do I care?’, ‘So what?’ and, ‘What’s so exciting about that?’ If you’re bored by your own copy, imagine how everyone else feels. (At this stage this might be the longest your copy gets, from here on in we are cutting it back).
  7. Show not tell: De fluff: Use objective observation and facts to show. Not subjective adjectives and opinion to tell. You are not penning a love letter, but presenting the facts in a compelling fashion. Imagine the building is on fire and you cannot leave the office until you have shouted the story from the window. This exercise will ensure you only use the words you need, to say what has to be said and no more. When it comes to strong copy, a couple of carefully crafted sentences are more effective than a whole paragraph of jumbled thoughts.
  8. Every time you review it, cut it: Aim to reduce word count every time you review the copy (3- 5 times) with decent breaks in between sessions to allow the creative brain to mull over the project, find the right phrase, the most perfect word.
  9. Don’t force it: Could you sneak your copy into conversation, would it sound natural, or would people think you had gone crazy/swallowed a dictionary/been indoctrinated by brand Y. Be kind to your reader, make your copy easy to read!
  10. Read final draft out loud: Now print off the copy and read it out loud. This really helps spot the ‘silly’ mistakes that your eyes haven’t seen but your tongue will trip over. It will also help you with punctuation.

You can download these tips in a handy pdf if you like to keep on your desk and front of mind.


When men inspire words, and words inspire men

10/09/2012

Sam Howard pays homage to the Olympians and the Wordsmiths.

Thanks for the warm up. Now meet the Superhumans.
If writing strap lines was an Olympic sport,
that’s your gold medal winner right there

So clearly, clearly it’s not ‘disabled’ it’s ‘differently-abled’. A term that’s been around for years, but now looks set to be embraced wholesale after the last two awe-filled, outrageously beautiful, amazingly uplifting weeks, which have left us feeling spiritually renewed and oh so proud.

So what to do now with the defunct phrase ‘disabled’? It works ok if you throw ‘temporarily’ in front of it. Like, you fall off your skis and break a load of bones – you are temporarily disabled. Cos you’re probably just going to sit it out and sulk about a bit while you can’t do anything, until such time as you can.

Another way it could be applied is to those of us that are just useless at sport. At 6ft I”,  all shoulders, arms legs and feet – you’d think I’d be good at something, anything. But as my sporty father could testify, from the earliest age I’ve been quite rubbish at everything. Whip smart in my classes I’d get my comeuppance in PE,  three times weekly. Instead of letting my sporty dad coach/cajole me into doing anything involving developing physical skills, I preferred to stay indoors writing angsty poems and drawing very thin, dead-looking people. I have remained steadfastly crap at sports, as now my sporty son can testify.

I take some comfort in the belief that I’m not the only one, and I’d very much like to think that maybe it was a sportily-challenged person like myself, sitting in Channel 4’s superb in-house agency 4Creative, that came up with the concept and the words, Thanks for the warm up. Now meet the Superhumans. For those are mighty fine words, that provided the spark that lit the touch paper for the Paralympic flame to burn so very brightly.

A Paralympian, a differently-abled person, a Games Maker, a sports-incompetent, a creative – there’s room enough for all of us to contribute, to make a difference and to make it better.


Why the sign off process can kill a good press release

07/04/2011

Is a badly written press release down to the PR officer as journalists love to think, or all the layers of people it must go through to get sign off?

I’m going to write you the perfect press release, and then all you have to do is: LEAVE IT ALONE!

It’s too depressing to cite examples of dreadful press releases here, but editors still get them daily. This could be because the PRs can’t write, in which case don’t let them on the account until they can. Look at your training programme and your time investment in this, even the most clunky of junior writers can make great progress with some guidance and ground rules. But if you are paying someone to do your PR and it’s obvious they can write, then really I think you should just let them. But sadly that’s often not what happens.There is another reason why editors receive such toe-curling, bland brochure-ware – and it’s more common than you might think – and that’s thanks to all the people that contributed to its creation.

For the uninitiated, here’s a typical  sign off cycle in a midsize tech company:

  • The PR drafts the press release for a product launch, let’s assume it’s pretty good: it tells a story, makes a point, does it succinctly.
  • Then the head of comms reviews it, make more of the key messages, it’s a bit more evangelical, but what can you do?
  • Then the head of product reviews it, and adds a load of technical detail that probably no one is ever going to read cos it’s very boring.
  • Then the head of sales gives it a quick once over, and just adds ‘world’s leading’ to the company descriptor, cos he’s read press releases before and they always have that.
  • Then the head of the division takes forever to review it because he is so very important, and adds some outlandish testosterone-fueled statement that says more about him than it does about the product launch.
  • Then the company lawyer reviews it, and she removes anything remotely interesting at all and what’s left is littered with trademark symbols.
  • Then, and only then, can the PR send it out – obviously three weeks late and to howls of derision from the very same journalists that she really rather admires and would very much like to impress…