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1 - Are you being boring? Or does your writing pack a punch?

Here’s a question: when was the last time a piece of business writing – whether copy on a website, an advertising campaign or a press release – really grabbed your attention?
There are some great examples of those kinds of writing and more out there. But equally, it’s also very easy to turn your readers off in a few lines (words, even) and make them snore.
So, what’s the secret of great writing? In a nutshell – don’t be boring!


A professional copywriter will always find ways of engaging customers, staff members, the media or whoever their audience is. One of the worse marketing crimes is when some of your communication goes unnoticed and uncommented on. That means your creative efforts have been wasted.
 But don’t despair; here are five tips to packing your copy with punch:


1. Be more interesting! Not as easy as it first sounds, as you may think what your company does doesn’t sound remotely interesting to the wider world. Well, there is always a way of making it so. You manufacture paperclips? Why not add a fun fact-file about paperclips into your copy. For example, how many paperclips would it take to stretch from the Earth to the Moon? Or what is the most unusual use a paperclip has been put to? The possibilities are endless.


2. Be succinct. Particularly when writing for the web. The advice is: write your article as briefly as possible. Then cut out half of the words left. Readers are put off by too much text. And readers don't read text on websites the same way that they do in printed formats. Online, time is precious.


3. Think visually. Work with a good graphic designer. Whether for digital or print, great imagery and imaginative visual concepts will work wonders in getting your point across persuasively. The copywriter should help generate these ideas, too. Did the phrase “pack a punch” above spark any visual ideas in your mind?


4. Think like your customers. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your organisation’s own achievements and internal narrative. Yes, you’re proud that your company was founded 137 years ago and you have eight directors on your board. But what does that tell your customer – someone whose interest is likely to be fleeting at best? So, be harsh and apply what journalists call the “so what?” test on key statements in your copy. When presented with the latest gushing news release, editors and journalist will ask themselves if this is newsworthy. Is it really an interesting and unusual achievement and worthy of their readers’ or listeners’ attention?


5. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Who is your audience? Think of your customer as a real individual with a personality; likes and dislikes; a job; children (perhaps) and a mortgage. Of course you’re aware they have these things. But try building up a profile of a typical customer or a range of customers. What would grab them and spark their interest? What words or images would turn them off – or bore them? Give your fictional customer a name if it helps. And cut to the chase in your writing. That way they will be interested, certainly wide awake – and even hungry to hear more from you.


Andrew Bennett


Associate at SindyB Communications Ltd and a freelance copywriter at Bennettwords


2 - And another thing......communications strategy Columbo style

My all-time favourite TV detective is Columbo. I know that dates me, but honestly I was but a mere child when I encountered the man in the raincoat who always solved the crime that we the viewers had first witnessed.

Years later, I find myself using Columbo parallels on a regular basis in my working life. Now - that is the sign of good characterisation and excellent scriptwriting. So please bear with me whilst I stretch a Columbo theme perhaps a little too far, in making the connection with developing communications strategy. You see it all started with the one about the Hollywood funeral director.........

One of the best Columbo episodes is, Ashes to Ashes, starring Patrick McGoohan who was Columbo’s nemesis in three separate episodes, as well as one of the guest directors for the series. This story involves “grisly undertakings” in an upscale Hollywood funeral parlour. In his dogged pursuit of McGoohan’s supercilious character, Columbo attends a funeral directors’ convention, where a certain amount of in-jokes and gallows humour is evident.

The “coffin jokes” reminded me that every profession has a level of humour and hopefully, the ability to laugh at ourselves. Communications and PR professionals are no different, but sometimes it feels like the joke is on us. Social media is full of lists of things that we hear regularly from clients and colleagues which have us metaphorically putting our head in our hands - comments such as, “We need a logo”, “My target audience is....the general public” and a particular favourite, “Can you make this look pretty?”. Great communications is about outputs, but it is about the right outputs linked to the core objectives for your organisation.

Getting to grips with what communications and PR is and how it adds value in organisations, starts with the big picture. It is the step most often missed out in developing communications plans, because so many people want to get directly to the solution before they have necessarily analysed the problem. When we talk to people about their communications and PR needs, they present us with the output they have decided they want. “I want a video” or “We just need a few leaflets and posters”, or the infamous, “We need a logo”. Of course we can “just” provide all of these services and more besides, but there is very little point, unless we know that the outputs will deliver not just what the client wants, but what they need.

Just like Columbo, our job is to get behind the obvious and find out the detail of what is really going on, building PR plans from an evidence base that will ultimately provide a successful outcome. We are always looking for “just one more thing......”

At Sindy B we use a simple three step process to solve the PR conundrum - consider, create, communicate. Steps one and two are as vital as the final step - which is delivering the agreed communications and PR campaigns. Properly researched, integrated and targeted communications which we will identify through steps one and two will, like Columbo, always provide the optimum solution.

And in case you were wondering, yes Patrick McGoohan’s character acted in haste, missed out some vital steps in his crisis planning and failed to spin his way out of trouble at the end. But the funeral parlour had a wonderful logo.


3 - Agatha Christie - the way to a dream job

I am a huge Agatha Christie fan. Every since her books became my first “adult” reading, with every paperback eagerly consumed, I have been fascinated by mysteries and thrillers.

The opening of, Murder on the Orient Express, the first Agatha Christie adaptation to hit the big screen in a generation, is a welcome excuse to open up one of her most famous, but one of my least read, books.

 

One of the things about Christie’s writing style is the very neat and methodical way she builds up the plot; even the chapter headings tell you exactly what is going to happen. Chapter Five in Murder on the Orient Express is helpfully entitled, “The Crime”. And even someone with only a passing acquaintance with her works, is all too familiar with the final chapter reveal (“Poirot Propounds Two Solutions”, in MOTOE) when the crime is unveiled for all to witness.

Apart from the excitement of the new film, I was also reminded on the great crimewriter’s work by my other reading matter this week; shortlisting job applicants for a client. Oh for the clarity of the application which used the key requirements in the job specification to provide headings for the information the candidate wished to communicate. All the wonderful prose and eloquent expression of past jobs and achievements is completely lost unless these words are marshalled into a coherant structure. And yes, telling me that you are perfect for the job, but not telling me how your skills fit with those the employer is looking for, is a job seeking crime.

My advice to the large number of candidates whose applications will have been edited out of the selection process, like excess chapters on the ghost writer’s Macbook? Take a leaf out of Dame Agatha’s book:

- keep to the plot (and tell me why your skills fit the job description in question; don’t just tell me all your skills in any order)
- use headings and subheadings to flag to the reader where the vital information they are looking for in your application is; don’t expect them to go searching for hidden clues and definitely do not give them any red herrings
- tie up all of the loose ends in a final paragraph; make your application memorable and conclusive

Follow these simple steps and you too may be on the trail of your blockbuster PR job.









 


4 - Another bad week for PR

It’s not hard to see why social – and traditional – media commentators were quick to brand the United Airlines incident of forcible removal of a passenger a “PR disaster”. It’s not the first or last time that PR professionals appear to be held responsible. But let’s not forget, this was not some ill-advised marketing campaign (Kendal Jenner for Pepsi, anyone?) or PR that spun out of control. This was a corporate disaster that is the story that just keeps on giving. Such little regard for paying customers is not something that a bit of PR will ever sort. Whilst PR didn’t cause the problems, your heart goes out to the team trying to recover the situation now.

Crisis management and acting quickly to tell the real story is something that every organisation needs. If you want to avert a disaster, or you are in the middle of one, give us a call.

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