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Tighten up

Work on that copy

How to tighten up that copy

I’m a copywriter working in Sydney and across Australia.

Sometimes, my brief could be described as, “Keep it the same but make it different.”

Clients love their own copy – LOVE it. Especially if they have a family member or spouse who fancies himself or herself as a marketing copywriter.

Problem is, inexperienced writers – well, they use too many words. Their sentences meander across the page, filling up space and offering no obvious benefit or call to action. Worse, the copy has no ‘energy’ (in the words of one of my more well-known copywriter colleagues).

Example 1: Flabby copy

“If you’d like to add details of employees who’ve joined your company, delete employee details when they leave, simulate your retirement income and get access to several handy reporting tools, then you are able to use PRODUCT, which we designed as an easier and more convenient way for you to work.”

Example 2: Tight copy

Use PRODUCT to:

  • Add and delete employee details
  • Simulate retirement income
  • Access reporting

Get your job done quickly and easily. Check out PRODUCT now.

Which one of the above are you more likely to read (and act on)? I’ll bet on version 2.

Why?

We’re all time-poor.

When we’re reading, we need instant information.

  • What is it?
  • Do I need it?
  • What does the writer want me to do?
  • When?

Five top ways to tighten up your copy

If you do go down the road of writing your own copy, then keep it tight.

  1. Begin sentences and phrases with imperative verbs where possible. (Use, Check, Get in example 2)
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Use bullet points.
  4. Remove any adjectives that aren’t working hard.
  5. Add a clear call to action and a time limit (if appropriate).

You have seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Make those seconds count.

There are more ways to tighten copy but these are the ones I start with. These simple tips will give your copy more rhythm and readability.

Do you have any tips for keeping copy succinct and relevant? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

How a brand warrior feels

How a brand warrior feels

Be grateful I’m not calling myself a ‘brand guru’. I’m not, and don’t profess to be.    However, I wear my ‘brand warrior’ hat with pride.

Where did this brand thing start?

In the early days of proofreading, my biggest client was Microsoft. The marketing manager hired me to get consistency across all channels: print advertising, digital, sales brochures, case studies, white papers and anything else they had going. Much of the copy came straight from the USA and part of my job was to make it more Australian in tone and spelling.

My second-biggest client was Adobe (mainly digital, via MercerBell) and then came American Express (sales letters, print advertising and in-house training manuals), MasterCard (MercerBell again) and Telstra, to name a few.

All of the above brands are rigorous about protecting their trademark, especially on their products. I spent time getting to know the brands and trademarks as soon as I started working on their product or service.

So where does ‘brand warrior’ come into the picture?
I’ve been working on the Microsoft brand (not with the same comprehensive brief as when I started) for longer than have most of the product managers. If there’s a dispute about a trademark use, I’m often the go-to person.Although I don’t work for some of the brands any more, I am still working on their behalf. If I’m proofing, for example, a piece of copy for a client and the copy mentions ‘an excel spreadsheet’, I’ll change it to the correct “Microsoft® Office Excel® spreadsheet’. Same goes for ‘your flash file’. That gets upgraded to ‘Adobe® Flash® file’.

Why bother?
By doing this, I’m not only helping clients and former clients protect their brands, but also, I’m making sure that my current client doesn’t get reprimanded for incorrect use of a product or brand name. I don’t get paid by Microsoft or Adobe but, in my mind, all my clients are once and future clients so I need them to be successful. Part of that is helping them to protect their brand, product or service.

My diligence also shows my current client that I’m serious about brand values and they can trust me with their own brand.

How do you manage brands? Are you still loyal to past clients? I’d love to hear how you manage.

If you’d like me to make sure that your brand is presented in the way it’s supposed to be, please contact me.

A creative brief gives you insight into your client's needs and desires

A creative brief gives you insight into your client’s needs and desires

If you don’t have a good creative brief to work from and inspire you, you’ll struggle to satisfy your client and fail to deliver what they want and need.

For those who follow this blog, you’ll know that I’m now doing more copywriting than proofreading. It isn’t a hard transition; I love both proofreading and writing copy. However, my biggest help has been Belinda Weaver of Copywrite Matters.

Belinda gives me overflow copywriting work and writes an awesome creative brief. She spends time getting to know the client, the business and the business environment so we don’t have any surprises down the track.

Once I’ve read through one of her works of art, I’m fully prepared and can pretty much sit down and start writing. Of course, I do my own research to make sure I’m not going to parrot someone else’s words, but the brief is enough. The brief gives me the information I need, but also, it inspires me.

This means that I write copy that the client wants and expects, and we tick all the SEO and marketing boxes. The tone of voice is right for the client…and we get great testimonials.

No creative copywriting brief
Last year, I had a client – a smallish graphic design studio – who’d hired me to write some marketing collateral for their client, Brand X. I’d met the ‘marketing’ people from Brand X and, well, they didn’t really have a clue. Business plan? “Make more money, ha ha!” Marketing plan? Any indication that they were aware of the best times to target new business? Nothing.

I asked the studio people to ask their client to fill out my creative brief and it duly came back, sparsely populated. Well, you work with what you’ve got. I wrote copy that addressed the brief and sent it off. A few days later, the studio got back to me.

Studio: “They hated the copy. They said you should have known it wasn’t what they wanted.”
Me: “The copy addressed the brief.”
Studio: “I know, but we didn’t get them to fill it out. They were too busy so we did it.”

Great. My reputation with Brand X is in tatters and my primary client isn’t happy because their client isn’t. I didn’t get a chance to rewrite the copy and didn’t get paid for the work I’d done*.

Stop! Unless you have a great copywriting brief
Now I won’t go ahead with a project unless I have a comprehensive copywriting brief, signed off by the end client. The creative brief is your opportunity to build a relationship with a client, to learn a bit more about how they think and what their real goals are – overall, and for a particular project. It not only helps me to fulfil their desires, but also, it weeds out the undesirables.

Thanks to some great copywriting briefs, I’ve worked on jobs that were a doddle – Classic Blinds and Shutters, Groundtruth, Matryx Solutions in Security, Overflow Café and Bar, Clancy’s and Maroba Caring Communities, to name a few. They’re all happy clients, all due to Belinda’s professional approach from the start and the attendant good client-supplier relationships.

How do you manage the briefing process? Any horror stories? Let me know.

* I’d done work for this client before and satisfied their needs and goals…because I had good creative copywriting briefs.

As a copywriter, proofreader and editor, I tend to have a dictionary by my side when I’m writing or doing other work for clients. I’m not infallible and there are some words in our English language that can trip you up often. Here’s my list:

Double letters

Accommodation: How many times do we see ‘accomodation’? Makes my blood run cold.
Millennium: ‘ll’ AND ‘nn’
Personnel: ‘nn’

S, not c

Consensus: Usually, I have to correct this after I’ve typed ‘concensus’. I’m getting better…
Supersede: As above

How you spell it, not how you say it.

Barbecue: Not barbeque, despite ‘Barbeques Galore’
Repertoire: Not ‘repetoire’
Separate: Not ‘seperate’
Subpoena: Try filling in a crossword clue with ‘supoena’ and you’ll never forget this one.

Weird and wonderful

Desiccate: Not ‘dessicate’, although we so want to use the ‘ss’.
Gauge
Indict
Impugn
Limousine: Not, as I see often, ‘limuosine’
Pronunciation: Not ‘pronounciation’
Memento: ‘Momento’ is Italian, it means something different – and we’re writing in English.
Weird: If you write ‘wierd’, it will look weird.

What words are on your watch list?

Boxing gloves_

Make sure your copywriting packs a punch

Cheat words to make your copy more muscular
You know the client: he’s an entrepreneur, in his early 30s, and has a dream. He wants website or brochure copy that appeals (mainly) to blokes.

You write beautiful copy that addresses the brief but your writing is elegant and restrained or is peppy but lacks punch. Your client wants more.

So how do you make your copywriting more attractive to blokes?

You cheat…by using words or phrases that sound and look more aggressive. Write your copy as usual, then replace sibilant sounds with stronger words.

Here are some words and phrases that will make sure your copywriting belts out the message and caters to men.

Robust: Guys like ‘strong’; they understand that. ‘Robust’ packs more of a punch.
Tough: You have to spit this word. It sounds like what it is: tough.
Integrated: Good hard consonants, albeit with a soft start.
Packs a punch: Apart from the inherent aggression in this phrase, the sounds are what we call ‘plosive’ so they sound more aggressive.
Takes the cake.
Bucks the trend.
Package
. Note the combination of plosive ‘p’ and hard consonants in ‘c’ and ‘k’.
Attractive (rather than ‘appealing’).
Powerful. Another plosive in the ‘p’ so not only is this word powerful in itself, but also, it sounds powerful.
Beats the competition (over ‘wins the race’, for example); good plosive and hard consonant in ‘beat’ plus two hard consonants and a plosive in ‘competition’.
Partner (not ‘associate’ with all its sibilants).
Process (rather than ‘assemble’).
Daily (rather than ‘everyday’).

Other copywriting stand-by words include clever, deadline, deal, deep, dump, duty, deadlock, dedicated, good, got, great, hardy, helpful, item, muscular, peak, portal and top.

The above list isn’t comprehensive and there’s a bit more to catering to men than just butching up your copy – but I’m sure you’ve got the idea. (For those of you with an interest in etymology, you’ll have noticed that I use more gutsy Anglo-Saxon words than those of French derivation.)

When I write copy, my words are intentional and I get upset if someone changes them. I’m not alone: read what David Ogilvy wrote to a client back in 1955 about his copywriting practices.

What words would you add to the list?

The year was 1994 and it was a Saturday morning. I was happily reading the weekend papers and had skipped to the weekend magazine. A major airline had a double-page spread that read:

Left-hand page: [airline] flies to [xx] destintions in [xx] countries. (26 pt)

Right-hand page: [Country’s] favourite airline. (110 pt)

I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I had a friend who worked on that particular account.

The following Monday, I called him to confirm that the agency still had the airline account.
Him: “Yes, we do.”
Me: “Maybe not for much longer. Have you seen the weekend magazine ad?”

My friend said that the art director had come to him about this ad, saying it didn’t look right. He saw immediately that the tag line was missing the possessive apostrophe…but everyone, including the client, missed the ‘a’ in ‘destinations’.

On the strength of that pick-up, I got an introduction to the head of direct marketing. (I wrote letters…this is back in the days before email…to all the senior agency people who worked on that account but only the DM manager got in touch.)

We decided that, as I didn’t have formal experience, the agency would give me a trial. My first job was to proof all three frequent flyer brochures, check for typos and that we had all our Bronze, Silver and Gold references in the right brochure. Luckily for me, there were several errors so the art director and the copywriter understood that I could be useful and not a threat.

The rest, as they say, is history. I can trace every job I’ve ever had to that first engagement. As people changed agencies, or formed their own, they’d take me along. The DM manager left to form his own agency, as did the art director. Those agencies win awards regularly and I still work for them both occasionally.

What happened to the airline account and the agency? Well, not too long afterwards, the agency lost the account, along with three other major accounts, and then imploded. It was taken over by an international agency and limps along. Today I checked their website, only to see “gloriously purile” as a tag line for one client. Another ad is a direct copy of an ad created for a similar client by the agency for which I worked back in the 1980s.

A good proofreader does so much more than pick up a typo or three. As a proofreader, I regard myself more as a quality controller. When I proofread a document, I work with my editor hat on as well. Not only do I look for the obvious, but also, I check all the links, check spellings of personal and company names and make sure that everything makes sense. With my brand warrior hat, I make sure we use the appropriate trademarks (particularly important for major brands such as Microsoft, MasterCard and Adobe, all of whom I’ve worked for in the past). With my copywriting hat on, I optimise copy for search engines and offer alternative copy if I think it’s warranted.

The arrogance of the agency with the airline account led to their downfall. I’m not saying I could have stopped the rot, just that the lack of interest in my services was indicative of their lack of understanding of quality control.

How did you get your first proofreading or editing job? Do you still have relationships with colleagues from back then?

Your trusty proofreader is still in holiday mode but I thought I’d share some mixed-up sets of words that you may hear, or see, often.

  1. In the throws [throes]: This was in a major newspaper. I guess they can’t afford editors any more.
  2. Please be more pacific [specific]: This is a classic but I don’t see it very often in copy. You’re more likely to hear it.
  3. Predominately [predominantly]: This is another one that pays the mortgage.
  4. Tenents [tenets]: This one has surfaced a few times recently. I can only assume that the writer learned the word aurally, not visually…and has bad hearing.
  5. Brought/bought: It surprises me still when I read, for example, ‘She bought her friend to the party’ or ‘I brought a new folder yesterday’.
  6. Horde/hoard: It can be quite funny when these get mixed up.
  7. Foregone/forgone: Oldies but goodies. I admit that I have to stop and think most times I come across these. My little mantra is: ‘Fore is before.’
  8. Slither/sliver: I can’t count how many times I hear people say, for example: “I’ll just have a tiny slither of cake.” Snakes slither; what they want is a sliver.
  9. Miniscule [minuscule]: I understand how this error happens. Small = ‘mini’. However, the word derives from the Latin, ‘minus’, or less, rather than from ‘minimum’ meaning smallest or least.

And just for fun: found by the eagle-eyed Aysha, who should be doing my job but I’m pretty sure hers pays better.

Proofreader news.com.au

Proofreader needed: Gatecash?

I was hoping to get to 10 sets of mixed up words but I can’t think of any others. Can you? Let me know and I can get to double digits.

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