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.

I’m reviewing an internal policy document for a major organisation. Sure, I could simply change the language and spice it up a bit* but I’d like to use it as a marketing opportunity.

The policy is the usual legalese with lots of acronyms and passive language. Here’s a taste:

“It is the policy of XYZ organisation that all XYZAUs should ensure that laptops, computers, networks…”

and my eyes glazed over.

That wouldn’t be such a problem if the intention were that no one reads it.

However, the reality is quite different.

This policy is important, both for the organisation and the employees. It sets out employee obligations and rights (or lack thereof) so it’s critical for both parties that this policy is easily understandable. Employees need to understand what they need to do to comply with the policy and to avoid disciplinary action. The organisation needs to know that its employees have read and understood the policy to avoid security breaches and further repercussions.

I’ve reviewed the document and written a snappy summary, using active language and examples of what happens when you do this or that. My aim is to draw readers into the rest of the document.

Now, that’s pretty much my goal when I’m writing any marketing material. We need our casual readers to delve deeper because they’re interested.

My thoughts right now are that I should treat the readers (employees) as potential clients and put a call to action on every page. We can enhance the brand message and get engagement at the same time.

For this particular (ICT security policy) document, I’m thinking of something similar to:

“We rely on you and all users of the [organisation] network and devices to help maintain security, protect information and to use our systems and devices honestly and fairly

Find out more about how you can help.<Link to examples of best practice, and behaviour that gums up the works>

I’d love to be able to incorporate a little multiple-choice quiz (and award redeemable points) but that’s probably taking things a bit too far. Still, if I can walk my readers through the policy feeling that they’ve contributed and not wasted their time, then I’ll be delighted.

What are your thoughts?

Do you believe that all policy documents could be treated as marketing opportunities?

Have you managed to engage employees long enough to wade through compulsory policy reading? Let me know.

* I can do it. I know I can.

What really happens when women make up more than 50% of the workforce?

Women in workforce

Cover of The Economist 2010

Have you noticed that the position of women in the workforce is actually declining, despite all the upbeat news to the contrary?

A major Australian corporation has a reputation of being ‘a bit of a boys’ club’ but, until recently, they’d been able to refute that perception.

No more.

Over the latter part of 2012, just about all the senior women were ‘encouraged’ out of the organisation, or effectively demoted.

Women still get paid less

In the news recently in Australia: women graduates’ starting salary is, on average, $5,000 less than that of male graduates.

You may accept that most of this disparity is due to industry choice. However, this recent post from the Harvard Business Review blog, Six Paradoxes Women Leaders Face in 2013, refutes this old chestnut.

Over the last six months, anecdotal evidence from overseas certainly suggests that women are being targeted unfairly and losing their jobs. Women are describing what’s happening to them as ‘a modern-day witch hunt’.

What have you noticed in your industry? Do you feel that women are being singled out?

I’m sitting at my laptop on Saturday morning wondering whether or not I should refuse a potential client.

‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s like this.

Understand your business
A few days ago, this potential client contacted me for help with her new business. When I asked for further information (such as ‘What do you need me to write for you? An A4 2-page flyer? Presentation?’), she was unable to specify exactly what she wanted.

A couple of phone calls later, I got worried. This potential client appears to have little or no knowledge of her market, no real business plan and, even after a 20-minute discussion, was unable to specify what she wants me to do. We’ve gone through the creative brief, and I’ve explained the information I need to estimate the job, but still I’m none the wiser.

‘I can get it cheaper’
Then it came to rates. I quoted my rate – very reasonable considering my experience and knowledge – and a rough estimate of the cost (around $250, based on a guess as to the actual job and how long it’s going to take me) and heard:

‘I didn’t expect it to be so much. I can get it cheaper from overseas.’

The conversation continued something like this:

Me: ‘Yes, you could. If you’re not really sure what you want, then it’s probably a better idea for you to get your work done through one of the freelance sites.’

Client: ‘Yes, but I want my job done professionally. I’m not going to get that from someone in India who charges $1 an hour.’

Me: ‘Yes, but even if you don’t get what you expected, you haven’t committed to too much money.’

Freelance writers
A colleague recommended me to this client so I don’t want to lose her. At the end of the call, I went online to check out the work of some freelance copywriters on Elance and guru. It was a gratifying exercise for me: so many typos, grammatical errors and just plain bad layouts.

One of the Australian contingent advertises himself thus: ‘I’m wondering if your able to imagine the difference this will make…’

Another: Let me right your copy. And yet another: Quality Copywriting Services Gauranteed

Hmmm…maybe not.

Use a professional Australian copywriter
A professional copywriter:

  • Is on the other end of the phone (or Skype) and easily contactable by email.
  • Will have a detailed discussion with you to tease out elements of your business that perhaps you hadn’t considered.
  • Has usually worked on your kind of product or service before.
  • Can help you with marketing tips, advice on markets to target and SEO.
  • Has knowledge of relevant Australian laws; for example: Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), Therapeutic Goods Act. (This knowledge could save you thousands in legal fees and fines. I update my knowledge of both Privacy and CCA acts with formal training every two years so I’m aware of current legislation and amendments.)
  • Understands the local market and conditions.

Where to from here?
If you want a stay-at-home mum or semi-literate neuro-linguistic-programming ‘expert’ to handle your business, then head for the freelance sites. If you’d prefer that your copy is targeted, is appropriate for the local market, won’t cost you a bomb in legal fees, and uses the tone of voice that you feel suits your business personality, then give me (or another professional copywriter) a call.

Have you used a freelance writer from one of the freelance sites? What was your experience?

Actually, that’s not quite true. Colour is the new black, but I believe it’s a symptom of optimism…or simply defiance.

Colour me happy

At the height of the global financial crisis (GFC), sales of black cars soared even as car sales overall had stalled. Now we’re seeing sales of white cars (white being a symbol of hope) go through the roof.

In Australia, at least, you’d need to be blind not to have noticed all the bright colours around; in fashion, in home décor, in decorations generally. I’ve noticed, too, that the dominant colour is red. It appears that the collective mood has swung from pessimistic to defiantly optimistic.

What do the colours mean?

Most of us know that the colours we use can affect our mood, just as our mood predicates the colours we wear and use. For the last few seasons (in Australia, Europe and the US), the dominant colour was yellow. In the context of the GFC, yellow signified ‘cautious optimism’.

Red is much more intense and signifies increased enthusiasm, energy, action…but it’s also a bit of a security blanket against fears and anxiety. Red is a sign of danger but it’s also known as the colour of love…and perhaps we’re ready to give more. Witness the current craze for posting online compliments on Facebook.

Red also means ‘Stop’.

Anecdotally, everyone is ready for the end of the working year. My clients, usually paragons of excellence, are sending me (relative) rubbish. We’re tired, mentally, and we need red to help us make it to the finish line.

We’re ready for some FUN and an intermission from the constant gloomy outlook. Let Europe sort out its own problems; and America’s ‘fiscal cliff’ is now mooted to be more of a measured slide or a non-event, according to Alan Kohler. We can only be frugal for so long before we need to break out.

Australia’s doing just fine

Despite the scaremongering, the IMF has given the Australian economy a big tick. To be clear, it’s a qualified tick, and, yes, we may have lower growth for a few years, but isn’t that going to be more sustainable? We live in a country blessed with (reasonably) good government, a high standard of living and, best of all, we possess a pretty good attitude to life.

Have you noticed the profusion of colour? Do you think it means we’re more optimistic or simply defiant? Do you see the predominance of red as a warning signal or a sign of better times? I welcome your thoughts.

I wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and I look forward to our collective happiness and enthusiasm in 2013.

Multi-coloured banner

Multi-coloured banner from City of Sydney 2012

Not necessarily in order of importance but these are my top innovation picks for the moment.

1. A 3-D Printed House That Grows Like Human Bone

Fast Company November 2012

Using a biologically inspired algorithm, SoftKill demonstrates an exciting new path for large, 3-D printed structures.

2. App That Turns Any Surface Into An iPhone Keyboard

Fast Company November 2012

An astonishing app uses an iPhone’s accelerometer to sense the location of a tap on any surface and translate it into typed letters on a keyboard.

3. Scanadu Will Turn Your Smartphone Into A Diagnostic Clinic

Fast Company November 2012

As his son recovered from a traumatic brain injury, Walter De Brouwer was prototyping a device that could upend the broken healthcare system. His product, Scanadu, turns your smartphone into a powerful diagnostic device.

4. World’s first recycled plastic asphalt paving trialled in Vancouver

Via Springwise 20 November 2012

The City of Vancouver has created a plastic-based asphalt, which it is testing for paved roads in the Canadian metropolis.

5. Frequent flyer miles donated to those who wish to visit sick relatives

Via Springwise 20 November 2012

The Extra Mile hopes to collect frequent flyer miles from those who don’t use them so that friends and family of the terminally ill can visit their loved ones.

6. Solar Gardens: Power to the People

I’ve been looking for a model like this for Australia. Sadly, no-one seems to have run with this idea yet.

With solar gardens, or community-owned solar power, neighbors team up to buy panels and share the benefits of renewable energy through virtual net metering.

By Staff, Utne Reader
September/October 2012

7. Dinosaur-inspired upgrades add bite to wind turbines

New Scientist, 15 September 2012 by Jesse Emspak

Siemens has unveiled three designs for enhancing the aerodynamics of turbine blades that improve efficiency and help them to run more quietly.

8. World’s first low-water, low-energy vertical farm in Singapore

Springwise 14 November 2012

Vertical gardens have been around for a few years now but Singapore’s Sky Greens vertical farm goes beyond basic vertical garden design.

The Sky Greens vertical farm in Singapore is the world’s first low-water, low-energy urban food production space. Hoping to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign food, the garden can produce 500kg of vegetables per day in the 120 nine-meter aluminium towers that make up the farm.

 9. Helmet sensor notifies contacts when it detects a crash

Springwise 03 October 2012

Crash Sensor is a small device that mounts onto any helmet and alerts emergency contacts when it detects a crash.

 10. World’s first crowd-funded skyscraper in Columbia offers investors a share in profits

Springwise September 2012

The BD Bacatá project aims to hand over power to the future inhabitants of a skyscraper by getting them to invest in its development.

And now for something completely different…

For parting couples, a custom newspaper announces the divorce to friends and family

Springwise 26 September 2012-11-28

The Divorce Newspaper is a Japanese innovation that helps broadcast news of a breakup quickly and efficiently to friends and loved ones.

So…these are my top picks for the last couple of months. Have you seen anything that you think could be game-changing?