… Is mixing up your clichés! A couple of years ago I was rewriting some web copy for a client (who shall remain nameless) and couldn’t stop smiling when I got to the existing ‘About us’ page. The company had created a brief biography for each staff member and one man was described as “really coming out of the box to help you”.
It was so endearing, I was tempted to leave it in. But seeing as the company wasn’t an undertakers and didn’t make ventriloquists’ dummies, it didn’t really work.
Have you come across anything unintentionally funny on a website?
[Image courtesy of AkaraKingdoms.]
I love meeting new people and learning about their businesses. Networking events can be rich with potential customers, open doors and exciting opportunities. Sometimes you can’t beat swapping knowledge and business cards over a Malted Milk biscuit … and many events allow you to meet face to face with a quantity of interesting people it might take you months to visit individually.
But one thing that winds me up about networking events? When people scrape the list of delegates afterwards and use it to send unsolicited marketing emails.
Don’t get me wrong. I welcome little “hello” emails, the “sorry I didn’t get to speak to you, but I notice you supply …” sort-of missives, where the sender has taken the trouble to personalise their message. These people are often good networkers: the ones not hellbent on making a quick sale, but interested in building mutually beneficial relationships. That’s great.
But I dislike blanket, send-all emails that show no thought or imagination. Sometimes they show no respect for the recipient, either. I once found several megabytes of brochure weighing down my inbox, from a company that makes building components. I doubt they would’ve been willing to spend money on sending literature to a business like mine, which has no need for drainage systems, but just because it cost nothing didn’t mean it was a good idea. In fact, it could have cost them a lot more: damaged credibility.
Am I being harsh? Marketing is difficult, and we are trading in difficult times. These are small businesses and start-ups, who are often told by business advisers to get themselves ‘out there’ as much as they can. So maybe they should be forgiven for jumping on a current, juicy list of people with which they have something in common (the event) and using it to showcase their business.
But I do think people should get more creative and personal in their approach - or hire someone who can be creative and personal for them.
These cheeky delegate-list spammers are not breaking the law. (There are laws surrounding email marketing, but generally they protect consumers, not businesses.) But I don’t think it’s good practice.
What do you think?
If work tails off at this time of year, and you’re in any way like me, it’s tempting just to spin around in your office chair, share out chocolate brazil nuts and hum along to Christmas tunes on Last FM. No one starts anything new this week, right?
But not so fast!
This quiet spell provides the perfect opportunity to get ahead with your marketing for the next 12 months. It’s amazing how creative you can become once relieved of your usual deadlines and duties.
While your competitors take Quality Street-induced naps, here are ten ideas for low-cost marketing projects you could start working on today. Even just scribbling your thoughts down on a cracker hat could prove to be very profitable …
01. Plan a series of press releases
Now’s a good time to think about PR. Have you got an event coming up? Launching a new product? You can often generate great news stories by running a survey and sharing the results.
02. Streamline your social media
Are you getting the best out of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn et al? If your social media activity is sporadic or non-existent, you could make a plan of action for the new year.
03. Create a blogging calendar
Blogging helps you engage with customers, show your expertise and boost your website’s search-engine rankings. It’s less of a chore when you have a schedule of content and ideas.
04. Start producing a brochure
You may need to hire a designer for your brochure, but the more copy and images you can produce in advance, the cheaper the process is likely to be. E-brochures save on print costs too.
05. Plan an email campaign
How often do you email your customers? Whether it’s weekly, monthly, quarterly or less frequently, this is a great time to dream up timely and well-targeted messages.
06. Devise a direct mailshot
This doesn’t mean spam or junk mail. What could you send that’s useful to your existing and potential customers? A money-off voucher, a postcard of tips, a buying guide, perhaps?
07. Start a newsletter
Newsletters are brilliant for showing the world what you’re doing. As with brochures, the more content and ideas you can supply yourself, the cheaper your design costs are likely to be.
08. Tweak your website copy
Upload testimonials, sharpen keywords, rewrite phrases that bug you. Look at your traffic analytics, if possible, and see where people are leaving your site. Improve those pages.
09. Write a script
Video content is becoming increasingly important for search engines. You might not have the time or finances to commission a video yet, but it’s a project worth considering for 2012.
10. Work on a leaflet
Are you exhibiting at a trade show soon? While you’re less busy than usual, try to boil your company’s offerings and best features into a few key points.
Now’s an ideal time to brief a copywriter or designer on your next project. They’ll have the Christmas holidays to mull over your ideas and can return fresh and mince pie-fuelled in a few weeks’ time, ready to help make 2012 your best year yet.
[Image courtesy of Ambro.]
In business, having a smart copywriter at your disposal can be like owning a secret weapon.
Follow my ten-step guide and you’ll not only save money and worry but you may even spark up a great working relationship with someone who:
* Comes to know your organisation inside out
* Gets in an instant what you’re trying to convey and …
* Is mentally whipping it into customer-friendly copy before you’ve even put the phone down.
1. Don’t worry if your initial brief is hazy
Often a client will phone me with a vague notion that they’d like “some kind of leaflet” and we end up working together on a direct mailshot or maybe a press release. A good copywriter should know which medium will best achieve your aims and won’t mess around writing something you don’t actually need.
If they’re hazy themselves, walk away and find someone else.
2. Think carefully about what you want to achieve
I’ve created easy, fun (I hope) briefing templates that I always use with clients before we start a new project. For me, nailing the brief at the outset is essential; it means I get to share my client’s vision for the work (and gently guide them in a different direction if I think that would be more effective). It also helps me get the first draft as near to perfect as it can be.
In case your copywriter isn’t clued up on briefing, it’s a good idea to approach them having asked yourself the following questions …
* What do I want the outcome of this campaign to be? (For example: more traffic to my website; phonecalls from potential customers; general brand awareness.)
* What do I want people to do / think / believe as a result of reading it?
* Who is my target audience? How old are they and what do they do for a living?
* What is the ‘personality’ of my brand or business? How do I want my copy to sound?
* Are there examples of copy and branding I like or dislike?
3. Confirm the costs
Copywriters have different ways of charging: some will go on word count, others on a day or hourly rate. Ask yours how their fees work and check whether they include amendments, VAT and final proofing. Ask about their invoicing system.
Remember that a short word count doesn’t necessarily mean an assignment is easier: often writing pithy, catchy copy is much harder than producing reams of text.
A tip: The more information you can give me at the start, the quicker I can work and the cheaper I will be. If my clients are on a tight budget, I get them to scribble out what they want to say and spend just an hour or two working it into lean, mean copy. Your copywriter may offer a similar service.
4. Set a deadline
I always ask for a deadline - it helps me manage my time and prioritise my workload. Tell your copywriter when you’ll need your copy by and see whether they can accommodate you.
5. Trust them
Once you’ve agreed the turnaround time, leave your copywriter to get on with the first draft. Contacting them every few hours or even days for a progress report may interrupt their thinking and slow things down. It could even send out the message that you’re twitchy about the project or unsure about their capabilities.
Most copywriters - especially those from journalistic backgrounds - are disciplined, conscientious people who would never dream of missing a deadline.
6. Respond quickly to requests for information
Occasionally, your copywriter may need a few more details before they can complete their work. It’s a good idea to respond to these requests promptly so you don’t let the project go stale.
7. Speak up!
If you change your mind about anything halfway through, tell your copywriter as quickly as you can. The beauty of copy is that it can easily be unpicked, rewritten, revised and revamped.
It’s reasonable to accept that wildly changing the scope of the brief may incur extra charges.
8. Give feedback promptly
When you have the first draft, read it through swiftly and jot down your initial thoughts. Then read it again, taking time to digest it. Make a note of any phrases or words you don’t really like (and ones you definitely do) and then phone or email your copywriter with feedback.
If you need more time to think it over, or you have other people to consult, let your copywriter know when you intend to get back to them. Chances are they will have put love and care into your work and will be keen to know your thoughts.
9. Ask for a final once-over
Once you’ve signed off the last draft and the copy has been pasted into your website or worked up into an advertising campaign, don’t be afraid to ask your copywriter if they’ll run their eyes over it again. Chunks of text can get missed out or replicated during the design process and carefully formatted headings can turn into Eighteenth-century-esque Curiosities.
If they take pride in their work - which most copywriters do - they’ll be delighted to see it through to publication or launch.
10. Keep in touch
It goes without saying that you should pay your copywriter on time. If you enjoyed working with them, tell them: give them a testimonial and let them know later on how your marketing campaign performs.
Ask them what else they could help you with. I now have clients for whom I’m happy to write a difficult email or finish a report they’ve been dreading - little jobs they could never outsource to a stranger.
Nurture your working relationship with your copywriter; they could be worth their weight in gold to you.
If you love movies and love travel, have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel the world making movies? I interviewed Hollywood producer Ned Dowd (who has perhaps the most enviable job ever) and he gave me some amazing pictures from his personal collection. Check out the one of Ned in a swamp with Kim Basinger and Richard Gere …
And here’s a piece I wrote for the Eastern Daily Press recently, about Yarmouth in Nova Scotia:
I’ve been blogging over at my travel site: http://mariekreft.co.uk/2011/07/18/winning-the-bradt-competition-one-year-on/.
My colleague and friend Rebecca Sloan and I have been learning the art of screenwriting alongside Hollywood producers, after attending an EU-funded course in Germany.
We were among fewer than 30 German, Danish and UK delegates in Bremen in northwest Germany for a weekend of intensive seminars hosted by North Sea Screen Partners Nordmedia and FilmFyn.
The study weekend, which took place from 3-5 June 2011 and was strictly for working media professionals, included sessions on pitching to film studios, preparing manuscripts, and adapting novels for the screen. It was headed up by award-winning film producer Lars Hermann and facilitated by bestselling author and feature film director Brendan Foley.
We were also treated to first-hand insight into the movie world from top Hollywood producer Ned Dowd. His film credits include The Last of the Mohicans, Grosse Pointe Blank, Apocalypto, The Count of Monte Cristo, King Arthur, Shanghai Noon and The Three Musketeers.
Rebecca is a Birmingham-based videographer who has just incorporated her first company, Glacier Films, for the hospitality, leisure and tourism industries. She said the course has given her tools to integrate real-life subject matter with screenplays to create cinematic films.
“A film’s success is determined by its ability to connect with viewers and invoke an emotional response. Applying the techniques utilised in big-screen productions will enable us to create videos that make a lasting impact.”
For me, the weekend opened up an exciting new world of potential work. Although it covered the tough realities of the business, it also showed how good ideas conveyed through well-written scripts have a fighting chance at success. I finished the course with a sense that anything is possible.
Course tutor Brendan Foley, who has worked with actors as diverse as Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi and Vinnie Jones said: “It is great to see new film talent such as Marie and Rebecca emerging in the Midlands. I hope it will not be too long before we see some of their work on the big screen.”
As well as continuing with our individual projects, Rebecca and I are writing our first short film, to be shot this summer in Birmingham. Watch this space!
>>Our coverage in the Birmingham Post [opens in a new window].
A personal one, this. My brave/mad/masochistic husband Steve is running the London Marathon this Sunday, for Edward’s Trust.
The moment Steve’s confirmation letter from the race organisers plopped onto our doormat, he was determined to run for a smaller charity; one which doesn’t have the resources to buy up places in big events such as the London Marathon.
Having recently met Peter Dent, the father of a boy named Edward who died aged just seven years, Steve quickly decided on Edward’s Trust. Peter and his wife Hilary founded the Birmingham-based charity in 1989 to help other families deal with the pain of losing a child.
Today they support bereaved families and those affected by serious illness, as well as providing training services for teachers, parents and other adults who are working with bereaved children. You can read more about the charity at www.edwardstrust.org.uk.
The kite logo for Edward’s Trust was taken from one of Edward’s pictures, which he drew on pink copy paper. The charity has been kind enough to send Steve a white vest to run in on Sunday, as well as a T-shirt in ‘Edward’s Trust pink’ which Steve has worn for training every week.
It’s no small undertaking, a marathon, and the past few weeks have seen Steve nursing creaky knees, sore feet, grazed nipples (yep!) and various other chafed bits. He’s also diligently climbed into ice-cold baths after three-hour training sessions and abstained from curries and beers. No easy task, trust me …
Of course all these endeavours will be worthwhile when Steve crosses the finishing line on Sunday, having raised hundreds of pounds to help Peter, Hilary and their team keep up their excellent work in Edward’s memory.
Thanks to the generosity of our families and friends, Steve’s not far off the £1000 mark. Can you throw in a fiver and help him get there?
You can donate quickly and easily online at https://www.justgiving.com/stevelondonmarathon2011/. If you pay UK tax, you can also apply Gift Aid and boost your donation, at no extra cost to you.
Thank you for your kindness. I will keep you posted on how Steve does!
Sunday was a day we’ll never forget. Less suited to running than to cheering from the sidelines with an icecream, I stood with Steve’s family and mine, marvelling at the supportive, festival atmosphere that pervaded the city. Meanwhile, Steve battled heat, blisters and bruised toes to complete the course in 4h 29m 27s, raising more than £1200 for Edward’s Trust. Well done, that man.