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Even worse than using clichés …

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

… 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?

jack-in-the-box

[Image courtesy of AkaraKingdoms.]

Happy 2012 (and be nice to your readers)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Happy new year from Good As Gold! My Facebook newsfeed this morning is filled with complaints about sleeping badly, the miserable weather or returning to work (or all three). I hope you’re feeling more positive than the majority of my friends … although I suspect their updates may represent the mood of the nation at large.

One of my 2012 business resolutions is to blog more, so I thought I’d kick off with something that I tucked away this time last year.

Imagine my delight when, on 5 January, I received an unsolicited email newsletter from a leadership management company, with this opening:

Ahhhh the start of another year and all those New Year resolutions have probably already been broken. Back in the same old groove after just 5 days are we? Fancy a change? Fancy something new? Want to try something different? It will take more than a promise to yourself at midnight on New Years Eve after a couple of glasses of shampoo!!

Not only is this badly written, but - worse - it’s patronising, makes assumptions about the reader, and … well, it’s a teeny bit rude. I’d been to the gym that day! I’d eaten my five portions of fruit and veg! I even resisted that enormous slab of Christmas cake at lunchtime.

OK, I’m lying about the cake - but I hope you get my point. Be friendly. Be self-deprecating. Even be personal. Never insult your reader.

Here’s to an Olympic year ahead.

New Year 2012

Your secret weapon: ten ways to get the best results from your copywriter

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

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.

Here goes:

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.

marie@goodasgoldws.co.uk

An extra cog in your machine: find a good copywriter and keep them!

An efficient cog in your machine: find a good copywriter and keep them!

Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to ASA compliance

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

You’ve probably heard about the new powers wielded by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) regarding the claims companies can and cannot make on their websites. Here’s Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to compliance …  

Magic potions

The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. It applies clearly defined Advertising Codes to ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Before Tuesday 1 March 2011, when it came to online content, the ASA was only able to police paid-for ads (such as banner adverts, pop-up boxes and paid search results). That meant companies could stick any old baloney up on their websites and not face any kind of official comeback. Since 2008, the ASA received more than 4,500 complaints about websites, but did not have the power to follow them up.

Now that’s changing. From Tuesday 1 March 2011, ASA’s remit has been extended to all online content. This means companies’ own websites, as well as other public spaces they control (such as their Twitter and Facebook accounts), are subject to ASA regulation.

You can download the latest UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing from http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code.aspx. If you’re put off by the 124 pages, here’s Good As Gold’s guide to some of the information it contains.

Although the ASA does issue sanctions to companies that fail to comply with rulings, its main role is not to punish. It is to help you ensure your marketing is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

In the light of ASA’s extended remit, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your website …

* Have I got documentary evidence to support my testimonials and any claims that I’ve presented as objective?
* Do any of my prices mislead, either by omission, undue emphasis or distortion? (Note that VAT-exclusive prices may be given only if all or most of your consumers pay no VAT or can recover VAT).
* Are my sales promotions fair and honourable, and have I included all the significant terms & conditions?
* Am I confident that something I’ve described as ‘free’ is indeed free?
* Have I protected the privacy of my visitors, customers, and people featured on my website?
* Is everything I’ve aimed at under-16s safe, suitable and ethical?

This is not exhaustive and if you’re worried about anything on your website, please just ask. As a professional copywriter, I take pride in staying updated on  adjudications and additions to the Codes, so I can advise you if I think you’re veering into unsubstantiated claim territory.

On several occasions I’ve liaised with the ASA’s Copy Team on my clients’ behalf to check that the medical or environmental benefits of their products were not being wrongly exaggerated. Often we were able to reword the copy so that the message was just as powerful, but no longer misleading or overblown.

Indeed, I believe that measured, ASA-compliant copy is a better selling tool than hyperbolic spiel, which most consumers will find patronising or untrustworthy.

You can also get a website audit from the Copy Advice team, which costs £800 + VAT and takes about ten working days to complete. Find out more at http://www.copyadvice.org.uk/Ad-Advice/Website-audit.aspx.

As long as you are committed to selling honestly, backing up your claims and being truthful, there is little to worry about. ASA is not a Big Bad Monster out to taint your name and stomp on your creativity. It is there to protect consumers and uphold high standards of advertising. To marketers, ASA’s regulation is a good thing: it means consumers can enjoy the work we produce and trust what they see, hear and read.

Call me on 0121 236 7066 or email marie@goodasgoldws.co.uk.

Survey: customer testimonials in marketing literature

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Do you use customer testimonials in your marketing literature?

Do you trust other companies’ use of testimonials and do they influence your buying decision?

Note saying 'Splendid work! Thank you'

 

 

 

I’m running a little survey. The results will - I hope - help me offer you tips on making customer endorsements work harder for your business. I’ll also publish advice soon on ensuring your use of testimonials complies with the new Code of Advertising Practice.

The survey only takes about three minutes: go on, do it now!

Thank you for your help.

Marie

New Advertising Codes: don’t slip up!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is launching new UK Advertising Codes, which will take effect from 1 September 2010.

You can download the new CAP as a PDF here. It is clear and easy to read, and contains important information on marketing, including:

  • When ‘puffery’ (obvious exaggeration) is acceptable

carlsberg

  • Where you stand on price information, including when you can or can’t describe a product as ‘free’
  • 'oh yes it's free'

  • Guidelines on making comparisons between your company or product (or price!) and a competitor’s. A Blackpool taxi company got into trouble recently for distributing leaflets that unfairly claimed its competitor was slow and did not value price, quality or service!

snail

  • The need to back up your testimonials or endorsements. Hint: “you must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it”
  • fabricated testimonial

  • Guidance on minimising the risk of your communications causing harm or serious widespread offence
  • internet shock

  • Making sure that advertising aimed at under-16s is safe, suitable and ethical. This section of the Code has undergone perhaps the greatest number of changes, aiming for enhanced protection for children

Boy with football

  • Protecting people’s privacy (including, interestingly, members of the Royal Family)

email privacy

  • The rules on special offers, competitions and promotions
  • Raffle tickets

  • Guidelines on direct marketing, to complement the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 
  • Stop spam sign

  • The need for compliance with data protection legislation.(Are you keeping your contacts’ details safe and giving them the chance to opt out of your communications?)
  • confidential information

  • When you can and can’t make claims about a product being green or environmentally friendly

Earth in hand

  • Details about promoting medicines, medical devices, treatments, health-related products and beauty products. A water purifier ad was banned this month for making unsubstantiated claims that the product was “alkalizing, aided respiration and produced youthful looking skin”

Magic potions

  • Guidelines and rules on marketing communications for weight control and slimming aids; financial products (please note that these can go down as well as up); food; gambling products and lotteries; alcoholic drinks; and motoring-related products.
  • Cherry red summer apple with measuring tape

You may also be interested in reading the Broadcast Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which governs TV and radio advertising. 

If ever you’re unsure as to whether your marketing communications might fall foul of the Code, give CAP’s Copy Advice team a ring on 020 7492 2100. I’ve spoken to them twice recently on behalf of clients: once to check that a cleaning firm was OK to say its environmentally friendly products were ‘healthier’ than others (we had to tread carefully with this) and once to find out where we stood on making links between hypnotherapy and smoking cessation (again, we didn’t want to mislead with false or overstated claims).

Both times I found the Copy Advice team to be helpful and knowledgeable.

I’ll also be attending training on the new Code in the near future, to make sure I can always give you the best and most up-to-date advice. So if you need sparkling, lively, Code-compliant copy, call Good As Gold on 0121 236 7066.

CopyAdvice gives you wings

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Just thought I’d signpost you to the Committee of Advertising Practice’s useful new CopyAdvice website at www.copyadvice.org.uk - a valuable resource for checking whether your ads comply with UK Advertising Codes.

It’s also an interesting read … there you can find out whether it’s OK to suggest that gambling increases one’s sexual attractiveness (it isn’t and it doesn’t!) and how to work with top-parity claims such as “you can’t buy cheaper” or “no other nappy keeps baby drier”.

One to bookmark?

Advertising claims masterclass: supermarket pricing

Monday, May 18th, 2009

This seminar on Wednesday looks good for anyone who works in brand management, creative development or corporate communications for food companies.

It’s run by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). It will cover:

* Understanding ad regulation, and the roles of advertisers, agencies and media
* Someone’s complained about your ad – what now?  A step-by-step guide to the ASA process
* An overview of the relevant rules in the CAP TV, Radio and Non-Broadcast Codes
* Specific issues surrounding supermarket advertising
* Comparative claims - substantiation, verifiability, references to competitors
* Case studies
* Resources available to make sure your ads comply with the rules.

When? Wednesday 20 May, 8:30am - 11am
Where? London (I guess they’ll be more specific once you book your place!)
How much does it cost? £150 per delegate, with discounts for companies booking four or more places
How do I sign up? Phone 020 7492 2126 or email events@cap.org.uk.

I’m planning to feature useful events for copywriters regularly here, so if you’ve got something lined up, feel free to contact us.

Readability: the Simple Measure of Gobbledegook

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Whatever organisation you work for, it’s important that your written communication is easily understood by your audience. Using complex sentences or difficult words can put readers off.

Recognising this, NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) has worked with Professor Colin Harrison at the University of Nottingham to develop a tool which analyses the ‘readability’ level of text. They have called it SMOG: the Simple Measure of Gobbledegook.

How complex is your writing? Try pasting a sample of your own text into the SMOG calculator:

http://www.niace.org.uk/misc/SMOG-calculator/smogcalc.php#userguide

When interpreting your results, it’s worth looking at the scores for a typical piece of editorial in the following newspapers:

* The Sun - less than 14

* The Daily Express - less than 16

* The Telegraph and The Guardian - more than 17.

This free NIACE guide has more suggestions for interpreting your scores and boosting readability. You can download it here:

http://shop.niace.org.uk/readability.html.

[Footnote: Just checked this blog entry and it scored 16.7. Which is fine because I know you're a high-brow bunch!]

Webtarting (or 17 ways to make your copy internet-friendly)

Friday, March 27th, 2009

One job that keeps me very busy each month is writing, editing and managing the editorial content of a council-owned website. My client sends snippets of news or details about forthcoming events and asks me - in his words, not mine - to ‘webtart’ the wording before uploading the stories onto the site.

Tease your web copy into shape ...

Tease your web copy into shape ...

‘Webtarting’ is a useful way to think about the process, because there is so much you can do to make your text leaner, cleaner and easier to read online. Here is my 17-point guide to editing copy for internet consumption. It’s personal to me (you may have steps you would add or ignore), but I hope it gives you some ideas.

01. Get rid of any spelling, grammatical and factual mistakes. Check that dates, times and external website links are accurate. Clarify ambiguous sentences (such as this allegedly real headline: “Drunk gets nine months in violin case”).

02. Kick out jargon and complicated phrases. People often wrap simple things up in fancy word-packaging, so try to be as clear as possible. Why say ‘procure’ and ’source’ when ‘buy’ will do? ‘Acquire’ instead of ‘get’? Take a look at our previous entry on 200 banned council words and their alternatives.

03. If you do need jargon, explain it afterwards in simple terms. The first occurrence of an acronym should be spelled out (”BERR - the UK government department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - says … “) unless it’s something head-smackingly obvious like the BBC or … uhhhh … the UK.

04. Turn passive sentences into active ones by making sure, wherever possible, that the subject of the sentence performs the action in the sentence. “All socks are tested by us” is not as strong as “We test all socks”.

05. Can you edit further? Go on … be brave and lose a few more words. We all over-write when we draft text (bet I’ve done it here). Look out for tautological phrases such as “a wide range of diverse products” or “a large company with more than 1,000 employees” - they’re easy victims for you and your Big Bad ‘Delete’ button.

06. There’s bound to be something a bit silly in there … have you spotted anything? I recently came across a feature that said “More than 33 people came along”. Ummmm - so did they mean 34 people? Beware: the web is full of pedants who will gleefully point out that you’ve written ‘pin number’ when pin stands for ‘Personal Identification Number’ anyway (chuckle, chuckle). Bless them.

07. Depending on your source, there may be superlatives and high-flown adjectives you could take out too. Press releases are often hotbeds for flowery language. Instead of weakening the points made in your article, deleting ‘really’ and ‘very’ and ‘fantastic’ could make it sound more neutral and trustworthy. 

08. Hone in on dense-looking paragraphs and either shorten them again, or put line breaks in logical places. People like to see lots of white space when they’re reading online. They tend to ’scan’ for information rather than reading every word, so ideally each paragraph should contain only one idea.

09. Subheadings are useful for giving readers (and search engines) an overall flavour of the content.

10. If your article contains lists or a series of complex ideas, try breaking them down into bullet points.

11. Don’t forget about your readers who can’t see the screen. Lots of people browse the internet using text-to-speech software, so be kind to them and avoid repetition. The phrase ‘click here’ is not useful to visually impaired users, so think of something more helpful for your hyperlinks, such as “Read more about our maintenance services”.

12. Search engines such as Yahoo! and Google like hyperlinks for working out what a page is about, so use your internal links to slip in some relevant keywords: “Learn why 96 per cent of clowns prefer our water-squirting flowers“.

13. Some words and phrases have permissible variants in use (organization or organisation, for example, or e-mail or email), so it’s a good idea to keep a style guide as you go, reminding you which version you chose to use. Being consistent helps to build trust from your readers. 

14. Research has shown that symbols and Latin abbreviations are confusing to people when they’re reading online. So use ‘per cent’ instead of the % symbol; ‘and so on’ instead of ‘etc’; ‘for example’ instead of eg. And so on …

15. When it comes to digits, most newspapers spell out the numbers one to ten but show 11 and upwards in numerals. If a number comes at the start of a sentence, though, spell it out: “Thirty nine dogs said they actually preferred cat food … ”

16. Read your text aloud. All sounding and looking good? You may just be ready to upload it onto the web …

17. Oh! Before you do, check that your text is ‘clean’. If you’ve typed it up using software like Microsoft Word, it may contain ’smart tags’ (those purple dotted lines that appear under place names, for example) and other bits which can get transferred over into your web code and cause formatting problems. It’s better to write in Notepad, really. But if you do prefer Word, this clean-up tool will strip out any Word tags for you: http://textism.com/wordcleaner/.

Happy writing and happy weekend!

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