The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

Posts Tagged ‘copywriting’

How one writing error can instantly damage your business’s reputation

Posted by rachelwriter on January 27, 2010

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Greg-ography

Embarrassing, but true: a few days ago, I spotted at least one glaring grammatical error on each of the Web sites of two well-known business schools here in Georgia.

The first was a subject-verb disagreement: “Each are….” instead of “Each is….”

The second was an embarrassing typo-turned-malapropism: “Perquisite” instead of “Prerequisite.”

And, I’m not talking about a hastily-scribed blog post, either.  I’m talking about the universities’ primary marketing copy.  The meat of the schools’ Web content.  The stuff that’s supposed to make prospective students salivate at the mere thought of enrolling.

Now, I don’t know about other people, but I wasn’t salivating much after stumbling upon these errors.  Blushing in embarrassment, perhaps.  Wide-eyed and flabbergasted, maybe.  But definitely not salivating.

Because, to me, these errors not only represented a flagrant carelessness concerning the schools’ brands and academic reputations, but they also suggested a rather low-quality education and academic environments that celebrate mediocrity over excellence.

Not true?  Perhaps.  But by now, that’s irrelevant.  Sloppy copy on the schools’ most important marketing tool—their Web sites—overshadowed everything else I read and, unfortunately, created a perception that these schools are not quality academic institutions.

Anyway, the lesson, folks, is this: perception is everything.  If your marketing copy isn’t crystal clear and error-free, you’re sending a message to your prospects that you’re careless, unprofessional, and inexperienced.  Oh, yeah—and totally not worth the money.

Is that really the reputation you want to create for yourself and your business?  Just some food for thought.

–Rachel

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How the Internet and social media have drastically affected marketing and PR

Posted by rachelwriter on January 11, 2010

Image Courtesy: Flickr/Matt Hamm

I must tell you that I’m enraptured by The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott.  

As a communications professional in a rapidly-changing and increasingly technological industry, I’m always looking for new insights, tips, trends, and techniques to stay informed and competitive.  And this book (which I’m about halfway through) is already proving to be a great resource—particularly since copywriting goes-in-hand with marketing and PR

Scott examines how and why traditional methods of marketing and public relations (i.e., sending jargon-filled press releases solely to journalists to score media impressions in magazines and TV programs, or paying big bucks for one-way, mass-market advertisements) are practically obsolete in today’s market.  The reason, of course, is the pervasive influence of the Internet and social media—blogs, microblogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc.—on the creation and dissemination of information. 

You see, no longer do target audiences rely exclusively on news hubs like CNN or The New York Times to get the latest buzz.  Rather, they find it—and share it—virally via social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  They’ll also get it from the blogosphere.  Or by plugging key words and phrases into an online search engine and sifting through the hits.  Or all of the above.  (Did you know, by the way, that blog posts and Twitter comments are indexed by search engines?  Delicious food for thought!) 

And the great irony is this: information often makes its way onto the social media scene long before it gets exposure on the “big time” news media outlets.  In fact, the reporter who’s covering a story on the nightly news or in the morning paper often gets tipped off from social media! 

Take my friend Stephanie Frost, for example.  She recently posted a homemade video to her blog about the importance of good customer service, and within a few days, it was picked up by The Huffington Post and ABC’s World News Tonight!  Did Stephanie send out press releases to the reporters and producers to get their attention and beg for coverage?  Nope.  Did she pay a creative agency to design some kind of flashy banner ad to get people to click on her blog?  Nuh-uh.  Did she cold-call her media contact list to cajole them into giving her a mention?  No way.  All she did was create meaningful, useful, relevant content and post it to her blog, and the rest is history.  Best part is, she scored the publicity without having spent a dime on PR or marketing!  That’s right; rather than seeking out the news media, the news media sought her. 

As a former journalist, I can attest to this phenomenon, too.  Rarely did I pick up a press release from the mountain of releases I’d receive on a daily basis and cover the “story” it pitched.  Rather, I’d research my own ideas for stories, gather my own information with the help of the Internet, and—based on the value of the content I’d find online— I’d handpick the thought leaders and industry experts to whom I’d grant coverage.  If all I found was a library of buzzwords and hard sales pitches, I wouldn’t give that company or organization the time of day.  If, however, I found informative, meaningful, value-based content that sought to educate me rather than sell me, chances were good that I’d reach out to that company or organization.

Anyway, back to that marvelous new book I’m reading….

I’ve been poring over it with a highlighter and pen in hand (I’m the kind of person who likes to make notes in the margins of my books—go ahead, call me a nerd), and, for the sake of furthering this discussion, I’d like to share a few excerpts that I find particularly important.  (Mr. Scott, if you happen to stumble upon this blog, I hope that’s okay with you. ;)) 

Here are those excerpts:

1. “New marketing on the Web…is centered on interaction, information, education, and choice….” (p. 7)

2. “Public relations work has changed.  PR is no longer just an esoteric discipline where great efforts are spent by companies to communicate exclusively to a handful of reporters who then tell the company’s story, generating a clip for the PR people to show to their bosses.  Now, great PR includes programs to reach buyers directly.  The Web allows access to information about your products, and smart companies understand and use this phenomenal resource to great advantage.”  (p. 11)

3. “Marketing on the Web is not about generic banner ads designed to trick people with neon color or wacky movement.  It is about understanding the keywords and phrases that our buyers are using and then deploying micro-campaigns to drive buyers to pages replete with the content that they seek.”  (p. 20) 

4. “Great content brands an organization as a trusted resource and calls people to action—to buy, subscribe, apply, or donate.  And great content means that interested people return again and again.  As a result, the organization succeeds, achieving goals such as adding revenue, building traffic, gaining donations, or generating sales leads.” (p. 21) 

 5. “Instead of writing press releases only when we have ‘big news’—releases that reach only a handful of journalists—we should be writing releases that highlight our expert ideas and stories, and we should be distributing them so that our buyers can find them on the news search engines and vertical content sites.” (P. 24) 

6. “PR is not about your boss seeing your company on TV.  It’s about your buyers seeing your company on the Web.” (p. 25) 

7. “…You will be much more successful if you forget about trying to get the huge article.  Big yields come from cultivating many small relationships rather than a focus on trying to get that one mega-success.”  (p. 30)

8. “What works is a focus on your buyers and their problems.  What fails is an egocentric display of your products and services.” (p. 35)

9. “Instead of just directly selling something, a great site, blog, or podcast series tells the world that you are smart, that you understand the market very well, and that you might be a person or organization that would be valuable to do business with.  Web content directly contributes to an organization’s online reputation by showing thought leadership in the marketplace.”  (p. 38-39)

10. “The Internet is like a massive focus group with uninhibited customers offering up their thoughts for free! … Just having a presence on the blogs, forums, and chat rooms that your customers frequent shows that you care about the people who spend money with your organization.”  (p. 81)

So… what do YOU think about these “new rules” of PR and marketing?  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Why or why not?  Obviously, I 100% agree with them.  But I would still love to hear from you!  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

–Rachel

Posted in marketing, Public Relations, The Basics | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How media/public relations, marketing, and copywriting share a common thread

Posted by rachelwriter on January 5, 2010

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/chefranden

I’ve been fortunate enough over the last few weeks to have met and spent some time with a few very talented and experienced professionals in the Media/Communications/Public Relations and Sales/Marketing/Advertising industries. We’ve had some wonderfully insightful and thought-provoking conversations.

Our discussions got me to thinking:

While copywriting may seem, on the surface, to be a horse of a different color, it actually plays an integral role in both Media/Public Relations and Marketing. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that an effective PR and/or Marketing pro needs to have, at minimum, a solid understanding of the mechanics of good copywriting.

Why? Because PR and Marketing are rooted in creating and implementing strategic messages that sway the opinions of a target audience and elicit a desired action. And that’s precisely what copywriting is all about.

What’s more, many PR and Marketing tactics are carried out through written communication. Press releases. Media pitches. Brochures. Web site content. E-mail blasts. Scripts.

You get the idea.

So, while each profession demands unique skill sets (media savvy in PR, for example), each also shares a common thread: in order to be successful, professionals in Public Relations, Marketing, and Copywriting must be able to articulate a message clearly and persuasively and, consequently, achieve measurable results.

No matter one’s level of media or business savvy, a PR and Marketing professional without exceptional communication skills—that is, without the ability to write cogent, compelling copy— is pretty much doomed.

—Rachel

Posted in marketing, Public Relations, The Basics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why bad grammar is *sometimes* okay

Posted by rachelwriter on December 23, 2009

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ed.ward

I was at a popular department store last night picking up a few odds and ends when a holiday advertisement caught my eye.  It read: “More Trendy.  Less Spendy.”

My first reaction, as a grammarian, was to cringe. 

More trendy?  An abomination!  It should say trendier!  And spendy?  That’s not even a word! 

It took a while for my boiling blood to cool, but when it did, I was able to see things in a new light.  I reminded myself that copywriting isn’t simply about knowing and applying all the rules of grammar.  It’s also about knowing how and when to break those rules.  Not arbitrarily, but strategically. 

Don’t think for a second that the copywriter behind that department store’s advertisement really confused the comparative form of “trendy” for “more trendy.”  Or that s/he really thought “spendy” is a synonym for “expensive.”

No, the copywriter knew precisely what s/he was doing when writing that slogan.  After all, the store’s brand is very spunky and down-to-earth; keeping the advertisement pithy and punchy and not better-than-thou was right in line with the company’s image.  It was a catchy, memorable blurb that told consumers exactly what they wanted to hear: that they were getting caviar fashion on a tuna fish budget.  And in no more than four “words.”

So, while my inner wordsmith nearly suffered a heart attack last night, the creative copywriter in me—the one who understands that rules are sometimes meant to be broken—was empathetic.  After all, in advertising, you do what you gotta do!

My only hope is that children learning to read and write don’t go around saying their clothes are “more trendy” and “less spendy” than those of their peers.  Oh, the horror!  🙂

Happy Holidays! 

–Rachel

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What copywriting is… and isn’t.

Posted by rachelwriter on June 25, 2009

Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending the morning with two of Atlanta’s brightest and coolest creative marketing professionals—Stephanie Frost and Erik Wolf of Zero-G Creative—as a guest on their weekly radio show. The topic of discussion? You guessed it: content and copywriting.

Along with fellow Atlanta-based copywriter Emily Capps, one of the things we talked about was the general public’s view on professional writing.  Unfortunately, there’s a widespread misconception that writing is nothing more than a mechanical skill—something that can be learned and taught by rote, much like typing or riding a bike.

But, the truth is… writing is so not something that the average Joe Schmoe on the street can do. (Well, okay, I take that back: Joe Schmoe can probably hold a pen and scribble a few words and letters on paper. He may even be able to type legibly. But he certainly can’t string together meaningful, impactful words to deliver clear, concise, actionable copy. Does Joe Schmoe even know what that means? I doubt it.)

Yes, writing is so much more than pulling random words out of the air and ploppin’ ‘em down on paper. It’s a carefully honed craft, people! One that requires forethought and strategy. Creativity and objectivity. Awareness of audience and brand. A mastery of grammar and punctuation. And, yes, good old-fashioned wordsmithery.

So, to help clear things up and avoid any further confusion, I’ve decided to continue the conversation by shedding some light on what professional copywriting is—and what it isn’t.  Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive breakdown. I’d be here ‘til next week just trying to fill in the blanks. That’s why I encourage you to add your is-s and isn’t-s, too.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Copywriting isn’t…

• Like writing an AP English essay, a senior thesis, or a PhD dissertation—even though all three are difficult in their own right, and even though you earned an A++ on each.

• As arbitrary as updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed, and not really caring who reads it or what they take away from it.

• Like that time you wrote a song for your 10th grade crush, inspired by The Cure.

• As fluffy as the resume and cover letter you just posted on Monster.com.

• As wordy as that contract you signed when you financed your new car.

• As easy and as routine as texting your BFF…while driving.

• As simple as replacing every word in a sentence or phrase with another, more “smart-sounding” word from the thesaurus (whose definition, by the way, you probably never even knew before).

• Haphazardly adding extra, polysyllabic (<–you like that one, don’tcha?) words because you think it makes the copy look and sound more “professional.”

• As emotionally unbridled as that ranting, raving e-mail you sent to your supposed best-friend in a moment of blood-boiling ire.

• As intimate as that deeply profound sonnet you composed in your 7th grade poetry class.

• Writing when you feel “inspired” and only when you want to.

• Like riding a bike.

Copywriting is…

• Understanding precisely who your audience is. Every time. Copy for the nation’s most lucrative furriers is going to be very, very different from copy for the nation’s most ardent PETA supporters.

• Having the ability to write in a myriad of voices and in various tones. Will your copy by youthful, lighthearted, and witty? Or sobering and serious?

• Knowing what questions to ask—about your client, your client’s business, your client’s product, your client’s market, and your client’s competition—and using that knowledge to help shape the style, tone, and type of copy you write.

• Realizing that as few as two or three carefully chosen, impactful words—heck, even one!—can be enough to effectively get an actionable message across. (That’s right, people: more doesn’t always mean merrier.)

• Knowing when and how to turn on your inner editor and start putting unnecessary words on the chopping block.

• Having the ability to distance yourself from your business, product, or service and see things through the objective (sometimes skeptical) eye of the consumer.

• Knowing the difference between your product’s features and its benefits.

• Understanding why and when it’s appropriate to break the rules of grammar and punctuation. (Sorry, grammar haters: you still need to know how to use a comma and a semi-colon correctly.)

So… What else is copywriting?  What else isn’t it?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Thanks for reading and joining the discussion!

–Rachel

Posted in The Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »