We’re focusing on Twitter in Our Town this week, after a leading member of the local Twitterati addressed a business breakfast aimed to get the commercial sector more up to speed on social media.
The fact is that while Twitter has its ‘fun’ side, it is also a very powerful tool enabling businesses to engage with their markets. It’s a brilliant way to disseminate information – and also to gather it.
Delegates at our breakfast ranged from fairly well experienced users to self-confessed novices. All of us gained something from the useful advice on offer. And I think we are all more critical of our own Twittering – and other people’s.
From the range of people that I follow – locally, nationally and globally – and others that I might come across via the #hashtag route, I would say the biggest failing of corporate Tweeting is a lack of creativity. Sure, there are some brilliant users publishing real masterpiece Tweets, but many other Tweets lack any sort of wow factor. They don’t command the reader’s attention – or encourage a further step.
I’m sorry that Twitter upped its character count from 140 to 280, because it increases the scope for boring Tweets to become twice as boring, and potentially much less beneficial to the Tweeting business. However, I’m glad to see that, like me, many of the users I follow are sticking to 140 characters – presumably with the view that a short, crafted message is more likely to the read and acted upon.
In short, more thought needs to go into Tweets.
Now, of course, Twitter is a fast medium and nobody has time to weigh up every element of a 140-character construction. But a bit of campaign planning – policy-making, if you prefer – could pave the way for greater Twitter effectiveness.
So here are some things you might care to consider:
Each of the first four questions should lead you to a relevant #hashtag, for example: #mums #Liverpool #twins #doublebuggies. Work these or something similar into the body of your Tweet and you have already got the core of your message across to your followers, with plenty of space to spare. What's more, the message will also reach anyone who searches on the hashtags, so you could get some good enquiries from much further afield.
Weave the hashtags into your text but remember, your Tweet must scream ‘read me’ or people won’t.
The hashtags I’ve used are illustrative: whatever market you are in, get to know the hashtags that matter to the people you want to attract, then use the hashtags frequently.
To go with this example, you might also want to add #babyshop – unless your Twitter handle is @bouncingbabyshop: never waste space in your Tweet by repeating something that appears automatically at the top of it.
Returning to the fifth question, if you’ve managed to get people to read your Tweet, there’s no harm in inviting them to go a step further – to visit your website, to buy online, to book for your event etc. Always try to include a link that prolongs the reader’s engagement with you. Use a url shortening service so your Tweet is not swamped by an overlong web address.
Finally, be sure to have a strong image to accompany your Tweet. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words … and that’s a load more than 140-or-so characters!
These days there’s so much expert advice about public relations, marketing, website performance and so on that another lengthy article on these topics won’t do you – or me – any good.
Instead, I shall concentrate briefly on what I believe are the three key considerations for communication success.
1 What you say
Nearly a century ago Elmer Wheeler came up with that memorable marketing message: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” He was underlining the importance of the customer experience – the benefits of the product, rather than its features.
We’re all understandably and justifiably proud of the all the good things we’ve crammed into our product or service offering, and it’s very easy to list them all. But that’s seldom enough to convince customers.
Grab customers’ upfront attention by focusing on the benefits of using your product or service. Once you have their attention, the features will serve as positive reinforcement, demonstrating how you will deliver the promised benefits.
2 How you say it
Grammar and spelling aside, language gives us the freedom to pick from a multitude of styles. I favour a newsy approach to copywriting, because most readers are already familiar with it. Additionally, it is a neat way to deliver benefits and features in descending order of importance.
This traditional ‘press release’ approach provides scalable material for a wide range of outputs including traditional print media, social media and that all-important medium over which you have full control: your website
3 Going online
I’ve recently reworked my website to emphasis the benefits that I can bring to my clients. The features are still there, but they are off-menu and are a click through from the focus pages.
At the same time, I have rewritten my site title and description to make it more relevant to potential clients in my geographical area. My Google search performance has shown a marked improvement.
So now I am generating more material to keep my site fresh – and using social media to attract people to it. And if that’s how you’ve reached this paragraph, perhaps you’d like to chat about how we could develop a similar programme for your business. Please use my contact form to get in touch.
Every organisation that depends on support from customers, investors, ratepayers, voters, members or donors needs public relations. That means just about everything from corner shop to mega-corporation, from village school to government department.
Public relations is an important part of an organisation’s marketing activities – designed to garner public support – complementing other key elements such as advertising and promotions. But while the latter two seek to deliver a repetitive ‘buy’ message, PR strives to build long-term confidence and understanding – enabling customers to make informed purchasing decisions.
PR starts at the first moment of customer contact – and if it is successful it spawns long-lasting customer loyalty.
There are two levels to PR. One is the simple practical act of treating customers well when they walk into the shop. The other is the more complex creation and management of communication elements targeting customers – and others – both in-store and elsewhere.
With the internet, email and social media coming into play over the past 20 or so years, the range of print and electronic PR tools available today is vast.
For many organisations focused on growing a business based on trusted products and service, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep on top of the best PR opportunities. And it’s certainly difficult to generate and manage the types of content necessary to do the job.
As a PR consultant, my role is to help organisations explore the communication possibilities and implement tactics to suit the needs of the moment.
Much of this role involves compilation of written material – and its publication in a range of media including websites, newsletters, social media, brochures and so on. Some of these variations are based on news releases or feature articles, produced in a credibility-boosting style typical of mainstream news media.
By using a PR consultant, organisations get the benefit of an experienced, objective approach to communication issues – enhancing the quality of the outgoing messages and developing more favourable perceptions among target readers. And the organisation can focus on its business while the consultant takes care of the communication.
Now of course there is never a perfect answer for every communication need – but what is more important is that an organisation is actively responding creatively to challenges and opportunities.
With our increasing dependence on social media and 24-hour instant news, what does the future hold for the humble press release?
I foresee an accelerating shift away from the traditional purpose of briefing editors and reporters – but more exciting opportunities for PR writers and their clients who are prepared to shape the words for new media.
Having been on both sides of the fence, I know that a good press release is one that presents itself in a recognisable ‘newspaper’ style. This requires a strong headline, and content that is both well-written and substantial in terms of news value. This, in turn, makes it more attractive to editors, increasing its chances of forming the basis of a published item – or sometimes being reproduced with minimal editing.
But with today’s editors swamped by electronic newsfeeds from all angles, a press release needs to be particularly special to be noticed by national and even local journalists. The exception is the trade journal sector where many titles accept PR input on a paid – advertorial – basis.
But there are other reasons for producing ‘good’ press releases. First, they present news in an objective, informative and reader-friendly way that lends credibility, helping to convey the desired messages properly. Second, they can be used to populate client-controlled media channels such as websites, emailers, newsletters and social media streams.
In my view, the press release is fundamental to PR, setting out news and comment in a clear and orderly manner. It is, if you like, the background briefing that powers the whole range of business communication – from Tweet to annual financial report.
Generating a good basic press release is another matter.
Some business people might have the time and the skill to produce good writing, but for most ‘minding the shop’ is more important.
However, they still need to communicate – well – and this is where I (and others like me) can provide creative output that ticks all the boxes in terms of content, objectivity and the possibility of editing approved material into various forms to suit alternative publication routes.
The secret is to produce a good read – long enough to tell the story, but never padded to make it seem more impressive. Padding never makes a good impression. If it’s only worth 100 words, don’t write more.
I treat every ‘press release’ assignment in the same basic style – but with the unlimited possibilities of language and storyline and the potential for editing into different formats, they are as much a pleasure to write as they are, I hope, to read.
Long live the press release!
(And yes, for those who notice such things, the picture is not of an English keyboard).
Do you feel you have to use social media – but it does not seem to be helping your business?
Judging from some of the Twitter accounts that I follow for news about the areas of business and activity that I’m interested in, I’d say there’s still a large number of users pumping Tweets into the ether – and getting little, if any return.
I do not pretend to be a Twitter expert. Plenty of those exist, and many will give you professional advice – even take over your social media activity for you. At a price, of course.
As a non-expert, however, I can draw on the experience of developing my own Twitter presence – nothing amazing or outstanding, but just enough to make me feel comfortable with how things are going.
So if, like me, you are a small to medium business with Tweeting ambitions, here are 10 tactics that could help you. Remember, social media is an opportunity for interaction with the public. Start by putting your head above the parapet.
1 Follow users that are relevant to your business – customers, prospects, suppliers, service providers, trade bodies, local authorities and so on. These are people and businesses who may follow you in return, opening the way for ongoing engagement. Following your favourite TV presenters, musicians and comedians isn’t much help, because they seldom return the compliment.
2 Tweet regularly, but sensibly. You have just 140 characters but it’s amazing what you can cram in. Keep your message short and to-the-point so there’s space for some of the other useful devices (see next point).
3 If you use your name or business name for your Twitter ‘handle’, don’t waste characters by repeating it. But what you should always include are identifying hashtags – e.g. #clothingstore and #yourtown – because that’s how people can search for businesses like yours. If you are relating to a specific event, use that hashtag too – e.g. #Christmas.
4 If possible, piggy-back on the hashtag of a relevant major user or event – this can help you attract likes, and increase your exposure.
5 Comment on topical issues and trends, but stick to issues close to your business. Remember you are commenting to build your own credibility. Comments on unrelated issues may not help your reputation.
6 You should be using Twitter to attract people into your store/business, and certainly to your website or online store. So include a link – if necessary save space by using a free url shortener service such as bit.ly.
7 Twitter says Tweets with pictures get noticed – and they often do. As a test of this, I recently published a Tweet with a scenic picture and earned a like from the local tourism body. That may, however, have been helped by adding the town's name as a hashtag.
8 Grow your followers – the more the merrier. It’s said to be desirable to have more followers than people you are following. I’ve kept my balance positive by weeding out a number of accounts that were either inactive or not contributing value to my Twitter time. I’ve grown my followers by publishing The David Goddin Daily News – a content aggregation by paper.li – and promoting it with a daily automatic Tweet that includes my relevant hashtags – e.g. #PR #marketing #haslemere. Paper.li often adds the day’s top news or sports hashtag. Something like #mufc or #lfc quickly increases the number impressions the promotional Tweet attracts!
9 Follow influential people. I’ve grown my numbers by selectively connecting with many such users in my target fields. At first I resisted linking with high-volume Tweeters, but it is possible to mute users (without their knowledge) so they don’t swamp your stream.
10 When people engage with you, by following, liking, retweeting, mentioning or responding by direct message, acknowledge them – as you might in a face-to-face situation.
Don’t expect any of these points to change your Twitter status overnight – but use them to think about your own social media tactics. Then consider getting help from an expert.
Have you noticed how bone-crunchingly boring some companies’ media releases and news items are? They do little to grab attention and even less to retain it.
There’s a very small window of opportunity for enticing a reader to study an item with a reasonable degree of care. That is why a strong heading and introductory paragraph are so vitally important.
The headline – and pictures – guide the eye to the start of the story. If the copy works past this point (80 words in) people will probably read further. But those lost by now may be gone for ever.
Don’t let the fat finger of criticism point in your direction because if it does your company’s efforts to produce compelling content are more like to spawn simple discontent. Readers will certainly be less likely to make an informed decision to buy your products or services.
What I’m talking about are the PR pieces that kick off with a torrent of corporate self-glorification, leaving readers gasping for breath long before they reach the real news. For example:
[Company], part of the European Division of [Group], is pleased to announce that its award-winning Research and Development Division, based in [place], has completed an exhaustive pre-launch testing programme for our new [product] …
Ouch! Real-life examples abound on low-budget websites and in trade magazines where editors are either too busy or too unenterprising to edit submitted material.
On the other hand, here are six simple steps for copywriters and corporate scribes to make content more effective.
Write for the reader
Start with the benefits the reader could enjoy from the product or service, then discuss its features and finally add a bit of background information.
Surprise the reader
If you can leave the reader thinking “Wow! I didn’t know that!” you are well on the way to getting him or her to talk about you to colleagues and customers.
Don’t repeat yourself
Sometimes repetition of content is inescapable – so, wherever possible, rewrite as much of it as you can. Messages often gain strength from rewriting.
Get your facts straight, be meticulous about spelling and grammar and, above all, don’t exaggerate or make rash statements
Vary the recipe
Within the confines of grammar, language offers huge possibilities for variety. Be bold – experiment! Spice up your message!
Think of it as a game. Have fun massaging the message into an eye-catching shape. Be enthusiastic and you’ll never be boring!
Social media procrastination is a two-edged PR problem for business
Large numbers of people in the English-speaking world have doubtless grown up with constant reminders from parents, grandparents and other wise relatives that “procrastination is the thief of time”.
The saying comes from a meditative work by the 18th century English poet, playwright and priest Edward Young – and some 300 years after it was first penned it still holds true in the era of social media.
It’s unbelievably easy to procrastinate with services such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And in business, that can be a serious problem.
There are two kinds of corporate social media procrastinators:
The former can be dealt with through good management: the latter through personal discipline, specialist recruitment or a decision to outsource.
Businesses should use social media for three key reasons – all driven by the need to attract customers online and physically:
It’s really about reputation management, developing favourable perceptions of the organisation (and occasionally handling the odd crisis) – in essence, another tool in the public relations kit.
Large organisations have it easy if they can support one or more staff members dedicated to the three key processes identified above. But in the SME sector that’s a luxury many businesses simply cannot afford.
Owners of the smallest businesses need to strike a sensible balance with their social media activity, building regular slots into their personal daily schedules to allow for selective scanning of news and comment and time for outbound messaging and response where necessary. Even the most hard-pressed solo entrepreneur should be able to find five or 10 minutes a day to communicate in his way.
Larger businesses in the SME environment may find it more convenient to entrust the social media responsibility to a specialist, such as a public relations consultant with competence in this area and the ability to treat social media as a natural extension of traditional PR tactics. This also helps to ensure consistency of messaging across all communication channels.
The specialist is perhaps also better placed to provide a synopsis of social media trends and track results of a client’s posts. Statistics now available from Twitter, for example, provide considerable insight into daily activity and the performance of individual messages – pointing towards a measurable return on investment in social media.
So the advice to time-starved managers who are lagging in the social media race is simple: make a commitment – today!
If I chose to exchange my keyboard for a ‘for sale’ board – making houses, rather than words, my stock in trade – what thoughts on communication would I take with me to power-up a career in real estate?
It’s not an unreal scenario. An agent friend once tried to lure me into the business – but I preferred working with agents, rather than for them. I did, however, obtain a basic qualification.
So, in case I ever change my mind, here are my communication notes to self. They might give some practising agents food for thought – and help other professions, too.
It’s your shop window, a showcase of properties to attract genuine buyers to your business. It can also help to draw future sellers, too. Add fresh material frequently – bright, clear pictures and honest copy – and ensure everything is optimised for the search engines so that your site appears at least among the first results for the most applicable search terms in your area.
Update your news page (or blog) at least once a week – daily if possible – with a range of articles demonstrating thought leadership, market leadership and the benefits buyers and sellers receive from dealing with you. Comment on local issues: say something of substance, but avoid controversy. Go easy on human interest stories about staff – they may undermine the professional image you should be trying to portray.
Give potential newcomers to your area a head start: tell them everything they need to know about life in your area. Make sure your local information is always fully up to date and that hyperlinks to amenities such as schools, churches, surgeries and other public facilities actually work. And make sure they open in new pages, so that people are more likely to return to your site.
4 Testimonials and case studies
A well-written piece showing how you provided customer service excellence and achieved a great outcome for buyers and sellers can be powerful reference material, giving future customers the confidence to deal through you. Write objectively (as far as possible) to enhance credibility. Focus on the benefits of your service, rather than the features.
5 Attracting visitors
Be aware that the majority of website visitors will be people who are looking to buy or sell in your area now or in the near future. They will look at other agents’ sites, too. You will stand a better chance of longer visits, return visits and ultimately commitment to purchase if your site offers the right stock at the right prices – and is perceived also to demonstrate the best levels of professionalism and usefulness.
The biggest issue is how to drive traffic to your website in the first place – an that is why it is so important to spread your web address (url) as widely as possible. It is also the reason for maintain a high profile on social media.
Because buyers and sellers generally have only a short relationship with you, don’t expect them to make a long terms commitment to following you on Twitter (or any other social channels you use). For the benefit of those who do click the follow button, make sure there’s a stream of posts pointing them to website content that adds value to their experience.
Use your Twitter account also as a source of information for yourself: follow other agents, mortgage brokers and lenders, property developers, builders, local councils, chambers of commerce, schools and other local institutions and, most importantly, local, regional and national news sources – especially property journalists. Build yourself an influential list of contacts that adds to your credibility: encourage people to follow you. Wherever possible and relevant, engage directly with your Twitter followers and use Twitter to announce significant news items.
If you still prefer a print newsletter to distribute door to door, make it relevant to the buyers and sellers you are trying to impress. Let the benefits of dealing through you be apparent from the successes you report on; demonstrate your understanding of the local market through careful comment on trends. Don’t let the main theme of your business be overshadowed by publicity for feats of physical endurance or other charity events – keep their prominence in proportion.
If you have a suitable email for produce an electronic newsletter. Keep it short: headline, picture, one paragraph of tantalising copy – and a link to the full story … on your website.
8 News release
You may still have occasion to issue a news item as a traditional press release to one or more journalists. If so, it should double up as copy for your website, newsletters and Tweets. In fact, write all news pieces as if they are press releases, so that they can be digested easily by all readers. Don’t blow an ‘exclusive’ publicity opportunity by publishing it on your own site before the chosen journalist gets a chance.
Be as creative as each medium allows. Be willing to try new channels, new techniques. Be enthusiastic about every communication opportunity. And if you need help, please get in touch.
Which is the worse example of ignorance: misuse of a fairly simple word or misunderstanding its meaning?
My question arises from an early report of a tragic incident in which a 35-year-old man died as a result of an electric shock at a sports centre.
The incident came to my attention through a news Tweet this morning. It stated the man had been electrocuted and had been taken to the major hospital nearby.
No problem in the language, but perhaps a slight ambiguity on the time of death: was it instantaneous, on the road or at the hospital? Either way, full marks to the newsteam for using ‘electrocution’ to mean ‘death as a result of electricity’.
Another Twitter user, however, suggested the news Tweet could be updated, as he had needed to Google the incident to discover if the man had died. Oh dear – only if the original writer had confused ‘electrocution’ with ‘shock’, as many do.
There was an update, saying police had confirmed that the man who had been electrocuted had died. Withdraw full marks awarded earlier!
If you are using big words in public, get them right!
Am I being pedantic or does this really matter?
Every word has one or more legitimate meanings or uses. Over time, our language is enriched by new vocabulary and fresh meanings. Words are great playthings, too. But we should also strive vigorously to prevent the morphing of mainstream meanings into the erroneous, and even the absurd.
‘Electrocution’ is a relatively young word, neatly combining electricity and execution. Its correct uses relate to both capital punishment and accidental death. It does not mean non-lethal electric shock.
I believe the correct use of words is essential if we are to communicate effectively.
In a world seemingly full of experts, there’s no shortage of advice on how organisations should conduct their PR and marketing communication campaigns in the year ahead. But, as far as I can see, all the collected wisdom boils down to three key ideas – and these form the nucleus of the message I shall be taking to clients in 2016.
Key number one – compelling content
Whether you’re selling a product or a service – or simply conveying information – your website and/or printed literature must appeal to the people you are seeking to attract … and hold their attention long enough for them to respond positively to your call to action. Educate and inform your customers, focus on the benefits they can expect from your product or service. But always keep your messages as short and to the point as possible.
Key number two – engage socially
If you aren’t already exploiting the business possibilities of social media, you should be. Build a two-way network of followers, and get out there often. Social media activity helps to boost your profile, enables you to engage with customers and influencers and, most importantly, drives people to your website. Remember that channels such as Twitter are already big news channels in their own right: use them wisely to spread your headlines … with that all-important link to the full story on your site.
Key number three – face up to video
Wherever you sit in the A-Z of business, there’s no excuse for overlooking video as a channel for communicating with your customers. Used properly, even the low-cost filming and editing technology available via many mobile phones enables you to broadcast instant, credible clips of company news and comment. If your budget can stretch to a more professional production, so much the better, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a reasonable quality video.
So far I’ve given you a few thoughts about what you should be doing to encourage favourable perceptions of your company or products. Now for the ‘how’.
The key ring – get outside help
If you are a hard-pressed entrepreneur in a small to medium business, or the marketing head in a larger one, you cannot be everywhere all the time. The solution is to involve experienced, creative agency professionals who can tie your three ‘keys’ together in a co-ordinated campaign – and produce all the deliverables on time and on budget.
Start by contacting me. Then, look forward to a happy and PR-osperous 2016!
What are your business plans for 2016? With the time for New Year resolutions fast approaching, now’s a good time to decide between a ‘same again’ approach or a dynamic 12 months of sustained effort focused on growth.
After watching this year’s batch of The Apprentice candidates bumbling their way through the ‘interview’ episode (in which they and their business plans were ruthlessly torn to shreds), I was struck by two key thoughts:
I have resolved to devote time over the festive season to my own business plan for the year ahead. Like any good plan, it will have benchmarks and targets, under two main headings:
Now I have no immediate intentions involving either The Apprentice or any other situations where I might need to present my own business plan. However, I will still produce it in document form with concise, credible content – just in case.
A business plan is often overlooked as an essential element of an organisation’s annual communication programme. That’s because it tends to be numbers-driven, and is produced more often by ‘numbers people’ than ‘words people’. It may be designed for a different audience than the marketing and PR output, but it also helps to shape perceptions of the organisation, so it should be treated appropriately.
Business plans can be written at any stage of the year, although 1 January, the start of a tax year and company anniversaries are perhaps the three most likely dates.
One of the growth tactics that I shall be writing into my own plan for 2016 will be to place more emphasis on business plans as part of the overall communication package.
Need your business plan written or refreshed? Contact me now for details of my professional, affordable and high-impact service.
I can’t guarantee you’d get past Lord Sugar’s aides totally unscathed – but you’d certainly do better than this year’s candidates!
Technology has done wonders for communication – but are we perhaps becoming slaves to the ‘how’ of the internet age and overlooking the importance of the ‘what’ we upload?
“The trouble with my website,” a local businessman told me recently, “is that it’s written more for the search engines than for the potential customers I want to attract.”
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is vitally important for certain types of business – especially online retailers. Such businesses depend on fast – even impulsive – buying decisions often based on an in-your-face presence at the top of the first Google page.
Most businesses have to make do with a lower position in the search results, and have to rely on many other techniques to attract visitors to their websites. I would venture to suggest that if a business can’t make it into the first few pages, it’s probably not worth wasting effort on SEO.
What I would recommend is a thorough overhaul of the messages a company wishes to convey through its web presence, followed by professional writing to ensure that each message is clear – and in a form that is easily received by the target audience.
Naturally, with or without SEO assistance, there also needs to be supporting activity to drive the reader in the desired direction. For example, if you are reading this on my website, chances are you got here via social media. And if you’ve found this on LinkedIn, you may choose to follow up by clicking through to my website.
Now, to return to my starting point: it’s very easy to become obsessed with SEO and links in all directions across the internet – literally killing the art of communicating. What matters is not how many followers I have, or how many times I post new items – but rather a message that inspires you to buy my skills and services.
Behind the staging of the pitch and the showmanship of the presentation there are seven basic ingredients that can make or break a public relations pitch.
Creativity in pitching is important – it showcases an agency’s talent and it helps ensure attention during the presentation. But there may be a fine line between wooing the client with sensory enrichment on one side and plain overkill on the other.
Content is what really matters. It defines an agency’s approach – and should, without any further embellishment, enable the client to make an objective decision.
So, whether you are writing the pitch or considering a proposal that has been delivered to you, here are the guidelines for content and evaluation that work for me:
1 The situation: Demonstrate an understanding of the client’s organisation, markets, products and the business need for a PR campaign. This may be supplemented by a SWOT analysis.
2 The objective: Define the purpose of the campaign, together with a quantifiable outcome.
3 The targets: Identify the target audiences for the campaign as aspects may need differentiation to suit a range of needs across the audience spectrum.
4 The Messages: State the key messages to be delivered to each of the target audiences.
5 The Activities: Describe the various strategies and tactics proposed to convey the messages to the target audiences. This should include an aspect of PR campaign management to ensure that there is flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances during the campaign.
6 The Budget: Detail the cost of the campaign, including estimates of agency fees as well as products and services to be purchased for the campaign.
7 The Evaluation: List the measures that may be applied to give the client an indication of the campaign’s return on investment.
Don’t treat this as the ultimate definitive list: every pitch has specific needs and there may be some great ideas you would care to share. As an example, the agency’s credentials may be essential in a first-time pitch to a client.
Once the content is in place, give thought to the ‘staging’ of the presentation. Now’s the time to give free rein to creativity. There’s the talk-through, the visual aids, the work samples, the leave-behind document….
Don’t overpower the content with technology, simply use technology to enhance your message.
And a final thought: Don’t spoil your effort with errors of fact, spelling or grammar. It ranks you with a baker selling mouldy bread!
What is the outlook for writing? Is there a future … or will we soon be reflecting on an imperfect past?
My question is actually in three parts, because ‘writing’ has a trio of key meanings that are particularly relevant: First, the art of putting pen to paper; second, the act of composing text; and third, the ability to make a living out of the other two.
I have been writing in various ways for a long time and have seen many changes in practice, style and opportunity. Overall, I think developments during my career have been positive – enabling me to derive greater pleasure and profit from my work and allowing me to deliver more quality and quantity for my clients.
Computers and the internet, for example, have made it easier to research, compose, edit and publish instantly to a potentially global audience. Grafted on to the foundation of an education that embraced the disciplines of grammar, spelling and a reasonably legible handwriting, the digital era has certainly expanded my horizons: but it has also made me aware of the need for quality in communication.
While welcoming the opportunities of this new age, I worry that the science is overshadowing the art. At the same time, the focus is shifting away from the basics of writing, raising the possibility that future generations could be much poorer in communication terms.
This comment has been written on a computer – as has most of my professional output over the past 30-odd years. I’d probably struggle to compose by hand, and my handwriting has degenerated to a scrawl. But at least I still hold a pen properly when I need to.
I have it on good authority that many children now in school have never been taught to hold a pencil or pen correctly – with the result that they may have difficulty in writing legibly. Coupled with an underemphasis on spelling and grammar, this does not bode well for communication in the future.
I suspect we are now seeing a compounding effect as many of today’s younger teachers are themselves the product of a learning-by-discovery education that dispensed with rote-learning for the basics. The impact of this is also apparent in the media – typically with the all-too-frequent misuse of words such as ‘less/fewer’ and ‘decimate’.
Mobile telephony has brought the ability to communicate virtually anywhere, at any time. But is has also spawned the phenomenon of ‘text speak’ and the powerful (but sometimes dangerous) social media. Why use a pen when you have a phone, why worry about spelling when you have predictive text and why worry about grammar when you have only 140 characters?
We could be heading for a crisis of literary skills.
While I may be sounding gloomy with regard to the first two parts of my question, I am much more optimistic about the third.
I believe that people who endure the process of learning to write – in both senses – will be in great demand as communicators and custodians of knowledge. They will:
We will still need good writers. We will need them to shape our messages. And we will need them to uphold the literary traditions that – fortunately – still underpin today’s world.
If you have read this far, why not give some thought to the points raised above and join the debate by way of the comment facility?
It’s five years since David Goddin Communications made its debut on the UK public relations stage, offering a range of PR and marketing communication consulting activities direct to clients and as a standby service for agencies and corporate marketing departments.
As with any business start-up, there have been highs and lows – but, thanks to good client support, the general trend has been positive and the outlook remains good. Business is fun – and I want to keep it that way.
The business came into being because I wanted to fulfill a dream of putting my name to an agency that could make a real difference for its clients. It’s made a huge difference for me, too, with many fresh opportunities: for example working for interesting clients in new sectors, expanding my range of communication tools and enjoying greater flexibility in work patterns.
Communication is a basic need for all businesses – mine included. My challenge as a consultant is to deliver a cost-effective blend of experience and creativity, so that clients large and small always get the best solution that I can offer.
Experience from previous career steps provides the backbone of my skill set, but with the proliferation of ‘new media’ – bringing exciting new communication techniques – I am now using words in ways that were scarcely on the agenda five years ago. I still regard the news release as the fundamental element of PR copywriting, but it can now be adapted for use in many different ways … from 140 characters upwards!
Consulting is not only about writing and communication technology: it also involves a great deal of listening and learning. This is because to make messages more effective, the PR consultant needs to balance what the client wants to say … and what the customers might want to hear. A good consultant will, of course, loyally represent the client at all times – and should also earn the position of trusted adviser.
My plan for the next five years of David Goddin Communications includes modest growth on the foundations already laid plus further exploration of new communication opportunities. in short, I simply want my business to be enjoyable – as much for clients as it is for me.
Despite all the great technology we have at our fingertips, it’s good to know that some businesses are still using the traditional, printed newsletter to communicate in their markets.
As a former print journalist I have a fondness for words and images on paper, and I believe the newsletter can – and should – have a place in the marketing mix for many years to come. However, I think that many valiant efforts to use this medium are prone to failure – the result of too few skills and poor advice.
When a local company’s four-pager hit the doormat recently I found myself wondering how many businesses are pumping money into print – but getting little in return.
In truth there is a brief golden moment when a reader picks up your newsletter and makes the choice between read and recycle.
So how does your newsletter shape up? What part of your print run goes for pulp with hardly a glance? Here are some pointers that should help to make your publication produce profits:
Know your purpose – Don’t just publish for the sake of it. Define your editorial policy to complement the role that your newsletter will play – for example: enhancing the corporate image and encouraging sales by showcasing market leadership, understanding of customer needs and successful applications of products or services. In reality, the goal is to get the reader to visit your shop (or website) … and buy!
Remember the reader – Think of your reader as a hard-working commuter coming home to a family, domestic responsibilities and a garden in need of attention. If he (or she) is going to pick up your newsletter from the hallstand and digest it intelligently, it must scream READ ME on every page. So it must be relevant, appealing … and must convey benefits to the reader.
Make it newsy – You don’t have to make every page look like a mini-clone of the popular press – the content and design possibilities are endless. But whatever the appearance, the content should clearly demonstrate editorial flair. What you need are magnetic headlines and gripping copy that draw the reader and retain interest … right down to your call to action.
Cut out the waffle – Beware of the MD’s ego-trip essays or the sales director’s lengthy ponderings on the state of the market. Rather channel their enthusiasm into thought leadership articles that make readers sit up and take note. And remember that since the arrival of 140-character communication, keeping it short is what readers increasingly expect.
Be visual – Grab the reader’s attention with stunning images and informative diagrams. You are competing with colour on TV, PCs, mobiles, tablets and supermarket shelves. So be bold and be bright … or your publications will certainly be heading straight for the bin.
Be informative – You want the reader eventually to make an informed buying decision. So help that process along by providing information in such a way that the reader immediately perceives a benefit from learning about you and what you offer.
Be clever – Today’s production and print processes give you the flexibility to create separate editions for different geographical areas or customer types – of from different divisions of the company. You can also load your newsletter as a pdf file on your website – giving a wider audience the ability to read it online or print it for themselves, if they wish. Don’t forget to use social media to encourage people to read your latest issue. And if you’ve a really good story on the front page, send it out as a press release or add it to the company blog.
Call in a pro – If you have the time and skills to put a newsletter together on your own, by all means do so. But it’s well worth calling in a writer/editor/designer package with the experience and skills to give you impartial advice on content and presentation. You want a professional product that adheres to traditional standards of journalism and printing, enhances your reputation … and boosts your bottom line.
A website is as essential in your marketing armoury as a distinctive logo and snappy business cards – but is your organisation reaping all the benefits of being on the internet?
Never before in the history of commerce have businesses enjoyed such opportunities to broadcast tailored corporate messages cheaply, instantly, to wide or targeted audiences and without fear of editorial intervention. But many organisations still don’t make full use of the internet to spread their messages: as a result they are not being heard.
One of the reasons the internet and its spinoffs – email and social media – are so powerful is because the content that reaches the reader is precisely what the sender intended. This is also true of printed newsletters, brochures and direct mail – but the internet has immediacy.
In contrast, the traditional press release was often edited and rewritten by journalists keen to add their own touch – sometimes with dire consequences for the original corporate message. Not that all editing was bad – some press releases were (and still are) in need of extensive improvement.
Companies now have virtual carte blanche online to say anything (within the law and bounds of common decency, of course). Some have in-house resources to craft creative content. Others rely on outsourced skills (like mine) to produce copy that ticks all the boxes. Either way, good content is essential.
As citizens of the internet, we are all looking for a massive return on our investment in a domain name and content. To achieve that ROI we have to get the right people to visit our sites and then to be sufficiently impressed to take action.
The first step is to ensure we have the right content. This means providing information that people will need in order to make a ‘buy’ decision. People respond more readily if they are told what they want to hear, rather than what we want to tell them. But too many companies focus on how good they are rather than what they can do for the customer. In short, promote the benefits not the features.
Content needs to be refreshed frequently to keep the search engines interested and to give customers a reason for returning to the site over and over again. Just think of the big e-commerce sites: people keep looking at them to see what’s new.
The second step is to attract people to the site: unless you are extremely well known or on the first Google page you’re unlikely to get random hits that mature into valuable customers. This is where social media marketing plays a vital role, affording the opportunity to publish a brief ‘teaser’ with an all-important link to the real article. And if your posts are clever enough, others will ‘like’ or ‘share’ them to the wider audience of their own connections.
Now, please share this article and have a look round my website!
Next week the British electorate faces a big decision: who should govern the country for the next five years. For many voters it could be a difficult decision because there are many candidates to choose from. For others it could be an opportunity to unseat someone who is judged to have under-performed – either in Government or Opposition.
There is every possibility that neither of the main parties will secure enough seats to command an outright majority in Parliament. If this happens, another coalition is a possible outcome – but if parties are unable to overcome their differences sufficiently to work together there could be no government and a further election would have to be called.
People must make up their own minds about where they will place their ‘X” on 7 May. But there are some key issues they all need to consider before they enter their polling station.
Increased choice of candidates in any constituency is likely to draw votes away from one or more of the main parties. This means whoever wins the seat may be elected with a much smaller share of the vote and a smaller majority than in previous elections. So, technically, the elected representative could be the choice of only a minority of voters.
Every seat that a major party loses could be a step towards a nation that is ungovernable – at least for a while. On the other hand, change can be good, as long as it is constructive.
So, what happens if a candidate from a new, smaller party wins a seat? Will he or she have enough clout in the Commons to make a real difference – either to life in the constituency or to major national issues such as health, education, transport, social welfare, government finance, and so on? If there is a hung Parliament, will this candidate’s party end up in a coalition, or in limbo? Is it therefore safer to support a sitting candidate who represents a party that has more chance of power – on either side of the House?
Pre-election promises and manifesto pledges are good for the media, but few are likely to come to fruition without massive expense and upheaval, so it’s not worth basing too much of a decision on them. We’ve seen plenty of inter-party posturing recently: sniping among party leaders makes for exciting TV debates, but it does little for the politicians’ credibility.
Ultimately, voters must consider each candidate’s track record and prospects and make the decision they feel is right.
Who should people vote for? That’s not for me to say – but if voters believe that the devil they know is better than the one they don’t, then the Status Quo party might be the best choice.
Politics and business have a lot in common – and a great deal to learn from each other’s successes and failures. So with the UK General Election just weeks away and the next race for the White House on the starting blocks, it’s a good time to think about the art of getting customers to vote for you.
Becoming the market leader – or the government of the day – hinges on two vital factors. First is the ability to provide what the market wants – on acceptable terms. Second is the ability to convince customers of this.
For business, these factors translate to production and communication. In politics they are promises and spin. But both are ultimately presenting a case and seeking an emotional response.
Here’s a selection of ideas that entrepreneurs and election candidates can share towards the common goal of public support:
One of the most interesting periods of my career so far was the five years I spent writing – not exclusively, I hasten to add – about plasterboard. During that time I learnt that it is possible to make plasterboard sound sexy. It’s a valuable lesson that I use in my everyday writing – because it works in virtually every other sector, too.
A key purpose of writing in the public relations and marketing communication area is to enhance perceptions of a company and its product. This is not by puffery or outlandish claims, but rather by presenting a reasoned case in an interesting and informative manner. This should enable readers to make a sensible judgment and, one hopes, take the desired action: usually, to buy.
So how do you make two sheets of stiff paper with a filling of gypsum interesting enough for people to want to buy it? It’s pretty much a commodity item that is a mainstay of modern buildings, but in its raw state it’s not very inspiring – even when its higher-performance variants come with tinted paper. Arguably, there’s not much to choose between products from the main manufacturers.
What I did was to look beyond the dullness of a pile of boards, newly delivered to a building site, and see them instead fulfilling their real role, which is to define human space.
I wrote about plasterboard in contexts that readers – including architects, dry lining contractors, property developers and homeowners – could relate to as human applications: Houses, schools, offices, churches, theatres, hospitals and many more. These are paces where people live, learn, work, play, pray, are entertained and made healthy.
Suddenly, the boards are elevated from their bland flatness and – you’ve guessed it – they start to sound sexy.
The danger, with plasterboard and the many other products that find heir way into press releases, is that manufacturers are often too focused on shouting about their excellence in product development, manufacturing, customer service and so on. They forget that these important qualities should be balanced by human elements that make the story more appealing to readers.
The aim is to grab the attention of readers – and that’s usually achieved more easily by giving them something they want to hear, rather than something the you want to tell them.
If you have a boring product – even an interesting one – that needs brighter promotional writing, please be in touch. Let’s make it sound sexy!
Hire a good writer to give your PR or marketing message the best chance of reaching your targets – and stimulating the responses you want.
So, what is a ‘good’ writer?
You’ll know when you’ve got one, but finding one may be challenging. Here are 10 handy guidelines for selecting a writer, based on my own experience of writing and working with other people’s words.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.