Stew on this!

August 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Posted in copywriting | 10 Comments
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Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?

I was once asked to settle a family debate.

She said you stew apples to create the dish Stewed apple.

He said you stew apples to create … stewed apples.

This is what I said:

I’m honoured you’ve consulted me.

In most cases, Stewed apple would be seen as generic.

In literal terms, very few would stew just one apple.

Stewed apples, however, lays it out explicitly. There’s definitely more than one apple involved.

If you stew multiple apples but refer to the result in the singular, some readers may pause to consider a possible disconnect.

This is dangerous, as they’ll be distracted from your message.

If you use multiple apples and say stewed apples, there’s no conflict and therefore no distraction.

If, however, for some reason, you stew just one apple, stewed apple is bang on the money.

Lastly, we have the dish: Stewed apple.

Bing returns just 88,200 hits for this term.

Stewed apples, however, has 120,000 hits.

A huge difference if you want people to find your website and buy your stuff.

So, by any measure (except the stewing of a sole apple) I’d recommend stewed apples.

In other words,

for the purpose of this debate,

you’re stewed!

She ignored me.

But it was fun.

If you liked it too, perhaps you should be a copywriter!


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Pic by sid.

Right between the eyes

January 22, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in copywriting | 4 Comments
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2163474742_76d766fcfe_o Bullets

Now look here.

Last week I optimised a LinkedIn summary.

This was a natural progression from editing resumes.

And with jobs falling like flies, I expect this work to burgeon.

My client had asked for a ‘punchier’ summary, yet had much to say in a small space.

So I pulled out the big guns:

bullet points.

But when I submitted the summary, my client asked:

Do you think it’s OK to have many sets of bullet points like that?

I thought carefully before replying.

LinkedIn is mutating monthly.

What worked before may not now.

And many who claim to be social media ‘gurus’ aren’t.

That said, I felt my reply was solid:

Bullets pack a pithy punch while resting reader eyes.

This is particularly important online – where attention spans are gnat-like.

And the LinkedIn format fairly begs for this kind of ‘shorthand’.

The good thing about bullets is that if you feel there are too many, you can ditch the least-fabulous ones.

So, the question is: how much of a punch do you wish to pack?

You can answer this question yourself.

Or ask your trusty focus group.

As is so often the case, we should let our readers be our guide.

Fair enough?

My client agreed.

Do you?


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Qui Ckon CEO Ver.

January 6, 2014 at 9:17 am | Posted in copywriting | 8 Comments
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Almost white

Does this look all white to you?

Sorry about that title; only had time for a ‘quick once over’.

All the letters are there: the caps and spacing didn’t confuse, did they?

As a copywriter, I sometimes get quick-once-over requests. I wonder if you do too.

The request has three variations:

1.  Just give it 15 minutes.

Some clients assess my work by what I keep, not discard.

Thus, if I spend an hour rendering two pages of crud into one perfect paragraph, they see 50 words and think Bargain!

If I were a surgeon, they’d say:

Look at that jar: it’s tiny! Why bill me for operating on my whole body when you only took out that little, bitty gallstone?!

2.  Just focus on the howlers.

An intelligent client may spend weeks crafting a pitch for a huge piece of business. She’s happy with her content and only wants me to flag the one or two bad errors I might find.

Though I invariably find dozens of small to medium errors that I know will undermine her brand, pitch (and even viability) she isn’t interested. She knows her writing is good. She gave it to me at the eleventh hour, as an afterthought.

If I were a crèche, she’d say:

We’re entering Emily in a national baby contest in four hours. I’m going home to change. Just keep her alive until I return. Only call if she goes blue or black; don’t worry about the peanut thing. I know my daughter.

3.  There’s only two hours in the budget.

I perfect communications via multiple processes. Spelling, punctuation, tone, cadence, readability and jargon are just the tip.

Numbers, fact accuracy, logical flow, legal compliance, audience suitability and consistency with branding and prior communications form the next level. Then there’s the optional humour, irony, academic and cultural references etc.

This deep thinking takes time.

So, if I get two hours to optimise 6000 not-very-good words, I must cut corners. Yet like a Rubik’s cube, my corners intertwine. Lose one, no cube.

If I were a builder, they’d say:

We need a safe, certified, 25-square home for $50K. Don’t forget the plumbing, wiring, plaster, painting, insulation, termite proofing and hurricane roofing. We’re in Darwin.

Time is money: I need it and I know clients aren’t made of it. I promise perfect communications: too-small budgets make this impossible. Yet I genuinely like my clients and want them to prosper.

I can’t let flawed work leave my desk. So I do three or four hours for the price of two. Just like the fairies.

How about you? Do you mow three hectares for the price of two? Install five workstations for the cost of three? Teach eight people for the fee of five?

If so, what’s your motivation?

  1. Pride.
  2. Love.
  3. Money.
  4. Other (please state _________ ).
  5. All of the above.

Idlo VETOK Now!


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On your mark

December 21, 2013 at 5:40 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
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Does military service torpedo careers?

Does military service kill careers?

As the global economy wobbles and shifts, I’ve been doing more resumes (CVs) than usual.

This recently triggered a prospective client request I’d not encountered before:

Please discuss your experience with translating military careers to civilian resumes.

I had to think about this one – especially as it came from a US prospect.

Along with mining, I don’t do defence (defense) work.

But am I wrong to throw the hand grenade out with the heavy water by focusing on sectors, instead of people?

Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Hi, Arnie*.

I appreciate your wish to choose the best possible service provider.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you found a US writer who more closely understood your background and needs.

Last month I did a CV for a Major-turned-CEO who spent a decade in the Australian Army.

Over the years, one or two other clients have come to me with limited military exposure (e.g. reserves) but this was only part of their bigger picture.

My approach to military service is to the accentuate the positive (e.g. leadership, responsibility, decision making, accountability, prioritisation, maturity, working with BIG gear).

During my human resources career, I found some recruiters were a bit ‘twitchy’ about hiring ex-defence personnel.

I always look for the qualities of a person, rather than how or where they honed them.

I’ve been on interview panels where I was a fan of the massively experienced former-naval guy, but other managers wondered why he didn’t get a ‘normal’ job instead of doing service.

So, when doing a resume with military experience, I ensure the content demonstrates that the candidate did not run to the military to escape debt, jail (gaol), women, babies, abusive parents or evil voices in the head.

By laying out the noble reasons for joining up, I neutralise prejudices in the minds of some biased recruiters.

From closely following the media, I gather that the US experience is rather more acute than that of Aussie soldiers.

I think Iraq trumps East Timor.

So I may well not have the big-gun expertise you seek.

What I do have, however, is the ability to put your best foot forward in a way that will delight sceptical managers and cowardly HR types by hitting their hot buttons and negating their fears.

I hope this answers your questions, Arnie.

As a greenie, defence (like mining) isn’t my sector of choice.

But, unlike most in the field, I actually believe human resource professionals  should be human, resourceful and professional.

So I’m pretty confident I can get you where you need to be.

Kind regards,


Arnie hasn’t replied to this or my follow-up email.

I think I lost him at ‘greenie’.

Still, it was an interesting exercise in clarifying what I can (and am prepared to) do to earn a living.

(You may recall I’ve had angst on this issue.)

I hope you found this reflection entertaining.

As always, I warmly welcome your thoughts.


* Not his real name.

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Cliche of the Titans

December 18, 2013 at 9:45 am | Posted in copywriting, Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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A fight to the death.

A fight to the death.

One of my clients makes high-end breakfast products.

So when she wrote on her labels that breakfast was:

the most important meal of the day,

she knew it.

And meant it.

But this didn’t stop me challenging her.

You see, every person and their pet know and use this time-worn truism.

So I suggested we change it to:

the day’s most vital meal.

My client then had the temerity to suggest she preferred important to vital!

And so I mounted my defence:

  1. Vital is shorter than important.
  2. Vital packs more punch.
  3. By ditching most important meal of the day for day’s most vital meal,  we kill the cliché and own the concept.
  4. This switches the passive voice to active.
  5. It also gives superior cadence.
  6. Finally, vital stems from the Latin word for life/living (which is much in sync with a food brand).

So, do you still want important?!

My client replied:

‘You win a million times on this one. Thank you!’

Gracious, intelligent, enlightened and humble clients like this keep me copywriting.

And make me strain every nerve to advance their prosperity.


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Handle with care

September 20, 2013 at 9:37 am | Posted in copywriting | 11 Comments
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A delicate operation.

A delicate operation.

Word up!

When you edit a website to relaunch a high-end muesli range, every word counts.

To this end, a clever client and I recently had an interesting exchange:


I bought some yogurt today. They have ‘handcrafted’ as part of their product description.

I currently use ‘hand mixed’ on my website and labels.

Do you think ‘handcrafted’ could be a better word for my range?

What about ‘hand made’?


‘Handcrafted’ used to be a novel take on ‘hand made’, but it isn’t anymore.

Your muesli isn’t furniture.

And you aren’t God.

Therefore, ‘crafted’ is not the word I’d go for.

I think you’re already totes on the money with ‘hand mixed’.

And, for the record, I’d like as few hands as possible in my yogurt!


So we’re sticking with ‘hand mixed’.

Copywriting is a deeper process than some people think.

That said, if a client has already nailed something, a good copywriter doesn’t try to gild the lily or fix what ain’t broke.

For that is our


What do you think?


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Pic by Jay PH.

Speak or ZING?

April 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Posted in copywriting | 10 Comments
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Samurai warrior

Are you a ZINGer?

Alas! My business coach, Winston Marsh, gave my expensive online shop the thumbs down!

On the topic of ZING-based copywriting, we’ve long been at odds.

It’s time to analyse the sticking place.

In the blue corner is me. I believe the message is everything. As I used to tell my Copy School students:

If you have a message that’s true, interesting and relevant to your audience, you can write it on a piece of toilet paper and nail it to a tree in the forest. Someone will find it and, if they’re not interested, pass it on to those who are.

In the red corner is Winston. He believes every message needs plenty of ZING and is adamant I should use phrases like:

Copywriting that’s so powerful, it sucks people’s eyeballs into the screen.

Words so compelling, they leap off the page and bite you on the bum.

Here’s his rationale:

I firmly believe the product or service must deliver on the promises made for it. Then, providing it does, that’s when you really sock it to them in language that sucks the eyeballs into the screen, etc.

It’s our job to really get the prospect excited, enthused and busting to buy. Remember, you sell the sizzle not the steak!

I have dreadful problems with sizzle. Yet Winston’s speaking, coaching and publishing empire is many times greater than I could hope to achieve.

What to do?

Ad agencies advise: ‘If you’ve got nothing to say, sing!’ In other words, if the product you’re flogging lacks merit, put all your resources into showmanship.

I totally get this with soft drink or chocolate. But what about corporate copywriting?

Because I believe I have something to say, I feel that singing is unnecessary (at best) and harmful to my brand (at worst). Surely my clear, correct, elegant copy is the singing equivalent of verbose, inaccurate, dreary copy.

Am I not singing already? Is not the steak more important than the sizzle?

There’s just one problem: most people who visit my shop don’t buy my ebook.

Winston took one look at my landing page and pronounced it ‘flat’. He’s certain that unless I ZING, my register won’t ring.

Should I stop being precious and get with the program? Or should I screw my courage to the sticking place and hold fast in defence of quiet, measured, reasonable copy?

How about you? Are you a speaker or a ZINGer?

If you changed tack, how would your audience react?

Your response would be music to our



Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The best headline I’ve seen

February 5, 2013 at 6:06 am | Posted in copywriting | 8 Comments
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Remember how I unintentionally ‘mozzed’ my neighbour’s home auction by invoking a thunderstorm?

Well, I just got a letter with the best headline I’ve seen:


This is a corker.

This isn’t the best headline you’ve seen, but it wasn’t written for you. It was written for me, by Andrew Crotty, who wants to sell my home.

I am his target audience.

I wasn’t thinking of selling my home: now I am.

I’ve had emails, letters, postcards, magnets, phone calls and calendars from six other agents: I binned them all. Yet now I’m blogging about Biggin Scott.

Good headline.

In 10 Steps to Perfect Recruitment Ads I explain that the best ads have four elements: attention, interest, desire and action.


This house is four up from mine, with a similar floor plan. Mine’s better (of course)!

So if this sold for $530K, mine must be worth $550K; maybe more. That sure got my attention.

The subheader was the street address, which rammed home the local nature of this happy news.


Under the subheader was:

(Two bedroom cottage, no parking).

These diminutive italics were like a friendly aside, ‘So much loot for such a crap home – imagine what yours could fetch!’

I recalled that the pitch to buyers was rather more fulsome. Fortunately, it was still online*:

This Brick Victorian offers quick & easy access to the city along with being situated close to Victoria Park and public transport.

• 2 bedrooms both with built in robes

• Recently renovated lounge & dining area

• Modern Kitchen-s/s appliances

• Timber flooring – Built in entertainment unit

• Near new bathroom & laundry

• Private paved courtyard – feature fish pond

I LOVE how Cinderella-like, the robes vanished and the Brick Victorian reverted to a cottage for the purpose of my letter.

Interested? I couldn’t stop reading!


Andrew wisely gave a third of his space to the photo and headline. His body copy was uncommonly brief, yet it included everything a home owner could desire*:

We…have other…buyers keen to purchase in this area.

If you…would like a hassle free quick sale we would love to talk to you.

Why not see what your property is worth today.


The bottom bore Andrew’s name and number in a massive, bold font. This was smart, as my eyesight is indeed waning.

Next to this was a full-length photo of Andrew: standing, smiling, handsome and tieless in a very nice suit.

My action? Though I wasn’t ready to sell my home, I asked Andrew if I could praise him in public. He replied:

I must admit I know very little about blogs but am happy to assist in any way. Feel free to use what you need…

Ye gods; honest too! That settles it: I’d better tell Fonnie we’re moving.

Anyway: attention, interest, desire, action – that’s how you write killer copy!


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 * For journalistic integrity, I (barely) resisted the urge to optimise this copy. I’ve tried to ‘help’ many real estate agents, but they always get cross. I think it’s my delivery …

Cheap shots!

January 22, 2013 at 5:11 am | Posted in copywriting | 7 Comments
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Some salient points …

When I read the quote for my new website, I got a fright. It said something like ‘pictures not included’*.

Last time I worked in a creative studio, clients were charged up to $150 per picture (pic). I needed nine.

Fortunately, much has changed in recent years.

I found and bought the pics I needed for only $15 each – a tenth of what I feared. My relief mirrored that of clients tracking this project with a view to doing their own sites.

Maybe you’ll benefit too.

Above is one of the pics I bought. You don’t see a lot of cuneiform on today’s corporate websites; it’s my WaPIUSP^!

This medium-sized pic is perfect for my purposes. The price licences me to use it on my website and this blog. Legally (and technically) I can’t plaster it on a jet or a skyscraper, but if I’m that successful, I’ll happily fork out an extra tenner.

I got the pic from iStockphoto. All the art directors I consulted recommended this site. Some also mentioned Shutterstock and Dreamstime but I didn’t find these as easy to use. You may.

In addition to being cheap and easy, iStockphoto had all the pics I sought. I added them to my ‘lightbox’, bought ‘credits’ on my credit card, downloaded the files to my PC and emailed them to my IT Guy. Once he got them, it was on.

I’m thrilled. And glad not to be dealing with a full-service advertising agency from last decade. In those days, CDs costing around $450 held themed sets of around 80 pics (e.g. Ancient Scripts in the Workplace).

Once a client approved a creative concept, the agency bought the necessary CD (if it didn’t own it already). It then charged the client up to $150 per pic!

Thus, after recouping the cost in as few as three pic sales, the agency reaped pure profit from subsequent sales for the life of the CD.

So long as cuneiform stayed in vogue, the CD was a money machine.

Next time you get a quote for a job with pics, ask how much they are. You may save quite a few shekels (and get exactly what you want) by sourcing them yourself.


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* Images … will need to be provided or … sourced and the licensing fees paid … licensing fees are not included …

^ Weird and Possibly Ineffective Unique Selling Proposition.

Am I wasting my creative juice?

November 23, 2012 at 6:29 am | Posted in copywriting | 41 Comments
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A heartfelt guest post from Kate Toon.

The other day, Kate Toon invited me to guest on her blog. This was tremendous fun. Even funner, Kate has kindly returned the favour. And she’s chosen a topic dear to my (and quite likely your) heart. Take it away Kate!

As a writer I have what many people think is a dream job.

My office is the local café where I sip cappuccino and eat muffins.

I stay cosy at home while you commute to work in the rain.

Sometimes I wear my pajamas all day.

The only meetings I have are with my dog Pamplemousse.

“I’m a writer,” I tell people at dinner parties.

“Oh,” they reply, a look of new-found respect spreading across their face.

And I get to bask in the glow of their admiration for several seconds until they ask the next question.

“What do you write?”

Then I find myself muttering something about advertising and shuffling my tagliatelli around my plate until the conversation moves on.

The truth is I’m not a writer. I’m a copywriter.

I write websites, emails, ads and brochures for cold hard cash. I write about bins, drainage and insurance. I write for all those large corporations we love to hate. And though I absolutely love what I do, there’s a part of me that will always wish I were really Dorothy Parker.

But of late I’ve found myself writing less and less for myself. I just don’t feel I have enough oomph left at the end of the day to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start being genuinely bum-clenchingly imaginative and creative.

And here’s why: I firmly believe that each day you wake up with a set amount of creative juice in your system – like a fresh, moist lemon, ripe and ready.

But as the day progresses you use up that creative juice. Writing that text message, those emails, that shopping list and of course the 112-page mobile website copy deck – they all use up your juice until your lemon is drained completely dry.

Of course I’ve dabbled in ‘real writing’, but I long to write a proper book, a feature film, a full-length play, something that I can be remembered for. I mean, I know I did a damned fine job on the Kmart Tyre and Auto website, but it’s hardly something my grandkids will be boasting about.

Unfortunately I just can’t get my teeth into anything that lasts longer than 10 minutes.

You see, after a day of correcting typos in 15 financial emails, or reformatting 96 product descriptions for a luxury gift site, I have nothing left. My nouns and verbs are weary, my adjectives floppy and my prepositions discombobulated.

Perhaps it would be different if I were a personal trainer, a plumber or a pilot.

If I spent my day using that other bit of my brain, the doing bit, then perhaps the writing bit wouldn’t end up being so bloody exhausted. Yes, for sure – if I were a Traffic Warden I’d happily come home to write for a few hours.

But I tried to do a not-writer type job. I trained as a masseuse a few years back and rather enjoyed it in theory. The reality of oiling up malodorous humans wasn’t quite as appealing, however, so that career was short lived.

So it seems by finally finding my dream job, I’ve actually scuppered my writing dreams. Which is frankly a touch depressing.

What do you think? Is it possible to write all day for money and then write all night for love?

Can you think of a way I can recapture my creative mojo? Any advice or experiences muchly appreciated.


Kate is an award-winning SEO and advertising copywriter with over 18 years’ experience. She’s also a well-respected SEO consultant, information architect, strategist, hula hooper and Creme Egg lover based in Sydney, Australia.

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