Tanks for the memories – the importance of research

May 29, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Posted in copywriting | 12 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What tank is that? (Original.) Click to make BIG.

I love doing research.

This is lucky, as copywriters must do stacks of it to be any good.

Get one fact wrong and you can:

So when it comes to looking stuff up, I’m pretty damn methodical.

Even when it’s an informal request from a friend, I take research very, very seriously – as Chris learnt last week:

‘Dear Paul,

In flicking through one of my father’s photo albums, I found quite a few ‘in the field’ photos.

I am intrigued by this one (shockingly fuzzy though it is) and thought that I would enlist your expertise to identify the type of tank.

All we’ve really got to go on is the shape of the turret and the gun.

I’m thinking it’s either a British Cruiser tank or a Panzer IV.

I believe that it was tank in early ‘45, possibly near Overloon.’

Chris enclosed the pic you see above, so I replied:

‘Hi, Chris.

What a fascinating challenge!

I thought it might be a Panzer IV, but I believe most later models had a turret ‘bustle’ at the back – for radio and other gear.

So I increased the contrast to see there’s no bustle on this tank.

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

Then I thought it might be a Panther, and so cross-checked the profile.

My best guess.

Second guessing.

There seem a lot of points of correlation:

  • Long gun (if you deem the white bit in the photo as part of a gun).
  • Two-stage gun mantlet.
  • Gun holder (and position thereof).
  • Tall commander’s cupola (which may have given the idea it was a British Cruiser).
  • Long rear engine deck.

Then I checked Overloon, to see if there were any Panthers in the area at the time and, blow me down (or up)!

The culprit?

The culprit?

So, from preliminary research, Panther seems a fair bet.

See if you agree.’

Chris seemed pleased with progress.

‘By jingoes I knew that you were the man for the job! That photo from the Overloon war museum leaves me gobsmacked!

I did find this photo of a Panzer IV variant which I though fitted the turret profile (without bustle), but I think that the stepped profile of the front of the tank would have been apparent in the photo despite the background vegetation.

The silhouette in the photo does more closely resemble a Panther, for the reasons that you mentioned as well as the taper angle on the rear of the turret.

Outside chance?

Outside chance?

I’m not ruling out the Cruiser Mk.II yet – look at the antenna arrangement (or maybe that’s just a tree in the background of the photo) and the ‘steps’ at rear of the turret.

Then again the stepped profile of the front of the tank doesn’t match, nor does the gun length.

Sentimental favourite.

Cruising for a bruising?

I prefer to believe that it’s a Panther in the photo, though. Much more exciting!

Tally-ho!’

When a client is happy, so am I.

‘Great stuff, Chris.

Your antenna argument may have merit.

If you say the word, I could post the mystery tank pic on Twitter with a request to crowd source its identity.

Chances are, certain sections of my followers would be all over it.

Or you could leave it for your readers to decide.

Either way, very exciting.’

‘Yes, let’s crowd source it!

Attached is a higher resolution scan – you can zoom in and see that what we thought might be a gun support and aerial respectively are in fact trees in the background.

Cheers.’

‘Golly!

The plot thickens … ‘

‘The reason I mentioned Overloon is that on the same page of photos there are two references to that town – one in an inscription on a photo; on another photo, a road sign featuring that town’s name is visible.

I’m happy for you to include all of this in a blog post.

Let’s see where this goes!

I’m keen as la moutarde!’

‘Tremendous!

All good grist.

Leave it mit me.’

So here we are.

I’m almost certain that tank is a Panther, but not positive.

What I do know for sure is that my readers know infinitely more than I ever will.

And so I’m putting this mystery out there.

In other words …

RTEmagicC_We-Need-You.jpg

Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing's comment below.)

Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing’s comment below.)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The true tale of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe

March 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Posted in copywriting | 7 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lady Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe (of Abbotsford).

I was rewriting a large website for a client with the glorious double-barrelled name (changed for this tale) of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

With big projects, I often begin with small bits and work my way up at increasing speed.

Staff bios (profiles) are a great starting point.

When I got to Elizabeth’s bio, I recalled that she’d introduced herself to me as Liz.

She also signed her emails as Liz, yet her email address was Elizabeth@Frensington-SmytheEnterprises.com.

And so I wrote:

‘Dear Liz,

Are you predominantly Liz, Lizzy, Elizabeth (or some other permutation) to your various audiences?

The name they read should be the one they use.

If we can pick one variation and use it consistently across all communication channels, we’ll strengthen your brand.

If, however, use is situational, we can give this idea a miss.’

Liz replied:

‘My name is Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

Business cards, emails etc all use Elizabeth.

99% of people call me Liz.’

So I said:

‘Thank you, Liz.

So, all your business comms are in sync with just 1% of your audience.

As you’re obviously rebranding, can we ditch Elizabeth for Liz in all instances going forward?

Liz is shorter, friendlier and more accessible.

(Three traits that are particularly attractive when one has a double-barrelled surname.)

It’s impossible to misspell Liz.

And you’ll never again have to start a relationship with, ‘Please, call me Liz’.

This may remove small but unsettling uncertainties for some anxious folk.

Make sense?’

Liz said:

‘Liz it is.’

And so started our website optimisation collaboration.

Liz not only ended up with perfect online content.

She also got a sharper, stronger and more consistent personal brand.

I love it when that happens!

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by #1 Airsoft Mom.

.doc vs .docx – Which & why?

March 18, 2015 at 11:40 am | Posted in copywriting | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Begin with the end in mind.

Begin with the end in mind.

I got a new editing project the other day.

A piece of technical writing destined to pass through many hands.

It’s also intended to form part of a series.

I always start a job by setting ground rules. And given this brief, the need for consistency from the start was paramount.

So the first question I sent to my client was:

‘Hi there!

I want to save everyone a lot of hassle by deciding which Word document format we’re all going to use.

I use Word 97-2003 (.doc) format.

This ensures everyone in the food chain can access and use it, regardless of how old their software is.

However, the document you sent me is in the more modern Word Document (.docx) format.

I want to ‘dumb down’ your files to Word 97-2003 (.doc) format.

Not just for the reason outlined above.

But because if we have two formats flying around, the various filenames won’t always appear together when we look for them in folders.

This could create problems.

My guess is that you have up-to-date software, with a Word template that automatically creates new documents in .docx format.

If so, you should be able to switch this to .doc format.

But before doing so, you may wish to see what format your staff, designer and publisher are using, so everyone is on the same page.

There are pros and cons to .doc and .docx:

You may decide you want the bells and whistles of .docx and that my ultra-conservative .doc approach isn’t for you.

If you and your people really want to use .docx going forward, that’s totally cool.

So long as everyone knows this, has the software to do so, and complies.

This may sound like a tiny and arcane point, but making this simple decision now could avert dramas down the track.

To this end, could you please let me know which way you (and your team!) wish to go?

Kind regards,

P.’

My client’s reply was wonderfully clear and concise.

So much so that I wondered if she needed an editor at all.

She wrote:

‘Yes revert to .doc.’

What a wonderful way to begin!

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by rahego.

Library books

March 16, 2015 at 9:01 am | Posted in copywriting | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Imagine Day. Paul Hassing's book of surreal short stories.

Write once. Use many times.

Having edited a client’s book for much of last year, I was delighted when he sent me a box of ten shiny copies to give to prospects and friends.

By chance, my own book (pictured) had come out just a few days before.

Once I got over the warm fuzzy of seeing my name and website in my client’s acknowledgements, I thought about how to leverage his content.

And so I wrote:

‘Hi there!

Having just had my own book published, I was wondering if you or your publisher has sent copies of your new book to:

It’s not just a legal thing, your title goes onto the databases and becomes globally searchable.

This increases exposure and is very good for your personal brand.

My searches of these databases did not yield anything written by you.

So I wanted to make sure you get onto this if you haven’t already.

Kind regards,

P.’

My client was very grateful.

And, as usual, I got a kick out of offering some free value-add service beyond the project itself.

I can’t wait to see what our respective publications do for us this year.

:)

PS. Here’s the National Library of Australia entry for my dad’s autobiography. And here he is in the State Library of Victoria.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

From DL to PDF to online & beyond!

October 1, 2014 at 11:39 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Leverage your content worldwide!

Leverage your content worldwide!

Remember that jolly DL brochure I edited?

It’s not back from the printer yet, but it did throw up a further lesson during the design process.

Never one to stop seeking value, I asked my client:

‘Once this brochure is finalised for printing, do you reckon we’ll also leverage the file into a PDF?

Doing so would let you post it on your website for downloading any time.

You could also email it to any (younger?) prospects who flag a preference for screen browsing over snail mail (especially if you need to get a brochure to them fast).

If you think this URL idea has legs, I can add a few handy hyperlink suggestions (e.g. behind headshot photos and company logos) so online readers can easily explore.

More bang for your buck, and all that.

These URLs would not be visible in or affect the printed brochure (i.e. if you printed the PDF yourself, it’d be identical to the commercially printed brochure).

I’m definitely not suggesting we run two versions of this brochure – merely that we augment the master file to suit two channels.

Please let me know what you reckon.’

My client agreed this was worthwhile.

Thus spurring me to ever greater efforts to give him value for money.

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

 Pic from Wikipedia.

Notes on DL brochures

September 16, 2014 at 7:33 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
An easy way so see DL.

An easy way so see DL.

A client asked me to edit a brochure and suggest a format.

Once I saw what the brochure was for (promoting a course to time-poor execs) I suggested ‘DL’ format.

So what the hell is DL? Swim Communications puts it very well.

In short, DL is a third the size of A4 (the size you stick in your printer).

My client, who had imagined an A4 format, asked why I preferred DL.

So I said:

‘DL is easier and cheaper to post to many prospects.

Also, I feel it looks more businesslike.

If you go flat A4, you’ll either have to post it folded anyway, or add cardboard to stop it getting mangled en route.

But if you hit a non-A4 letterbox, it’ll get mangled anyway.

Not a good look for your brand.

Folded DLs are also easier to hand out at events, display in foyers and carry away.

Finally, the beauty of a DL brochure is that you can add as many panels as you need to cover the content and it still fits in a standard business envelope.’

My client was impressed.

I can’t wait to see what the designer does with our optimised content.

I wrote this post to demonstrate that expert copywriters and editors don’t just focus on words.

They think about your business, your brand, your communication strategy, your audience, your costs, your desired results and how to wring every drop of value from your investment.

And though they may not be design experts, they know from long experience what works and what doesn’t.

So when you send your perfected copy to a designer for finishing, they’ll have the best possible chance of smashing it out of the park.

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

 Pic by The Internet Printer.

Stew on this!

August 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Posted in copywriting | 10 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 

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!

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by sid.

Right between the eyes

January 22, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in copywriting | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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?

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Qui Ckon CEO Ver.

January 6, 2014 at 9:17 am | Posted in copywriting | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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!

:)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

On your mark

December 21, 2013 at 5:40 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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,

P.

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.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com. | The Pool Theme.
Entries and comments feeds.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.