Long copy brief? Short copy brief? It’s your responsibility.

Let’s be honest: as with any service, there is uncertainty involved in copywriting, especially when it’s for a new client. It’s your job, as a copywriter, to take control and remove this.

The uncertainty is inevitable, and applies to both sides. At the client end, if they’ve never worked with you, or perhaps even with any copywriter before, then there’s naturally going to be some nervousness about taking on board a new supplier. Hopefully you’ll have been through some hoops before taking on the work – at least some emails, ideally a meeting or two – but even though your portfolio is great, and you’ve both enjoyed a coffee together, the client needs reassuring that they’re in safe, professional hands.

At your end, as a supplier, you really want to make sure you get it right first time. But by definition, the client doesn’t know as much about the copywriting process as you do – that’s why they hired you. So it’s your responsibility to guide them through it.

This is why the copy brief is so important. It’s the statement of what is needed, by when, and who has responsibility for what. As you develop your own working methods together the copy brief can become less important, but for those first few jobs together, it’s essential.

I have my own standard copy brief, which I use as a vehicle to help me guide clients through what’s needed. Sometimes I even write my own copy brief just for my own use, if I’m wrestling with a particularly thorny piece. I developed it during my time at Porter Novelli where, as half of the Writing Bureau there, I produced miles and miles of copy, almost in a production line, and this necessitated the discipline of the copy brief.

As well as the basic details around who the client is, contact details and so on, it covers several essential areas:

  • How many words? This is admittedly quite basic but you sometimes need to be quite militant on this one. There’s a tendency for clients to ask for ‘two or three pages’, which begs the questions around how large are the pages and how large is the font!
  • What is the piece about? This needs to be a succinct statement, ideally one sentence. I’ve done quite a lot of branding work and this is the equivalent of the killer question, ‘What do you do?’. Ask ten people in an organisation and you’ll get ten different answers. Same with the copy brief. Make sure someone absolutely knows what this piece is going to be about.
  • What is ‘the hook’? Why would people want to read this? As with branding, this is the equivalent of ‘What do you do differently’? It’s sometimes a really tough question but you both need to dig down and find a reason for the audience to want to read it. Ideas here could be that it’s a unique offering, or the first of a kind, or perhaps there’s been something big in the news that you could use as a hook. Be creative.
  • What are the points you want to make, and what is the proof for each point? This is where the rigour starts. You need to have ‘proof points’ for the statements that you’re going to make. These can be quantitative (5,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire) or qualitative, using anecdotal evidence such as news items that support your point. Certainly working in an agency I found this section incredibly useful, as I couldn’t be expected to be a subject matter expert on everyone’s account. This section made them think about what they were asking me to do, and we all ended up with better work as a result.
  • Where will it appear (publication name or type, email, PDF, printed newsletter)? To give an extreme example, if this is going to appear in the FT, it needs to have a completely different tone than for the Daily Mail. But even trade or vertical titles will have different requirements, so it’s important to ask where this piece is going to appear.
  • What effect do you want to create? This could be to drive awareness, or get more sales, or win an award. It might be less important in a copy brief but I know marketing clients like to see this, because you’re echoing to them that you know what they want from the piece.
  • Who is going to read it and what are their wants/needs? This is a basic question about the audience. Are they senior management who want a macro-level view across their industry? Are they junior staff who just want direct advice? Don’t forget, journalists are also audiences (and are also human, mostly).
  • Why now? Any tie-ins? This is similar to ‘the hook’ question but is explicitly looking for tie-ins. The point here is that the client is often the subject matter expert and they should know what’s been going on in their marketplace. So, ask them.
  • What is the tone of voice? This is important. It’s an expression of the client, the publication, and the audience. You need to decide whether you’re going to be authoritative, or direct, or friendly. If you’re a challenger brand you might want to be a bit pushy. If you’re a retail or consumer brand then maybe err towards the side of informality.
  • Is there an in-house style? This can just be a shortcut to the tone of voice, but consider that the graphic design can also be a pointer towards tone.
  • Do you have any examples? If so, then perhaps you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I tend to find that previous successful examples are the key. I don’t think you can get away without asking all the other questions, but if the client can show you something they liked, and that worked, then this can get you a long way towards knowing what’s required.
  • Do you have any background material? Again, this is where the client needs to work hard, not just in helping with the ‘why now’ question, but with providing you with what you need. Obviously you’ll have to do your own research, but if the client can help with recent articles they’ve seen, or their own research/data/publications, this can help immensely.
  • Timings. This is where you become a project manager as well as copywriter. You don’t need to go crazy here. Just list the stages, responsibilities, and estimated time. The stages and responsibilities should be along the lines of first draft (copywriter), first review (client), second draft (copywriter), second review (client), final draft (copywriter),  and sign-off (client).

So you see, this pretty much covers everything. There can be overlaps, for example with the ‘why now’ and ‘what’s the hook’ questions, but this brief has never let me – or my clients – down. You could maybe distil it further and create a ‘brief copy brief’ but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Gotta love cloud storage

I’ve never lost any data. Ever.

Actually, I tell a lie. I once lost ALL my data. I was recklessly drinking some Becks beer while doing some file management and somehow managed to delete everything from a drive that didn’t have the trash can activated. Thirty rather desperate (and suddenly sober) minutes later, I’d downloaded a good undelete utility and recovered it all. Phew.

Apart from that however, I’ve been something of a back-up freak over the years. It started when I got into home music production. All those hours of recording, arranging, mixing… to lose it all would have been devastating. This brings into sharp relief what we mean about the value of data. Sure, it has business value when you make it work for you. But it can also have immense personal value.

But as our data grows, and becomes more sensitive, backing up becomes more onerous. You forget. You can’t be bothered. You get out of the habit. You need a 1TB hard drive to back up a 1TB hard drive. You need secure, off-site storage – and when you’re working freelance from home, you might not have ready access to a nice, locked drawer somewhere else. And the more human intervention comes in, the more likely you are to screw it up. One day you will back up the wrong way, from the backup to the live. Or, your backup drive will corrupt and you’ll only find out when you really need it. I shudder to think…

Enter cloud storage. Now, I can just hear the stifled laughter. You’re thinking “Why is Brendan talking about cloud storage so late in the day? It’s been around for ages.” This is true enough and I suppose I’m a relatively late convert. But you never know, someone might be looking around for opinions on this, and if they find mine, then I’m telling them: go for it. In fact, if you’re looking around for opinions on this, and you just found me, then I’m telling you: go for it.

Cloud storage is brilliant. I never realised how brilliant until I really started using it. Now, whenever I save a file, and that cute little icon on the systray spins around, I know that I’ll never lose it, that in fact I can go back to a previous version if I need to, and that I can access it from any of my machines, anywhere in the world (mostly). And I don’t have to do a single thing. In fact, I don’t even have to spend one Bitcoin on it. It’s free. This is absurdly amazing. If it didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it. Which they already have, of course.

But cloud storage also opens up creative possibilities. For example, I’ve developed my own social media monitoring system, called ‘Bob’ until I think of a better name (although I’m starting to like it). Bob downloads data, aggregates it, cleans it, and then presents it in ways that I – and my clients – find useful. Where does Bob download the data? To cloud storage, of course. This means that I can query Bob at home, or in the client offices. It doesn’t matter. It’s entirely transparent to Bob. If I ever licensed Bob, I could have clients each with their own private cloud storage, all feeding data into their version of Bob. Marvellous.

Another possibility: your own personal music library. If you can get enough storage (or don’t have too many songs), then just port it all across to a cloud drive and you can access that from any machine, anywhere, and you’ll never need to back it up again.

Cloud storage is also a hugely useful facilitator for collaboration. I run the social media and programme editorial for the Kop Hill Climb, now a major international automotive event in Princes Risborough, Bucks. The entire organisational crew, comprising well over 20 people, uses cloud storage to share and store files. And, as Kop Hill Climb is a charity, generating around £50,000 each year to local causes, the fact that this storage is free is a welcome bonus.

So there you go. Cloud storage. It’s ace. There are plenty of articles out there detailing the various offerings available so I won’t bore you with the details, go and have a look (the PC Advisor cloud storage review seems comprehensive and up to date at the time of writing).

But if you really want to know, this is how I’m using it (note that I’m using several services because that means I get them for free within their storage limits because I’m a cheapskate):

  • Microsoft OneDrive – for my personal work. I use this simply because it’s baked into my Windows 8 installation. It seems a bit slow to upload but apart from that it chugs away nicely in the background.
  • Dropbox - for Kop Hill, and for one client, because they both use it. I find Dropbox rock-solid, but it doesn’t cope with concurrency very well (that is, when two people are accessing the same file). This can result in lost work or duplicate files, so watch out for that.
  • Google Drive – for another client, again simply because they use it. Honestly? Don’t touch it with a barge pole. I’ve had serious issues with Google Drive not syncing, resulting in lost productivity trying to figure out what the latest versions of files are. Really. Don’t go there. Unless something radical has changed, this is, in my opinion and experience, not fit for purpose. Sorry Google.
  • Mega - to store all my music, because you get a wopping 50GB free. OK, so it’s run by Kim Dotcom. OK, so he’s a controversial figure to some. But in a strange way I trust him more than I trust the likes of Google and Microsoft. At least there is a spotlight on him. And it just works.

I’ve also dabbled with Amazon Cloud but I found that a bit clunky. Just my own take on it.

There are other services too, so check them out as per that article. This just works for me. Between them, OneDrive and Mega ensure that when I save stuff, it remains saved. And, so long as I have strong passwords that I change, it remains safe too. Meanwhile Dropbox and Google Drive enable me to work with other people, albeit with more than a little frustration from Google Drive.

Let me know how you get on.

Flanged bananas. Or: how to write a press release that works online too.

Do you write press releases? Do they work online? As in, can people find them? How do you know? Here are some ways to make your releases work as hard for you online as they do offline.

Takeaways:

  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

I’ve written more press releases than you’ve had… whatever you’ve had a lot of.

A press release is like great big vat. At the top is a load of stuff that needs squeezing down, down, down – until a little drop comes out at the bottom. So you need to make sure that concentrated, pure essence is as effective as possible.

Often, this just means writing a good release. What’s the real news here? What’s the story? Who is it for and how can you make it as likely as possible that they’ll publish?

But now, the ‘who it’s for’ part also includes an online audience. This could be because you publish your client releases on your own blog (it’s a nice trick, try it sometime). Maybe you’re writing it specifically for one of those fancypants online release companies. Or it could just be that somehow, it just winds up online and you see it floating around months later.

So today, a good release also means something that ‘works’ online. This doesn’t need especially arcane or difficult skills. Here are some tips.

  • Use keywords. SEO may have been coughing up blood last night, but it’s not quite dead. Find a website that talks about exactly the same thing you want to talk about, copy its address, hop on over to the free Google Adwords tool for keywords and paste that address in. The Adwords tool will tell you what it thinks are the most likely keywords for that page and, by inference, what words you should be using. It’s a bit like a reverse search: instead of typing keywords and getting the page, you’re specifying a page and finding what the keywords might have been. Now, use them roughly 3-5 times every 100 words, especially in the title and first sentence because that’s where Google likes them. You just made your release more attractive to search engines because you’re using the words other people use online, not the ones you think you should use.
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online. Again, this goes back to how people might read your release. If they’re using RSS, then for example in Google Reader the title is cut off at 70 characters and the first sentence at 120 (this applies to Google search results too). So if you have nice, well-formed titles and first sentences that get the message across within those limits, people might be more likely to read you. It’s not exactly SEO – that is, search engines don’t prefer titles and first sentences within those limits – but humans do. Maybe we need to call this HSEO?
  • Do it backwards. Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title. That’s how I write blog posts and as a result, it’s how I write offline too. Usually I have it all in my head after writing it, and find it easier to compress than expand.
  • Make it trackable. Use an unusual phrase in the title that you can then track, via searches, Google Alerts, RSS monitoring, dashboards, whatever. I added ‘Flanged bananas’ to this, which is of course ridiculous (I’m a ridiculous person after all), but it’s a safe bet that when I search for that phrase from now on, I know it’s this blog post (actually, it seems I just inadvertently created my very own Google Whack). If you do it, you’ll know it’s your press release. Especially if you’re writing about flanged bananas.
  • Make it Twitter-friendly. Add a 140-character-or-less pre-made sentence at the end that people can copy and paste, complete with a bit.ly URL that you can track. Something like “Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips. http://bit.ly/oIybwe” You just made it much easier for people to spread the word – and you controlled the message and can track it too. Nice.

Note that the second, third and fourth points above could equally apply to any title and first sentence no matter whether they’re offline or online because they just promote the essence of good copywriting. Get the message across with as much impact and brevity as possible, and make it lodge in people’s minds. Don’t give me any ‘revolutionary’ or ‘world-first’, begone with your ‘cutting edge’ and ‘delighted to announce’. It just doesn’t cut it any more. Think flanged bananas.

I usually avoid the cheesy “So what hints and tips do you have” motif at the end of blog posts but, seeing as nobody reads my blog any more, I’m willing to try anything. So, what hints and tips do you have?

Takeaways:

  • Use keywords
  • Make the title and first sentence look good online
  • Write the release first, then the first sentence, then the title
  • Make it trackable
  • Make it Twitter-friendly

If you liked that, tweet this: Flanged bananas: How to write a press release that works online too. Brendan Cooper gives some tips. http://bit.ly/oIybwe

Facebook and Google: if you can’t do the time…

So today, on Today on Radio 4, and the front page of the Guardian, and on the BBC, and probably everywhere else, is the story of Facebook, Google, and a PR company that I’m not going to continue to kick (because I don’t like kicking PR agencies). That is, Facebook’s agency allegedly trying place smear stories about Google’s Social Circle network.

I don’t often get time to blog nowadays but this one just stuck in my mind all the way into work, for several reasons.

Now, whether or not the actual core claim is valid that “the American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloguing and broadcasting every minute of every day – without their permission”, the prime issue here is one of trust. Trust and lies – or deliberate, covert smearing – don’t sit well. If you can’t be open and honest, do something different instead.

I remember when I first started in PR, as a copywriter, and I’ll be frank: I wasn’t entirely sure what PR was. That’s one of the reasons I started blogging, to share my ideas, get other people’s take on them, and learn. So, when I met up with some ex-colleagues and told them what I was up to, their immediate response was “What, telling lies?” I stuttered and spluttered and wasn’t sure how to respond.

Years later I’m absolutely confident that PR is not in the business of telling lies. I’ve seen people go to great pains to establish what can, and cannot be claimed. Anyone who’s ever been in a messaging session will know how much importance we place on the solid facts we have at our disposal, which verify and validate anything that a client says, or that we say on the client’s behalf. It’s part of our DNA.

For example, I interviewed a prominent UK political figure earlier this week. I’ve just spent a very, very long time making sure that everything I wrote up subsequently is absolutely accountable.

But, to take the iconoclastic approach, why? Why bother telling the truth? Sometimes lying really can get you what you want. I still remember lying to my parents about what happened to the TV set when in fact it wasn’t the cat that had knocked water down the back of it, it was me.

What about stretching the truth to its elastic limit? I heard about the Chilcott Commission yesterday and had forgotten it was even still running, but that’s come about surely because someone, somewhere, did quite a lot of manipulation to make things go their own way.

Why not lie? Why not conduct a covert smear campaign?

Well, the reason is this: you get caught. It’s all too true that you can’t fool all the people all of the time. We are fortunate in the West to live in a society where the competing agendas of politics, corporations and the media mean that if there is an untruth to be exposed, someone will expose it. Then, all hell breaks loose. Brands get damaged. We waste millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on a phoney war and a toothless commission. You wind up on the front page of the Guardian and lose your job.

So you don’t lie because, if there’s any other way to do what you want to do, then do that instead. From the social media angle, if you find you need to get someone else to write your blog posts for you, or generally pretend to be you, then you may as well try to find a different medium because that’s not what social media is about. It’s about you. If you don’t have time, money or resource to do it, then don’t do it.

I’m not saying anyone in the Facebook/Google/PR case is lying. Facebook may be presenting a perfectly valid viewpoint. But the way they’ve done it? No. If Facebook didn’t have the time, money or resource to face the consequences of their PR agency’s methods, then they shouldn’t have done it. Unfortunately, they probably have ample amounts of all three.

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

The Universal Process™. Or: the Gartner Hype Cycle of Life

Life. Work. Birth. Death. And everything in between. Read on.

I wrote some time ago about the process of writing. Unless I’m writing for myself – that is, when I had time for ‘recreational writing’, or even blogging for that matter – I tend to procrastinate. I sit in front of the monitor surrounded by swathes of research, I huff and I puff, I put my head in my hands, I wander off, stroke the cats, make a cup of tea, sit in the garden staring at a bush. I repeat this a few times, then, after the first paragraph or two, it’s there, in my head. I totally know where it’s going and what I’m doing and before I know it, the piece is written.

But then it needs redrafting, often several times, off my own bat and following feedback. In the end I’m heartily sick of it and I’m happy to dispatch it, but everyone seems happy with it. Then, some time later, I go through my own stuff and think “That’s pretty good. Did I really write that? I must have been intelligent back then. Perhaps I’m destroying my brain with too much TV/Guinness/social media.”

This hasn’t changed, and it’s telling me that it’s an essential part of the process. You need that time to fulminate. To ruminate. To think. People don’t pay you to think, but it is necessary. Then you become so familiar with something you just want rid of it. Then you look back on it a few weeks or months or years later, and you’re pretty pleased with what you did. It was all worth it in the end.

The more I work in other fields, the more I think this is a universal process. I’m going to call it the UP™.

An example: I used to be into home-based music production. It was a phase, albeit a fairly long one (about 8 years – you can hear the results here). The same would happen. I’d noodle a fair amount, then suddenly latch onto it and off I went. Then I would spend a very, very long time with the production. In the end, same thing: I had enough. But it had to be finished. So I would end up finishing it without really knowing if it was finished. And sometimes I listen to it even now and I quite like it. Does that make sense?

Another example: today, I put together a Facebook page for a client. I’ve done this before, but every client is different, and you pretty much find yourself starting from scratch every time. At first I was fairly overwhelmed. There were so many wrong ways to go about it, and I had to find the right way. So I looked through all the content I had – several times – then did some research about best practice, looked at what other people had done, etc etc. There was huffing and there was puffing, there was head in hands. There were cats stroked. Bushes were looked at. Tea was drunk.

About two hours later I was absolutely heading in the right direction. And now I’m really getting into it. And I thoroughly expect that, after we launch and promote it (and keep promoting it for the next few months) I will have had enough of it, and want to do something else instead. But I’m hoping the client will like it. And I’m hoping I’ll look back on it and like it too.

Copywriting, music, social media (and, for that matter, design and code, which is what I’m doing with the FB page). They all follow this pattern. Even research. I hate starting a social media audit. I love it when the figures come out. I hate having to keep plugging away and updating it. I love it when I look back and think I did a good job.

This process needs a model.

I like the Gartner Hype Cycle. I like its categories: the Trigger, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, the Trough of Disillusionment, the Slope of Enlightenment and finally the Plateau of Productivity. See below.

I think that applies to work, too, but with a different shape. My new categories? The Commission, the Trough of Despond, the upward Slope of Encouragement, the Peak of Productivity, the downward Slope of Dudgeon and finally, the Plateau of Reality. It’s the UP™. See below.

Let’s be philosophical. I wonder if life is like this? In which case The Commission is when mummy and daddy got friendly, the Trough of Despond is when you realise you’re probably not going to get that Ferrari (or in my case a Morgan, although my Spitfire is seeing me alright), the Upward Slope of Encouragement is when you think “Well, that’s ok, let’s focus on what’s important”, the Peak of Productivity is after you climb up (or my case, up a bit, across a bit, down a bit) the career ladder and start really enjoying life, the Downward Slope of Dudgeon is when you start confusing your grandchildren’s names with the cats and hoovering the garden, and the Plateau of Reality is… well, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ll post you when I am.

To craunch a marmoset, frothy vomit, and other curiosities

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

So I was going through Epoch PR‘s numbers (I’m their digital associate and am helping them with their online strategy), and this came up: http://seadna.net/301-redirect-the-seo-way-to-rename-or-move-files-or-folders/

To quote the bit that my Epoch PR search must have picked up: “it takes a straws of in good time always and hard hopped to build a skilful epoch PR.”

Do what?

The piece is so weird, it’s inspired. Here are some more examples:

  • “If someone types ‘excise usb drives’ in a search engine punch, your foot-boy shows up on the sooner search results screen”
  • “Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Stinking (PR) to every summon forth”
  • “why can’t you upright matching the page and disenchant type suffer its course”

I think it must be a machine translation of another article or just random text pasted together to get web traffic. The funny thing is that it sort of makes sense, but really doesn’t.

It goes to show – monitoring and measurement is never as easy as it first seems. And there’s never a foot-boy around when you need one.

Further down the search list is a post I can more readily vouch for: http://oldamqvnl.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D7176E885C76F591!109.entry is a machine translation of my own Epoch PR post from a few months back, so given that I write in English, and that it is also in English, I can only assume it’s via a second language somewhere. Good Lord, is the web really just an eternally self-translating churn of random copy?

Again, there are wonderful mistakes in it: the company name changes from ‘Epoch’ to ‘Era'; they change from a lovely bunch of people to ‘a lovely clustering of people'; and I simply cannot tell you why “I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago” becomes “I ‘m no windy but I make recall my mousing intuition that blogging would be important for Pr about three geezerhood ago.”

This all reminds me of a case once quoted in the ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’, in which someone had written an English/Portuguese dictionary via  English/Spanish and Spanish/Portuguese dictionaries (he knew no English), and came up with immortal phrases such as ‘to craunch a marmoset’. And yes, here it is: the glorious ‘English As She Is Spoke’.

Or, indeed, the catalogue currently describing the latest Saatchi exhibition. To wit: “A nation demarcated where vomit meets surf, geographically encircled by froth”. I would characterise the UK as many things, but vomity, surfy and frothy it ain’t.

Proof that you don’t need machine translation on the interweb to come up with gobbledegook.

Everyone needs to get out more

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So today is Wednesday which means I write about… hang on, let me look it up… tum te tum te tum… ah yes, here it is. Social media!

Right.

Over the past month, in the UK, we’ve been subjected to the constant advances of politicians throughout the election. Thankfully it’s all stopped,  but at the time I did notice a phenomenon that I keep seeing around me and that I think is significant.

Which is: when you’re inside something, when that something is your world, there’s a tendency to think it’s the same for everyone else too. And the reality is, that it isn’t.

To take the political example, I have a strong feeling that Cameron, Clegg and Brown woke up every morning thinking that the world is a world of politics. They would meet their aides, shake people’s hands, look interested when being shown lathes, and generally be in that world till they fell asleep and night and dreamed of kittens.

But for someone like me, it isn’t a world of politics. I’ve never even met a politician, that I’m aware. I’ve never been to a political event. I voted, sure, but I count myself among the people who think that politics is pretty irrelevant to their lives. It all seems so pragmatic, so ineffectual when considered against seemingly overwhelming global forces.

Enough of the politics. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a tendency to believe that what you’re doing is treated with equal significance as everyone else, even when it’s something as (supposedly) important as politics.

And I see this in social media too.

The people I follow on Twitter, tweet about it. The bloggers I read, blog about it. So there’s a real possibility that, working in social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a world of social media.

It isn’t.

I know it isn’t, not just because there are trees, birds and sky out there, but because during the election, despite sky-high ratings for Clegg, he just didn’t cut it in the real world. If it were a world of social media, he’d have won hands down.

Is this post making sense? I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not sure it’s coming across. Basically, as communicators – whether politicians, PR people or social media types – we need, often, to break out of our little world and see it from someone else’s point of view. That way, we start to appreciate what’s really going on, rather than what we think is going on.

I’m lucky. I do something else too – that is, I write. OK, so I write about social media, but I like to think that I can do this from the outside in, as well as the inside, um, in. So should all communicators. It’s not a world of PR, or of advertising, or of social media. We need to get out more.

Copywriters can write about anything – but don’t ask them about it next week

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So, today is copywriting. If you want to know what that means, it means that I’ve decided to try a blogging experiment. I’m going to write to a daily schedule so that on any given day, if you want to tune in, you’ll know what to expect. Plus, I make sure I cover everything I do and learn from it. And the schedule is:

  • Monday – media
  • Tuesday – copywriting
  • Wednesday – social media
  • Thursday – tech/digital
  • Friday – not decided yet but it might just be ‘stuff not covered elsewhere’

Let’s see how it goes.

So, with that preamble out of the way, now the first sentence makes sense. Today is copywriting.

I started out as a technical author, and that would range from the mindlessly tedious through to the fairly interesting. Then I ‘grew up’ to be a fully paid-up copywriter. That’s where the fireworks started. This ranged from the improbable to the impossible.

By which I mean: on any given day you could be writing several different pieces. These ranged in form and content. The form could be press releases, bylines, features, competition entries, web copy, blog posts, and everything else. The content could be the best paper to use in a printer, the advantages of cloud computing, the shaving habits of the Belgians – and, again, everything else.

So is any copywriter particularly knowledgeable about printers, servers and Belgians? Of course not.

But that’s part of what a copywriter ‘does’. As in: give a copywriter a brief to explain the second law of thermodynamics to, ooh I don’t know, five year-olds. As a blog post. What a copywriter will then do is immerse himself or herself in the subject matter, fill up their heads with the stuff, then write about it (actually, the good copywriter will offer creative alternatives and the excellent copywriter will ask what you’re trying to achieve and why).

Then – the copywriter will forget it. It’s done. Sure, bits of it will stick, but a week later, ask that copywriter what is meant by that statement that “the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium”, and you’ll be met with a blank stare.

Is this a bad thing? No. What it means is that good copywriters can write about anything. If they’re doing it right, they’ll recalibrate their heads and ‘become’ that expert in that particular, specific subject matter for that particular, specific period of time. Then they’ll delete, expunge, dormant that information until or unless they need it again.

So next time you’re startled because a copywriter cannot remember something he or she wrote about last week, don’t be. It’s because this week, they’re an expert on something else. As well as copywriting, of course.