marketing, writing

The proof is in… the proofreading!

One part of preparing written communications that often gets overlooked and under-loved is the proofreading. When you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of hours writing and editing a document, sitting down to do one final, thorough proofread is probably about as appealing as a commute on the Jubilee line at 8am. With a hangover. In the middle of summer. Especially when you are itching to get started on your next exciting copywriting project. But no matter how painful it may seem to do, I can’t stress enough how important it is to proofread your work properly. The last thing you want is those hours of work wasted because some simple typos and grammatical errors switched off your intended audience. On that basis, here are our simple tips to follow to make sure your proofread is always as thorough as it needs to be.

1. Find someone else to do it.

Now, this isn’t because we don’t love proofreading and want to palm it off on someone else, but it really does help to have a fresh set of eyes look over your document. When you’ve spent hours immersed in a project, it can sometimes be hard to be objective about your own copy and you can become blind to certain errors. However, if you don’t have the luxury of having someone else review your work, it’s best to leave enough time between finishing the document and proofreading it (overnight is usually sufficient), to make sure that you’re suitably refreshed to spot any corrections.

2. Print it out.

Reading a printed document is much easier than reading it on your computer screen. And you’ll pick up more mistakes by proofreading a hard copy. It also helps to have a ruler to hand, to help guide your eye line-by-line through the document, and to avoid the temptation to skim read the more boring paragraphs.

3. Remove all distractions.

The last thing you need when you are proofreading is to hear your phone ringing, or your computer ‘ping’ as a new emails comes into your inbox. Instead, take your print out to a quiet, comfortable place where you can be free from all distractions and focus just on your document.

4. Don’t overdo it.

Only you know how long you can proofread a document for before losing concentration (my short attention span only allows me an hour at a time), so set a timer to the time that suits you and if it goes off before you have finished, take a break and come back to it.

5. Perfect your proofreading technique.

Most of us are pretty fast readers. I can be a very impatient reader at times, skimming over words and sometimes full sentences if I’m particularly interested in the copy and eager to read on. Instead, when we’re proofreading we need to adapt our reading technique and take it slow. Word. By. Word. Including any labelling of charts of diagrams.

6. Become a master of grammar.

Unless you know when an apostrophe is required, and where it should be placed, you’re unlikely to make a good proofreader. Swot up on the basics to make sure you’re proficient enough to spot those niggling mistakes. There are some great resources online to test your grammar and punctuation skills (such as grammarbook.com or plainenglish.co.uk).

7. Refer back to your copy style guide.

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, it’s important for any piece of copy to remain consistent with a clearly documented style guide. Have a quick read through this (or have a printed copy to hand) before sitting down to any proofreading task, to make sure you spot any deviations from the agreed style so that you can correct them. For example, are all your bullet points and headers in the correct case? And are those bullet points aligned correctly?

Hopefully you’ll agree with these useful tips – please feel free to share your own thoughts on what works for you when proofreading documents!

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marketing

Marketing horror stories… and how to avoid them

Frightened man As much as I like to pride myself on the accuracy of my work, like most people (!) I’m only human and have been known to make the odd mistake. The trick is to recognise what’s gone wrong and learn how to avoid it in the future.

Below are some of the most common marketing horrors that I’ve witnessed over my career (not all are mine, I promise!) and tips on how to avoid falling foul of them. These are all pretty obvious, but mistakes tend to happen when we’re complacent so it’s worth reminding ourselves of these on a regular basis.

Out of date references

Using data to support a point in your marketing collateral can be a very powerful tool (e.g., ‘the average return over the past five years has been X% above the benchmark’). But only if it’s correct and up-to-date. If they’re not current and accurate, stats are at best irrelevant and, in the worst cases, frankly misleading. It’s so important to check your sources and, if you can’t verify a source for a data point, it’s probably best to leave it out. You could be opening yourself up to all sorts of trouble if it turns out it was wrong.

Mistakes in print

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we’ve worked laboriously on a document for ages, sent it to print in a rush to meet a deadline and the first thing we’ve noticed when we’ve got the glossy versions back from the printer is that glaring typo on the first page. This kind of mistake is not only embarrassing, it can be incredibly costly if documents need to be reprinted to fix the error. I can’t stress how important it is to proof read documents before they go to the printers, regardless of how many other eyes have looked over them. Be meticulous in your proof read – check page references, chart labels, footnote numbers – every word and digit should be checked. And then checked again.

Non-compliant copy

Writing a marketing communication often requires the involvement of a number of people, at least it does in my industry (financial marketing). Of course, you need an experienced and talented copywriter to write the copy, but you also need input from technical product specialists, salespeople, tax specialists and, most importantly, legal and compliance teams. Unless you’re up-to-date with the regulatory changes impacting your industry there’s the risk that the rules have changed and the copy you provide as a copywriter is no longer compliant. And that’s a massive risk for the company with their name on the front of that document. When preparing copy for a client, I always insist that they have a compliance and/or legal expert review the content before the document is publicised, and that their review and approval has been documented.

Missing comments

Getting input from experts such as compliance officers and lawyers is one thing, but it’s then imperative that their comments get included in the final copy. This sounds pretty obvious, but when you’ve got comments coming in from four or five different sources, it can be really easy to miss a comment here or there. The solution to this is to keep strict versioning control over your documents. That means giving each draft a suffix in its file name to denote who the comments are from, the date they were received and what number version of the document it is (e.g., ‘brochure_compliancecomments_2.0_date’). And then always making sure you are working from the latest version.

There’s nothing here that good copywriters and marketeers don’t already know, but by following these basic rules you can hopefully beat the halloween horrors and make sure you get it 100% right 100% of the time.

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Discover the secret to a killer headline

As a copywriter, I’m incredibly lucky that I rarely get writer’s block. But when I do, it always strikes when I’m preparing a headline. And in a world where readers have access to so much content, the headline is undoubtedly the most important sentence of any communication. It’s the calling card, the bit that should cry out ‘read me!’ to anyone who stumbles across it.

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“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” David Ogilvy (AKA ‘the father of advertising’)

Despite many fellow bloggers claims to the contrary, I don’t believe that there is a perfect formula for writing a headline. I’ve read various pieces of advice, ranging from the sensible (“It should be 65 characters or less“: makes sense, so that it doesn’t get cut off in search results) to the downright peculiar (“It should be 6 words. No more, no less“: err, why??). In fact, the most repeated tip to headline-writing success is to produce a numbered list (“7 tips to guarantee results” or “5 ways to make your money work“). Whilst I’m definitely a fan of a numbered list, they are becoming increasingly common, and isn’t it boring when everything is done in the same way? Are there any other tricks you can deploy to get your headline noticed? Continue reading

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Seven easy steps to setting the right tone

In both verbal and written communications, using the right words to convey your message is crucial. This is especially true in financial communications, when you might have limited space or time to communicate what can be quite a technical message. But language, both written and spoken, is about far more than the right words in the right order. The tone you use, I believe, is equally important. Get that wrong, and it’s like adding a full stop. in the middle of a sentence. It confuses your message and switches off your audience.

For example, using contractions in a formal document is widely discouraged. It just seems overly familiar. But using contractions in an educational guide for beginners, or a ‘blog’ style editorial piece makes much more sense – it helps the flow for the reader and feels more natural. I even encourage my clients to use contractions in marketing brochures as the text better replicates how they would speak to their audience if they were marketing a product to them face-to-face.

Given how important the tone of a communication is, it always amazes me how many firms don’t have ‘tone of voice’ guidelines. As a result, their communications are often quite garbled, moving between describing themselves in the 1st and 3rd person, and using a numerical digit here and spelling out a number there. Having clear guidelines to set your tone not only helps add some brand consistency to your communications, it also sets the standard for all your copywriters to stick to.

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The importance of a letter

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The way we communicate with each other has undergone a sea change in the past couple of decades. Whether it’s work or personal, emails are far and above most peoples preferred medium of communication. So much so, that it’s hard to believe that email didn’t really exist before the 1990s.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that emails are great. I love the way you can communicate one message efficiently to multiple recipients. I find it extremely helpful that I can review and correct what I communicate before actually committing to send it. I love the fact that my message will instantly ping into someone’s inbox without delay (when they get around to reading it and replying to it is another matter!). But are we losing something by replacing more traditional methods of communication with this ‘fast food’ version? Or are we underestimating the importance of a simple, traditional letter?

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Finding the right balance

We’ve all been marketeers at some point in our lives. Whether it’s marketing ourselves on our CVs, our second hand cars on Autotrader, or even trying to give something away on Freecycle, we’ve all had that moment staring at a blank page wondering where to start. We want to appeal to our audience, but we’re also very conscious (or at least we should be!) that we don’t want to mislead them either. And striking the right balance is no mean feat.

It appears that, despite years of marketing experience, I can sometimes get that balance wrong. Having eventually had enough of an old printer taking up valuable space in my shoe box of an office, I decided to turn to Freecycle and let one of the good people of Wandsworth take it off my hands. For free. With a brand new set of ink cartridges. You’d think they’d bite my hand off at the chance. However my overly honest description (a slightly wonky yet perfectly usable paper loading tray) must have sent alarm bells ringing, as two weeks later, it’s still sitting here smiling up at me like an old friend.

To me, marketing has always been about more than selling a product or service. It’s about providing information. Having worked in financial services for my entire career, I’m conscious of the regulator’s call to be ‘clear, fair and not misleading’ on a daily basis and this guides each and every piece of work I do. Sometimes investors will decide to buy an investment product based on my marketing brochure alone, so I feel it’s important that they understand how it works, warts and all.

However, it seems not everyone operates on the same guidelines. I recently came across a rather shocking video on my Facebook feed, highlighting some of the tricks employed by the food industry to get us to buy certain produce. Apparently ‘farm fresh’ doesn’t mean my chicken has been plucked straight from a sunny meadow in Dorset after a happy life of roaming free. At best, it means there was a window in his hen house in which he lived beak-to-beak with thousands upon thousands of other poor fated chickens.

But this does highlight a challenge that us marketers face on a daily basis: the need to appeal to our audience whilst not misleading them. Most marketers worth their salt will have the strong sales and communication skills to help the audience feel a product is something they want. But the best among us will also have that little cautious voice in our heads, asking if we’ve been clear enough for the audience to know for sure that a product is what they want. And it’s this ability to strike the right balance that distinguishes the best marketers from the rest.

 

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Entering the blogosphere

So whilst I’ve written umpteen blogs in the names of clients over the years, it suddenly struck me that I didn’t publish one myself. In an age where most technically-able people blog about everything from their work to what they ate for dinner, I decided that as a professional copywriter I should probably get publishing.

In fact, I got thinking more generally about why people blog, and, in particular, why companies blog. We all know that the internet is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and so many companies from small start ups to multi-national corporations are using blogs to create a very powerful online presence. If, like me, it’s a part of your marketing strategy that you’ve neglected to date, here are 3 compelling reasons why you might want to consider entering the blogosphere:

Reason 1: Knowledge is power. Whatever the product or service you specialise in, writing a blog can be a very useful and easy way to share your expertise with your clients. At first, it may seem counterintuitive to publish your intellectual capital for the whole world to see, but some carefully selected snippets of information can really help position you as a thought leader. For example, why did your research lead you to bring to market that product at that time? Do you have a real-life example of someone who bought your product or service and benefitted greatly? How has your industry changed over the past year and what have you done to keep pace? Writing honest and well-articulated blogs on specific topics will help your clients trust your brand and ultimately come to you when they need to. Continue reading

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