Checking primary sources

solar panelsYou can’t believe everything you read.

Some years ago, I was asked to write a leaflet about solar panels. About 50K copies were to be printed and distributed to households around Britain, so it was a high profile project.

The client gave me an article from the Guardian about some research that supported the benefits he wanted to claim.

Something in that article made me think, hmm, this is just a teeny tiny bit too convenient. Let me just double-check the facts.

The Guardian article revealed that the story had originally been published in the Daily Mail, so I tracked down their article.

It took a slightly different angle on the situation, and revealed the title of the actual study. After some more digging, I uncovered the original research paper that the Mail had quoted.

And…

I found that the journalists had misinterpreted the data. The actual results didn’t support my client’s claim at all.

I had to go back and tell him we couldn’t use inaccurate evidence, and we devised another marketing approach instead.

I’m so glad my journalism training kicked in at such an important time. He risked being ridiculed and losing brand value and reputation.

  • Get your facts right
  • Don’t believe everything you read in the press
  • Find a USP you can actually back up

Remember, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

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How far back in time could you go and still understand English?

batty fang = a beating

kickerapoo = dead

land pirates = highway robbers

gutfoundered = very hungry

whapper = a big lie

nitsqueeger = a hairdresser

xantippe = an ill tempered wife

abbess = a nun

thornback = a spinster

barber-monger = a vain man

bleater = someone who complains a lot

brabble = to quarrel loudly

crapulous = the feeling of being too full

hugger-mugger = secretly

lettice-cap = a medical device like a hair net

pigarlik = a bald head

petty fogger = a dodgy lawyer

mumpsimus = the act of sticking to old mistaken beliefs about language and customs simply out of habit

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Where are recruiters going wrong?

WrongAs you may know, I spend a lot of time travelling up and down the country with Mitch Sullivan, training recruiters how to write better job ads. As I’m a generalist copywriter, you might be wondering what I can teach them, and whether the lessons are applicable to you too.

Quite naturally, recruiters often think the way to write ads is the way that every other recruiter writes them. However, if you want to stand out, you need to be different.

Innocent Drinks is often held up as a paragon of virtue when it comes to tone of voice in their copy. The copy is ‘on brand’ on their website, newsletter, blog, packaging and even their vans. Yet, surprisingly, their job ads read much the same as everyone else’s.

Like many companies, their careers page shows the first few lines as a teaser with a ‘read more’ link to the rest of the ad. The trouble is that most of the opening teasers are top-down – written from the company’s point of view, not the reader’s:

  • “We’re going through an exciting period of growth…”
  • “To help us achieve this we’re looking for…”
  • “We’re passionate about…”
  • “We’ve come a long way from selling smoothies in West London in 1999…”
  • “2017 was a great year for us, there was [sic] loads of great new products, we expanded into new regions and the business grew really well..”

The opening of any ad is the most important bit, as it determines whether or not people will read on. Not only does the Innocent approach fail to differentiate one job from another at a glance, but the copy fails the ‘who cares’ test, as it’s all about the company, not what’s in it for the reader.

Having assessed hundreds of ads, I notice that in-house and agency recruiters tend to repeat the same mistakes. And they don’t just apply to job ads.

Here are some of the most common copy mistakes so you can avoid them:

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…walked into a bar

A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.

A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.

Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

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Words a copywriter would never use

WordsThere are certain words a copywriter would never use.

‘Solutions’ is one of them.

One reason is because ‘solution’ returns 642,000,000 results when searched on Google. Wow. If there are that many solutions available, yours is highly unlikely to stand out.

I realise that people use the word to suggest they solve problems. But it doesn’t work. It’s clunky and pointless.

To demonstrate what nonsense it is, here’s what @DaveTrott tweeted yesterday:

Just had a nutrition solution, so I might go outside for some garden solution, or down the pub for some leisure solution, then the telly for some entertainment solution, and off to bed for some relaxation solution. Then tomorrow morning up and catch the travel solution to work.

A copywriter would never write: ‘An internet marketing firm specialising in e-commerce solutions’.

We’d write: ‘An internet marketing firm specialising in e-commerce’.

Or, even better, something that is more customer-focused: ‘We help improve the performance of your e-commerce website’.

The only time a copywriter would use ‘solution’ is when writing about chemistry e.g. ‘A solution of ammonia in water’.

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