Archive | Writing Without Waffle

Having a funny five minutes

I was asked to do a five-minute talk recently.

“Great”, I thought. “I can practice my stand-up comedy skills.” (I’ve only done one stand-up performance before).

Then I discovered it was a Petcha Kutcha style talk. Turns out that it’s a Japanese phrase meaning ‘chit chat’ and is pronounced pCha kCha.

It’s a rigid discipline.

It meant using 20 slides (I hadn’t planned to use any) that automatically advance after 15 seconds each (traditional PK is 20 seconds). That means a maximum of 45 words per slide at a normal speaking rate of 3 words per second. That’s about 3 or 4 sentences. Not allowing for breathing, pauses or laughter.

I usually allow about one hour of preparation for each minute of speaking.

For this talk, it was at least double that. I workshopped the content with three or four people to polish it. They all added immeasurable improvements that I would never have achieved on my own. (Thank you Julie, Janice, Mitch and Fripp for your insights).

You might wonder how it went.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was far better than I expected.

I got amazing feedback (people laughed loads, told me it was brilliant, highlight of the night, and more of a performance than a speech).


Watch it below: Why your job ads don’t work


Why copywriting is like decorating

paintLike a painter choosing the right paint, a copywriter has to choose the right words.

But there’s more to it than that.

I put it in a lot of effort upfront to get a good brief, so that I can do a great job. It’s a bit like decorating a property – the secret of a fabulous finished product is all in the preparation.

It’s tricky to give even a ballpark figure until we have an initial discussion.

A quick conversation would therefore be really useful for both of us – for me to understand exactly what you’re looking for, and for you to get an idea about how I work and the value I can bring.

These are some of the issues we’d explore: Continue Reading →


Choosing a business name

NamesDon’t agonise over your business name.

Here’s why.

When I left corporate life, I launched my freelance copywriting business under the brand Comms Plus. “It’s communication,” I thought, “with added positivity and results”. I even registered it as a trade mark.

But, when I went out networking, with ‘Jackie Barrie Comms Plus’ proudly displayed on my name badge, everyone thought I was in telecoms.

I soon realised that clients book me because I’m me, not because of what I call myself.

My official entity for legal and accounting purposes is still ‘Jackie Barrie T/A Comms Plus’. (T/A stands for Trading As.) But
I now market myself under my own name, with a matching professional headshot photo on my business cards, website and social media.

Think of the objective of your business name, and your route to market. As with all experts, it’s most likely that you’ll win business via word of mouth and networking. Once they’ve met you, why should prospects have to remember a business name as well as your own name? Don’t make it difficult for them to track you down.

Search my name and you’ll find me all over Google.

Also, I write in the first person, and share maximum personality online (although I rarely share my personal life online). Because I found this works better than writing in the third person and pretending to be bigger than you are.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to use your own name as your business name.

If the URLs are already taken, you have a common name, or your name is the same as someone famous, you might have to add ‘writer’, ‘copywriter’ or ‘wordsmith’ to differentiate yourself.

Finally, I win business because of my slogan, ‘Writing Without Waffle’. (In the UK, waffle means ‘lengthy, vague or trivial’.) When I give people my business card, they say: “Ooh, that’s useful, I need some of that!” Or “I know someone who needs some of that!” And that’s what you want your marketing to do.

BTW, prospects can find me all over Google via my slogan too.


Stating the obvious.

Stating the obvious. Just one of the things you learn *not* to do on the Copywriting for Recruiters course I run with Mitch Sullivan.


  • ‘We have a vacancy…’
  • ‘We are recruiting for…’
  • ‘We’re hiring…’

Well, yes. It’s a job ad.

Equally, you don’t need to tell accountants they should be ‘Good with numbers’ or managers that they will be ‘Responsible for a team’.

Other nonsense includes: ‘Working both as an individual and as part of a team’, and ‘Liaising with people at all levels’. You can exclude any requirements that really mean ‘Do your job’.

And you don’t have to say things like ‘Ensure H&S requirements are adhered to’. Instead, delete anything that just means ‘Obey the law’.

Finally, don’t make statements such as ‘Integrity and trust are paramount’. No one would ask for someone *without* integrity or trustworthiness. So you don’t need to say it.

Find out more


A few words about the word ‘strong’

StrongGood copywriters justify every word they use.

Every. Single. One.

As you may know, I started my copywriting career in the catalogue industry, where every inch of space cost money, and each word had to battle for its place on the page.

(Yes, I said ‘inch’. Because that’s how old I am.)

Here are some thoughts about just one word.


A job ad for a manager might well include a request for ‘strong leadership skills’.

At a time when gender equality is back at the top of the agenda (and rightly so), the problem is that the word ‘strong’ can be perceived as a male word, and so filter out female applicants. Continue Reading →


What makes a *really* good business card?

lightbulbIf you read my articles regularly, you’ll know I am always banging on about the fact that all marketing has an objective.

So, what’s the objective of your business card? It’s a tiny piece of marketing, usually about 88mm x 55mm, but with a very important job to do.

First, let’s put it into context.

The most likely time you will give someone a business card is when you meet them at a networking event, or if they ask for it after you’ve delivered a talk. Either way, you will be face to face with the recipient.

Chances are, they will come away from the occasion with a whole pile of business cards.

What are you hoping they will do with your card? I suggest you want them to:

  • Recognise you now, and remember you in future
  • Contact you for a followup conversation, or even a quote
  • Become a friend, fan, or follower on your social media
  • Maybe pass your card on to a contact of theirs who might need you*

However, they will probably put all the cards they’ve collected straight into the recycling bin. if you’re lucky, they might scan them first, or add your contact details to their address book. If you’re very unlucky, they might add you (illegally) to their mailing list, and send you newsletters forever afterwards.

So how do you make your business card stand out and achieve your objectives? Continue Reading →


It’s all about the packaging.

CatWe live in a world where books are judged by their covers. People are judged by their appearance. And prices are judged by the packaging.

Of course, the quality of what you offer should be what matters. Your value should be based on what’s inside. What’s on the outside shouldn’t make a difference.

But it does.

Continue Reading →


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.


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.


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:

Continue Reading →