A Thank You to My 2016 Clients

Many thanks to these clients and people who worked with me this year.

In alphabetical order:

Clearwater Paper (via Digital Kitchen)
Cornell University Law School (Kristen Burke)
Digital Kitchen (Karen Weber-Millstein and Angela Wittman)
Gorton Community Center (Heather Chamberlain)
Heritage University (David Wise)
Leisure Media 360 (Kurt Rheinheimer)
Oster Golf Houses (Rick Oster)
Puget Sound Bank (Brad Ogura)
RJD Creative (Bob Diercksmeier)
Roanoke Times
TKA (Thomas Koontz Architects)

Writing a Corporate Newsletter That Has a Human Touch

Corporate newsletters go stale. It seems to happen sooner or later.

Last year I was called upon by a Seattle agency to write an eight-page quarterly newsletter for a large national paper company. This is a good project for me. I like writing long-form copy and am adept at putting together interesting articles even when the input isn’t the best.

The assignment started with a teleconference that included the agency’s account director and the paper company’s director of corporate communications (the client).

I asked about goals. What are you trying to accomplish?

The client shared three:

1. Communicating the company strategy throughout the newsletter articles.
2. Motivating and inspiring people in the company.
3. Bringing their customers’ perspective into the stories.

Then, another question: Was the content right but the presentation wrong?

Yes, the content was OK but the newsletter was flat. She wanted the newsletter to be more engaging and bring a human interest element into the stories. And so, with the agency creating a new design and me writing the articles, that’s what we’ve done.

This is always a fun challenge for me: Write about what can be boring company news and make it come alive, including the people who work there.

See a sample issue on my Portfolio page.

5 Questions to Kick Off a Project

TAKE THESE. I’ve written a lot of copy through the years–as a freelancer, an ad agency copywriter and a copywriter in the marketing department of a major newspaper. Following are some of my free tips for successful copywriting.

When I have a meeting or telecon with a new client and/or about a new project, I often use the following five questions to get the conversation started and make sure I cover the basics.

In fact, I’ve had these questions jotted down on a Post-It note and stuck to the inside of my notebook. That way, I’m mostly ready even if I’m caught off guard or feel unprepared.

1. What is the piece?
Website, ad, article, mailer, press release and so on. This dictates format, communication style and other things.

2. What is the subject?
What do you need to cover? Topics,  information,  key points.

3. Who is the audience?
This is critical. It could be a primary audience and secondary audiences. This helps determine language, tone, benefits, call to action and more.

4. What is the purpose?
Every piece of communication should have a goal or two. Are you trying to get leads, make sales, inform, educate, entertain?

5. How will the piece be used?
Sometimes this is self-explanatory. A website, for example. Conversely, the piece might be a small brochure or rack card that can be used in a variety of situations.

Ask these five questions and you’ll learn what you need to know to start a copywriting project.

5 Elements of Can’t Miss Copy

Whether for the Web, direct mail, a feature article, or an advertising campaign, I believe all effective copy shares certain characteristics or elements.

What are they? I offer my five must-haves below.

These aren’t new. The first three come from direct-response copywriting legend Herschel Gordon Lewis. Lewis grouped them under what he called The Umbrella Rule. “Your copy must succeed if it has these three ingredients,” he wrote.

With some additional inspiration from William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (The Elements of Style), I offer the final two to round out my five elements of can’t miss copy.

1. Clarity

I was discussing copywriting recently with a writer friend who was in the process of completing a Q&A. We agreed that clarity trumps all. To the question, if there’s one secret to writing effective copy, it is … , he answered, “Clarity. Without clarity no one understands the copy, its purpose, or its value.”

Continue reading “5 Elements of Can’t Miss Copy”

4 Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway

Last summer I borrowed A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s World War I novel, at the town library.

I’d read “Farewell” before but like to reread Hemingway’s spare prose from time to time because I think it’s great instruction for copywriting. Also, if you ever write dialog or quoted material, Hemingway is a master worth studying.

Not long after I ran across Hemingway tips at Copyblogger.com and share them below because they’re durable little writing gems that apply to any medium or format.

1. Use short sentences.
Author Larry McMurty once wrote this about the first sentence (although it’s sound advice for any sentence): “Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.”

2. Use short paragraphs.
I think Hemingway actually suggested short first paragraphs, but apply this tip to all paragraphs, especially if persuasion is your communication goal.

Continue reading “4 Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway”

5 Tips for Finding the Right Words

Finding the right words or word. This is the challenge for all who write to inform and persuade. While I have yet to discover a magic formula, I do have a few ideas on the subject. Following are five reliable tips.

1. Avoid clichés.
Cliché-laden copy lacks originality and spark. Clichés are other people’s words, not your own.

2. Rewrite.
It has been said many times that “writing is rewriting.” Seldom does one draft the perfect headline, script, article, or Web page. Get it down, then work on it. And then work on it some more.

3. Edit.
Here’s a secret: Finding the right words or word is often eliminating the extraneous. A good default is to simplify, clarify and cut copy. You can always add or change a word later.

4. Use a thesaurus.
In English, there are lots of words to choose from. So brighten up those verbs. Find the ideal adjective. But don’t try to impress with big or obscure words. Instead, stick to words that aid comprehension.

5. Read copy aloud.

This is the final test. How do the words sound? Your ear will tell you which words don’t belong.