Freelance Copywriter UK Blog 2012
Latest entry, 11 December 2012
Content - grinding through the mill
I had a request for a quote a couple of weeks ago. It was from a country in mainland Europe looking to expand into the UK market. They had decided that the best way to do this was to write articles for their website. Lots and lots and lots of articles. Up to 500 a month was what they wanted a quote on.
If you assume 20 working days in the average month, that's 25 articles a day of about 300 words each which they were expecting.
They weren't interested in quality, that's for sure.
I get quite a few requests for this type of thing. Nowadays I normally don't even bother to reply.
However, I've been in touch with a young writer recently about subbing out some project work and I thought it might be up his street. So I asked them if it was ok to pass the email on to him for a quote. They replied that that would be fine.
So I forwarded their email, and my writer acquaintance was very happy to receive it and started preparing a quote. I also passed on some advice about payment, terms and conditions, assistance (however good, fast and cheap he is, very soon he would be banging his head against the wall if he tried to do all those articles himself).
Anyway, he was delighted that I had offered this job to him. He was rather less delighted when someone else he knew also passed it on to him thinking it might be suitable.
Clearly this client had been spreading their net far and wide looking for quotes, rather than simply picking a shortlist of people they thought could do the best job. Quantity was once again being preferred to quality.
Anyway, today I received an email from the client, which read exactly as follows:
We considered your offer, but unfortunately it didn't match our expectations. Therefore I have to reject it.
Wish you all the best for the future.
Which was a little strange, considering I'd told them I wasn't quoting. But presumably they had emailed so many writers and put so little thought into the process that they hadn't realised and my rejection email was just one of a great many.
I suppose I should be grateful that I received any communication at all.
But what I am definitely thankful for is the insight this litle episode has provided into the mindset of some clients these days.
In a year or so's time, when someone has ground out all these thousands of articles, and all to no avail, given that Google have firmly moved away from high volume low quality content, I wonder if they might think back and consider if they could have done it all differently.
Such as by establishing a proper relationship with a decent writer to write a great deal less copy but of genuine quality, which would stand them in much better stead with both search engines and prospective customers.
Latest entry, 22 November 2012
Google going crazy
I've just had the strangest 48 hours, Google-wise. I did a few minor site updates a couple of weeks ago, plus some forum posts and links back and it looked like it was paying off.
Two days ago, I checked my Google PageRank and it was up from 3 to 4. Good news.
In the last week or so I've also had a notable upsurge in enquiries. Also good news.
But today, I just checked my ranking for my main keyword on Google. It had been slipping in the last few months as I've been so busy I haven't had much time to do any SEO for my site. It was down to 10 or 11. Two days ago, following my SEO work, it was up to 9. I just checked it today and it had slithered all the way down to 28. What on earth is going on? I haven't been indulging in any spammy links, dodgy content or black hat techniques, so I'm mystified. Let's hope it's just a blip.
Latest entry, 29 October 2012
Celebrity voiceovers for radio and TV ads
I used to do a lot of radio advertising copywriting. Most radio ads involve at least one voiceover, so I got to meet a fair few voiceover artists.
Some, like Ray Brooks, were best-known for their voiceover work. Ray had starred in the famous 1960s drama-documentary Cathy Come Home, but was hardly a well-known face on the screen. However, he did have a very well-known voice, althought most people would have struggled to match it to a name. During much of the 1980s, his was perhaps the most used voice in radio commercials. A nice, friendly, blokeish voice that could be used to advertise almost anything. He was a nice friendly blokeish man as well.
I also used quite a few other actors whose main work seemed to be for radio voiceovers. Usually an hour's work tops, plus repeat fees; nice work if you could get it. (I sometimes wonder whether the man who recorded 'Mind the gap' for tube trains ever got repeat fees and retired to Rio on the proceeds. In those days, almost possible.)
I did use to work with Rachel Agnew, whose voice originally graced the automatic till queuing system which had been devised by her then husband: "Checkout number three please..." and so on. Another very nice person, who later went on to appear on TV in Loose Women.
Then there were the regular actors who did voiceover work on the side. Rory Kinnear and Linus Roache were two of the better-known ones, who have both gone on to far greater fame than my 30-second spots for Telewest.
One of the most interesting was Murray Walker, the motor racing commentator, who I used in a TV ad for car insurance. He was required to commentate in his usual frenetic style, and the only way he could do it was to pretend he was watching an actual Formula One race, work himself up to a pitch with describing the imaginary scene, and then, without drawing breath, launch straight into the script. Nutty but nice.
As for celebrity endorsement, the only time I've been involved in this was for Daily Telegraph Fantasy Cricket many years ago. The celebrity in question (and I'm somewhat stretching the term here) was Dickie Bird, the cricket umpire. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon doing aphoto shoot with him and listening to his anecdotes. Everything that's ever been said about him is true, and more besides. Another top guy.
Latest entry, 25 October 2012
Nine ways to improve an ad
One of the most iconic ads of all time is the 'Think small' press piece for the VW Beetle. It and other VW ads like 'Lemon' and 'How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to the snowplow?' revolutionised the industry, heralding a new approach of honesty, wit to counter the bombastic matching wallpaper of so much advertising up until that point.
So much has changed since then, and sadly we seem to be back to the old-style me-too advertising most of the time. There are many reasons for this. This brilliant piece illustrates some of the chief culprits:
Note the date when this piece was originally run: 1963. This was soon after the original ad was created. They were still having to fight against the consensus of bombastic, over-loaded me-too advertising.
The piece was then reproduced several times - the commentary dates from 1988. This was the latter part of advertising's heyday, when they were having to fight ever harder to maintain the original impetus of believable, entertaining, no-bullshit advertising. But at least most people recognised that it was a parody.
Today, most people in the business wouldn't even recognise the original VW ad; I fear many of them would believe the nine 'improvements' were eminently sensible.
Latest entry, 22 October 2012
From bafflement to brilliance
Have you seen the latest Facebook piece? It's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7SjvLceXgU&feature=youtu.be
As far as I and most others are concerned, it's pretentious, tendentious twaddle.
But there's an entertaining antidote. You can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThuvduMOhHU&feature=player_embedded
Latest entry, 21 October 2012
When the marketing is better than the product
Just got back from a short break in Sussex with a few friends. On Thursday, we were meant to be going to Brighton races, the last meet of the season. Unfortunately, it was called off a couple of days beforehand, due to a waterlogged course.
Someone suggested we could maybe go to the evening greyhound racing just down the road instead. We were weighing up our options, when someone else spotted a leaflet for the greyhounds, advertising a special deal, the Six Pack. You got a special strip of six vouchers: one for free entry and the racecard; two for free drinks; one for a meal from the grill; one for a free £1 bet; and one for more deals if you came again. All for twelve quid.
Not bad. Not bad at all. It certainly swung it for us. So off we duly went. As it turned out, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.
The drinks were cheap lager. The 'meal from the grill' was football van issue burger and chips. The racing was interesting, but completely frenetic, with a race every 15 minutes - no leisurely inspection in the paddock here. The form book seemed to be all over the place, and the betting incomprehensible - one of us thought he had a winner at 20-1, but it turned out that because he had it on the Tote it was only about 5-2. Another of us was a serious betting man on the horses, but he didn't like the whole set up and pace of the greyhound racing, and came out a loser (as did I).
So overall, it didn't live up to what was a great piece of marketing: a catchy, relevant name - the six pack; a great offer - although we should have asked ourselves how good could the quality have been when you can get two pints and a ameal (and free entry, racecard and bet) for £12. But I tip my hat to whoever thought it up, worked it out and saw it through. It certainly brought us in.
And like most punters, we left with much lighter pockets, thanks to money spent on other drinks and left in the coffers of the bookies and Tote. Which was presumably all part of their original calculations.
Latest entry, 7 October 2012
Negativity in copywriting - time to try harder?
About 18 months ago, I wrote a piece on negativity in advertising. I was reminded of it by a recent item of advertising news. One of the great advertising lines of all time is no more.
"We try harder", coined by Avis. Or to give it it's full original incarnation: "We're only No.2 in rent a cars. So we try harder". The whole thrust of this message across ad after ad,over year after year,decade after decade, was that Avis were better, because as number two in the market they had to try harder - they couldn't afford to be complacent. So he customer enjoyed lots of little extra touches of service, which they wouldn't with Hertz, the market leader. A wonderful example of using so-called negativity (the fact that you're not the biggest) to deliver fantastic positivity.
This campaign ran in one form or another for 50 years. It made Hertz's life a misery, because it had the ring of truth to it, with the implicit claim that Hertz just didn't try to help its customers very much. As a result, it completely transformed the fortunes of Avis. It also outlasted numerous changes of marketing director, creative director and probably even ad agency too. Whoever was in charge, they had the good sense to stick with what so obviously worked.
Now comes news that the "We try harder" approach is being dropped for, what for it, "It's your space".
Why? What were they thinking? Who cares about your rental car being your space? And the ads, if you can bear to watch them on YouTube, show the hackneyed approach of businessmen as idiots transforming into with-it hipsters, simply by sitting in the car, turning on the radio and singing along to the music. It's also a generic claim that could apply to any rental company offering half decent cars with a radio. All of them, in other words. Ring of truth? I don't think so. Ring for another marketing director, more like.
Latest entry, 22 September 2012
Business in Saudi Arabia
I've just spent six days on a business trip in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My first trip to the Middle East.
Well, my mind has been well and truly boggled. But while it's tempting to go on about major cultural differences, the heat and all the rest of it, they're well-known, and have no place in a blog like this. Although I can recommend Saudi Airlines as being a darn sight better than the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair.
What's interesting is the way they do business, and marketing in particular.
And guess what? It's not that different to over here.
I was in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - you soon fall into the local shorthand)to do the background research and interviewing to write a website for a major investment group. The group has interests in everything from chemicals to fast food, leisure, healthcare, transport and much more. So I met a lot of people and read up about a great many local companies.
And it's the same in Saudi as in the whole world over. Concerns about costs, the environment, service, USPs and key benefits...just like any global or UK business. As will hopefully be apparent once I get down to completing the copywriting.
Latest entry, 10 September 2012
What a celebration
We were lucky enough to have tickets for the Paralympics closing ceremony last night. In one sense they were the 'worst' tickets we had: after twice being right near the front for the athletics (plus great seats at the aquatic centre for the swimming), we were actually way up in the gods at the main stadium last night.
But it didn't matter. In fact it probably gave us a better all round view. A great event marking, as per my post below, what I believe is not just a superb event but a sea change.
Latest entry, 4 September 2012
The real Olympics legacy - my predictions
At the time of writing, the main Olympics are over and we're about halfway through the Paralympics. So far it's all been a great success. And I'm going to stick my neck out and make a few predictions about what it will mean for the future.
First, a change in the nature of celebrity culture. I would like to think that our worship of celebrities would disappear altogether, but I think that's too much to ask.
However, I think there will be less interest in celebrities who are famous for being famous and not much else. Boob jobs, botox, new relationships, break-ups, breakdowns, ghost-written 'novels', self branded make up lines and exercise videos, you know the kind of thing.
Instead, there will be more of a focus, not just on sports stars, but on others who have actually made real achievements through talent and hard work. Let's just hope that the focus will stay on the real achievements, and that we're not having trash 'n' trivia stories in a few years about our medal winners too.
Our sports stars will become role models who are healthier in all senses of the word. The focus will move from fad diets, appearance and cosmetic surgery towards a genuine approach to healthy living. And healthiest of all, skill and graft will be seen as the way forward. I think this will encourage both physical and spiritual health in years to come.
Another attitude change I think we will see is in our views of disability. Disabled people as a whole will benefit greatly from being viewed in a new light, as actually possessing or having the potential to possess exceptional ability in areas never considered, with their actual disability in many cases a mere minor hindrance, immaterial or even essentially invisible. We're already a pretty nice nation in this respect, and I believe this will help us become even nicer.
Talking of national identity, I think this will be another sea change. It's been amazing seeing so many nationalities compete against each other, but in such a positive, friendly way. The same with the crowds -always good-natured, despite all the different backgrounds and desire for their athlete or team to win. UK nationalism has become a positive, even joyous affair, yet without jingoism, and the United Kingdom itself been strengthened. When you see Andy Murray happy to wrap himself in a Union flag, then you know Alec Salmond must be watching votes drain away.
I think there will be other surprising effects of this sense of unity and purpose too. As people of all backgrounds, cultures and religions have come together, disaffected youths will be more likely to embrace positivity. When you see someone like Mo Farah, a muslim refugee who has well and truly succeeded, and been loved by all for doing so, you're less likely to think terrorism is the best way forward.
I believe the success of the volunteers will have knock-on effects as well. Volunteering will be perceived as actually quite cool. For those looking for work, it will also be seen as a stepping stone to getting the job they want. If you were an employer faced with two candidates who were identical, except one of them had been an Olympics volunteer, who would you choose? Therefore the Big Society may well become more of a reality.
So, lots of positive changes then. No doubt there will be some negative ones too, or my predictions will be wide of the mark. And perhaps I'm bathing too deeply in the Olympics spirit. But let's see.
Latest entry, 3 September 2012
We were lucky or sensible enough to apply for Paralympics tickets when tickets for the main Olympics went on sale last year. The result is that we secured everything we applied for.
A couple of days ago we enjoyed a morning of athletics, including track, long jump, javelin and discus finals. Our seats were right near the front, by the victory podium. Perfect. We had a great view of all the events as well as the presentation ceremonies - my younger daughter even got to high five Stef Reid, the long jump silver medal winner. Not bad for tickets which were £30 for the adults and £11 for her.
We have tickets for more athletics on Friday, swimming finals on Saturday, and the closing ceremony on Sunday. Can't wait.
Latest entry, 15 August 2012
Olympics - nearly all good
When it arrived, there was remarkably little that was bad or ugly about the Olympics, writing as one who went to several of the events. It all went smoothly, and along with all the other commentators my family found the travel smooth and the volunteers first rate. Even that awful logo didn't seem too bad.
The first event we went to, the women's weightlifitng final, was spot on, barring the empty seats.
Our next event, the slalom canoeing, was even better, and we had a great view of the action, especially considering we didn't have the expensive tickets. We also saw the eventual men's medal winners form GB in action.
Our last visit was to the handball, to see who would win the women's bronze medal. Our first ever visit to a handball game, but I hope it's not the last, as the action was fast and furious, and the game couldn't have been closer, going to two periods of extra time.
Now we're just waiting for the Paralympics, for which we have several sets of tickets, including athletics, swimming and the closing ceremony. Can't wait!
Latest entry, 17 July 2012
Olympics - the good, the bad and the ugly
Well, it's nearly here, and in our household we're looking forward to it. I managed to secure tickets fo the Slalom canoeing, and my wife succeeded (after heroic efforts at 6am on the morning tickets went on sale in the second round) in snagging tickets for two more events. Hanball, which I know nothing about, but am still looking forward to. And the finals of the Women's weightlifting, would you believe, which I'm looking forward to even more ('Come on Svetlana! 'Get those biceps bulging Olga!'). We also have tickets for the Paralympics, which should be good fun as well.
That's the good. The bad, as far as I'm concerned is all the hype building up to it. In particular, the Olympic Torch. According to multiple reports, it's a quick flash and it's gone, preceded by endless sponsors' floats and pantechnicons. It actually goes right along the top of our road, but I'm in no hurry to go and watch it. Just start the darn Games already.
Which brings me to the ugly. That for me is all the PR and advertising bullshit. Not just the sponsorship of the torch, but everything else. You've probably read about some of it already. McDonalds being the only company allowed to serve chips, and so on. But that doesn't stop every company and its dog (aka its marketing or advertising agency) from trying to jump on the bandwagon.
Back in the dark days of when I used to be a full-time employee, I groaned when something like the Olympics, the World Cup or the Euro championships came up (roughly every six months, or so it seemed). Every brand with any possible connection to sport or appeal for people under 40 would try and devise a campaign or promotion to tie in. So many of them did this that all their material naturally ended up looking pretty much the same, and their voice getting lost in the maelstrom.
I did once suggest a campaign for a client that really, truly wasn't particularly suited to sporting associations. The aim was to achieve cut-through by considering taking a different tack - positioning itself as a welcoming antidote to all the sporting hype, rather than trying to join in like a leery, well-lunched uncle at a wedding.
The reaction? Well, let's just say that it's possible the tumbleweed may even now be still blowing across that boardroom.
Latest entry, 29 May 2012
Always make it easy for your customer
I just came back from a welcome few days fishing in Ireland. The weather was great, the company even better, and we all caught some fish.
The place where we stayed was pretty so-so, however. Not bad, but just a few minor improvements could have made a real difference. The most annoying was on the last morning when we came to pay. It turned out that the card machine had broken down the previous week, so it had to be cash only. The place was out in the sticks, so this necessitated a ten mile round trip to the nearest cashpoint. Not great at any time, but especially not when you're trying to get away to catch a plane.
One thing I also tell my copywriting clients is to make it easy for their customers. Don't just put a phone number on your website - some people prefer to email. By the same token, don't just put an email address, as some prefer to phone. It also makes you look more trustworthy if you have an email, a phone number (landline and mobile preferably, if relevant) and an actual address too. Don't just put your phone and email on the contact page, but on other key pages too.
If you don't make it easy for them, you're likely to end up with fewer clients. Or ones, like me in this Irish hotel, who are less likely to return.
Latest entry, 24 April 2012
Working for free
There was an ad in Craigslist not so long ago that went as follows:
"We are a small & casual restaurant in downtown Vancouver and we are looking for solo musicians to play in our restaurant to promote their work and sell their CD. This is not a daily job, but only for special events which will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get positive response. More Jazz, Rock, & smooth type music, around the world and mixed cultural music. Are you interested to promote your work? Please reply back ASAP."
Here was a musician's pithy reply:
"I am a musician with a big house looking for a restauranteur to come to my house to promote his/her restaurant by making dinner for me and my friends. This is not a daily job, but only for special events which will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get a positive response. More fine dining & exotic meals and mixed Ethnic Fusion cuisine. Are you interested to promote your restaurant? Please reply back ASAP."
I reprint this, not just because I think it's amusing, but because you get some of the same attitudes in advertising and marketing.
Most art directors and graphic designers will get asked at some time to do something for free 'for the exposure' and the same goes for copywriters too. It's certainly happened to me a few times.
There was a hoohah just a few days ago here in the UK, when it turned out that many professional musicians had been asked to work for free at various Jubilee and Olympics events, basically for the honour of it. Not something that applied to all the electricians, builders, train drivers and everyone else, who were not just getting paid, but are also getting big bonuses in many cases.
But hey, we're 'artists' aren't we. And as such, a penniless existence,perhaps even starving in garrets, should be plenty for the likes of us.
Latest entry, 27 March 2012
Copywriting for eBay
Recently we've been selling a few things on eBay. That is to say my wife has been doing the hard slog of inputting all the entries and I've been doing the easier parts of writing the blurb. Items have included books, old theatre posters, stamps and postcards.
Did I say easier? Well, I thought it was, until we came up against the problem of some items not selling. So I did what any self-respecting copywriter would do and did some research. And really, it's like any direct marketing. Picking the right niches was important. So was setting the right minimal price, obviously. But so too was timing.
With email marketing, you want to avoid your email hitting the inbox on Mondays (too much to do, too depressing) or Fridays (winding down for the weekend). Well, it's the same with eBay - except you want your auction to finish on an evening or at a weekend (Sunday afternoon is perfect). That's when people are receptive to looking at eBay auctions.
Then there's the copy. An eBay headline should be part email headline and part optimised website headline. In other words it needs to be short enough to be seen, but must also contain the right search terms.
The copy itself is vital too. Don't even think of overselling or being dishonest. It's not just wrong, it'll come back to bite you.
Get a few search terms in there as well - some eBay searches will be for complete listings, not just words in headlines.
Use interesting information. With some of the old postcards and theatre posters, I've taken a few minutes to research them and it pays off. The occasional bit of wit doesn't hurt either.
Think local. I soon found that people didn't just want theatre posters because they were theatre aficionados, they wanted them because they were for theatres in their home city. So I adjusted the copy accordingly.
It's certainly a learning curve. And like all half decent copywriters, I'm still learning.
Latest entry, 16 January 2012
What single word does a freelance copywriter most dread to hear?
There are several unwelcome phrases that spring to mind that I have heard over the years which cause the heart to sink. For example, almost as unwelcome as 'Sorry about your invoice, but we've gone into receivership' is 'It's being passed around the team' (no doubt for death by a thousand cuts).
But there's one word that keeps cropping up in the world of freelance copywriting. And that's 'content'. Because you know that anyone asking for content, as opposed to copy, is really only going to be interested in quantity and not quality, and is only prepared to pay peanuts for it.
I apologise. I know I've covered this before. But it keeps coming up. In an online discussion last week, someone took objection to my disparaging on thr word 'content'. It turned out that her job title was Content Writer, and she fiercely defended the quality of the work she was writing.
Now I don't doubt for one moment that she was proud of the work she produced. And for all I know, what she wrote was good. But I'm prepared to bet large sums that she wasn't getting properly paid for it. And that as long as she thought of herself as a content writer, and was prepared to be categorised as such, then her future prospects were not rosy.