Tag Archives: gloucestershire copywriter

The Gloucestershire Copywriter recommends this BBC Radio 4 show

I made an exciting discovery late one Sunday evening recently when I discovered BBC Radio 4’s Word of MouthI don’t know how it slipped under my radar for so long. My introduction to the Michael Rosen-hosted show was the recent episode entitled Office  Jargon. The programme, promoted as ‘where Michael Rosen and guests “drill down” into the subject of office jargon’ proved to be an absorbing radio gem. So much so, in fact,  that I searched out the programme pages on the Radio 4 site and discovered a wealth of back episodes just waiting to be listened to.

Over the last few years (there are currently 57 back-episodes on the BBC website),  the programme has covered a fascinating selection of language-related topics ranging from the aforementioned office jargon to ‘miscommunication, mondegreens and misophonia’ and our linguistic ties with German. Check it out. Excellent stuff.

This Cheltenham copywriter will definitely be delving into the programme’s treasure chest of archive material whenever he gets a chance. And I’d recommend that you do too. Now back to a load of website copywriting: it’s garden design and landscaping, specialist roof coatings and commercial laundry today and I love every minute of it.

By the way, do you have a favourite language-related radio programme. It could be in the UK or elsewhere in the world. If so, I’d love to know all about it, so feel free to leave a comment and share.

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

What makes a Gloucestershire copywriter?

Hot on the heels of my last post about CV writing, I took a trip down my own career memory lane when former boss, Martin Clarke OBE, got in touch for a chat about some writing support. As well as his briefing, our conversation was a great opportunity to revisit old times – and to remember former colleagues who are no longer with us.

Martin is one of those super-influential people that everyone should meet during their career (another is Mike Rigby, from whom I learned so much about PR writing at MRA before going freelance). Now the chief executive of the British Precast Concrete Federation (the recent OBE was a well-deserved reward for services to the concrete industry), Martin was the group marketing manager at ARC (later part of the Hanson plc empire) when we worked together in the 1980s.

Reminiscing over coffee reminded me about the importance of the diverse experience we gather throughout a career. From childhood, I was always interested in graphics and writing, yet, by twists of fate and circumstance, my CV shows 15 years of selling, market research report writing, marketing management and technical writing before I launched my own business as one of the copywriters in Cheltenham.

Sometimes during that time I felt I wasn’t on the right course, but with time and focus on what I really wanted to do, I moved myself into the place I’m meant to be – and where, I believe, I was always meant to be.

So what about those years in quarries, selling mortar to hard-nosed contracts managers, or estimating for a packaging operation (alongside the PR writing), or managing promotional projects for Bradstone Garden Products? Looking back at my CV, and the years of experience it represents, I can now see with startling clarity the value of all those experiences. And so, I believe, do my clients. You see, I’m not some Johnny (or Jilly) come lately aspiring copywriter fresh out of college with their shiny English degree. I’ve been round the block a few times, and the quarry, and the packaging works, and the aerospace tech pubs department and the PR agency, and it all adds up to what makes me, well, ‘me’.

Add a bit of innate writing ability, some creativity and a lot of writing practice to those experiences and you have a unique resource: someone who really understands industry and business and marketing; someone who’s been where you are and stood in your shoes. Someone who can convert what you do into a meaningful story for your chosen audience.

Yes, sometimes it’s good to look back and reflect on what shaped the person you are now. And why certain things happened (or why you made them happen).

Then you look to the future and apply everything you’ve learned to the next copywriting project.

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

Atten-shun! Military to civilian transition CV writing

I had the opportunity to deploy my military CV writing service for a client recently.  I’m not one of the mass-CV generators; there are plenty of people offering this service. What I offer is a bespoke service for anyone who wants the attention to detail, fact-finding and writing that a professional copywriter can offer – especially if it’s a military to civilian CV, with all the special challenges this brings.

army

My most recent client, approaching the end of their military career, fell into this category and presented all the challenges of military CV writing: the requirement to demilitarise terminology; the need to turn military experience and achievements into benefits that will appeal to civilian employers; and the usual CV presentation challenges. At least there was plenty of great material to work with; members of the armed forces come with amazingly varied experience, loads of training and a wealth of skills  that should set civilian employers’ mouths watering. It’s well known that, once the transition to a less rigidly structured civilian working environment is managed effectively, ex-military personnel have loads to offer in business or administration – particularly in areas such as transport, logistics, risk management, training and project management.

The project went like clockwork (like a well-planned and executed military operation, in fact). And from the start I was reminded that all the usual skills that I deploy as a Cheltenham copywriter came into play. There was the thorough fact-finding, using a combination of a fact-find form and a thorough telephone interview. Then came the organisation of the document. Not all CVs are ordered the same way, and military CVs demand a specific approach. Then came the identification and presentation of the candidate’s skills, experiences and differentiators to put their case strongly to any potential recruiter. This took a bit of encouragement, but the end result was that my client started thinking the right way. I was able to pack the finished CV with actions, personal characteristics and achievements that will resonate with a civilian. And all the time, the relentless translation of military jargon into language that your typical civilian manager would understand…

The final document was a concise, well-structured CV that put the emphasis in all the right places, sold the candidate strongly and, importantly, allowed scope for the person involved to tailor certain sections to specific vacancies in future. That’s important for any candidate: because every vacancy is different and every CV must be tailored. As a CV writer and editor, building-in this capability is an important part of the document design and writing role.

With so many military personnel coming out of the forces, there’s a great opportunity for civilian employers to access this pool of skills and experience. And for the CV writers, like me, who specialise in military-to-civilian-transition-CV writing and editing. What’s more, while using many of the same skills,  it makes a refreshing change from my usual website, brochure and client case study writing.

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

Lunch with the Gloucestershire Copywriter: Jason Ayers of MA Design Solutions

Back in the summer, I met with long-standing client Jason Ayers of MA Design in Cheltenham for a spot of lunch and a chat about business, web design and development, and copywriting. Jason also revealed some interesting things about his background – and an unexpected creative talent. Here’s how the conversation went…

Jason Ayers of MA Design Solutions in Cheltenham

Jason Ayers of MA Design Solutions in Cheltenham

AH:  So what are you eating, Jason?

JA:  Pasta and chicken with copious quantities of salad, I think.

AH:  And how’s biz? Where’s MA Design going?

JA:  Biz at the moment is good. It’s enjoyable. It’s busy, which everyone, I think, would say anywhere.

AH: And the biggest challenges?

JA: Google without a shadow of a doubt. Our little furry penguin friend causing headaches. Particularly for lots of people that we don’t work for, so that’s a good thing, because they’re getting headaches and coming to us. It’s a challenge, but I think we’re getting there slowly but surely.

AH: Remind me how you got into the business. I know your background was graphics before the web game, but I’m curious about the background. How did you get to where you are now?

JA: Chris and I started MA Design in 2001. Before that we worked together at a travel company. It was quite a large company so I used to manage their studio which was like, 12 or 13 staff and a lot of traditional printed stuff, brochures, you know that full print remit, dealing with national and local newspapers so all the adverts would go into those. It was as much a mass management project as it was looking at the design aspect of things, so that’s where it started.

AH:  Are you a designer who went into management or a marketing person who got into design?

JA:  That’s a good question. I guess I’m a bit unusual because I don’t think I excel at design but I like to think that I can cut the mustard…

AH:  Did you train in design?

JA:  No. I trained in Communication Studies which covered a lot of those areas of design principles, typography, communication, mass communication and different types of media, media history, language and even psychology. It’s stood me in good stead for the management side of things but also understanding principles behind communication. Then the design side of things started to come in with the work in the studio environment. So I’m not classically trained in graphic design or marketing but with a much broader, I guess, understanding of how people work, how communication works as well.

AH:  You’re doing all right, aren’t you?

JA:  Usually smiling…

AH:  So what’s the big secret of your success with MA Design?

JA: OK, I think one of the main things is seeing clients’ businesses through their eyes. We don’t say ‘OK, what do you think you want?’ and then say ‘Oh, well, actually, here’s what we think and it’s gospel’. We prefer to get in your head and see where you are, where you want to take the company, and what your priorities are. Everybody wants to be top of the shop, with a good logo and social media. And lots of people still want printed stuff. So it’s understanding the business rather than understanding what’s best for [us].

MA Design Solutions: website for Arden Construction

MA Design Solutions: website for Arden Construction

AH: Surely everybody says they’re trying to do that, but you’re never going to know a business as well as the owner, so how do you actually do it? How do you really get that insight?

JA:  I think you learn from what they’ve done in the past and what’s worked for them before. Then you bring your experience and your understanding with general practices and principles and see what worked for other people and other organisations. I think you’re right. I don’t think you can ever get fully immersed in somebody’s company but over time I think you can get to learn a lot of stuff about specialist subjects – such as hydraulics that I’d never have dreamt of understanding but that just came with building up a relationship with clients and going on a journey with them, spending time to understand them, where they are now and where they’re going.

AH: So how do you use freelance copywriters in your work and what are your thoughts on using them in general?

JA:  I think you could extend this to any service that we’d look to supply, to subcontract, use associates or whatever the terminology you want to use. For me, in any relationship with a copywriter, photographer or social media specialist, there needs to be a certain level of professionalism. That’s one of the big things. And their experience. If somebody is a copywriter a photographer, there are a lot of assumptions you can make if they’re in business and have been around for a certain amount of time. That’s very important, but one of the key overriding things is professionalism and trust. We need to be able to trust that person to represent our brand in the best possible way. Price comes into it, obviously, but ultimately if things go wrong, then it looks bad on us so we wouldn’t use that person any further.

AH:  What are your thoughts on freelance white labelling? Freelancers being themselves and working for you. Or a freelancer ‘being MA Design’ as it were? This must bring challenges. What are your thoughts on those two extremes?

JA:  I think it depends on our client and project. Some clients want one port of call; they want to deal with one company that’s got everything in-house. That’s how we come across. I think you’re right, there are pros and cons to both approaches. We will use people from the white labelling perspective but it can add extra admin time, misunderstandings or misinterpretation of conversations and emails and stuff. But if that’s what the project dictates, then that’s what we’ll do.

AH:  The integrity of the subcontractor comes into it as well because, at the end of the day, you need the confidence they’re not going to run off with your client and start working directly.

JA: Yeah, and I think that’s a two-way thing with the client as well. People that we work with, we’re transparent with. A lot of people understand the relationship and we’ve not had anybody try and pinch one of our partners and go direct to them intentionally. Sometimes, it does happen just naturally and we trust our providers to say, “Well, we had so-and-so, you know, one client come back and they want X, Y and Z and then, you know, it comes back under our remit.

Al Hidden, Gloucestershire Copywriter

Al Hidden, Gloucestershire Copywriter

AH: Let’s talk about the challenge of selling-in professional copywriting services to clients. Now there’s an interesting one because it’s quite a difficult area isn’t it?

JA:  Yeah, I think if you’re selling services beyond your own skill sets, that you’re not just selling yourself, then that’s a challenge. Where you’ve got clients who can see value in something it helps. So if people understand the value of a professional photographer, not just somebody just walking round with a camera pressing a button but somebody that sets a scene, strips a scene, you know, and manages everything, then that helps. Similarly with copywriting, if somebody appreciates the added value of having a professionally-written piece of copy as opposed to them just making something up, its easier than when you have to convince people, to educate people. That’s when it becomes harder.

AH: Because we’re in an age, aren’t we, where everyone thinks they can write and take pictures. Especially with the camera technology that’s available to everyone now.

JA:  with professional copywriting, I think it comes down to two areas. There’s the obvious benefit of getting the piece professionally written, well-crafted with proper English. But I think one of the big added values comes from the saving of time. That can be a really big factor.

AH:  Are you thinking in terms of getting the site going live?

JA:  No, I’m thinking more from our customers’ perspective. They can save time. So if you look at, for instance, one of the clients we’re working with at the moment, that means writing blog articles that can be repurposed so one piece does a lot of things. From that particular client’s point of view, though I’m sure he could write a very well articulated, very thoroughly put together article, he hasn’t got enough time in the day to write his blog posts…

AH:  I guess his hourly rate is going to be higher than a capable copywriter or photographer. It makes sense.

JA:  Again, I think it’s like that with lots of businesses, especially smaller businesses and owner-managers. Everybody has to be an accountant, designer, bookkeeper, marketer or social media person. You’ve got all these different things that you can do yourself but it comes to a point where you’ve got to do what you do best, do your job and grow your business. So, as I say, one of the big benefits of proper copywriting is saving the customer time which is a very big thing for us.

AH:  It used to be a challenge getting content off clients for brochures. Now it’s the same for websites and it can actually be a huge show-stopper when you are trying to get a website live or a brochure published.

JA: I think you’re right. I would say 80 per cent of delay on a website project. And it helps to have decent copy from a relatively early stage in the design process too. Loro ipsum placeholder text on the page doesn’t really give the full feel of the site at approval stage. Having personalised content, even just on the homepage, is fantastic. And the speed of completion is definitely faster when somebody is being paid to write. For the clients, there’s always a very good reason for why there’s been a delay. They’re doing their job so the last thing they want to do is to have to sit there and write two or three hundred words of content to go on each page of a website which is now growing into 10, 20 or 50 pages. That’s where professional support helps.

MA Design Solutions: website for dhp consulting ltd

MA Design Solutions: website for dhp consulting ltd

AH: A question for you: how long does it take you to write a page of content for a website?

JA:  I don’t know. No, hang on, let’s spin this one round. How about for you?

AH:  It depends. If I’ve got free rein on an SEO page that’s set out with a really good page keyword set from someone like Neil Tufano [MA Design’s SEO consultant], who you know I’ve worked with for years. Well, in that case you can probably do it in an hour. More often, for a commercial site, probably somewhere between an hour and two hours per page is realistic.

JA: I think people that aren’t trained in PR and copywriting think they can do it themselves. What makes it harder is giving them 10 or 12 SEO keyword phrases that they have to place into content which is reliant on them using that phrase exactly instead of changing things around and removing plurals and singulars and that kind of thing. I think when people sit down and try to do it themselves, they’d struggle to do it within two hours or even longer.

AH:  And you’ve also got to factor-in the preliminaries that go with the work.

JA:  Yeah, it’s interesting. People’s perception on how long these things take. I make people very aware that there’s so much work involved. It’s not just a case of, oh, I’ll just put a few words together.

AH: It comes back to making best use of your skills and the value of your time. What’s a typical hourly rate for a senior manager or director in a SME?

JA:  It’s got to be £80–100 an hour. Even more if they’re an accountant or a solicitor, I don’t know, what will their fees be charged out at? Even a junior solicitor, say, £70-80 an hour. It has to make sense to do a brief and then actually let the creator get on with it and then come back rather than having to sit there and agonise over something that maybe doesn’t come to them too naturally.

AH:  What are your thoughts on working long distance? Working remotely with, say, a London-based copywriter, compared with local copywriter? The London guys say, yeah, you can do it all by Skype and email and you don’t have to use a local copywriter or a local photographer if you’re in Gloucestershire. Yet, actually a lot of my clients say they like this face-to-face contact. What are your thoughts on remote working?

JA:  I think that from the localised perspective, it’s a massive selling point. I think that long-distance relationships can work. We work with people outside the county and there are some guys that we work with that we’ve never actually met face-to-face. But I think for something that is as personalised as copywriting, which is really reflecting your tone, that face-to-face interaction is very important. I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all but I think it’s a distinct USP over and above working with somebody that’s too far away that they can’t come across to meet for a briefing at short notice on a Friday afternoon. In any case, you’re going to pay through the nose for it and probably pay double the rate anyhow for using somebody from the Big Smoke. That’s just the way the industry is.

AH:  From your experience, are London fees still astronomically high?

JA:  Yeah, to my knowledge.

AH:  Would a London-based MA Design be horrendously dear compared to the very good value Gloucestershire-based MA Design that we know and love?

JA: I think so. You only have to look at the operational costs involved with London, if your staff are living in London and you operate in a business with business expenses in London. You’ve got to do the maths on it. It’s going to affect what you have to charge.

AH:  Moving on, have you any thoughts on the changing nature of copywriting? We’ve seen the rise in the role of the web over the last 10–12 years, but where’s it going next? Where’s the role of the freelance copywriter going next?

JA:  I think, looking at it from the commercial aspect and one of your previous questions about selling-in the copywriting, it’s a difficult thing to sell if people don’t see that they need it. But I think that there is a cost that’s associated with it and I think that the future of copywriting is probably going to involve more re-purposing than previously. People want more bang for their buck so where you’ve got social media, and I’m not just talking Facebook and Twitter, you’re looking at Google Plus now, people are expecting to be able to take one article or one page or one project and re-purpose it across several different communication channels or several different items and so I think that’s probably going to be important …

AH:  Do you sense that your clients are actually starting to get the Google message about content and quality of content and regularly updating content? You’re there at the sharp end. Have they seen the light?

JA:  I think they’re starting to. The British seem to be typically reserved, typically behind the curve, certainly from the Google perspective: build website, make website A-OK, then pay somebody to do SEO on a monthly basis. That way I, as a website owner, just pay somebody to do stuff and I don’t have to do anything. I think the way the web is now evolving, especially in response to recent penguin updates, the whole concept is shifting towards empowering website owners to produce a news-rich experience with content of their website that people will like. Content that people will want to share and find engaging. That is basically what Google’s Matt Cutts is saying: Make it good and we’ll reward you for it.

AH:  You know that. I know that.

JA:  So do the clients know that?

AH:  Are they getting it?

JA:  They’re slowly getting it, yeah, and this is again, I think, where people will always look to outsource and get people involved in helping them. And that’s where I think it comes back to the role of the copywriter.

MA Design Solutions: website for Sweeping Beauties

MA Design Solutions: website for Sweeping Beauties

AH: So what is the most important thing for you when choosing a freelance copywriter?

JA:  For us, as an agency, it comes back to my earlier point about representation and being able to deal with our clients in a way that reflects us positively. Writing skills are of course very important, but I think that is kind of an assumed; you take that for granted. You’re not a copywriter or a copywriting business for however many years if you can’t walk the walk. But for us, certainly the biggest thing is to know that when we put a freelance copywriter in touch with our client they are going to do the job and communicate with them properly. That’s certainly the biggest thing for us.

AH:  Changing tack completely, I want to ask you about something that’s fascinated me for ages. Your sister Tracey runs a local telemarketing business [Jonti Telemarketing in Cirencester] and your partner Lisa has a dog-grooming business with an online presence. You must get involved with these. Does working with partners and family create special challenges?

JA: I think it can do, yeah. There’s the level of expectations. For instance, in the case of my sister’s business, having a website delivered and two weeks later, saying ‘why am I not top of the shop in Google for all of my key phrases?’ That’s something we see a lot of with everybody and I think there’s a different kind of pressure when it’s people that are closer to you… One thing that comes out of working on those projects is that you get to see closer to home the impact and the importance of getting it right. So, with Lisa my partner’s website, for her dog-grooming business, Blossoms Pet Care, she’s now fully-booked for her services until the middle of July. She now literally hasn’t got anything left free until the August Bank Holiday with her new business, so to be moaned at that ‘I’m too busy…

AH: You get moaned at?

JA: Yes, I’ll get moaned at that she’s too busy. That’s a good moan to have, I think. If things weren’t in place that are in place, then she would quite possibly be struggling with generating new business, going round the old routine of banging on doors, pushing things through letterboxes, advertising in the local printed magazines. Yes, so it’s work, but bang for buck, when you see the enquiries that are coming through, ‘Oh, I found your website…’, ‘Oh, I’m just on your website…’ so when you see it close to home and you see what it can generate, then you realise that you’re doing the right thing…

AH: Interesting. Now, Do you fancy a bit of dessert?

JA: Oh God no, or I will be asleep, I won’t…

AH: What are you going to do when you get back to the office? Apart from have a sleep…

JA: Yeah. Have a sleep followed by check what will probably be about twenty or so emails.

AH:  So tell me, before we finish, what do you do to unwind when you’re not at work? What’s your thing? I know you like photography.

JA:  Yeah, I do a little bit, a tad…I think for me it’s music.

AH:  What, do you play? Guitar?

JA:  Turntables.

AH:  Really?

JA: As in DJ’ing, yeah. I used to own a nightclub as well

AH:  In Cheltenham?

JA:  No, in another area of Gloucestershire, shall we say? I’ve been involved with clubs since I was about eighteen. I’ve DJ’d in Greece and in Melbourne, Australia.

AH:  Did you live in Melbourne?

JA: Only for six months.

AH: Who are your musical influences, or is there no-one quite like Jason?

JA:  No, no, no.

AH: Did you DJ under your real name?

JA:  No, as Fat Boy Fat.

AH:  As distinct from Fat Boy Slim?

JA: Exactly. That was a nickname my mother gave me.

AH:  I’m guessing that was the early 90s?

JA:  Yeah, so I mean, I started in ‘89, the year before I went to Australia.

AH:  So Greece, Melbourne…when were you out in Melbourne?

JA:  ‘89–‘90. Twelve months out there. Six months living in Melbourne, five months travelling and another month back in Melbourne.

AH:  So who do you really rate in the business? Who are your influences?

JA:  That’s hard. A lot people try to pigeonhole each other. Oh and you do this and you do that…

AH:  Is that dangerous?

JA:  It can be, yeah, like with EDM in the States and the superstar DJ explosion and people jumping on the bandwagon, like David Guetta. And Calvin Harris is another example. You know, pop-wise they’ve exploded and done really well and then you’ve got others coming from a more purist sort of DJ perspective.

AH:  So it is now just for amusement and relaxation at home?

JA:  Yeah, and also, I do the odd wedding, strange as it may sound, but that’s more to do with a wedding which is dance music-orientated as opposed to classic.

AH:  What’s on your turntables at the moment?

JA:  I don’t know names of many tunes. Just if it sounds good, it goes onto a disc and I play it.

AH:  Really, as simple as that?

JA:  Yeah. I’m available to hire for weddings and bar mitzvahs. I did get asked once if I’d come to play at a funeral. Yeah, so in my spare time, playing music and relaxing.

AH:  That’s brilliant and a fascinating way to round off a very interesting insight into your world. There’s loads of great material. Thank you very much for taking time out to talk so candidly.

JA:  It’ll be really interesting to see the end result.

For more information about MA Design’s online and print design services, or their widely-acclaimed free SEO training seminars:

MA Design Solutions Limited
Cheltenham Film Studios
Arle Court
Hatherley Lane
Cheltenham
Gloucestershire, GL51 6PN

Phone: 01242 220320
Web: http://www.ma-design.biz/
Email: enquiries[substitute’@’ here]ma-design.biz

Or come along to the Gloucestershire Chamber Networking Breakfast on Wednesday 20 November 2013 where Jason will be taking his successful SEO seminar on the road and presenting Google Search, SEO and you…

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

The atomic half-life of Web content

I’ve got a  special reason to celebrate this week. It’s my fiftieth blog post as a Gloucestershire copywriter! Thank you for dropping by.

It’s going to be a short and sweet one too. I was listening to social-media expert Jay Baer when he mentioned the idea of the atomic half-life of content – the length of time before the value or usefulness of online or offline content is reduced by half. It set me thinking…

As I understood what I heard, he made the interesting point that website and blog content has the longest half-life of all content. AdWords, for instance, has a very short half-life; stop paying and the value of your campaign drops to virtually nothing with immediate effect. I’ve also seen reference to Twitter tweets having a half-life of 30 minutes.

But blog or website content? Now that’s a different thing. Your investment in high-quality content is like buying an annuity for your organisation. As well as immediate benefit, great content goes on and on serving your prospects and customers for months and years after you (or your SEO copywriter) have created it.

Combine this with everything we know about Google’s ongoing algorithm updates and the increasing importance of meaningful content for Web searchers and there’s a powerful message. Well-written copy from an online content writer is a great investment that will serve you loyally today, tomorrow and way into the future. Think website pages, online articles, customer case studies and more. The potential is unlimited and unlike AdWords, each piece of content is an investment in the future worth of your online presence.

Do you have the time, the specialist SEO copywriting skills or even the inclination to create your own long-half-life content? Not everybody does. And besides, isn’t there something else you should be doing that will utilise your unique skills more effectively? While in the meantime, that vital copy still has to be dragged off your to-do list and put out online…

Just a thought…

 

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

A good proofreading podcast could have been even better…

I’ve been listening to the Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts for a couple of years. They’re an eclectic mixture of  management and career-related topics presented by Michael Auzenne, Mark Horstman and Wendii Lord. If you haven’t listened yet, please do so. The quality of thinking and the professionalism is outstanding.

Six keys to successful proofreading

Every so often, one of their podcasts touches ground close to that of this Cheltenham copywriter’s specialism. A case in point was last week’s podcast on how to proofread. When I saw the topic I was onto it in a flash and on the whole I was impressed by the focus on these six points:

  1. Set Word to help you
  2. Don’t let Word check grammar
  3. Read backwards to proof a document
  4. Choose your time and place carefully
  5. Common writing mistakes to look out for
  6. Have someone help you proofread

A good start, and I realise that you can’t cover everything in a single podcast. But I’d add a few more points to elevate this from being a very good cast to a great one.

Exception dictionaries

There was no mention of setting up and using an exception dictionary (or exclude dictionary) in Word. Sure, they talked about teaching the default Word spell-checker to accept custom terms, but an exception dictionary takes this a stage further by forcing Word to always flag words that you might be using incorrectly. Examples would be ‘bear’ and ‘bare’, or ‘to and ‘too’. Setting up an exceptions dictionary is a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. Once it’s done, it’s easy to update the underlying .txt document. Rather than reinvent the wheel by explaining the ins and outs of doing this, here’s a link to a good reference.

PerfectIT

Another addition to your proofing toolkit should be Intelligent Editing’s PerfectIT. I’ve been using this tool for a couple of years and it’s a superb tool to complement MS Word. There’s a free version, but I’d strongly recommend paying the modest fee for the paid for software. Used in conjunction with the standard MS Word spell-checker, this is a valuable tool for achieving stylistic consistency in a document.

I was also interested to hear the discussion about beginning sentences with conjunctions such as And and But. Although the presenters sort of conceded that you could ‘break the rules of grammar’ to use this, I think they were behind the times on this. Good writing is about communicating clearly and effectively, and often as it is spoken. Good copywriting gets its punch, energy, flow and conversational feel (conversational needn’t be unprofessional) from techniques such as beginning sentences with conjunctions and using sentence fragments.

TextAloud

That’s about it. I’d definitely advocate the use of text-to-speech software to help with proofing (I swear by  TextAloud with one of the many available custom synthesised voices). Try it and you’ll notice the difference between it and the standard Adobe or Microsoft system voices.

A final challenge

Lastly, the Career Tools presenters set an interesting challenge about an occasion when it is acceptable (read: correct) not to have matching quotation marks around speech. That would be when you have two paragraphs of quoted speech. You start the first para with a quote mark, leave it off at the end of the para, begin the second para with another, then end the quote with a closing quote mark.

Career Tools and Manager Tools: they’re two interesting podcasts whether you run a copywriting practice or you’re an owner or manager of an organisation that hires freelance copywriters. And that means pretty much everyone, because any organisation that uses words to communicate can use a skilled, experienced copywriter.

I would say that wouldn’t I!

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

Copywriting, Fred Zeppelin and catching up in Worcester

I was on a copywriter’s night out and it could have been 1969 or the early 1970s again (I’m showing my age).  A small venue in Worcester (the Marrs Bar), a thundering four-piece rock and roll band on stage, and some of the best known rock music of the last 50 years. All that was missing was the smoke haze. And the beer was dearer. But when Fred Zeppelin came on stage you could shut your eyes and imagine it was the real thing.

They were note perfect and their lead singer even looks remarkably like Robert Plant as well as sounding like the man who is arguably the greatest voice in rock. The nice thing was that over the last 20 years the Fredz haven’t set out to do any more than replicate the music of Zeppelin note for note. That their current lead singer looks and behaves remarkably like Plant is a bonus. There were just enough of the trademark gestures and mannerisms  to be authentic – without ever lapsing into an embarrassing parody of Kidderminster’s finest. I’ve seen Plant in concert several times and watched hours of Zeppelin video over the years. This guy was good, as were his stage mates.

It coulda been 1969 again...

It coulda been 1969 again…

They played a ton of our favourites (but not Stairway…): from ‘Rock and Roll’ to ‘Kashmir’, and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to ‘The Song Remains the Same’. And it was loud, which you’d expect from any half-decent tribute to Led Zeppelin.

We were in Worcester to hook up with one of my longest standing and most loyal clients – Phil from Mosaique in Tewkesbury. As well as discovering the delights of the UK’s leading Zeppelin tribute band, it was a great opportunity for a Cheltenham copywriter to catch up with a Worcester-based agency creative director over a beer or two  and a damn fine pre-gig Balti.

Phil and I go back several years now and can list a long line of creative projects that we’ve collaborated on. We started with newsletters and technical datasheets for Toyota, progressed to security systems for Cooper Security and wrote about flooring for Karndean International – plus a fistful of smaller projects. It’s amazing how much you can write in five years, and the fun you can have writing it. It was good to catch up and swap war stories from the art-direction frontline.

As for Fred Zeppelin, here’s a band that does what it does brilliantly, offers astounding value (£8 a ticket to see ‘Zeppelin’) and knows how to give an appreciative audience what it wants. Come to think about it, that’s rather like what it takes to be a successful copywriter in Gloucestershire

Oh yes, and one other thing. The drive up to Worcester reminded me how close the town is to my Cheltenham office. So if you’re looking for copywriters in Worcester and you appreciate old-fashioned face-to-face service (as Phil and his colleagues at Mosaique do),  please don’t rule out this Cheltenham boy.

Let’s rock ‘n roll with some inspired copywriting. And in the meantime, if you get the opportunity, how about checking out Fred Zeppelin for yourself?

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.