Tag Archives: copywriting

How Neruda let me be innovative

24 Jun

Last week I went to see a movie and there weren’t any super heroes in it.

Wait a second … there was a super hero but he didn’t have tights, a mask and a logo emblazoned on his muscular chest. No. This super hero was a middle aged, portly man with thinning hair. His super powers weren’t your usual mix but instead consisted of words and phrases and phrasing. The hero was a poet. The movie was Neruda. 

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It was a beautiful film but not easy to follow. It was a portrait of a poet and a politician from Chile set in the 1950’s and it was a crime drama. Neruda was a member of the Communist Party (along with Pablo Picasso) who idealised communism as an ideal and an antidote to fascism. Of course these intellectuals were to be proved wrong when the walls went up but at the time it was about equality for all. When the government decreed that Neruda was to be arrested, he begrudgingly fled. The crime drama was the chase by a young detective who had his own back story.

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Neruda performed his poems throughout the movie and that’s what opened the gates for me. During the movie, (which was subtitled), I listened to and read the words and i felt free. A lot of the poems were about love.

Neruda was romantic and seductive.

I’ve never been a great reader of poetry and to be honest it baffles me.

I just know that the words sometimes clash and when they do there’s a spark of freedom. Freedom opens the mind and can lead to innovative thoughts.

When was the last time you felt free?

Raymond Chandler, his hat, and the mechanics of writing

11 May

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I admire Raymond Chandler and I love his hat. It’s straw unlike his writing.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Chandler was probably the godfather of the hard boiled private eye. That may sound like a Bedouin dish but it’s a description of a certain literary genre.  The pulp school of crime fiction. Chandler was an interesting character himself. Raised partly in the barren mid west of Nebraska and partly in an English public school, his metaphysical trajectory included stints as an accountant for an oil company and an alcoholic. The alcohol produced blackouts, he forgot to go to work and he lost his comfortable job which left him holding his hat. It was the tail end of the depression and Chandler lived at that time in Los Angeles. It was a lawless, corrupt place with bruising you couldn’t see.

Chandler had been dabbling in poetry since he was a schoolboy. He now had an opportunity. He decided to become a writer.

At that time, there was a magazine called The Black Mask. A pulp offering launched in 1850 by journalist H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan as a money maker to prop up a more literary offering, The Smart Set, “a magazine of cleverness”, was an American magazine of literature and culture.

Chandler was an intelligent man who approached his pulp writing with a scientific mien. Like Ernest Hemingway he laboured over unfussing his writing. It was all about the mechanics.

Chandler’s most famous invention was Philip Marlowe, the world weary gumshoe … sorry I had to say that. His novella’s – The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely are classics of the genre.

He wrote sentences like this

‘It was a good crowd for a Tuesday but nobody was dancing.”

Here’s to Raymond Chandler.

Do you think there’s some merit in cutting out the flap doodle.

On the internet no one reads anymore.

Remember Raymond when your writing.

Everybody loves Raymond.

 

Lessons learned from House of Cards

28 Dec

House of CardsHouse of Cards is an American remake of a BBC drama featuring the oh so Machiavellian Francis Urquhart or old FU (BBC) renamed for the US series as Francis Underwood and starring Kevin Spacey.

Both series are well made and gripping in a politico thriller kind of way. And Kevin Spacey is just amazing playing an amoral, unethical and complex Washington power broker.

One of the main characters is a young journalist with an eye for breaking news which she isn’t even getting close to on the big, traditional newspaper she works for.

Sick of covering C grade stories, she hungers for something more.

She is also aware that traditional print newspapers are losing ground to online forms of news.

Without giving the plot away, she finds herself being a conduit for real news. She talks the editor into running her stories. She gets some recognition. She leaves the paper to join an online blog.

Here’s the lesson I learnt from A House of Cards:

“Will it get me in 8 seconds?” The blog editor asks her regarding a proposed post

“That’s all we have.”

8 seconds to hook the reader.

Can you hook them in 8 seconds or less? I’m sure I lost you in the first paragraph.

Now I don’t think that short grabs work for everything. Long copy works for some products and some stories. People still like to read.

Think it through. What are your key objectives?

And, here’s to old FU!

Hello SILO … you’d better be flexible!

3 Dec

ImageI work on many projects with many different organisations. Corporations, authorities, not for profits and small to medium businesses and I often find that I’m cast adrift between mountains of giant silos.

Silos form when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

I’m not casting aspersions (or aspidistras) at all the hard working people I interact with. I’m just making an observation. Silos form when people are rushing to meet change.

Change happens rapidly these days. Policies change, then procedures or ways of doing things. Regulations and laws change when governments change or government policy changes. Change happens when businesses are growing exponentially and new people are brought on board.

Silos also form when there’s a lack of communication across organisations, strategic business units (SBU’s) and teams.

Silos can also form when people don’t share.

Silos affect content developers too. We can be working away using some accepted template, or creating content in a suggested way and then … it’s not quite right.

Can this be a problem? Yes and no.

Clever consultants can pick a silo a milo off (sorry, it rhymed.)

Clever consultants communicate widely.

Clever consultants are flexible and don’t go into spasms of disappointment  and take things personally regarding their work.

My mum told me that a truly sane person has an ingrained ability to change their minds!

I tell my kid all the time, life is full of paradoxes … be flexible and open minded.

And smile a lot          : )

The art of the knowledgebase

26 Oct

ImageWebsites have evolved.

In the not too distant past, a business or organisation would have a ‘webmaster’ build a site. It had all the usual suspects: Home; About US; Contact Details; Products etc. You’ve seen hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. Static sites with a flash animation graphic to spice things up. Looked good. Never or hardly ever updated except for new product offerings.

Nowadays, in the fast paced, quick clicking social media environment, more is required.

The big question is: why will customers visit your site? Better still, why will people who are not yet customers visit. We call them prospects from ‘gold prospectors.’ Digging for gold.

The gold you put on your site is what differentiates your business from your competition. Yes you’ve got great products. But sites need to offer value in a whole lot of other ways.

One way is to provide a knowledgebase.

Articles. White papers. Videos. Blogs. Put it out there.

But ask yourself the question. “Does this content do something for my clients, customers and all the prospects out there just waiting to find a solution to their problems?”

Well does it?

Frank Sinatra and content development. I did it my way

29 Sep

APPROVEDI love Frank Sinatra. His phrasing was amazing (sorry about that one!)

One of my favourites is his rendition of ‘My Way.’ Originally a french song and re-written by legend Paul Anka, it’s a testament to uniqueness, bravery. resilience and self belief. Ol’ Blue Eyes put in all the blows, hits and lingering disappointments. This song is about living and by the soaring end, this listener is in no doubt that Frank lived a life.

I’m a my way kind of person. Strong minded and creative. I often run on instinct fuelled by experience > what’s going to work and what’s not.

But here’s the thing: when you’re planning websites; developing content (products, knowledgebases, social platforms etc.,) always communicate with your stakeholders (internal and external) regularly, get approval and formal sign off. 

This is not always easy. You have to pitch it right and differently depending on your audience. The cost/benefit analysis.

Many great ad campaigns have been ruined by ‘the client.’ They just want the logo bigger. They often don’t share your enthusiasm for standing out in a crowded marketplace. But they are the client nevertheless, nervous or not.

Set up a ‘milestone’ approval system so that everyone’s on the same page. I do love cliches.

And stay brave!!

Content design … Don’t put legs on snakes

26 Sep

ImageI learn some amazing things and meet some wise people as I go along. One such person is Albert. A graphic designer I sometimes work with. Originally from Hong Kong. he’s Chinese Australian or the other way around, depending on your point of view. Albert’s been honing his craft for many years, classically training as a graphic designer way before Adobe or Quark were on hand. In other words he’s an old hand.

One day I was sitting next to him, art directing a piece of marketing collateral. Pictures, text, logo etc. He was laying the page out and it looked good. Me being an advertising > marketing > sales kind of guy suggested he make the offer bigger. It didn’t have the prominence that I thought it should. Maybe I was after the butcher shop window look. This weeks special … portuguese sausages.

With glee in his eyes, Albert said ‘That’s right. We put legs on snake!’

An old Chinese proverb, it took me a second to understand what he meant.

Snakes are perfect. Sometimes they are superior.

Why put legs on them.

Designing content, bear this piece of wisdom in mind.

Don’t put legs on snakes.

I love it. Take it out! Part 2

22 Sep

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What was exciting about working in this environment was the chance to watch the words, art direction, talent and production all culminate in an ad campaign. I watched our agency put in a new government with a real US style campaign and I overheard the Chairman telling the future Prime Minister what he was doing wrong.

During this time I had the chance to pitch myself for a place in a highly thought of creative school. It was simply called The Copy School. I wrote a radio ad featuring myself as an ideas cowboy riding into town. I was good but I was green, ending with a Sam Elliott (Big Lebowski) narrator/Voice Over saying nice colour green. That got me over the edge and I was accepted with 10 others into this elite school. Each week we would attend an agency and be hands on trained by the top CD’s who would give us a practical assignment … an ad to write.

One of them, a man who went on to become a best selling author quoted Dr Samuel Johnson as saying ‘What doth please the mightly, do strike out.’ Dr Johnson or his biographer Boswell. I think he took some paraphrasing liberties there but I got the message.

What we love. What we think is sparkling copy. What we think is clever may not be right for the product or the audience. David Ogilvy was tight on the rules of writing.

It’s good to keep that in mind and not be married to our words.

It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Oscar Wilde famously quipped:

I worked very hard today. This morning I put in a comma and this afternoon I took it out.

Staring at a blank page

2 Sep

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I found this piece of paper in a file and it got me wondering. Writers sometimes get writer’s block. They can’t get started. And often the harder they try the more blank they become.

In George Plimpton’s fascinating Paris Review series, a number of famous writers were interviewed about their techniques. This was about how do you write everyday with the kids screaming, your wife leaving, a revolucion going on, a 1st book best seller to better.

Amazingly enough some writers copy out tracts of the bible to get started, some sharpen pencils, others still drink a lot and smoke endless cigarettes (a different era I suppose.) The issue is how do you get started?

It can be a problem for people in business to get fresh ideas or even an accurate idea of what their business actually does for their customers. It’s also difficult to get noticed in the crowded cyber world where attention spans are short and customers can shop around and read reviews online.

It takes a fresh pair of eyes to do that. Daily regeneration and a childlike curiosity of life which when you think about it is quite amazing.

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Rodie – King of Content

2 Sep

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“When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea.” Hemingway.