You are what you post: A social media warning

 

 

twitter bird making a social media mistakeSocial media is the great equalizer of our time. It gives everyone the same opportunity to share their views, thoughts, wisdoms and gripes — and people take full advantage of that on a regular basis. But the power to say what you want when you want about whatever you want comes with consequences, ranging from public shaming to getting fired.

On the more benign end of the spectrum, consider the story of Alex Johnston, a political candidate for office in 2015’s Canadian federal election. She was called out for a ridiculous Facebook post she made seven years prior about Auschwitz. These posts came to light weeks before voters went to the polls. And while she was a long shot to win anyway, this revelation all but guaranteed a loss. While members of her party won surrounding ridings, she only captured 16% of the vote in hers.

On the other side of the spectrum is a group of bank executives from HSBC in London who were fired for creating and posting a fake ISIS-style execution video they thought was just a funny joke. Clearly, the higher-ups at the publicly traded company they work for didn’t quite see it that way.

These are obviously extreme examples, but the lesson is clear: think before you post. Think about who might see it, how they might see it and what they might do with it.

Five ways to avoid social media-related problems

1. Never post on social media when you’re angry

Ranting and raving when you’re upset is human nature. And when that happens, you say things you regret (everyone does). But these utterances belong in the ether, not on the internet. So, if you feel the need to get negative thoughts off your chest, do it in a Word document. Write pages and pages of vitriol, save it if you want to and go back the next day to read through it. You’ll be surprised how differently you’ll feel after 24 hours, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t put your temporary ugliness into the universe.

2. Steer clear of sharing your political opinions on social media

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t share them. If you’re with friends at a pub and the topic comes up, let it all out. But delivering your political manifesto on social media is kind of like an unsolicited diatribe people don’t want. Also, one day your views might change, but that won’t matter because what you put out there today is there forever.

3. Leave work out of your social media

Having issues with your boss or your colleagues or your industry? Social media is NOT the place to air those grievances. The first thing a potential new employer will do is check out your social media channels. If they see you going off on your current colleagues, they’ll be far less inclined to hire you.

4. Don’t overshare your personal life on social media

If you’re struggling, seek help from professionals. That’s why they’re there. Getting opinions from the social media mob on how to deal with personal crises won’t do you very good because (a) you’ll get too many opinions and (b) you’ll forever be known as the person with that issue. And you’ll always be judged for it. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

5. For the love of god, proofread your social media posts

Putting typos out into the world paints you as careless — like showing up to a dinner party in a stained shirt. And again, if a potential employer checks out your feeds and sees that, they’ll think “well, if they’re like this in their personal life, are they really that different in business?”

Social media isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s become a fact of our lives, and one you need to respect lest you wind up on the wrong side of a story.

Copywriting showcase: Toronto Pearson Airport

Airplane noise copywriting

 

A few years ago, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (they run Toronto Pearson) had a problem with noise complaints. They needed a copywriting team to give them messaging they could point people to and say “this is why we make so much noise, these are the factors that are fully out of our control, and these are the things we’re doing about what we can control.”

Sounds easy enough. Except that we had to essentially learn about airplanes, airplane noise, acoustics and how sound travels. Then we had to learn about how Toronto Pearson works. We learned how they mitigate noise through  runways positioning, and the shared responsibility of everyone involved in getting a plane off the ground to noise abatement; from the air traffic controllers to the pilots to the airlines.

When copywriting gets really fun

Obviously none of this can happen without thorough research. And what better way to do it than to get a private tour of the runways and the towers? Yep, we got to go into the air traffic control tower and watch the magic happen. A few observations from there:

  1. It was a lot quieter than we imagined it to be. Although, to be fair, our frame of reference was the control tower from Airplane!
  2. The folks in there are seriously dialled in to what they’re doing. That made us feel a bit better about air travel.
  3. Watching planes take off and land from the tower is pretty spectacular. It’s like a well-choreographed ballet.

As part of our copywriting research, we also sat down with a real-life audiologist who broke down the science of airplane noise. One of the more eye-opening takeaways was how much louder a plane is when its flaps are down. And, of course, the flaps are down when it’s closest to the ground so the noise is that much more pronounced.

But the most interesting thing we learned copywriting for this project was the flight routes in and out of the airport.

See, when a plane is coming to Toronto from the eastern United States (this makes up the majority of landings at Pearson), it comes in over Lake Ontario, then travels east away from the airport, makes a 270˚ turn and then takes a straight line in. The act of turning a plane does two things to increase noise.

First, because the plane isn’t straight, the noise from the wind friction is much more pronounced.

Second, because it takes more power to turn the plane, the engine is louder. But here’s the unfortunate part: the area of town underneath where the turn occurs happens to be one of Toronto’s poshest neighbourhoods. And when you put down $2 million on a house, you don’t expect to be bombarded with engine noise 19 hours a day. So, ironically, most of the noise complaints come from there, about 20 kilometres from the airport. Very few come from the area surrounding the airport, presumably because if you live near the airport, you kind of expect the noise.

And then, we wrote.

The project took about two months to complete, with a lot of back and forth from the team at the GTAA, the scientists, the airlines and, of course, our internal team. It had to be on point and accurate, but also accessible for the average person to understand so when the GTAA team directed them to the site, they would be satisfied with the answers they found.

The final product is fantastic

The website launched last month, we couldn’t be prouder of the work, and everyone knows more about where noise comes from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics: Copywriting Set to Music

Like great copywriting, great lyrics will make you pay attention.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.

Your old road is rapidly aging.

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’

That’s from The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan — whose lyrics were and are so powerful that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Interesting conversation starter about that lyric:

He placed mothers ahead of fathers. Keep in mind that this song came out in 1965 when society was still patriarchal. So to put mothers before fathers was a big deal, especially for a generation that had spent the past 20 years protecting an American ideal that was being questioned by a guy with a guitar who couldn’t sing.

But then in the next line he refers to sons and daughters, reversing the gender order. Why do this? We’d argue that “your daughters and sons are beyond your command” would have been phonetically better because it has fewer syllables to trip up on.

So was Dylan saying that there was to be a temporary redefining of roles in society and then it was going to go back to normal? Or was he saying that social roles won’t change but need to be reconsidered by the elder generation?

These are the types of conversations good lyrics can evoke. And unfortunately, we’re getting fewer and fewer great lyrics.

We’ve felt this way anecdotally for some time, Something feels different about modern music — it’s lacking depth. But is it really? Musical historian Shane Snow looked into it empirically.

Snow analyzed a cross-section of North American songs from 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015 to see what words were most used in lyrics. Then, he plotted those words into six word bubbles:

 

Lyrical word cloud from 1965

 

Lyrical word cloud from 1975

Lyrical word cloud from 1975

Lyrical word cloud from 1985

Lyrical word cloud from 1985

 

Lyrical word cloud from 1995

Lyrical word cloud from 1995

 

Lyrical word cloud from 2005

Lyrical word cloud from 2005

 

Lyrical word cloud from 2015

Lyrical word cloud from 2015

You’ll notice that “love” appears prominently across the board (no surprise there). But what we found interesting were the words that stood out as unique to the era.

In 1965, it was “nowhere,” which made sense given the uncertainty of the times and what was the beginning of the counter culture movement.

1975’s was “supernatural,” which, given the drug-induced haze society was in, and the post-1960’s answers everyone was looking for, made sense.

“Obsession” stood out in 1985, and that seems to be in lock-step with the over-indulgence of the 1980s.

Then, something interesting happened in 1995. Lyrics moved away from “concepts” and towards “utterances”: banal words that didn’t reflect anything except the vapidness of a mass-produced, over-exposed industry that was pumping out music for money instead of art. “Candy” and “raindrops.” Seriously?

2005 was more of the same, except we started to see the rise of words like “ain’t” and “yeah.” And by 2015 lyrics were completely devoid of concept. Not one word in that bubble is even close to statement-worthy.

We wonder if, by 2025, the pendulum will have swung back a bit. It should, given the state of the world today. If there was ever a time for artists to speak their minds, this is it. But with far too many places to consume music and way too much access for vapid lyricists to get their music produced, would we even be able to find it?

Only time will tell.

Kawhi Leonard’s Shot — Heard Round The World

Kawhi Leonard making the shot to win  the  series

2.7 million Canadians watched Game 7 between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, and all hopefully got to see the Kawhi Leonard shot.

It was magic — one of the great sporting moments in our city, and possibly even the country. Right now, only Sid the Kid’s Golden Goal at the Vancouver Olympics, Joe Carter’s Series-winning blast and Jose Bautista’s bat-flip even come close (the Leafs have had their moments, but it’s been so long that they’re hard to remember).

As much as we’re sports people, we’re word people first. So we jumped onto YouTube to find footage of “the shot” as described by  sportscasters around the world.

On first listen, they all sound kind of the same: men losing their minds at the ridiculousness of what was unfolding in front of their eyes.

But if you listen closely, the subtle nuances of each language come through.

Korean

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the two announcers talking over each other. This is uncommon in Korea, as the etiquette norms in the country trend towards more respect for others versus less. In fact, of all the broadcasts in the video, the Korean team was the only one where the announcers spoke over each other. Chalk it up to the moment.

Portuguese

This one was interesting to us because of how down the announcer sounded from the time Kawhi Leonard got the ball to the moment the shot went down. So we did a bit of digging and found that Portuguese people have a reputation of being happy when they’re sad.

Mandarin

We were puzzled here; not for the language but for the visuals. Instead of showing the play, they were showing the crowd outside the area. Not a choice we would’ve made. But when you’re the People’s Republic of China, you focus on the people.

Spanish from Spain

In North America, we tend to refer to our athletes by their last names, but in this case, the announcer only referred to Kawhi Leonard as “Kawhi.” Perhaps he spends a lot of time calling soccer games with Brazilian players who only go by one name?

Turkish

This one might be our favourite foreign language call on the video. The announcer’s gruff voice gives the clip more excitement. And we loved the way the two guys went nuts after the shot went down. These guys were having fun.

Spanish from Latin America

American Spanish has such a mellifluous sound and it comes through in this clip. And perhaps the best word to describe the moment came from this announcer: fantastico!

And then there was ours

The last clip in this video is from Matt Devlin at Sportsnet and he’s one of the best in the business. We love how his voice goes up about three octaves and 20 decibels when he gets excited. He’s known for that.

But the best part of seeing Kawhi Leonard’s shot in different languages…

Getting to watch the shot over and over again.

Go, Raps, go!

The Writing Revolution: 2005 to ????

Social media has done quite a number on the English language. In less than two decades, centuries of writing rules, conventions and accepted norms, most of which we were taught to treat as carved in stone, have been washed away as if they were doodled in sand.

What’s most fascinating about watching this linguistic revolution happen in real time is that it’s a first for humanity. Yes, language has clearly evolved since the grunts and yelps of early man. But in the past it’s taken multiple generations. For example, it took almost 200 years for thouthine and thee to become you, your and yourself.

In a short 15 years, though, all the hard-and-fast rules we were taught in what used to be aptly called “grammar school”  have been either loosened to the point of being optional or flat-out cast aside as conventions from the old world.

Is this a bad thing? That depends on who you ask.

Writing for a Modern Audience

Every form of written communication has been affected by this sweeping lexicographical change.

Traditionalists see it as the erosion of the proper and another step towards global anarchy. Ten years ago, when this revolution was just getting off the ground, the BBC put out a warning that this trend towards the “slangification” of language would have dire consequences. They said it should be nipped in the bud immediately.

On the other hand, more progressive pundits see it as a necessary progression, and one that should be embraced. Like the way adults in the ’60s had to embrace the sexualization of music, and accept the fact that “Rock Around The Clock” and “Mr. Postman” weren’t resonating.

For the most part, it looks like the traditionalists are acquiescing. They’re accepting the LOLs, ROFLs, OMGs and IDKs. They’re okay with alternate spellings of words like god (gawd). They haven’t yet accepted this new lingo into the upper echelons of the business world — resumes, for example, are still by and large written formally — but who knows if that convention will last into the 2020s.

One thing we can say for certain is that this revolution is having a two-pronged effect on professional wordsmiths. One is positive and exciting, the other is frightening and somewhat debilitating.

The New Rules of Writing: Yay AND Nay

On the plus side, the acceptance of these new non-conventions create possibilities we in the writing community had never really had. Sure, we could make a statement with grammatically incorrect copy like this genius vintage tagline from Apple.

Apple's writing is genius, like this tagline: Think Different

But you really need a progressive client like Apple to get on board.

On the flipside, it’s a lot more difficult to appear sincere. Go too far with the lingo and you’re trying too hard. Don’t go far enough and you’re not relatable.

Writing in 2019

The key to good writing, as it’s always been, is to stay true to yourself. And the best way to do that is to read what you write aloud. If it feels awkward coming out of your mouth, it’ll be 10x more awkward going in through people’s eyes, ears and heart. Find your sweet spot that holds the line between “This is my cheeseburger” and “Haz Cheezeburgur,” and stick to it. You don’t have to speak social slang to be noticed by people who do, but you should have confidence in the voice you own.

Anti-Social Media: Writing in Favour of Change to Social Media

Social media writing badge

The heat-seeking missiles are out and pointed squarely at social media. Writing in Time Magazine, Rachel Simmons likened social media to “a bathroom wall, letting teens sling insults with the recklessness that comes only with anonymity.”

Imperial evidence supports Ms. Simmons’ alarmism. A 2016 paper presented robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents.

And current events show us that the vitriol of social media can be just as damaging to adults. This week, a California congressman sued Twitter for $250 million over the words the social media giant allegedly let through their filters to besmirch him and his mother (for real)

Stories like the Congressman’s and research like Ms. Simmons’ are becoming the norm. For all the positive social media has done for the world, the list of negatives is catching up fast.

This begs a few very important questions we should all take a moment to consider. Is social media really worth it? Are we better off as a society with social media in our lives or are we worse off? If someone were to shut down the social media channels for good, would they be doing us all a favour?

Social media: Writing for positive change

Social media has given everyone a voice. And in many instances, that voice has been used for justice. Would the veil of sexual harassment in Hollywood have been pulled back without social media? Would the Arab spring have happened without social media? Writing about Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg identified Facebook’s purpose as making the world a “more open and connected place.” It’s a noble pursuit. And if you remember the early days of Facebook, that was the case.

From a commerce perspective, social media has given companies incredible ways to connect with customers. Just last week, when Air Canada was forced to ground their 737 planes and disrupt hundreds of thousands of March Break travellers, they used Twitter to provide updates. Toronto Hydro does the same thing during power outages. And many companies have moved their contesting over to Twitter, letting customers transparently follow along, which creates even more FOMO

Full disclosure: we have a vested interest in seeing social media grow, as a lot of our business revolves around it. And so when we make an argument against social media, you can be confident that it’s genuine. And this is our argument:

Agitators Anonymous

We praised social media for giving everyone a voice. The flipside of that coin is that it removes everybody’s face. Hiding behind handles, people have the power to say whatever they want with zero consequences because nothing they say ever has to be attributed to them.

The result of this is, in our opinion, a complete erosion of civil discourse and bullying, be it of kids in school, politicians in the public square or anyone else.

And this has led to incredible damage. We’re reminded of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who took her own life after a stream of steady social media abuse. More recently, the Christchurch attacker was heavily influenced by online hate groups.

What’s next for social media?

Writing in favour of a more robust social media has to start with changes to the very fabric of social media channels. Here would be our three recommendations

1. Age gate social channels

We’ve seen time and time again how unprepared young people are to think through the ramifications of posting at will. So why not make social media an 18-and-over world?

2. Get rid of the anonymity

This is an easy one, but in our opinion, a necessary step to make the social media world safer. People would be much more careful with what they put out into the universe if their names were on it.

3. Include a time delay

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an interstitial screen that came up after you hit post and before what you wrote was actually posted that said something like “are you sure you really want to post this?”

In conclusion

Social media is here to stay. And with a few tweaks to the way it’s used, we think it can once again become the positive force it was meant to be.

Oscar-winning Movies for Writing Fans

You hear “Oscar-winning movies” and your mind immediately goes to the big four: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director. They’re the “majors,” the awards you  sit through the whole telecast to get to. And they’re usually worth the wait. There was Tom Hanks’s beautiful tribute to two gay men in his acceptance speech for Philadelphia, Halle Berry’s emotional moment on stage after winning for Monster’s Ball and perhaps the best of the best, Steven Spielberg’s plea to the world’s educators to show Schindler’s List to their students.

However, if you’re a fan of the written word like we are, the highlight of the show is Best Original Screenplay. It’s often sandwiched midway through the telecast and rarely gets much fanfare. And the winners don’t see their careers skyrocket to new heights like Best Actor winners (Forbes found that an Oscar win can boost an actor’s salary by over 80 percent).

But when your ears are treated to great words, spoken by great actors and actresses, you leave the theatre energized, inspired and awe-struck by talent.

The Five Best “Best Original Screenplay” Oscar-winning Movies (in chronological order)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Oscar Winning Movies: Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is the story of a man who seems to have everything except the one thing he wanted most: his innocence. Orson Wells, who also played the main character, co-won the award with Herman Mankiewicz who also wrote The Wizard of Oz, another Oscar-winning movie for Best Original Score.

Most iconic line: “Rosebud.”

Best line: “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Oscar Winning Movies: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

With the civil rights movement in full swing, William Rose took a massive chance writing a film about a young girl who brings her smart, successful, well-spoken and black fiancé home to meet her parents. Rose’s depiction of the parents’ struggle to reconcile their feelings about a black man joining their family is spot on. More than just entertaining,  this Oscar-wining movie had white and black Americans questioning their beliefs about a lot of things.

Most iconic line: “You think of yourself as a coloured man. I think of myself as a man.”

Best line: “…you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem.”

The Producers (1968)

Oscar Winning Movies: The Producers

When Mel Brooks pitched this story of a failed Broadway producer and a bumbling accountant who figured out they could earn more money producing a terrible play than a good one, he was laughed out of almost every studio in Hollywood until Embassy Pictures picked it up. And even then, they almost didn’t release The Producers  for fear over a backlash to bad taste. But they took the risk and it paid off. It’s among the funniest Oscar-winning movies.

Most iconic line: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany.”

Best line: “I picked the wrong play. The wrong director. The wrong cast. Where did I go right?”

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Oscar Winning Movies: Hannah and her Sisters

Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay 16 times and won three, but Hannah and Her Sisters is by far his best. It’s the story of three sisters in New York City over the course of two years and how their lives intersect and evolve. Some of the most exquisite writing is the running monologue inside the head of the Michael Caine character.

Most iconic line: “How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t know how the can opener works!”

Best Line: “I read Socrates. This guy knocked off little Greek boys. What the hell’s he got to teach me?”

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Oscar Winning Movies: Pulp Fiction

When Quentin Tarantino premiered this film in Cannes, it was unanimously heralded as a masterpiece of screenwriting. It effortlessly broke almost every convention, from telling its story out of chronological order to intentionally not having “main characters.” Pulp Fiction is considered the first “post-modern” movie.

Most iconic line: “Ezekiel 25/17…”

Best Line: “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”

Other Best Original Screenplay Oscar-winning Movies worth seeing

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

How The West Was Won (1963)

Chinatown (1974)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Rain Man (1988)

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Birdman (2014)

The Copywriter’s Guide to Speaking

 

Illustration: A copywriter feels this way all the time: Fear of not knowing

A copywriter, has the benefit of crafting a messages to convey exactly what he or she wants to say in just the way they want to say it. They meticulously consider every word, punctuation mark and line break. They vet and re-vet every argument. And if they find ourselves off topic, they delete and refocus.

These are obviously important skills to have, and a big reason people hire a copywriter. But these talents don’t exactly translate into the off-the-cuff spoken-word world. In fact, they’re an incredible hinderance because a copywriter relies on that time to get it right.

In situations where improvisation is necessary, many a copywriter is uncomfortable without a script to reference (normally a script they wrote). So they rely on a few little tricks to make real-world interactions a bit easier. And really, these tricks are for anyone who isn’t exactly Obama-ish in the spotlight.

Remembering People’s Names

The research required to be a good copywriter means we have a lot of material in our brains — often too much to remember people’s names. It’s embarrassing. It’s rude. And it’s inexcusable.

So we make sure to repeat the person’s name as quickly as possible.

“Hi, Mr. Copywriter. I’m Jane, your new point of contact.”

NO: “Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.

YES: “Hi, Jane. Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.”

Then, if you can sneak away to the corner of the room at some point, write their name down in your phone, along with a memorable, defining characteristic.

“Jane Joseph. Point of contact at client. Long red hair.”

It doesn’t have to be much at all, but the combination of saying it and writing it makes it far more likely that you’ll remember it.

And don’t be that person who repeats the person’s name over and over again in conversation. That’ll just make you sound weird.

Guiding a conversation

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” As a general rule, she was right. But when you’re nervous in a social situation, it might be easiest to engage your small mind and talk about people because at least you’ll feel able to contribute.

If you feel like that, try to steer the conversation towards ideas, but let the person you’re speaking to take the lead:

“Man, this party is lame. The host has such bad taste in music.”

NO: “And he’s ugly too.”

YES: Speaking of music, I read a great piece on the Re:word site about a playlist for writing and editing. I downloaded it. It starts with Hooverphonic and ends with Mumford and Sons. Do you think working with music makes you more or less productive?

Telling a joke

Telling a joke is a dangerous game in social situations for three reasons.

Firstly, it’s hard to make people laugh. It’s why stand-up comedians are such tortured souls.

Secondly, it’s easy to offend people (especially these days), and you don’t want to be remembered for that.

Thirdly, most people have heard all the jokes, so you’re wasting people’s time.

If you need to tell a joke, our advice would be to include the joke as part of a bigger idea.

Hey, I read today that this joke has been scientifically proven the funniest joke ever told. I thought it was okay. You tell me what you think:

 Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed, so his friend calls 911. “My friend is dead! What should I do?”

The operator replies, “Calm down, sir. I can help. First make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence, then a loud bang. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Ok, now what?”

And finally, saying goodbye

The last impression you make can be more important than the first, so don’t overcomplicate the words you use to bid adieu.

“Bye,” “Nice to have met you” and “See you soon”work for us because they’re universal in English. Some people we know end every conversation with “Adios” or “A bientot.” We think it’s a bit much (unless you’re either Spanish or French, respectively ¾ then it’s okay).

One last note about real-world communication

Don’t feel like you’re going to follow these tips and become an expert orator. The key is to build up your comfort level so the next time you’re thrusted into the spotlight, you can shine a bit brighter.

Write Anything Like a Senior Copywriter Would

A senior copywriter

 

This year marks our tenth year in business. Considering that two-thirds of all small businesses fail by year ten, that’s pretty good. Over the past decade, we’ve learned a lot about what people want from the  senior copywriter and senior editor they hire. One of the more common comments we’ve received is, “I want to learn to write the way you do.”

And, of course, they would want that; it’d be much more cost effective if they didn’t have to come to us for every single thing they had to communicate.

To kick off our tenth year, we thought we’d share a few basic communication rules we make every junior, intermediate and senior copywriter follow when they write content. They’re not difficult; in fact, we’d argue that they’re rooted in common sense, but as many a wise person has said before, common sense is less common than you’d think.

So without further ado, how to write anything like a senior copywriter would:

Senior Copywriter Rule #1: Stay on point

A study by the Radicati Group out in Silicon Valley found that the average office worker receives 90 emails a day. That equals 12 emails an hour over a 7.5-hour workday, or one email every five minutes. It’s an onslaught. And it’s killing productivity.

The volume of emails probably won’t change anytime soon, but email length can and should change. Here’s how:

  • Stick to the facts and the “need to knows.”
  • Forget all the superfluous niceties. Start with something like “Hi…hope you’re well,” then get right into it.
  • Resist big words you think make you sound smarter. They don’t.

Senior Copywriter Rule #2: Tell people things they don’t know

Time is still the most valuable asset people have, and the easiest way to waste it is with information that doesn’t help them.

We see this a lot in internal communications where a piece might start with something like “Last week, you were with us at the company retreat in Muskoka.” Your reader knows that. They were there. So instead, you might want to start with something they don’t know like, “Last week’s Muskoka retreat was our most well-attended off-site in company history.”

It’s a small nuance, but consider the information being conveyed and feeling being evoked in each case. The former is saying “we saw you there,” the latter is saying “you were part of something special.” Which one’s going to make the recipient feel better?

Senior Copywriter Rule #3: Write to people like they’re people

Moms. Millennials. CEOs. C-minus students. They have nothing in common except that they’re all human. They all put their pants on one leg at a time. And they don’t have the time or inclination to deal with industry-specific jargon they probably don’t know in the first place. Write to them like they’re people and they’ll be much more likely to read and resonate.

General rule: if your mom wouldn’t understand what you wrote, rephrase it until she could.

Senior Copywriter Rule #4: Keep it friendly

This might be the toughest one to follow in the business world, especially when our natural inclination is to err on the side of professionalism. But professionalism and warmth aren’t mutually exclusive.

Imagine sitting in a meeting with someone who was all business, didn’t smile and didn’t make you feel like they cared about anything other than getting the job done. Sure, you’ll leave with your action items and move-forward plans, but you probably won’t be terribly excited to get started.

Now imagine the same meeting with someone who welcomed you into the room, offered you a coffee and smiled the whole time, regardless of the subject matter. It won’t change the content being presented, but it will definitely change how you receive it and how motivated you are to act on it.

The same is true in writing. A little heart goes a long way.

Senior Copywriter Rule #5: Do your own spell check

Don’t trust your software’s spellcheck because it’s far from foolproof. It won’t catch the wrong your (you’re, your, yore), or “its” that should’ve been an “it’s.” Those are tasks for you, and they’re vital to keeping you from coming off careless.

  • Read whatever you write aloud before you send it. You’ll spot things you’d probably skip over if you review it silently.
  • If it’s an important file, have a friend or colleague review it first. An impartial second set of eyes will call out things you think make perfect sense but don’t.
  • If you can, have a proofreader’s number on your speed dial (1.800.888.9257).

Want to practise? Start with your emails.

You write them every day. And if you’re like most people, you probably whip them off without much thought. So we’d encourage you to start putting them through the five simple filters listed above:

  • Is it on point?
  • Are you giving your readers new information?
  • Will the average person understand it?
  • Does it feel friendly?
  • Did you check it for errors?

Get into the habit of vetting your writing for these four things and you’ll be well on your way to writing like a senior copywriter.

2018’s Best Copywriting

The KFC FCK ad from 2018

Three letters. THREE LETTERS! That sums up 2018’s best copywriting

You see it. You get it. And if you were counting on the Colonel that week, you can’t help but give them a pass for their fowl fail, because they made you laugh. So you’ll go back.

Here’s what we love about 2018’s best copywriting

The headline’s perfect. Lesser writers would’ve tried to punch up the apology. And anything other than “We’re sorry” would’ve seemed disingenuous. It’s a great example of a copywriter getting out of the way.

As for the body copy, it’s probably the best mea culpa we’ve seen. Nothing about the underlying message is positive. And there’s no excuse for what happened. They didn’t try to sweep it under the rug or reinforce the superiority of their eleven herbs and spices.

Managing boo boos with copywriting

Stuff happens. People make mistakes. The stars misalign. And when they do, the message you put out there is key to getting through it. Here are a few tips we’ve picked up over the years:

Own up

Like the KFC folks, don’t make excuses. Instead, admit your mistake and clearly explain what you’re going to do about it.

Don’t blame others

It’s easy to point the finger at a shipping partner or a materials supplier, but ultimately the buck stops with you. And even if it was someone else’s fault, they make mistakes too. And if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with the people who keep you afloat, it’s best not to throw them under the bus.

Be light

A little levity goes a long way in the face of a mistake. Like with KFC, it’s easy to forgive an error when it’s followed up by a smile. And resist the temptation to go all “ha-ha” with it. A simple curl of the lips will do.

But most importantly…be quick

Every minute that passes after a mistake is another minute for your customers to form negative thoughts about you, your brand and your place in their lives moving forward. That’s why, in cases like this, simple wins. Don’t overthink or try to be too clever. “We goofed. We’re sorry. Here’s our solution.” Done.

One final note about 2018’s best copywriting

As writers, we’re inspired by greatness like this KFC campaign. It makes us work harder, think better and strive to achieve more. In whatever profession you’re in, we highly recommend taking a few minutes to find the bar-setting achievements in your world, and thinking about what you can learn from them.