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Ethical Copywriting

Where do you draw the line?

I recently had a discussion with a fellow copywriter, and the topic of ethics was brought up. Apparently, my colleague was recently presented with an opportunity to write content for a promotional brochure, and the fee was quite lucrative. They and their client had gone back and forth several times regarding the project’s details, and eventually agreed to move forward. All indications were that this would be straightforward and quite profitable.

However, after receiving the full project brief, my colleague learned that this was a promotion for an MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) program (a pyramid scheme, if we’re being honest). Luckily, after conveying their hesitation to the client, my colleague suffered no ill repercussions, and both parties agreed to an amicable departure.

This conversation really made me think; where does a copywriter draw their proverbial line in the sand? Unfortunately it seems, the less “savory” the company, the more they are typically willing to pay, which can make the choice that much more difficult.

And once we decide what we won’t accommodate, how far do we take it? For instance, if my family has a background in farming, would I write copy for Monsanto? Would I write copy for a laboratory that genetically modifies seeds? Would I choose to work with a milk producer that pumps their cows full of hormones? How about a company that treats their animals inhumanely? Or how about a non-organic operation? The choices can seem endless.

The point is that each of us will draw the line somewhere, and it will be based on very personal reasons. How long our “line” is depends on a whole variety of factors, not the least of which are how passionate we are on a given topic. Wherever our lines are drawn though, it’s important that we not take on work we’re uncomfortable with. And if we do decide to move forward with a project, that we aim at top-level work, just like we would with any other client.

I always keep the Latin phrase Primum non nocere (Do no harm) in mind. Using my colleague’s experience as an example, I could never live with myself if someone lost their hard-earned money based on something I wrote, especially if the product is fraudulent to begin with. However, I fully understand that what I may consider harmful, someone else may not. And the door swings both ways.

What are your thoughts? Where do you draw the line?

Self-Publishing and Editing: The Oft-Missed Romance

Editing gives your book balance.

Like a lot of people, I love to read. The twinge of excitement I feel when beginning a new book, eager to live vicariously through characters who exist only on ink and paper, is addicting. And the ever-increasing popularity of 1) eBooks, and 2) authors who self-publish only serves to feed the word hounds among us. But this marriage of technology is not always a pleasant, easy-going affair.

Just like any rocky relationship, the highs and are high, and the lows are low. The excitement you feel as love burgeons is swiftly replaced by annoyance, and eventually aversion. As the wise among us will impart, a key ingredient to a successful relationship is timing, and the situation isn’t any different with your book and professional editing. Your book’s timing; its flow and comprehension, the way it bounces along, unhindered by petty encumbrances and unnecessary baggage, is equally as important as the enormous amount of time and energy you spent during its creation.

Picture it: You are on the verge of publishing your new book, and you eagerly await the moment when you can hit the ‘Send’ button, and are able to watch your total obsession over the last few months (or years) upload into the ether. You are proud of your work, and often allow yourself to indulge in flights of fancy; the great success it will be, and the adoring fans it will spawn.

But hold on there, Speed Racer. Take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following questions:

• Am I giving my book everything it needs to be successful? Why would I not?

• Has a professional editor reviewed my book? If not, why?

• Is my book easily digestible by a wide audience? Am I unsure?

• Is my writing consistent? Does it flow well? Am I making this an enjoyable experience for my readers?

So let’s lay it on the line, shall we? Proper editing will help make your book a success. Improper editing (or a complete lack thereof) will make your otherwise great story a flop. It really is as simple as that.

As a copyeditor, it’s my job to make sure your book is in tip top shape prior to release (or sometimes afterward, and its reviews have unfortunately been less-than-stellar). Don’t allow you and your soulful enterprise to be among the latter; have your book professionally edited prior to its release. Your soon-to-be adoring fans will thank you.

What are some of your experiences (both good and bad) with self-published books?

The Importance of ‘Heads Up’ Communication

Are You Conveying the Right Message?

I have a colleague who I’ve been working with for many years, but who cannot spell my name correctly.  I’ve talked with her over the phone hundreds of times, and have emailed back and forth surely in the thousands.  However, each and every email I receive from her contains one spelling variation or another of my name.

To see only if she would recognize the error, I’ve even purposely misspelled her name in a similar fashion on countless occasions.  Despite all this, she never, ever, spells my name correctly.

Granted, this person is very nice, patient, and is always a pleasure to work with.  However, the fact that she consistently spells my name incorrectly, while writing in otherwise good form, begs a couple questions:  Does she consider our working relationship unimportant?  Is she so busy that she doesn’t have the time to look at my email signature for the correct spelling?  If I were a prospective client, would I do business with someone like this?

There are literally hundreds of books on the market that speak to the importance of simple, effective business communication techniques – clearly stating what you need, and outlining the outcome you would like to achieve as a result.

This includes spelling the recipients name and company correctly, as well as proofreading for common misspellings, punctuation, and other mistakes – your versus you’re, knowing where to place commas and periods, not ending sentences in prepositions, etc.

The thing is, this colleague’s seemingly small mistake could potentially be a big one.  Communicating effectively, especially through writing, is one of the most important facets of any business.  According to Merkle’s  ”View From the Digital Inbox 2011″ (2011) study, “Email is the preferred method of commercial communication by 74% of all online adults.”

This means, when communicating with a colleague or prospective client, it will likely be done by email, and the devil is in the details.  The importance of proofreading your work prior to hitting the Send button can mean the difference between landing a new client, or having them move down the road to a competitor.

What do you think?  What are your experiences?

The Trifecta of Successful 21st Century Marketing

Do you have all the ingredients for a successful campaign?

Earlier this week, I was talking with a prospective client, and the topic of online marketing came up. Now, this client’s business has been in operation for the better part of two decades, and has always been successful, both at retaining existing customers and drawing in new ones. Recently however, they’ve seen customer retention drop through the floor, and as a result, hired an SEO company to aid in their site redesign, aimed at increasing traffic. After spending tens of thousands of dollars over the course of almost a year, however, the ROI for this venture is almost non-existent. The client mentioned they have seen a massive increase in the traffic to their site, but very little (essentially none) actually translate into any sales.

Just as we’ve seen with the massive upheavals in the print industry (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.), the continued movement from physical to digital is beginning to crack the foundation of traditional retail businesses, especially those that typically deal in intangibles (services, rather than products).

Twenty years ago, if you were interested in a three-week European vacation, you would have very likely contacted a local travel agent to handle all your planning needs. In today’s world however, the first thing you do is hop on the Internet, and likely visit sites like Expedia or Priceline. The “travel agent” storefront model is essentially nonexistent as a result.

This is but a small example of the changing face of business, especially for ventures that have typically been successful using a physical “storefront” model. Everything is moving to the internet – which is great for consumers, as we can now shop globally for the best option, but is beginning to present greater and greater challenges to traditional retail business models.

As a result of this shift, how you choose to put yourself in front of your customers is tantamount to your continued success. Creating and online presence for your business is mandatory – you simply can’t continue without it. However, is presence alone all it takes? Certainly not. As the above prospective client is learning (unfortunately the hard way), traffic alone is not the answer. To be successful in your online presence, you need to incorporate “hard” data (i.e. SEO), but also psychological “data” as well (i.e. information that is presented in an easy to understand format, writing that welcomes the client and invites them to explore further, value creation, and ultimately to convince them to reach out to a live person – i.e. you – for additional information), which is where a good copywriter enters the picture.

Just like trying to make a cake without eggs will leave you with flat piece of bread, launching a marketing campaign (whether online or off) without all the necessary ingredients will leave you with a flat ROI. Your product has to been seen (SEO), must look attractive and professional (graphic design), and must also speak, loud and clear, to your prospective customer (copywriting). We call this the trifecta of successful 21st century marketing.

Professional writing is a key ingredient to your business’ marketing success, and should never be overlooked.

What do you think? What are some of your experiences with modern marketing?



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