Saturday, July 30, 2016

Timing and Messaging Are Everything

Toward the end of July, I received a birthday card from someone I don't know. Strike 1: my birthday is August 31, so obviously this person didn't do their homework too well. Strike 2? The card was from a plastic surgeon, offering me discounts on procedures like Botox, wrinkle or contour fillers, and Kybella (non-surgical neck rejuvenation).

As a communicator, I found a number of things wrong with this direct mail piece:

  • A birthday card should be congratulatory, not a solicitation for business.
  • Sending the card so early is a red flag; it negates any possible plus from personalization.
  • Encouraging a person turning 50-something to treat herself to age-defying treatments leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (Only thing worse: getting a birthday direct mail piece from a pre-planned funeral company!)
What lessons are to be learned from this?
  • Be timely when you communicate, especially if you're trying to give the impression you care about the recipient. You wouldn't send a Christmas card in May, right?
  • Don't misuse cards meant for specific purposes. You wouldn't send a sympathy card to encourage people to buy floral arrangements, right?
  • Be conscious of how your message is going to be received. I consider it a faux pas to remind a woman she's getting older around her birthday while trying to sell her something to combat that natural occurrence.
I'm sure some marketing person thought it was a great idea to use birthday cards as direct mail pieces touting plastic surgery -- but I have to wonder how successful the campaign is going to be. Will I become a client? No, I may color my hair (in fact, I do!), but I like my face just the way it is.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Should You Hire a Writer/Editor for Your Design Project?

Whether you’ve engaged a designer to create a website or any other marketing collateral, hiring a writer/editor to assist with content is a good idea. Why? Here are five reasons:

1    1. You know how to write — but that doesn’t make you a writer. While you’re certainly an expert in what your company does, do you have any experience communicating its features, benefits, etc.? Professional writers specialize in creating compelling copy.
2    2. You lack objectivity. It’s not a bad thing to be enthusiastic about your product or service, but are you able to temper your “cheerleading” to produce copy that is professional in tone? Professional writers have the ability to “bottle” your enthusiasm so it hits the mark with your audience.
3    3. You aren’t a strong writer. That might have mattered in high school, where you couldn’t offload your writing assignments to someone else, but outsourcing is an accepted practice in the business world. Professional writers can eliminate the pain of struggling through the writing process.
4    4. You don’t have the time. While you know it’s important to have a website (or keep the copy updated), get out your newsletter, or prepare other marketing materials, you may simply have too much client-specific work on your plate to attend to creative tasks. Professional writers will make your project their priority.
5    5. You can afford it. Content development is a critical part of any design project, but it costs a fraction of what you’ll pay a good designer. And, if you choose to have a professional edit rather than write your copy, your fee will be even less. Professional writers are well worth the small investment you’ll make it their services.

Two last thoughts:
  • The best designs will fall flat if the copy within them isn’t compelling or contains embarrassing typos or grammar errors. The professional writer you hire will make sure that never happens to you.
  • Graphic designers are great at design, but they’re usually not equipped to write or edit copy — and they don’t want to.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Bonehead English: Run-on Sentences

Over the past couple days, I've received emails containing the following sentences:

really dislike when someone adds me to a list without my permission, most likely you feel the same.
We also have a newsletter, would you like to be added to our list.

What do they have in common? They're great examples of run-on sentences.

There are two ways to correct run-on sentences, separating them into two sentences or using a semicolon instead of a comma to denote two separate but linked thoughts. 

In the first example, I'd use a semicolon:

really dislike when someone adds me to a list without my permission; most likely you feel the same.

In the second example, I'd make it two sentences:

We also have a newsletter. Would you like to be added to our list?

How can you tell when you've written a run-on sentence? Say it out loud. You'll find you naturally pause where either the sentence should stop or a semicolon should be added.


Friday, October 02, 2015

Why I'm a Cubs Fan

I’m a Chicago native, but I haven’t lived there for a long, long time. Since graduating from college, I’ve been a resident of Dallas, Houston, Denver, and San Jose, and since 2001, I’ve called San Diego home. In all those places, after voicing my allegiance to the Cubs, people often asked me why—why do I continue to support a team that hasn’t won a championship since 1908, or even gone to a World Series since 1945?

My response? If you have to ask, you don’t get it, and you never will.

It’s like a virus, being a true-blue Cubs fan. You caught it, and now you can’t get rid of it. Some say it’s like being cursed, but I disagree. While like all lifelong Cubs fans I’ve experienced plenty of misery, I believe one day our team will be the last one standing—and that day isn’t too far off. (This year? Fingers crossed.)

I have a hard time with bandwagon fans of any team, even the Cubs. To me, you’re either a fan or you’re not. True fans suffer through the down times (even when they seem eternal) and don’t just pop out of the woodwork when a team gets good. It’s easy to cheer for a winner, but a much bigger challenge to support a team going through hard times (especially when they last decades).

Many people trace their team allegiances to their fathers, but not me. My dad, who I adored, grew up on Chicago’s south side, so he was a White Sox fan. I’m not sure why I didn’t follow in his footsteps, but I can never remember being anything other than a Cubs fan. We lived on the north side, definitely “Cubs country,” and it never dawned on me to support another team, despite my dad’s playful ribbing about my “loveable losers.” I recall my phone rang at the moment the Cubs lost the 1984 playoff series to the Padres, and on the other end was my dad, saying, “never, never, never; your Cubs will never go to the World Series.”

Maybe living with a White Sox fan has made me more tolerant of other teams’ fans. I admire all fans who support their teams through thick and thin, even those who cheer for the south siders or the rival Cardinals. Life’s too short to hate anyone over baseball; why not just love your own team?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

A Case of Too Much Personalization

Technology is a great asset to any writer. As someone who toiled over a typewriter in the early years of my career, using carbon paper to produce two copies of the same document and white-out to cover up mistakes, having access to a computer is a godsend. (I will admit I was wary initially, as saving and sending seemed a lot less reliable than delivering actual pieces of paper.)

Now, to the meat of the matter. As the world has become more computerized, personalization is all the rage. Instead of receiving junk mail addressed to occupant, it now sports our names, which may be repeated within the copy, i.e., "Adrienne, you may be our next million-dollar winner!" Online offers are tailored to our past purchases and/or "likes." And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I don't really mind personalization, as I'm much more likely to use a coupon from a store like DSW or Sephora than one from a place that sells fishing tackle. So, why craft this blog about too much personalization? Read on.

I'm writing this on August 1, the first day of the month in which I was born. Late last week, I received my first birthday deal via mail from a store I frequent. Today, I found a handful of online birthday deals in my in-box. None of these emails actually offers a gift (i.e., something free), but the sentiment is nice, and since the offers of savings come from places where I've bought before, there's a good chance I'll take advantage of some of them.

Where does the over-personalization occur? While August is my birthday month, I didn't come into the world until its last day--which is 30 days from now. Would you send someone birthday greetings a month before their special day? I think not, because it would be perceived that you didn't know the exact date to celebrate.

Thus, while these birthday offers are well intended, since I'm receiving them so far in advance of my birthday, it makes them feel less personal. It's pretty clear that on the first of each month (or even a few days before in the case of mailed items), a computer spits out a list of everyone with a birthday within those 29, 30 or 31 days and bulk emails or mailings are generated. They might look personal, but in reality they aren't.

Happy birthday to me--much later this month.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Top 10 Pet Peeves

Every day I see writing mistakes that are oh so preventable. Here are my top 10:

10. Capitalizing words that aren't proper nouns (like bank and company)
9. Leaving two spaces after periods (that's old school)
8. Misusing their and its (their reflects people while its covers everything else, e.g., its annual report)
7. Misusing semicolons (they're not the same as colons or commas)
6. Confusing you're and your (the former is a contraction, short for you are; the latter denotes possession)
5. Confusing it's and its (see the comment above, with the exception that it's is short for it is)
4. Using hyphens instead of dashes (hyphens should only be used like this: much-needed advice)
3. Defining an acronym (like NHL) and still spelling it out (National Hockey League) in subsequent uses
2. Using that instead of who to describe people (those of you who read my newsletter is correct)
1. Knowing full well that you could benefit from getting some help on the writing front--even just having your work edited--but failing to take any action.

I know I'm no David Letterman, but since my aim here wasn't to get laughs, I can live with that.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Would You Do?

I regularly find myself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pointing out errors I see in copy. If I do nothing, the writer is never aware of his or her mistakes and is likely to make them again. If I say something, I may make the person feel bad.

My latest quandary in this arena concerned an email newsletter sent by a local realty group, in which I noticed three mistakes:

1) The month of the publication was noted at the very top of the page: Febuary Issue. While that spelling reflects how most people pronounce February--without the "r" sound--it's still misspelled.

2) Right under the company's logo, superimposed over a beautiful photo of the San Diego skyline at sunset, was the next faux pas: "Where its always 74 degrees and sunny!" Hyperbole aside (we occasionally have cooler days and cloud cover), the second word in this claim should be "it's."

3) Farther down the page within the main copy block was a minor transgression: the author wrote "my self" instead of "myself."

After a bit of thought, I decided to contact the sender to gently apprise him of the errors. I focused on the teaching opportunity and my desire to ensure he didn't repeat his miscues in future issues.

I find that when I reach out this way, one of two things happens:

1) The recipient thanks me and appreciates my counsel.
2) I hear nothing and assume I've hurt the recipient's feelings.

It's only been a little over a day since I sent the e-mail...but so far, nothing but crickets.