Thursday 31 October 2013

How to write advertorials

Or perhaps I should say why to write advertorials. Do we need advertorials? Do they work and for that matter how many adverts that we submit to magazines in a sometimes desperate attempt to nudge the awareness of the buying public actually work as they are supposed to? How do we measure this? Too many questions.

Usually it is a matter of trust. Let’s say you are a hard-working independent retailer and you are called by your local town, city or county magazine and told all about the wonderful forthcoming Christmas issue. You are given what appear to be impressive distribution figures so that you imagine countless thousands of people devouring every page and vacuuming all the information you put together about your shop. It’s a little pricey but surely a half-page advert will do wonders for your Christmas trade. You can submit some photos and your logo and the magazine will do the rest, even allowing you to write your own words to accompany the advert – the beloved advertorial.

But caveat emptor! One client of mine has followed through two such conversations and has both times decided to take an advert and also, both times, has asked specifically that she be able to write the advertorial – not the magazine. She then came to me to prepare about 250 words to go with an advert showing off her new Christmas products and promoting her name to the world. In advance of the deadline for submitting the material for the advert, the magazine editor emailed her with a suggested advertorial of their own. It misspelt several things, was poorly punctuated and it seemed to be loosely based on a template selling just about anything in any shop. My client quickly made it clear that she was, as agreed, providing the advertorial, not them and soon afterwards sent them the words I’d written. Subsequently, no proofs arrived for her to check and approve but she was sent a copy of the new issue on the first day of publication. Lo and behold, there before her was an advertorial written by God knows who at the magazine – boldly printed but written badly and about nothing in particular, with all the misspellings and solecisms intact. My client was furious and vowed never to have further dealings with the magazine.

A year went by, the phone rang. A new charming editor talked my client through the dazzling Christmas issue – a nice price was dangled. My client had not forgotten what happened before but nevertheless gave in eventually and booked another ad. I was again contacted to write another 250 words. Oddly enough, as the deadline for submitting the advert approached the magazine sent a reminder with their own poorly penned, misspelt and generic piece of advertorial nonsense appended. My client was very quick to pick up the phone and tell them in no uncertain terms that only the advertorial she sent them must be printed. Again, she sent them the piece of writing she wanted.

Two weeks later the glossy magazine landed on her doorstep and when she opened it – you know what I’m going to say – the ghastly piece of nonsense was there in place of the advertorial she had commissioned from me. This time war was declared. Here was another printed advert that would probably do more harm than good. The editor and editor-in-chief both called and grovelled but the damage was done.

I was going to write about how to write advertorials but I was side-tracked, my only excuse being that this might act as a warning to others to ensure that, since you pay good money for this supposed service, you should damn well get what you have agreed in the deal you have struck.

But as to how to write advertorials, the nub of it is this. Make it interesting and different. Give the piece a bit of personality – perhaps by opening it with a quote from the business owner about something new in the Christmas offer. Employ an angle, or hook just as you would when you tell any story and you’ll find that instead of just saying ‘we sell beautiful scarves’ you’ve already wrapped a tantalising silk scarf round your customer’s neck and you’re towing her to your door.   

Wednesday 16 October 2013

How to start writing

You know that the time has come – in actual fact it probably came about three weeks ago – when you really must sit at your computer and write that report, article, content piece for the website, important business letter…

But one of the main reasons for your timidity about doing this, possibly your dread of doing this is, is how to start.

On previous parts of this blog I’ve given advice about the need to marshal your thoughts, take notes, organise material, get prepared, before you sit down to write anything. I won’t repeat any of that here. I want to keep this simple and just say that in my experience there are far too many logical and perfectly acceptable beginnings to reports, business letters and so on to allow your fear of starting to have sway over the process.

My advice is simply this. Once you’ve reasonably focused your ideas and organised your material, just start writing. Start anywhere you like and work towards your theme. Do not try to uber-craft every word or sentence from the outset because nine times out of ten the good stuff, the proper logical direction of your argument, will not appear until at least the second or third paragraph. It’s as if your initial words are like the preparation before the real paintwork begins; they provide a fix and a foundation, an even and clean surface, but they will not be seen when the job is done.

So having written all or a considerable amount of your first draft, look back at your opening and be very critical. Does it lay a half-decent basis for the arguments that follow? Does it grab attention? Are you trying too hard to encompass everything that follows in a few short swift strokes and so confusing the reader?

Be prepared to use the scalpel and if necessary cut all the beginning section and try to forget that you spent considerable time squeezing your brains in its preparation and that some of the sentences are really quite felicitous; what a shame to lose them.

Honestly, this is hard-won advice. I spent years crafting and re-crafting the opening lines and early paragraphs of speeches, presentations, brochure copy, website home pages, reports – you name it – only to return and make the painful incision, dropping all of it to the cutting room floor.

Of course, this hard editing approach is necessary right the way through your work and not just for the beginning section. Read, reread, cut, shape, refine. It will improve the message. I believe in hard editing generally. But in my experience it is usually the beginning that needs the most attention – which is why I am advising you to be easy on yourself when you start. Start anywhere and in due course you’ll realise that you are doing the job you set out to do.  

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Only the wealthy dare apply

I’m just back from a couple of days in London where I went to support my partner Rai on an exploration and buying expedition at the Decorex Trade Fair. This is one of several major annual events showing off the great and the good in the interior design sector.

Compared to one or two other fairs I’ve been to for the same purpose, Decorex is what might be called ‘high-end’. That’s to say that for the most part one’s eventual customers have to be extremely well heeled. The fabrics, furniture, lighting, flooring, panelling, wallpaper and accessories on show were generally sumptuous and gorgeous. So much so that there were actually very few items that Rai felt she could order for her shop – although thankfully she was pleased with the few she did encounter – because once you add her own mark-up the price becomes prohibitively high. There are too few people in and around provincial Ludlow who could imagine paying more than £4,000 for a single deckchair or £25,000 for a chandelier, nor even the more accessible £2,000 for a glass vase from Murano – let alone actually shell out for such purchases on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.

On the second day we went to the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre which had its very own show, tying in with Decorex event. The Design Centre oozes urban chic as you would expect. But added to chic and some serious creative flair was an almost chilling note of opulence.

Each beautiful shop in the three beautiful domes housing several storeys of top brand outlets was manned by beautiful, expensive-looking people. I couldn’t help but feel that my frayed collars had been noted in an expert flick of the eye, the smile unchanging.

Some of these shops were deceptively huge. The Armani display was like a many-roomed cave; there was a chocolate-rich darkness in which every prized item was lit ingeniously; a place where even a humble glass paperweight would set you back £350.

Close by, the Clive Christian premises offered an entire show-home featuring a chandeliered and panelled kitchen and a hallway with a large bar plus a bedroom with a walk in wardrobe fit for Gatsby himself. It is easy to feel marginalised in such an environment because the overwhelming theme is super wealth with designs that have travelled a long way beyond tacky into the realms of a fantasy of polished granite, gilding, faux snakeskin and superb craftsmanship. Awaiting each visitor in the inviting hallway was a mysterious golden bag with a gold brochure and gold hardback book of selected Clive Christian interiors. Who could resist?

But while I’d thoroughly enjoyed much of what I’d seen I was left by both Decorex and the Design Centre with a sense of alienation. I had been to see someone else’s world which seemed to be many moons and generations away from reality, even of everyday London life. When Rai and I stepped out of the Decorex show, held at Kensington Palace, to find some lunch, we were at one point approached by old immigrant woman; twisted, tiny and pleading for money, she was in an agony of poverty of a kind no one could alleviate. Oddly enough, her image looms large as the themes of opulent and fabulous design fade.