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Executive Fluency

Here’s a question you don’t get asked every day: how much do you really know about writing?  And more particularly, the craft of copywriting?  Unless you do this for a living or had extensive training , the answer is likely not very much. Yet no matter your particular role or responsibilities, copywriting is an exceptionally important skill: it educates, convinces, connects – and creates impact.

Here are 11 simple ideas that can help you create that impact:

  1. Voice:  Skip the passive (“Neglected fee payments will cause access to be lost”), and use the active voice: “If you neglect paying your fees, you will lose access.” Then choose how you want to be perceived: formal vs informal, younger vs older, corporate vs personified, and so on. Which is best depends on your goal.
  2. Alliteration:  Connecting Community to Commitment is the only way to drive Social Media ROI.
  3. Repetition:  Ten Tips and Ten Tricks.  (Note that this also uses alliteration.)
  4. Rhyme:  No Wine before its Time.
  5. Meter:  This is the way, to sales and profit.  This refers to the timing of the passage:  imagine a metronome ticking behind the italicized words.
  6. Metaphor, Simile, and Symbolism: Imbues the emotional power of a well-known concept into your writing.  The foundation of knowledge is built through hard work (Knowledge in terms of building construction.)  Our ideatrust Digital Knowledge Vault contains 100s of digital marketing resources. (Connection to a valuable bank vault)
  7. Contrast:  Social Media is either a complete waste of time, or the most important plank of your PR strategy.
  8. Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt:  Without addressing these three key areas of risk, your organization may find itself publicly embarrassed – or legally liable.
  9. Soundbite:  Marketing automation connects community to commitment. This is a sentence that crystallizes an entire concept, and is easily repeatable.
  10. Testimonial: This is a  bona fide third party validation of your capabilities.  While you can’t write your own testimonials, the power of copywriting shines through when you receive an exceptional one.  Contrast “He is hardworking – would hire him in a minute” compared to this one (from my LinkedIn profile):  “Randall is gifted in seeing things from both the 50,000 foot level and sea level at the same time, and snatching — seemingly from thin air — the one piece of the puzzle that will make the entire strategy work.”
  11. Sidebars:  This is less about the written word than the placement of it.  A sidebar is a way to shoe-horn related information into an article, without losing the article’s focus. Sidebars can be used for just about anything: testimonials, order forms, technical descriptions, mini-case studies, how-to’s, etc

This week’s action plan: While these 11 techniques will definitely improve the effectiveness of your writing, there is one technique that eclipses them all: practice.  This week, flex your copywriting muscle, by using these same concepts when you are speaking or delivering a presentation.  The strength you develop with these tools when you speak will also make you a better writer.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders

{ 1 comment }

While the internet has changed the world of publishing fundamentally, the world of writing has been fundamentally shifted as well.

Consider who is actually doing the writing:

Professional writers are educated in the craft of investigation and written expression, and spend an entire career learning how to convey complex concepts to their audiences. Over time, some will develop subject matter expertise, enabling them to write about ever-more-complex topics.  Writers get paid by publications who need “quality” editorial content, written without an underlying self-serving bias.

Subject matter experts usually start with a comprehensive education within their area of expertise, and then earn even more knowledge through decades of experience in their industry. Over time, some will also develop an expertise as a communicator. A few even become writers (or speakers).

Subject matter experts get paid by clients who have a problem that needs to be solved; their role is often a consultant, coach, or speaker.  To attract these clients, subject matter experts use a modern content marketing strategy: develop and diffuse content (blog posts, articles, white papers, etc) as widely as possible.

This sets up an interesting marketplace conflict between the two groups. Publishers now have a choice between writing experts (who cost money), and experts who write (who are free).

In the days of old, publishers understood that a free press was a lynchpin of the democratic system. Reporting independently and objectively was part of their public duty: paying writers was the way to ensure that reporting was not compromised. This is still true for some publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Economist, and some others.

A newspaper executive a few years ago explained “the sole purpose of editorial content is to serve as a skeleton for our advertising: If we sell more advertising, then we need to provide more editorial; if we don’t we’ll lose readership – and therefore lose advertisers.” He was saying what we already know: the economics of the business drives decisions.

Therefore it is not unsurprising that an astoundingly high number of print publications (and online news sites) do not pay their writers. The honeypot of free editorial content is just too alluring: with ad revenues declining, costs must be managed. After all, why pay for editorial content when you can get it for free? This model absolutely works: consider The Huffington Post, which is built almost exclusively with free content. Trade magazines have also been doing it for years.

This change has been a bonanza for subject matter experts (and also corporations who generate “branded content”). but for professional writers, it is another nail in the coffin: they now must successfully compete against free, or go hungry. Or choose an entrepreneurial route by attracting advertisers to their own blog.

Bonanza or not, Subject Matter Experts who write are facing other challenges, chief amongst them is the ownership of the copyright, and control over “their” work.

If they are writing for free, who owns the copyright? Does the publication have the right to edit the piece (or change the headline) without pre-approval? Or removal the writer’s name? Or create derivative works without attribution? Can the writer demand that the piece be taken down from the online site at a future date? Or that the article be updated? Or that a competitor’s advertisement not be shown on the same page?

The answers to some of these questions can be found within the “contract” that the publisher and the writer sign. These contracts range from simple verbal handshakes, to short agreements that give the publisher the right to use the article, to lengthier ones that border on the unreasonable.

Over the last decade, there has been a trend towards the unreasonable. A case in point: an authoritative trade publication sought me out to write a feature article for an upcoming issue. When asked if it were paid or free, they replied that it was unpaid. I responded that I would be happy to write the article, on the conditions that my byline was used, that a two-sentence “about the author” was included with a link to my website, and that copyright was left with me. After agreeing to this via email, they asked me to sign their “standard release”. This was a mind-boggling multi-page document that transferred complete ownership of the piece to the publisher, forbade me from writing similar pieces, and forbade disclosure of the contract terms. Needless to say, I refused to sign the contract without amendments, and they said that they have no flexibility to make any changes. I didn’t write the article.

While this example may be the exception, it illustrates a fundamental challenge for a publishing industry that has become addicted to free: one-sided contracts will kill the golden goose of free content from experts.

This week’s action plan for subject matter experts: Do you write for free as part of a content marketing strategy? If so, decide on how much you are willing to give up – and then stick to your guns.

This week’s action plan for professional writers: The world has changed: instead of competing with free, how might you take advantage of this new paradigm? Hint: developing a reputation – and a bit of celebrity – this improves your value significantly.

This week’s action plan for publishers: Consider setting a higher bar for prospective experts-who-write: their wide network (real and online) brings far more value than just a filled slot in an editorial calendar. Then use a contract that protects your rights, but also respects theirs.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders



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