Tell your story well
Jane Cordell, Director of Result CIC and board member at AMA share her experience of the AMA Copywriting Day 2018 and gives us some quick tips on copywriting for non-copywriters.
The values behind copywriting
I went on the AMA’s Copywriting course feeling like a fraud.
I was privileged, as a newly minted Board member, to have the opportunity to take part and learn about the AMA and gain valuable first-hand experience of what they do. This was valuable.
But I thought ‘I don’t do copywriting’. Or, to be more precise ‘I don’t feel that I do copywriting.’ As I learned, there is an important difference.
By the end of the day I thought ‘Actually…. I do this.’
Lead trainer, Amy Harrison’s. assured and engaging exploration of what copywriting is, and isn’t’ debunked myths and offered some useful ways to communicate about what our organisations do.
First a caveat. I don’t work in arts marketing. I run a social enterprise, Result CIC. I love the arts deeply and am involved myself at amateur level and what the AMA day taught me was that everyone who writes and talks about what they or their organisation does is, in fact, telling their story – creating copy. And how well you tell that story can be crucial.
At the event I could feel the enthusiasm of the full hall of keen arts marketing specialists around me. I realised that what we had in common was believing in what our organisations did. You get a real advantage when copywriting if you love what you are writing about. Your feelings will communicate themselves to others naturally and help you find the words and images to do so. If you struggle to connect with it, it could be time to move as it may suggest that what you are writing about doesn’t tally with your values.
Debris Stevenson offered provocative and beautifully performed thoughts on the fluidity of our – and our audience’s – identity and achieving ‘flow’ in our writing : ‘‘Write drunk!’ she challenged us and look at the layers of meaning contained in each word. This was reinforced by Mel Larsen’s clear presentation. (‘What does it mean to diverse readers when we say ‘flesh-coloured?’ Are we making assumptions when we use language we think everyone knows e.g. ‘Circle’ and ‘Stalls’ may not be clear to someone who has not yet tried theatre. It made me realise how a little reflection on our choice of words can increase its impact and relevance and avoid alienating and excluding some of those potentially interested in what we have to say.
Here are some of the points I noted to take away with me at the end of the day:
• Draft freely at first. Don’t self-edit as you will lose those vital early ‘seeds’ of key ideas.
• Reveal the value – including the emotional value – of what you do and time spent exploring this deeply is time well spent.
• If you are not excited about what you are describing, how can you enthuse your readers? Question why.
• Ideas ‘demand their own shape’: they cannot be fitted to someone else’s solution.
• People don’t follow instructions so don’t ask them to.
• If you are trying to reach a particular community don’t use ‘their’ language if it is not yours.
• Aim for a tone which speaks directly and feels exclusive but can chime with a wide range of people.
With Amy’s advice in mind, I became more alert to the ‘copy’ I read and see every day. In Oxford for work I recently saw this poster.
As a potential reader, I was ‘hard to reach’. I was headed to a work venue, didn’t have much time and was focused on the talk I was to give. Yet the poster made me stop to read it (and take a picture). Why?
Your professionals reading this will have your own take on this. I thought this worked because:
• It’s simple.
• It’s intriguing.
• It was outside a fairly downbeat pub so made me think ‘Why would I project my emotions here?’ (It engaged).
• It’s amusing (you immediately connect ‘project’ and ‘slide
• It focuses on ‘me’ (the potential audience) and the impact of the ‘show’ show’ rather than, for example, the undoubted cleverness and skill of the comedians who will facilitate it.
• The explanatory text is annoyingly small but it works by making you read it (as you want your question answered ‘What’s this?’.
I found the Copywriting day made me re-think and unpack my own approach to describing what our organisation does. We can all always improve and it was a valuable experience which I would recommend.