X Factor has started again.
Aggghhhhh! It is highly edited, manipulative, compulsive nonsense but I can’t help watching it with my kids.
Week one and there is already an extraordinary talking point. Did you see the woman with the Pocahontas hair-style who stood up and yowled a jaw-droppingly terrible ‘version’ of Mercy by Duffy?
This woman was compelling in her frightfulness. I couldn’t tell whether she was the genius off-spring of Yoko Ono or whether she had made it all up on the spot. It turns out to be the latter.
She reckons she created it on the hoof because she was desperate to do something for her small child. Well that’s great motivation, but what about planning, rehearsals, doing it in front of friends for some feedback and generally having some kind of credible plan?
To me, it was an opportunity wasted. If you are going to make the trip to the venue and queue for hours, surely it would make sense to have a viable product to sell when you get there.
Maybe this is something I can learn from. Don’t bother showing up to market without a well- designed product and a well-rehearsed pitch.
But listen to this. She got into the next round! Sheer originality and chutzpah carried her through.
What do you make of that?
Nobody wants to look stupid.
In fact most of us spend a good deal of time trying to avoid it, but sometimes you fire off an e-mail without checking the attachment is actually attached or you add a comment to an online discussion only to see the howling spelling error after it’s too late.
Sometimes the problem is a bit bigger than that.
Take the case of Taylors of Harrogate, the makers of Yorkshire Tea. Recently they decided to celebrate Yorkshire by making a special edition called Northern Echo. This just happens to be the name of a local newspaper which includes parts of Yorkshire in its circulation area.
With an eye for a perfect piece of PR they sent a box of the tea to the paper’s editor Peter Barron.
Unfortunately they had spelled the word Northern without the second ‘r’. The box of tea was emblazoned with the word ‘Northen’ and was now sitting on the desk of one of the nation’s senior journalists. Whoops!
Peter Barron was very charitable when he wrote about the incident in his blog
But it’s always better to get it right the first time don’t you think? What howlers have you made and dare you admit to them?
I want to admit to an obsession, I can’t get enough of small businesses that punch above their weight with gorgeous locally produced products.
There’s something compelling about the way a tiny concern, firmly rooted in its locale can make an impact nationally or even internationally. The key is invariably internet marketing and social media.
The latest example to excite my interest is the Caws cheese farm, located in the lush countryside outside the village of Cenarth in west Wales.
We visited on a recent holiday and found a small farm with cheese making facilities on site. This was nothing like the Wensleydale creamery in the Yorkshire Dales, which is interesting in its own right but much larger and charges for cheese-making tours.
This place was really tiny with a small shop. We looked down through glass onto the cheese- making below where a couple of artisans were scooping curds and whey out of a small vat and sloshing into moulds. It was all being done by hand and reminded us of the vibe you get when trundling along a country lane in France to a farmhouse selling homemade calvados.
The feeling that we had stumbled across it by mistake intensified the magic but the copious cuttings on display told us that both Prince Charles and Keira Knightley had been there before us!
Of course I hadn’t stumbled upon it at all but had been directed there via a link on the website for the holiday cottages we were staying in. This is the power behind Caws. They have got their internet marketing down to a fine art.
We discovered that they own the domain name for Welshorganiccheese - a smart move that they are clearly proud of. Their website is clean and modern, pulling in the crowd who go for organic, local and authentic – that’s me! They have a Facebook fan page with recipes for their delicious cheeses including varieties like wine and leek or sun-dried tomato.
They clearly work hard at their marketing, and reach a wide audience who they sell to via post, but if you happen to go there like we did, you will not find an industrial unit on the outskirts of Swansea but a thriving country concern.
It’s tempting to think that when you hire a professional to take on the tasks you hate, you can just offload and heave a sigh of relief.
In my experience, working on pr copy and publicity material for clients, it doesn’t work like that.
It may be that you find writing about yourself really hard and you want a professional to give you a sparkling bio or you want some tired old copy about your business brought up to date and re-written. In either case the professional you employ will be a lot more effective and possibly cheaper too, if you make a few preparations before handing over the job.
Here are five points worth considering when handing over to a professional:-
- Most copywriting and pr is about selling your brand, so remind yourself what you stand for. Can you get this over to your writer or editor in a way they can work with? It really doesn’t have to be written out in elegant prose, that’s our job, but even a handful of words really helps.
- Do you have a mission statement? Does it still hold? You may find things have changed since you first set out your core values and this is a good chance to re-visit and up-date.
- If your professional sends you a questionnaire it’s to help the process along, not trip you up with bureaucracy. Questionnaires are often used to get down key pieces of information about a client and if you can fill them in promptly it really speeds things up when you get to the interview.
- It’s a good idea to meet the person working for you if you have the time. Long term relationships can only improve from meeting face to face and a chat over coffee will give you both the chance to discuss exactly what you want.
- If you need something fast and you don’t have a chance to meet, make sure your professional has all the information they need. It may seem obvious to you where you are coming from but if you have not worked together before it’s worth spelling everything out.
Working with a professional can save you time and give you the top class results you’ve been looking for. By working together in the early stages to really understand what you need you can develop a working relationship that lasts, so that next time it’s even easier than before.
I often suggest that one reason to blog is to discover what you really feel about something. The act of writing helps us sift through ideas and bring them into focus. With any luck we end up with work that says something about who we are and what we think.
But of course we are bombarded with messages, both written and spoken, everyday which fill our heads and makes it hard to think.
The question I would like to pose is, at the end of that process, does writing reflect some essence of true self or do we sift and sort but end up writing a pastiche of what we consume?
The thought was prompted by my husband’s reaction to a fun piece I wrote about going on holiday. To him it sounded like some rant from a right-wing newspaper. To me it was a bit of fun. Was I unconsciously adopting the tone of the Daily Mail columnist to make the piece funnier or am I deep down closer to that stereotype than I thought? (Help)
I was thinking this through at the same time as reading the excellent novel “The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave which makes the opposite point. In the book one of the central characters, a journalist and columnist for The Times, realises that he can never live up to the lofty ideals he espouses in his copy. He thinks of himself as an outspoken crusader for justice but the reality turns out to be somewhat different.
The contradiction is exposed in the most dramatic fashion on a beach in Nigeria and the rest of the novel explores what it might mean to be authentic and true to ourselves.
Those of us who write must imagine ourselves in all sorts of situations, many we have never been in. You have to try to see life through a thousand different lenses. Whether novelist or copywriter you have to put yourself into the minds of others to produce your best work. Yet that must be believable and authentic.
So where is the truth? In the imagining, in the writing or in the actions we take in the real world?
It’s certainly something to think about.
Have you TRIED to get a babysitter recently? They’ve all gone. Disappeared. To Portugal, Italy,France or wherever it is that babysitters go when you need them.
So I’m stuck here with the tantalising prospect of a nice dinner just out of my reach while the teenagers who are usually only too happy to help are sunning themselves on a beach somewhere.
Summer can be very frustrating.
My children’s friends have headed-off in a complicated jigsaw formation to their summer breaks, scuba diving lessons or drama week on stilts, whatever, and I am left with a diary full of arrows and squiggles and a bewildered look.
Streets are eerily empty and husband predictably grumpy as he heads off to the ghostly capital to report on news that hasn’t happened because there isn’t any.
MPs are on holiday and so, as we know, are the babysitters so why don’t we simply declare August a write off and join them ?
The French have the right idea. They go off en-masse on the same day, Le Grand Depart, thus messing up the traffic utterly for only one day, until La rentree of course, when it gets messed up again.
And you never hear about the French going on a staycation do you? The term is utterly absurd when you can head down to the glorious beaches of the south of France without leaving your own country. Only for us the duff option of staying in the country where we actually live and calling it a holiday.
So lets all agree to have a month off somewhere hot and we can pick up the pieces of economic decline when we get back.
What shall we do about Press Releases?
Journalists say they don’t like them, so why do we send them? What shall we do instead?
I will be straight up with you and say I don’t know. There are as many opinions on this as there are stories and journalists to write them.
Back in the day on a small BBC Radio station in the sticks we liked press releases because it gave us a safety net in case there was nothing to say. That as it turned out was quite often. In an area with little news you are forced to make a silk purse out of a sows ear and if you think I am joking you have never read out the fat stock prices. (The weights of pigs and other animals due at market, broadcast by very tired journalists to farmers early in the morning.)
In a very newsy patch you are going to have to work harder to get the hack’s attention. Having said that if it is real, hot, breaking news then it’s academic how you release it, you are in the driver’s seat. You can tweet it, press release it or just phone them up and tell them about it.
So what we are really talking about is how to get the coverage we want when they need persuading.
If they are in position A you have to find out what they want and give it to them. Some journalists prefer a concise written pitch by e-mail, others like to get a tweet. Specialist journos hate it when you send them stories outside their niche and if you think that is arrogant you just have to live with it because they will delete your e-mails.
So is the press release dead? Is it still worth sending one out? Here’s my view but I would love to hear yours.
- Send a release to add substance and detail to a story you have already pitched on the phone.
- Send a release to publications you know are short-staffed enough to cut and paste your story straight into the paper.
- Turn your release into an e-mail pitch, which is very short and to the point.
- Send a release to people you know would be happy to receive them.
- Send a release when you are in a very strong position and you and your client have decided that this is the only way you will break the news.
Any more? Do tell.