Is simple writing the best writing?

December 20th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RS, an ad agency creative director, wrote the following in a
recent article on branding:

“Today, the emerging big brands among us are those that are
bringing the future to fruition — changing how we exist,
interact, and sustain our lives. They’re making social networks,
self-driving cars, hoverboards, and holograms.

“And most interesting of all, this new class of brand is led by a
visionary founder with a particular philosophy, not by a
corporate entity acting out a product roadmap against established
brand guidelines and architecture.

“People like Elon Musk, Evan Spiegel, and Mark Zuckerberg are
pursuing innovation across product and business lines that
sometimes don’t organize quite as neatly under a parent company
as the businesses of yesteryear had, and instead are branded in
siloes.”

Is this good writing?

I would bet that when RS read his draft, he was glowing with
pride at his highfalutin, breathless prose.

But in my forthcoming book on writing, I will use it as an
example of how NOT to write … and in my writing seminars my
students call this one, “What did he say?”

To me, it stinks, because RS violates an important rule of good
writing:

“Write to express — not to impress.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald mocked Hemingway for Ernie’s simple, basic
vocabulary and plain, unadorned style.

“He thinks I don’t know the ten dollar words,” Hemingway said of
Fitzgerald’s criticism. “I do. I just prefer the $1 words
instead.”

When I first started teaching business and technical writing
seminars for corporate clients, I would occasionally have an
attendee who, when I said simple and plain writing is best,
argued with me.

They said they had been taught all their life to write in a
formal, corporate style — and the conversational style I was
teaching in the class was wrong and inappropriate for business.

I would show these naysayers the Flesch readability test; they
usually remained unpersuaded.

But when I got into direct response copywriting, I finally had
objective proof — not just subjective opinion — to support my
assertion that simple writing is the best writing … at least when
it comes to communication.

And the proof is this: almost without exception, virtually every
successful direct response promotion is written in clear,
concise, conversational copy.

It’s the style used by John Forde … Clayton Makepeace … Richard
Armstrong … Ivan Levison … Paul Hollingshead … Steve Slaunwhite …
and just about every top six- and seven-figure copywriter I know.

Why? Because it is plain English that virtually always gets the
best response — proving that when it comes to communicating,
simple writing is the best writing.

And it’s not just my personal opinion that clear writing trumps
ornate writing, and that plain language communicates more
effectively than big words.

It’s a tested fact.

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Category: Writing | 1 Comment » |

Avoid disaster when migrating to digital media

December 16th, 2016 by Bob Bly

It’s ironic.

Direct response guys by far know more about what works in
marketing than anyone else, because we generate tangible results
on every promotion. And these results are measured.

Yet more and more marketers are bypassing direct response today
in favor of what is hot and trendy — specifically branding,
content marketing, digital marketing, and social media.

For instance, my friend BC, a veteran direct marketing pro,
recently wrote me an e-mail. He says:

“I’ve had so many clients insist on dropping what they call
‘traditional’ media for digital and social media, only to have a
harsh awakening as their response plummets.

“One such client is a small community college who was struggling
during the recession. They were down to just under 7,000
students and state funding was cut.

“Teaching jobs were on the line. We launched a campaign with
traditional media with the right message. And in just 2
enrollment periods — spring and fall of the same year — we
raised enrollment to just over 11,000 students … an increase of
57%.

“We sustained that number and even moved it up a notch or two for
3 years. Then the college’s Marketing Committee got comfortable
and bored, fired us, and hired a digital/social media agency.

“The new media agency produced disastrous results. Enrollment
went from just over 11,000 students down to 6,500 students in 2
enrollment cycles. The last numbers I learned of were below 4,500
students.

“Now the college doesn’t have an ad budget, and most of the
Marketing Committee, who were also professors and instructors,
have been let go due to lack of funds.

“The college’s Marketing Director was moved from his office suite
in the main building to an office on a remote side of the campus.

“This is why I always tell clients to ease into ‘new media’
slowly — and test, test, and test!”

I urge you to consider BC’s story and advice carefully. He is a
top pro and he knows what he is talking about.

In my view, this myopic college Marketing Director, who had BC’s
vast expertise as his disposal, starved to death with a loaf of
bread under each arm.

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Category: Direct Marketing, Online Marketing | 1 Comment » |

Are you violating client confidentiality by showing samples on your site?

December 14th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber GR asks:

“When I send clients an agreement, it states using samples is
important to my business.

“I have a client who doesn’t want the work I do for him displayed
on my site; I’m thinking he’s worried about his competitors.

“I have never done an e-book for a client…. so this certain
sample would be important to me, as future clients may ask if
I’ve done one.

“Since you are an expert, what are your thoughts to solve this
problem?”

My feeling is you should NEVER put in your agreements that you
automatically have the right to use the promotion you wrote for
the client to market your own services.

Why not?

Because some clients want their marketing — or the fact that you
wrote it for them — to be confidential.

They want to keep what they are doing under wraps — and not put
it on display where it is easily imitated or knocked off.

That is their right … and for them may be the sensible path.

So if your copywriting contract requires clients to let you use
their samples to promote your services, many prospects may not
hire you because of that contract clause.

So I never, ever include it in the agreement.

What happens is that once the promotion is produced, I tell them
it looks so great, may I please post it as a sample on my web
site’s portfolio?

At that point 95% give permission to post what you did for them
on your online portfolio. And so — problem solved. They will
even give you a PDF of the finished artwork which makes it a snap
to post the promotion on your site.

As for the 5% who say they do not want you to show the work to
others, you absolutely should comply with their wishes — and do
not share the sample with anyone under any circumstance — as much
as you want to.

This is the right way to handle sharing and display of client
samples. You do not want to get a reputation for violating client
confidentiality, which you will if you show client work to others
without permission.

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What to do when your client wants more than just the copy

December 9th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes, “I am finding clients who say they want a
copywriter, and then ask for additional services such as design
and web development, including programming. How do you sell them
on just the writing aspect that they need first and foremost?”

I do three simple things that solve the problem easily and
neatly.

First, I send them a link to my FAQ page where it states the
following:

“Q: What if I need graphics, not just the copy? Do you work with
an artist?”

“A: I work with the best direct-mail artists and web designers in
the world, but it’s not a package deal. After you hire me, I’ll
give you some recommendations on the right artist for your job
and you can come to terms with him or her on your own. I can also
work with your artist or web developer, if you prefer. Either way
is fine with me.”

I stole this language from Richard Armstrong. We are in essence
saying, “We can get you the other parts of the project you need,
but we don’t act as an ad agency or manage the project for you.”

Second, I make it easy for the client to find vendors who can
provide whatever they need that I don’t do — by posting a vendor
directory page on my site:

http://www.bly.com/newsite/Pages/vendors.php

When a client asks “What will a mailing list or design for my web
site cost?” I don’t go out and get a quote from the vendor. I
point the client to the vendor’s page link above — and tell them
they have to contact the vendor directly to get the pricing.

Third, after all this, there will still be a few clients who will
only hire you to write their copy if you also act as a full-service
agency and deliver the entire package.

In such situations, you can say one of two things: Yes. Or no.

If you are in such demand as a copywriter that you have many more
potential clients than you can handle, then sticking by your
guns, saying you write copy only, and refusing to provide full
agency services is easy.

That’s the option I have chosen: fill my lead pipeline to
overflowing so I only have to take the jobs I want. And projects
where the client wants me to “do the whole thing” are jobs I do
not want. So I turn them down.

On the other hand, if you are hungry and need the work, turning
away good assignments from clients who demand a turnkey service
is more difficult, and you may choose to give them what they
want. It’s up to you.

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Are FB ads really “social media”?

December 6th, 2016 by Bob Bly

According to Duke University’s School of Business’s recent CMO
survey, 44.1% of marketers said they are unable to show the
impact of social media.

Another 35.6% say there is a quantitative impact but cannot
measure hard numbers for sales ROI and other key metrics.

Bottom line: about 8 out 10 marketers surveyed either haven’t
realized or can’t prove the ROI they expected from social media,
dampening their desire to invest more time and money in the channel.

Whenever I share this, I always get responses from people who
tell me they can measure social ROI and are crushing it on
social.

But 99 times out of 100, it turns out that they are talking about
boosted posts and paid advertising on Facebook.

One can argue — and I am that one — that FB ads are not really
“social media” or “social marketing.”

They are online advertising, same as pay-per-click ads on Google
or Bing, banner ads on web sites, and ads in e-zines.

When I question whether social media works or produces a decent
ROTI (return on time invested), I am not questioning the efficacy
of FB paid ads — because I already know they can work like
gangbusters.

What I’m questioning is whether endless blabbing and chatter on
Facebook, Snapchat, and other social networks generates a good
ROI.

Well, the Duke survey says 8 out of 10 CMOs cannot confirm a
positive ROI from their social media.

Now, whenever I say this, someone will blast me, pointing out
that Grant Cardone is “crushing it” on Snapchat and Gary
Vaynerchuk is doing likewise on multiple social networks — as if
this invalidates the Duke survey findings.

Well, it doesn’t. Because there are exceptions to everything, and
in social media ROI, Grant and Gary are two of a small minority
who are in fact making money with social.

But for the majority of marketers, social media remains an
unproven medium that often sucks time and funds that would be
better spent on other activities — such as e-mail marketing and
direct mail.

Yes, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, but I contend social
marketing has a poor ROTI — return on time invested. And since
time is so precious, blabbing on Snapchat or tweeting half a
dozen times a day without generating hard dollar revenues online
is to me a waste.

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Category: Online Marketing | 2 Comments » |

The 10 Undeniable Truths of Business Communication and Success

December 2nd, 2016 by Bob Bly

1–Short words are better than long words.

2–Old words are better than new words.

3–Simple ideas are better than complex ideas.

4–Ideas are a dime a dozen — everyone has them, all the time.

5–Ideas without action are worthless.

6–Action creates business success, yet 99% of people never act on their ideas.

7–If you create a base of 10,000 loyal fans who each spend a hundred dollars a year with you, you will gross a million dollars a year.

8–You do not need a lot of money to launch a successful business today: the low cost of doing business on the Internet reduces your risk to easily manageable levels.

9–If you do not have a lot of money to launch your business, then you must invest a lot of your time to make it happen. You cannot start and build a successful business with neither time nor money –you need one or the other.

10–Your customers may like you. But ultimately, they care about themselves, as they should — not about you and your business.

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The paradox of underfunded vs. well-capitalized clients

November 29th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Are rich people who spend a lot of money with you often prima
donnas who are demanding and impossible to please?

From what I’ve seen, this is sometimes true in the world of
consumer marketing, whether at a luxury resort, 5-star gourmet
restaurant, or exclusive London men’s shop selling bespoke suits.

But in business, I have found quite the opposite to be true —
the more money a client spends with you, the more respectful,
polite, and easy to work with they will be … because the more
they value you.

The converse is also true: the client who talks you down in
price and gets you cheap turns out to be the most difficult,
demanding, hard to deal with, and impossible to please.

My theory as to why this should be so is as follows….

If the client with deep pockets is an entrepreneur, part of his
success is that he takes pains to treat people fairly and with
respect, so they in turn will like him and give him their best
work.

And if your client is with a big corporation with deep pockets,
then he is usually a full-time professional marketer, and he
knows how to deal with vendors in our field — and has the budget
to afford them without undue hardship.

On the other hand, some entrepreneurs with shallow pockets often
haggle over your price, not because they are jerks, but because
they are on shoestring budgets.

They also question what you do at every step. Not because they
want to be picky or difficult.

But because they desperately need their marketing campaign to
work, inexperienced clients may find it difficult to let go of their
own judgment in favor of an expert’s, like yours.

Therefore, the well-heeled clients with big budgets who pay
generous fees are so often the easiest and most cooperative to
work with … while the tiny accounts who have to watch every penny
can sometimes be difficult, demanding, and contentious.

Are there exceptions to all this? Of course. I write copy for a
number of small businesses whose owners I am incredibly fond of.

But overall, the generalizations I just made turn out to be true
more often than they are wrong.

Do you find they hold true in your business as well as mine?

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Why I do not subcontract

November 25th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RT, a potential copywriting client, recently asked me:

“Bob, if I hire you, do you farm out the work to a junior
copywriter, or do you write the copy yourself?”

I directed RT to my home page at www.bly.com and told him to
scroll to the bottom. There, it states:

“Unlike many top direct response copywriters today, Bob Bly does
not hire junior copywriters to work on your promotions. If you
hire Bob, he writes every word himself — an advantage available
from no other source.”

I didn’t used to have this on my home page years ago, because
back then the idea that the copywriter you hired would fob off
the job to someone else was unheard of.

But things have changed in recent years.

And now, among senior copywriters, it’s commonplace.

But I have never done it. And I never will.

I figure if a client pays my fees, which are not astronomical but
also not cheap, he should get me.

If you are a client and you are going to use a “cheap” newbie
copywriter, why not hire him directly?

I told RT what I tell all my clients and prospects:

“When you hire me, I write every word. And I never subcontract
your copy or any portion of it to other writers.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to subcontract work out to other
vendors. It’s done all the time in many field.

I’m not even saying it’s inherently wrong in copywriting.

But I do know the clients who hire me very much care that the
copy is written by me, and not some junior copywriter.

And that’s what they get. Every project. Every time. Me. And no
one else.

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