Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's A Copywriter's Dream Client Look Like?

We've all heard the concept of "the dream client." And how are they described? They pay on time, they're fun to work with, etc. etc. Pretty generic terminology to describe a concept completely unique to each creative professional, isn't it?

So I thought, "Hey, I've had a bunch of clients in the past. And I remember which ones really were good to work with, and which ones weren't. Why don't I write a list of characteristics I want in MY dream client? That way I can keep an eye out in the future, and heighten my chances of coming across such clients."

Of course, being a copywriter, it wouldn't be fair to write out such a list without including all of you. Please take note, some of these characteristics may not be immediately apparent. Keep reading; it'll click in your head afterward, I promise.

For clarity's sake, I've divided the characteristics into two main categories: what Dream Clients ARE, and what they ARE NOT.

Note: I believe this list can also apply to other creative professionals: graphic designers, marketing/PR firms, photographers, printers, etc. Feel free to quote me (with proper credit given, of course)!

  • Large enough to appreciate good writing (and have the budget for it).
    This one goes toward the larger end of the business-size scale, and for good reason. Companies this size have a lot of writing that needs to be done, internally and externally. Web articles, news releases, SEO, policy manuals, intranet posts, department newsletters, promotional newsletters, media kits...I could go on.

    Companies that have this great a need for good writing are often in a perfect position to benefit from a copywriter, for two reasons. One, since they're that busy, handing off the writing to an employee or three severely drags down their (and by proxy the company's) productivity. Two, in a company with that much going, maximizing time is more important than saving money. So hiring a copywriter becomes the natural, smart thing to do.

  • Small enough to minimize the number of people looking over/trying to change my work.
    Here's where the seeming-paradox creeps in. But it's not a contradiction, honest!

    What I'm talking about here are companies that haven't lost a sense of community. Everyone knows (or knows of) everyone else under the company's roof. Surprisingly, my experience is that companies can number into the hundreds and not lose that sense of community. On the other hand, I've run across companies of ten that had an untrusting, deep-seated animosity toward fellow employees.

    The sense of community means that people are thinking with the same priorities, understanding each other's roles. A copywriter steps into that environment to poll those priorities, and write in such a way that shows their customers, "Hey, these are good people, and what they're providing will solve this problem, and this problem!"

    That won't happen in a company that's lost its sense of community. Everyone will want to inject their perspective, their ego, and their wording. The result is copy that's as fragmented and contradictory as the company it's written for. No copywriter can fix something like that.

  • Humorous.
    Come on folks, laugh a little! Like The Cluetrain Manifesto says, markets are conversations. People are so inundated with advertising now that they've all but tuned it out. If you want to really reach customers, you need to do so on a human level. And one of the best ways to be on a human level is to use a dash of humor.

    Now, a copywriter can make copy sound funny. Maybe evoke a little chuckle as the potential customer's reading. But that has to match to a company's image and overall attitude, too. If a customer makes an appointment with one of your representatives, and that rep is surly, boring or bland, the customer will register a disconnect in his thinking. "Wait, wasn't this the company that made that joke about their logo on the website? And now this guy's doing an impression of a marble statue? Why am I thinking about buying from them again?"

  • Working in an industry with a solid amount of competition.
    Competition means marketing. Competition means innovation. Competition means multiple project types, multiple buying seasons, and multiple audiences. We copywriters love multiples. Not only do they mean lots and lots of work, but it's a great challenge to massage and rework copy for different projects and audiences.

  • Trying desperately to stay on the bleeding edge.
    There's a reason it's called "the bleeding edge" - it's because you cut yourself when you fall off. By and large, when a company says it needs to be on the edge, I find it means they aren't confident in their policies. So they keep trying to find new ones, instead of improving what they have. Bouncing back and forth = nothing gets done. Nobody's happy with what they've got.

    While I think it's essential to always want to do more, if you're not standing on a few policies and fundamentals that everyone's confident in, a house of cards is more stable than your business. A copywriter, in that scenario, is running damage control. No thanks.

  • Focused on one marketing method.
    Diversifying your marketing is no longer a luxury of big corporations. Or the domain of trust-fund start-ups with cash to blow on big-time ad agencies. It's totally necessary for any marketing strategy.

    Internet marketing through websites and email, media contacts and community sponsorships, advertising and direct marketing - you need to create a mix using all these ingredients. If a company doesn't, and zeroes in on only one channel, they're passing up huge opportunities for big sales elsewhere. That's really cramping for a copywriter, and it will invariably produce problems in long-term sales goals.

  • Naive about the power of writing.
    I don't mind educating some customers about how much power words have over our thoughts and decisions...IF they want to learn about it. But if they're coming to me with the attitude of, "Well, we know how to write/know what our customers want to hear already," you know what they've told both me, the copywriter, and their own prospects?

    "We don't really need you. We've got it all figured out."

    I don't know about you, but I wouldn't even want to get a phone call from people like that - let alone write copy for them!

Wow. That was a lot longer than I'd anticipated! But it's informative, and serves the purpose. Companies out there, have a look. Maybe there's some aspect of these characteristics you've noticed lurking within your staff. Or maybe there's something positive here you'd like to add to your environment. Go for it! Tell them the Blue Ferret sent you!


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Brochure Dump - Why Recycling Brochure Copy Is A Bad Idea for Websites

"So what do we put on the website?"
"Oh, let's just toss the brochure copy in there and throw it up on the Web."

AGH! If only I carried a rolled-up newspaper, and humans were as responsive to nose-hits as dogs. Taking copy from the print medium to the Web should be added to the list of The Seven Deadly Sins of Business. Yet it's so prevalent that I've heard young, finger-on-the-pulse web development professionals spout this nonsense.

So, the Blue Ferret is going to explain why this practice of "dumping" brochure copy onto websites is a very bad idea. Now, there are several more nuanced reasons why this practice doesn't work, but I'm only going to cover three big ones.

Gone are the days of, "if you build it, they will come." Websites must now seek out their visitors, like backwards germs. More often these days, this is done through the use of SEO and online advertising. Spiders are called to the site, who plumb its content for keywords and report back to their Googly masters.

The art of keyword insertion in SEO is a tricky one, changing day by day. Using a static, stale chunk of brochure copy someone wrote two years before as the face of your brand-spanking-new website is like trying to dump a Cessna airplane engine into a 57 Chevy (kudos to Bill Cosby for this inspirational imagery, if people remember that bit he did when I was but a wee lad). Part of your website may get indexed, and the rest will sit there, doing nothing, bump-on-a-log style. Effective website content contains relevant keywords, is updated when industries change, and is never left sitting carelessly out in the wind.

Attention Span
Thanks in large part to blitzkrieg media and overnight delivery, we've become a nation of impatient people. Sometimes this works in our favor (information access), and sometimes it works against us (rush hour, anyone?). Hand a prospect a brochure, they'll take anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds going through it. That amount of time allows the reader to skim a bit and determine if the brochure is something they want to keep, read in depth later, and perhaps make a purchase.

What this means is that the company who offers the brochure can relax a little. Brochures are typically given to prospects who've displayed some interest, so the initial hook is already thrown. They know they've got time to build up interest. They can concentrate on a benefits focus, as I'll cover a little more in the next section.

On the Web however, viewers have an average attention span of less than ten seconds. I've even heard numbers as low as 0.3 seconds spent per homepage visited. That's a fundamental disconnect with the time people give brochure copy. Website content needs to reach out of the screen, grab the viewer by the eyeballs, and say, "HEY! Stop surfing! What you need is right here!"

Trying to read copy written for a brochure on a website results in one thing and one thing only - boredom. And with billions of websites out there, what kind of reaction will boredom engender? That's right. Click.

Different Focus
As I said before, a brochure has a benefit focus. One of the core elements in all business writing - talk about what benefits your product or service give the user. A brochure is a snapshot of your product; there isn't the space to go into long details about how your company made it, why they decided to do that, and so on. The reader's looking for how it benefits him, some information about the company making it, and maybe who else uses this product. That's it. And that's all the room you'd have on a tri-fold, 8.5x11" brochure.

A website is multipurpose, but at its core is conveying information to the viewer. There are no space restrictions here. You can put release notes, case studies, schematics, product comparisons, industry standards, testimonials, and (of course) promotional literature all on one site. The important thing to remember is that it all has to interconnect. Benchmark Tests must use the right Specifications. Specifications have to match with Benefits Statements. Benefits Statements have to correlate with Customer Guarantees. You get the picture. Brochure copy is simply too small, too lean to use appropriately on a website.

A brochure could be seen as one aspirin - easy to swallow, simple to digest, with only one purpose. By comparison, a website is an entire shelf of pharmaceuticuals, all working together to produce an overall improvement. There's simply no way brochure copy could be recycled onto a website without severely damaging the website right out of the gate. So don't do it.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Technical Blogs and RSS Feeds

A couple months ago I posted about RSS feeds relating to copywriting. Today I'm posting blogs and RSS feeds I use to keep up on technology. I don't use as many RSS feeds for tech, because I often run across a blog post I want to save and refer to later. Plus, following links from a blog post is fun, as well as informative.

Note: Unless otherwise stated, these are RSS links. Blog. When you're trying to make 5 computers of varying ages work smoothly, you begin to realize the value in small, self-contained applications. Also, the ubiquity of the USB flash drive has made this form of software development extremely viable. contains a slew of free portable applications, divided into categories by function and/or platform. Their blog provides such additions as single-purpose Web service applications, new additions to the TinyApps list, and small but significant FAQs. (site) (RSS) For the geeks and gadget nuts. RedFerret catalogues the tech world's up-and-comings and "uhhh..."-inspiring. From the extremely-useful Web server on a USB drive to a remote cat torturing device, it's the place to plug into for new devices, new programs, and new geek-distractions. Plus, hey, it's another ferret site. The Blue Ferret has long appreciated the RedFerret's wit.

OS News. If you want to know anything - and I do mean ANYthing - about operating systems, this is the place to subscribe with. Every type of OS is covered here in detail, with comment threads that provide additional, topical information for each article. In addition to news, there are many how-to articles dealing with OS installations, booting, hardware issues, and more. - New Releases. This satisfies my open-source thrills. SourceForge, the world's largest open-source repository, sends out updates several times a day by RSS on new and updated projects undertaken by its users. You can spend hours following links in SourceForge, back and forth between categories, picking up software and information by the gigabyte. It was through SourceForge links that I discovered such programs as Miranda, my IM client, and Media Player Classic, a great alternative to the Windows Media Player. (site). The acme. Daily email newsletters and RSS, covering virtually every major topic in IT, from Windows to Linux to wireless. I stay up to read these when they arrive in the evenings. Current events, new software, Web services, tips & tricks, it's all here. It's entirely possible, in my opinion, to stay sufficiently up-to-date in IT merely by subscribing to and reading the Lockergnome newsletters.

Taking a link tour from any one of these sites would probably lead you eventually to the others. They are some of the most informative IT sites on the Web, dedicated solely to sharing news, apps and documentation. Enjoy your tech!


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blue Ferret Software Review -- SeaMonkey 1.0

I was honestly wondering what I should blog about this week. Then yesterday, Fate plopped a little gem in my lap. Behold...SeaMonkey!

SeaMonkey 1.0 Released - MozillaZine

No, this doesn't have anything to do with those pink wiggly things in little plastic tanks you had when you were a kid. SeaMonkey is the reincarnation of the defunct Mozilla Suite that bowed out when FireFox took world center stage. Now it's back, and how.

Let's go through a few of SeaMonkey's great qualities:

What I noticed right off the bat, after finishing the SeaMonkey install, was its speed. This little crustacean is fast. It loaded a 57-graphic webpage in about 1.5 seconds. I didn't time a wide selection of pages on load times, but empirically, I saw enough to stamp my approval on the statement, "SeaMonkey whizzes through the Web."

Less Memory Use
I ran fresh windows of FireFox and SeaMonkey side-by-side to test their memory usage. (One thing I love about all Mozilla products - different versions can be installed, used, & uninstalled on the same machine without affecting the other versions.) FireFox, with five tabs open, used 47 MB of standard RAM. SeaMonkey, with five tabs showing the exact same websites, used 36 MB of standard RAM. For a memory-saving fanatic like me, that's a huge difference.

Use on Older Systems
FireFox screams on new computers, but it suffers what I call the "cutting-edge curse" if used on a PC from even a couple years ago. Slowdowns, long load time, fits and starts. SeaMonkey, on the other hand, has been designed to function on older computers with less resources. According to Steven Vaughan-Nichols of, it can run on a 233 MHz Pentium system with only 64 MB of RAM. Given what I saw in the memory test, I'm sure that's plausible. And a big help for not only institutions running older machines, but mobile developers looking to squeeze modern functionality into even smaller application suites.

For those who'd like a side-by-side comparison, here's an excellent tabular resource: SeaMonkey vs. FireFox Comparison Chart

SeaMonkey is a new version, and new versions are bound to have problems. I'm sure most FireFox extensions will be ported over, but that'll take time. So will bug fixes and community updates. There will be people who like the separate, extreme-customized nature of FireFox/Thunderbird, and those who enjoy the unified, interconnected nature of SeaMonkey.

And there will be people like me, who raise their glass to Mozilla for having the ability to choose.

Even with all these advantages, I'm not switching to SeaMonkey full-time. Yet. I'll wait until some extensions are ported over, and there have been some bug fixes implemented. Maybe version 1.1 will see SeaMonkey as my main browser. Once again, if I want to be nostalgic.

SeaMonkey represents another successful attempt to widen the browser market, maintain the industry edge, and broaden the implementation range. It will appeal to developers, non-profits and corporations alike. And to top it all off, the new logo's downright cute. Hats off to Mozilla for another application job well done.