Thursday, 14 August 2014

Guest Post #3 Mark Angus

I am pleased to announce Guest Post #3!

Mark Angus is a freelance copywriter, travel writer and speech writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. He currently runs the Cadogan and Hall copywriting service, as well as Adelaide Wedding Speeches, and clients include both small and medium enterprises in South Australia and throughout Australia.

The Company Mark works with: Cadogan and Hall Australia

Given the nature of his very varied and detailed position as a copywriter, I asked him "How do you get the details right in a freelance copywriting situation?" This is his response: 

Writers in the commercial and business world often face some fairly unique challenges. As a freelance copywriter, the subjects that I have been asked to write about over the years have been rather diverseI never thought that I would become an expert on wheel loaders, or offshore drilling, or chiropractic treatment. Nor for that matter did I ever envisage the need to become well acquainted with how solar panels work, how online casinos operate, or the implementation of sustainable farming practices.

But these are just some of the many topics that Ive been called upon to write about as a freelanceall of which, I should point out, I knew absolutely nothing about beforehand. But the essence of being a professional copywriter is the ability to create copy that sounds convincing, both to the layman and aficionado alike, about industries, products and professions that are not necessarily your areas of expertise, while at the same time being informative, engaging and even sometimesentertaining.

All of which means you need to be able to learn quickly. Its sometimes necessary to absorb a great deal of technical information in a very short space of time, and then get a significant enough grasp of the details that youre able to write about the subject with some confidence. Solid research skills are therefore just as important for a copywriter as writing abilityyou need to know where to find good trade intel that is useful and intelligible, and then to be able to extract information that is appropriate and relevant to the task at hand. A good eye for detail is crucial.

Asking questionsor perhaps not being afraid of asking themis something that a copywriter needs to learn to do. When youre being briefed on a job, its important not to leave the meeting or end the phone call without having a crystal clear understanding of what your client is looking for. If you need to ask a lot of questions, go right ahead. Its sometimes tempting, especially with a new client, to exude an air of supreme confidence, to give them the impression that youre completely across the brief when in actual fact, if its an industry or profession that youre not experienced in, you may not have grasped what theyre looking for at all. I know that this is a mistake that I have made in the past. The thinking goes along the lines of: If I ask too many questions, theyll rumble that I really dont know anything about how dog food is made and Ill lose the job. Better keep quiet, take some notes, and try to look interested.In the end, this does no-one any favours.

I find that most people in business actually like to talk about their work, and enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise. Ive never known a client to be put off by answering questions about their business. And getting as much information as you can before you start a job will make it easier, more enjoyable, and will ultimately help you to produce better copy. Good copy equates to a happy client, which in turn may well lead to further work, and so theres nothing to lose by engaging in a discussion, asking questions and getting as much information as you can directly from the source. The ability to ask questions is an essential part of the copywriters skill set.

A professional writer needs to be able to create copy that is right for the intended audience, and so really understanding who that audience is, and what their expectations are, is crucial. In commercial writing, the audiences you need to engage with will vary widely. A piece for a companys in-house journal, for instance, will have a very different audience to that of a press release about a retailers end of year sale. A blog for a small manufacturing company will be read by different people and in a different way to the website content of a health professional. Being a copywriter is all about matching tone and content to the audience.

This involves being engaged with the wider industry on a number of levels. Look at what successful companies, both large and small, are doing with their written content. Subscribe to some trade journals to see how technical and manufacturing industries write about what they do (youll be amazed to find that there are trade magazines for just about every kind of industry or business imaginable). Read business-related blogs and social media posts, check out film and theatre reviews, keep up to date with whats successful and popular on online content curation sites. Understanding how to shape your copy to suit different types of audience is one of the copywriters key skills, as is understanding who will read your copy and how they will read it. Get a feel for how different types of texts are expected to work in different kinds of scenarios.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a copywriter is writing about products, or businesses, or even people, that are sometimes, quite frankly, rather dull. It can be a real struggle to come up with lively and engaging copy on a subject in which you have no personal interest. In this scenario, a useful approach is to read and research widely, well beyond the immediate areas that youre covering. If, for instance, the brief is to write about a new piece of machinery there may not at first glance be a lot you can say about it. Its new, it works, it costs this much. However, it can be helpful to look beyond the nuts and bolts into areas such as why this new and improved piece of machinery was developed, who will it be used by and where, what will be its benefits out in the wider world, and the other potential applications of the technology. If you can put the product youre writing about into a wider context and perhaps bring in a human element or unusual angle, that can sometimes help to enliven your copy even when that product itself is not inherently interesting.

Commercial writing is certainly not everyones cup of tea, and not every writer can do it. But it's a competitive field and if you want to become a professional at it, you will need to know what works and what doesnt, and how to ensure that you are writing what it is your client wants to say. In the end, you are writing for someone else, and they need to be satisfied that what you write is accurate, relevant and does the job for which its intended- not always easy and sometimes frustrating, but on the other hand it can also be very rewardingplus, you can learn a whole bunch of stuff about a whole bunch of things you never imagined youd ever need or want to know about along the way! 

If you are more interested in Mark's freelance services, his Google + profile is here:

Or his work in custom Wedding Speeches here: 

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to Mark for contributing this article! Why not check out his work?

Ben Mathewson. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

In This Neighborhood - A creative writing exercise

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to showcase another writing exercise for you- This time courtesy of the website, where they asked their writing community to write a short piece that included in it the concept of 7 Happy Days. I hope you enjoy this piece.

In this Neighbourhood.

There is quiet on the outskirts of town as dusk comes, and along with it the rising of the ill midwinter wind. Quietly I trudge through the clumpy dry grass, towards the hill with the walking track, past the lone eucalyptus tree on my right that overlooks the field with muddy tyre marks encircling it. Behind me is the grey cul-de sac, with little driveways without houses, and large metal structures, designed to be streetlights without the lights fitted. Unusual as that is, they don’t seem out of place, here on the outskirts of this town.

So onward I trudge past another soaring eucalypt, taking an unknown path to a side of the hill, that I have never been to. There is an entrance here- a path made clear through the dominating backberries- a path of rocks and a slightly muddy hollow that connects to the main path. Looking southeast up the hill, I see the water tower- a symmetrical grey monolith contrasting the array of yellows, browns and greens. The path going towards that way winds upwards to where the the tank itself stands, surrounded by security gates- the giant grey structure stands alone with only the huge steel ladder at the top and side of the structure protruding from it, but I am not going to that side of the path today.

As it is midwinter, the shadows are starting to creep in already, reminding me of the need to be home. The sharp pebbles squelch under my feet as I walk on the cleared path, under the tree arches and avoiding the blackberry tendrils, growing in oddly similar lengths alongside the pathway, jutting out noticeably in the grey and dark yellow long grass and bending in their prickly array in metre high arches. At eye level are the trees, dispersed among the path- the one with the splendrous and spindly leaves which name always escapes my mind and the rough barked and bold she oak which stands out above the blackberries and long grasses.

I descend the lightly sloping hill, finding myself enjoying the last stretch before I reach the road- past the roughly cut down tree and the lonely disused swing set to the neatly council mown grass, past the woodchip playground to beyond where the canopy of big trees ends and the townscape begins. As I emerge past the last of those trees there is only suburban townscape - little homes and units punctuated by the green lawns and little frontyard trees and above them the skyline of turquoise and pink- a sunset made even more brilliant by the soft long grey clouds that seem to sit in between the bicolour skyline.

As I head home on these streets, past a sparsely littered field, walking parallel past the little units and under the big streetlights, I think about the residents of the little houses. The pensioners and single mums as their lights turn on as they retire to their kitchens and loungerooms. Families will have their dinners on the table, men will probably be home if they are part of the picture. As the chill wind blows my ears this time I think about this little suburb- and how it is defined by what it is not. It is the outskirts of the small city on a small island- a place known for violence, yet a violence restrained, now only one that stretches to a few streets and a few families, but no-one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. It is no longer the Bronx of Launceston, but it is not the ‘nice place’ middle class people want to live either.

Perhaps the outskirts suits them- My neighbours are a mixture of people- some richer, most poorer- and most on a government benefit. Marginalised, stigmatised, and stereotyped, there is a sense of wandering amongst those who live here- wandering from place to place- without really knowing the destination, and a rough and tumble courage and closer knit community not seen in the nicer suburbs. There is the frustration of powerlessness here- one of having a voice, yet one that no-one wants to hear. There s a bitterness for the cops and politicians here, and a suspicion too, over all who live in this area in this slightly uneasy place.

As I walk the final street to the wide cul-de-sac on which my house stands, I think about the beauty, the chill wind and the enormity of the frustrations of the people who inhabit this place live with. I think about my other friends in other suburbs who believe in a hope, are driven about something and are perhaps not hogtied to this generational feeling of poverty, and hardly understand the subculture of frustration and hopelessness. A few of my neighbours might take their kids on their trailbikes down to the track on the weekend, watch the football or the racing and maybe have 2 days of happiness, surmising wrongly or rightly people with more money are likely to be having 7 days of happiness. Mostly, my neighbours are like me, and value their families more than trudging to their 9 to 5's.

As I stand now, at my front door I think about how I felt happier on the top of that hill, and I thought about how happiness exists amongst trees and fields. These things create a joy in my soul as I looked out along the panorama of bushland, reminding me of an adolescence walking through the scrub or ascending the small mountain outside my home that was surrounded by the huge trees. Here though here, at my front door, 4 metres away from the bill on my table, I realise the best things in life are indeed free, but everything else someone’s got to pay for.

Thank you for reading,
Ben Mathewson.