Free proofreading offer for sign writers & print companies

Take a look at this picture.

Poundland

Some people will spot what’s wrong. Many won’t. Poundland’s directors, marketing department and the sign writing company all failed to spot the error. There might even have been a branding or marketing consultancy behind the slogan and they didn’t realise what they’d done wrong. It’s on the front of every shop, staff uniforms and even on the company website.

If you can’t see the error, you’re far from alone. And nobody’s judging you. But here it is:

Amazing value everyday

‘Everyday’ is an adjective. It’s used to describe a noun, eg it was an everyday occurrence for typos to appear in the newspaper.

The slogan should have read: Amazing value every day

It would cost hundreds of thousands to correct that error on each of Poundland’s 400 shops around the country, let alone reprinting staff uniforms and other marketing material. So it probably won’t happen. But who’s to blame? If you run a printing company or a sign writing business, you probably pass the proofreading buck back to your client. And the client should always sign off – ultimately it’s their responsibility.

The reality is that typos, grammatical errors, capitalisation inconsistencies and branding breaches can creep in at any stage of the creative, layout and printing processes.

So forget passing the buck. You can wipe out the potential for error, boost your sales pitch and offer your clients added value with my free proofreading service.

For a limited time only, I’m offering free proofreading of signs, banners and posters to UK sign writers and print houses.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • up to 50 signs, banners or posters proofread for free before the end of June
  • any individual file can contain up to 50 words to qualify for free proofreading
  • checked and corrected documents and/or feedback provided within 8 working hours of your emailed request – and probably much sooner. Further checking of altered versions of the same document counts against your free 50!
  • an extra selling point when marketing your sign writing business or print house
  • happier clients
  • complete peace of mind.

To take up this special offer, you must:

  • be a professional sign writer or printing company
  • be using AH Copy for the first time
  • email copy to be proofread in Word or PDF attachments only
  • make no more than 50 requests before 1 July 2014
  • read and accept my terms and conditions.

The offer ends at the end of June, but the service doesn’t have to. From then on, you can choose between:

  • monthly proofreading partnership – up to 20 signs, banners or posters each of up to 50 words – £30 per month
  • monthly proofreading partnership – up to 50 signs, banners or posters each of up to 50 words – £50 per month
  • monthly proofreading partnership – up to 100 signs, banners or posters each of up to 50 words – £75 per month
  • as-and-when proofreading, charged at an hourly rate.

Got a question or an urgent proofreading requirement in need of the pedantic treatment? Drop me an email: enquiries at ahcopy dot co dot uk.

 

PS: I reserve the right to make this offer unavailable to new enquiries at any time. A fellow could otherwise be overwhelmed.

The three Cs (and the fourth)

Imagine a relationship between two people.

Maybe it’s yours with a partner or a friend. Maybe it’s your parents’ relationship or a friend’s marriage.

Maybe it’s blissful, maybe it’s wobbly from time to time, or maybe it’s a continual stream of misunderstandings and niggles. If it’s good, you can bet the couple in question have the three Cs down to a T. If it’s bad, they’re not applying the three Cs.

“What are these three Cs?” I hear you mutter impatiently, “And what the blazes has this babble about personal relationships to do with my business?”

The three Cs are communication, co-operation and consistency.

In a relationship, most people would agree, communication is fundamental to success. A couple that communicates well is given a greater chance of success; each party knows the other’s views, concerns and hopes.

Co-operation ought to speak for itself. No relationship can work if the people involved are continually at loggerheads. Identifying one another’s needs and goals and working together to meet and achieve them is critical to fulfilment.

Consistency needn’t mean predictability or lack of spontaneity. It does mean peace of mind, no misunderstandings and no mixed messages.

And the reason this is all relevant is that business is, in essence, a series of relationships.

Think of the various relationships between directors, managers and staff; department and department; company and stakeholders; company and staff; company and press; company and public; and company and client.

Now think about which departments are involved in these various relationships. Imagine all the room for miscommunication and misunderstanding and the innumerable adverse ways this could affect your business.

You can reduce the risk of lost sales, failed client relationships, staff disengagement, department rivalry and damage to public confidence in your company by applying the three Cs carefully.

How?

The most sensible way to ensure there is good communication internally and externally, co-operation between departments and consistency of message is this: all communications channels sit under the stewardship of one senior staff member, preferably at board level.

He or she should have a modern and collaborative approach, great delegation skills and trust in his or her teams, coupled with a good awareness of technology and its benefits.

It’s also crucial that relevant departments (marketing, communications, public relations, human resources and IT) understand that they are service departments first and foremost. They’re there to aid staff, other departments, and the company as a whole to achieve aims. They’re facilitators. I’ve seen IT departments, for instance, with their own agenda and the mistaken belief that they should choose and own all technology. Wrong. IT is a collection of tools to help others do their jobs. The role of the department is to facilitate this – to store, safeguard and assist in the dissemination of company data. HR is more than capable of evaluating the software it requires to do the job; IT needs to confirm the software will work and then do everything possible to deliver and support the HR department’s preferred choice.

The understanding that these departments are service departments is absolutely vital to cut out conflict and ensure co-operation.

Consider now all the methods of communication a company might use.

Internally:

• Email, intranet, news announcements, department and company newsletters & in-house magazines, training guides, introduction pack, staff handbooks, document templates and more

Externally:

• Email, website, blog, advertising, marketing material, social media, sales letters and bid documents, company newsletters and magazines, sponsorship, signage, branded goods, press releases, articles, report & accounts and other stakeholder communications.

It’s a lot to co-ordinate. And it’s originating from a number of different departments. These are all communication channels which need to be perfected in order to exploit them fully. But you can only hope to communicate internally and externally with real and positive impact if your decision-makers and heads of department are communicating and co-operating consistently.

That attitude, along with the methods and processes they should put in place, will greatly improve internal co-operation and communication. That in turn enables rounded, co-ordinated, complementary and non-duplicating external communications.

Is that it?

No. You see, I’ve left out two communications documents that deliver the third C.

Consistent tone of voice for your internal and external communications is a sign of professionalism. It increases staff engagement, public belief and client buy-in. The same goes for meaningful, aesthetic and consistent branding.

The two missing documents are the company style guide and the corporate identity guidelines. I’ve mentioned these previously as part of how to protect your brand, and they should become a company’s bible, and made available to every member of staff. In combination they help every department and every employee to deliver consistency.

So, the three Cs: co-operation, communication and consistency.

But wasn’t there a fourth?

Yep – and perhaps predictably enough, it’s copywriting.

Every element of every communications channel requires copywriting. That doesn’t mean you have to bring in a freelance copywriter if you already have the skills in-house, but the three Cs demonstrate the importance of the fourth – good copywriting. Your copywriter doesn’t just help you create the style guide and corporate identity which should inform your every communication; he or she has a direct bearing on every piece of communication you embark upon. It’s not fluffy nonsense (although it sure as hell isn’t working in a steelworks) – it’s fundamental to the success of every relationship your company is involved in.

The jargon balance

The corporate world is full of abbreviations and acronyms. Buzzwords abound in every industry; mystifying, elucidating, exciting and tedious in equal measure, depending on the reader.

It’s a tightrope to walk and one slip means the loss of potential clients.

Like the rest of this cruel and complicated world, writing and communicating isn’t just black and white. Pepper your prose with jargon and you might alienate the people in need of your expertise. And while ‘jargon-free’ is a selling point, you do have to demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable and skilled with the tools of your trade. Want visitors to your site? Your SEO copywriter* needs to draw together a clever combination of industry keywords and plain language key phrases to give you good search engine visibility.

There’s a simple way of getting the jargon balance right.

  • Firstly and most importantly, consider carefully the message you want to communicate; the target readership and its level of understanding; and the image you want to convey.
  • Secondly, use a professional copywriter. Copywriters specialise in crafting custom communications to draw, intrigue and of course explain.
  • Finally, work closely together to ensure that any ambiguities are cleared up, your knowledge is beyond doubt and your approach neither patronising nor superior.

Throughout this process bear in mind that every piece of writing you produce, whether advertising copy, email marketing, or even a niche newsletter, should fit your established brand. People beyond your target audience may well be reading, and therefore judging. That can have an impact on recruitment, press perception, sales and more beyond. Walk that tightrope with precision and take no chances. Above all, write for real people rather than search engines.

*An SEO copywriter is one who specialises in writing search engine optimised text, which, in combination with other SEO techniques, will boost the website in question up the search rankings for selected words and phrases.

Ten steps to being found online – an internet guide for SMEs

Several years ago I wrote and distributed a free guide to internet marketing for companies who feel they’re rather behind the curve. With the website update in 2013, this was one of the posts I felt compelled to keep available.

Ten steps to being found online – an internet marketing guide for start-ups, SMEs and those that got left behind takes the rookie website owner through the necessary steps to rise through the search rankings, raise brand awareness and increase website visitor numbers. If your internet marketing strategy is rather wanting, this may well be worth a read. While there have been additions to the social media sphere since I wrote Ten steps, such as Pinterest, as an introduction to web marketing and improving online visibility, the principles and the content all remains completely valid.

It’s a freebie, and I’d encourage you all to share a link to the guide with anyone you feel might benefit.

Just click here to download the guide and please share the link to this page to any individuals or small companies you feel might benefit. Thanks!

How to protect your brand

Brand is not just a logo, not just a visual identity. Sure, it’s where the concept came about – branding irons marked livestock with a symbol that identified each beast as the property of an individual. But brand means so much more. It’s how you want to be perceived. It includes every possible visible facet of your company. Ultimately it’s a feeling you wish to invoke. And feelings, we all know, can be volatile, unpredictable and irredeemably damaged.

So how do you maintain the brand you were aiming to create, its identity and integrity? With rules, I’m afraid. Rules and a robust system of procedures to enforce them. Above all, you need the buy-in and support of the company’s upper echelons and the support for and from a team dedicated to reputation management.

At a minimum there are four sets of rules you should have in place; a checklist of policies which ensure brand protection and reputation management.

  1. Press policy
  2. Social media policy
  3. Corporate identity guidelines
  4. Style guide

Press policy

‘No comment’ can do more damage than silence. It carries the whiff of guilt. Equally you don’t want staff, and that should include Board-level personnel, chatting to the press at will. Every company should have a press policy in place, directing all press enquiries to a PR department that’s skilled in dealing with the wiliest or most persistent of journalists.

PR gets a bad name – some regard it as spin, hiding the truth, an excuse for news, and worse besides – but without the benefit of a sound press policy your company can miss out on the chance to pass on positive news, and carry out damage limitation on negative news. Your PR department protects your brand, your investment, your clients, and the livelihood of all your employees.

Social media policy

Like it or loathe it, social media is more than a passing fad. According to a UK Global Web Index survey conducted in January 2009 people trust the opinions of their online social network, and even bloggers they’ve never met, more than television news presenters, and only marginally less than colleagues. Around 40% of UK adults use social media at least once a month, and that number is predicted to increase. Ignore it at your peril; embrace it to control it.

Quite a few companies have suffered adverse publicity through the internet. It’s word of mouth on a global and instant scale. Construction companies have had site staff film dangerous and foolish antics and published their footage on YouTube, complete with company name emblazoned on seemingly ironic safety gear. Elsewhere staff have used social media to deliver damning verdicts on their employers and colleagues. Bad news folks, on the web nothing is truly private. A zero-tolerance attitude towards social media won’t protect you and can even generate negative publicity in itself. It’s time to take social media seriously.

Corporate identity guidelines

The original meaning of brand still matters as part of a whole. Designed well, a logo and rules about its application can influence public perception. Beyond the use of such established psychology, a company’s visual identity is a statement of professionalism. Consistency is sacrosanct. Any change should be undertaken with a specific aim in mind, and carefully timetabled and introduced. Shoddy use of your visual brand smacks of a ‘don’t care’ attitude, and even at a subconscious level your customers and clients may react negatively.

Think about it – when you receive mailings from Virgin trying to convince you to take up their latest broadband offering – every word, every colour, every instance of logo is positioned just so. If global firms place such importance on corporate identity, why should you be any different? If you want clients to respect your brand, you need to do the same.

Style guide

A style guide might be built into your corporate identity guidelines, but should be available as a standalone document. It should go without saying that both style guide and corporate identity manual are distributed to every department and available to every individual. Of particular importance are bid teams, marketing, PR/comms teams, secretaries/PAs, print & graphic design departments, as well of course as any external PR, marketing, creative or design agencies you engage.

Your style guide isn’t just about when to use a capital or when an abbreviation is acceptable, although these are vital components. It outlines your corporate tone of voice and increases consistency across your communications channels. And as with visual identity, consistency is the essence of a professional image. Why would you want your clients, or even your own staff, to receive anything but the impression you wish to convey?

And why am I, a copywriter, telling you these things? Two reasons. With a background in corporate communications and public relations I’ve seen first-hand how everyone from salesman to Board member can put a foot wrong. I’ve also seen how useful an external perspective can be and how important it is to have your policies worded in such a way their contents are not just understood but embraced.

You’ve spent time and money, sweat and tears creating a brand of which you can be proud – now don’t overlook protecting it.

The internet vs the Internet

Language evolves. Like it or not, the way we write and speak has changed over the years, and continues to do so at a rate which alarms many, and confuses others. So, rules about language usage change. What’s more, they change at a varying rate, so what is accepted in one English-speaking country may still be considered wrong in another. Some rules remain constant, invoking no debate. Those who don’t know the difference between its and it’s can quickly establish the rules. Other matters are more subjective, with capitalisation the cause of some debate.

The trigger for this piece was my recollection of a discussion on Twitter. The Guardian Style Guide (@guardianstyle) is the Guardian newspaper’s reference point for all things written – where the paper’s journalists turn for answers on such matters. Most major publications have their own style guide, and those that don’t will, in all likelihood follow the rules laid down by one of the big boys. I personally have two style guides so that I can cross-reference: those produced by the Guardian (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide) and the Economist (see http://www.economist.com/research/styleguide/). Each has fuller print editions available to buy.

Now while these guides are available for public consumption, their primary purpose was to ensure consistency within the authoring newspaper’s publication. Consistency within a single document or publication, as any professional proofreader will assure you, is extremely important. And that’s because the goal of any document is to communicate clearly an idea or a set of messages. Sometimes by simply missing out a hyphen we can change a meaning to a quite disastrous alternative; an example quoted by fellow freelance copywriter @TurnerInk could spark farcical fallout: extra marital sex and extra-marital sex. But even if we recognise that two different spellings, or for the purposes of this piece, two different instances of capitalisation, have the same meaning, their simultaneous inclusion within one document will give many pause for thought. And that’s a distraction from the purpose of the document: to deliver information clearly.

Back to Twitter. I’d picked up on a message from @guardianstyle recommending: webpage, website, the web, world wide web, and retweeted it, along with the hopeful plea that ‘internet’ receives the same lower case treatment. Joy of joys, the guide was back to me to confirm my strongly held opinion. Soon after, several Twitter users (Twitterer? Tweeter? Should we just call ourselves Twits and be done with it? Oh, and here the capitalisation shows that in this instance, though not precluding twittery in everyday life, we are twits on Twitter) had joined the debate, questioning this lower case judgement.

It’s understandable they would. Many reference sources still use an initial capital for internet. I’ve just read Michael Connelly’s latest book, and find that his use of ‘the Internet’ really distracts me from the otherwise flawless flow of his writing. The reality is that internet is an abbreviation of internetwork – several networks joined together – and that lots of internets exist around the world, but they’re not THE internet. Their argument therefore is that the Internet is quite different from an internet. Now that’s ok so far as it goes, and there’s no doubting the logic. I’m going to come back to that statement in just a moment. For now, let me return to the more general rule that the primary purpose of a document is to communicate with clarity.

Clarity doesn’t just incorporate meaning, it includes readability; the flow with which that information can be absorbed without becoming a chore. The usage of language and all its tools should be there to enhance the reading experience and not to distract from it. Excessive use of capitals distracts from the message, undermines the legitimate use of capitals, and is shown by readability studies to make copy harder to read. It doesn’t diminish the importance of the words themselves. So back to the internet. Yes, there’s more than one internet. But consider the argument for Internet: that the Internet is quite different from an internet. True, but every single reader of this (and, I believe, any document using either or both upper or lower cases) will immediately recognise that the use of ‘the’ in ‘the internet’ means the reference is to the world wide web, whereas ‘an internet’ refers to a more general network of networks…and in such cases where one might be writing purely about a network of networks, the subject matter – the context – would make the more general meaning clear.

And in fact those people questioning my opinion and that of @guardianstyle had already recognised that we were referring to the web. And in this context right here, you didn’t for a moment think I was talking about a spider’s web, did you? No – because our knowledge and acceptance of such language has moved on since these terms were introduced. It doesn’t make it inherently wrong to use a capital for internet, but doing so will be a distraction for many. That’s even truer in any document that might be littered with acronyms and initialisations, so prevalent in the technology industry for example – so why add to the eye-strain?

What’s more, it may alter your readers’ perception of you. Let’s take Michael Connelly, an outstanding and successful author, whose name is on my top ten when making recommendations. I know he’s active on social media – I follow him on Facebook – and yet whenever I read ‘the Internet’ in one of his books, I imagine him picturing the internet as some great wizard or unexplained magic, or his character instantly as some comedy backwoods inbred with a grandmother who’s also his daughter. Ridiculous I know, but I can’t help it. It feels, already, like antiquated usage; a concept referenced by someone wholly unfamiliar with it.

That’s not good, is it? That’s a distraction. I still know the meaning, but I’m off doing childish ‘that-thar gud-fer-nuthin’ Innernet bin poisonin’ yer mind boy’ impersonations in my head. So get yourselves on the internet (I understand you’ll require something known as a Personal Computer) and order a style guide.