Copy Points

Scraps of Thought from The Mighty Copywriter

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Swallow Your Pride

Why do we ask someone to eat "humble pie" when he overreaches?

The expression is a corruption of "umble pie," a tasty 13th century dish filled with spiced bits of animals' hearts, livers, kidneys and lungs. "Umble" derives from nomble, French for "deer innards."

The words "umble" and "humble" are in fact unrelated (the latter derives from the Latin word for "lowly"). But by the 19th century, "umble" had been dropped from the language and, because many Brits omit the spoken "h" at the beginning of words, the expression "umble pie" was mistakenly spelled "humble pie."  People assumed the mysterious dish had something to do with humility.

Chew on that while you enjoy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Medium Rare

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, devoted decades of his life to spiritualism, the art of communing with the dead.

He wrote 20 books on the subject; lectured about spiritualism throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and North America; and was an active member of the Society for Psychical Research for 37 years.

My medium for communing with the dead is Twitter.

Presently, I receive regular Tweets from the Ancient Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius and the Victorian lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong.

Tweets from the dead entertain and uplift me while I traverse the underworld (on Metro, not a raft) during my commute.

Indeed, communing with the dead is one of the very best uses of Twitter, which is otherwise largely wasteland. 

I recommend it wholeheartedly, and enjoy the fact the dead can Tweet and pay nothing for their mobile phones.

Woody Allen once wrote, “If man were immortal, do you realize what his meat bills would be?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fancy Pants

The term fancy pants first appeared in 1843 in an ad in The Bangor Daily Whig & Courier. 

In a time when most pants were coarse, the soft twill trousers advertised for sale by auction house Williams & Prince were, indeed, fancy.

Style manuals discourage writers from putting on fancy pants. Never use a fancy word, when a plain one will do.

But, as pscyho-linguist Steven Pinker says in The Sense of Style, the rule is overstated: 

"It's certainly true that a lot of turgid prose is stuffed with polysyllabic Latinisms and flabby adjectives. And showing off with fancy words you barely understand can make you look pompous and occasionally ridiculous. 

"But a skilled writer can enliven and sometimes electrify her prose with the judicious insertion of a surprising word. According to studies of writing quality, a varied vocabulary and the use of unusual words are two of the features that distinguish sprightly prose from mush."

In a 1739 letter, Voltaire offered similar advice to the 24-year old writer HelvĂ©tius:

"Beware, lest in attempting the grand, you overshoot the mark and fall into the grandiose: only employ true similes: and be sure always to use exactly the right word."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What Do Women Want?

What do female executives—or male ones, for that matter—want from B2B salespeople?

Personalized content.

Channeling Freud, Harris recently asked, When it comes to sales pitches, what do you want?

Harris learned executives want pitches that are personalized:
  • 89% want pitches personalized to their company’s industry
  • 83% want pitches personalized to their specific problem
  • 70% want pitches personalized to their role in the company
Harris also asked, When it comes to sales emails, what do you want?

The pollsters learned executives want sales emails with content:
  • 84% want case studies
  • 81% want articles
  • 78% want white papers
  • 72% want brochures
  • 72% want videos
We live in an on-demand world; we want what we want, when we want it. Do your salespeople provide it?

NOTE: Today's post is yet another milestone for Copy PointsNo. 500. Coming soon: Post No. 501.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Code Eats Content for Breakfast

Lamenting developers' complicity in content piracy, marketing guru Mark Schaefer recently wrote, "Coding is cheap and fast and plentiful and we seem to be in a media world dominated by cleaning up unintended consequences."

Developers know they're killing creatives, the geese that lay the golden eggs. But, wantonly, they continue to pump out code that rewards content pirates.

There's no real news here, alas. Just old-fashioned avarice.

While encouraged by investors to "disrupt" moribund industries, developers continue to fleece creatives, as they have since the days of Napster.

The injustices they perpetuate make literal the economist's term creative destruction.

Market-oriented, Schaefer recommends a return to patronage, the "Renaissance monetization model," to support content creators.

Raised by parents who worshipped FDR, I recommend revival of the WPA (funded by taxing companies like Facebook.)

What's your idea?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Effecting Change on a National Level: 3 Lessons I've Learned

Youth leader and activist Susan Rosenstock contributed today's post. She is a cofounder of umttr, a nonprofit that champions the caring support and mental well-being of teens.

My 16-year old son Evan, a high school sophomore, took his life on May 20, 2013, leaving a community shocked and saddened. 

Evan had never suffered from any mental illness prior to a basketball injury. That injury led to a back surgery, which then led him to feeling as though he'd lost his identity as a varsity athlete.

Four of Evan's friends came to me and said, “We have to do something to raise awareness about depression and teen suicide because, if this could happen to a kid like Evan, it could happen to anyone.” Their concern became the foundation of our non-profit umttr (you matter).

umttr has grown more than I would have believed possible only two years ago. With that growth, I have learned what it takes to create positive change in a community and on a national scale.

How do you do it? Here are the three most important lessons I can pass on to anyone hoping to effect change:

1. One size does not fit all.

To reach a large audience effectively, you need to understand what motivates that audience. What may work for adults may not work for teenage students. Be sure to tailor your promotional activities to the audience you want to reach by asking that audience what would work. Don’t guess! 

We work with teens and often find ourselves in situations where the adults and teens disagree about how to market to the “teen” audience. We always go with the teens.

2. Ask, ask ask.

Ask a sample of your audience about your promotional plans. Ask sponsors about the best way you can work with them for mutual benefit. Ask other activists if you can help to advance their goals. When in doubt, ask

Here's an example. When the Campaign to Change Direction, a White House Initiative launched by Michelle Obama in March 2015, asked umttr to become a founding member, we made a pledge to educate 70,000 students about the five signs of emotional distress over five years. In just six months we have already reached 50,000. All the campaign had to do was ask.

3. You're only as good as your words.

Language matters. Check with other activists, educators, nonprofits and companies in your field, to make sure the language you’re using promotes effective change.

We try, for example, never to say an individual “committed suicide.” That language still carries the stigma of suicide as a crime. Saying someone “died by suicide” or “ended his life” is preferred. This may seem like a small difference, but changing word-choice alone represents a big step toward recognizing that every suicide can be prevented.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

14 Trust-Busting Ways to Destroy Your Credibility with the Media

Media and presentation skills coach Edward Segal contributed today's post. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is author of Profit by Publicity. His post describes 14 ways publicists, spokespersons and executives destroy the media's trust.

Credibility is essential when trying to generate publicity. 

If you are in the public spotlight (or want to be), your ability to instill trust among the media will determine your reputation with reporters, editors, columnists and bloggers.

Trust is about establishing (and maintaining) successful working relationships with those on whom you depend for publicity.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways to get on a reporter’s bad side. Here are some of the major ones, followed by the excuses you might use to justify violating the media's trust.

But then, why would you?

  1. Don’t return e-mails, texts, or phone calls from the media. (Excuse: “Don’t they know I’m busy?”)

  2. Refuse to provide the source of facts, figures, research, or other information that you include in your news releases or answers to questions from the media. (Excuse: “They should believe me, and not question where I got the information.”)

  3. Don’t spell check, proof, or fact check news releases and other press materials. (Excuse: “There’s no such thing as perfection. Beside, who cares if it’s not 100% accurate?”)

  4. If you don’t know the answer to a question posed by a journalist, just make it up. (Excuse: “Politicians do it all the time, so why shouldn’t I?”) 

  5. Don’t post the latest news releases and other information on your Web site. (Excuse: “They could Google it if they want to.”) 

  6. Plagiarize information, research, or quotes. (Excuse: “I have too much on my plate to write it myself. Besides, no one will ever find out!”)

  7. Miss deadlines important to reporters. (Excuse: “I’ve have my own problems!”)

  8. Agree to do media interviews on topics in which you have no knowledge or expertise. (Excuse: “Why should I pass up an opportunity to be quoted by the media?”)

  9. Cite outdated or questionable facts, figures or other information in your press materials or conversations with reporters. (Excuse: “I just don’t have time to update all of that stuff myself!”)

  10. Do or say something that will make the reporter look bad in the eyes of her editor, colleagues or audience. (Excuse: “Now she knows how it feels!”) 

  11. Ignore time limits that reporters may impose on their interviews with you. (Excuse: “I have a lot to say!”)

  12. Deny you gave the reporter information that proved to be false or wrong, even though you did. (Excuse: “What difference does it make? Reporters get things wrong all the time.” 

  13. Show up or phone in late for media interviews; better yet, don’t show up or call in at all. (Excuse: “I was having a really bad day and had much more important things to do.”)

  14. Forget to send information to a journalist that was important for their story. (Excuse: “What’s the big deal? If it was that important, she could have gotten it from someone else.”)
  • Why is trust more important than ever?

  • Find out by reading Path of Persuasion.
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