Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Author: ; Published: May 11, 2011; Category: Business Writing, Communications Tools, Editing and Proofing, Message Simplicity; Tags: , , , , , ; No Comments

Blaise Pascal

Often time is limited and something needs to go out now. As Blaise Pascal stated, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." In other words, writing fast and writing concisely are often at odds.

I do a profile each week for the Church of Beethoven. I have 140 words and maybe 15 minutes to do it.

For tweets from Working Like Dogs and National Assistance Dog Week (@WLDogs and @NADWeek) which I started doing recently, I have 140 characters and no time.

What do I get out of it? For the 140-word Church of Beethoven profiles, I interview an audience member or volunteer before or after the show. The profile appears in the weekly e-news that goes out on Wednesdays. I learn a lot of amazing things about the people, their interests, their background, and their work, so that’s fun.

For the 140-character tweets, which I actually almost always do through Facebook (trying to save time by posting once), I have to skim news items and figure out what the main point is, then make it short. So like the profiles, I learn a lot, but am always in a hurry, struggling to be efficient, accurate, yet hopefully interesting.

But what about the readers? What do they get out of it? Are these items reaching and teaching or motivating them?

Now that we have less time and space than ever, are we getting better at focusing our messages? Or just creating large quantities of short and not very meaningful messages?

There have always been limitations for marketing professionals: the ¼ page print ad, the billboard, the :15 second spot, the text link on the web page. And of course there’s editing to fit the space:  I just had to cut someone’s op-ed down from 1200 words to 600.

But do extremely short messages, like tweets, push us even further?  And do they really help us communicate effectively?

It’s not just brevity, but speed. When we have to get something out before it is no longer news, that makes it a rush. When we have to make it short, and do it fast, have we gone beyond what is possible? 

Going back to that quote from Pascal—everyone seems to understand that writing short takes more time. But in the current zeitgeist we are expected to do both, fast and short, each and every time. Is this really working?

Do you really want to know?

Author: ; Published: Jan 28, 2010; Category: Business Writing, Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , ; No Comments

painting of angry man

Sometimes people will ask me to critique their existing brochure, website or other marketing materials. Usually they’re happy to hear how they can do better next time. Once in a while I wonder why they’re asking. You see, they really don’t want to know. 

Most people are asking for a critique because they know it’s time to update or improve what they have. There’s a minority though that really just want some sort of validation that what they did in the past is good.

Maybe they paid a lot of money for it. And maybe they themselves were involved in the creative.

In those cases, no matter how diplomatically I phrase it, those people don’t want to hear that there are things that can be better. Even though they’ve asked, and have contracted with me to give them advice, they don’t want to accept that everything isn’t perfect just the way it is.

Once in a while people who are very unlikely to ever become clients ask me for free advice. My policy, especially if the piece is really bad and the person is a relative, is to just say no. Or I suddenly have to go against my nature and become a flaky person who just never gets back to them.

In marketing pieces, many aspects can be subjective. There’s always another way to show or say something.  Maybe the designer used blue and personally, I would have preferred green. Or, in my humble opinion, the tone of the copy is a bit too flowery for the subject matter.

Other things are harder to justify; they’re just bad.

For example: 

  • Type that’s hard to read
  • An illogical order for points
  • Inconsistency with other marketing messages and materials
  • Lots of typos

You get the idea.

I was recently reviewing a client’s ad with them.  We were talking about how it could be improved next time.  In the course of this exercise, we flipped through the trade publication to see what other companies’ ads looked like.

We were discussing the good, bad and ugly when I pointed out a small ad that I felt could be stronger, if only they had focused on one photo instead of the five they included.  My client said that maybe I should contact this company and tell them how their ad can be improved. 

I said, well, maybe not. I know this is a method some people use to get new business. It’s just always a tricky thing offering advice, even when it’s solicited. But in this case, they didn’t ask and more than likely, they don’t really want to know.