Oct 07

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

Those are the words of legendary ad man, David Ogilvy, who added: "It follows that unless your Hobbes headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money." Ogilvy’s words were true when he wrote them in the 1960s and even more relevant today. The New York Times recently ran an article about the egregious misspellings and grammatical errors found on billboards, road signs and storefronts in the city’s five boroughs. Some of the examples were simultaneously hilarious and nauseating. And, as an avid reader of all things social media related, I’ve come across a staggering number of headlines that either offended my grammatical sensibilities or completely befuddled me.

The slow and painful demise of the well-written headline has many causes: there’s the overall dumbing down of society, the rise of the 140-character universe and just plain, old laziness. I think it’s a dead heat for worst offender, though: there’s the award-crazed advertising copywriter who produces headlines intended to stop a reader in her tracks but instead befuddles the bejesus out of anyone with half a brain. Then, there’s the average public relations executive who confuses press release writing with brochure copy. So, instead of a brief, pithy headline that draws a reader in, one is instead bombarded with superlatives, hyperbole and 25-word-long monstrosities. This seems to be especially true for new product releases which, if one were to believe the headline, will literally save the planet.

I’ve been reading a phenomenal book called ‘Your Attention Please.’ It was written in 2006 by Paul B. Brown and Alison Davis. It’s one of the best ‘how-to’ guides I’ve read for writing brief, effective copy in an information overload world. The authors suggest no headline should see the light of day unless it addresses the most important question of all, “What’s in it for me?” I couldn’t possibly improve upon that definition or Mr. Ogilvy’s emphasis on the importance of a headline.

The New York Post and Daily News notwithstanding, the art of headline writing is receding faster than the polar ice caps. It’s incumbent upon leaders in the public relations, digital and advertising worlds to do something about it now. Otherwise, smart and strategic clients will wake up one day, realize their print ads, digital banners and press releases aren’t generating awareness, credibility or, most important of all, qualified sales leads. So, the next time you’re crafting a product announcement for a first-of-its-kind, fastest, smallest and lightest ever widget created by man, ask yourself the question, “What’s in it for me?” think first about the end user of the product or service. Then think about yourself. Save on the words and you just might save an account (and your job).

Aug 20

Misspelling the word ‘Manhattan’ isn’t helpful to one’s job search

Having just finished a hilarious novel entitled, “The Pursuit of Other Interests”, my sensitivities Death-of-a-salesman-logo towards middle-aged, out-of-work job seekers is at an all-time high. The book, which profiles a 50-year-old advertising executive named Charlie, paints a bleak, if heartwarming, picture of the current landscape for middle-aged, unemployed white collar workers.

So, knowing how few employment opportunities exist as well as how thin the margin for error is, I was totally flabbergasted to receive the following note from a guy I’ll call Buck.

Dear Seekers of New Revenue:
I am currently seeking a full time, salary plus commission New Business Position in Manhatan. I would address these personally, but with over 2,300 names, I need to solve the challenge  quickly. I am the most dedicated, energetic, and knowledgable person in the Tri-State Area with respect to opening doors for corporate pitches.
I have been in the business for over 15 years and I work from 7 to 5 and can make at least 100 calls per day. I can very quickly develop a custom database for cold calls for your firm and set 2 pitch meetings per week.
Should my skill sets meet your requirements, I would love to speak furthur. Also, should you have a person or people in place to handle cold calling, I also work as a consultant on a per diem basis to upgrade their best practices.
Best Regards,
Buck McDesperate
(800) 555-1212 DesperateBuck@ISPProvider.com

To begin with, it was e-mail addressed to Sally Kennedy of Cossette Communications in Canada. Sally: sorry to be reading your spam. Second, Buck lets it be known that he’s an accomplished business development dude looking for a full-time salary plus commission gig in Manhatan. Yes, that’s Manhattan minus one ‘t’. Ouch. Misspelling Manhattan in the opening sentence of one’s pitch letter doesn’t augur well.

But, it gets worse. Buck lets me (or, Sally to be precise) know that he has a Rolodex with 2,300 names on it and is the most dedicated, energetic and knowledgeable person in the Tri-state Area (I wonder if that includes Toronto where, I assume, Sally is headquartered?). Buck’s been in the business world for 15 years, works from 7am to 5pm daily (he later amends it to 6am to 5pm daily), makes at least 100 calls each and every day (and that has to start hurting the fingers after awhile) and can produce “…a minimum of 2 valid pitch meetings over week.” Talk about Always Be Closing. Wow.

But, here’s the rub. If Buck is really that good and can produce a minimum of two valid pitch meetings per week, why is he blasting unsolicited e-mails to me (via Sally, of course. Sorry Sally). The sad truth about Buck, and the hundreds of thousands of other Bucks out there, is that he’s desperate. He’s probably been out of work for at least a year and has no solid prospects whatsoever. So, driven to desperation, he creates a rambling, semi-lucid, almost laughable pitch that is chock full of typos, poor grammar and inconsistencies.

Buck is not unlike the fictional character Charlie in the aforementioned Jim Kokoris book. Whiling away his time in an outplacement firm’s offices, Charlie puts together a database of former co-workers, clients, prospects and friends and blasts out a periodic e-newsletter entitled, “The Charlie Update!” Its subtitle is “Charlie B. Out on the Street.” One by one, the people on his hit list asked to be removed from the unintentionally hilarious mailings as Charlie becomes increasingly desperate and despondent.

Buck and Charlie are part of what a recent New York Times article called the 99ers. If memory serves, there are some 1.4 million unemployed, middle-aged, white collar workers who have passed the 99-week mark and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. That’s when, driven to the brink of despair, they hit the send button and distribute embarrassingly bad missives like the one from Buck. I feel for these people and I wish I could help. But, sadly, I don’t have an answer except to suggest a dictionary and Thesaurus.